In 1985 a new kind of science fiction television show aimed at older kids that we’d now call tweens was launched. It told an expansive epic tale of our world weathering the storm of alien invasion over the course of three generations. It was flashy, it was new, it took chances, it didn’t talk down to it’s audience and it was mature; characters that you eventually grow attached to die with more gravitas and emotion that Optimus Prime (the most remembered cartoon death of the 80s) could ever have. In short it was an amazing show and a touchstone for a sizable percentage of those who had grown up in the 80s.
This show is Robotech.
Robotech was a patchwork quilt of a show, pieced together from three totally unrelated Japanese anime shows: Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, Super Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross, & Genesis Climber Mospeada. While this point will come up up several times throughout the next few days reviews, it’s almost a moot point, but an important one. A great, albeit outdated essay on the history of Robotech and it’s Japanese ancestors can be found here:
Robotech was meant to be a marketing powerhouse to sell models, toys, comic books, and just about anything that a kid could want. One those pieces of merchandise was the Robotech RPG by Palladium Books, first published in 1986. Just like the television show that spawned it, it was a first for Palladium Books. It changed the rules of the house to add in Mega Damage to the rules which have figured heavily in its hit in house property Rifts.
Full Disclosure: I was a huge Robotech fan. I read all of The Sentinels books by Jack McKinney in the summer between Junior High and High School. I voraciously ate up all of the RPG books as soon as my local Walden Books would stock them. I ride a motorcycle, in part, because of my undying love for the Cyclone mecha, or at least I will again when my collarbone heals. It was a huge part of my teenage years, playing New Generation campaigns with my friends and taping episodes off Sci-Fi channel every morning on Sci-Fi Cartoon Quest. (Remember that?)
Robotech is back in a small way. There is a new movie that’s out, based largely on New Generation/Mospeada and with it the marketing. Palladium Books lost the rights to Robotech some years ago, but have regained them and have released new Robotech books to reflect the reconnected Robotech continuity and to fix the issues from the original edition to be more in line with modern Palladium books.
Gone is the strange veritech fighter from the original cover. It was painted with the famous Skull Squadron paint scheme of Roy Fokker, but was the wrong model. The cover again features a Roy Fokker veritech, but this time it’s the correct model and the FAST Pack of a Super-Veritech. You will also notice something even bigger: it’s tiny. The traditional book size for Role Playing games is 8 1/2×11, this is manga sized to reflect the origins of the series and, I’m told by the Palladium forums (they don’t answer emails BTW) to make it stand out against competing RPGs. Yes it does stand out, but not in a good way. I can easily see this getting lost on the sales shelf against its larger brethren due to it’s small size.
Everything has been completely re-written to reflect the new Robotech continuity, which if you’re a fan, apparently changes with the season. Stats have been revised for reasons that don’t really make sense to me.
For example: the original stats for the veritech had a reinforced pilot’s compartment that was more heavily armored than the main body, the new revised version has less. (I’d post the stats, but it seems that Palladium is pretty litigious about their stats judging from posts on their forums.)
There are things that are outright wrong, yet have been claimed to have been thoroughly researched, but aren’t. Military ranks are wrong for both officer and enlisted on the naval rank side, yet the author thanks some guy named Lloyd Ritchie for consulting on naval warfare. I know I’ve been out of the Navy for a good nine years, but I’m pretty sure there have never been three levels of lieutenant. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the junior enlisted ranking names, which are almost right, but still wrong. In a world with google and wikipedia, this is inexcusable. Jason Marker, the author, couldn’t be bothered to google “Naval Rank Structure” and he couldn’t be bothered to change much for the book. The devil is in the details and Robotech: The Macross Saga is full of them; tiny little mistakes everywhere. The words and numbers are different here, but the song remains the same, so to speak.
This is the same Palladium system that has been used since the 80s, warts and all. I haven’t seen a new Palladium book since the late 90s, looking at Macross Saga I can see that there are some minor changes, but those are minor tweaks brought in from Rifts and don’t do much other than to change some letters here and there.
Example: Zentreadi characters were previously O.C.C. or Occupational Character Class, they are now R.C.C. or Racial Character Class.
You will find that much of the system is patently unrealistic and very similar to turn based JRPGs like old Final Fantasy and the higher your character’s level, the more actions you can get per melee. It can easily get ridiculous quickly, I suggest that your GM evaluate the system first and design some custom house rules before you play, unless you want your players to become virtually unstoppable in just a few short levels.
The Veritechs featured in Robotech were its selling point and have gotten the biggest change. Originally the VF series had a fuel supply that was supposed to last 25 years and could fly almost fast enough to break the atmosphere. That is no longer true for the new edition, everything has been slowed down considerably and and had it’s armor beefed up by about 50% percent across the board. I don’t see the reasoning behind this other than to make them more compatible with with Rifts mechs seing as the original Robotech mechs were fast enough to run rings around those overpowered things. This idea makes sense when you come to the realization that the center of the Palladium multiverse is Rifts; everything else revolves around it.
Destroids are there as well, and they’re just as boring and as useless as they were in the first book. But now they’re slower and can take more damage.
Character Class Variety:
Very little actually if you want to play a military character, the heart and soul of the series. It seems that Palladium thinks that everyone will want to play anything other than a veritech pilot. There are several sizable write ups for the Zentreadi classes, an abundance of civilian classes to chose from, but there is nothing in the book if you want to play as a pilot of one of the non-transformable destroids, and a very scant description for the veritech pilot class.
Also, according to the book, player characters are not allowed to play evil alignments. When I got to this minor part of the book I had to stop and read it again! Some of my best role playing moments were my good aligned characters working in the same party as the evil aligned players. The justification of this is that the characters should be heroes and at the very worst a bit selfish. A pretty dumb decision and a poor explanation if you ask me.
The artwork in this book is my biggest gripe. I was excited to be getting this book and seeing all new Macross artwork. Indeed there are a half dozen artists listed as having worked on this book. Aside from the cover and Kevin Long’s twenty year old work reprinted there was only one true artist working on this book and that was the lightbox. When I first started going through the book I felt something was strangely familiar but something was not quite right. Taking out my well worn original Robotech: Macross book confirmed my suspicions, these were the same drawings from the original book but done by new artists.
The vast majority of the art in this is redone artwork from the original. I took the pictures with my iphone, so contrast isn’t as good as it could be. I also took them by myself with a broken collarbone, so don’t let it be said that I don’t suffer for my work.
Here are a few examples with the old compared to the new. I took these pictures myself and are for review purposes. (click for huge versions)
Join us again for part two of the review on Wednesday for The Masters Saga
[tags]Robotech, Palladium Books[/tags]