101 Days of Rifts: Appendix N Robotech New Generation

Robotech New GenerationRobotech is an American animated television series from the 80s. Yes, I said American even though the animation was Japanese. The US TV syndication market prefers (or at least did in the 80s) series of at least 65 episodes in length. The provides a minimum run before repeats of 13 weeks if broadcast Monday through Friday. To meet this requirement Harmony Gold combined the animation of three anime series, The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA (interesting side note, originally the third part was to have been the other Super Dimension series, Super Dimension Century Orguss) with a new story covering three wars pitting Earth against alien invaders over Protoculture a combined energy and spiritual source. This gave them 85 episodes and the ability to sell in the syndicated TV market.

The original Robotech was a modest hit and saw a variety of spin-off media including toys, model kits (actually, Revell was selling these prior to the series), comic adaptations (by the now defunct Comico), a RPG by Palladium (that saw the first use of MDC), and a series of novelizations. The novelizations were written by Brian Daley (author of the Han Solo adventures novels) and James Luceno (also a Star Wars universe writer) under the pen name Jack McKinney. Macross was the subject of six books and the other two series three each. Later they would write novels of the never finished squeal series, a wrap up novel, and four connective novels. At this point the novels are no longer Robotech cannon with the 2006 movie Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles.

The three New Generation novels, covering The Third Robotech War, are Invid Invasion, Metamorphosis, and Symphony of Light which are now availible as a single volume omnibus. At the end of The Second Robotech War the Earth’s population is tiny given it has been less than 20 years after the First Robotech War ended with Earth’s population under 100,000. Also, the fighting of the two wars has devastated Earth’s surface. Less than a year after the Second War Ended the Third War begins with the invasion of the Invid, an insect like race. They rapidly take over and enslave some of humanity while the rest hides in remote places with a few rebels fighting to regain control.

The actual action of the series begins with the second attempt to retake Earth. The sole survivor, a space fighter pilot named Scott Bernard, crashes in South America begins to work his way towards the Reflex Point near the Great Lakes region of the US that is the center of the Invid host. He collects around him a band of freedom fighters and adventurers including a rock start, a mechanic, an orphan girl, a biker, a survivalist, and two Invid who have taken human form. Among their interesting gear are high tech armor and motorcycles that can withstand the fire of military weapons. As they work their way north they perform rock concerts, explore ruined cities, fight Invid, and generally cause trouble. As they reach the Reflex Point another attempt is make to retake Earth and the war ends.

I think someone approaching Rifts would do well to watch the New Generation (it is the last 25 episodes of the original series) or read one of its adaptations. I’m personally partial to the novels and as this is Appendix N they are what I have linked. Robotech Earth in the Invid period is the closest media to Rifts I know. Earth is overrun by foreign monsters and a nearly wiped out humanity fights for its existence while also collaborating with the invaders. The resistance has ultra high tech weaponry as do the invaders who also have some psychic powers. The only things really missing are magic and multiple sources of invaders. The group is also pretty much thrown together and freelance like many RPG parties.

The big reason, however, I like this series for Rifts inspiration over other alien invasion or after the apocalypse fiction is the strong separation of combat and non-combat action. This is a hallmark of mecha oriented anime and I think it is crucial to understanding Rifts especially MDC versus SDC combat. As I remarked in my first rules post MDC came from the Robotech RPG where it works fairly well but many people think it is broken in Rifts. I used to think that way but my thinking is evolving but a variety of items, including the series at question, are changing that. One of the conventions of mecha anime is rivals fight as equals. Mecha combat occurs in mecha and personal combat at the personal level. Rarely does the villain try to kill the hero by smushing him with his mecha or blasting him with missiles or laser canon. The MDC complaint in Rifts comes down to claiming the existence of MDC weapons means humans can never leave their armor. The counter by the author of Rifts in several books and many fans is that reduces the game to just tactical combat. However, if we model Rifts on something like a mecha series the counter makes sense.

What better first model than a mecha series which also became an MDC using RPG from Palladium featuring a ruined Earth when humanity on the edge fights monsters from beyond with power armor.

Personal Appendix N: Short Fiction and Why It Matters

In yesterday’s discussion of the canon for the May Project I said:

If there is one area the OSR dances around but I’ve yet to see someone directly address is the importance of short fiction. A large amount of what is considered primary source material for D&D, via Appendix N and other sources, is short fiction. The Dying Earth is an interlinked collection of short stories, for example. The Hour of the Dragon was Howard’s only novel about Conan and it comes in at 72,659 words making it short relative to the fantasy novels of today.

This brought two responses. First from Trollsmyth:

I’m very curious about this comment, however. I’ve always seen the bedrock of the OSR being the short stories of Howard, Lovecraft, CA Smith, Leiber, Vance, etc. Or, at least, the D&D thrust of it. How do you think this has been ignored? How is a foundation based on the short-form significant?

and the second from Scott:

Co-sign. I’d say Gygax was influenced as much or more by the fruits of Argosy and other short fantasy fiction markets than novels. Some of the bedrocks rarely or never worked long, and others such as Dunsany did some of their best work in short form.

which both wonder why I think this is ignored.

First, I did acknowledge, albeit indirectly, that this has been brought up if you read the full quote. However, my indirection is the reverse indirection of what I’m talking about. Many, many people have all discussed the key early sources for D&D but I can count on one hand how often the difference between these sources and most modern fantasy in terms of length is discussed. We’ve had long discussions on the transition from Conan the free-booter to Tanis Half-elven the Heroic World Saver with the introduction of Dragonlance. What we have not had is a discussion about how we moved from a canon built of a variety of tales whose longest tale is a 72,000 world novel and a canon which is made up of three books averaging 120,000 word each which form a single story.

Why is this distinction important? Because one of the most common way to express what an RPG is “it’s like a novel or movie except you’re the main character”. This idea creates a certain set of expectations. First is the highly detailed overall world. Second is the idea that the campaign forms a single cohesive narrative. Third is it emphasizes the importance of every event in the process to moving towards the common end of the narrative (digressions are possible in a cohesive narrative but it is rare in modern genre writing).

If we emphasized the source material made up of short stories as in “it’s like a series of short stories or a television show where you’re the main character” we would create different expectations. The most obvious difference is the lack of the larger narrative which everything has to support. Some modern TV shows, especially genre shows, have used narrative arcs of various strengths but even they have plenty of irrelevant to the broader plot episodes. However, it goes beyond that. Nothing detailed in Dragonlance early on existed for anything but its use the story. If this sounds similar to my points in memoir is story it is. Conan’s tales read much more like episodes in his own memoir than a novel.

If you don’t think what kind of sources we use influences our expectations let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s say I wanted to set a game primarily based on Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar. Using Jeff’s rules I can have two fluff sources.

First, imagine the game setting I’d design if I based it on the Queen’s Own trilogy and the The Last Herald-Mage trilogy. It would be a very top level game. Most of the threats would be existential for my central kingdom. The characters would be primary heroes charged with “saving the world”. My setting details would high level discussions of rulers, borders, and long reams of history. Why would I have these things? Because much of these stories are centered on these things over smaller local details.

If, instead, my primary sources were Finding the Way and Other Tales of Valdemar and Sun on Glory and Other Tales of Valdemar what would it look like? I would be more likely to have inspiration for a bunch of individual locations whose broader connections would be more nebulous. I would know kingdom B was to the left and duchy C was to the right of my primary setting, but beyond B is good guys and C bad guys I wouldn’t have a lot of info on the relationships. Instead of a few big heroes, I’d have details and ideas on a lot of prominent figures who none the less didn’t dominate things. I would have a better picture of how characters fit into the setting without saving it.

Another dimension is the kind of campaigns short stories, series novels, and episodic TV inspire over epic novels. It is hard to imagine a sandbox if your only inspiration is The Lord of the Rings, novel or movies. It’s much easier to imagine a sandbox or episodic game when you’re reading the combined Conan novels or watching Star Trek: TOS. In fact, the linked Grognardia post about Star Trek: TOS is one of the few discussions about short fiction as RPG inspiration and why it works although even then James doesn’t discuss that directly.

If you go to the primary sources Gary et al uses this is obvious but that doesn’t always help. For one thing, if I’m interested in modern magical games I need a way to distill what makes Conan work better for designing a game than Tolkien. To take it to visual media why Space Seed is better inspiration than Wraith of Khan which is better than Undiscovered Country. Another reason it’s worth knowing if I want something more modern in its sensibility it helps to know that it’s better to use the short stories in my favorite world than the epic novels as we saw in the Valdemar example.

Personal Appendix N: T is for Two to Conquer

Two to Conquer is another Darkover novel sharing a setting Hawkmistress, although considerably later time wise.

It has stronger science fantasy elements combined with a weird Prisoner of Zenda type plot. The book opens with Paul Harrell, a criminal sealed into a stasis coffin, being summoned out of it to Darkover. He is the unique duplicate of Bard di Asturien and has been summoned to provide his duplicate. Bard is one of two leaders struggling to unite the Hundred Kingdoms. The novel covers the beginning of their union under the Compact achieved not by Bard, who is the novel’s principle character, but his rival Varzil the Good.

The book has several very game worthy ideas. The most interesting is the science behind not only the ability to summon Paul but why he had to exist: Cherilly’s law. The law states “Nothing is unique in space and time except a matrix; every item in the universe exists with one and only one exact duplicate, except a matrix stone.” A matrix stone is a stone native to Darkover (but also capable of being created) that amplifies psionic powers. Matrix stones and Cherilly’s Law could be a magical idea that could propel an entire series of adventures or even be a cornerstone of a campaign. Imagine a megadungeon which made prominent use of this principle.

There are a couple of other ideas that jump out at me. Among things in the Compact is the outlawing of distance weapons requiring those who intend to kill to place themselves at risk. The other is the novel recounts the initial interactions between the the Priestesses of Avarra and the Sisterhood of the Sword mentioned in the Hawkmistress entry which leaders to the Order of Renunciations.