Dream Pod 9 had a long wrong of hybrid games that featured a mix of roleplaying game and miniature war gaming. Heavy Gear was their flagship, but they also had games like Jovian Chronicles and the game we played, Gear Krieg. Then paradoxically they had a post-apocalyptic fantasy/horror game called Tribe 8, which featured no mecha at all.
Gear Krieg would not have been my first choice of game to try out the Silhouette system with. (Woo! Cute system name!) While mechas in WW2 are patently awesome, and was a core reason behind me buying the game several years ago, some of their other settings stir my cockles a bit more. But I was delighted to play this regardless.
This was a straight up situation of someone offering to run, and no one objecting. I’d had a couple turns in the hot seat and was ready to play. We had a tie for our record attendance numbers, a whopping 7 people including the GM. Yowzers. I think this is picking up steam finally.
The GM opted to do pre-gens for this game, though he found once he got going that character creation was more involved than anticipated and so they were a bit more bare bones than planned. It looked easy at a glance, but I think the exponential increases in cost when buying stuff in chargen really made the math more involved. He allowed players to pick merits and flaws from the book if they wanted them, and people who chose to do that did not seem to have any particular problems with it. It did seem like some of the merits and flaws were a little overly generic, but otherwise it went smoothly. The party was a mix of American and Russian soldiers, each separated from their units and behind enemy lines. Among the Russians we had a female mech pilot as a nod to the woman WW2 fighter pilots. Very nice.
The recurring theme of play during this session was a lot of people staring at the book, brow furrowed in confusion and mouth hung open in disbelief, sighing in frustration. The rules were just so poorly explained it was frustrating. The character sheet, at initial glance, had a simple attribute/skill setup. An average attribute value was “0.” Most of our skills were rated 1-4.
The basic dice mechanic involved rolling a number of d6s equal to your skill rank, take the highest die roll. If you rolled multiple 6s, each additional 6 beyond the first added 1 to your total. So if you rolled two 6s, you had a result of 7, three 6s gave a result of 8, etc. If you were making a straight attribute roll, you rolled two dice. If you were making an untrained skill roll, you rolled two dice and use the lower of the two dice. There was some dispute in the group as to when or if you were supposed to add your attribute to the die roll, and whether that applied to just your attribute rolls or if skill checks also had the attribute modifier. Once we decided they applied to skill checks, we weren’t sure which attributes to link with which skills. (I half think there was a chart I missed, but I can’t find my book now to check.) Even with that modifier, it felt like the chance of failure was pretty sharp if you only had a little bit of training in a skill.
Then there was just the bizarre. Like the weapon listings. There were boxes describing period firearms with real world technical specifications. There were charts of game statistics for weapons. And there were text descriptions of what the different types of weapons in the game were. There was no apparent correlation between these three sources of information. So, looking at the Springfield M1903, it had some very colorful details about the weapon. I tried to use that information to find the game statistics for it and… couldn’t. The name of the weapon wasn’t there. The flavor box described it as a rifle. There was a whole list of rifles in the equipment chart, and my choices were “assault rifles” or “carbines.” I’m not a gun nut, so I don’t know what the hell a carbine is. And the text description of the weapons in the equipment section did not help me answer that.
Another one that constantly annoyed people were the aiming rules. For every round you spend aiming you got a +1 to your roll, up to your skill rank. So if you had no ranks in a particular weapon skill, you couldn’t aim a weapon. Which wasn’t that big of a deal for pistols or rifles, but if we wanted to man a machine gun nest or fire a bazooka… No amount of aiming would help with that “roll two dice, keep the lowest” roll. For other skills, it was very difficult for people to find any information on what the skill was supposed to do beyond the flavor text.
The combat mechanic was notably lethal. Not Blue Planet lethal, which is my gold standard for game lethality. But pretty damn lethal. The game used flat weapon damage amounts that varied based on your margin of success. So damage would spiral up pretty fast. It was a little reminiscent of combat in the cinematic version of Unisystem we used in Army of Darkness. Army of Darkness had a drama point mechanic to stave off instant death. Gear Krieg had an optional rule for “script immunity” to nerf some attacks, but we didn’t use that so I don’t know how it pans out in play. In either circumstance, it seems like using some “attack negation” rule to keep your character from suddenly dying in a cinematic style of play seems a little back asswards. I’ve just seen too many alternatives to think that this is the best way to handle it.
Compared to the Leading Brand
The obvious contenders here are Savage Worlds and Spirit of the Century. Maybe Wilderness of Mirrors. I might toss Adventure! into the pile, but I haven’t played it yet. Really, I think any of those games was a more fun experience than the rules to this game. The GM did a valiant job running things, but the rules were just a bear. If they were just a little clunky, I may be forgiving. But they were almost incomprehensible at times, and we just were utterly frustrated by the experience. If I’m really fealing the need for gritty realism in my game, instead of pulpy high adventure, I can just pull down GURPS World War 2 and Mecha from my shelf.
I have rarely been so frustrated with a game as I was with this game book. It really soured me to the rules. I may try playing one of the other games, or perhaps the 2nd edition core rules they put out several years ago. But if I ever feel like I specifically need to use the Gear Krieg setting, I will utterly gut the system and use some other ruleset that does not make me cry.
Next up: I’m going on the hot seat to GM a game of Houses of the Blooded. I’m really looking forward to this. I don’t know that we’ll use the land management rules, but I at least want to see how the narrative control mechanic works. I’m especially curious because I’m using these rules to do a high school B-movie one-shot for this year’s run of Grindhouse at ACNW. Oh yes: High School of the Blooded. (I do it just to give John Wick headaches.)