Sunday, June 10, 2012

Last Knights of Camelot: Giant Robot Combat and Keeping Everyone Involved

So a few weeks ago I picked up a number of PDFs from RPGnow since they were having a big sale on everything in your wishlist. I picked up a number of games, two of which I have read a good deal of at this point, those being Remnants and Spellbound Kingdoms (written a guy I used to play D&D with when I lived in NYC). Both of these have very interesting mechanical bits, and have put me to thinking about my old game, Last Knights of Camelot.

The basic idea for Last Knights of Camelot is a post-apocalyptic re-telling of the King Arthur mythology where one of the few surviving forms of technology are armour suits, which are effectively giant robots. Most have long ago run out of ammunition, so instead carry massive swords, maces, and other simple weapons (only the best pilots can managed bows). These armour suits are the height of military power available in the setting; one such suit can defeat hundreds of infantry in open combat and the true power of a king is how many armour suits he can bring to his banner. The men who pilot theses suits are knights, using their massive war machines to secure power, fame, wealth, etc. They meet in tournaments and the battlefield, trampling underfoot those unlucky enough to get in their way. These armor suits are maintained by Squires, many of which are genetically engineered to have inborn training in advanced technical arts, creating a caste of highly valued mechanics who are the only ones who can keep these ancient machines functional. There are several other types of knights as well such as rail knights (command giant war trains), blade knights (have helicopters), wagon knights (drive tanks), etc. Magic exists, but it is a rare and dangerous force. I once called the game a feudalpunk setting, but then realized that was a horrible idea and stopped.

When building a group of player characters for Last Knights of Camelot, each character takes a role in supporting the group's armour suit. While a group could could not have a giant robot, why are you playing this game if you don't want a giant robot? If a group wants to have more than one armour suit it is possible, but each suit must have its own knight. You'd just be splitting resources between the two suits.

Players should each choose one of the following roles to represent their place within the group and how they relate to the group's armour suit. When the armour suit enters combat the entire group jointly controls it, each player making choices and rolling dice according to the facets of operation covered by his or her role. Such choices and roles may reflect choices made or actions carried out before the battle, but that only come to fruition in the battle field, such as acquisition of supplies or spreading terrible tales of the deeds of the armour suit to inspire fear in its enemies. This system is designed so all players in the group will have a hand in the action when it comes time for the thirty foot tall robots to pull out their swords instead of everyone looking bored while the knight kills everything.

My thought is to also include a Song of Ice and Fire-esque system for the organization that supports the armour suit and the characters and each role would have an impact on that.

If the group has fewer than four players theGM may allow players to take an additional role; but the total, number of roles should be in the 4-6 range. Note groups will not have someone in every role; this is expected, though every group should have a Knight and Squire. Without someone to drive and fix the armour suit, not much is going to happen. The roles chosen also help determine the flavor of the group; a group with a Knight, Squire, Lord, Bard, and Priest may well be a noble household, while a group with a Knight, Squire, Merchant, Captain, and Gunner may be a mercenary company lucky enough to have an armor suit.

Knight: The knight operates the armor suit, usually from a cavity in the chest. The knight may make one action each that can be a move or an attack using a melee or ranged weapon. The knight also makes defensive rolls involving Armor Suit Operation skill checks, like dodging. The target number to hit the armour suit is determined by the knight's Armor Suit Operation skill. The Knight chooses one melee weapon for the armour suit. +3 Armour Riding, +2 Gunnery, +1 Tech

Squire: The person responsible for maintaining and repairing the armor suit. Squires do not normally ride with the Knight into battle, but instead watch nearby so they can quickly make repairs as needed. The Squire makes all resistance rolls for the armour suit based on his Repair skill and may spend one action per round activating systems in the suit, like repair drones and emergency power supplies, or change power allocation in the armour suit. The Squire can choose one Armor, Frame, Power, or Gadget upgrade for the armour suit. +3 Tech, +2 Craft, +1 Armour Riding

Gunner: Gunners operate weapon systems within the armour suit, usually riding along in it with the Knight but some suits also have remote weapon systems that can be operated outside the suit. The Gunner may take one action each round to fire a ranged weapon of some type. The Gunner can choose one ranged weapon system for the armour suit (which it comes with enough ammunition to fully reload it six times if it requires ammunition). +3 Gunnery, +2 Perception, +1 Tech.

Lord: The Lord is usually a noble of some sort who technically owns the armour suit and bankrolls the enormous funds needed to keep one operating. Such individuals do not ride in armour suits, but instead keep an eye on their people from nearby. Lord's provide leadership, inspiration, and fear to motivate their followers. The Lord can reroll one failed skill check made by another group member once per round using the Lord's Social skill. The Lord can choose one upgrade of any type for the armour suit. +3 Leadership, +2 Wealth, +1 Social.

Bard: The Bard spreads word of the armour suit's deeds plus helps the armour suit recognize enemies by identifying their heraldry. Once per round the Bard can make a Heraldry check either to inspire fear in enemies due to its reputation (which the Bard is assumed to work between battles to spread) or to identify one aspect of an enemy armour suit, such as upgrades, favored tactics, etc (“Watch out, that's Sir Erebus! His rocket lance is known throughout Northumberland!”). The Bard can select one Reputation upgrade for the armour suit. +3 Heraldry, +2 Social, +1 Perception.

Merchant: The Merchant is one of the struggling middle class or one of the few non-nobles who have fought their way to the upper class of society. Such individuals usually work to fund armour suits and make sure they have the parts needed to stay in the field. Merchants can reroll one Repair, Computer, Armor Suit Operation, or Gunnery skill check per round made by anyone in the group on behalf of the armour suit using their Wealth, representing money spent on higher quality parts and supplies. Merchants can select one upgrade of any type for the armour suit. +3 Wealth, +2 Contacts, +1 Subterfuge.

Scout: The Scout surveys the battlefield before the armour suit takes the field when possible, identifying terrain threats like pits, rivers, and bogs. Before each battle the Scout can make a Perception check; for each success the scout can put one piece of terrain on the battlefield as long a it makes sense in the area. The Scout should make all Perception checks to detect enemies. +3 Perception, +2 Stealth, +1 Survival.

Priest: Most priests who accompany armour suits are Christians, the remain worshippers of older faiths rarely having the power and tech knowledge to keep one running. This does not mean all priests are Christians by any means, but most are. The Priest can reroll any failed Willpower or Toughness checks made by group members in the armour suit using his Willpower, assuming they are of the same faith or at least respect the faith of the priest. +3 Willpower, +2 Social, +1 Leadership.

Captain: While armour suits are the major power in modern combat, infantry, cavalry, and siege engines have their place. Captains are the commanders of such units, bringing to bear troops to support the armour suit in the field. The Captain begins with one unit of troops, which he can apply three upgrades too, or use an upgrade to get an additional unit of troops. These can be fielded along with the armour suit in battle, but if not properly prepared (such as using terrain created by the Scout) they'll likely get massacred by opposing armour suits. +3 Leadership, +2 (skill used by one of the Captain's units), +1 Willpower.

Druid: One of the few arcane practitioners of the older religions of Briton, druids use the magic of natural cycles to create supernatural effects. They rarely are found accompany knights, but can be found supporting tribal champions and other less “refined” operators of armour suits. Each round a druid can inflict an environmental effect on the field of battle, such as calling in a fog or turning a terrain square to a bog, but doing so drains the druid. This means each attempt gets harder and will require the druid to rest extensively after the battle. +3 Arcane, +2 Survival, +1 Willpower

Roles Still Being Worked on:
Rogue: Maybe some sort of sabotage attack?

Smith: While Squires maintain armour suits, smiths are those technical geniuses who still have the tools and knowhow to build armor suits from scratch. +3 Craft, +2 Tech, +1 Toughness

Wizard: Practitioners of magic are rare, a few can be found supporting armour suits. They usually lend support in the form of enchantments on the armour suit itself. +3 Arcane, +2 Willpower, +1 Lore

Upgrade Types
Armour – Armour plating, reactive armor, etc.
Computer – AI assistance, targeting computers, etc.
Electronics – ECM suites, communications.
Frame – Size, strength boosters, etc.
Power – Power generator and control system.
Sensors – Infra-red, radar, etc.
Weapons – Huge swords, ballistas, artillery pieces, missiles, lasers, etc.   


  1. Let me say upfront, I like the idea of the world and how it operates.

    I would worry about what might be called,"the Rifts problem." In Rifts, if you are not in some sort of MDC armor, your existence is binary. You are either, hit by an attack in which you cease to exist, or you are not. Most role playing games are not set up for all combat to occur in controlled tournament like events, because it can feel to restrictive. So, if combat ever happens outside of the expected prepared combat scenarios, then all those folks not piloting a mech are pretty much boned. One hit from a giant robot will turn your average fleshy type into a red paste. That would be my initial concern.

    Beyond that, making it so that the one character in every fight can be awesome, and the rest of the pc's are there to make him more awesome, could be seen as unfun, for some. Sure, the once in a while encounter where that happens is great, but as a basic structure it lacks something. For whatever reason, people tend to like having a direct effect more. I like the notion of people choosing to play support personnel, but I think it is not really great for that to be the majority of the player roles.

    my .02 cents mind you.

  2. Those are actually the exact problems I was hoping to design around.

    In regards to the first point, the giant robot would not be something like power armor or MDC guns in Rifts; the analog would be more like a police department with a modern day tank. You don't bring the tank on every mission as it's a massively powerful but also massively imprecise weapon. You generally use it against other such weapons. Generally the game would be structured such that combat either does not involve the robot at all, or involves everyone controlling the robot as a group with their characters out of the line of fire for the most part. There can be hybrids of the two, but those situations weren't a problem to begin with. Ultimately the best time the giant robot would be useable would be when the knight/gunner/squire can fight a giant robot level threat and the rest of the party deals with a personal level threat. Like the knight fights off an enemy knight while the rest of the party infiltrates an enemy castle trying to rescue someone.

    As to the second point every player effectively gets one action a round; the knight gets the same number of actions as the gunner, the squire, etc. So the idea is everyone gets to be equally awesome in the fight as the giant robot is a manifestation of the group's collective awesomeness. Traditionally it does seem like they're just supporting the pilot, but mechanically other characters have just as many actions as the pilot. The only thing that makes him unique is he controls the movement of the giant robot; the gunner can fire the same ranged weapons, etc. Currently several of the roles (Lord, Merchant, Priest) use a reroll mechanic, and I'd hope to change that as the system got fleshed out more so they could have more proactive options.

  3. The number of actions is not in question, but the direct action and reaction relationship. Song of Ice and fire has the house relationship mechanics you are calling on, but in my experience, most of the characters have a more direct relationship to combat. My guy was mostly a fop, but he could still shoot a bow. Even the maester contributed directly some fights. When we had a field battle, we had mostly direct control of individual units. They were attacking and defending directly. This would be more akin to playing a party of bards or other buffing based characters. Most people will not be satisfied with adding buffs as their only optional actions in a fight. Mechanically they may have the same number of actions, but if your actions are primarily buffs, that is not as satisfying as less effective attacks. At least not me. It may be just me on that. Would it be possible to maybe make a different distinction in mech types? Have the Knight be the real powerhouse but have the other suits serve other roles. Squires become like armored mechanical healers? Lords commanding the attached light infantry in less powerful suits of armor? Giving them more direct combat interaction being the key there. Direct action over support action makes the players feel more empowered.

    As to the structuring combat so that people are out of the line of fire, that is all well and good, but it could still feel a bit forced. Maybe including some reasons for whit it is like that, embedded in the rules and world? Would there be a penalty for people just suiting up and attacking someones support staff? Maybe the suits have very limited power reserves, or was terribly expensive in fuel, so they only get trotted out in certain circumstances? Some sort of mechanical drive to explain why the ruthless bad guy is not in fact just rolling up and killing everyone while they are not in a suit.