Monday, July 16, 2018

Mechanika: RPG Review

This issue is a review portable document format (PDF) of Mechanika: Empires of Blood and Steam; by Xaos Publishing. This product was provided free of charge for the purpose of this review. Mechanika funded for just over $9k, via Kickstarter in 2013, with the final push for delivery, fulfillment, and eventually availability at and, occurring mid, 2016.

Disclosure: This review includes affiliate links to I receive a small percentage if you decide to purchase something from the landing page. Thank you for your support.

Mechanika is a bit of an odd duck as far as RPGs go. While I wouldn’t disagree that its theme is steampunk, the more I read and as the pages went by, less did this game feel like a steampunk RPG. When I brought out the dice, for character creation, and to test some of the mechanics all heck broke loose!
As the author admits, Mechanika is a bit of a mash or perhaps a rehash of many other RPGs. There is certainly a bit of Fate Core here and a bit a Savage Worlds there. Add in a hint of gothic fantasy, a little (non-plushy) Call of Cthulhu and that about sums it up. I’m a bit on the fence with this one, but it is less about what this game is and more about what it could be, which admittedly doesn’t give credence to the idea of paying money for it. Steampunk isn’t an RPG genre I’m too familiar with, but setting wise this RPG is absolutely a mash of many elements other than steampunk. Gamers familiar with Fate Core or Savage Worlds might consider giving it whirl, but at the same time Mechanika, is very different from those RPGs.

Mechanika utilizes the Xaos system. Dice mechanics are performed with percentile dice (d10s) and FUDGE dice. If you not familiar with FATE CORE, FUDGE dice are six-sided die, which are faced with icons instead of numbers. The icons for Fate Core & Mechanika are plus (+), minus (-) or blank (_); two of each icon on a d6. Needless to say, but easy enough to simulate on a standard d6 as well, assigning two numbers to each icon.
Beside the basic rolls which entail those improved by character skills/attributes/perks, or challenged by flaws, the Xaos System allows for degrees of success and failure. In other words, meeting the target number set by the GM is a success, but exceeding the number may count towards a special success. As such, rolling well below the target number may count as a “special” failure. Either occurrence encourages the GM and the players to incorporate some narrative story elements. The Xaos system also features a luck mechanic for dice rolls called Destiny Points. Those familiar with Savage Worlds and Fate Core will recognize it, as this mechanic allows rerolls as well as enables players to “edit a scene,” avoid an untimely death and a couple of other things. Destiny Points are rewarded to the player by the GM, mostly in regards to good character play. These points roll over to experience points for the character if unused at the conclusion of the session. Speaking of character, let’s make one.

Character creation with this RPG requires players to create a persona. The concept of this persona is then mitigated by two character concepts the “higher” and “lower” self. In essence instead of alignment we have a default character personality tag. The higher self is just as it seems, your character at his/her best, or most selfless, the lower self being your character’s worst or most selfish. Players are charged with creating these three tags and putting them together in a way that is somewhat reasonable. There are plenty of examples (for newbs) to get you started, and the concepts in this section are well presented.
Next is selecting a race of which there is a unique variety. Humans make up 80% of the current population of this alternate earth/steam punk setting, but my beloved dwarf is available (so I made one), as well as goblins, moreauvians, sylvans and Dhampyrs. Moreauvians are human/animal hybrids and of many varieties, sylvan are plant or tree like humanoids and dhampyrs are the spawn of vampires. Races have a high number racially specific, drawbacks and benefits. The race template is a bit overloaded in this regard. Thankful I located a pencil that Harley the cat, hadn’t yet had the pleasure of chewing on (don’t ask).

Step three is assigning attributes and wounds. Attributes in Mechanika are the physical and mental aptitude however, a score of zero is considered the human average. With creation, player characters are provided five points to distribute among these attributes, as well as some attributes may be further modified by the race template. Mechanika does not use a typical Hit Point system, instead incorporating a (meticulously written) wound system, which includes three different types of wounds, to show damage.
"Every character in Mechanika has their limits. Every character has a breaking point. This is illustrated by the Wounds system. The Wounds system gives you a visual representation of how injured you are by using damage grids. Each character has three different grids, one for each type of wound you can sustain in Mechanika.” (PG 46)

Character’s in Mechanika can take physical damage (Constitution), stress or mental damage (Willpower) and ego or social damage (Presence). The severity of injury for each type of damage is further divided into three additional ranks, each being more severe. The different sorts of damage will play more into the story building aspects, but also have mechanical significance providing penalties and the like.  
Next in character creation, is the odd combination of assigning wealth and designating the number of actions available. There is really nothing to choose here, so it is really more of a “to make you aware section.” All characters are suggested at starting out with a -1 wealth rating or in other words, not very wealthy. Characters start the game with three sorts of actions, but may receive more if they have the appropriate ranks in agility attribute.

Rounding it out is selecting skills, perks, and flaws. These sections are pretty standard as far as RPGs go. Skills are linked to one or two designated attributes and help define what characters can and presumably, cannot do; all of these are based on character knowledge/education. Perks are divided into three categories: regular, supernatural and by race (race: listed with the race template). Likely my preference for old school games, but some of these read in line with what I would say was a skill, others are seemingly genetic graces and more in line with what I think a perk might be. Flaws can be taken at character creation, and award Experience Points (EPs), which you can put towards additional perks and skills during character creation.
Review Featured in KoDT #245
The setting of Mechanika is earth with an alternate timeline and a mash of several themes. At some point in this timeline the Old Ones (H.P. Lovecraft style) arrive plunging the earth in fifty years of despair. The effect of their presence causes disease, mutation and misery. The Fae arrive; from where the text isn’t clear. They fight the Old Ones offering humanity servitude, claiming themselves the saviors of the human race. The war between the Fae and Old Ones continues and somewhere in there the dwarves and goblins arrive. The dwarfs work both sides for profit, the goblins are mostly combat fodder. The Great War spans 250 years, until the Fae gain dominance. For one thousand years the Fae are worshiped unchallenged, when without explanation they disappear. There is a bit of unrest between the three lesser races as they via for power. And this is the setting Mechanika is subtitled and player character will explore: The Age of Blood and Steam.
Likely the best material to get a feel for Mechanika, are the chapters to do with machina and magic. Interestingly, there is about twice as much content on the chapter for magic then there is for the chapter on machina. That said… the chapter on machina is pretty interesting. Both magic and machina rely on Flux, which is the source of magic energy. For the most part this section provides a handy set of guidelines for Artificers and Tinkerers to construct their own gizmos, which are machines/devices melded with this element of flux. Artifice Houses specialize in creating certain types of machina and each house is provided a treatment specifically describing what can be created as well as provides a few examples. Despite seeming a bit overflowing for a steampunk RPG, the Chapter on Magic is my actually my favorite. Magi in Mechanika belong to one of twelve houses, Warlocks wield elemental forces and Wyrds unstudied, but naturally gifted, harness their innate magical talents through a totem. The features of the three magic-user archetypes are diverse and interesting. The magic schools are subdivided by type: The Schools Elements, Matter, Energy, Life & Death and the Aberrant Schools.

While Mechanika is bit wonky, if I had put my money down, there are certainly some interesting concepts. The writing isn’t terrible, but the overall layout and presentation could certainly use some additional work. This being a Steampunk game, as I mentioned in the intro, it’s rather odd. While the games “theme” is steampunk it’s got a bulky dose of other things, which significantly weigh it down in regards to mechanics as well as to the core of its role-playing elements. If Mechanika was developed in the early 90’s no doubt it would have likely gained a fan base. As is, I’d wait to see if some of these things might be cleaned up and if it should ever come to pass with a second edition.