Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mecha - summing up

I like it.  I think that Mecha is a interesting game and although I have some problems with it, I can see that there are solutions to be had as well.  I'm pretty interested seeing what's in the Mecha: Mercenaries book if it ever comes out, because I think the game can benefit from an infusion of some Battletech type mojo.  I wonder what the mercenaries book will have in it?  I hope that there are some simple but interesting rules for things like campaigning and resource management (like managing your crew's fuel and ammo).  In any case there's lots of opportunity for customizing this game in interesting ways.

The things I liked about the game were also the source of the biggest problems.  The combat system is a lot of fun and the Tactical Waypoint is a great mechanic - but pretty easy for the players to wreck a combat if they have a lot of tactical points.  I'd like to see more detailed rules on limiting how players use tactical points during setup or investigate some reasonable ways the GM could move the tactical waypoint mid combat to complicate the battle.  That might partly be my unfamiliarity with the combat rules however.  The other thing was the player scenes.  Most RPGs I've played have had the conflict resolution occur at the action level - meaning that players would take an action and then resolve the action with a mechanic.  In Mecha the player conflict resolution occurs at a higher level - the scene level.  This is pretty cool but means that players are doing a lot with those scenes and if the mechanical focus of the conflict resolution is for them to get points -they will focus on doing that over story development.

Id really like to figure out how to use player scenes to encourage the players to contribute to the story instead of optimizing their characters.  I understand that this can be managed by ensuring that the players understand how their scenes can drive the events, but I think that there needs to be a mechanic in place to offset the players having that total narrative control tied to a reward mechanic. I tired to tweak the system by making players use their traits to complicate their scenes in order to get advancement points, but I think that maybe instead some of the decision points in a scene need to be spread out among the whole group so that the vested interest of the group is in making the story work.  In Fiasco the players have a set of objects/locations/needs to interact with and they can choose to either narrate their scene or resolve it.  I think that aspects of those scene sharing mechanics could work here.  Perhaps a player could state their scene type and then each other player would get to add one story element into the scene that the player would have to incorporate.   So the acting player might say they are doing a Recovery scene to heal some damage and then the other players would add in turn: 

1. A workout session in the gym
2. Lon Granger (the cocky wing lead of Beta Squad)
3. It's Oktoberfest!
4. Player's trait of Proud 

The player would then incorporate these items into their scene like so: They are working through a physical therapy session in the ship's gym after getting hurt in the last fight with CTA forces.  Lon Granger comes in to limber up for his big mission in a few days.  Then Lon starts boasting how great his squadron is and how his guys would never have let that CTA pilot get a bead on him like that and the player can't ignore his goading any more. Oh yeah?  Yeah!  Some chest beating occurs and the PT trainer says to take it outside (which on the ship means stop right now since outside is deep space).  They head out into the corridor, still arguing and then they notice the loud singing coming from the mess hall.  It's the Oktoberfest party!  The player calls Lon a lightweight in from of the whole room and challenges Lon to a drinking contest in the mess and so the GM adds to the difficulty of the recovery roll (since he's now cutting PT and drinking a pile of beer).  He better make it or he's going to loose some face here!

I don't know exactly how this would work but I see some potential here.  I do like that Scene much more than having the player say I do a Recovery scene and my objective is to heal up me and Jimbo.  We read books for a bit - and I rolled two successes.  I think that by having each player add story elements to the scene it's more likely that these common elements will get reused or at least come from a shared design pool instead of players constantly incorporating new story elements from their internal designs to push their personal story along and having the common story get unfocused.  I have no proof that this is the case however.   It also changes the tone of player scenes by introducing an element of ad-libbing which some people might enjoy but others might not.

Anyway Mecha is cool and you should check it out.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mecha - Episode 5 Escape Velocity

And so we come to the end of the story arc, Episode 5 should give the players a chance to fight with their new Mecha and win or loose - establish a setting and a number of plots for them to follow up on in the continuing saga of our pilots facing Alien invaders, CTA machinations, and day to day drama in the SRS: Coalition 2171.*

The players make it back to the Jeanne D'Arc as repairs are under way and preparations for battle are frantically being made.  They learn that the Jeanne D'Arc suffered a mysterious system breakdown exactly when the communications went down.  It's obvious but not proven that this was caused by the CTA as they pulled out - taking everything they could carry and possibly even detonating charges to seal off the rest.  The reason for this is that the INTRUDER changed course and greatly increased it's velocity - heading directly for 2060 Chiron.  The CTA ship Enterprise is fleeing the scene with the booty -  leaving the Jeanne D'Arc to face the INTRUDER.  What a bunch of dicks!

Players have little time to prepare before they must suit up and defend the meet the incoming Aliens. Things look grim, however they now have Babylonian super science on their side!  If the players haven't selected their new ship/mecha points and their configurations and associated traits yet, this should be done prior to the player scenes.

I'd also make sure that the players have at least one overdrive point each so they can use their new configurations.  Since they haven't been budgeting for this, if the players are tapped out either let them exchange some AP for Overdrive or have an additional player scene session where the players all have to do social scenes.

-- Player Scenes --

It's unfortunate I never got to play test this far, because I think that the overall story experience would have been better for the players.  Had they played their scenes I expect they would have focused on gathering Tactical points and Overdrive over Recovery scenes.  Maybe we would have even have done a follow up session where the players would start driving more of the story.  Even if this had just remained a one-shot session it would have been better to go out with a bang than the grind that Episode 4 turned into

-- Combat --

This combat has three Alien Aces and 6 base 3 mooks.  It's basically a rematch of the combat in Episode 3 but with the configuration mechanics on the table to balance the odds.

The Bullseye Battle map is set up as per the book, players choosing to start in Quadrants 1&2 and the Aliens in 3&4. The Tactical Way point here represents the players keeping the Alien forces occupied long enough for the Jeanne D'Arc to blast the Alien comet with her capitol ship laser batteries.  The way point is in Quadrant 4 sector 2.

Stats for the Alien Aces are as follows:

ATT: 6
DEF: 5
ENG: 4
MOV: 5
Piloting (Mech Combat): 4

4/Energy Bolt (Laser)
3/Energy Bolt (Laser)
1/Anti Matter Projectile (Antimatter)

Ace1 has the Boomer and Defender configs
Aces 2 and 3 have the Disruptor and Defender configs

If the players win, the Jeanne D'Arc will manage to deliver enough of a beating on their comet-like mother ship to destroy it, leaving their wreckage behind for the Coalition to study.  If the Aliens Win - the Jeanne D'Arc will retreat towards the Saturn colonies and the Aliens will blow up (or inhabit?) 2060 Chiron and then return to their inner planet trajectory.

That's the end of this story arc and the crew of the Jeanne D'Arc has a lot of directions to go in from here.  Do the aliens keep coming?  Who are they and what do they want?  What does the CTA do with the technology they acquired?  How has this incident impacted political relations and what about that joint forces team forming up to meet INTRUDER.  What's the Republic of China doing about all this?  And what about Lon Granger and Beta Squadron - what happens to them?  And most important - who's the real person behind that sexy voice on giving situation reports the comms?

Tune in next Episode to find out!

*or SRS: Coalition 2171 (Young Space Pilots in Love).

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mecha - Episode 4 2060 Chiron

After Episode 3, the players are going to be somewhere in trans-Neptune space and wondering just what it was that they fought - and why that thing is barrelling towards the inner planets at more than 1% the speed of light.  After the tragic destruction of the Gunnar Thorson and the loss of her crew,  dinner conversation on the Jeanne D'Arc is likely to oscillate wildly between shocked grief, intense scientific curiosity, and a military grade xenophobia.
Describing this situation and working it into the player scenes in a way that the players don't just take for granted is going to be pretty hard in an action orientated game like Mecha, and I wish I had had the resources to work up a bunch of multimedia or audio flies to play to set this scene properly without taking a long time describing it to the players and slowing down the game.  After this brief atmospheric description, the players will once more get a situation/operational briefing on their consoles.

This message is TOP SECRET
Coalition Space Forces Command & Operations has designated the object P/2170 VG as a Hostile Entity Codename INTRUDER.  INTRUDER is on a intercept orbit with Earth.  INTRUDER is travelling at a velocity of 1.4 PSOL and is expected to be within near Earth space in 43 days 20 hours.  CTA and Republic forces have been apprised of the situation and a multilateral force is currently being assembled to intercept INTRUDER.   
Coalition and CTA Listening posts have identified a unnatural and unidentified signal originating from trans-saturnine proto-comet 95P/Chiron also designated as 2060 Chiron.  The CTA has dispatched the Carrier Enterprise from Martian orbit to investigate the signal and to determine if it is in any way related to the appearance of INTRUDER.  The Jeanne D'Arc is the closest active carrier and is to proceed at best possible speed to 2060 Chiron and join the CTA in these operations.  Estimated travel time of the Enterprise is 20.4 days.  Estimated travel time for Jeanne D'Arc is 21 days assuming successful gravity slingshot. 
Secure point-to-point communication protocols are now in effect for all military and private transmissions.  
This setup is a lot more clean than the one I actually provided to the players.  It also glosses over some setting established animosity that had been built between the Coalition and the CTA forces for player backstories.  The established back-story for one of my players is that the CTA had used a nuke on one of the Coalition's Martian colonies some 30-40 years in the past, and although the Martian colony 'war' was long resolved, that there was still a huge amount of resentment still there in the descendants of the surviving Coalition pioneers.

-- Player Scenes --

The players finally got to do a repair scene which was nice since one of them had focused on that skill set and so far had felt a little left out.  They also tried to recoup some tactical points and overdrive, however due to bad rolls whey didn't manage to recoup very many and realized that they were going into combat pretty empty handed. 

-- Combat --

After the player scenes, inform the players that they have arrived at 2060 Chiron and that the Enterprise is here already, station keeping and doing exploratory work.  The Enterprise is sharing their preliminary data and there a number of ground crews exploring some artificial caverns carved into the planetoid.  The players land their ships in a designated cavern and disembark to do some exploring.  They see large statues along the walls of the cavern and all sorts of hieroglyphics and stuff.  Excited researchers on CTA and Coalition com channels are discussing the similarities with Babylonian tablets and architectures.  It becomes very obvious that this is a human installation - however one from many thousands of years ago.
Then rocks fall and damage the ships in the makeshift cavern hanger.  The CTA communication channel cuts out and the last message the players hear is from the Jeanne D'Arc saying:

Bzzt -- INCOMING -- CTA is calling back their pilots --- Bzzzt Bzzzt --- Return.   and so on.

People begin running in all over and lasers start firing, CTA crews grabbing up artifacts and shooting at the Coalition crews.  The players notice that a group of CTA pilots are trying to make their way up a number of ramps that appear to lead behind and up into the back of the statues.  Sure enough the statues appear to be some type of escape pods or ships.  As the cavern rumbles around them the players must fight their way up to the statues.

Then it's into ground based combat.  On the CTA side there are 7 Base 2 mooks and one enemy Ace: Gus the platoon sergeant.

The battle board is set up with the following:

Quadrant 1 Sector 6; The PCs
Quadrant 2 Sector 1: 2 mooks
Quadrant 4, Sector 1: 2 mooks, Sector 2: 2 mooks
Quadrant 3, Sector 6, Gus and one mook
The Tatical Waypoint is in the center of the map.

If the players manage to capture the way-point they are the ones that climb into those statues and therefore are the ones who discover that these are actually ancient Babylonian mecha which will bond with their souls and which were created to fight the alien invaders they now face.  If they don't manage to win the combat the CTA will fly off in the mecha and the players will be in dire straits until they notice that some of the shattered tablets* and artifacts in the cavern wreckage have leaked some sort of glowing slime onto their fighters.  The fighters are invaded by a nano technology repairs them so the players can fly back to the Jeanne D'Arc but that also mutates the ships into a sort of proto-mecha, which over time will grow into full mecha powers and change the nature of Coalition technology forever.

Stats for the mecha are 2/2/2/2 with 3 points allocatable by the players (max of 4 per stat) when they bond with them.  They also pick 2 configurations and inherit the associated traits.  Their link stats are the same as they've been using for their fighters.

Stats for the proto-mecha are the players get to add 4 points to their ship stats (max of 4 per stat) and choose one configuration and it's associated trait.

This is where the game ground to a total halt and it was clear where I had screwed up.  Firstly I had made the class 2 mooks above as 2x2 'aces', not actually mooks - this had the effect of making them made them incredibly hard to take out.  Having that many enemies with stability to soak up damage turned this exciting battle into a grind as the players kept damaging them and they kept coming back to take the way-point.  It was a long and dispiriting drag as the players kept knocking the enemy out of the centre only to have them come back and slowly one by one take the players out.  Secondly, the players didn't have any tactical points and very little overdrive and they used that up mostly to soak damage on defence rolls and maintain their ground.  I think had I changed the enemy grunts into mooks this fight would have had a much different tone.  They still might have won however if they had saved even one tactical point from their first fight with the aliens.  

In any case the players lost the fight and I lost their interest since this battle ground through the remaining time we had to play.  They got the nanopaste and not the cool mecha.  They were more worried about grey goo scenarios than excited over choosing configurations.  I also finally told them what game they were playing.  In the pre battle setup I read to them from the Enûma Eliš which was all super cool in theory, but they had already checked out by that time. I think that the amount of information dumped on them in this scene was too much and they had too little impact from their scenes - they really felt that the story was out of their hands by this point since they had been playing scenes to gain points and advancement of their character and left all the narration to me.  I was dictating the direction of events more than you might in most Mecha games but I thought that this would be acceptable in a starter type scenario.  I think however that if they had been using the setting and NPCs in their scenes more, they might have had more investment in the story and the events would have seemed more organic to them.  I still think there needs to be a way to achieve this mechanically by splitting the scene narration and resolution up a bit between the players.

*These would be the Tablets of Destiny for you ancient Babylonian gods following along at home.  Obviously that's a nanotech delivery system if you understand the texts...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mecha - Episode 3 The Gunnar Thorson

Episode 3 is where the training wheels come off.  It's important to let the players know that they are getting close to some active duty so that they can do their scenes and collect some Overdrive and Tactical Points for the upcoming fight.  The Jeanne D'Arc is doing her deceleration burn so that she can rendezvous with the Gunnar Thorson, the other CSF carrier assigned to the outer solar system.  The Gunnar Thorson is a slightly newer ship with a larger crew compliment, commanded by Captain Dallas.   Spirit on the ship is high as a number of the pilots now on the GT were pilots who recently served on the Jeanne D'Arc.

Players receive a mission update on their terminals from the Captain:

This message is TOP SECRET
August 27, 2171. 
We have received the following encoded message from CSF Command and Operations:
On NOVEMBER 14 Coalition Deep Space listening post registered an previously unidentified long period comet designated C/2170 VG entering the solar system from trans-Kuiper space.  While establishing a routine trajectory for C/2170 VG, the object's orbit was observed to become perturbed and it was reclassified as P/2170 VG, a short period comet.  After the object's trajectory was perturbed a second time into a very short period elliptical orbit, P/2170 VG was immediately classified as a object of high interest by Coalition researchers. 
The Gunnar Thorson was dispatched to intercept and undertake close range reconnaissance of P/2170 VG.  On August 3, the Gunnar Thorson sent a OMEGA level secure message to CSF CO detailing the results of long range scans which detected the presence of an unidentified low level energy signature on P/2170 VG. 
The Jeanne D'Arc was subsequently dispatched to make a routine rendezvous with the Gunnar Thorson.  Details of P/2170 VG and this mission have been CLASSIFIED to be provided to crew members on arrival.  
BETA level security has been assigned to this mission.  Only encrypted short range point to point communications protocols are sanctioned.
There really is no way to do this where the players won't suspect Aliens as soon as they hear this information.  That's fine - that's not the twist but let them believe it is.

-- Player Scenes --

The players still hadn't had to worry about repair or recovery and seemed to have the hang of using Overdrive and tactical points in combat.  Recognizing the values of these in combat, the players tried for some tactical points and to build up some of their overdrive they had spent in the previous combat.  As before I found that the player scenes were more utilitarian and they weren't moving the story along as much as working on character advancement.  Again I think that there needs to be some kind of game mechanic to counter this.


Immediately after the player scenes the Battle Stations alarm sounds and players are rushed into their ships.  As they suit up and do pre-flight checks the flight officer gives them a short panicked but professional situation report:

We have visual contact with the Gunnar Thorson.  Their birds are in the air.  Unidentified hostiles are engaging.  
 - and as they launch the sit rep continues:
We can't establish coms.  It looks bad people.  I don't even know what the hell those things are!  Wait.  OH MY GOD SHE'S DOWN!  SHE IS DOWN!  We have confirmation that the Thorson is breaking up!
- and as they form up
Hostiles have some sort of signal damper and we can't establish EM or laser com locks with the GT pilots. It looks like some of them are making a break for us.  ESCORT THOSE PEOPLE IN!
So then set up the battle board. The Aliens team has 6 Base 2 mooks and two 'Ace pilots' M1 and M2.  The Alien ships look more like rocks than ships and the Aces look like rocks with tentacles.  Deploy as follows:
  1. Quadrant 3, Sector 6: 2 mooks
  2. Quadrant 3, Sector 5: M2
  3. Quadrant 4, Sector 1: 2 mooks and M1
  4. Quadrant 2, Sector 1: 2 mooks, 
  5. Quadrant 4, Sector 5: Tatical Waypoint (Friendly Pilot)
  6. Quadrant 1, Sector 6: The PCs
Stats for the Alien Aces are as follows:
ATT: 6
DEF: 5
ENG: 4
MOV: 5
Piloting (Mech Combat): 4
4/Energy Bolt (Laser)
3/Energy Bolt (Laser)
1/Anti Matter Projectile (Antimater)
M1 has the Boomer and Defender configuraitons
M2 has the Disrupter and Defender Config
This is the first real combat and the first time players will encounter configurations and physical combat between ships.  Remember you have not mentioned MECHA at this point, and so this should seem unfair and scare the players since they have neither of these capabilities.

If the Aliens win the combat then the Jeanne D'Arc will call back her pilots and will rescues no pilots from the GT and flee the scene.  If the Players win then they will rescue pilots and the Jeanne D'Arc will flee the scene. In either case P/2170 VG will continue on it's way towards the sun.

Lets just say this was supposed to be really tense and exciting combat.  However what happened was the players spent 3 Tactical Points to bring the waypoint into Q1:S4 and so won the combat before the aliens had a chance to close the distance or use their configurations.  Each side got off a couple shots and then it was over.  It was terrible for me but great for the players who thought that they were now the Kings of Space France.  Good for them.  They paid for it later.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Mecha - Episode 2 Welcome to the Jeanne D'Arc

Episode 2 follows pretty close from Episode 1, there were no real consequences from the battle that would impact things.  That's not the best but it's good for an introduction.  The real push for Episode 2 is introducing the ecosystem.  Hopefully this will create a toolbox for the PCs to play with.

The crew roster is a good mix of quality folks from the Coalition member states.  North American culture is still widely represented since both geographic California and New York are Coalition members, however I thought it pretty important to stress Japanese, UK, Russian and German as being predominant players in the coalition and to carry that flavour into the crew.  

The short crew roster is as follows:

Captain: Masaharu Homma (Japan)
Commander: John J. Adams (West American)
Doctor: Zachary Smith (??) and his assistant Penny (West American)
Flight Inspector: Wilheim Tarken (German)
Air Officer; Silvie Izenak (Basque)
Primary Flight Control: Jack Udachi (Russian)
Cook: Ruby L'Orange (French)
Fire Control Crew:  Al Franken and Tom Davis et al.
Ordinance Officer: Don West (West American)
Flight Mechanic: Claude Gagnon (French)

Since there are 63 crew on board, this leaves a lot of room for players to create NPCs.

The players receive notice on their terminals that the Jeanne D'Arc is now under-way.  The mission details state that they are moving to rendezvous with the CSF Carrier Gunnar Thorson and that this will take some 2 weeks travel.

-Player Scenes-

Players again worked on social scenes involving their goals and earned a couple AP by invoking their traits as a penalty.  They didn't latch onto any of the crew as story foils and I don't think that they caught any of the pop culture references.  I was a bit sad about this but it did make my job easier not having to try impersonating characters I half remembered from Lost In Space or trying to do a credible Russian or Japanese Accent.  I also noticed how quickly the player scenes had became functional instead of narrative.  Players would work at getting overdrive/TA points and achieving their goals to get AP points as efficiently as possible and not worry about developing the overall story or interacting with the NPCs except in the generic.  Partly I think that comes as baggage from GM run games where the story is the GM's responsibility. I hoped that players would play with 'the toys' more than they did. That's a logical player reaction I think and I don't know how you would offset this, perhaps some mechanic that allowed the other players opportunity to interact in or direct the scenes ala Fiasco would introduce more dynamics into the system.


The players are told to report to Major West and find themselves together in the ships gymnasium which has been cleared of equipment and readied for some low G combat exercises.  They are told to don flack vests and pistols. It's basically Laser tag in space so all damage is virtual again and not saved after the Episode.  Players are put into teams and must play king of the mountain - holding the flag point for the specified period of time.  The teams start on opposing quadrants and the tactical objective is in the centre.

The combat for this episode was personal combat to introduce that part of the game.  Because this was another introduction and there was no story consequence of the combat  I thought it would be a lot easier for me and a lot more fun to have the players wail on each other.  It turned out that this was very fun and they really threw themselves into the fight - chewing through most of their overdrive points in a meaningless but very fun battle.  They also remarked that this was not good strategy but that they were doing it anyway.  It was probably the most satisfying combat of the evening for them.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Mecha - Episode 1 Welcome to Triton

So the first Episode in the game is Welcome to Triton.  The players learn that they are all newly minted Flight Officers fresh out of the Coalition Space Force training Academy which is in L5 orbit around the earth.  They have been posted to Jeanne D'Arc which is one of the two CSF carriers patrolling the outer solar system.  They are here to back fill for pilots who have been reassigned to more challenging posts and are very much the rookies here.   They are 8 pilots  in all, the 5 PCs and three NPCs from their graduating class, Mia Suzara, Honzo Hitari and Chett Whetherspoon.   For the past 2 months they have been cooped up together on the cargo hauler Dostoevsky bound for Neptune and they have just disembarked at the National Coalition's space colony on Neptune's moon Triton.

They are 4.5 lh (light hours) or 4.5 Billion km or 45 days average travel time away from the Earth
They are 4.3 lh from Mars.
They are 3.1 lh from the Saturn ring colonies.

The players are told they have 3 days R&R and then must report to the the space port to meet with Paul Chan, wing second of Gamma Squadron for shuttle transport back to the Jeanne D'Arc.

-Player Scenes-

The players chose to pursue Social Scenes except for one player who chose a Field Ops Scene and narrated a way they were hacking their flight control software to get an edge.  This made sense since there was no need for Repair or Recovery at this time.

So not having any background in the game or expectations of play except for my outlining of the rules this was probably the hardest Episode to get started, however I think that it went well.  Player scenes went from a very specific first person narrative about getting laid through to more abstract and goal directed narratives about hacking flight control software and making an impression with Paul Chan.  What I didn't expect was that the players would almost entirely ignore all the NPCs from the trip and each other.  I thought that by introducing the long voyage, the location and specific NPCs that the players would try to incorporate that into their narrative and create some relationships and backstory, but perhaps by setting the Episode as they disembarked instead of when they were on the ship I encouraged this 'scattering' behaviour.  The players grasped the concept of choosing their Scenes to acquire Overdrive and Tactical Points pretty well however.  It was also at this point that Traits and Goals were understood and we realized that some of the ones chosen were too broad or too specific and might need revision.  I would probably either use pre-generated goals or try to better guide player selection of traits and goals next time.


The players then reported to the Jeanne D'Arc and are assigned quarters and assignments.  The PCs are told that they have been assigned to Delta Squadron and the three NPC recruits they travelled with have been assigned to Gamma Squadron. This makes no sense realistically, but it makes sense as narrative since they are now certainly the underdogs and have been given something to prove.  Right away are asked to suit up and get in their ships for a flight training exercise with Beta Squadron and it's resident Ace, Lon Granger.

Lon Granger was the previous Wing Second of Gamma Squad, now promoted to a Flight Lieutenant and put in charge of Beta Squadron.  He's the resident hot shot and speaks that way, never letting the PCs forget they are the newbies.  Of course Lon and his Squadron are meant to be the immediate opposition and the foils to the true Aces on the ship Alpha Squadron.  The intent here is for Gamma to be the Ally, Beta to play the role of Stick and Alpha the role of Carrot.

Combat is a straight forward affair with each side starting off in opposing Quadrants and the tactical way-point in the centre.  This is battle simulation and the goal is for the players to show how they can hold a tactical advantage position on a simulated CTA warship.  Because it's a simulation damage taken will not be carried over in to the next Episode.

The players fought very well and managed to win the scenario.  I believe it worked as a good introduction to the combat system.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mecha - Episodic

So the way Mecha works is that you have an episode where the GM sets up an introduction and the players then each take a scene.  Different types of scenes get you different benefits, but the scene should have a game component (based on the type and the reward) and a story component (based on the role play goal and the player traits).  It's interesting because the player does not resolve actions like in a more traditional RPG, they narrate and role-play their entire scene making one roll to determine the direction that takes and any rewards they might receive.  This is why I think it's really important to have a strong back-story and front load as much of the game world as possible so that the players can share those components and strengthen the story rather than simply keep throwing novel objects into a sandbox.  I might be a bit tainted by Fiasco with it's systematic story setup phase and caveats about maintaining narrative focus in this respect since I played that game first.  Certainly this was my premeditated style choice and not a stated prerequisite in the Mecha rulebook.

I also at this point made the rule that players would only gain advancement points if they used their traits as a negative modifier.  For example a player with Boring as a trait could attempt to impress an NPC which would normally require one success - however if they used their 'Boring' trait against themselves this would bump the difficulty an additional two successes but if they rolled three successes they would get a n advancement point.  On the other hand if a the player were to be trying to impress a very picky NPC which would normally require three successes they used the trait 'Charming' it would lower the difficulty to one success but they wouldn't receive the advancement point.   I don't believe this is the literal interpretation of the rules in Mecha but I tried this to make it more interesting because players had to choose to use their traits for advantage in different ways and gave reasons for them to complicate the story.

I had developed a 5 Episode arc for the first session which I thought we would be able to get through in a single 4 hour session.  It was pretty close and I think that this was the right amount of content even though we only managed 4 Episodes.  Chalk it up to inexperience.  The Episodes were titles as follows:

Again this is my attempt to run a introduction type adventure for Mecha which was somewhat inspired by a the L5R Topaz Championship game I played in over the winter.  I thought that using this initial 5 Episode arc would cement the sandbox in place and provide a unified starting point for further games.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Mecha - more details on the setup

God I'm getting swamped at work and it's come at the same time I want to post a pile of stuff both about the Mecha game and on my Beacon blog.  Anyway to further along the SRS I'm piecing together for those of you following along at home, here's the more detailed scenario stuff that expands on the intro, including a more detailed synopsis that I read to the players (I hate front loading a setting but this game I think calls for that approach) that includes a run down of the three main factions, and the specs for player equipment and ships

The Setup 
It is 2171.
You are all novice pilots aboard the CSF space carrier Jeanne D’Arc, a B class fusion drive fighter carrier designed for autonomous operations in the outer solar system. The Jeanne D’Arc carries a complement 63 crewmen servicing four full fighter squadrons and three multi purpose tugs. Each fighter squadron consists of five short range high thrust single pilot spacecraft equipped with solid fuel missiles and a short range pulse laser.  Squadrons are kept in a regular rotation of four active pilots with one reserve, however full squadrons of five are maintained during crises or in times of war. The CSF, or Coalition Space Fleet, is the space based military arm of the United National Coalition, an alliance of national entities consisting of the European Union, Russia, Japan, South Africa, various corporations (most notably West American and New York), and their L5, Martian, and Saturn colonies. At this time the CSF is a distinct and autonomous entity from the mostly planet-based CAF (Coalition Armed Forces) although the two share operations throughout the solar system.

The Prologue 
Practical Fusion technology has brought unlimited cheap energy to mankind and powered the first wave of colonization of the solar system.  It was almost too late.  Reliance on increasingly rare fossil fuels had devastated the biosphere and caused huge social and political divisions between countries as a rush to occupy remaining oil reserves ensued.  Global temperatures and pollution rose in tandem with population and massive die offs of sea life caused corresponding collapses of natural food chains on the land.  As energy became more expensive and more ecologically destructive to obtain, blackouts, starvation, rioting and military suppression became commonplace across the globe.

In North America, religious fundamentalism coupled with an unserviceable national debt caused the breakup of the United States which in turn caused many other world governments to collapse. The vast United States military complex stepped in and provided muscle for the more conservative ‘red’ states to withdraw from world government and to consolidate US occupied territories abroad.  This was not a peaceful process. In 2065 nuclear weapon strikes in Israel and Jordan caused massive destruction and loss of life.  In the ensuing global panic with entire governments collapsing, corporations lobbied for and gained the right to exist as entities at the national level, appropriating a number of states, bolstering others and snatching up real estate wholesale from any countries with resources to exploit.  Still living conditions deteriorated.

During this time China shocked the rest of world with the establishment of a permanent lunar colony.  The establishment of the Chang’e colony almost caused the collapse of the remaining United States, still mired in a dozen oil based wars. This galvanized the predominantly christian military leadership into a drastic realignment and the Christian Trade Alliance was formed.  The CTA redirected their resources into developing a space capability and made it a priority to establish permanent space bases and to land Christians on Mars.

European and Japanese breakthroughs in alternative energy, and especially fusion technology proved to be the light at the end of the tunnel, however adoption was not fast or uniform.  The remaining United Nation states and corporate entities who had least access to oil and gas reserves were the first to adapt.  A culture of shared research and communication established strong alliances among its remaining members.  Corporate espionage ensured that that technology breakthroughs were widely disseminated, but it was the culture of collaboration that drove the adoption of decentralized energy and new food production methods and the rise of a small but powerful meritocracy.  This much more unified remnant of the United Nations became the United National Coalition, leading the way for rebuilding on earth and developing new industry in space.
The Players

The United National Coalition consists of most of Europe, Russia and Japan, various national corporations (notably West American and New York), South Africa, L5 colonies, Martian colonies*, Saturn moon colonies.  The UNC has the smallest space fleet of the big three powers, consisting of 8 carrier ships, two dozen cruisers and some 50 auxiliary, transport and gun ships. The UNC also has the smallest conventional military, relying on small but high tech forces and drone systems for protection.
The Republic of China (RC) consists of China, Central Africa, and the large Chang’e Moon Colony.  The RC has the largest conventional ground force and possesses a large short range space fleet.  They control the trade of H3 from the moon to earth and maintain large numbers of mid-size response cruisers and satellites in near earth space but are not well represented further out in the solar system.
The Christian Trade Alliance (CTA) consists of the American Confederacy, Mexico and Central America, AMECO (American Middle East Corporation), Brazil, Australia, North African Union, Mars colonies, and asteroids.  The CTA has the second largest military and the largest space fleet operating outside near earth orbit.  The CTA fleet numbers some 30 large carriers and a few hundred cruisers and support craft.

Personnel Equipment

In personal combat a character can carry 2 items (standard is 1 weapon and a flak suit).  Otherwise it’s not a big deal.  Weapons have a range and a damage type.  All weapons do the same damage.  Armor has a damage amount and type it protects against.  All other items are basically macguffins.

  • Pistol (1/ballistic)
  • Rifle (4/ballistic)
  • Laz Rifle (3/laser)
  • Crowbar (0/impact)
  • Flak Armor (1 ballistic)
  • Repair Kit/ Med Kit/ Computer Core/ Hacking Deck/ Briefcase / Fishbowl /Hello Kitty Doll...

Fighter Equipment

A vehicles (fighters) WEAPONS rating determines how many weapon systems it can be equipped with. Weapons have a range and a damage type.  All weapons do the same damage.    Switching between ammo types is possible between combat encounters.  Weapon loadouts could be altered using a repair scene (when appropriate).

Fighter Stats:
Weapons: 2
Armor: 1
Technology: 1
Speed: 2

Fighter Weapon loadout:
Hammerhead Missile Pack: (3/ballistic) or Cerberus Missile Pack (3/energy)
Light Pulse Cannon (1/laser)

Examples of other vehicle weapon types:
Flak Cannon (1/ballistic)
Chain Cannon (3/ballistic)
Mass Driver (4/impact)
Field Pulse Cannon (4/energy)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Mecha - the beginning

The veil has been lifted.  I finally got to run the 'space pilot' game I've been working on and I can say without spoiling anything any more that the system is MECHA by Chris Perrin.  I didn't want to start the game by saying 'Hey let's play Mecha' because I wanted to have an in game reveal that the players (space ship pilots) find giant mecha robots and then use them to defeat aliens.  I didn't think I could make that reveal exciting if I told everyone the name of the system we'd be using.  I also liked the idea of making a 'starter' adventure that introduced the game concepts piece by piece and so I didn't want players designing mecha without knowing how the system worked and then being unhappy with crappy design choices.

Mecha is a very interesting system and when I first heard about it on the Podgecast podcast  I decided to check it out.  I immediately thought it would be interesting to run because of the scene based role play and the very interesting abstract combat system.  I did however know that it would take a lot of prep to set up a game and have it run the way I wanted it to.  This is very different from my usual technique of not overloading a new game with background info dumps or detailed NPCs - I prefer to have players explore as they go.  Since the MECHA system hands so much narrative control to the players I figured I'd need to build a one shot introduction to the game and hopefully front load it with enough background NPCs and unifying story elements prevent it from becoming a mishmash of ideas but instead a jumping off point for player driven narrative.
Well my plan worked and it didn't work.  I'm pretty happy with the way things unfolded and I definitely think it's better to have players know how the game works before allocating points to their mechs.  I had a good time running it but there were some stumbles on both my part and for the players coming from a more traditional RPG play style.  I'd do this again and I think I'd be able to do it better.

I built the scenario around the fighter pilot theme - (or 'Young Space Pilots in Love' as you would have it) since it would let me contain the story and to simplify the vehicles around a common template.  This let me 'railroad' the initial story without having to directly guide the play.  The players don't decide what missions to go on or where the carrier is flying - that's all orders from HQ stuff.   It also let me focus on setting in place a manageable group of NPCs and places for Scenes to occur.

We started off with their characters and I handed out a simple ship template that all the players used do their link stats and to introduce the combat system. I think that was the best way to do it because it became clear that this game is built around combat.  Some of the players noticed right away that their characters didn't have their stats allocated properly - or had put a low skill in piloting that impaired their combat experience.  I don't see that as a game problem as much as an expectation issue which got flushed out in a proper way.  I built a MECHA SRS (Setting Reference Schematic) which had a number of archetypes built around 8 stat points and 10 skill points and allowed players to allocate 2 additional points to their stats and skills to flesh out their character.  If I were to do this again I might would make the player archetypes even more defined but really it did work pretty well and I'd rather deal with it by providing better descriptions than by limiting this small amount of player choice.

So below are the character archetypes we used for this game.  They are pretty basic and based closely on those in the MECHA book but I did define the starting points in a way to minimize issues with being unfamiliar with the game going in.  I also changed the skill Mecha Combat to Piloting which suited the story more since I didn't want to give anything away and also because the players would begin by flying simple vehicles.   In my opinion Piloting is a better skill name in general since it covers all types of vehicle control.  I also provided a short list of traits for the players to get a sense of how that worked.  They almost all chose traits that they made up themselves with various degrees of success.  Good traits are hard to define since they should be highly identifiable but widely applicable.  I would provide a better list of traits if I did it again.

I'm going to bundle this all together in a document at some point to provide a introductory MECHA game resource called Coalition 2171 SRS*.


Add 2 stat points (starting stat max is 4), add 2 to your skills (starting skill max is 3), pick one of the archetype Traits and one additional Trait.

Top Gun

You’ve got the touch, you got the power.  You were born to do this.
Strength: 2 Agility: 3 Intelligence: 1 Will: 2
Piloting: 3 Combat: 2 Social: 1 Field Ops: 1 Repair: 2 Medic: 1
Trait: Cocky or Maverick

Gear Head

You joined up because all the best toys were here.  Now it’s playtime.
Strength: 2 Agility: 1 Intelligence: 3 Will: 2
Piloting: 2 Combat: 1 Social: 1 Field Ops: 2 Repair: 3 Medic: 1
Trait: Focused or Egotistical


You signed up for a career.  You’ve been studying this stuff for years and now’s your chance to make it
Strength: 2 Agility: 1 Intelligence: 2 Will: 3
Piloting: 1 Combat: 2 Social: 2 Field Ops: 3 Repair: 1 Medic: 1
Trait: Ambitious or Intense

Glory Hound

For you its all about the fame, making a name for yourself, bringing honor to your family or rocketing up through the ranks.  
Strength: 2 Agility: 2 Intelligence: 2 Will: 2
Piloting: 2 Combat: 2 Social: 3 Field Ops: 1 Repair: 1 Medic: 1
Trait: Dramatic or Opportunistic


You are big and strong, good at taking orders and you know how to handle yourself in and out of the cockpit.
Strength: 3 Agility: 1 Intelligence: 1 Will: 3
Piloting: 2 Combat: 3 Social: 1 Field Ops: 1 Repair: 1 Medic: 2
Trait: Tough Guy or Competitive


Gene crafted to have above average reflexes and trained to perform many essential tasks.  You were born to serve, literally.
Strength: 2 Agility: 3 Intelligence: 2 Will: 1
Piloting: 2 Combat: 1 Social: 2 Field Ops: 1 Repair: 2 Medic: 2
Trait: Deferential or Awkward

Examples of other Traits:

Ruthless, Haunted, Vain, Seductive, Patient, Joker, Unsure, Gossip, Witty, Boorish, Loyal, Sneaky...

* or Young Space Pilots in Love SRS.