System Hack: Genesys Mecha Alternate Rules

Mecha that follow the movements of their pilot’s limbs. Carrying gear and weapons into battle instead of bolting it on. Putting your machine together piece by piece instead of wholesale. Believing in the you that believes in yourself and throwing galaxy shurikens instead of firing bullets. Stomping from one hex to the next. Engaging the transformation mechanism. Genesys Mecha has tested its prototype, its advanced models, and its experimental machines. We’ve mustered the pilots, and seen the kind of damage that mecha can inflict on one another. We’ve launched the ships and support craft that will carry our squads into battle. Now it’s time to revisit the drawing board, tweak a few things, and think of some new ideas with Genesys Mecha: Alternate Rules!

This is much more like the original Design Goals article that got System Hack: Genesys Mecha started; it’s more theorycraft than concrete game design. So rather than more machines or character archetypes, this is a collection of new ideas and different perspectives, some that have been percolating from the start and some that have been born thanks to the input of others.

If you really want some crunchy stuff, though, check out the updated Genesys Mecha Armory! All the equipment and mecha created so far can be found there, now with a bunch of new stuff submitted by the ever-helpful Fumblemunky from the FFG Forums.

Speaking of the FFG Forums, if you’re hungry for more ‘mecha in Genesys’ ideas I’d highly encourage you to check out the Genesys Mecha thread there. There are a bunch of cool ideas that are tackling the genre differently than I am, several of which sparked the thought processes for this article. Tesoe’s building a straight Genesys Gundam hack, Darth Sanguis is melding Genesys and the X-Wing miniature game to create a Zoids wargame, c_beck has a Titanfall hack, and so on. Honestly, I’m willing to call System Hack: Genesys Mecha a success just because of the fun exchange of ideas that it’s spawned over there.

So . . . what have we all come up with?

Controlling Your Mecha

The default assumption I’ve been using for how our Genesys Mecha works is your ‘typical’ anime mecha cockpit: three screens, hands-and feet-based controls, that sort of thing. Maybe some of the more advanced machines in the CHX line have those fancy all-around screens that give them better peripheral vision, but that’s as advanced as its gotten in my head. As some have pointed out, however, that’s not the only way to control a mecha that’s shown up in the genre.

If your machines are more of a Patlabor or VOTOMS scale, then . . . well not too much changes, aside from Silhouette. You might have a more nuanced version of the Gunnery skill – Gunnery (Light) for single-handed weapons, Gunnery (Heavy) for two-handed ones, Gunnery (Artillery) for bazookas and cannons – but that’s something I’m mulling over for typical giant robots anyways. And if you’re shrinking the machines down enough so that they’re essentially powered armor, then aside from designing the armor in question you’re not having to fiddle with the rules very much in the first place.

Something like the Drift system from Pacific Rim or the Mobile Fighters from G-Gundam, however, would allow for 1:1 pilot-to-giant-robot control. The machine moves as the pilot moves, or at least as the pilot thinks. So how would this sort of mechanism change the rules?

Well, first of all, it probably simplifies the skills a little bit! You could largely just use standard personal scale skills for everything. You probably wouldn’t need a Clash skill, for instance – skill with a sword on foot would translate to skill with a mecha blade, using this kind of system.

It also significantly shortens the mental leap required to use personal-scale Talents and abilities at the humanoid mecha scale.

There are a couple of interesting implications, however. First and foremost, I think, is that when using such a system the pilot often feels pain when their machine takes damage, and sometimes even take damage themselves. Raleigh Beckett clutching at his own arm as Gypsy Danger’s arm is severed. Any number of instances from G Gundam. That bit with the eye and the arm and the ohgodwhy in Evangelion. Well, the easiest way to mirror that is probably Strain to the pilot(s), and in that case the question becomes a matter of when. I’d probably limit that to whenever the mecha takes a Critical Hit, say, an amount of Strain equal to the rating of the Hit.

If you want to get to the same level as an EVA, however, that could get quite a bit messier. A simple and brutal hack would be that the roll of a critical gets counted twice, once on the mecha’s Critical Hit table and once on the Critical Injuries table. Doing that right away and all the time, though, seems too brutal. Unless you’re outright cribbing EVA’s synch scores, though, that means you need a line to cross or a mechanic to activate. Possible ideas: 1) If an attack manages to crit twice (i.e. crit rating of 2, gets 4 Advantage), then the attacker can choose to inflict a Critical Injury on the pilot of a 1:1 control mecha as well, and 2) inflicting a Critical Injury on the pilot as well requires the use of a Story Point.

If you do have a system that works off of the pilot having different bonding levels to their machine, though, you’re going to need to figure out how that works first. I’ve brought up Evangelion, where your synch score makes you better at piloting while increasing the risk of injury, but another example would be Gundam’s Iron-Blooded Orphans. The majority of pilots are using the standard interface, but the eponymous child soldiers interface directly with their machines thanks to nanotech, which gives them one heck of an advantage. IBO pilots can get more out of their machines if they disable certain safety limits . . . but sometimes at horrible cost.

That’s a can of game design worms I’m not yet ready to open, though.

The second implication has to do with the mecha stats: with increased emphasis on the abilities of the pilot, some of the mechanics translate differently on the narrative scale and might even be fundamentally changed. Handling feels different in my head when the pilot is moving their limbs to move the mecha’s; it comes across less as a clunky machine and more like a less-than-perfect interface that could be modified by attachments or even Talents. There’s also that pesky Mecha Brawn Rating . . . which I think I would ditch for this mechanic. By and large I’m happy with it on the Ogo and such, but when you look at mecha works that do things this way . . . well, I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this in passing somewhere, but your big, brawny looking mechs have big, brawny looking pilots. Sasha and Aleksis Kaidonovsky are the biggest, toughest-looking Rangers in Pacific Rim, so of course they pilot the blocky pugilistic Cherno Alpha. The GF13-013NR Bolt Gundam is built like a tank, and so is its pilot Argo Gulskii.

That both examples which immediately jump into my head are Russian probably says something about the genre.

Anyways, the point is that while it might not make a lot of mechanical sense for the equation to be weightlifter pilot = kaiju-throwing robot, Genesys is a narrative game, and that equation gets used all the time in the genre anyways, and not just for brawny machines either.

Conclusion: if you want a 1:1 control system for a giant robot, you can drop several of the rules adjustments that have been made for a ‘normal’ Genesys Mecha game. You still need to design a giant robot, though, and you’ll want a mechanic that reflects that fact that you’ve gone and maybe literally plugged your pilots into the giant robots.

Equipment Options

At the moment Genesys Mecha have been using the hard point system found in the core rules and inherited from the Star Wars line vehicles. It’s been pointed out, however, that the mecha have a humanoid form, and might benefit from adapting the encumbrance rules from the personal scale. Essentially, rather than (or maybe in addition to) the mecha’s encumbrance rating being used for storage within, it’s used to measure how many items the machine can carry externally. This would accomplish a couple of things. One, if weapons, shields, etc. are handled via encumbrance, than the hard points on a mecha can be reserved for modifications and attachments to improve the machine itself. Second, the limit on how many pieces of gear a pilot wants to bring to a fight is a little softer. Yes, an over-encumbered mecha is going to be taking penalties, likely to piloting/handling/speed, but that’s a decision a player is going to be able to make.

Honestly, I kind of really like weapons and such being handled via encumbrance rules, and I’m probably going to modify the existing mecha and gear to do so. Things like a G.E.N.E.S.Y.S. Reactor will still cost hard points, but an Energy Rifle or an Ogo Halberd will switch over. I just have to figure out exactly how to do it, and then do the busy work.

There are two broad ways mecha encumbrance could be dealt with. The first method is pretty simple: simply carry over the encumbrance rating rules from the personal scale, picking a static number and adding the mecha’s Brawn Rating. Bam, the total is how much gear your machine can carry.

The second method relies on any given mecha model having a rating based off its chassis, and that leads us into another alternate way of building mecha.

Modular Mecha

Fumblemunky brought this idea up (we really ought to get them writing here, shouldn’t we?). As things stand, right now every Ogo is like every other Ogo when it comes off of the assembly line. It’s Thresholds, Brawn Rating, Speed and Handling, and so on are going to be the same, and more importantly for this idea they’re baked in together. You can add attachments or mods that might change the stats and such, but other than that if you’re changing those numbers you don’t have an Ogo anymore.

Fumblemunky’s idea was a lot more Armored Core or Titanfall-esque, and actually took the Ogo and broke it out to demonstrate. Instead of being an inviolate frame, a mecha would be the sum of its parts. The core chassis determines a lot of the stats such as the Thresholds. Arms have the necessary Trait to hold hand-held weapons. Legs determine the speed, handling, and how much the machine can carry (encumbrance, basically, although here the term Load was used). Essentially, when choosing a mecha the player would choose which parts they’d like to use and add all their disparate stats together to get a final product.

Obviously this would give the system an unmatched level of customization on the mecha side of things.

Looking at the current state of Genesys Mecha through this lens, there are currently three Core components: the Ogo chassis, the Dacar chassis that the other CHM machines are based on, and the CHX chassis. When mulling over character creation I figured that your basic starting character would get an Ogo, but if you want to make everything modular than what you really want is to have at least a short list of different parts for a player to choose from.

Having modular mecha also opens up new design spaces. Fumblemunky gives the Ogo’s Legs the Bipedal trait . . . which implies that there would be propulsion methods that aren’t Bipedal. Pulling from standard machines, you could have Quadrupedal, Tracked, Hovering . . . so what advantages/disadvantages do each convey upon their machine? If you’re bolting on arms, you can have all sorts of specialist ones, and why stop at two anyways? Additionally, having modular parts opens up the possibility of called shots, something Fumblemunky addressed by limbs have defense ratings, armor, and hull thresholds of their own. Rather than fishing for a Maimed Critical Hit, an attacker could target the limb directly to attempt to destroy it with a more difficult roll.

At the end of the day, this way of putting your mecha together is a little more crunchy and granular than I’m willing to get for Genesys Mecha, but it’s a perfectly viable way of doing things. And, down the road, I think I will be doing something at least a little similar when I put together rules for building mecha from scratch.

Super Robots

The default assumption for Genesys Mecha has been the ‘Real Robot’ sub-genre of mecha, but what if you wanted to play a Super Robot pilot?

For the uninitiated, a mecha work that treats the machines as actual military vehicles needing fuel, ammunition, and maintenance make up the Real Robot sub-genre. Not that you can’t have some fantastical sci-fi shenanigans in your Real Robots (looking at you Gundam Newtypes, and you with your musical hijinks Macross), but by and large here you’re going to need logistics and have to obey some variety of the laws of physics.

Super Robots, on the other hand, are functionally magical. They look mechanical enough, and sometimes can take noticeable damage that looks like a machine being broken, but that’s about it. They’re likely powered by some emotional or cosmic force, and rather than practicing marksmanship their pilots are likely to be trying to believe in the them who believes in themself. A Real Robot will shoot down a space battleship. A Super Robot will grab a galaxy and throw it like a shuriken.

So, yes, a little different.

I’ve mulled over this one for a long time now, and I’m still not entirely sure where I’d want to take it. You’d definitely have to lean on the fact that Genesys is a narrative system; trying to crunch out the stats for Voltron would be frustrating and, honestly, probably a waste of time. If someone came at me cold and said ‘adapt a generic system for a super robot game’ I’d probably grab Fate (probably Accelerated) and have the aspects of a given super robot be Aspects of the character piloting it, or maybe Stunts. Maybe instead I’d go PbtA and rip the Conditions method of tracking damage from Masks: A New Generation, since by and large the emotional state of the pilot is very important in a Super Robot work. Doing the same thing for Genesys . . .

I don’t think you worry about the giant robot stats very much for Super Robots. I think damage, particularly Strain, is likely being dealt to the pilot as they duke it out with a horrible space monster or mechanical god. To represent the over-the-top attacks that a Super Robot tends to be making, I think there’s two ways you could go. You could create Talents, definitely. The trick there is that some of the really crazy, iconic stuff would probably be Tier 4 or 5 . . . and it takes a long time to get that far up the pyramid. Fair enough, but if I’m playing a game because I want to be in a robot that punches the moon I want to punch the moon now. I think the second option is better: doing something with the magic rules. Super Robots are basically magic, after all, and two of the magic skills work off of Willpower and Presence. Willpower and force of personality are often all that get a Super Robot pilot through a fight, so I think that fits!

Bottom line, I think it’s quite possible to run Super Robots in Genesys . . . but I think it takes a lot more work than building mecha entries and some adapted vehicle rules for the Real Robots. So Genesys Super Mecha is probably on the slow cooker for a good long while. Still something I want to write stuff for, though.

Maps and Hex-based Movement

Fumblemunky strikes again! I’ll simply direct you to this post here, where Fumblemunky outlined rules for moving mecha across a hex map. There’s not much I can improve upon, there.

Long and short of it, though, like your standard Genesys game I think Genesys Mecha could function perfectly fine in a theater-of-the-mind play style, with abstract terrain rather than tactical maps. That being said, I think there’s also a lot working in favor of a hex-based or otherwise minis-on-the-table method of play. It’s a little bit grittier, a little more wargame-esque, and I think a mecha battle fits that pretty well. Choose your method of play based on the preferences of yourself and your fellow players.

Transforming Mecha

Ah, now this is a bit more crunchy. Mecha that change form can be found throughout the genre, Real and Super both; the most obvious ones that Genesys Mecha could draw inspiration from are the Valkyrie and its descendants of Macross fame and the jet-like mobile suits from Gundam starting with the Methuss and popularized by the iconic Zeta Gundam.

With a transforming mecha you essentially have two machines; some traits and weapons are going to be usable in both forms, but many of their capabilities are going to change pretty drastically. The most common reason to transform is to have some kind of flight mode, for instance, although that’s not the only way to go about this. My thoughts are that you would essentially have at least two entries for a transforming machine, each displaying how the stats have changed, and a mechanic for switching between the two. Pretty straightforward, now I just need to build one.

Which is what I’m going to be doing next time!

A lot of fresh ideas for Genesys Mecha have popped up, many of them graciously provided by our readers and the Genesys community. While I won’t be doing something with all of them, I hope you find them interesting food for thought, and perhaps inspiration for a mecha game of your own. Get ready to change things up in the next System Hack (much quicker this time), when we launch some Genesys Transforming Mecha!

Like what Cannibal Halfling Gaming is doing and want to help us bring games and gamers together? First, you can tell your friends about us! You could travel through one of our fine and elegantly crafted links to DriveThruRPG which, thanks to our Affiliate partnership with them, gets us funds to get more games to review! Finally, you can support us directly on Patreon, which lets us cover costs, pay our contributors, and save up for projects. Thanks for reading!



3 thoughts on “System Hack: Genesys Mecha Alternate Rules”

  1. A thought regarding Super Robots: Perhaps that particular sub-genre would benefit from the implementation of the Superhero ‘Tone’ from the Genesys CRB? I mean, technically the main character(s) of a Super Robot series ARE superheroes, it’s just that their superpowers are mostly conveyed through their Mecha. Their Willpower would probably count as one of their two Super-Characteristics, and you could probably say that their Mecha’s Brawn stat is the other Super Characteristic. The Exploding Critical rule would fit nicely with the theme.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.