It’s Raining Mechs

Alien mechs fall from the sky like shooting stars. Their technology is so advanced that even after smashing into the Earth they still work. And just one is advanced enough to change the balance of power. Governments and militaries around the world race to be the first to secure each mech as it falls…

For this session of In This World, instead of a real world topic, we decided to take something fictional for a spin.

Our topic: mechs.

We had Greek warriors laboring to turn gears inside towering Trojan Horses that actually fought and conquered cities. And another world that was more like “Leave It To Beaver”, but with a mech in every garage instead of cars and cartoonish robot battles as common as songs in a musical (“Fred, your dog pooped on my lawn again!” *mech fight!*).

The whole game was great, but the third world we made, the “it’s raining mechs” world, was a particularly great example of how each player’s contribution builds and bounces off the last. Our players? Mike, Haskell, Jem and me. Everyone had played In This World before.

One of our starting statements — things that are normally true about the topic but might be different here — was “people build mechs” and that change was the starting point of Mike’s world: in this world, people don’t make mechs, they fall from the sky, alien artifacts of some unknown origin. They hit infrequently, usually one at a time in some random part of the world, and there are maybe a hundred here so far.

As the starting player, Mike also got to pick two other statements he wanted to stay true: “militaries deploy mechs” and “mechs fight each other”, explaining that these alien machines are so much better than conventional weapons that if one nation fields a mech you either field a mech to counter it or you lose. Even a minor nation that gets its hands on one is suddenly a force to be reckoned with. The old international balance of power is thrown out of the window.

So that’s all Mike’s turn, player 1. I would say the rest of us sat back and went “hmmm” with our thinking caps on, but that would not a total lie: we were all chomping at the bit, because we all had ideas.

Jem, throws a smoke bomb to distract us and jumps in next. One of our statements was “mechs require fuel”, which honestly I didn’t expect to come up a lot. But oh no, Jem says yeah that’s true, they totally do. But it’s alien fuel that we don’t understand and can’t produce. So every single mech has limited use. You might get three or four major battles out of one and then it’s dead.

Oooooooh, tasty! That throws a massive wrench in the cost-benefit analysis of mech battles. I love it. Haskell decides to add some detail and make us feel bad by saying that if you didn’t fight and instead hooked up a mech as a power source, you could produce vast quantities of clean energy. Yes they would run out of juice eventually, but not before they did a lot of good, if we were willing to use them for peaceful purposes instead of war. Which no one does, because they’re too valuable as military assets. Now we have guilt.

Another of our statements was that “mechs vary”, meaning there are all sorts of different models and so on, but I throw in a relative softball that no, in this world every mech is the same. I like it because it makes the balance of power crystal clear: one mech equals one mech, all the world over.

That’s round one done! For round two we put away the remaining statements and focus on just adding detail to what we’ve already established.

The second half really drove home the ‘one mech equals one mech’ idea and removed any romance from the situation by adding that pilot skill doesn’t really make a difference, because the mech control systems are really doing the work. You control the mech but it’s not like being an ace pilot gives you an edge. This is not your heroic anime story.

But even more importantly, the whole situation is veering towards a zero-sum game: when a mech falls from the heavens, everyone can see it coming and decide whether to try to grab it, but you have to deploy mechs to capture mechs, which uses up fuel. If you’re unlucky the cost might be higher than the reward.

In the blink of an eye, we had made a juicy and nuanced world, teeming with tension. I would play a whole campaign exploring that setting.

Careful readers will notice that at no point did we discuss *why* there were alien mechs falling from the heavens. It never came up, because that’s not the part of the setting we were curious about. And that’s a core principle of In This World: you dig into the stuff that the people at the table are interested in. You make the world you want to explore.

    Ben Robbins | May 18th, 2023 | , | leave a comment