Robotech: The Macross Saga RPG Review

It was hard to know what to expect when opening up a Robotech RPG. Would it be a game about giant robots punching each other through space or 80s pop-star drama? Would it be a campy slice of entertainment or a weirdly edited tangle of confusion? The answer, it turned out, was "yes".


Formed from the Frankenstiened remains of three completely different anime series, Robotech was the first show to try and bring the mecha genre to western audiences. It told a choppy story of alien invasion and human heroism set against a background of over-the-top drama that focused on the support staff just as much as the fighters on the front-line, a combination that proved popular enough to warrant an RPG adaptation 34 years down the line.

It was an unusual take for cartoons at the time and is honestly kind of an odd angle for an RPG to pursue these days. When you roll up a party of heroes for Robotech you're unlikely to end up with a squad full of fighters who'll engage directly with the enemy, and instead find yourself playing with an ace pilot, a bridge officer and an exiled princess.

Indeed, for all of its skill lists and number-crunching, Robotech plays much closer to a narrative-driven storytelling game than a D&D-clone. Rather than stats, for example, characters are built using tag-like skills that players are encouraged to work into as many situations as possible. An engineer with four points in "I Can Fix It" isn't just a great mechanic, but can also put her skills to use when patching up a relationship or pulling together a squad's shattered morale.

It's a weird little system that is open to easy gamesmanship if players want to always use their best skills, but somehow it seems to work - most of the time, anyway. Strangely, combat is possibly the least enjoyable part of the game, simply because it requires players and GMs to start tracking a handful of sub-systems and rules that can be more than a little flddley. The pace of play drops and the GM is forced to conjure up a way that the pop-star entertainer can contribute to the battle that isn't just jumping on the comms system for a rousing speech.

Appropriately enough, it sometimes feels like the Robotech RPG is the product of two games spliced together - one focussed on narrative and drama, and another that revels in modifying mecha and tooling up the guns aboard a capital ship. Meshing the two playstyles isn't impossible, but does require a GM and players willing to devote time and effort to the endeavour.

If the Robotech had been a run-of-the-mill attempt at a generic mecha RPG it would probably be quickly consigned to the dusty bookshelves of forgotten systems. By choosing to instead embrace all the weird drama and retro camp of the original show the designers have produced something unique, and that makes it memorable.

Would I commit to a months-long campaign aboard the SDF-1? No, probably not. But if you have a fondness for the TV show and a willingness to play about with weird game systems it's certainly worth checking out.
Richard Jansen-Parkes



ohh, FYI people, we have a mechanical rulebook that's redacted up on our website. It should give you an idea of how the system plays. Also there's a comprehensive review up on DTRPG.

I downloaded and am reading it - they've done a good job of making sense of the rules. At least, so far in what I've read.

aramis erak

I participated in the playtests early on.
It was pick two actions, pick a suitable skill for each, assemble the pools, and check for successes on both. Gear adds to a skill pool, but only one gear bonus applies per turn, tho technically you can be using two for story purposes (EG: if you dodge and shoot in your veritech, either you're using the engines or the GU-11 for your bonus dice, but are using both for purposes of the actions taken). There was a convoluted dice modification system that modified which faces are successes, and difficulties in number of successes needed.

Looking at the redacted:
Pick two actions
One skill for each. One gets bonus dice from an [equipment] "kit".

You'll thus need mechanically two colors or sizes of d6's and you'll want at least 7 or 8 of one and 4 of the second. If you (or your GM) wants to know whether the equipment was important, a third color, but each at 4 dice should be fine.

The Advantage/Edge/Hindrance/Disadvantage system appears much streamlined... but it's unclear if the Advantage bonus level includes the edge level's modifier or not, and if not, whether you can apply both if they don't include the lesser.

I see several changes since playtest... and like the ones I've seen, noting the still lacking in clarity on dice modifer.

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