Friday, July 16, 2010

Mechanoid Invasion: A Strange Little Artifact

I was recently at the used book store where I seem to be in a perpetual state of patronage. Sights I saw included a very old-looking iteration of the DC Heroes RPG, two copies of Terra Primate that have been haunting the shelves for a few months now, and a copy of the Mechanoid Invasion Trilogy, released by Palladium in 1998. This copy was, oddly enough, signed by Kevin himself and two other guys who worked on the book. I ended up picking it up because, after skimming it, I really liked the ideas and setting.

The Mechanoid Invasion is an odd duck... released in the early eighties, each book is part of an ongoing story with the potential to play out over a long period of time and with several groups of characters. the unfolding campaign reminds me of something like Orpheus or one of the more recent iterations of Metamorphosis Alpha, where the rules and setting expand with the storyline. I was under the impression that storyline-driven games didn't come around until the 90's, but I am no scholar on the matter.

The story is nothing new to science fiction: distant human colony is attacked by mysterious cybernetic aliens and the heroes have to hold out until the fleet of the Big Ass Federation of Planets (or whatever) sends in the cavalry. In the beginning, only a few classes are available, plus an alien race that reminds me a lot of the "skinnies" from Starship Troopers (the novel, that is).

It's sort of adorable to see the things that old school game designers thought might be relevant, such as notable natural gas and fossil fuel reserves located on a planet that's about to be invaded by crazy ass aliens, and considering that only the first book really takes place on the surface of said planet. Meanwhile, when a mysterious last member of a technologically advanced ancient race shows up, he gets about half a page worth of text describing him.
Also, Kevin named a lot of the landmarks on the planet after his favorite sci-fi personalities ("Lucas Bay," for instance) and his old gaming buddies and early employees of his company.

What I find most fascinating, however, is that the first book in the trilogy contains an early version of the Palladium rule system. I once stated that I believe Palladium's Fantasy RPG (though I own only the 2nd edition) was Kev's response to AD&D. Now I am absolutely positive. One of the NPCs is even listed as having "Chaotic Neutral" as an alignment, though almost no NPCs are given an alignment thereafter, nor is alignment really explained. The character classes had set skill lists that proceeded exactly like the thief skills of yore.
As the books progress, the rules also change and morph closer and closer to the modern Palladium system that we know and lo...okay, that we know. A few interesting tidbits from the early drafts of the rules:

-Only ability scores of 17 or higher get any bonus of any sort
-Characters do not have SDC! SDC is only for armor and objects; characters have hit points only.
-While there is no Mega-Damage, many creatures and vehicles have hundreds of SDC.
-According to book 1, losing all your hit points is instant death, rather than the coma save of later version.
-All classes have pre-set skills and combat abilities that advance according to an experience level table. I actually like this part the best, because it would drastically reduce character creation time.
-No physical skills jack up stats, SDC, etc.
-Ranged weapons have a certain fixed number of attacks per melee dependent on the weapon, not the character; Gun X gets four shots per melee, Gun Y gets only two.
-Attack rolls seem to be assumed to be automatically successful. However, unless you beat the Armor Rating of a given armor, you don't damage the target at all. (Success damages the target's armor... unlike later versions of AR, there is no way to penetrate it and damage the target without blowing the armor to smithereens first.)

I think I'd actually like to run this, using the early rules system. (Of course, by book three you have all kinds of skill selection and half a dozen or so alien races and characters have physical SDC and blah blah you know the drill.) If nothing else, the story is actually pretty cool and also fairly hands-off. (The story essentially moves you from one sandbox to the other, and, surprisingly, Kev encourages the GM to really make things his own according to taste.)

A neat find, and I'm glad of it. was like nine bucks with my coupon.


  1. See? Scouring and collecting can yield gems!

    I remember mechanoids ads back in Dragon, but have never seen it in print. I DID own the Rifts World Book: Mechanoids at one point, and found it interesting...

  2. Apparently Kevin has been planning a full RPG called "Mechanoid Space", but I think we can safely call that the rpg equivalent of vaporware, considering that his notes in the trilogy speculate on a late 1999 release date...

  3. We had loads of fun with the first three books.
    --Cool comic book format, too. :D

    Espers for the win! ;)