Got a job for you, reader.
Looks like we’re set for another Starfinder article. Something about mech combat. Guessing by the author, there’s a fifty-fifty chance that it’s a nostalgic traipse through late 90’s video games or homebrew rules for a playable Lovecraft-kaiju. Either way, our client wants you to read through to the end of it and report back. Should be a piece of cake.
Hello and welcome to Eldritch Excursion, the blog that proudly bears the callsign of flavor while sparing the extra tonnage to stack on the mechanics. As you may have noticed from my last end-of-article teaser, I’ve recently gotten into Armored Core 6. I’m only partway through it but I’ve had a great time with the gameplay and I’m starting to get into the juicy bits of the story. It’s only a matter of time before I start crushing bosses with one of the meme designs floating around.
The resurgence of an old favorite franchise from the PSX days got me thinking about the genre of mecha, be it gaming or otherwise. I’ve mostly been a casual fan, but even I can appreciate the alure of designing your own custom death machine and taking it for a stroll. Or engaging in some head-to-head battles with other mechs. Or the amazing soundtracks. Or the engaging stories, with often cover a myriad of interactions between factions along with the ways that giant mecha going to war can have a negative effect on the people. Really a lot of these stories can lean pretty heavy into politics, if that’s your thing.
Broadly speaking, I’ve always seen two flavors of mecha. One of them has a more futuristic and high-tech style, with anime robots dashing around between impossibly dense volleys of missiles and clashing in duels with energy swords. The other kind has a more near-future feel with mechs that are more like walking tanks. I’ll call these dancing mechs and marching mechs respectively. Both of these can be quite fun, and Armored Core certainly leans into the former, but the marching style has a sense of weight behind their plodding movements that really makes me feel like my character is piloting a walking death machine. I like my wanton destruction with a certain texture to it, you know what I mean?
But where does Starfinder stand in this binary? It has its own rules for mechs that the party can ride, whether it be a squad of individual units or in a Megazord of combined machines. With expressive, fantastical designs and a wide array of bombastic weaponry, it very much fits into the category of dancing mechs. And this is fine, of course. I’d even call great. But what if I told you that Starfinder had its own mecha-ready system before this one? What if I told you that this system was well suited to cater to the fantasy of big, clunky, stompy marching mechs?
I’m talking about starship combat. That lovely, underutilized system of hex-based combat with customizable ships. And to prove it, allow me to share a quick-and-dirty conversion that’ll let you retrofit those old rules.
From Stars to Soil: Mechs in Starship Combat
This is a rules conversion that is meant to allow battles between solo pilot mechs using the starship combat rules. Consider it an archetype for an entire ruleset. The following changes should apply.
Any instance in the rules that refer to a starship should instead refer to a mech, for obvious reasons. With a greater emphasis on individual pilots and squad based gameplay, it is recommended to allow every class to take Piloting as a class skill.
Building a Starship – Frames
Base frames should be renamed to suit their roles for land-based mechs. Generally speaking, anything smaller than the Fighter frame is too small to be a mech, and anything larger than Heavy Freighter operates more like a mobile fortress than a mech. Also, each mech frame within this range has its minimum and maximum crew changed to 1. In addition, because mechs attach some weapons to flexible arms, all port and starboard weapons may be fired in the front arc with no penalty.
Building a Starship – Thrusters
Thrusters should be changed to Legs to represent the lower scale and two-dimensional engagements, but otherwise operate the same way in combat. Obviously, Legs do not allow you to leave a planet.
Building a Starship – Shields
Mechs do not come with shielding as a standard addition. This is to increase the lethality of starship combat mechanics while making shields a situational tool for defensively focused mechs. Shields can be taken multiple times, cost one half of their normal BP, and must be equipped in a weapon slot. During the gunnery phase, they can be used in place of firing a weapon (or in addition to firing a weapon, which counts as using the Fire at Will ability) to generate a shield along that firing arc. It absorbs damage as per normal. If a shield is not used during a gunnery phase, it instead recharges SP equal to 10% of your power core’s PCU.
Building a Starship – Systems
Some starship systems, such as Guest Quarters, are unsuitable for mech combat and should not be taken. Other systems, such as Arcane Laboratory, might require time to unpack and set up outside of combat before it can be used.
Starship Roles – Captain
The captain is the leader of the squad of mechs. The role is designated by the squad beforehand and cannot change during combat. The Orders ability choses a role for the purposes of what actions it allows, but it can target any member of the squad.
Starship Roles – Engineer
Without the ability to access a mech’s interior in the middle of battle, the engineer’s actions are severely limited. Each player serves as the engineer of their own mech and may take the Divert or Overpower actions. All other actions require 10 minutes out of combat to perform field repairs, but you may make these repairs on any mech in the squad.
Starship Roles – Gunner
Your mech is designed for a single pilot to operate efficiently. You may take Gunnery and Piloting actions during the same round without penalty or need for a minor crew action.
Starship Roles – Piloting
Instances of flying should be replaced with proper ground-based language for obvious reasons.
Starship Roles – Science Officer
The Balance action is no longer available due to the changes in how shields work. The Target System and Lock On actions provide their benefits to yourself as well as any member of your squad with sensors that are not wrecked.
And that concludes my quick rules for converting starship combat into mecha combat. At the very least, it should cover the core rulebook options, but simplicity was the point anyway. Anything to avoid addressing the elephant in the room. An elephant on my bucket list, most certainly, but still an elephant that I don’t have the time to tackle at the moment.
Come back next time and I’ll show you how the end of your story is actually the beginning.