Wednesday, April 26, 2017

My Life as a Gamer: Lancer's Rockers

Anime fans today don't appreciate how easy they've got it. Back in the 80s and early 90s, "anime" means you watched and like Voltron, Robotech, older shows like Speed Racer, and super-robot shows like Tranzor Z- all of which were often cutups taken from Japanese shows that merged two or more unrelated series together to meet the standards for syndication. If you wanted the originals, you (a) had to know that they existed and (b) had to be tied into the club network to get fan-made subtled VHS copies. That wasn't me.

I resorted to tabletop RPGs to satisfy what the shows themselves could not. Since I wasn't in a place where Champions was a thing, using the HERO System wasn't an option. R. Talsorian's Mekton was only in its second edition, and wouldn't properly be able to do its stated job until the second edition's Technical Manual (which published the first version of the full build system). When I was in high school, that didn't exist. Therefore, there was only one viable option: Palladium's official licensed Robotech RPG.

The best of Palladium's adventure support for the original edition (and, to date, for both editions) is another work that Jeff Gomez did: Lancer's Rockers. The premise is simple: years after the conclusion of the "New Generation" era in the series, the war against the Invid remnant on Earth continues. The heroes of that era split up after Scott Bernard left Earth, and a new threat now rises aiming to destroy the nascent human resurgence. The key to its defeat is to return the hero Lancer to the fight, and that's where the PCs come in.

If there is any place where "sanctioned fanfic" is acceptable, it's in tabletop RPGs, and that's what this adventure is. You're there to seek out one of the most notable heroes of the series, and then do a Save The Hero From Despair plot. Being that this is an adventure premised on the rock star of the series, the plot revolves around music and sonic technology- known as "instrumecha". Yes, they are are earnestly absurd as it sounds, and it's part of the charm: overcoming the enemy with the power of Rock & Roll.

Where this adventure shows its age is in its villain: a former Soviet Army officer. Yes, that's right, in the far future of 2045 the Soviet Union somehow still exists. Much like Bubblegum Crisis mentioning West Germany as still a thing in the 2030s, this clearly shows when it got made. To be fare, I had no clue that the Soviet Union was about to collapse then; it came out of nowhere, much as German reunification did. So this didn't seem out of place at the time.

But I ran this adventure, and I ran it straight, and it worked. 80s-style rock-and-roll rebels on motorcycles fighting the (alien) man, dreaming of a better tomorrow, and playing the hot licks after hours to keep morale up. The guys and I didn't see it at the time, but this might as well have been a Megazone 23 series.

Yes, all of the plot beats you expect from a music-heavy SF story are present: sonic weapons, big sonic weapons, dueling sonic weapons, battle-of-the-bands, trash talk aplenty, earnest romantics as your heroes, and demoralized folks as obstacles the heroes need to overcome with the courage born from music. You can hear the RUSH soundtrack already, can't you?

The villain collaborates with the aliens, of course, and the evil humans have comparable (though plain) copies of the heroes' arms and vehicles. Get The Band Back Together (somewhat). Alien-Human robots! (One of which wields a robot-sized hammer and sickle pair, in one of those too-silly moments that works in context.) Evil is actually EVIL! Good is actually GOOD! If the dice are with the players, victory has a real satisfaction to it. I had to extrapolate a lot, as the module itself lacks things like maps and other necessary scenario information, but I made it work- something I later found out was NOT a common experience.

Looking back now, the issues I had running this adventure module was that it was a linear plot; it should have been developed as a comic or novel and not an adventure module. Had I not had the players roll with the premise, this would've gone down like the Hindenberg; were I to run it now, it would only be an element in a much larger (and properly structured) campaign of this sort. If Palladium had a clue, they'd cut a deal for a videogame adaptation in partnership with Harmony Gold because this module is perfect for that medium.

Maybe I'll get into this in more detail down the road, but if you really want to get the zeitgeist of Robotech and its three component series, in tabletop RPG form track down a copy of this module and read that sliver-thin thing. It's amazing how it did as well as it did in its day, and I credit that to Jeff Gomez and John Frater- especially knowing now how Siembieda operates as an editor and publisher. (I don't even entertain writing for him for a reason.)

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