Welcome to Essential Builds, the blog that rebuilds popular culture icons into combat capable Essence20 Player Characters.
I’m Ryan Costello, one of the designers of the Essence20 system and an author on the G.I. JOE, Transformers, and My Little Pony Roleplaying Game Core Rulebooks. As of this writing, I’ve written over 300 000 words for Essence20, contributing to over a dozen products and counting.
For the first time, a fan suggested the subject of today’s Essential Builds. Brian on the Renegade Game Studios Discord Server said “I’ll suggest Mega Man or Mega Man X, and leave it in the universe”. On behalf of the universe, I pick the classic Mega Man.
Building Essence20 Mega Man
I’m known for being a big fan of the brands I talk about at length, but there are other brands that I love quietly and in smaller doses. Micro obsessions, if you will. And I’m micro obsessed with Mega Man.
I’ve played every classic Mega Man side scroller up to 2010’s Mega Man 10 (not to be mistaken for 1993’s Mega Man X). In fact, Mega Man 2 is my favourite NES game. I loved the original Mega Man games so much that I refused to play Mega Man X. I saw it as a betrayal on Capcom’s part, replacing our timeless hero with an edgier alternative. I was 13 at the time, and I previously established that my teens were the dumbest period of my life.
Beyond a greater loyalty to a Capcom character than to Capcom itself, I was excited by Brian’s suggestion because I immediately put together the build’s principle options. We’ll get to that. But first…
Who Is Mega Man?
In the year 200X (either a date so far in the future that they started measuring time alphanumerically, or it’s some time between 2000-2009), roboticist partners Dr. Light and Dr. Wily build assistants designed for specific tasks. Cut Man chops down trees with giant scissors. Guts Man moves heavy objects with his massive frame. Bomb Man blows up stuff that needs to be blown up.
But wait, oh no! Dr Wily betrays his partner! He reprogramed these robot assistants to use their tools as weapons and help him take over the world. To combat Wily and his robot masters, Dr Light upgraded his one remaining robot assistant, Mega Man, into a combatant.
Mega Man wasn’t specialized like the other robots, but he was versatile. He could install weapons into his system, swapping between them one at a time. Each weapon required its own power source, except his main weapon, the Mega Blaster.
Android (Field Guide to Action & Adventure)
Outside of the novelization of Mega Man 2, where Mega Man mysteriously turns human (yes, I’ve read the novelization of Mega Man 2. See: Mega Man micro obsession, earlier), Mega Man is consistently portrayed as an android. As t happens, the Field Guide to Action & Adventure introdces an Android Origin in the New Crossover Options chapter. It’s main draw is the Programmable Perk, letting Mega Man give himself Upshifts as Free actions. This is one way this build represents Mega Man’s ability to hot swap functions based on the weapons he collects. Granted, there’s no need to Defeat anyone to unlock which Skills our Mega Man can improve, but the rest of the flavour applies.
Unlike the Pretender Origin I used for my Operation: Monster Force Dracula build,which heavily indicates that it should have the robot trait but doesn’t, the Android lets us pick either the cyborg or robot trait. However, one stat the Android doesn’t have is a Size. Chapter 2 suggests it as an option for a Cybertronian themed character that fits in alongside Common sized characters like Power Rangers and Joes, but the Origin itself doesn’t indicate what size to use. Hopefully we address this at some point in errata. For now, let’s assume the Size is up to us.
I’m not building a Captain N: The Game Master version of Mega Man, where he’s only knee high to the average human. I’ll set his size as Common, since he looks eye to eye with his games’ humans.
Gunner (Transformers Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook)
I said in the introduction that I knew the principle options as soon as Brian suggested a Mega Man build, but that’s only partially true here. I knew what Focus I wanted for Mega Man (Armiger from Cobra Codex), but wasn’t as set on the Role.
Since Armiger is an Infantry Focus, that was the default Role option. It would have worked fine. All of the Perks work for Mega Man, and none of them work against the concept. However, to use the Armiger, I would need to use the G.I. JOE setting. Which is fine, for the most part, except it robs us of the most Mega Man of options: hardpoints.
Ignoring the weird habit Mega Man game box artists had of giving him a pistol, Mega Man’s standby weapon, his Mega Buster, is built into his arm. Integrated weapons are part of the Transformers setting, which we’re not using. However, we don’t lose access to them entirely if we choose a Role that grants an integrated hardpoint as a Perk.
Hello, Gunner. At 1st level, Armament (so perfectly named for our purposes) gives Mega Man an integrated weapon hardpoint. I can integrate any weapon my build is Trained or Qualified to use, but because I only have one, I need to choose a one-handed weapon. That means either the Standard pistol, or the elusive Restricted Submachine Gun. SMG feels like overkill, but I’m not going to settle on the most basic firearm in the game. The SMG’s Reload trait works perfectly here, too, since Mega Man can only fire three times with his basic weapon before needing to stop.
Other perfect Mega Man Perks from the Gunner are Bang Bang and Bang Bang Bang. In later games, Mega Man can charge up his Mega Buster, going from his default small blast to a medium and then large blast. Instead of having to hold down on the attack button, this build charges up over multiple levels. Worth A Shot lets him use a Ballistic weapon as a Standard Kit, which is pretty consistent with Mega Man solving every problem by shooting it. Finally, and this is very meta, a lot of Gunner Perks make shooting through cover easier. Because of side scrolling game logic, Mega Man’s shots travel through the terrain, hitting targets Mega Man can’t see, let alone shoot.
Armiger (G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game Cobra Codex)
Using the Field Guide to Action & Adventure’s rules for swapping settings, we can choose a G.I. JOE Focus option instead of defaulting to the Gunner’s Transformers setting Focus options. Armiger specializes in swapping between multiple weapons, called Adept Armaments. Not only does Mega Man get better with these weapons as he levels up, he gets more of them. Need to shoot a breakable wall with Crash Bomber but then switch back to the unlimited ammo Mega Buster? Quick Draw basically lets you pause the game, scroll through your weapon options, and return to the action with a new weapon (and new outfit, cause why not?) like no time passed.
Having confessed to being a little obsessed with Mega Man in my youth, I need you to trust me when I say that I did not deliberately create a Mega Man Focus for the G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game. Consciously.
1st: War Veteran (Transformers Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook)
2nd Augmented (Power Rangers Roleplaying Across The Stars)
3rd Community Helper (Power Rangers Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook)
Once again I had trouble deciding which Influence to take without a Hang-Up. I like Community Helper for both its advantage and drawback. Before Mega Man was a fighter, he was a helper. Granted, he doesn’t do a lot of non-combat tasks in the games, but even the most combat-focused Essence20 campaign isn’t the string of fight scenes and death traps of a Mega Man level.
I liked Augmented for its theme and Perk. I didn’t love the Hang-Up, but it was mandatory. Augmented not only grants additional Health, but it thematically ties into Dr Light turning his assistant into a combatant. The Mandatory Hang-Up is harsh (halving Defenses against a certain Damage type), made harsher by choosing Sharp. Why would I choose to be weak against the most common damage type in the game? Because I’ve hit enough instant kill spikes to know Mega Man’s weakness. OK, if I actually played this in a game, I’d probably rethink being vulnerable to Sharp damage. Lava also kills Mega Man outright. And, come to think of it, the whole game is based on finding the rock attack to the robot master’s scissor defenses (really missed an opportunity to make Cut Man vulnerable to Guts Man’s weapon, Capcom), so his Hang-Up is perfect for a Mega Man build.
After taking the two Influences I wanted or had to take with a Hang-Up, I needed a third Influence for my first Influence. I’m not explicitly making Mega Man from a specific game, but since I’m incorporating elements from more than just the original, Mega Man technically counts as a War Veteran. He’s downright venerable by Mega Man 10. And an Edge to Alertness again reflects the fact that Mega Man’s player knows about parts of the screen that Mega Man can’t see. This wasn’t an aspect of playing Mega Man I set out to emulate, but I’m not against it.
Essence Scores and Skills
Starting with the obvious, Mega Man needs Targeting. Luckily, the Gunner and the Armiger help to increase Targeting at character creation. I honestly feel justified in raising his Targeting as high as +d12 at 1st level, but Mega Man is no one trick pony. Also, since the Android’s Programmable Perk doesn’t allow me to give myself Upshifts beyond +d12, I can instead stop at +d6 with a Specialization, confident that I can increase that when I need to. I also want to give Mega Man OK Acrobatics, let’s say +d4, to represent his slide ability. Add in at least one Rank in Initiative, and I’m good for Speed.
I don’t think that Mega Man has a melee attack in any game outside of Smash Bros. Any enemy that touches Mega Man in his classic games just hurts or kills him. Regardless, like when Nintendo adapted Mega Man to Smash Bros, I’m giving him melee Skill for game-needs purposes, +d6 Might. I’ll also give him a Rank in Brawn to meet the requirements for his SMG Mega Blaster and as a throwback to Captain N when he was the team’s muscle. I’d love to go higher, but I’m running out of Skill Points.
For Smarts, the only Skill I’m going to invest in is Alertness. It’s already tied to a few Perks, and I don’t really know what else to give him. Mega Man’s a combat character and lore about his time as Dr Light’s assistant is underdeveloped.
That leaves Social Skills. +d4 Animal Handling. Why? I’ll get to that in the next section.
General Perks and Other Options
Any combat oriented Perk works for this build, mechanically, but a couple really drive home Mega Man’s expanding Swiss army arsenal as he levels up.
The best way to represent Mega Man getting extra robot powers is Extra Grid Power. It unlocks Grid Powers like Power Blast and Power Strike from the Power Rangers Core Rulebook, and Blazing Strikes from Power Rangers Across The Stars, all of which feel like weapons Mega Man could have gained from defeating robot masters. However, I hesitate to take Extra Grid Power because the name suggests this can only be taken by characters with Grid Powers. The General Perk does not include any prerequisites, but since it’s from the Power Rangers core rulebook, it was a given that characters would have other Grip Powers that this would add to. If my GM allowed me to take a Grid Power, I’d also grab Personal Power Supply from the Field Guide to Action & Adventure to add to the number of times I could use whichever power I went with. It’s basically the weapon’s power bar.
I wouldn’t take those General Perks back to back. In between, I would take Robotic Animal Pet, also from the Field Guide to Action & Adventure. To help Mega Man on his mission to stop Dr Wily, Dr Light created Rush, a robot dog companion. Rush could turn into a jet glider for Mega Man to ride, a spring to launch Mega Man extra high, or a submarine for seafaring. Robotic Animal Pets can take both Animal Perks and Drone Upgrades, and the new Altered Pet Animal Perk in G.I. JOE Cobra Codex lets them gain Alterations. Going into all of the ways we could build Rush would take an Essential Builds of its own, but the ultimate goal would be to get the Vehicular Drone Upgrade and the Flight Grafts and Finback Alterations. These are all Restricted, though, so a perfect Rush would cost us a lot of resources.
Finally, although I’ve been asked not to use rules from books that aren’t out to the general public yet, a Mega Man build is not complete without Bot-Hunter from the upcoming A Jump Through Time (PDF now available to those who pre-ordered through Renegade). It gives a bonus to Skill Tests and Defenses against robotic Threats, but requires you to have previously defeated a robotic enemy of a Threat Level greater than your Role Level at the time. And I thought Armiger was on the nose for a Mega Man build.
My Mega Man may draw from a lot of resources (no MLP this time, though), but it feels like a straightforward build. You’ll need someone smart and someone social to join you on your adventures, though, because this Mega Man is all about combat. His Alertness makes him an excellent scout, though, and while Mega Man doesn’t spend a lot of time interacting with animals, Animal Handling can come in handy and humanizes this killing machine. Just not in the way the Mega Man 2 novelization humanized him. I swear, the unnamed author probably wrote the story thinking Mega Man was human and then added a scene explaining it instead of fixing the error in what was already written.