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.

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