Mechwarrior 3rd Edition
Mechwarrior 3rd Edition Capsule Review by Darren MacLennan on 10/07/01
Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 2 (Sparse)
Mechwarrior's hideously complex character creation and lack of a compelling universe kills what could have been an interesting game.
Product: Mechwarrior 3rd Edition
Author: Bryan Nysul, Christoffer Trossen, Chris Hartford, Loren L. Coleman, Diane Piron-Gelman, Randall N. Bills, Christopher Hussey, Dan "Flake" Grendell, Herbert A. Beas II, Michael A. Stackpole, Loren L. Coleman Hey, as one of the authors (to quote your tit
Page count: 224
Year published: 1999
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Darren MacLennan on 10/07/01
Genre tags: Science Fiction Far Future Anime
This review also appears at http://www.rpgshop.com.
MechWarrior: The RPG is - well, it's one of those games that I'm not exactly overwhelmed to be reviewing, primarily because there doesn't seem to be much in the way of role-playing in the Mechwarrior universe. In this, I am relatively alone - I'm fully aware that there's a lot of people who deeply enjoy the Mechwarrior universe, who are very likely to enjoy this product.
Me, though - the Battlechtech universe seems to be missing a lot. We've got a bunch of warring star-nations going after each other after the collapse of something called the Star League. Instead of wars being fought with infantry and tanks, they're fought with fifty-foot tall, eighty-ton monstrosities called Battlemechs, which are typically loaded down with lasers, phased particle cannons, missiles and autocannons. These machines are the weapon of choice in the Battletech environment. In recent years, the metaplot of the Battletech universe has expanded - the remnants of the Star Leagues have been invaded by the Clans, who left the Star League during its collapse and who have returned with technology that's much advanced from the Inner Sphere designs. If I recall correctly, the latest development is that the Clans were stopped at the Battle of Tukaayid, during which the Inner Sphere were able to buy themselves a ten-year delay.
It's a moderately interesting setting, especially when you're looking at it from the cockpit of a Battlemech - I was a big fan of Mechwarrior 2, and only my lack of a Windows computer prevented me from picking up Mechwarriors 3 and 4.
However, from a role-playing perspective - at least, from mine - it's pretty dull. Most of Mechwarrior's bulk is composed of astonishingly complex character creation rules, while the other half is devoted to equipment, setting, and history - and that's just about it. There's a skeleton of how to run a campaign, but the setting just doesn't seem to lend itself to role-playing outside of the Battlemechs. The opening fiction, which is supposed to set the tone of the game - as Tribe 8 did so neatly - winds up sounding like a Shadowrun adventure, where a bunch of people sneak into a facility and then blow it up. There's no sense of an overarching continuity, no sense of something interesting to grab the eye - and while I am fully aware that there's a lot of supplemental material on the Battletech universe, I believe that most of it focuses around the Battlemech wars.
Mechwarrior, to be honest, just hurts to read. What's especially galling is just how complicated character creation is - whoever designed this has much to answer for. The person who sent me the comp copy says that he had three different people take a gander at it, try to make characters and give up - and I'm not surprised.
I believe that the character creation in this game draws from the same life-path system that you saw in Cyberpunk and in Traveller - you start with a youth, and then roll dice and consult charts to take him through each major event within his life. Each event within your life gives you something new - an advantage, or a disadvantage, along with some skills that go with that lifepath. It's not a bad idea; it's the method of designing attributes that started blood coming out of every orifice on my body.,
If I read it correctly, you start with a basic number of attributes - six for each, with an eight in Edge, which is basically Luck. You take your character through up to eight lifepaths, each of which provides you with a number of skills and a random event. However, instead of simply altering your attributes up and down in order to reflect your experience, you alter something called your Threshold instead. Besides being the title of the crappiest episode of Voyager ever (which is an achievement, believe me, considering Voyager's quality), the Threshold indicates where you get a discount for paying for that attribute. If you've got an Threshold of, say, six, then buying attributes over six becomes costly; but if you have a Threshold of four, then you pay for anything over that. There's even a helpful worksheet included for you to photocopy while you're working on it.
Put simply, this is ridiculous. There is no game so good that the players need a worksheet just to make a character, so rich that it's worth the extra time - it's like the people who wrote it were intent on appealing to people who handmade their own Battlemechs in the Battletech miniatures game. For that matter, I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that making a Battlemech would be easier than character creation.
Worse yet, the character creation takes up a good chunk of the book, running up to about page 94 before finally seguing into skills and so forth. So there's a lot of wasted space there for a system that should have been much simpler.
Meanwhile, the system itself is remarkably simple. All that you have to do is roll 2d10 and try to beat a target number. If you have a relevant skill, then you can add the skill's bonus to your roll. It's pretty decent; plus, if you're feeling that you need some luck, then you can add Edge for an increased chance at success.
The combat system isn't bad. Your basic target number to be hit is determined by a pair of stats, which are either taken seperately or added together depending on how fast you're moving. There's a small boatload of modifiers that can go along with it, including everything from target size to how fatigued you are to whether you're taking your time to aim; I imagine that those seeking a short, brutal game will be more interested in using those modifiers only if absolutely necessary. There's also Fatigue, which determines just how tired your character is; if you've just run a mile, you're not going to be fresh into combat, which places Mechwarrior firmly into the realism camp in terms of character abilities. Even cooler, there's rules for suppression fire, which is a concept that I've always been really fond of - it just seems cool to keep somebody's head down with a boatload of automatic weapons fire. I'm not mentioning everything, but there's a lot of rules for combat, enough to make it as complex or as simple as you like.
The color section in the middle of the book is a touch uninspired. One of the things that I really don't like about the Battletech universe is that it doesn't seem to have anything interesting outside of the Battlemechs. Yeah, there's the remnants of a Star League, but most of the major Houses don't seem terrifically inspired. There's a Japanese House, a vaguely Germanic house, but the rest just don't strike me as being particularly inventive or insightful. The Clans are kinda cool if you're into lots of posturing about trials of honor and whose bloodline is weak and who can do the most one-armed pushups, but they are not developed into anything particularly interesting in this book. The color section doesn't lend anything to this impression, since it's composed of stuff like costumes and a few scenes that could easily fit into any of Mechwarrior's sister games - for example, the image on the back of the game, a depiction of a carnival, could fit into Shadowrun without much modification.
There's an equipment list. My copy, unfortunately, had a series of pages that had been whited out by a printing error, so I'm likely missing stuff in here; however, it looks pretty thorough, ranging from Elemental Battle Armor to travel costs to cameras.
There's a lengthy section on the history and culture of the Inner Sphere and the Clans; it's quite thorough, and of little interest to me. Well, that's not quite true; it's just that it doesn't give me any particular insight into what character can do within this universe. There's only two pages in the entire book on possibilities for what character groups can do, and most of them would fit nicely into any science fiction RPG out there; there's nothing specific to Mechwarrior, nothing to indicate that the people who wrote the game have an idea of what they're doing beyond providing more detail for the board game. I'm not even sure if there's a way to translate the Mechwarrior characters over into Battletech, although this is probably very likely.
My personal suspicion is that Mechwarrior's fluff - the stuff that'll make players want to make their own Mechwarriors - is contained within other books, like the details of various campaigns that the Clans have waged against the Inner Sphere and so forth. I think that Mechwarrior might be best used as a supplement to the Battletech game itself.
But I can't say that I'm overwhelmingly impressed. Maybe it's just that I'm not used to the whole idea of the Battletech universe, but Mechwarrior's ludicrously complex character creation system just provides too steep an obstacle for me to hurdle.
This review also appears at http://www.rpgshop.com.