Monday, May 4, 2009

The Question of Man Versus Mecha

One of the recurring questions I see about the original OVA was "how well does it handle mecha?" Surely, giant robots are an integral part of anime, so it's a logical concern. But I've never honestly understood why mecha automatically follow a different subset of rules than any other character in the game. I have seen other RPGs devote entire new chapters for mecha, but at the end of the day, the only difference is one part of the book refers to an advantage as "speedy" and in another as "enhanced engines." It's unnecessary. Mecha are characters too, just a little bit bigger and with a pilot for a brain.

That said, there has been a glaring omission that makes running mecha games more problematic, and that's the question of scale. In OVA, everything is relative. The idea of an Ability ranked at +3 being excellent is compared to what would be average for that character. And what is average for a human being has very different implications than what is average for, say, an automobile. Even a slow, rattletrap truck is considerably faster than a marathon-running athlete.

To resolve this, there is now something called the Scale Advantage. Whenever these is a conflict of scale, the Game Master rules that one side or the other has a Scale Advantage. That side gets a +5 bonus to their roll. To use our previous example, a truck with -1 Slow would roll one pitiful die in a test of speed, while our marathon runner with Quick +3 would get 5 dice. But with the Scale Advantage, the truck can now muster 6 dice. A more fair comparison, surely.

However, in OVA, scale is a dynamic consideration. It's not possible to simply create a mecha scale, a starship scale, and a Death Star scale. If we revisit our example again, imagine our truck and runner both trying to navigate an alley way riddled with tight turns, heavy dumpsters, and obstructing buildings. Clearly the marathon runner is much more nimble than the hulking hooptie. The truck would have no Scale Advantage. In fact, if the surroundings are especially difficult to traverse, the Game Master may give the Scale Advantage to the runner! It's a quick, easy calculation, and requires no conversions, complex math, or other game-bogging considerations.

The idea of Scale Advantage being on a case-by-case basis, instead of a permanent part of a character, also allows different cinematic treatment of mecha. In Evangelion, Gundam, and other typical giant robot shows, mecha would have Scale Advantages for everything from Quick to Armored. On the other hand, these mecha can be torn to pieces by human combatants in shows like Project A-ko, and should receive few, if any, of these things.

Someone else familiar with scale is the mischievous kitsune Nazo. While perhaps not on quite the same level as towering mecha, Nazo's ability to alter her appearance and size makes her a dangerous adversary indeed.


  1. Clay, I like it. This will really help make it easier to include mecha in a game without worrying about the persistent issue of game balance. Once a stat is set in stone it's tough to stay nimble game-wise when something else unexpectedly comes up in the game that threatens the established balance.

  2. So does this mean that OVA Revised will cover mecha in the core book now as part of the portion discussing the new scale attribute? I have to admit that not needing a separate mecha supplement, if this is indeed what it implies, makes updating to Revised(since I already have the original) a lot more attractive. *crosses fingers*

  3. This is fantastic! Very smart approach indeed.

  4. Little Shepherd:

    As I said in the entry proper, OVA treats mecha like any other "character," and I never felt a separate supplement was ever actually -needed-. That said, the revised book will include sidebars that give extended examples of various concepts in the game, the "Vehicle (Mecha)" Ability included. There is also more discussion on how the "Pilot" Ability works and how it interacts with a given vehicle's Abilities and Weaknesses. Put simply, you should feel much more equipped this time around, but at the same time you shouldn't expect a chapter's worth of new rules covering mecha mayhem.

  5. Oh, and yes. Mecha will also get coverage in the scale section. ;)

  6. Wow. I'm really looking forward to the revision, Clay. *cracks whip* Keep workin'! ;)

  7. Why all people believe that i always want to play a gundam and not a mazinger, ova you dissapoint me :(...nahhh but i have a question, what happen with some "tricky" mechas like voltron(5 drivers and mecha who blend to make a bigger mecha), or i dont know Spaceship yamato or Gangleon(2 or more chars in a mecha/ship)????.