The Mecha Hack Actual Play Ep. 2: Hard Lessons

Picking up where we left off last week… Starian and Thumper came out of their simulated battle to discover that their lunar base was under attack.

Since they were already suited up, they headed out of a rupture in their hangar and onto the edge of the battlefield.


In classic 7-year-old aggro fashion, Xander charged his mech into the middle of the battlefield by himself, making Star a big target. Thanks to his ridiculous stats he was able to take the subsequent pounding for awhile.

He might have been able to get away with it, too, but then there was the epic terrible die rolling. Xander rolled a little below par, but my wife’s luck was just tragic.

If you recall from my last post, my wife’s mech is set up for stealth and hacking. For this session I wanted to create objectives and wrinkles that would play into those strengths. Way down on the far end of the battlefield was some sort of portal technology stealing modules full of ammo and spare parts.

With Thumper’s cloaking, I thought she’d want to hustle down the battlefield and scan this anomaly and disable it. Or I thought she might link up with the defensive gun emplacements scattered around the map, which were part of the Terran Collective battlenet. As it turns out even excellent strategic decisions can’t overcome terrible dice luck.

2020-04-25 star_sandwiched
Torque attempts to assist Star. Thumper bogged down far away.


Deanna opted to link up with the guns, but then could never seem to hit with them, despite using her best stat, System. Then came the critical failures. After two 20s in a row (Mecha Hack being a roll-low sort of d20 game) I ruled that she couldn’t interface with the guns at all anymore. So much potential concentrated fire up in smoke.

About this time Xander’s mech was starting to get worn down. I sent the one NPC mech, Torque, downfield to try to relieve his position, but it was too little, too late. Deanna, rolling for Torque, did quite well… nearly taking out a tough opponent mech by himself, and basically one-shotting an enemy hovertank with a critical hit.

Star was finally disabled under the massed fire, but thankfully did not roll the dreaded “Mech destroyed, pilot ejects” entry on the results table. Still, there was open weeping.

Thumper finally got in a solid shot on a mech that ran past her unknowingly while she was cloaked. It was a crit (at last!) and she ended up getting to roll a fistful of damage dice thanks to her ambush ability. But even then her luck failed her… she only managed 9 damage on 4d6, so the enemy mech lived to fight another round. She finished it off in short order, but it was emblematic of Thumper’s fate in this battle.

Of her 10 or so die rolls, she rolled a 20 five times. Her quote of the day: “Is this the universe telling me I should play D&D?!” Indeed, she would have ruled.

Torque and Thumper limped through the end of the scenario together, and destroyed the portal pad before: (a.) absolutely all their spare parts and ammo vanished on its way to who knows where, and (b.) before its existence drew in a nasty Voidmaw creature to deal with.

So, in the end, it coulda been worse.

In general it’s difficult to know what to make of Xander’s at the table reactions. He gets really high and reaaaally low. When I started describing the end of the battle, I mentioned as a throwaway that smoke was “pouring out of” his mech, Star. He hated that, and I took it back. In any case, the boy has an intense relationship with challenging situations, and I suspect we will have our bumps along the way.

I held him close after we were done, and told him that I was sorry that he and Mom had had such a rough go of it. I even offered to re-run the battle as a simulation next week so he could try out different tactics, but he didn’t seem to be particularly interested. So, maybe? I actually think it would be fun and a cool learning experience, for all of us.


I know better than to make a knockabout game like this full of richly filigreed backstories and political intrigue, but I did put a little subtlety into this encounter. The details won’t be lost, exactly, but they will have to wait until next weekend.

The mechs that were attacking them were of the fancy medieval armor sort favored by the Neo Dominion… but the weird portal pad that was stripping away their storage modules was pure Aeonic Primacy. What goes on? Is there an unwholesome team-up in the offing, or something darker?!?


So, Deanna’s critique is that I stiffened the opposition too much between the training run and the real deal. If I’m just looking at the results of the action, I would tend to agree, but on the other hand, there were some variables here that felt out of my control.

Xander’s choice to put himself in the middle of the battlefield shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. I think it’ll be a valuable lesson. There are very few games where you can isolate yourself from your party/team and succeed. If this is his jam, I’ll need to considering adjusting things so that it’s not a dead-end strategy. I’m trying to raise a kid that enjoys games here, not the next Napoleon.

Also, I realized too late that with Star’s super reactor module, he could have blasted away twice each turn with little risk of overheating. Under some legit in-game tension he completely forgot about that ability, and I did as well. Still, it’s probably good that he got a little roughed up. I’m not sure he would have learned much about teamwork by running into the middle of a battle alone and just whuppin’ all comers.

Another thing I didn’t foresee was Deanna’s epic bad dice luck. The 3 howitzers on the battlefield would have rained down 3d8 on whatever they hit, enough to one-shot any enemy unit on the board. A single hit would have significantly reduced the amount of fire Star was taking. The fact that she could never hit anything on the battlefield, even under the best circumstances, makes me think any opposition would have been trouble on this day.

In any case, I always find encounter balancing tough. I discovered in our first session that PCs seem noticeably more powerful than their counterparts with the same Hit Dice. And I don’t think this round gave me a real feel for having them fight mechs that are one level higher. In any case, I may adopt the time honored approach of bringing in “reinforcements” if a particular fight is going too easily. I know, I know, GMing 101.

⊗ ⊗ ⊗

Later that evening we were reading the Hobgoblin listing in the Monster Manual. (Xander and I have an ongoing series about D&D monster called Irreverent Reading if you’re interested.) He noticed right away that the Hobgoblin leaders have a cool ability to help out their troops. I reminded him that since Starian is the Commander archetype, he has a similar ability, but that he needs to be near his squad to activate it. He turned his head to me and stared for a long moment. We’ve talked about it before, but I think the sting of a losing a battle might help it sink in this time.

Before we turned in for the night I asked him point blank if losing had turned him off playing Mecha Hack. He put on his determined face and shook his head. Just what I would have expected from the kid whose personal motto is Come Back Stronger Next Time…

spider mech

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