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Friday, March 26, 2010

Giant Robots! Dice! OVERDRIVE!

It was the other day that I was on RPGNow.com, browsing their free materials. Well, I stumbled across a little shiny thing. Something that's been at the back of my RPG mind is a system that properly emulates action anime. All that I've seen so far doesn't really deviate from the standard RPG model of "You have your core stats, they govern how good your character is, and you have skills and abilities." In other words, the only thing anime about the system is the setting. You could port the system over to any other setting, and it might even fit better.

Then I found MECHA: the RPG.

It's only in quickstart form, since the full game is coming out sometime in the future. But so far, it's a lovely piece of work. The system melds together the conventions of mecha anime, a brand of Japanese animation about giant robots that get piloted by people. It's fun. And crazy awesome. This system does a really good job of emulating it, too.

Core Mechanic
The simple mechanic of task resolution is elegantly simple: your core attribute determines a dice pool (of d6s) that you roll. There's also a related skill. Any dice you roll beneath or equal to the level of the skill are successes. So, you have both the base attribute and the related skill interacting in a clean, simple way. I like it, like it a lot. The fact that the core mechanic is so snappy and clean, with very little math involved, is something which lends well to the anime feel.

There's also Overdrive, which can be earned on any roll where you score at least 5 successes. Overdrive is the "crank it up" resource to give characters more oomph. On top of Overdrive is the possibility of a Cut Scene: when you roll at least 8 successes, a rare happening, you get what I can only define as a "Crowning Moment of Awesome". You get an extra action, and it's your character's moment of Cool.

Gameplay Structure
What also intrigues me is the structure itself of a gameplay session. As they explain, you play games as collections of "episodes". Each episode is supposed to take half an hour. That's right. Half an hour. Just like an animated show on TV. This also means that you can pile lots of episodes into one night of gaming, or keep it short and play a couple.

The other cool thing is that each episode is divided into Personal Scenes and Conflict. In the first half of an episode, characters get Personal Scenes, aka character interaction and development scenes, which give benefits that come in handy for the second half. That's when you bust out the mecha, and sock it out. It's a nice back-and-forth of character and action that I think works quite well...and it's very true to the genre.

Combat
This is the real meat and potatoes of the genre, it's all about mecha blasting each other and beating each other up. In a nutshell: giant robots + explosions = win. Think Transformers, but with smaller robots, and with way better human interaction. Combat is streamlined and fluid, using the same attribute + skill mechanics as the rest of the game. Damage is another nice point: you take one point of damage for a successful attack, and you have to make a "Stability Roll" against the damage you've taken, or else become incapacitated. Tacked on to damage is knockback, which is very important in the course of combat.

Combat here is a bit of a maneuvering game. Using a "Bullseye" map, the system abstracts location and movement, making combat into a tactical game rather than a simulation. Given the somewhat abstract nature of location in anime combat, along with the high mobility of mecha, this works really well. The aim of both sides is to capture an "objective", located in one sector of the bullseye. So, this is going to be a big game of "hit and knock around the enemy". Bash and smash, with tactical maneuvering. I like the sound of this.

What I Haven't Seen
There's one little bit of the game that I have yet to see, and that's social conflict, character conflict. There's nothing about it in the quickstart, and it's unclear if it'll be included in the full rules. I'm going to assume you could work something together using Personal Scenes (more specifically, social scenes), though. RPGs like Mouse Guard could offer some very valuable insight into how to stat together conflicts like this.

In conclusion, though, this system looks to be very good. Check out the free quickstart rules at RPGNow.com (*points up to link*)...since it's free, it can't hurt. ;)

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