Posted by: markfender | December 28, 2011


So, with all those pictures of LEGO mechs I post, you probably got the idea that I like robots.

It’s true. The problem is that mecha (that is, giant robots that feature human pilots) make pretty bad material for a RPG. Besides, the general issue of vehicles not being a very good focus for a RPG, the other issue is that RPGs always handle mechs the exact same way.

I blame Battletech. Just like most fantasy RPGs that enter the market are based on D&D at some level, all the mecha RPGs are based on Battletech. Battletech is fine, for what it is (that is, a 30-year old game that is approaching Squad Leader level of optional rules), but it is based on a particular type of mech battle that doesn’t appeal to me. The idea of a mech as a walking, plodding gun platform is okay, but I prefer my mecha a little more maneuverable. And all the RPGs seem to return to this model. Hell, even the various d20 mecha games, for some odd reason, add in hit locations. Probably because Battletech had them. Never mind that the d20 system doesn’t bother with hit locations…but for some reason the d20 mecha games also feature them. And don’t even get me started on mecha construction systems (*shakes fist at Mekton Z*).

But I think the real issue with mecha combat in RPGs is that it’s not any different than the regular combat. Pretty much the only difference is that the numbers are bigger. I’d prefer a little more differentiation. I mean, the only reason we’re hopping into those robots can’t just be that the things we’re fighting have more hitpoints, can it? For instance, a game like Heavy Gear uses the same combat rules for mecha as it does for personal combat…except that all the numbers are multiplied by 10. Whoo. Why am I supposed to be excited for the distinctive feature of your setting when all it does is have bigger numbers?

DragonMech was slightly better in that regard. Yes, the numbers were just bigger, but the mechs also suffered from clumsiness. So, combat tactics ended up being slightly different – lots of trips, slams, and grapples. Unfortunately, it also added hit locations and perpetuated the slow, lumbering Battletech feel to mechs. But I appreciated the slight different emphasis in combat. Trips and grapples were already present in d20, but the mech combat emphasized them more than regular d20 combat. So that’s something.

Of course, you don’t want entirely disparate systems. That would just get confusing (and who likes games with multiple sub-systems). But I do think there needs to be something besides larger numbers to differentiate mecha combat from personal combat. The best example I can think of is probably Warmachine. Warmachines have access to manuevers that other types of units don’t have access to – Slams, Throws, Tramples, etc. These make them operate on a different playing field than other troop options while still retaining the same system. Of course, Warmachine being a miniatures game doesn’t quite translate over to RPGs. The closest analogue I can think of is something like the manuevers from Star Wars Saga’s Starship Combat system. Obviously, these were based on dog-fighting and wouldn’t apply straight across to mechs, but I think that might be an interesting direction to head. Give mecha pilots options in their mechs that they wouldn’t have if they were just walking around in their mech jumpsuits.

So, yeah, someone come up with a mecha RPG that A) doesn’t feature really slow robots; and B) doesn’t rely on mechs just having larger numbers to differentiate them. You would think there’s some Japanese RPG that might do this already, but I can’t think of any (Of course, I can’t read Japanese, so even if there was, it wouldn’t do me any good.)



  1. Hmmm, never played Heavy Gear as an RPG, but this does remind me that we’re way over due to stumble thru another game of Heavy Gear Blitz. Ya know, one of those games where 2 hours into it we call it quits due to headaches induced by the eye strain from reading microscopic type on stat-cards, and endlessly searching for the definition of a bedazzling array of acronyms (and all while trying to justify this torture to ourselves cause ‘the models are cool’…).

    Happy belated birthday btw. Did the Thac0 guys buy you something off of your Christmas wish list that, we your devoted yet cheap bastard listeners didn’t?


    • At least you were able to build an army. I just sorta stare at all the options and have no idea where to even start.

  2. Obviously you use Riddle of Steel for Voltron-style multiple-pilot mech situations, with each character able to devote dice from his combat pool to a subset of the mech’s capabilities. Terrain rolls would be governed by the Hunk and Sven, pilots of the blue and yellow lions. Most attacks and defenses would draw from the combat pools of Lance and Pidge, pilots of the red and green lions. Problem solved.

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