Roleplaying games have been a part of my life since I was in 6th grade. I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons and then started seeking out other games to sink my teeth into. I have always been a creative individual and my younger years where spent doing things like re enacting key action scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark to training to be a Ninja ( this was the 80’s remember), and watching almost every movie/cartoon that had larger than life Heroes and Fantastical Worlds to explore. Stands to reason then that the animated series Robotech struck a special cord with me.
When I discovered Robotech , my friends and I where already yearning for new Role Playing experiences outside of the swords and sorcery genre. In fact our eagerness and ambition went so far that we actually created our own rules and systems for a Robotech RPG ( M.A.S.K , Transformers and Gi Joe got similar treatments) prior to Palladium Games releasing the official Robotech RPG shortly thereafter. We drew on the various episodes of the cartoon for material and had to use our imagination to flesh out whatever we didn’t see ( This all pre dated recordable VCR machines remember) every Saturday morning for 30 minutes.
When the Official Robotech RPG arrived in 8th grade we had our collective Minds blown. Not having enough money to buy a copy of the rulebook myself I borrowed it from a classmate and promptly got my step dad to photocopy the entire thing at his place or work ( sorry for wrecking your bindings Dwayne Gascherman). Rulebook in hand and my imagination overflowing with adventure ideas I was ready!
If you have never played the Robotech RPG in any of its iterations this Retrospective will walk you through its first release and give you an idea on what to expect from this amazing game as well as how it influenced all of Palladium Games RPG line up right up to the present.
The Core rule book that Palladium released was just the first in a long line of books that would span all generations of the Robotech story. Suitably it started off by covering the original story arc of the SDF1 and its heroes, Rick Hunter and Co.
While not being as thick as your typical Dungeons and Dragons manual and also cramming both the players section and Game Masters section under one cover it was definitely lean and focused without a lot of fluff. The fluff would come later which was in fact a very clever marketing strategy that my youthful sensibilities didn’t pick up on.
Within its pages a new player was treated to a crazy amount of artwork depicting all the awesome weapons and vehicles that we had previously only seen on TV. Palladium had pulled reference material from all aspects of Harmony Golds archives including concept drawings and fictional schematics. Not only did we have pictures but it was accompanied by an abundance of statistics and relevent game mechanics for our eager minds to soak up.
The Rules themselves where very simple but also deep enough at the same time to give us room to expand. Never in a role playing game before had my friends and I been exposed to modern day weapons like machine guns and missiles let alone giant mechanized transformable planes that spewed for massive amounts of destructive power upon the games enemies. This was well beyond the magical swords and mystical spells of D&D !
The biggest thing that Palladium needed to address within the Robotech RPG rules was the scale factor between what most RPG’s of the time typically dealt with ( foot soldiers and varying tech levels of ranged attacks and body armor) to large scale vehicular combat on a scale befitting a science fiction setting with Giant 40 foot Mechs and equally as big Alien adversaries. Hit points and Arnor classes would no longer suffice when you were looking at players being outfitted with missile pods containing up to 50+ missiles and the ability to sustain the same firepower in return.
Welcome to the M.D.C. system. MEGA DAMAGE CAPACITY was a term that my friends and I would come to know as it was templated across all of the forthcoming palladium games that would be released in the subsequent years . This system allowed average men and woman equipped with your typical military firearms to co exist in an adventure with Veritech fighters and Destroid weapon platforms. It was a genius system that not only came across with some humor as it was taught to us in the rulebook ( I still laugh at the explanation given in the M.D.C section of the rulebook) but a rock solid foundation that succeeded at repelling all my efforts as a player/Gamemaster to poke holes in its structure. To this day it still holds up as a genius system for any genre that incorporates a similar divide in scale for its game world. The Rifts RPG has Robotech to thank for M.D.C!
Character Creation in the Rulebook was also given lots of love and plenty of options for new players to experiment with. It goes without saying that we all dog piled on to the ” Veritech Fighter Pilot O.C.C ( Occupational Character Class) as we all wanted to create our own versions of the classic heroes that we had grown to love and admire in the Saturday morning cartoon. As the years went on I found myself venturing into trying other classes but seeing as the VF( Veritech Fighter ) Pilot class was the only one allowed to pilot the Iconic transforming Jet very few of us ever played anything else. It wasn’t until the later expansions on the core rules covering the series other saga’s that we jumped into other classes.
Creating a character was pretty much identical to Palladiums T.M.N.T ( Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) RPG and gave players a plethora of skills to choose from to customize your hero. The one flaw as a Game Master I found with this system is that you almost had to specifically create adventures around certain situations to make use of a players expansive list of skills to make them relevant. Skills like Martial Arts, Piloting, boxing and weapon proficiencies where al commonly used in every session but the more obscure ones that the game either gave you or allowed you to choose where downright baffling in regards to when you would need to use them. I challenge any Robotech Game Master out there to tell me that they organically made use of Botany,Astrophysics,Sailboating,Pathology,Sewing,Singing and Forgery, in ANY of there game sessions. For a game based around Alien Invaders and Giant Robots; this was some heavy stuff Palladium was throwing at us in the character creation.
As I mentioned previously the meat of the book was dedicated to exposing us to all the technical specs of our beloved weapons of destruction. Veritech Fighter planes, Destroid battle platforms and even all manner of space faring vessels of both human and Zentraedi origin where on full display for our pre teen imaginations to have our way with. For its time the Robotech RPG was uncanny its attention to detail right down to the dimensions of the Veritechs to speeds and payloads.Palladium essentially handed us the keys to a giant toy store and said ” There you go…have fun” and boy did we ever.
If there was any flaw in the original Rulebook it was that Palladium failed to hold our hand through the actual setting of the game. Perhaps this was intentional, I mean it was a licensed product and one could assume that you would never really buy it if you hadn’t watched the cartoon it was based on. That said this was a fault of pretty much all of Palladiums core games until Rifts arrived years later to redeem themselves.
I fell into the category of Game Masters that didn’t really need much help in creating compelling stories and adventures befitting of a Saturday morning cartoon epic. I would have like a little more than the simple chronology that was included in the game however and while Palladium did fill in some blanks as to what was happening elsewhere on Earth during the Zentraedi invasion there was definitely a lot more ground that needed covering ( Again maybe this was all pre meditated on Palladiums end)
Creating an amazing story for your players was simple enough and most of our early adventures consisted of simple ” Your on patrol” type stuff and while I myself app[reciated the human drama and complex reloationships that the cartoon served up; my players where quite happy to trounce Zentredi battle pods and fly around the sky launching payloads of missles wiuth a flick of a trigger. They where easy to please but I yearned for more in my storytelling. Sadly I would never get close to those levels until The Sentinels RPG years later when I was winding down my love affair with the Robotech RPG ( A soul stealing demoness known as the Rifts RPG captured my heart soon afterward).
The Robotech RPG had an open canvas for which a new Game Master could weave there own stories that either ran parallel or opposite the cartoon series and the only limit was your own imagination.
The Robotech RPG spawned a massive amount of supplements, sourcebooks and new rulebooks over the course of its lifetime and to this day still is in publication.During the late 80’s and early 90’s there was a good flow of content being cranked out by Palladium but as the newly created Rifts was introduced to the market in 1980/90 Palladium ceased production on dedicated Robotech content and focused on this super successful line. In fairness to Palladium ; Rifts was a game that united their entire line of products in the RPG markets first ” Shared Universe”. Players could quite literally mine story ideas for years to come just by using existing material
Palladium resurrected the game several years ago and re released its core rulebooks in Manga size format with updated rules and new ( heavily recycled ) artwork.
During its heyday , The Robotech RPG enjoyed many volumes of creative content that truly fleshed out the universe and even went beyond the scope of the cartoons, books and comics. As the Palladium engine cranked away content its was all masterfully interwoven within the story that we watched on screen every weekend. Eventually they released full Source books for every generation and at the end of its run we had a full timeline of books to choose from when deciding when to place our campaign setting. In fact to this day I still am trying to figure out how to create a campaign that can successfully allow players to enjoy all generations of Robotech Mecha in one setting ( I actually just recently had a spark of an idea so stay tuned if I feel like sharing it with you).
To be a Robotech fan today means you have suffered long and hard over at least three decades of small trickling of content to keep you satisfied. A couple animated projects and a re release of old Robotech RPG handbooks sprinkled with some empty promises as far as more movies and TV Shows.Perhaps the biggest reason to be excited now is the newly released Robotech RPG Tactics minature game. This was a incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign that took over a year to arrive in our hands and while not directly a new RPG product in itself it a very exciting product that will sure to grow Robotech’s waning awareness in todays youth.
Game Nexus has recently created a new Google+ Community page in the hopes of giving Robotech RPG fans a home to gather at. Other Role Playing Games have been using Google+ as a way to come together and enjoy sessions and create campaigns online in the absence of gaming groups in your area. I am hoping that our newly created community fills that gap.
Time permitting I am also hoping to publish some ” Patrol Mission” style RPG adventures that can serve to kickstart potential Game Masters ideas for creating their own RPG campaigns or stories.
Keep checking back to the Game Nexus for some new Robotech oriented articles as I see if I can rekindle this once passionate love I had as a young gamer.
Dwayne “EVO Knight” Morash