If you haven’t read my previous posts from this series, I’m playing The Mecha Hack, an OSR take on BattleTech-style games, with my wife and my 7-year-old son, Xander.
Here’s the setup…
We’re using the off the shelf Mech Hack “mini-setting,” Lodestar Alpha. There are three main factions from Old Earth. Our scrappy heroes, Thumper and Starian, belong to the Terran Collective. The Collective is made up of framers and workers who only recently threw off the yoke of the NeoDominian. The ND are your far future feudalists in space. Their power is waning, but they still have lots of resources.
The final faction, the Aeonic Primacy, is the final group of colonist from Old Earth. For centuries they were thought lost, but they’ve recently reappeared. They use alien technology, and their agenda is unknown. One thing is clear, though, they seek to destroy both the ND and the TC.
Our story picks up after Episode 4, where Thumper and Starian end up saving Fortress Husqvarna, home of their traditional enemy, the NeoDominion, from an even greater threat, the Aeonic Primacy.
HOME SWEET HOME
After two full sessions among their NeoDominion frenemies, I decided it was time to bring our heroes home to the Terran Collective. But not before I did a little catching up on booking-keeping. Each of the Chassis types in Mecha Hack are supposed to roll with Advantage to upgrade two of their stats. I’d been forgetting to do that, so I let them catch up on those missed rolls. Thumper got an extra point of Mobility and System, and Star stayed the same.
High on their recent success, they arrive back at their base to angry looks and cold shoulders. Confused, they’re called into Commander Ironsides’ office for an immediate debrief. They’re startled to find none other than Prime Minister Thredna Corn waiting for them.
She is not pleased that they’ve gotten so cozy with Princess Ilana. She goes so far as to suggest that they might have gone over to the NeoDominion. Thumper tries to reassure her, but the PM is unconvinced. She says, somewhat damningly, “Let me get this straight, you had the chance to take away our oldest enemy’s ability to wage war by doing nothing, and you needed to be heroes???”
Our heroes offered up that the NeoDominion wanted to be allies now. The Prime Minister countered by showing them clips of how the NeoDominion was using their appearance and assistance to create propaganda about how close the two old enemies were now.
Starian’s hero’s charm (read, great Presence rolls) managed to keep them from getting disciplined, but Prime Minister Corn let them know in no uncertain terms that they’d need to be “out of the way” for a month to let the situation cool down.
Her parting words, “Lie low you two. I mean it.”
A month out of the way turned out to be sentry duty at a belter mining facility, Asteroid Skarno. (Xander came up with that name, I’m really proud of him!) The Skarno family seemed more concerned with our heroes staying out of their way than getting to know them. I asked them if they were going to keep to themselves, or try to be useful. They decided on the latter and we talked about ways they could help and get to know the standoffish miners. We abstracted the passing of time with some Presence rolls, and Xander rolled (I think) a couple of crits along the way. So once again, Thumper got to watch Starian be the life of the party. Fortunately, that meant that she was all over it when her sensor array detected a seismic anomaly while in the midst of their going away party.
The Skarnos rushed to their monitors and watched in horror as an entire mine entrance collapsed and a huge Voidmaw creature, along with half a dozen babies, crawled out of the hole. With klaxons blaring, Thumper and Starian ran to their mechs.
Starian drove straight at the Big Daddy Voidmaw while Thumper interfaced with the base’s missile defense system. They worked to their strengths like a well-oiled machine.
NOT THE GOOD KIND OF SURPRISE
So, yes, that’s what I thought would happen. Thumper did get wired up to the defense grid, but Starian took this long looping path around the big Voidmaw. He drew the baby kaiju with him, but left Thumper all along with the Big Daddy. My wife and I were clear about saying, “Hey, is this really what you want to do?” And our son and his big ol’ Titan mech with tons of hit points was like, “Yeah, I’ve got a plan!” It occurred to me pretty quickly that the plan was to leave Mom and her plucky little Scout mech to deal with the Big Bad, while he wailed on the softer targets.
Honestly it’s perfectly understandable for my 7-year-old to react this way, to not want to risk this cool mech he’s built up over several adventures! He’s also just learning about small unit tactics, so I don’t think he quite got how much he was hanging Mom out to dry. And, on top it all of, I think he’s actually scared of the bigger Voidmaw. (If you go back and look at Episode 1, you’ll see that one of these kaiju completely wrecked his mech.) In a way this is cool for the arc of the campaign and for my son’s character. It’s classic Hero’s Journey stuff: the transition from fear to mastery. Once my boy realizes he’s got a potent combo to throw at the bad guys, he’ll learn to relish the chance to take on the biggest and baddest opposition.
But, all that’s in the future…
As we check back in on the battle, it’s deteriorating quickly for our heroes. Thumper dramatically holds her own against the big Voidmaw for a few rounds, but is running out of options fast. She unloads the base’s small missile rack on the Big Daddy to reasonable effect, but it’s bearing right down on her. It manages to tag her with one of its enormous claws, but she wriggles away with just a scratch (a 1 on d10 damage die). Starian is whooping the little kaiju, but he’s taking a lot of damage from their acidic blood. Also, my boy drives his mech *hard.*
To be fair, Star, Starian’s mech, is built for that. I let him take the Super Reactor module a second time, so his Reactor die is now a d10. Why is that important? When prompted by the rules you roll your Reactor die, and if you roll a one or a two, it goes down to the next smallest die type. The dice chain runs d20>d12>d10>d8>d6>d4. If you roll a one or two on a d4, your mech Overheats and you just stand there cooling down for a round.
My son loves to attack twice a round, and that calls for a Reactor die roll; the Arc quality on Star’s energy sword can freeze an enemy for a round, but only at the risk of a Reactor die roll; and, the big Voidmaw they were fighting had an attack that prompted a Reactor die roll when it hit. So, you can see where I’m going. By the time Starian was ready to face off with the Big Daddy Kaiju, his mech was almost glowing with heat… and so was my son.
As his dice luck, usually so dependable, waned he started yelling, “Why did I even get into this game???” with every unlucky roll. Tough for the boy, tough for GM Dad.
On the one hand this was hard to watch, but on the other, I knew he still had a shot to win the day if he could only calm himself and think clearly. I even offered to pack the whole thing in, but that’s not really my boy’s way.
He runs hot, but he’s also determined.
Eventually things turned just a little in his favor. Thumper managed to even the odds in the Starian vs. Big Daddy fight by nailing the Voidmaw with a well-timed attack. Even with the help things got really hairy, though.
Somehow, my son and his mech held out. With 1 hit point left he eked out just enough damage to take out the Big Daddy. My boy sank to the floor in relief, and then walked off to his room even though the fight was still going. Thumper mopped up by hacking a drone mining truck and driving it over the last baby kaiju.
They had both survived a sweaty, and intense, engagement.
⊗ ⊗ ⊗
Sometimes I wonder, will these be awesome memories for my boy, the original mythic games that got him hooked, or a source of frustration? I guess there’s no way I can know at this point. As an adult, I look back fondly on challenging games with tough obstacles. I had my share of frustrating old school D&D sessions where I felt hemmed in by what the system let you do, but I always came back for more.
Hell, I’m still here for it a lot of years later. Hopefully, my boy will be, too.