Here is some general information about the Robotech universe, the role-playing game, and my Robotech campaigns.
- What is Robotech?
- What is Robotech II:The Sentinels?
- What is Robotech: The Movie?
- What is the Robotech Role-Playing Game?
- What is different about your Robotech RPG?
- Glossary of Terms
For those completely unfamiliar with the show, Robotech was an animated space opera that aired in syndication in the mid-1980s. The show was noted for its mature themes, something virtually unheard of in North American cartoons at the time, and developed a strong following among teens and young adults. Robotech was the brainchild of Carl Macek who, working with the company Harmony Gold USA, wanted to do a faithful adaptation of a Japanese Animation import (as opposed to previous Japanimation shows which had been butchered down to kiddie-fare level when brought to North America). Macek began production of an English-language version of the Japanese animated series Super Dimension Fortress Macross, creating a pilot episode for the North American home video market. The pilot was a huge success and work continued on adapting the rest of the Macross series. Through a maze of partnerships and licensing agreements I won't go into, the project went from a home video release to a syndicated television series package. There was a problem, however. Macross only consisted of 36 episodes, far less than the 65-episode minimum commitment necessary to get a syndication deal at the time.
The episode problem was solved when Macek decided to pad the series with episodes from other shows. He selected two other animated series from the same producer as Macross (Tatsunoko), Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada, and proceeded combine the three distinct shows into a single multi-generational space odyssey. When it was all done Macek had a total of 85 episodes of the new series, Robotech, ready for the syndication market. (The Robotech name comes from the model company Revell, which owned the North American rights to many of the giant robots, or mecha, seen in the shows and had already been distributing them under the name Robotech Defenders).
Though Macek had to give up on producing the faithful adaptation he'd set out to make (obviously changes to the series would be required to integrate the three distinct storylines), he produced a whole product that in many ways was greater than the sum of its parts, a science fiction series that started a phenomenon that would go on to spawn toys, games, comics, and a host of other spin-offs and attract a following that is still going strong today, two decades after Robotech first debuted.
When it first aired Robotech became a huge hit, but Harmony Gold and its partners knew that the original 85-episode run would not be enough to maintain the wave of popularity. Eventually the decision was made to create a sequel series, a 65-episode spin-off that would be sold to the North American syndicated television market. Unlike the original Robotech, which was derived from existing Japanese animated shows, the new Robotech series would be an original program, written in North America and animated in Japan. The new show, which came to be called The Sentinels, would continue the story of the characters from the Macross portion of the original Robotech series. At the end of Macross, the characters resolve to build a new ship and travel to the homeworld of the Robotech Masters to prevent another devastating war between the Earth and the aliens. The Sentinels would tell the story of the Robotech Expeditionary Force's journey. In the end a variety of reasons, beginning with the sudden increase in production costs caused by changes in the exchange rate between the American Dollar and Japanese Yen, led to the new series being dropped after only a handful of episodes were completed.
The few episodes that were made are available on home video and DVD, and novelizations and a comic-book adaptation of the Sentinels story are also available.
Robotech: The Movie was another ill-fated attempt to capitalize on the show's popularity. The movie was a theatrical release animated motion picture and, like Robotech, was derived from an existing anime source. Robotech: The Movie would bridge the Macross and Southern Cross portions of the original series by relating the events that took place after the Robotech Expeditionary Force left Earth but before the war with the Robotech Masters. The movie was test-screened in a few cities to poor reviews and small audiences (often only Robotech fans went to see it). Like the Robotech series the movie contained violence and mature themes, but in some cases theater owners, thinking the movie was "just a cartoon", promoted it as suitable for young children, leading to outrage from parents who brought their kids. In the end the movie never saw wide release in the North American market, though it was released internationally. To the best of my knowledge, Robotech: The Movie is not available on home video but the anime it was derived from, Megazone 23, is available. A summary of the plot of the movie was published in Robotech Art 3 by Carl Macek.
One of the merchandizing spin-offs of the original Robotech TV show, the Robotech RPG is a role-playing game originally published by Palladium Books during the series' initial run. The Robotech RPG used the same game system as Palladium's other games (Palladium Fantasy, the Heroes Unlimited super-hero RPG, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG, and others), but was the first to introduce the concept of Megadamage into the company's "universal role-playing system". The first book, which focused solely on the Macross era of the series, was a best-seller and was soon followed by book for the Southern Cross and New Generation portions of the series, and even a book for the unfinished Sentinels series. The game remained popular for some time, spawning several more books, supplements, and modules; and in the end the game far outlasted the original run of the series it was based on. Palladium finally decided to drop the Robotech license in 2001 after fifteen years, but the game lived on in campaigns still being run around the world. With the release of the new Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles movie in 2006, Palladium began releasing a new series of licensed Robotech RPG products. This license expired in 2018. As of early 2019 a new Robotech RPG was under development at a different company.
I've been playing RPGs for a long time, and I've played with a lot of different game systems, and the one thing I can say is that no game system is perfect. In just about every RPG campaign I've run I've introduced some kind of modifications to the published rules for the game in question. The Robotech RPG is no exception, and being the game I've run the longest (chronologically if not continuously) it probably has the dubious distinction of being the game system I've tinkered with the most. Over the years I've produced several sets of custom Robotech RPG rules, combining elements from a variety of game systems. The current version of my core Robotech rules is for the most part a hybrid of the original Palladium rules and the D20 system with smaller elements from several other game systems, most notably Iron Crown's Space Master RPG and R. Talsorian Games' Cyberpunk and Mekton RPGs. The one element that has remained relatively unchanged over the years is the Mecha Combat system, which I developed many years ago and has stood the test of time.
- Anime: The Japanese name for the animation genre. With the recent proliferation of Japanese cartoons in the North American market the word has now entered the mainstream pop-culture vocabulary. Pronounced "ah-nee-may".
- Japanimation: another word for anime, shortened from "Japanese Animation".
- Manga: Japanese comic-art novels. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with anime, but this is incorrect usage. Pronounced "mahn-gha".
- Mecha: a term for the giant robot vehicles often seen in anime shows. The term comes from Japan where the robot trend in anime was called meka (derived from the English word "mechanism").
- Minmei: Lynn Minmei, the Macross equivalent of Kelly Clarkson.
- RPG: abbreviation for Role-Playing Game, and by role-playing game I mean paper, pencil, and dice, not video game RPGs. If you don't know what I'm talking about but are curious about this "paper, pencil, and dice" kind of role-playing I suggest you read the Wikipedia entry (there was a great article on-line called "Role-playing Explained" by Jeff Page that I used to link to, but like many good things on the Internet it seems to have vanished in the three years since I originally created this page). A link to the Internet Archive's copy of that article can be found on the main Warp Zone page.
- UN Spacy: in the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross series the Earth's space forces were called UN Spacy (a portmanteau of Space Navy). When Harmony Gold's English-language Macross release became Robotech, the name was changed to the Robotech Defense Force, or RDF. While it was easy enough to insert the RDF into the English-language soundtrack, changing the visuals was not practical, so the term UN Spacy can still be seen on mecha and backgrounds in the Macross portion of the Robotech series.