Saturday, February 17, 2024

BESM - Palomino, a Mecha Space Western

Taking a break from the V&V Rules deep dive because I learned today that a 4th edition of Big Eyes, Small Mouth, the anime role playing system, came out in 2020. I was a fan of the 2nd edition, which I felt hit the sweet spot for genre emulation and mechanical crunch (and since I own it I won't be picking up 4th edition), but it got me reminscing of games gone by. So here's the first of two proper Anime games, Palomino, my Mecha Space Western. There are four things you have to accept in the setting:

  • First, there’s Micro-point Anti-Gravity: Its initial use eliminated joint stress and let versatile humanoid giant robots replace specialized industry & military vehicles. MPAG was found to be a viable space drive once out of a planet’s gravity well. This means that Mecha are common, can move around the system but can’t fly on worlds, relying on launching pad cities to get the ‘out of the well.’ A convenient way of making sure PCs can’t readily run away from a world’s problems. 
  • Second, other star systems were vastly more likely to contain star-sized gas giants with Titan-sized moons than Earthlike planets, but expensive terraforming tech made these moons habitable. This lets me have lots of settled worlds in a system with some flimsy scientific justification, as well as some true Earthlike worlds that are just more valuable real estate. I don’t expect the current campaign to leave this planet, never mind this system – but I think it’s neat. 
  • Third, the central governments terraform moons & seed suitable planets (no life has evolved off of Earth) and recoup the cost from generations of settlers via local governments. Worlds are too expensive for orbital bombardment or other WMD, so mecha are the prime military & industrial tools, everyone has an interest in order and pay lip service to human rights (bad records mean fewer settlers and less profit, so governments do step in if they notice). Settlers are lightly supplied: high tech industry costs money and is fragile. Most worlds have tech levels that mirror the late 19th century, with scattered high tech in the hands of the wealthy. Mecha are owned by law enforcement, heavy industry, and those lucky enough to own and maintain them. The current PCs all fall into the last group, having inherited, won or scavenged theirs. 
  • Fourth, prior to Micro-point Anti-Gravity there were a few ships of minorities who left to seed & settle the Earthlike worlds. These enclaves were later overrun by settlers with mecha and relocated to poorly-terraformed reservation moons. This wasn’t part of my plan, but when I floated ‘Mecha Space Western’ Dave settled on ‘displaced native' before I finished my background. He accepted no aliens, but stuck to his guns on the genre archetype. His PC quote? “Once my people had a way of living that was in tune with nature, and provided all we would ever need. Then a Mormon was elected president: he outlawed gambling, and we were forced to take to stars.” This is a little sillier than I had intended. 

Similarly, I had designed the setting for federal mecha-marshals enforcing the law on the wild rim moons. With Dave’s native & Bec’s gambler, it changed to mecha-owning drifters looking to the next horizon. Tom provided a mech-smith/tinkerer and it’s now reminiscent of Silverado: folks meet on the road, become friends and later allies against a town’s ne’er-do-wells. I worried about hooks, but they quickly took jobs with the chief ne’er-do-well.

The moon is Palomino, with a mining industry that led to several boom towns (a term also applied to communities with area set aside for mecha landings, due to the noise generated when they hit; often linked as fast-growing settlements need all the mecha they can get). It also has just come off a rail war which had the effect of turning the nominal capital, Palomino City, into a virtual ghost town as the other launch pad city is now better situated to get goods across the moon for export. 

The boom town is Grace, a rail stop riding on the success closest of nearby mining town Travers Canyon. The Canyon is a company town for Ned Travers, who provides food, shelter & education to workers as long as they live by his rule. Grace is a ranching community, with the original stakes quickly being consolidated by a few land barons. It is a place people both pass through and live in as rangers, shopkeepers or, ahem, entertainers for those passing through. 

Our story opens with Seh-No-Wo-Te, Kate ‘Chance’ O’Shaunnesy, and Jake Walters in the mecha-car of the Rim Line space train (which indeed has a row of cars, which are dropped onto the planet when needed. The last car is reserved for either the poor moving with no amenities or riders who bunk inside their mecha, which are attached to the sides via airlocks). Drawn together over the trek since the others in the cab being either inbred bigoted idiots or a family of insular Chinese mecha-riders who don’t speak English, they decide to drop onto Palomino together. Never hurts to have a couple of friends on a new moon as you shake the dust of a world into your vacuum scourged boots....

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