Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Seems I'm on an inadvertent RPG break.

My office "Traveller Tuesday" game has had to be preempted so many times I can barely remember what's going on, and my at-home Pathfinder game has been stalled for months. The irony is that in both cases, it's not from lack of interest, but a simple matter of timing.

But it does make me wonder - how long of a gap in the action does it take before people no longer want to carry on with a given adventure?

The Traveller game really only has one more lunch hour in it, possibly two if things get really ugly. The ending of this adventure rewards all surviving party members with a ticket off-world. Depending on if people want to play more Traveller, this will either be a "roll the credits" or the stepping stone to further adventures in the subsector, probably starting with "One Crowded Hour" (lulz), and possibly proceeding to something like the Linkworlds Cluster, or just a series of "one off" adventures, possibly split across two sessions. But I strongly suspect the Tuesday slot will be used for another game. I'm not sure the "old-school charm" of Traveller is sitting well with all of the players. :)

My home Pathfinder game is about to embark on its last mini-campaign (The Conquest of the Blood Sworn Vale) before we shift to another group of characters. "Conquest" should take a few sessions to get through, and the players will wind up 6th or 7th level by the end, which is a good place to halt, setting-wise. Beyond 7th level, the characters are powerful enough that they are "players" in the world, and if they manage to conquer the Vale, they will definitely qualify for that social rank. That's not to say they won't be able to have more adventures of course - in fact, it just opens up adventures in other lands/planes/etc. and against increasingly powerful foes (Giants, Demons, etc.). We'll see how that goes.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Now I get where DP9 was coming from....

DP9, aka Dream Pod 9, the creators of both Heavy Gear and Jovian Chronicles, among other games.

The thing I was missing was a solid understanding of the game Mekton II. While I was busy with BattleTech, the DP9 guys were playing Mekton, and that shaped their view of what it means to be a Mecha game. In a real way, Heavy Gear was a response to Mekton.

Given that Mark A. Vezina (the man behind HG's rules) was also a force in the Mekton sphere, and the original Jovian Chronicles was actually a Mekton II expansion, this should come as no surprise to anyone, but as I digest my new Mekton materials, a lot what seemed strange in HG is starting to make sense.

I'm not going to go into details, since a large part of this microepiphany is "feel" related rather than rules related (in fact, Silhouette and Interlok rules are quite different in their approaches).

With all that being said, I'm now anxious to convert some basic HG mecha to Mekton (I know, blasphemy, right?). I'm certainly planning on doing up some stats for GZG's "Not VOTOMS" mechs I picked up, and maybe even trying to adapt Operation: Jungle Drums.

"Why not just play Heavy Gear?" you ask? Because I am a sad and perverse person, and at the moment I'm obsessed with Mekton. :) Plus, the few times I played HG as a wargame were not as satisfying as I would have like, and I suspect the crunchier and slightly less lethal approach of Mekton would serve my needs.

Ironically, HG may be too hard-science/realistic for my prejudices.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

More Mekton

My copy of Mekton II arrived yesterday in the mail, and I spent much of the evening lightly reading it.

I can see why people prefer Mekton Z, but Mekton II has a number of flavorful touches I don't recall seeing in MTZ. Mekton II's production is very "early 90's, late 80's" in style, with primitive artwork and tables, and a somewhat scattered layout

For example, there is a table for Mekton weapons that miss to show what sort of collateral damage they would do to a city - crushed facades, melted steel, craters in the road, etc. Mekton II seems to have a lot more of these "flavor" tables than Mekton Zeta does, though again, MTZ is a more dense manuscript, and I haven't yet gone looking.

Mekton II and Mekton Zeta are both implementations of the "Interlok" gaming system, which has a variety of stats, some physical, some mental and some social. The stats themselves are mostly compatible between the games, and some exist to provide flavor, like "Cool", which is naturally enough, how cool you are. All values range from 1-10, and d10 is the primary dice used. Tasks are usually opposed d10+Stat+Skill rolls, or in the case of what d20 would call "Difficulty Class" ratings, Difficulty+d10. MTZ does away with the "+d10" for DC checks and rates its DC's as 5 points higher than Mekton II. I think I like the Mekton II way, but I can see the advantages of a fixed target number.

Once Mekton Zeta-ism I do intend to use is the "computed stat" for "Stability", which is Cool*2.5, and gives the target number for overcoming someone in a social situation, such as asking someone out on a date or trying to interrogate someone. I didn't see a "Resist Seduction" or similar skill (though one is mentioned in the Mekton II contested tasks example), and "Stability" would make for a nice substitute. To "Mekton II-ify" the rule, I might take (Cool*2.5 - 5)+d10, though in my experience players get itchy with that much math, even when they only have to compute it once.

M2's internal organization definitely shows its early 90's roots. Artwork is primitive, fonts and layout are simple, and organization is a bit confusing. It doesn't help that the examples frequently use skills that do not exist, though I expect the author did this to try to convey the free-wheeling spirit of the game.

Combat is broadly the same, but differs in some small details, and is quite dangerous in both games unless you are wearing some armor or only engaging in fist fights. Mekton II seems to have more in the way of kung-fu options for both humans and Mecha, which is amusing. If your gun can't punch through your enemy's armor, maybe you can roundhouse kick his mech in the head.

Character generation is similar in both games, but Mekton Zeta adds the Traveller-like ability to "serves some terms" to get more skills, and you can either play a "Rising Star" or and "Experienced Hand". I would probably use this same rule in Mekton II if I were running a campaign; there's nothing inherently "Zeta" about it.

All in all, I'm left with the impression that Mekton II is sort of like AD&D 2nd Edition, whereas Mekton Zeta is sort of like D&D 3.0. Mekton II is idiosyncratic and hard to follow in some places, but has a bit more character in the main rule book. Mekton Zeta is a more solid gaming system, but it loses a bit of flavor in its attempt to streamline and rationalize the Mekton system.

Which would I use to run a game? If I were running Operation: Rimfire, I think I'd use Mekton II, since that's what the adventure was designed for. If I were doing a new adventure, I would seriously consider using Mekton Zeta in the Mekton Empires setting, though Empires would need some conversion work.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


I picked up a copy of the old "Mekton Empires" at MillenniumCon last weekend. As some of you know, I'm a nut for Mechs, though I've had very little (as in no) luck engaging in Mech or Anime related RPGs. (Played a lot of Battletech though - that counts for something, right? :))

ME is a supplement for the Mekton RPG. In specific, it's for Mekton II. The only Mekton rules I have are "Mekton Z" (which is basically tweaked M2 with a way more sophisticated mech building system). I picked up MZ a few years ago when I was looking for a new Mech wargame that wasn't BTech or Heavy Gear, and had MZ suggested. I tried a few test games of MZ just as a miniatures wargame, and while it worked well enough, as with most games, I suspect it would have worked better had I not had to play solo. Besides, Mekton is actually an RPG, and a big part of the fun of a Mekton battle is no doubt the crazy interaction between angsty teenage pilots. :)

A relevant aside: I've been watching some classic Anime SF with my kids lately - Robotech, Starblazers, Patlabor.... So they get the robots, space fighters, pop stars and "spinal mount weapons" thing.

After a brief conversation with a friend, I decided to go ahead and grab a copy of M2 (it was only 5 bucks) so that I can run Operation: Rimfire and use Mekton Empires without having to try to convert to MZ. It seems that M2 has sort of the same relationship to MZ as D&D 2nd Ed has to D&D 3.0 - very similar in broad strokes, but quite different in the details.

Plus, the Mekton II cover art owns the Mekton Zeta art. At least in my opinion. :)

Now the real question is, am I going to be able to get my at-home RPG group (ie, wife & kids) to sign on for a campaign? We're playing Pathfinder right now, which is much more complex mechanically, but simpler conceptually, and even though we're winding down one campaign, they're already excited about starting up a Pathfinder Pirates game.

So my Mekton dreams may have to wait a little longer still. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Traveller, NPCs and PNPCs

More GM thoughts, this time on player character generation choices and the role of hirelings.

When you run any RPG campaign, you want to allow your players as much freedom as possible when choosing their characters, because players who like their characters tend to have more fun. However, some types of characters just don't fit in any given campaign setting. For instance, what exactly does that ex-scholar bring to a bounty hunter band again?

Add in the lethality of some rules such as Traveller, and you can quickly get your players into a situation where their characters are useless or dead, and that's not fun for anyone.

Two obvious solutions present themselves. Well, three if you count "let PCs die so that players learn to generate more relevant characters", which is not calculated to make you a popular GM.

First and most obviously, get the players to buy in to a campaign concept (like the "bounty hunter"/"Cowboy Bebop" idea above, or maybe a "Firefly"/"Merchants" setting) and build characters that fit that setting. This is probably the best way to go overall, but if your merry band of adventurers is not as focused on their mission, or you are using strict CT character generation rules, this might not be practical.

The other idea is to have the players make more than one character, with one of them being an employee of the other, such as the ex-Diplomat who works the deals and an ex-Marine who pulls the trigger. This is a variation of the time honored "hireling" NPC role, with the difference that the NPCs are controlled by players. (PNPCs?)

There's no reason that these PNPCs couldn't in theory remain with the party, if the situation made sense (like players running a "Star Trek" type game, where they play both bridge officers and away team members), or just have them fade away into the background after the job is complete (and they get their cut).

Hireling NPCs are about as classic an RPG concept as you can find, and I have no doubt that "PNPCs" are well known to others, but I have never seen them used in a game.

A less permanent version of the PNPC idea might be to have a patron send an armed fire team to assist the players, giving each player one member of the team to control in addition to their own characters. These PNPCs would be the classic Red Shirts, and could take all the risks. Players would be naturally discouraged from getting their own PNPC killed off (due to emotional attachment), where they might not think twice of ordering a fire team of NPCs forward into danger.

With Classic Traveller's character generation being so simple, it would be easy enough to have each player roll up a character on the fly, stipulating what service and the maximum number of terms they can have. Or even easier, have everyone roll UPPs (in order, reroll 3-) and give out skills you think are appropriate, possibly keyed by each characters statistic. (For example, the one with the highest Intelligence might get Recon.)