Thursday, May 2, 2013

Hey what about Mecha?

I realize that I owe you a PDF for the Mecha campaign I posted way back in the olden time and no, you are not going to get it soon.  I have been thinking about a return to that game however, another one shot or even a short campaign based on the Jeanne d'Arc and those young space pilots (not so much) in love.  I thought about running the campaign in another system like Traveller or Fate or even Atomic Highway's V6 engine.  I've kind of dismissed those ideas as problematic for various reasons, especially after playing Diaspora and not quite getting the hang of it.  I would however like to take some concepts from Fate and bolt them onto Mecha.  I do like the concept of Aspects and I do like the Fate stress tracks and I've thought about how to use those ideas in both a Mecha game (and in some alternate universe version of Beacon for that matter).  Mecha already has Traits, a something that is a lot like Fate aspects already.  Mecha also has stress track type hitpoint system for mechs and pilots.  It would seem like the systems are not too different after all.  The big difference here however is that Mecha Scenes are quite a different way to do action resolution and if you jigger with he scenes you also jigger with stuff like Overdrive and Tactical points which would be a pretty big gutting of the system.

I also had a few issues with the scenes and players with different visions of the setting and partial knowledge of each other's visions trying to keep a cohesive narrative, something that can obviously work (see Fiasco, of other people playing Mecha...) but wasn't working for me and my group for this game.  I don't think the answer to these problems is to revert back to a more traditional action-resolution system.  There is something I like about this scene mechanic and my inclination is to make it work for me rather than looking to a different system.  So it's probably a good time to try to figure out what it is that I like about it before tinkering with it.  I know you are now waiting expectantly for a good old bullet list or perhaps even a Venn diagram, but I think I'm going to do this in a rambling and inefficient way instead.

  • Littler Scenes

Ha, that was a fake out, I am using bullets.  But I think more narrow or smaller scenes is part the solution I'm looking for.  Instead of big scenes where a player takes narrative control and drives everyone on their rail, I see breaking player turns into smaller scenes where something happens but it's more within the context of the larger act in the story.  I think that I need to keep the established scene types so that player can get overdrive and Tactical points and all that but I think that they also need to be able to have more 'filler' scenes that don't give those rewards and thus don't make combat into a point cashing out cake walk.   Also to keep things rolling along the proscribed narrative path I think that there needs to be more GM scenes to introduce or reintroduce those narrative themes - perhaps between each player scene or perhaps as the cap for a round of scenes in-lieu of a combat.  I do still think it's pretty important that each player only gets one of the standard 'reward scenes' e.g. a repair or a field ops scene, between each combat or they will be walking pretty tall.

I'm not entirely sure how this would play out without becoming "you see a box", "my scene will be checking for traps on the box" which is just regular old action resolution.  It's pretty obvious to me that a scene requires a die roll, but if there is a chance of failure, what is the penalty or reward for success one of these 'filler' scenes?  Do they need any reward beyond success itself?  Adding RP to scenes traditionally gives you Advancement Points - is this the reward?  How do you stop accelerated advancement then?   I think that maybe disentangling the Role Playing Objective from the standard scenes and attributing it to these 'Role Playing Scenes' might be an answer.  It is sensible that these role play scenes drive the narrative and the other scenes give a mechanical bonus for the upcoming combat, but I'm not comfortable with them automatically paying out AP since that is the mechanic that encourages trait use to make all scenes more complex .  I'm still trying to figure out how this would look in execution.
  • Players messing with each other
This is one of my thoughts from my session write up.  I think that what makes Fiasco work is that a player gets to select the scene or the resolution but not both.  I think there needs to be some sort of opposition to player scenes or they will tend to drive the narrative in the direction of immediate reward.  If you know there is a big fight coming up and you need Tactical points you will try to do the easiest field ops scenes you can get away with, you won't describe a risky scene because that lowers your chance of needed resources.  Even drama players will tend to play it safe when the bigger picture is on the line, but in a good narrative  those moments are the ones that would benefit most from a crazy scheme.  My thought on this is to have the other players insert an element into the scene.  This allows them to include their narrative desires as well as give the GM something else to assign difficulty to.  I think this approach might work because it gives the table some input instead of imposing some kind of automatic counter to the problem or having the GM try to deal with it.  I think the table will do the cool thing where the player might be tempted to do the safe thing.
  • More gear but not too much gear - or something
It stands to reason that if there are more kinds of scenes there will be more things going on then the base fighting skills cover.  Some of this will get offloaded onto Traits perhaps, making them more like aspects.  I especially like the idea that your mech (or ship in this case) passes on some Traits to your character.  I can see this being somewhat like Fate where the negative side of traits get 'tagged' by the GM or other players in scenes.  However since the stats are orientated to compliment the standard scenes, there needs to be something else to interact with in these new role playing only scenes.  I also have the idea that the more complicated nature of the game might require more than just pistol+flak vest or las rifle as inventory.  I don't want the game to get bogged down in any sort of  inventory though. You get assigned what you need for the mission.  Perhaps allowing a couple extra slots on the sheet for items or ideas that act something like traits that can give bonuses to resolving RP scenes.  It would be interesting if a character found a 'precision hacking kit' or 'teddy bear concealed dagger' or something that they could use for a bonus modifier.
  • Penalties for failure
Last point for now, but I was also thinking that there should be more penalty for failing than just not getting the scene reward.  I don't think that it's right to take reward points away from players, but I have been thinking it would be interesting to award points to their opposition if they fail, or fail over a particular margin.  This idea comes from the combat session where the players used a couple tactical points in one shot to move the Tatical Waypoint right to themselves and ace the combat encounter.  As a GM I really would have liked to have a point to spend there too.  I think that might be a thematic as well as interesting consequence to have the badguys benefit from particular failures.

I'm sure I'll be back to the well on this.  Work is long and I'm so far behind on my one pet projects that I have just resigned myself to enjoying the games I have been playing and mulling over these ideas in my head. I can see trying to actually solidify these ideas into a playable mess for a summer one shot however.


  1. I have some sort of bizarre mental block when it comes to social mechanics like we used in Mecha, or even Fate for that matter. For me it feels like they constrain the bit of the game that I like to be most freeform. I guess it's because rules that emulate physical events make sense to me - we cant actually shoot blasters at each other, of fly a starship though an asteroid tunnel, so we simulate that with rules and dice. But we can simulate a social interaction with actual social interaction and the "rules" are the personalities we roleplay.

    1. The scene mechanic is supposed to simulate both social and physical events. Mecha and Fiasco abstract the action to success or failure of an entire narrative scene instead of a single action-reaction, but all games do this to a degree - we're playing an escape scene we don't roll for every rung of climbing the ladder, we just roll to see if you reach the top.

      I'd like to roll instead for the whole escape from the building but not the entire escape scene. I think it would be hard to articulate what that is but I will try to write up an example.

      I don't think you should loose the freeform back and forth you are talking about though. In both types of mechanic it should only come to dice when there is a question of an outcome. I think that maybe that's something we lost when we played it before - no one asked "is there a ladder in the room? Is it long enough to reach the roof?" Someone should still be asking that and someone should still establish if it is so.