Armagideon Time

The end of my Warhammer campaign also marked the end of my direct involvement in Sci-Fi Club business. I still held on to the presidency to prevent some other joker using it as a bully pulpit, but I grew less interested in the day-to-day goings-on within the org’s social circle.

As much as I enjoyed the ego boost associated with a leadership position, I never particularly wanted to be the “alpha” for a bunch of geeks. Unfortunately, the club’s dynamics mandated such a role. I tried to channel that into a less basement-scented direction, but only lasted a couple of weeks before doing my own thing — first in the company of the Ione Skye lookalike and then with Maura. The only unifying force I continued to offer was the Warhammer run. When it ended, the club’s membership reconfigured itself to reflect the changing membership, internal factions, and the type of drama geeks get into if left unsupervised. (Drama that I was more than willing to stoke for my own amusement, I regret to admit.)

I still retained close friendships with individuals, though I had little time for the organization as a whole. One of these was with a goateed Army vet named Mike. I met him during the trainwreck of a D&D campaign that mutated — after a bloodless coup — into my initial Sci-Fi Club WFRP campaign, where his Zen-like calm and bizarre sense of humor had been a constant (and stabilizing) presence.

Mike would’ve been a better club president than I ever was, but he preferred to stay above the org’s internal politics and do his own thing. He was also a man of action, which set him apart from the typical “could’ve/should’ve/ought’ve” bullshitting common to the geek set. Someone would mention that there was a bungee jumping thing going on at City Hall Plaza, and the next day Mike would show up the next day wearing a “I MADE THE LEAP” t-shirt and a smirk on his face. Over the years I’ve gotten used to the weird postcards from Mayan ruins and photos of underwater caves in Yucatan he periodically sends my way, but back then his eagerness to seize the moment was unlike anything I’d encountered before.

When something caught Mike’s attention, he’d dive into it in a way that was both understated yet infectious. He wasn’t evangelical about it, but would eagerly discuss the subject with anyone who happened to share his enthusiasm. For some reason, his interest turned toward the realm of “giant robo” anime between late 1992 and early 1993. Because he knew it was something I was into, I became his discussion partner on the subject and agreed to lend him my copy of the Mekton II rulebook.

I was hoping that this would eventually lead to Mike helming an anime-themed campaign, but his plans were much more modest. Instead of a full RPG run, the two of us created pilot characters and some low weight class mechs to run short gladiatorial battles against each other on the club’s dry-erase hex mats. It was a lot of fun, especially because Mike insisted we do our own sound effects, and a great way to pass the time between the final class of the afternoon and the next bus back to Woburn.

It did leave me wanting a bit more, however. Since Mike didn’t have the time or inclination for that, I took it upon myself. Plus I was eager to put my latest RPG acquisition —

— the Mekton Techbook to practical use.

The sideways printed sourcebook was created to flesh out Mekton II‘s adequate-but-limited mech construction rules in a way that covered all permutations of the animated source materials. The result was an incredibly comprehensive and detailed tome which covered everything from psy-amplifiers to disposable “command armor” to transformable/combinable engines of mechanized destruction. Each system was introduced by a couple of paragraphs of Gundam inspired fanfic and the back end of the book included a roster of sample machines “inspired” by the technical sections of Japanese “mook” publications.

From a fan’s standpoint, it was utterly sublime. For someone who had to create and referee that stuff around a gaming table, it was the stuff of stat-crunching nightmares. It took a system that was fairly straightforward and turned it into something approaching Champions levels of algebraic complexity. (Somewhere around the turn on the millennium, the two systems did actually merge for a while, pleasing no one.)

It didn’t help that my idea for the campaign was a Gundam-inspired space opera epic involving massed battles and far more moving parts than my brain could ever hope to manage. I knew this was the case going in, and tried to mitigate things by relying on prepared photocopy roster sheets with enemy mechs pulled right from the book’s examples section. No advance planning, though, could deal with the amount of work involved with even running a “simple” 4-v-4 skirmish with cookie-cutter suits and some ambivalent players pulled in from old my Warhammer group (but not Mike, oddly enough).

Our first session wasn’t a complete disaster. The players were okay with it and I was able to fudge away some of the more onerous bits, but it didn’t click for me in the slightest. My original conception for the run was fast-and-furious mecha melodrama, but what played out was watching a fansubbed episode of Macross run at quarter speed. I couldn’t figure out a way to reconcile that disconnect, so I decided to shelve the campaign after the first adventure. (Knowing what I know now, I would’ve probably went with either a Getter Robo mech-monster-of-the-week or a low-weight/limited armament Robotech: New Generation scenario instead.)

Despite all this, the Mekton Techbook remains a thing of wonder. I stopped being an active participant in the RPG scene long ago, but just cracking open that sourcebook will send my down a rabbit hole of mecha design and optimal loadouts and reverse-engineered re-creations that can last for weeks on end…

…as long I don’t entertain serious thoughts about putting them to use around a gaming table, that is.

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