Apr 042019
 

Complete Mecha Factory – CO-4 Mecha Entertainment Capital (SFRPG)

This massive book clocks in at 127 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC,1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 122 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.

After a brief introduction and in-character prose, we are thrust into CO-4E, the Mecha Entertainment Capital, also known by its proper name Aridia. The sun-system, which features a colossal rock belt and notes about sun size, notes on moon presence and distance etc., generates a nice introduction to the region – though one that sports a couple of typo-level glitches in the descriptions of the respective movers and shakers. Still, this is a nice start – particularly considering the nice full-color map of the star system.

There is a significant difference between power armor and mechas – and the pdf states that mechas can scale up in size to Colossal starship! On the other hand, power armor is supposed to increase up to Small starship size. A note: Size categories in SFRPG are capitalized. There is another thing that kinda struck me as odd: SFRPG RAW has no power armor. Just powered armor. There’s a difference there. Anyway, this pdf refers to power armor, and suggests, when using them in conjunction with mecha, to treat them as an armor category beyond heavy…which the SFRPG rules already do for powered armors. So yeah, this generates a bit of unnecessary confusion, when the book actually does use the powered armor rules…it just mislabels them as “power armor”. (And yes, this is a nitpick, but it really is confusing in the beginning.)

After this, we’re introduced to mechas: Mechas behave akin to starships, and have 4 firing arcs – forward, aft, left and right arm- Standard mecha do not have turrets, and two weapons may be mounted on each of the arms – these automatically count as linked when fired at the same target. Mechas require one “turn per size” to enter and activate– that should be one round per size category, or per point value associated with the size category. It may be hacked with Computers (erroneously called “Computer”) and gets rules syntax rather wrong: This immobilizer requires a Computer skill of DC30 + (security features + tier of mecha). You can’t have a Computer skill of DC 30 + anything; you can make a Computers skill check against a DC. It’s clear what’s meant, but deviations from proper rules verbiage like this compound and add up and require some firm understanding of the system – otherwise they can, quite needlessly, I might add, become confusing.

Piloting can be used to pilot mechas, and the pdf mentions three specific Professions: Mecha Pilot, Mecha Technician, Stable Gofer. In a pure mecha fighting scenario, one movement is equal to a hex; when used in conjunction with ships, mechas suffer from 1 speed less than them, to represent how ships tend to be more swift – it’s small touch, but one I enjoy. This section also clearly states the necessary abstractions from character to mecha to spaceship regarding movements. These are necessarily quick and dirty, but they do their job without being intrusive.

An important difference: Mechas with a certain maneuverability get autoturn – at the end of the turn, you can choose their facing. The pdf even notes how mecha weapon affects character scale x10 damage, though it’s much harder to hit those small targets – unless it’s specifically designed to be that way. Mechas can carry twice the tier times the mecha size in bulk – I assume this to be the size modifier for them, though the pdf doesn’t state so. Mechas have positions for crew, pilots, gunnery, science and captains, and the respective actions are noted by position: Firing on the move, defensive stances, combat steps, evasive action, forward slide, purposeful full body attack-collisions (less damage for attacking mecha). As an aside: Resolve is capitalized in SFRPG.

The gunnery actions include sniping, which is unlocked at 6th level, and requires that the mecha hasn’t moved – this nets +4 to hit and deals +25% damage versus mecha that have their shields depleted. Why only against mecha? Not sure. It should be mentioned that, while similar to the gunnery position of a starship, sniping, for example, does not require Resolve expenditure, and that there are only 3 actions here. Now, I know, I may sound harsh here – and I frankly am. But the thing is that the rules presented per se? If you can get past the needlessly obtuse deviations from rules-language standard…are actually pretty elegant. You don’t have to relearn a system – this tweaks starship combat to a different medium and does a pretty solid job doing so.

After this, we get a mecha-build checklist – with size and scale (first entry in scale column is not properly aligned with the column’s header). Familiarity with starship rules will make this pretty easy to grasp – we get maneuverability (which denotes speed in hexes), Hull Points, Damage Threshold, Critical Threshold, etc. You select frame, propulsion, packages, weapons, shields and optional features. And then, we get a metric ton of mecha frames: Arachnids/arthropods? Check. Bipedal? Check. Zoomorphic frames? Check. Hover frames? Check. Weapon platforms? Check. Scrapped together mecha? Check.

Engines may include afterburners, wheeled engines, thrusters, etc., and sensors include extra packages for seeing through, blindsight, etc. The engine allows for further customization via mecha packages, which are basically the equivalent of armor upgrades, and shield generators, armor, weaponry , a whole table of hand-held equipment, rules for physical shields, disposable missile pods, a mecha critical effect table….the engine per se is mighty indeed. It feels like the author genuinely cared. I just wished someone had cleaned up the formatting and rules language integrity.

Beyond the mecha-creation engine, we also have a slew of powered armors – pardon, “power armors” by this pdf’s parlance. This section also includes one of my favorite artworks herein, apart from the cover – a shark-like humanoid in a shark-y powered armor. Really neat. There are power armors here that do not replace e.g. the wielder’s Strength, but instead augment it – it’s available in +2, +4 and +6. Plenty of sample power armors are included. The expansion bays, alas, tend to get bonus types wrong, and it is here in the more finicky rules that the lack of precision regarding rules language comes more strongly to the fore. On the interesting side of things, bays that may only be attached to vessels of a certain size? Yeah, makes sense! And from terraformer to mecha bay, these are massive and make sense of big frickin’ vessel.

The third chapter deals with mecha games – think of robot wars and similar classics. We begin with tables for random faction ideologies and alignments, and a brief similar table for resources and staging area are part of the deal. 8 sample factions (all with their custom icon) can be found within. Then, we get some global rules for different arena fight settings, competitions and prize fights.

The world of Aradia is further detailed as well – it comes with a solid map (though I wished it was included in a jpg as well), and then proceeds to note the unique features – acid rain, blades[sic!] ice, etc. The latter states, fyi: “Non-mecha creatures attempting to enter this hazard have to make a DC 10 plus 4 per tier of bladed ice.” No, the rest of the section does not make clearer what the flying f*** we’re supposed to be doing. Damage, further down, is not properly codified. Skills are not capitalized. This collides, painfully, with the per se interesting backdrop and its zones, which btw. come in a massive bunch of archive folders that allow for VTT-use, though assemblage here can be a challenge. A roll20-folder is included. A ginormous space station, with its zones stating mounts, expansion bays, etc. in impressive detail – both as a potentially combat relevant entity, but also as a setting to explore. Building and facility creation is touched upon, and two sample cities – Hopperton and Grimmson, are also provided.

The pdf provides a new class, the Mechaneer, who gets 6 HP, 6 Stamina + Constitution modifier per level, 4 + Int skills per level and he uses Intelligence or Dexterity “as the primary stat.” THERE IS NO SUCH THING IN SFRPG. It’s called key ability score, FFS! Literally one glance at ANY class can show you that. Proficiency includes basic melee, grenades, small arms, light armor and heavy armor. These are NOT capitalized in SFRPG. The class table’s columns and values do not align, making it look like a mess. The class gets ¾ BAB-progression, and uses non-standard save progression – bad idea for a game as tightly wound, math-wise, as SFRPG. The table is missing plusses before the saves and BAB. The class has powered armor/mechas hardcoded into its design, but since the rules-language is so wonky, it’s basically impossible to judge it properly. This issue extends to the 5 themes. “Jink Dance (Level 6) Allows the pilot to increase the Piloting, Gunnery and AC by +2.“ You tell me what that’s supposed to mean; it doesn’t take a seasoned designer to note that this is NOT how rules-language operations work in Starfinder. It looks obvious at first glance, but once you think about it for a second, you’ll realize that you have no idea to what this is supposed to apply.

The equipment section includes mining lasers, modular shelters, armor, weaponry, vehicles (including mecha transporters) etc. The bestiary gets the XP by CR wrong (CR critter with CR 4 XP value), and fails to format defensive properties right: Weaknesses and Immunities are listed separately, not as part of defensive abilities. They also fail to specify type. There is no “crawl” speed. Damage type indicators are missing from attacks. There is no sonar sense. That is handled via blindsense (sound). These errors? They all were just in ONE of the statblocks. Yes, they extend to ALL of them. If you have any standards whatsoever regarding statblock integrity, you’ll skip this chapter.

We close, thankfully, with a better section, namely a massive mecha reference for your convenience, with a ton of premade ones.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are, there is no two ways around that, pretty bad. There are a lot of typos, and the less said about rules-language integrity, the better. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, and interior artwork ranges from solid to goofy. Cartography is nice, and the VTT-jpgs are a plus, but assembly help would be nice. A huge no-go for a book of this rules-density, and one that further compounds the primary issues of this book, would be the fact that this has no bookmarks.

Yep. A 100+ pages crunch book sans bookmarks.

I couldn’t believe it either, particularly when Gamer Printshop provided bookmarks in previous offerings.

This is one of the most frustrating books to review that I’ve seen in quite a while. It is painfully evident that Edward Moyer and Katrina Fuchs love what they’re doing. This does not, not for a second, feel phoned in. And in fact, as far as the mecha part is concerned, this is pretty decent. But it comes down to one thing, the issues of this book, beyond obvious glitches that should have been caught by even a cursory glance:

Rules language. The rules language is strangely bipolar: When it comes to starships/mechas, an arguably complex subsystem, it may not be perfect, but it’s something you can use. When we go to the VERY FRICKIN’ BASICS of the game, though? Totally falls apart. The syntax is not correct. The semantics are thoroughly compromised due to the deviations from basic verbiage. Deviations that should have been caught by even a cursory glance at the reference rules. This is almost like the designers actually hadn’t learned the system, just the subsystem for starships. The glitches are also not nitpicks. We’ve been adding plusses in front of BABs and saves since the advent of d20. Heck, I SUCK at doing anything aesthetically pleasing, and I can make a word-table that aligns columns and values properly. How can you screw up walking into a field of damaging stuff? It’s one of the most basic rules operations ever. The bestiary is a train-wreck as well – one that shows that the Alien Archive was obviously not properly consulted. “Large Creature Combatant Array” – the book EXPLAINS how to make critters. I would have understood getting adjustments wrong, but this? That’s critter-design 101, and it has been for…how long…20 or so years? Damn, I’m getting old.

So, the question is: Can you look past the lack of bookmarks, the glaring and pronounced issues of this book? If you can, if you invest the time to polish this, then you’re rewarded with a mighty and pretty neat mecha engine, one that, with the right amount of polish, could have been awesome, could have been a must-own recommendation. But it’ll take TIME and WORK, for, as written, it is mired in an amount of glitches that, no matter how much I want to like the mecha-engine, I can’t let stand.

I wanted to love this so badly; I can see its clearly evident potential. But right now, as written? I can’t rate this higher than 2.5 stars, rounded down. If you’re willing to put in the effort and flex your design muscles, this can be an extremely rough gem, but it’ll need a lot of polishing. More than most folks will be willing to put into it.

You can get this book here on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.

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