Friday, June 8, 2012

Shadow Chronicles -- New Robotech RPG Review

Okay readers, it’s time for another review! What I’m looking at for this blog entry is the new Robotech RPG line from Palladium Books, beginning with the Shadow Chronicles and moving on to the Macross Saga and Masters Saga. At the time of this writing, the most recent release in the line is the New Generation Sourcebook. It is important to note that this review does not take the New Generation Sourcebook into account—I haven’t read it yet. :)

The Shadow Chronicles

The Shadow Chronicles was a vaunted effort to redeem the Sentinels, and it made me want to see more. Unfortunately, it looks like this attempt is all we're going to get.


In 2006, the company that owns the Robotech IP—Harmony Gold—hired Tommy Yune to be the creative director for the Shadow Chronicles, an animated movie intended as a sequel to the original Robotech show and as a possible launching off point for a new series and growth of the IP.

Anybody with a pie out there in the audience? No? Good.


Tommy Yune is a pretty interesting character—just check out his Wikipedia page (especially the “pie incident”). 

The Shadow Chronicles did indeed jumpstart interest in the IP, which led to an (at this time) ongoing live-action movie project and an official RPG through Palladium Books.

Starting in 2007, Kevin Seimbeida and Jason Marker went to work creating the new edition of the Robotech RPG. It would have been fairly simple just to release the Shadow Chronicles like all the previous Robotech RPG books—as a basic, perfectbound sourcebook. However, Palladium decided to make this relaunch really impressive, and thus, the Shadow Chronicles was available in both a regular perfectbound edition, a hardbound edition (that’s the one I own), and a special collector’s edition known as the “Gold edition.”

One thing to keep in mind is that the perfectbound edition was a different size than any other Palladium Book before—it was in a “manga edition” that is roughly the same size as any manga book one can buy at various retailers (about 7.5” by 5”).

 

The New Edition

Shadow fighters ahoy!

This is definitely an entirely new edition of the game! Stats for various weapons and mecha have been updated, the book contains complete character generation, skills, combat and game rules sections, and it is very comprehensive with information about the setting, the world, and the characters of the Shadow Chronicles.

The layout is a bit confusing as we dive right into the Invid antagonists before anything else, but it’s a relatively forgivable misstep.

Right off the bat, the production values of this book are impressive, as it uses a mix of old and new artwork to good effect. Much of the new artwork is particularly welcome. After we learn a bit more about the mysterious Haydonite villains, we finally get into the meat of the story with information about the setting on page 59 and character creation on page 64.

Unlike the original Robotech RPG, the Shadow Chronicles RPG uses both an OCC (Occupational Character Class) and an MOS (Military Operational Specialty) system. This is a big improvement, and the list of OCCs is relatively tight and focused (especially in comparison to the original): Fleet Enlisted/Grunt, Battloid Ace, Military Specialist, Technical Officer, and Veritech Pilot. Another welcome addition is the presence of a set of random tables to assist with creating a character quickly and easily. So far, so good!

Charlie's Angels pose!


The MOS system ranges from Command Officer to Infantry Point Man to Medical Technician, and really helps set the characters apart while at the same time providing a fun and interesting niche.

Next comes a bit more information on the military forces and then we dive into familiar territory for the Robotech RPG: pages and pages of technical information on the mecha and gear. I would have been disappointed if this material was not present, and there are a ton of new, cool mecha and power armor to be found within. As always, though, I feel like Palladium goes a bit overboard with the “mecha and vehicle porn,” and by the time we get to the “Heavy Cargo Tractor” I am more than ready to move on. Next is a small but comprehensive section on personal gear, and then comes the game rules!

The game rules section is one of the best in the Palladium library, and opens up with some good advice and information for GM’s followed by the more technical aspects of character creation. Combat Rules come next, followed by skills.

Conspicuously absent are rules and tables for insanity (thank you for not including them!).

Also, there's another huge upside to this book: No stupid mugging as the example of play!

The adventure section includes more information about the setting, some very welcome info on the themes of the game and the kinds of adventures your characters are likely to be involved in, and some additional information on the makeup of enemy forces they can encounter. The book closes with a small section detailing over a dozen characters from the Shadow Chronicles film itself.

 

RDF vs. UEEF


The Shadow Chronicles also introduces some creative editing of the history of Robotech, changing a number of minor details to suit the overall story. Many of these changes are completely unnoticeable, but one that sticks out for me is the reclassification of the old Robotech Defence Force (RDF) into the United Earth Expeditionary Force (UEEF). Certainly it makes more sense to have the latter rather than the former, but it is a bit jarring for me… since I grew up with the RDF!
At the end of the day, I’ll always remember the RDF first and foremost, but this is not a nitpick in any way, just a little personal note about my own relationship with the IP.

Overall


You're in good hands with Allstate.


The Shadow Chronicles RPG is a very welcome update to the original Robotech RPG—it stands on its own as a better introduction to the game in almost every way. My only real concern is that the system itself is still showing its age, and that there’s a definitely lack of story content about the universe and what Robotech means. One of my criticisms about the original Robotech RPG was that it “didn’t really know what it wanted to be.” Shadow Chronicles knows what it is after and definitely provides a much more focused approach to futuristic, giant robots-in-space military action.

The Macross Saga

Cover art by the very talented Apollo Okamura.


Since the Shadow Chronicles acts as the core RPG book for the new Robotech RPG line, this frees up the Macross Saga sourcebook to focus nearly exclusively on its subject material. At 256 pages, this book is far more substantial than its previous version, and it is well written. Everything about the Macross Saga is incorporated into the new format.

This book goes more in-depth into the story of Robotech and especially the formation of the military forces of Earth that banded together to fight the Zentraedi. In addition, this book presents a lot of information about the Zentraedi, their plans, and their mecha. There's even rules in this book to make Zentraedi characters!

Additional OCCs and MOSs are presented along with a look at some of the most important characters in the Macross Saga (although sadly neglecting some of the more interesting side cast, such as Lynn Kyle and the Zentaedi spies). This book is a quantum leap ahead of its original version, although I still wish it had more information about the Macross Saga as a story, and especially how it relates those themes of sacrifice, love, and heroism to the roleplaying game.

The Masters Saga


Transforming giant robot helicopters fighting other giant robot dudes on flying sleds. Yeah, that's pretty much what it's like.

Unfortunately, the Masters Saga is not quite as significant a step forward. This book contains some disappointments. One of the largest issues that I have with the book is that it lacks nearly any information at all to tell the reader what the Second Robotech War was about. There are zero profiles for the heroes of the ASC (such as Dana Sterling, Louie Nichols, Bowie Grant, Musica, Zor, etc.), and /extremely/ limited information about anything outside of the strictly military aspects and stats for gear and mecha. 

A reader unfamiliar with the Second Robotech War is likely to be quite confused or come away with the idea that the ASC is largely a faceless organization that succeeded in defending the Earth out of sheer luck! The themes and major elements of the Second Robotech War’s narrative story are completely absent, and this (IMHO) is a major misstep.

When compared to the Shadow Chronicles, this book is a major disappointment. It's almost shocking to say that the original Southern Cross book is in some ways better, considering all the excellent effort put into the writing, organization, and art that came along with the Shadow Chronicles renaissance.

Ultimately, I believe that the source of these issues is Kevin Seimbeida—from his track record with the Robotech RPG, it seems clear that he prefers to skimp on the story and instead focus on more guns, more mecha, more vehicles, and more random charts.

To end on a brighter note, the artwork in the Masters Saga is light-years ahead of the previous book, and what little information there is about the ASC and the Masters is well-written and engaging. There is some quite good new additional mecha, and overall the approach to the ASC and the Masters just makes more sense in this book than its predecessor.

Size Does Matter

I think this is the cover to a Macross PC game.


One thing I immediately noticed about the Third Generation book for the new Robotech RPG is that it was released in the normal perfectbound size of all other Palladium Books products. This is, frankly, a baffling move… all of the other entries in the line, including the core book, were released as manga-sized books. You could, of course, spring for the larger hardbound or collector’s editions of the Shadow Chronicles core book, but that was the only other option.

This means that any collector of the series is likely going to have three manga-sized books on his shelf and one—sticking out like a giant sore thumb—standard sized book. That book being the most recent (at this time). I have no idea why Palladium would do something like this, it seems to make zero sense to me from a production standpoint. It would be one thing if the books were all available as either one size or the other. To have one book of a radically different format from the others is just plain weird, and I have to admit it is a fairly significant factor in why I haven’t yet picked it up.

1 comment:

  1. I don't mean to be critical, but I would have expected much more depth to your 'reviews' as they are truncated and offer few insights (especially from the p.o.v. of a self-described 'games designer') and I also would say that beginning your blog entry with "Right off the bat, the production values of this book are impressive, as it uses a mix of old and new artwork to good effect" was a pretty big stumble; recycled artwork (some of which is rather dated), low quality paper, lack of color, etc. are constant gripes with Palladium as a gaming company. Compare to say, oh let's see, Eclipse Phase. Those are impressive production values (page background images, glossy paper, colored section headers, full-page colored illustrations, etc.). I've played EVERY Paladium game and--while I have nostalgia galore--it's probably the worst gaming company outside of some very cool, original and creative overall settings and concepts.

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