Hello students. This week, faculty member Andrew Young (@ThatOneGM) and I continue a series that should prove exciting and useful to you all. Enjoy!
This series of articles is all about reskinning and hacking established game systems, and they will culminate with the development of a new mechanical system. The genre that we will be focusing on is… the Power Rangers.
Yup. That’s right. Super Sentai. Teenagers with attitude. Spandex-covered superheroes who can summon transforming robots.
Why? Power Rangers are awesome, that’s why. And because the movie hits the big screen on March 24. It’s timely!
Before we can get to work, we need to break down the source material and identify the core elements that every hack or reskin of our genre needs to deliver. This step is important for any hack; you want to make sure that all of the elements of your genre are represented in the hacked system. It’s a good idea to break these down into mechanical elements and flavor elements. Flavor elements will primarily be a product of role-playing and scene building, while mechanical elements will be supported directly by the rules.
The flavor elements we’ve identified are: a mentor who bestows powers, a goofy sidekick, an oblivious comic relief character, teenage shenanigans, and a villain with a diverse team of lieutenants and an endless supply of minions. These support the flavor of the source material and don’t really impact the mechanics.
The necessary mechanical elements can be identified by the fact that most episodes break down to three component sections: teenage social shenanigans, personal combat (as humans and as rangers), and combat with Zords.
This breakdown shows us that combat is a big part of this game, but—obviously—so is transforming into Power Rangers and gaining superpowers. This transformation also includes getting cool weapons and gadgets. And inevitably, the monster grows large and the Zords are summoned, so the mechanics must cover combat on a massive scale.
The teenage shenanigans could simply be handled with role play, but they often form the backbone of the episode. An entire system for social interaction could be worked out, but that is probably more than we need for the simple social problems that the teenagers usually deal with. The mechanics should serve their purpose; there’s no need for them to cover all social interactions. Instead, we can focus on mechanics that pit the teenagers against a social obstacle or an antagonist and tie the outcome of this social interaction to their actions through the adventure. If they don’t learn their lesson over the course of fighting monsters, then they can’t overcome their social challenge.
The initial round of personal combat usually happens when the teenagers are out of their suits. Our chosen heroes are always talented martial artists (even the clumsy nerds), but they usually start off battling a small number of the villain’s disposable minions.
When the monster of the week shows up, our teenagers morph into their ranger forms, powering up and increasing their combat prowess. At this point, they’re able to take on an entire horde of minions and go toe-to-toe with the monster of the week. The heroes often wield basic weapons during these fights. Sometimes, they will have super weapons. Eventually, they may get a powered-up mode that further increases their skills.
All of this means that the personal combat mechanics have to be able to incorporate multiple levels of power increase, weapons, and combat with as many as twenty enemies at once.
The last mechanical component is Megazord combat against a gigantic version of the monster of the week. Sometimes the Zords function independently, but they always eventually merge and transform into the Megazord with its own special weapons and moves. Sometimes, there are multiple Megazords with different abilities.
However, while this is still combat, the mechanics might not work exactly the same as they do for personal combat. The show typically features some sort of teamwork or group effort for the piloting and combat with the Megazord. Ideally, this would be reflected in the mechanics.
These three elements (social shenanigans, personal combat, and Zord combat) need to be present in order for our game to feel like a Power Rangers game. And when this series concludes with the creation of a new system, that system will need to be able to deliver all on all of these mechanics and have the flavor fill out the rest. For now, we’ll be using these to hack and reskin existing systems in order to better portray Power Rangers games.
When you’re hacking or reskinning a system, you should start out by evaluating the genre you are aiming for and deciding what aspects are flavor, and can be resolved through role play, and what aspects are mechanical, and need to be reflected in the hacked rules of the game itself.
You may not be able to isolate every element of your genre at first (we’ve left out some recurring events and themes from various Power Rangers shows), and that’s alright. Modifying an existing game to tell stories in the genre of a book, movie, or TV show is an imprecise process, and there will always some sort of discrepancy that needs to be addressed. But that’s the essence of what we’re talking about. We want to show you how you can recreate the fun and excitement of your favorite stories at your game table.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for next week’s article when we apply these principles to the Wushu mechanics.