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Sir Auros' review of: Mechamorphosis

Ever want to run a Transformers tabletop role-playing game? Apparently Rob Vaughn at Fantasy Flight Games has put some thought into it as he's been the lead developer on Mechamorphosis, a d20 based Transformers-style RPG. Basically, this is a Transformers role-playing game, and the only major factor for converting it from the "Mechamorph" universe over to a Transformer continuity is to change some of the names and you're done. For those unfamiliar with the d20 system, it's the current role-playing engine Wizards of the Coast (now owned by Hasbro) uses for their Dungeons & Dragons, Star Wars, and Call of Cthulhu games as well as licenses to third parties for the development of new games based on the rules. Fantasy Flight Games is one such third party company.

Mechamorphosis is part of Fantasy Flight Games' "Horizons" series, which is supposedly a line of short, self-contained, d20-based role-playing games with various unique settings. I say supposedly because, unfortunately, Mechamorphosis is not self-contained as the d20 rules presented in either the d20 Modern or Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks are necessary to understand certain parts of the game. This wasn't a major issue for me since I already have the D&D rulebooks, but were I an unknowing customer paying $15 for something that's more of a campaign setting (basically an add-on setting for a game that still requires the core rules) than an actual, independent game, I'd be pretty pissed. The price for the game is still great for what you receive, but don't dive in and buy it thinking it contains everything you need to play the game, no matter what the product description says.

That bit of ugliness aside, there's a lot to like about this book and so much of it is influenced by Transformers more than just the whole giant robot genre. It does classify as a genre, right?

The Good:
The book functions quite well as a campaign setting and includes rules that allow you to put together just about any Transformer you've seen in the various media, including some skeletal rules for Beast Wars style characters. The rules for animal alternate modes required the D & D Monster Manual, but the way the beast modes work allows for animal modes that have traits identical to their biological equivalents. The rules do indicate that the animal modes are mechanical, but some "house rules" could be implemented to make the animal modes biological like in Beast Wars.

The only Transformers characters that would require some more substantial bending of the rules would be Headmasters/Powermasters and Pretenders. Some additions to the Link feat could allow for non-player character Head or Powermaster components. Pretenders would require more bending of the Transformer canon than the rules for Mechamorphosis, but I would imagine giving the character an additional, human alternate mode would allow one to create a Pretender character. Not sure why anyone would want to play as a Pretender though.

Gestalts are available, but surprisingly, the effect is achieved through a feat rather than a character class. Turns out that most unique features are handled through feats, skills, or special powers rather than character classes in this game. There are only four character classes: The Controller (Soundwave, Blaster), the Scientist (Ratchet, Wheeljack), the Scout (Bumblebee, Reflector), and the Warrior (Optimus Prime, Megatron). The lack of variety in classes is completely made up with the feats, skills, and special powers that are available to almost all the classes, so the game has a lot of the customization features that make the d20 system as a whole so popular.

Character creation is interesting, having the player list the five major elements (alternate mode, ability scores, feats, gear, and special powers) of his or her character from highest priority descending to the lowest priority, with the priority given to each element determining just how powerful that element can be. Putting ability scores as your highest priority gets you the highest amount of points to distribute amongst your abilities, putting gear as your highest ensures that you'll have tons of equipment, putting your alternate mode as your highest lets you be an intergalactic spaceship, and so on. It's a fairly interesting and well-balanced method for creating characters.

Two things that aren't really related, but are quite good are the art and the flexibility for alternate forms. There's not a lot to say about the art other than some of it's really stellar, but the alternate forms part is incredible. Your character can be just about anything that has mechanical parts or inorganic parts ranging from cell phones to buildings. Very cool.

The Bad:
Except for the mechanics of how it works in alternate mode, combat is bizarrely omitted from this book. Very odd considering it's based on giant robots knocking the bejesus out of each other, and it's really something that a "self-contained" set of rules should include. Instead, if you want to understand how combat works, you do need a set of d20 core rules. What special, mechamorph-related rules are covered, I like. The critical hits system stands out as one of the coolest parts of the whole book.

The skills, feats, equipment, and special powers sections of the book are disgustingly reliant on owning the D & D Player's Handbook (PHB), since there are many skills and feats that are listed as available, but not described in this book. The special powers are all essentially robotic equivalents of D & D spells and each one is listed, "as [insert spell]," requiring one to reference the PHB. The same goes for any sort of melee weapon (like a sword or axe), since they're not listed in Mechamorphosis. This isn't a problem if you already have the rulebooks (though it it something of a hassle), but when the game says, "Each HORIZON book is a complete, self-contained d20 RPG," yet requires you to have other books…well, that's not self-contained now, is it? That was a terrible sentence, but it's nowhere near as bad as this book's false promises.

The Ugly:
Yeah, that line's been used a million times in a million reviews, but I don't care because there are some verifiably ugly things about this book. There is some horrendous editing in both the text and the rules themselves. The skills are messed up because a class description will say that a skill is available to that class, but the chart showing what skills are class skills shows that skill as being a cross-class skill or vice versa. There's a reference and illustration of a "power sword," but we never see the stats for it. Finding the Armor Class for a gestalt is only written down at www.fantasyflightgames.com on their messageboards under the Errata for this game. The book could have used either some more time in development or more editors. I realize that it was put together by a remarkably small team (and it looks like Rob Vaughn was behind a large part of the work), but the errata really needs to be addressed somewhere on the site a little less obscure than the messageboards. It also needs to be addressed more frequently as well.

The Bottom Line: Out of a 10, I'd have to give this book a 7 because even while it's a brilliant campaign setting for running a Transformers role-playing game, it really suffers from its editing flaws and requirement to already be familiar with Dungeons & Dragons. It's worth picking up if you have the necessary rulebooks or if you're thinking about getting them or even if you want them just to play this game. It's a good campaign setting and all the rules are there to convert the d20 system over to a fully functional Transformers gaming session. I highly recommend it, but I'm still angry with it for lying to me.

 
 
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