Game: Mecha Compendium
Publisher: Dream Pod 9
Review Dated: 25th, March 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 18
Average Score: 6.00
Hmmm. Pretty! That’s a good first impression for a book. That’s what Dream Pod 9’s d20 Mecha Compendium got from me as I flicked through it. There’s always a catch though. The book has to live up to that first reaction.
And it does.
And there’s another catch. You knew that was coming, didn’t you? It’s recommended that you own the D20 Mecha rulebook from Guardians of Order and at the time this review was written, at the time the Mecha Compendium was released, that rulebook isn’t yet available.
I’ve found it’s not too much of a problem, the game stats and rule implications are transparent enough and a practised GM isn’t likely to be thwarted.
If you thought the words Mecha plus Compendium would equal Crunch then you’re only half right. There are crunchy bits in the book, whole pages of mecha design, background, stats and illustrations. The whole page per mecha approach is a success. Everything’s neat and tidy, the stat blocks (the OGL bits of the book) have the suggestion of a computer display but don’t go over the top with that.
The crunchy pages of the Compendium feel appropriate to the subject matter, to mecha, and that gets the thumbs up. There are plenty of flavour and campaign ideas in the Compendium. In fact, there are 11 campaign settings in the 160-paged paperback.
Dream Pod 9 fans will immediately notice the presence of Heavy Gear™, Jovian Chronicles™, and Gear Krieg™ as 3 of the 11 campaign settings. The Compendium has mecha stats for all three and a page appendix for each showing off miniatures near the back of the book as well.
You don’t have to have or know anything about these settings to use the Compendium though, there are still 8 original campaign worlds and in many ways, the book acts as a rather good introduction to these 3 established games.
Just as you don’t have to be playing in the Jovian Chronicles to make use of the Compendium you don’t need to be playing a sci-fi game either. There are fantasy mecha, steampunk and modern-day mecha campaign worlds, illustrations and stats.
The bulk of the book is divided up by genre. Dream Pod 9 use the phrase “campaign style” and then produce a set of mecha for every appropriate style. Some styles, horror for example, just aren’t mecha friendly and so the Compendium doesn’t linger there.
The Compendium doesn’t dive into the mecha stats and campaign settings, the first chapter, “Basics”, sets the scene and really does earn its page space. It’s here that nine different campaign styles, three different themes (action, adventure and intrigue) and tech levels are defined. I refer to this type of content as Smarts.
The smarts of a book let me know how well the authors know their subject matter, whether there’s the suspicion of dungeon crawling or of esoteric academic studies as the inspiration behind the rules and themes, and really whether the supplement is likely to mature and evolve the game or just do more of the same. The Mecha Compendium does well for smarts, it’s clear that the team at Dream Pod 9 know their stuff and so it is easy to read the rest of the book with confidence.
Chapter one also describes the three basic types (battlesuits, giant robots and hybrids), the weapons and abilities of the mecha. It’s because of these successful sections that the absence of the D20 Mecha rulebook isn’t too much of a problem.
The Fantasy World mecha feature first. The chapter begins with a look at the power level and rarity of the mecha in such campaign settings as well as what sort of skills and training mecha pilots would need. Even here the book resists the lure of the cheap way out and doesn’t succumb to number throwing. There’s no disappointment when the stats and mecha design do begin.
The Guardians of Divinity are divinely powered, sentient, giant automatons that are piloted by the champions of two kingdoms. The people have learnt to copy some of the Guardians and so the elite troops in this world pilot non-sentient and not nearly so powerful but large and effective copy-cat constructs. The Golemsuit Warriors suit a different campaign style.
The Golemsuits are based on the “battlesuit” mecha type instead of the “Giant Robot” type that so clearly influences the Guardians of Divinity. Golemsuits are worn rather than piloted and might easily be thought of as extremely enhanced suits of armour. The Best Lords campaign setting sees animal styled magic mecha that can combine to form one single giant warrior in times of need.
You don’t have to go with magic to introduce mecha into a fantasy world and the Cities & Empire campaign setting has such mecha units as the Brute Coalsuit and the Watchman Coalsuit. Each of these four campaign worlds comes with plot ideas and the history behind the mecha. Each of these four sections has pages of fully statted and illustrated mecha.
Modern World campaigns feature next. You’ll find Gear Krieg in here. The Phoenix Rising setting describes a world where one company as achieved near world dominance through its cold fusion technology. The mecha here are battlesuit based.
The Great Machine Decander campaign uses mecha of both the giant robot and the vehicle/hybrid styles and is set in a world where access to ancient but powerful technology has pushed mankind forward in science and in its ability to destroy itself. The secret organisation Revenant uses their mecha to counter those who’d misuse their power.
The Future Worlds settings will be familiar to many readers; the Jovian Chronicles and Heavy Gear are already Dream Pod 9 products and Space Ranger Ouroboros is likely to be safely familiar to people already playing games that involve Tech and Robo.
The fourth campaign setting and a group of mecha in this chapter are the “Outworld Changelings” Mankind spans the stars – or did until the Dvor aliens turned up from nowhere and started their genocide. The Outworld Changelings are child warriors in giant battle machines that fight back against the Dvoran incursion.
As was the case with the Fantasy and Modern World settings there’s a discussion in the start of the chapter about how rare or common mechs might be in the future, how that might affect the world and what sort of skills and abilities would be required to pilot/wear/drive mecha.
The campaign settings trail blaze for the mecha. Each of the world backgrounds has an interesting history and each bristle with potential. Before you reach the mecha designs available for any particular world the chances are that you’ll have a good grasp of the flavour and ambience for such a game.
The Compendium includes suggestions on how to take the game forward for each of the settings but every one of them is written well enough and inciting enough that you may well have ideas of your own. The book could nearly have been called the Campaign Compendium instead. This is good.
If you’re not convinced that mecha will suit anything other than a sci-fi game then the Compendium may just win you around. The inclusion of mecha in a fantasy world seems perfectly natural after reading the book.
The Mecha Compendium succeeds by giving us the best of both worlds – we have the pretty mecha designs with slick stat blocks and we also have pages of campaign world background and ideas to develop further with each.
Skimming through the book provokes an “Oooh! Pretty!” reaction and pausing long enough to really read it provokes “Good idea!” remarks. That’s a good first impression and a good closer inspection of the product. With the exception of the three settings already enjoying the support of their own, there’s only just enough material to get going on any of the other campaign ideas.
It won’t be long until you’ll want another mecha (in most cases there are about half a dozen) for the world, let alone a sample of the small arms technology or more information about the green races active in the world. In that sense, the Compendium is a victim of its own success.
Guardians of Order have done well by letting Dream Pod 9 use their rules as a base for the Compendium.
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