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[#] System Review: Mekton Zeta
12:49am EDT - 10/25/2008

"It's like Robotech plus Gundam, only not."

Barely anyone I've spoken to has even heard of this system, which is a shame. People may be more familiar with Talsorian Games' other flagship product, Cyberpunk 2020, but in my opinion it's Mekton, the game of supposed strategy and giant robots, that wins.

Mechanics-wise, it's a simple system at heart but one which is overcomplicated by nebulous attempts at "realism" married to a setting which wants you to kick reason to the curb and fight the power. There are 10 stats, many of which would be Skills in D&D - Attractiveness (Charisma, or how moe/gar you are), Body (Constitution), Cool (Wisdom and your Fort/Will saves in one), Empathy (only used for skills), Move (yes you can be faster than Usain Bolt painted red), Intelligence and Education (two stats which combined govern your skill allowance), Luck (a pool of bonuses), Tech (used for skills) and Reflex (if there is going to be combat, you need a 10 in this.)

Stats go from 0-10, with big numbers being good. You then get a number of Skill Points equal to your INT and EDU plus 10. Skills are used in checks, like D&D, and also in combat (there are distinct skills for shootan, movan and robot fightan.) They also go from 0 to 10, but some can't be initially bought at a higher level than 5.

Character creation is pretty simple, though. The game recommends a 70-point buy which may as well be a 40-point buy after you've got the requisite 10s in INT, EDU and REF. For NPCs they use a 40-point buy, although dice rolls for stats are suggested as alternatives (roll 10d10, re-rolling until you've got more than 40 points to allocate, or roll 1d10 for each stat re-rolling 2s or less). Then comes the fun part. Lifepaths. The vocal fan base of Maid RPG knows what this is all about, but to explain you essentially roll a ton of d10s, and they do your backstory for you. You can end up with one-eyed lesbian sex fiends, angry engineers with negative Attractiveness who look like the Phantom of the Opera meets the Elephant Man, trench coat wearing anti-heroes and tsundere bridge bunnies.

What happens next is you CHOOSE YOUR DESTINY. You can either be a rookie, which means you get less skills (only your starting pool of skill points) but bonus EXP, or a pro, which means you can say your character is old, and spent years honing his skills in certain careers like MechWarrior (oddly enough Microsoft Word capitalised that for me), nurse, cop and computer programmer. There are loads of careers, and each one you pick gives you a bonus point in 5 skills, which can bring capped skills over level 5. The problem is, doing this locks you out of bonus EXP and also means you take longer to level up. But you're awesome and probably playing Roy Fokker, so it's worth it.

Character creation is littered with anime name drops, as befits a book about what are essentially weeaboo fightan robots, and the generic 80's style may grate. But if you give up now you miss the fun part.

Robot design is either simple or massively complex. There's a whole splat book, Mekton Zeta +, which allows you to design every little aspect of your dream machine, and is great fun once you've got your head round it. Or you can use the core rules, which use preset weapons and parts and basically turn it into MechWarrior 4.

I'll talk about Zeta +, because it's more interesting. Mech creation is really hard the first few times, because there are so many words and things. But, in brief, here's how it works:

  1. Design your chassis, by starting with a Torso and adding Arms, Legs, Heads and other bits as needed.
  2. Add Armour and tracks and wheels.
  3. Design weapons, shields and deflector shields.
  4. Add sensors, cockpits and other essentials.
  5. Add random junk like stereo systems, UAVs, aerospace capabilities and the like.
  6. Add flight capability.
  7. Add more random junk that's calculated differently like stealth, radar spoofing, psychic powers, autopilots and stuff. These upgrades work as multipliers of your mech's cost rather than flat rates.
  8. Add stupid stuff like making it a delicious loli or have it change size or teleport or have endless guns.
  9. Work out how much it costs.
  10. Work out how much it weighs.
  11. Profit.

It's not that simple, but a worked example would be Xbox-huge. Suffice to say, if you've seen it in an anime or show, it's probably buildable. There are rules for scaling things up or down, so you can do anything from a Space Mariner with his massive Fight Power up to the SDF-1. The problems come in when you realise exactly how badly proof-read and laid out the rules are. Sections conflict with each other, and are needlessly complex. Don't even get started on the rules for fueling aircraft.

Then you have the problem that afflicts D&D 3.5, Battletech and most anything else that's customisable. Powergaming. You need to be an eagle-eyed DM to stop people building totally invisible robots with weapons that can destroy anything in one shot. Even flavourful items like the Magnetic Resonance Lens are abusable. It's a cheap-ish upgrade which allows you to "see through solid objects, marking out living targets as dots." It's meant to be used, I presume, for finding out where a hostage is or something. However, it can be used to call shots against a target's reactor, or to allow artillery to fire as if it were direct-fire.

So, you've created your fightan robot and your badass ORIGINAL CHARACTER DO NOT STEAL. It's time to TEST YOUR MIGHT. Slam on some Fire Bomber or something, it's time to roll.

Then get your Battletech minis and hex grid. Mekton uses minis, because there are a lot of rules about facing. Or, you can ignore all that and use Maptool. Anyway, the meat of combat is as follows.

You start by rollan initiative. You'll do this at the start of every turn. All mechs have a Reflex Stat of their own, which is sort of a "how heavy is this mech" rating. It's a negative modifier to your own REF (see why it has to be 10? Any less and good luck keeping anything larger than a Flea upright) and since every action is a REF plus relative skill check, you need it as high as possible.

Initiative is d10+Mech REF, (your REF minus the mech's modifier). Then you fight. You have two standard actions a turn, so you can MOVE AND SHOOT if you like. Doing anything that's not moving is an opposed skill check of D10+Mech REF+Relevant Skill with your opponent, or a check against a DC. When you've fired your laser at someone, it's time to deal damage.

Start by rolling to Hit. Then take the difference of your score and your opponent's after modifiers (Say I roll D10+17 and he rolls D10+3, the result being 27 vs. 4. The amount I "Hit by" is 23) and see how huge it is. Rapid-fire weapons hit once for each point you "hit by" up to their max burst. For every 5 points you hit by, one hit is upgraded to a Critical Hit. For every 9 points you hit by, one Critical hit is upgraded to a Mega-Critical hit.

Then roll location. This is easy. Critical Hits can choose to roll on the "Special" or "Cinematic" location tables, normal hits have to hope for a natural 10 to get on them. Mega-critical hits roll location as normal, but ignore armour.

Then do damage. Subtract the target armour from your damage, after Armour modifiers like AP ammo. The target takes that many Kills of damage (basically Battletech's Internal Structure,) and loses 1 point of Armour for each individual hit. This leads to an epic exploit where six 1-damage guns will be more destructive against a heavy mech than 1 6-damage gun, because you're shaving off 6 points of armour every turn. Still, it's no worse than MG spam in CBT.

That's pretty much it, actually. Melee is like shooting but done with its own tables to depict special attacks, and between-battle RPing is much like anything else.

To conclude, therefore:



FINAL VERDICT: 6/10, but a 9/10 if you like robots and huge amounts of crunch in your gaming. 10/10 if you like giant robot anime.

So an 8.3/10 average.

~Bob Smith



1 Symmetry
01:08am UTC - 10/25/2008 [X]
Goddamn this looks awesome. Someone upload the rulebooks to a website that isn't Megaupload and not Rapidshare if you have them please.


2 Fatum
01:15am UTC - 10/25/2008 [X]
So, the book is shitty ('Sections conflict with each other, and are needlessly complex'), the system is shitty ('70-point buy which may as well be a 40-point buy'), and you need minis and a table to play.
How is it good now? Or is it only good because there's nothing better?

3 PurpleXVI
02:18am UTC - 10/25/2008 [X]
Yeah, I hate to be negative, but I gotta gree with Fatum, the system really doesn't sound very good... Like, it sounds like a system that would be great for a VIDEOGAME where you don't have to dela with all of the details and rolling, and can rely on the program to keep track of shit for you.

I also have to disagree with the 10/10 for GIANT ROBOT LOVE. Too much detail and rolling conflicts with GAR ACTION, so much in the same way that Exalted is actually shit for FUCK YES SUPERPOWERS, this sounds like it's shit for FUCK YES GIANT ROBOTS, and more suited for some sort of attempt at realistic strategic simulation.

Int and Edu also sound like at least one of them is redundant, and if you pretty much ALWAYS have to max out three of the stats, the system is fucked from a balance standpoint.

"Impressive detail without being FATAL."

Detail is NEVER good in a system. FUCK DETAIL. Systems are there to facilitate a story being told or a game being played, not to dictate how it's played, so leave it somewhat undefined and away from the details level, then just fill those bits in as the game goes.

Giant goddamn robots with detail just don't work outside of vidya, let's be honest there. If you just treat them like "characters" and give them hitpoints, etc. sure. But once you start getting into locational armour and damage in a big way... Hoo boy and fuck you.

4 Bob Smith
04:09am UTC - 10/25/2008 [X]
I'd like to respond to some of the comments, hopefully without sounding too much like an apologist.

Firstly, this is a flawed system in the same way a game like STALKER without any patches is flawed, or any game which requires fan patches to even work, or any system that has some rules which were clearly written long after the others.

For players who are prepared to have a bit more crunch in their system but don't want to take the plunge into GURPS vehicles or Attack Vector Tactical, this is a good entry point.

I exaggerated a bit when I said "you may as well max out 3 stats" - you certainly don't have to, and it can lead to some more interesting sessions when you don't. What is true is that combat is wholly based on one stat (but then again if you're a physical fighter D&D combat relies mostly on STR or DEX) so if you have a combat-heavy campaign (which the setting implies) it's best to give yourself the best chance.

As to no-one wanting detail or location damage, I'm sure the people who play Classic Battletech or GearKrieg or any number of crunch-heavy wargames would disagree.

5 Fatum
03:55pm UTC - 10/25/2008 [X]
Yeah, I can agree that in a game centered on GIANT ROBOTS fighting, keeping track of each of the robot's systems states is essential, it just shouldn't require TOO much log-keeping. But then again, I am a wargame fan myself.

What makes me...well...cautious about the system is what I said in the previous comment. Say, D&D fighters should have 3 stats maxed (Str, Dex, and Con), but since you can't max out all of them, you have to build a character optimal in one things and, well, not so good about others. But having a ten stat system which supposes that you have three of stats always maxed to be useful is kinda meh.

What's so bad about Battletech, after all?

6 Bob Smith
07:40pm UTC - 10/25/2008 [X]
Nothing's wrong with Battletech! It just doesn't always lend itself to FIGHTING THE POWER and PIERCING THE HEAVENS, because you're lucky if your mech can get a few hundred metres off the ground.

7 PrivatePlatypoda
01:31am UTC - 10/26/2008 [X]
This doesn't look like a bad game to me. Especially for an R. Talsorian game. R. Talsorian, in general, is plagued by editting issues and inconsistencies because the company allows fans to publish setting material without too much oversight from the company itself (I've known a few people who got stuff into Teenagers From Outer Space). And, compared to a lot of games now, it's probably a pretty archaic game.

But I could definitely see this as being a fun game to play for those of us who actually push away from our PCs and decide to sit at a table instead of using Maptool and chat clients for our tabletop.

8 Fatum
03:04am UTC - 10/26/2008 [X]
Anyway, where to get the sourcebooks?
I bet I could try writing an online client for the thing.

9 Bob Smith
09:46am UTC - 10/26/2008 [X]
Sourcebooks can be found at: Core Rules Premade Mechs Book Mekton Zeta Plus (mech creation rules)

10 Fatum
09:53pm UTC - 10/26/2008 [X]
I'll let you know should I succeed in this little project.

11 Bob Smith
06:23am UTC - 10/27/2008 [X]
I'm eager to see if it works out! Some kind of Java or web Mech Design tool would be pretty cool (the hard part - that is the maths) could be done backstage and you would just use drop-down boxes or radio buttons to select what you want.

12 Fatum
03:15pm UTC - 10/28/2008 [X]
Essentially, math is what programs are good for, lulz.
On the other hand, I've flipped through the books, and they seem like totally too insanely complicated to even formalize normally. Bob, can I have a way to ask you questions so that I don't fuck up while planning the very basics, the program's class system?

13 Bob Smith
04:26pm UTC - 10/28/2008 [X]
Click on the link with my name just at the bottom of the article to find my email address.


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