Armagideon Time

After scoring the full set of Bubblegum Crisis RPG supplements, I decided to splurge on another of R. Talsorian’s anime-themed licensed efforts…

….the Armored Trooper VOTOMS: The Roleplaying Game published in 1997 and still warming a shelf at Pandemonium Books half a decade later.

VOTOMS was one of the bigger entries in the mecha-themed space opera boom of the Eighties, though its popularity and ancillary merchandise didn’t extend past Japan’s borders to the extent that Gundam or Macross did. Apart from a few imported model kits, the franchise’s North American presence was limited to the fragmentary flow of tantalizing fanzine articles and word-of-mouth gossip that governed pre-internet “Japanimation” fandom.

This aura of mystery was part of the appeal for me, especially as it also involved giant robots blowing the shit out of each other. I’ve always been a mark for classic anime mecha epics, and VOTOMS had a rep for having a “darker” and “more realistic” approach compared to its peers. The series was set in a distant galaxy devastated by a war between two rival empires, where a fugitive commando named Chirico Cuvie finds himself tangled up in a vast conspiracy involving rogue military officers and an ancient alien civilization. The visual style had that sweet 70s/80s transitional aesthetic (think “bubble organic” versus “utilitarian angular”), the mechs were chunky and distinctive, and the theme tread the line between Starship Troopers and sentai.

The VOTOMS RPG was released as form of cross-promotion for the domestic release of the original TV series on VHS, an ambitious (and somewhat doomed) venture for a 52-episode run when each tape ran twenty-five bucks a pop. I only sprung for one of the volumes before realizing the folly of trying to score the entire run, but I was fine with dropping fifteen dollars on the softcover rulebook.

Much like the Bubblegum Crisis RPG, most of the VOTOMS rulebook is given over to scene-setting fluff. In addition to the typical overview of the VOTOMS universe, it included extended galleries of the principal and supporting cast, a detailed roster of the various armored suits, and a comprehensive episode guide covering the entire original TV series. Most of the material is annotated with the appropriate states for in-game use and illustrated with official cel and production art.

It’s more “mook” than manual, and the actual rules section feels like an abbreviated afterthought. The game employed the Fuzion system, a hybrid of R. Talsorian’s “Interlock System” and the “HERO system” used in Champions and other Hero Games releases. The idea was to create flexible, universal mechanics specifically tailored towards anime-themed campaigns, but mostly emphasized the weaknesses of Fuzion’s parent systems. The addition of HERO’s derived stats and point-based personal equipment just made things messier than they needed to be. The combat lacked the precise pyrotechnics of Mekton, throwing in time-consuming complications which served no practical purpose.

Even the less onerous revisions carried a strong vibe of pointlessness about them. Sure, the adoption of the HERO system’s method for gaining additional character points by taking on personal “limitations” didn’t hurt the game, but not at the expense of the melodrama generating “Lifepath” flowcharts which were one of the most ingenious aspects of the Interlock’s character creation mechanics.

VOTOMS real value as a RPG sourcebook had less to do with the actual rules than with the conceptual package as a whole. It does an exceptional job at describing and fleshing out a consistent and compelling campaign setting, while establishing reasonable and thematically appropriate parameters for overall scale. That’s something that unfortunately eluded me back in my feral fanboy days of trying to organize a suitably epic Metkon II campaign, only to crash and burn under the weight of my excessive ambition. The worldbuilding material in VOTOMS serves as a perfect template for keeping things on a consistent, workable level.

It’s a shame it arrived a decade too late to help me out in that regard.

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