20 July 2020

The Mecha Hack and Pandemic Blues

Well, here we are in the day 10,191 of the 2020 pandemic.  In the last few months I have been working from home and schooling my kids, even summer school, and trying to maintain my sanity.  It hasn't been easy, with the news basically depressing the living crap out of me every single day.  We've had family ill, one on hospice, gotten a new kitten, had a massive water leak and foundation issues... yeah.  It's been crazy.  I also produced a 64-page supplement for Stars Without Number for internal use with our club thanks to a writing contest run by Sir Edward.  Since it was sort of a mockup and used artwork I don't have rights to, I either have to remake it with art I do have rights to, or just keep it as a proof-of-concept and work on a new project.  Which is what I'm about to do.  Anyway, enough with my pandemic trials and tribulations, let's talk about a fun little game I found that I really want to take for a spin.  The Mecha Hack.

The Mecha Hack comes to us from Absolute Tabletop, and was written by Matt Click, Michael Barker, James Kearney, and Tim Kearney.  It's based on The Black Hack by David Black, which is in turn a hack of The World's Oldest Roleplaying Game.  It's a 48-page digest sized book- but my mecha-loving brain found SO MUCH TO LOVE in those pages.

Most readers know I have a deep and abiding love of Robotech and Battletech.  I played Battletech for the first time at the lunch table of Chisholm Trail Middle School in 1986.  Robotech by Palladium was my first RPG purchased with my own money.  I scored Mekton II, Mekton Zeta, Living Steel, GURPS Mecha, Macross II, RIFTS... just about anything with giant robots or powered armor.  Many of these games were extremely crunchy rules-wise.  The latest set of Battletech rules is something like five 300+ page hardcovers - Total Warfare, Tech Manual, Tactical Operations, Strategic Operations, Interstellar Operations...  OK, so you don't need all of that to play, but holy crap Batman.

OK, guilty admission, I would totally love to use Interstellar Ops and play out the entire Fourth Succession War.

Anyway, The Mecha Hack is short, simple and abstract.  It uses the d20 roll under mechanic used by The Black Hack and its derivatives.  If your Strength is 16, roll a 15 or less on a d20 for a basic success in  a melee attack.  That's about as complicated as things get- there is an advantage/disadvantage mechanic, and some modifiers.  Never does it approach the complexity of something like, say, basic Battletech.

Character creation is simple- roll up four Attributes, choose a pilot archetype from the four available, then choose a mecha chassis.  Once you have a chassis, you add a module to the mecha.  Now your character is done.  Notice the pilot and the mecha are sort of a single entity- this is the way the game is designed to work.  If you're out of your cockpit, you still have the attributes used while in your mecha.  This may seem odd, but in a lot of the media this game seeks to emulate, the mecha are an expression of the personality of their pilot- the big lug tends to pilot a big lug mecha.  The sexy alien ace tends to fly a sexy alien mecha and both of them are deadly quick and accurate.

The damage done by the mecha weapons is based on the type of chassis- this would be like saying in Battletech a Medium Laser will do different damage depending on what 'Mech it's mounted on.  But... isn't that sort of atmospheric to the genre?  I mount a medium laser on, say, a medium 'Mech and it does sort of average damage.  I put one on a light 'Mech, a Scout chassis in the parlance of The Mecha Hack, and now I can do an extra die of damage if I get into an ambush position.  I like it.

Modules add things like targeting gear, defensive shields, or the ability to transform.  So with all the modules, four chassis and four archetypes, you can do quite a lot.  And even if your campaign has a standard-issue mecha suit, in true anime fashion your PCs could each have a different module to set their own suit apart.

Enemies are defined by their Hit Dice.  A 1 HD enemy will usually do 1d4 damage on a hit.  Damage increases as HD increases- and one of the few modifiers in the game comes in with increased HD.  If the enemy has more HD than your PC has levels, you add one to the die when you attempt to roll under against that enemy, making the roll more difficult.

I almost forgot the Reactor Die!  This is a cool mechanic.  When you use a special ability or take critical damage, you roll your Reactor Die.  If the die comes up a 1 or 2, the Reactor Die degrades a die type.  When it hits 1d4 and a 1 or 2 is rolled, your Mecha overheats.  This is bad.

It's so simple, so elegant, I really want to take it for a spin.  And to that end, I'm going to create a Fire Team of pregens that I can use in some future game.

CALLSIGN: Jester Ethos
PILOT:  Commander
Record: A loved one of mine is fighting on the other side of this war.
CHASSIS: Brawler
Armor Points: 5
Hit Points: 6
Hit Die: d8
Damage Die: d8
Reactor Die: d6
Pilot Abilities: Capable Leader, Battle Tactics
Chassis Abilities: Crippling Damage, Charging Strike
Equipment: Comlink, Light Melee Weapon, Light Ranged Weapon, Shield, Light Armor
Modules: Missile Barrage

CALLSIGN: Wing Mammoth
PILOT: Engineer
Record: I'm an amnesiac. Much of my past is missing- but I remember how to fight.
Armor Points: 3
Hit Points: 9
Hit Die: d6
Damage Die: d6
Reactor Die: d6
Pilot Abilities: Gearhead, Quick Fix
Chassis Abilities: Ambush, Cloaking Field
Equipment: Comlink, Light Melee Weapon, Light Ranged Weapon, Light Armor
Modules: Frag Mines

CALLSIGN: Vortex Eon
PILOT: Maverick
Record: I used to serve in an enemy faction, but defected.
CHASSIS: Striker
Armor Points: 5
Hit Points: 9
Hit Die: d8
Damage Die: d8
Reactor Die: d8
Pilot Abilities: Ace Pilot, Reckless Attack
Chassis Abilities: Adaptable Robotics, Reactor Charge
Equipment: Comlink, Light Melee Weapon, Light Ranged Weapon, Shield, Light Armor
Modules: Nano Shroud

CALLSIGN: Vulcan Horizon
PILOT: Quipster
Record: I'm the sole survivor of a horrific battle.
Armor Points: 5
Hit Points: 7
Hit Die: d10
Damage Die: d6
Reactor Die: d6
Pilot Abilities: Lovable Oaf, Inspiring Speech
Chassis Abilities: Kinetic Absorbers, Energy Shield
Equipment: Comlink, Heavy Ranged Weapon, Heavy Armor
Modules: Barricade Mode