The Publisher: SteamLogic
Degree of Familiarity: Read but never played. Hopefully the rewritten system book will change that at some point.
Books Required: Just the corebook.
Mechanical Dream is one of the best games you've never even heard of.
The original release of Mechanical Dream came by way of a lovely thick hardback. Double-sided, one book contained the setting details replete with beautiful illustrations and wonderful ideas, while the other contained the mechanics necessary to run the game.
Why so good? Mechanical Dream has a truly unique setting. A huge disk of a world, over which the sun swings like a pendulum. The sun's light also stabilizes reality. During the night, in the Dream, strange things come out to play. The disk is a giant forest, with large cities spread over a single tree. Most of the world is roughly around our industrial revolution, with some areas being slightly higher tech. The game's Wikipedia page contains a very basic draft of the world so I'll link there for now.
The world's complicated by the range of playable races—none of whom are human-equivalent0, and all of whom have strange abilities, from the Yaki's symbiotic armour to the mind-walking Frilin and the mimetic Odwoanes. The tech level is also complicated by the available resources; steel is a rarity but cured leaves make a good leather-analogue and iron-hard wood can replace metal. The scale inherent in the setting makes all the characters seem a little like the different species of insects living in a forest, if the forest were lit by a pendulum that controlled how stable reality is at any given moment.
If that weren't enough, the characters get a packaged reason to adventure: Each character is an Echo, able to manipulate Eflow (the life-energy of the world and everyone in it) to take on an archetypal role, from Awakeners who can animate the inanimate to the Mind Chemist's ability to get deeper into a creature's Mind than any other, to the Dream-warped Nightmares.
Like I mentioned in the writeup for a/state, Mechanical Dream has no simple pitch. It's a massive world brimming with hooks, but understanding those hooks requires you to understand the world. If you don't, the hooks won't make sense and you'll think that the game is overcomplicated crap. It really isn't, but Mechanical Dream really does reward investing in the setting.
So why have you never heard of it? Well, it didn't exactly see a wide release. The publisher, SteamLogic, didn't have a big track record, and in 2002 most FLGSen didn't want to pick up big, thick hardbacks from unknown publishers. Add to that some odd wording that makes some sections of the Mechanics book really hard to work out (the creators are French-Canadian, and the errors read like translation errors from French to English, but without knowing them I don't want to make definitive statements) and very few people bothered to give the game any consideration.
Over on RPG.net, Skywalker mentioned that he'd written the Mechanics Book for a revised first edition of Mechanical Dream, which would come in two hardbacks rather than one but would retain compatbility with everything. He got permission to release this to the world, and promptly did so1. I'll be using these cleaned up and easier to read rules to create a character. Talk of a proper second edition comes and goes, but likely nothing futher will happen, which is a bit of a shame.
The races in Mechanical Dream aren't necessarily mechanically balanced. The answer to that is relatively simple: each costs a different number of CCP. Yeah, like SLA Industries, this game has a single pool of points to buy everything, making me unsure of how much to spend where.
I like the idea of the nomadic Yaki, but they're expensive and close to other characters. So instead, I go for a Solek; a mysterious race who emerged from the space beyond the world-barrier (the Sofe) two hundred and fifty years ago. Though they're integrated, every Solek has an impentrable Mind, trapping the secrets of the Sofe deep within. Soleks aren't exactly the most social beings, but they're prized for fortitude.
Being a Solek costs 35 CCP. I note trait modifiers (I'm doing a proper character sheet, rather than a text one, as it's a bit involved), Size, and Wound Thresholds. From my initial balance, I've got 115 CCP left. Soleks don't have any racial traits to spend CCP on, so I move to the next step.
Characters in Mechanical Dream have three sets of Attributes: Physical, Mental, and Social. The Mental and Physical are mirrors of each other, reflecting how the Mind plays an important part in the world, especially in the Dream.
Attributes are 3-18, converted into a die type. Getting that 3-18 costs differing amounts of CCPs. I think my Solek's going to be physically great, mentally capable, but barely above average socially. I pay 20CCPs to roll 4x(4d6 drop lowest) for physical, 10 to get 6x(3d6) for Mental, and 0 on 4x(3d6) for Social Attributes.
Yeah, I know. Random chargen. Oh, for a straight point-buy... anyway. Random.org to the rescue!
Physical attributes first: 16, 16, 15, 14. Fairly average. One of those 16s goes into Toughness for a total of 21. The other into Strength for a total of 18. Agility gets the 15 for a 17 total, and 14 into Quickness for a total of 16
Mental attributes next. 17, 13, 13, 13, 13, 12. I drop the two lowest, and assign the 17 to M. Toughness (total 26), 13 into M. Str (18), 13 into M. Agl (13), and 13 into M. Agl (14).
Finally, socials. 17, 13, 10, 10. I compensate for weakness a little and drop the 17 into Presence (15). 13 into Expression (16), 10 ino Charisma (8), and 10 into Appearance (9).
I then convert all of those into die types for rolls. I don't want to spend any more on Attribute Masteries, so I leave it as-is.
Secondary attributes next. Perception is 4d6 drop lowest for everyone, with racial modifier. I get four fives, so 19. Hit Points are Toughness and Physical Size, or 27. Mental Toughness is roughly the same, just using the Mental Attributes.
Combat Pool is a "speed spend" style of thing, as seen in The Secret of Zir'an and Æternal Legends. It's the average of Quickness and Agility, both physical and mental. After checking a table, I get 4 points. Reflexes is the "passive defence" stat, and works out as 2. Mental Armour is divined from Mental Strength (oddly, not M. Toughness). Finally, Base Move is 22.
I could go on to carrying vs lifting capacities, but frankly I hate encumbrance rules with a burning passion and won't have anything to do with them.
30 points spent in this step, leaving me with 85 to spend.
First thing's first, I note down the basic skill package. Next, I go hunting for a decent job for my Solek; up to now, I've not had to worry about that but it's a damn sight easier to purchase a job rather than hunt and pick through the skill list.
I think, in the end, a Hi'ror (a hired warrior) would be a good idea. Time to rationalise that: He saw a mercenary's life as a way to put his toughness in the service of others. Too willful for a life in the Core's army, he joined a small mercenary company and rose through the ranks. Escorting a rich businessman to one of the Orpee mines, something came from the Dream and killed everyone but him. He's taken the long way back to his company, putting off telling them the bad news.
I drop 70 points on the Bodyguard level and add the skills to the starting package. Oddly, all the combat skills rely on Agility apart from Tactics. While I can understand that in the majority of cases, Resilience feels like it should be based off Toughness. Oh well. Worth noting for ongoing play: Agility is the combat God-stat. Then again, that's true of all manner of games, from Cyberpunk 2020 to Scion.
15 CCP left.
Vocations are the specific archetypes that our heroes (Echoes) fall into. I go for the Judicators, those who execute the will of a leader. Nuda (as I've chosen for his name) doesn't want to lead. He wants to strike and keep striking, enforcing the immutable Law.
I start at the 1st Sphere. I choose the Gift: Blade's Birth (giving me a Judicator's Blade). As a ritual, it doesn't require a roll, and it's powers increase through Masteries. I go for a two-handed blade and note its stats. I blow a further 5 CCP on the Recognition power, letting me always know where my Blade is, sheathe it in my chest, and meaning nobody can use it to hurt me. I blow 5 CCP on increasing Recognition by another Mastery, because it's just that useful.
Next, I turn to the funky features of the Judicator's Blade. For 5 CCP, Fusion allows me to pull the Blade back through the Eflow, a useful trick if ever there was one. And that's me done.
This is quite long enough, and Edges and Flaws are optional systems. I'm going to skip these.
Right. Spending time. The only thing I really want is some armour, and a combination of strong leather and Kioux plate looks good to me. That leaves me a couple of hundred Blood Pieces to pick up sundries as the game calls for them; I'm not one for long-arse shopping lists normally.
0: That is to say, there's not one baseline, that other races deviate from, and there's not one race with an overpowering dominance in the setting.
1: Permission obtained in post #48, full list of files in post #50.