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MEKTON ZERO: The Designer’s Notes #3

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Pimp Your Mek; or how Mekton-Zero makes your Suit suit YOU.

One of the more unusual things in Mekton Zero is the way we deal with the mecha themselves. In most mecha games, meks are treated as though they are basically mobile tank units, with values derived from how a “unit” would be used in an armored combat setting. This works great when you’re playing a tabletop war game (we use this concept in Mekton Zeta and Zeta Plus), but in a more roleplaying based setting, this approach leaves something to be desired.

See, as I watched more and more mecha shows over the years, I began to notice a strange thing. Characters in mecha shows don’t relate to their mecha in the same way as a war game commander relates to his tanks. They actually relate to them in a manner much closer to how a car owner relates to a favorite car. They personalize them. They give them nicknames. They hang stuff from the mirrors. (Think I kid? They did it in GoShogun). They “treat” them to personalized paint jobs and upgrades. In some shows, the pilots even talk to them as though they are alive.

In fact, the best example of how mecha are treated in anime shows is actually in a non-anime show– Star Wars— and it’s Han Solo’s Millenium Falcon. Think about it; Han Solo talks to the Falcon. He says, “Hold together baby,” like you do to your faltering old jalopy that just needs a bit of encouragement to get up the last hill to work. He’s constantly tinkering with it, making it his special creation. When something breaks down, Han knows just what panel to bang to get it to work again. This isn’t just any YT-3000 Correllian bulk freighter. It’s the Millenium Falcon.

So when I sat down to write Mekton Zero, I thought long and hard about how people who live in a fully “mechanized” culture would relate to their mecha. Would they treat them like soulless war machines, or would they also tend to anthropomorphise their mecha just like we do to our own vehicles? And the answer was as obvious as the markings on Skull One.

The Other Character

In Mekton Zero, mecha are more than machines; they are characters. They are designed to carry all of the attributes that make a roleplaying character a person save one; personal volition. They have traits, history, background, quirks. If possible, they should be customizable, not only in the weapons or defenses they have, but in their paint jobs, upgrades, even their basic abilities. In short, they should be “built” from more than just parts—they should be built to be the “characters” they actually are in a typical anime show. So in many ways, you will be constructing TWO characters—your pilot and the mek they are controlling.

Basic Construction

In this conceptualization, a mecha’s MODEL is basically equivalent to RACE in a typical roleplaying game. Like Elves, humans and dwarves, right? Dwarves are short, tough and hardy? So are Maulers—the Mauler model line is designed to take punishment and be able to fixed with a roll of duct tape if needed. Elves are fast, stealthy and great at long range attacks? Maybe Vectors have those qualities too; high speeds, reactive systems, sniper-level beam rifles. Think about cars today. Certain brands automatically have characteristics. Volvos are stodgy but safe and dependable. Lamborghinis are fast but finicky and hard to maintain. Fords and Chryslers aren’t known for being exotic or beautiful, but in general, they are pretty dependable, easy to fix, and available almost everywhere. Want something cute and sporty? Try a Volkswagen Bug or an Austin Mini-Cooper. All of these are part of the Basic Construction of a Mekton. Basic construction gives you a specific set of characteristics for a type of mecha. This would include the kills in its body, its armor SP, its maneuver value and its mecha reflexes.

Beyond Basic Construction

But individual suits should also reflect small intangibles that are part of their individual construction. Even when suits are of the same make and model, just like cars, some are “lemons” while others are just plain superior. In Mekton Zero, we reflect this by giving every “hero” suit its own set of “characteristics.” As the player, you will assign specific points to these areas:

Reactive

(INT)

The mecha’s kata-computer processes your commands faster than what is normal for its type. This means it is better at leaping into action when you try to do something; reflected in a bonus to it’s stock MV.

Speedy

(DEX)

The mecha’s power-train systems are better integrated that what is normal for its type. This means it is better at dodging attacks or performing actions, reflected in a bonus to it’s stock MR.

Repairable (TECH)

The mecha is able to restore or reroute damage systems better than what is normal for it’s type. This reflects in a TECH roll bonus for making battlefield repairs or rerouting onboard systems in battle.

Lucky

(LUCK)

The mecha is just plain fortunate—it dodges attacks that would kill another suit, and survives what would normally be fatal situations. This reflects in a once per game “save” chance to avoid traps, killing shots, etc.

Empathic

(EMP)

The mecha’s kata-computer learns your fighting styles faster than what is normal for its type. This means it is better at mastering new kata; reflected in a bonus to its stock Learning Curve for the type.

Durability (BODY)

The mecha’s frame is especially well built. This means it is better at absorbing damage; reflected in a bonus to its stock Kills in all areas.

Skills For Mecha: Kata

Meks are also “learning” machines. They get better at performing actions as they are used, mastering the nuances of their pilots. This, combined with the individual characteristics of construction (which any auto mechanic can tell you is a real factor), give meks their own “personalities.” And the way in which Mektons learn is through Katas.

Katas are pre-learned moves or combination moves that can be called upon by a suit’s pilot, increasing the suit’s ability to fight. Suits “learn” kata through practice and use. Your ability to use a kata is a total of your skill and the mecha’s skill. When your suit is destroyed, the kata for the suit must be relearned. Which means that no suit is utterly replaceable—each one becomes unique as you use and develop a bond with it.

Using Katas helps streamline combat, since only one roll is needed to see whether a complex series of moves has been successful. But Katas can also give a mecha “personality,” since you can program specialized katas to show off personal style or trademark moves. For example, you can always have your mecha’s default standing state to be just…well.. just standing there. But if you really want to have extra cool, teach it the kata of “Gangsta Lean Stance,” and it will casually sling it’s beam gun over one shoulder and lean one elbow on the nearest building, looking for all the world to be an utter baddass. Which sounds trivial, until you realize that Roy Fokker of Macross does exactly that move with Skull One, totally reinforcing his status as the baddest dude in the UN Spacey.

MekPath

The last bit of mecha coolness is to give that big metal character its own history. After all, HOW you get your suit and what its history was before you got it is always a key part of a good mecha show. If you’re Amuro Rey, you get your Gundam by grabbing the manual and jumping in the cockpit. But if you’re Judau Ashta, you not only steal the Gundam; you deliver a punch in the face to Bright Noah along the way. Whether you’re Hikaru or Alto, you end up in the seat of your Valkyrie fighter just in time to save your girlfriend from falling to her death. MekPath is designed to give you not only HOW you ended up with this engine of mobile destruction, but even who the previous owner may have been (your mad scientist father, the brave combat ace killed in action, the mysterious stranger who gave you the keys, etc). With MekPath, you may find your suit has secret weapons or abilities unknown to others. It may have a curse placed on it. It may even be haunted by the soul of the last owner. Any way it comes about, the very act of getting your mecha is an opportunity for adventure itself.

So in the end, you’ll discover that the usually boring act of getting your mecha and becoming a hero in Mekton Zero is a unique process unlike any other in mecha game design. Like the Mekton Zero character design system, mecha design is about the journey, not just the end result, allowing for a more anime experience and a more satisfying outcome.

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