Looking at an OSR Mecha Game

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It's been said over and over. Where are the mecha clones?

Personally, I enjoyed playing Battletech and Centurion quite a bit growing up. I think Scott and I ran so many Centurion games, I thought about custom hovertanks in my sleep.

Not a hovertank, a battle platform!

I also had a perchant for making a lot of units for Battletech. I was terrible at tracking heat, so I usually lost by blowing up my own mech. Maybe that's why I liked Centurion so much more.

I really wanted these to work!

So when it comes to an OSR Mecha game, what do we need? After all, there is the Battleforce Quickstart Rules and the Classic BattleTech Quickstart rules, so why another game?

For me, that's easy to answer: It's fun to make. More than that, I have a mech hidden in every fantasy world I've ever designed. Spelljammer? Those spacehulks were massive dropships. The haunted mountain with ghostly voices that drive men mad? That's the computer system still looking for the TOG crew that died thousands of years earlier. (Yes, it has one more shot before it loses all its ammo.) The Shrine of the Iron Golem? An abandoned, yet intact Cyclops . (This one has a Gauss Rifle instead of an Autocannon.)

With a worlds-spanning concept like Spelljammer, it was easy to add yet another Crystalline Sphere that existed way beyond any known path through the phlogiston. Very few things made it from those distant spheres, but the handful of items that do lead to some very interesting magic items. I don't mean artifact-type weapons, but other things more mundane. I'm talking things like UHF communicators, AIs, non-addicting stimulants, and even some cyberpunk elements like cranial dataport jacks. When you cross magic and technology, you get all kinds of weird things.

Then again, sometimes I don't want a crazy fantasy world, I just want to run a lance from one side of the board to the other in a desperate blitz to get to base through enemy territory. No air support or planet destroying megaships involved, just tanks and mecha slugging it out on some far-flung scorched world.

Again, with one of the Quickstart rules I mentioned earlier, I could do that fairly easily. I still have my Centurion Box and original BatteTech rules (complete with a few technical updates and Maximum Tech.) Yet, there are things that I either house-ruled or just plain hated about each set of rules. I could deal with the heat rules in BattleTech, even though I was terrible at them. The heat rules force you to make strategy and save your powerful punches for opportune times. What I couldn't deal with, was facing. We would agonize over the board trying to set the facing in just the right way to move and point our primary weapons systems in the correct direction. Centurion had no heat rules, but once I reached a certain speed, I couldn't steer a hovertank correctly. (I kept turning too late and sliding sideways off the map.) I preferred the slower groundling tanks or massive hover tanks that always moved slowly. Note that my "brick" has a speed of 3.

These are not faults with the games themselves. No, the fault is mine. It's not that I just wanted to blast through everything or try to get away with things, it's just that I couldn't figure out where I'd be two moves ahead, so I got frustrated when I always felt out of place. I figured that any computer-assisted steering system could figure out how to move a tank/mech from one location to another accurately, so why not minimize those rules that blow me off the map?

Really though, I just enjoy Swords and Wizardry. With the third alternate combat sequence, I saw a tactical system that rewards quickness over flat-footed slugfests. Why not make a mecha system without heat and hover movement that feels like S&W?

The third alternate combat sequence is really simplified from OD&D. I looked for ways to track the segments and found stories of gamers using cribbage boards. Looking at the rules, though, I realized that I never really needed to know the actual segment number, I only had to know who's turn was next and when a round was over.

I made a custom board that allowed the rules as written in S&W Complete for alternate combat sequence #3 to work. Still, I wanted something a bit nicer. I discovered that if I used a backgammon board and changed the default number of segments from 6 to 7, the whole system just clicked.

In S&W fantasy, the referee had to fudge the dexterity of monsters. In my mecha game, however, everything had a dexterity score. This made the alternative combat sequence #3 a great fit. With the backgammon board, a players' choice of miniatures, markers, or even checkers to mark each combatant, a straightforward system emerged. Unlike my favorite Centurion or BattleTech, this game has quicker rules. At a glance, everyone knows who is taking a turn now and who will go next. I'm still testing it, but my 8 and 7 year old kids seem to get it. I've got it written, but now I'm testing it. I might even get a pickup game at Nuke-Con in October.

So,why an Swords & Wizardry mecha game? Because it fits once I houserule it. 🙂

Not a Secret Project

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I am always working on a new project, especially when a previous one fails. This time, I am mostly taking the advice of Kevin Crawford of actually writing all the text before before attempting to publish anything. (I'm in the editing phase of the current project.)

Some time ago, I mentioned the OSR Tinkerer's Toolkit and making a quarterly zine called Odd Duck. The idea is that I am testing the toolkit to come out with a different game based on the toolkit. One new game or setting will be in every issue of Odd Duck.

The rest of the pdf will have pieces of the Toolkit in smaller articles. This includes things like mini-encounters, new monsters, new magic items, spells, playable races, magic systems, and a place to discuss a particular mechanic.

For example, in issue one, the theme is Armor. There will be an encounter with naturally armored creatures. (The answer to the encounter will not be kill them all, although that is certainly one option.) There will be two new armored creatures detailed in a monster article. There will be a demonstration of using the Alternate Combat Sequence Method No. 3 that is more visual than number-crunching. Another article details the use of spidersilk and integrating spidersilk workers into a setting. Of course, there will be spells and magic items mixed in as well.

The game for issue one will be my final version of Lorica, a large vehicle game inspired by Battletech, Centurion Legion, and various mecha.

In writing the text, Lorica has changed from the various posts here. Nanites play a big roll in the repair, management, and manufacture of various machines. There are still lots of different kinds of weapons, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. The system to create your own machines is still largely the same. I won't include the 50 types of mecha I have already created in the issue, but I'll publish them here on the website.

The machines themselves are not the bulky metal-and-wires mecha I loved in all our games  of Battletech growing up. Instead, the huge machines are semi-intelligent artificial life forms. The internal structure is a type of supergel that distributes weapons damage efficiently throughout the mech while nanites effect regenerative repair. The outside will still feature ceramic outer armor. In many ways, the mech will be an extension of the pilots' own body.

By the way, it uses the alternate combat rules discussed in a separate article.

There's more to come. I recently recovered a lot of gaming journals and notes that I thought I had lost. This includes a setting I sketched out called Circles of the Nine Songs as well as various psionics systems, old dungeons, MSH characters, and NPCs galore. There is plenty to write about.

One other thing is that I use Microlite20 as part of the tinker's kit. M20 is great at prototyping and it is used for the limited testing I am able to do. All in all, I think I have finally embarked on a project that is doable and sustainable. As I said, the first issue is in editing. The second issue (which is about Magic) will be the best of the Magic Project I started in January. I won't have the spell building system (that utterly failed), but I will have article about using different mechanics for types of magic systems.

Okay, maybe there is a secret project coming. It has nothing to do with Odd Duck and it will not benefit me directly at all. All I'll say is that it has to do with M20, but I'll say nothing else. Unlike Odd Duck, I don't know if I will be able to do this project like I impicture it.

Anyway, the insanely busy season is passing for me. I haven't written anything in over two months and I am ready to go. Wish me luck!

Listed on Links To Wisdom

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In the Player Character section of Links to Wisdom (an OSR House Rules Wiki), there is a link to my post about Building Mecha. Since the post was made back in April, I have no idea how long it has been there.

Thanks for the link!

If you like Building Mecha, here are all the links for Lorica, the name I use to group my mecha for S&W posts.

Maybe I've been reading CM4 Earthshaker too much lately, but I will throw a mech into a fantasy game. I actually had a location in my campaign world I ran in high school that featured a centuries old mecha "ruin". The secret was that one of the missiles still worked, everything else was pretty much non-functional.