Mechwarrior Third Edition
Mechwarrior Third Edition Playtest Review by Shanya Almafeta on 21/06/02
Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 3 (Average)
Third time is definately the charm for this one. Just doen't get shot (seems obvious, eh?)
Product: Mechwarrior Third Edition
Author: Bryan Nystul, et al.
Company/Publisher: FASA Corporation
Cost: $25.00 US
Page count: 220
Year published: 1999
Comp copy?: no
Playtest Review by Shanya Almafeta on 21/06/02
Genre tags: Science Fiction Far Future Space Espionage
I have heard horror stories about the first two editions of Mechwarrior, and expected this version to be in the same vein. Instead, you get a system that is concise, with gobs of background and detail plus a decent RPG system.
The basic mechanic is 2d10 plus your skill (ranking from 0, everyday, to 10, legendary) versus a TN, or Target Number. The only thing that modifies your roll is your skill; everything else modifies the TN. In a world of bigger is better, the TNs are better when they're low; it'll take some time to understand this inconsistency, but it's not unworkable. If either die is a 10, you roll another die, and if that die is a 10, you keep rolling, ad infinitum; if both die are 1s, you fumble (an automatic failure, with humorous side-effects at GM discresion). Although hardly innovative, the high ratio of critical success (19%) versus fumbles (1%) will keep the action moving; in fact, this mechanic seems more appropriate for a swashbuckling system, where players could try anything just because it might work. If you use a skill untrained, roll 3d10 and use the lowest two; if the skill is difficult (such as surgery), roll 4d10 and use the lowest two.
Also, you get so many points of Edge, which can be spent to improve a roll a la Luck in CP2020; the fact that only PCs and major NPCs get to roll critical successes or use Edge, while minor NPCs cannot and are stuck with whatever result the dice give them, is another nod towards an action-movie feel.
The next 75 pages are devoted to character creation, about half of which is the gigantic and meaty Lifepath. When buying a new RPG, you expect to spend some time with character creation; but Mechwarrior takes the cake. There are six steps, which could be summarized as "Choose Your Country", "Early Childhood," "Late Childhood," "Higher Education," "Adult Life So Far," and "Figure Out What All These Points Actually Are." At each stage in your Lifepath (save Country), you roll 2d6 for events; a roll of 2-6 is bad, a roll of 7-11 is good, and a roll of 12 is "pick one or roll twice." These are very interisting, and give roleplayers lots of meaty background; how would you like it if you worked your way out of a low class world (the Periphiary country, and a good roll in the Early and Late Childhood steps of your Lifepath), graduated from a university with flying colors (a great roll at the Higher Education step), but after such a struggle to get to the top you were framed of a serious crime and spent ten years in jail (a really bad roll at the Adult Life step)? Most RPGs give you little or no past; Mechwarrior gives you plenty of it. A well-rounded assortment of advantages and disadvantages (enough to make GURPS proud) are there to finish your character.
However, the weakness of the system is how skills are determined. Each step gives you 'skill points', but the fact that these are skill points, NOT actual levels of skills, is only explained in one point. You may have missed it if you just skimmed through the rules. These 'skill points' convert to levels of skill based on a complex chart, which incorperates whether or not you are a Fast Learner or Slow Learner, and whether or not you have a Natural Aplitude in that skill. Get the asprin and a tub of ice cream, you will get headaches from this. This gives you a nice range of skills, from 0 to 3, in many different areas; at least you get depth for the difficulty. At least a plethora of examples are provided to show you how it all works.
After all that, and considering that this is a Battletech game, you'd expect that combat is drawn-out and complex, but in fact that's not the case; it's only 20 pages including the optional long-term-damage rules. It is similar to CP2020's Friday Night Firefight system; it's simple, but 'gritty' and unforgiving. The main weakness is that it's too easy to die, which seems against the point in a system that otherwise encourages swashbuckling and trying the impossible; in other words, don't pull out that Sternsnacht unless you plan to use it. It's best that your first few games are just throwaways, one-shots to get your players used to this, before they get their hearts entangled into their characters!
After that, comes 20 pages of equipment -- nothing notably novel or horrendous, but it's a comprehensive list -- and then we get to the best part of the book: the massive descriptions of history and culture in the Battletech world. It starts with a comprehensive history, and goes into descriptions of everything from nations to monetary units in the various countries to religions old and new. There's plenty on military, natch, but there's enough there as well to be anything else, giving some extra campaign types. The short blurbs in the side boxes also give you ample details to make your world come alive. In fact, this section alone might justify the cost of the book.
In general, the art is generic, but consistent. While mostly in black-and-white, there are about 10 color. And I had to give it bonus points for the fact that the art is almost evenly divided along gender lines (52% male, 48% female -- I counted when I noticed).
All this comes with weaknesses, of course. The gamemaster section is short and generic. The individual clans don't get enough coverage (yeah, I'm biased, they only give one sentence to three favorite clans (including my fave Clan Coyote), and ignored another four altogether). As I said before, it's too easy to die. And where's the poison rules? In a world of danger, assassins, and espionage, rules for poisons are conspicously absent.
In short, if you want to get a better insight of the Battletech universe, or want something that's full of intrigue and character roleplaying, this game will serve you well. If you want to simulate action movies, it can do that well also -- until you get shot.