My Into the Odd Mecha Hack proof of concept Get into the Machine, Shinji! will be the basis for the integration between Pilots and Mecha in Maximum Recursion Depth 2, replacing the generalized Into the Odd mechanics with MRD mechanics and some other changes given playtesting and additional thought.
However, I knew that I wanted one more unique mechanical or procedural element to Mecha in MRD2, something that would provide the satisfaction of "kitting out" a Mecha's Gear, but wouldn't pigeonhole the game into a tactical Mecha combat system.
MRD2 will contain many of the Buddhist / Chinese syncretism themes from MRD1 but will also contain themes from Jewish Philosophy, and so I'm tentatively thinking of referring to the Mecha in MRD2 as Golems. One key concept of Golems in Jewish Mythology is that they're often "programmed" with a script, and empowered by words and the nature of words, such as having the Hebrew word Emet (Truth) inscribed onto them, but can be destroyed by changing it to Met (Death). I was also inspired by the Golem game Emet by Evan Saft in Doikayt: The Jewish TTRPG Anthology.
This led me to thinking back on Tarsos Theorem's Crafting with Concepts, which you should go read before continuing with the rest of this blog post. I loved that idea, and it's been simmering in the back of my mind for a long time that I wanted to do something with it, but I was never quite sure what, but now I realize it would be perfect for a Mecha Gear system.
It works especially well with MRD2 because the crafting components are words, and so the mechanics for the Gear can just as easily be an abstraction for physical components as literal Golem word magic, but you could easily just do the abstraction part and it could work as a rules-light, flexible, but still interesting Mecha Gear system for a generalized Mecha setting.
Mecha have a Core, or chassis, or whatever you want to call it, defined by a two word construction. There aren't too many mechanical implications, but these words say something about the Mecha. So for instance:
(SOUL + CLONE) = Evangelion
(SPACE + EVOLUTION) = Gundam
(FLAME + REBIRTH) = Phoenix Mecha
I prefer this more symbolic approach, but you could also be more literal:
(BIOLOGICAL + ARMOR) = Evangelion
(METAL + ENERGY) = Gundam
(FIRE + BIRD) = Phoenix Mecha
If the core were to be broken, this reflects both some kind of literal damage or transformation, but also something more symbolic as to the nature or purpose of the Mecha.
Gear work similarly. There isn't too much in the way of strict mechanics, it's more FKR-ish in this regard. Mecha start with three pieces of Gear, each composed of two words. Loot for Mecha will consist of more words, which can either be modded onto pre-existing Gear, or two or more words can be combined to create new Gear. There isn't a strict limit on number of Gear a Mecha can have, or specific Gear slots, just whatever is sensible as ruled by the GM.
(FLASH + ZOOM) = Head Gear: Photo-Sensor Array
(FLASH + ZOOM) = Weapon Gear: Long-Range Stun Gun
(FLASH + ZOOM) = Leg Gear: Supersonic After-Image Jet Boots
And after getting into a metaphorical race with an extra-dimensional kaiju, reminiscent of that trippy scene at the end of 2001 Space Odyssey or some Jack Kirby psychedelia, the PC acquires the word DIMENSION:
((FLASH + ZOOM) + DIMENSION) = Head Gear: Extradimensional Photo-Sensor Array
((FLASH + ZOOM) + DIMENSION) = Weapon Gear: Tachyonic Stun Gun
((FLASH + ZOOM) + DIMENSION) = Leg Gear: Blink Boots (like Nightcrawler from X-Men)
You should keep track of the word combinations with parentheses like this, because...
I want to have my cake and eat it to, where we can have some unique conflict mechanics for Mecha around all of their Gear, but that's still rules-light, flexible, and interesting. I had conceived of a Gear Targeting system before I even thought to use this crafting system, but it was too crunchy and too limiting.
Here, the Targeting could be an actual fight, or it could be hacking, or it could be some more symbolic gesture (non-violent conflict is something I've tried to explore with MRD and that extends to the Mecha).
It might involve just making a Save to either Target enemy Gear or defend against Gear Targeting, but the consequence will be the (temporary) dissolution of the words. So in the case of the three-piece Gear above, DIMENSION would be dropped and the Gear would return to its original form.
While normally one-word Gear are not a thing, if a two-word Gear is Targeted successfully, one of the words could be dissolved for the duration of the encounter, such as:
((FLASH + ZOOM) - FLASH) = Head Gear: Telescopic Viewport
((FLASH + ZOOM) - FLASH) = Weapon Gear: Scoped "BB-Gun"
((FLASH + ZOOM) - FLASH) = Leg Gear: Jet Boots
My inclination would be to create a word bank similar to how Saker Tarsos suggests, and maybe to include a generator as well. The word bank can inform the setting, and the generator would be useful for quickly generating enemy Mecha or loot.
That said, it might be better at least for starting Mecha, for Players to use the word bank more as a frame of reference, but come up with their own words or choose their own words from the bank, in order to determine the Core and the starting Gear.
I may prototype some word banks and see if I can't make a decent Weird & Wonderful Table of Mecha generated randomly from this system.