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What we can learn from the MegaMan Series

Author’s note: To get the most nostalgia out of this article, go to youtube and find your favorite megaman music to play while reading this article.

Megaman is one of Capcom’s most iconic properties, having various games on the various video and handheld game systems, such as the Nintendo, Gameboy, PlaysStation, XBox among others. Most of the “canon” games fall into one of two main timelines. There are other games that don’t really fall into these timelines, but are not canon to the series.
The first is a timeline during which the “classic” Megaman series with Dr. Wily and the Robot masters, then later turns into the Megaman X series, Megaman ZX series, and Megaman Zero series where humans (who sometimes get turned into cyber-elves), robots and reploids coexist. But not all reploids function properly, often going on rampages, causing destruction to property, and endangering lives. The reploids that malfunctioned became known as Mavericks. The robots that seek to bring order back to the system became known as Maverick Hunters. Some ideas on how these timelines interact can be found here 

The alternative timeline is present in the Megaman Battle Network series of games. In this timeline, the internet is more integrated into daily life than it is today. Instead of having robots to help them do things, people have artificial intelligence programs called “NetNavis.” They are computer programs utilizing artificial intelligence, and can perform numerous tasks for their real-world operators, like phoning and navigating the internet. NetNavis reside in PETs(Personal Terminals), devices similar to smartphones. PET’s can, like many modern cell phones be used for e-mail, connecting to the net, alarm clocks and plenty of other stuff. The internet of this timeline is overrun by malicious viruses, and operators often customize their Navis for battling them. Battlechips are often used, containing data which can be sent to the Navis, equipping them with various tools of combat. By connecting PETs to networks, “Jacking in”, Navis can be transferred to various computerized devices.
With this background as the base, we can begin looking at the gameplay mechanics, powers, and plot, we can see how to capture some of that feel in our own games.

In the first timeline, the games are platformers, based around running, and sliding, climbing ladders, and jumping over deadly spike-filled pits. Environmental hazards such as fire, ice, wind, and water, as well as platforms that disappeared and reappeared in specific problems or dropped off into nothing underneath Megaman’s feet, energy projectiles that blocked the player’s path for a few seconds, or enemies positioned such that it was virtually impossible to reach an area without taking damage from them without timing the jump perfectly all routinely added to the challenge of the levels.
“Standard” enemies are usually defeated pretty easily by shooting multiple times or charging a shot. Many enemies respawn if you leave the screen and come back. But no matter how carefully players are, players will usually receive some damage, but it’s pretty easy to get back because the enemies generally will often drop health items or weapon charge, or, rarely, additional lives. Mini boss and boss fights are a bit more complex in that their patterns needs to be carefully watched in order to avoid taking massive damage from either the weapon projectiles themselves or the projectile’s shards as they break apart. In order to make their defeat easier, the bosses usually need to be tackled in a specific order, so that Megaman has access to the appropriate weapon. Each of the boss’ weapons only has so much power to use, so many shots before it must be recharged. In Megaman ZX players needed to be careful not to target the boss’ weak areas because it would cause damage to the weapons when the players received the power-up.

In later games in the series, it’s impossible to fight bosses out of sequence because the keys to open up new areas are only found by fighting the bosses. Furthermore, in certain games, secret power-ups are hidden throughout the levels, able to be accessed by taking advantage of glitches or the weapons’ abilities. These power-ups include items which refill Megaman’s health or weapons energy, decrease damage, allow him to jump higher, run faster, access new areas, and increase energy output. When Megaman uses the boss’ weapons, they change his appearance, sometimes in minor ways, such as simply giving him a new color scheme, sometimes to the extent that he appears as the boss he defeated.

In regards to the Megaman Battle Network games, the fighting sequences for the game are on a grid that looks like this  ->

But how does one take a 2D platformer and turn it into 3D scenario in which players can interact? Some examples on how that might be made possible are here and here ) as well Megaman Legends and Legends II, that you can find reviews and walkthroughs on YouTube.

When looking at these mechanics, one might be wondering how one could use them as a tabletop RPG, as it doesn’t seem well suited to do so. There are a variety of ways this could be done. First of all DMs might use a superhero system and use the “Robot” to represent a Megaman type of a character, equip with a charge shot or a laser sword to play as someone like Zero, perhaps something like Marvel’s old FASERIP system. Marvel has various robot type characters, among the most iconic of these is the Sentinels. Conversely, one might use the Mutants and Masterminds ruleset. Or you might use something like Eberron’s Warforged, heavily modified, perhaps in D&D 4th or 5th edition to represent the Maverick Hunters, and animated objects as the mavericks. A third option might be to use an anime RPG like BESM. The cypher system might be another alternative, if one is willing to take the time to create the rules for it. Finally GURPS could be used to model the game. Whatever system you use, there will need to be some major modifications as well as limitations to the system.

But in order to do so, we need to look at what the system does well, and conversely, what it does poorly.

What it does well for a tabletop RPG

For anyone who’s played through the games, the music and sound effects bring back a nostalgia for the simplicity of the concept, yet fast paced challenge of the game. The games are designed to constantly move the character forward. This movement is done through simple movement puzzles that take the player through the level(s). If using a map and miniatures, this feel can be somewhat duplicated. The constant traversing the levels through ladders and platforms that change elevation would probably cause a bit of a headache to model, but that could simply be hand-waved. Another thing it does moderately well is storytelling and characterization on a basic level. People who’ve played through the games know the reoccurring roles Dr. Light, Dr. Wily (and his robot masters), Dr. Weil,  Megaman, Roll, Rush, Bass, Protoman, Zero and Sigma are. If someone has played through some of Megaman’s games, they’re usually familiar with the personalities and powers of at least some of the bosses. The game’s whole setup is that Mavericks or viruses (as in Megaman Battle Network games) are causing chaos, you need to stop them, and ultimately, their leader, whoever it happens to be in each of the respective games. Finally, the game does even its “standard” enemies well, with many of the reploids repeating their iconic appearance in multiple games.

What it does poorly for a tabletop RPG

Despite the fun that the Megaman games are, there are a few things that the simply aren’t well-suited for. Except of the Legends series, which has its own problems, the source material for Megaman isn’t 3D. Inside corridors/ hallways, narrow roads, and twisting, turning cliff-sides can only do so much. Another thing that the Megaman does poorly from a tabletop RPG experience standpoint is that in the video game, players must often backtrack in order to get power-ups. In a tabletop game, it’s inconvenient and frustrating needing to backtrack to get the item necessary to unlock a door when there are many other methods of getting around it, or simply using force to break it open or disable its locking mechanism to open it. Similarly, just because the character doesn’t have the helmet able to break the blocks doesn’t mean that that path should be completely barred from entry. Maybe there’s another way to get there or use a weapon to break them. The “roadblock” mavericks AIs are incredibly stupid, despite being persistent in their ability to reform from being blasted to smithereens once Megaman exits the screen. For the most part, the moment Megaman gets over/ around them, they don’t follow him, change direction in order to continue to damage him. This would be changed by DMs of course, but there should be an in-universe explanation for this. Another problem is the death spikes. While spikes could still be quite damaging, there’s no reason that in-universe they are an instakill. Furthermore, the boss’ attack patterns are incredibly predictable once known. In a tabletop RPG this should change. Taking an idea from D&D 5E, the Maverick bosses could use both legendary, lair and regional actions, thus not only increasing its chances of survival, but also its challenge as well. Finally, the game does death poorly. I can’t imagine PCs would be happy if their character died and simply exploded in a shower of sparks.

Modifications to the Game

The first modification would be to drastically increase the number of actions per round even from level 1. This includes not only things like running, jumping, and shooting, but charging the Megabuster, sliding down walls and going up/ down ladders, riding platforms, dodging enemy fire, and  the like. By doing this you simulate the fast paced nature of the video game. These actions could be used on the PCs turn, their allies’ turn or the enemies’ turn.
Another modification would be no armor class if you’re using a game like D&D. This would simulate the “squishy” nature of the Maverick Hunters. Attacks would have to be avoided through perfect timing. A different idea turns the entire concept on its head. Instead of having HP, they would only have armor and the hits would represent the different levels of damage, which is why they tend to explode when they die. But that begs the question: how are these energy pellets that the enemies drop repairing it? Maybe they’re covered in a force-field of some kind which is constantly being damaged/ repaired?
Furthermore, because there is no magic, clerical powers or mental abilities such as psionics in the Megaman games, these concepts wouldn’t exist in the tabletop RPG either. Another change would be to drastically reduce the amount of equipment available, as well as the availability of equipment.
Also, for the most part there shouldn’t be shops where PCs can purchase equipment. The reason for this is simple: the technology to make Megaman, Zero or whoever the Maverick hunters the PCs create simply doesn’t exist anymore. The only way for them to get upgrades, better equipment, etc. is for them to find it laying around and/ or take it from other robot masters they defeat.
Another change to consider is instead of the robots being able to be destroyed in one or two hits, maybe they’d actually have a good number of HP so that PCs can’t simply breeze through them without thought.
Finally, the leveling system would need to be tweaked. In D&D and other such games that have classes, the chance an attack hits, HP, saving throws, etc all go up simultaneously. This wouldn’t happen in a Megaman style setting because of how easy most enemies are.

The Robot Masters/ Maverick Bosses

Type 1Melee: This would include Cutman and Metalman, obviously, but also Masters like Blademan, Shadowman and Slashman. Basically, anyone with a slice ‘n dice style of attack.
Type 2- Physical: This would include Gutsman, Charge Man or Hard Man – who uses or augments his/ her own physical abilities through their powers.
Type 3- Hydro/ Ice: Those would include any robot masters that are underwater, use water or ice themed powers, such as Ice Man, Dive Man or Bubble Man.
Type 4- Explosive/ Fire:  Fire Man, Torch Man, Bomb Man and Crash Man, obviously. There are plenty of Masters who shoot fire, bombs, missiles, mines or other things that cause fire or explosions.
Type 5- Electric: Enemies include Elec Man, Clown Man, Spark Man, Dynamo Man. Sheep Man, Cloud Man among others who use electric attacks.
Type 6- Environmental: These kinds of Robot Masters can change the environment around them with their power such as in Time Man, Flash Man, and Gravity Man.
Type 7- Air: Enemies that include Air Man, Tengu Man. Gyro Man, Wind Man, and Tornado Man that use wind gusts. In later games there are also enemies that fly.
Type 8- Animal: This type may overlap with some of the others. They are robot masters that who are animal themes such as the Flame Mammoth, Chill Penguin, Armored Armadillo. Launch Octopus, Sting Chameleon or Storm Eagle from the Megaman X series. If you look at some of the other games enemies, you’ll find that animal motifs are common.
Type 9 – Plant: This would be bosses like Plant Man and Wood Man.
Type 10 – Shield:
These enemies create shields around themselves to protect from attacks

There’s quite bit of overlap on these type-ings and that’s OK, enemies can have multiple types!

Potential Power-Ups/Upgrades

These are things that the enemies either will drop or they can find by exploring the game world.

– the robot is able to run faster
Jumping – the robot jumps higher or can cover longer distances in their jumps.
Sliding – the robot is able to get beneath objects.
Kicking – the robot is able to damage their enemies by kicking.
Traction – the robot has better traction on slippery surfaces and can’t be blown away as easily

Weapon/ Arm Enhancements
– allows the robot to climb up certain walls instead of wall jumping. Allows robots to stay put on walls without constantly jumping.
Grappling Hook – robot gets a self-recoiling hook similar to that of the “Zelda” franchise or “Batman.”  
– the robot gets a laser sword. If this enhancement is gained twice, the user gets a matching set with the ability to use them.
Buster Enhancement – the robot’s buster gets a better type of damage or different weapon type.
Accuracy – the shots more able to hit their target or “homing” in some sense.
Weapon Tank – refills the number of “shots” a weapon has.

Armor/ Health Item Upgrades
Energy Tank
– the robot has a spare energy tank
More Health – the robot’s “life bar” gets expanded
Extra Lives – allows the robot to continue fighting (have to figure out an implementation of it in terms of gaming mechanics)

Helmet Upgrades
Detect Secret Passages – the robot would get the ability to have a chance at detecting secret passages. (This is a better option than “use helmet to smash openings”)
Unlock doors: this upgrade would allow the robot to unlock doors. Instead of using key cards to open the door, this would allow the robot a chance to unlock any door. This could be either a per day thing or could treat the doors as if they are subject to the D&D spell “Knock.”

Health Status Effects

In addition the power-ups, the robots can be affected by negative effects by enemies. Consider these:

Paralysis/ Lockup – the robot can’t move for a few moments or moves slower than usual
Virus – the robot attacks others randomly
Weapons Lockout – No weapons except the “base” weapons work for a time
Jump Negation – the robot can’t jump for a time.
HP/ Armor Drain – in living species this would be poisonous effect.

Battle Network Tabletop

The battle network timeline is considerably easier to turn into a tabletop RPG because that’s how the video game works, but a number of modifications that would need to be made to this as well. The modifications to this are reasonably easier. Each Netnavi would be given a profile that would tell its attack, defense, and special moves. In the video game each chip is a single-use power-up item, which would be annoying keeping track of, but with the bonus that the player would start out with a certain number of chips each battle, but they would change. However, not all of them would be useful for the situation at hand, due to the strengths and weaknesses of the viruses that Megaman EXE is facing. Maybe the chips should be more like the cartoon, and each one has a certain number of uses per “Jack-in,” and if chips are consumed, there’s always the megabuster, or the Netnavi’s standard attack (whatever it may be). Alternatively, the chips could be on a “recharge” where they can be used every X many turns, or if the player rolls within a certain range as in 5E D&D. Unlike the “Robots” timeline, there should be shops that will sell the characters items (in this case chips) to the players – but at an enormous cost. Having said this, the viruses in the Battle Network should still drop upgrades. How I think this should work, is that the PC controlling the navi should have blank cards that the upgrades can be downloaded onto for later use. Some of these *might* very well be single use items, however these should be far and few between. Furthermore, the viruses may be able to negate a chip’s activation- or perhaps even steal its use for itself either temporarily or permanently. Having said this, turn around’s fair play. The PCs can create situations where they themselves do the exact same thing.

Some questions you’ll have to answer in your game:

  1. Why do the baddies keep escaping, only to come back another day? In the case of the original Megaman series, it could be as simple as the robots needing to follow the 3 laws of robotics, as presented by Isaac Asimov. If using the later parts of Robots timeline, where the main antagonist is Sigma, it’s explained that the virus that infected Sigma, turning him to the “dark side” simply uses spare bodies, similar to how Dr. Doom himself is almost never the one who’s destroyed.
  2. What does the world outside the areas where the battles are taking place look like? There’s some in-game canon ideas that the DM can use, but at the same time, is free to create his/ her own world.
  3. What point in the timeline does the game happen? Also, which timeline (or are the timelines somehow combined/ merged?)
  4. What is the social situation? Are they being commanded by an outside governmental agency? This includes how normal humans would react to someone like Megaman and his Maverick Hunters.
  5. Are any of the Mavericks / Robot Masters salvageable? Can they be redeemed?
  6. Do the enemies “respawn” after defeat; if so, how?
  7. Who is the ultimate antagonist, or is there one?

Plots you can use in your Megaman or Megaman Battle Network-esque games

  1. Megaman Battle Network:
    1. Appliances are infected with viruses. It’s up to you and your team to stop them from causing more problems than they are already
    2. A weaponized satellite has been infected by a virus. The PCs must find a way to get to it to “Jack-in.” Can the PCs get there in time before the weapon goes off?
    3. The city’s power plant is infected with viruses, causing widespread rolling blackouts. What’s more, because the power has nowhere to go, it threatens to overload and explode.
    4. A flood gate is infected with viruses, holding back an enormous body of water. The viruses are opening the gate, attempting to flood the town beneath.
  2. Crossover (Battle Network and Original Series/ other universes)
    1. The government (or some other organization) created robots, which at some later point became infected by viruses. Due to how they run “Jacking-in” isn’t an option, not to mention that it’d be incredibly difficult to do so, even if it were possible. The PCs must get their own robots and use weaponry to deal with runaway robots.
    2. Megaman and his friends are both netnavis and robots simultaneously, and must fight battles on both the internet and in real life at the same time. Using too many resources dealing with one leaves the other side unprotected.
    3. One of the robot masters somehow created a tear in the universe. What’s this new threat?
  3. Original Series
    1. Wily escaped from prison (again) and has created new robot masters.
    2. A new robot threat has arisen and this time Dr. Wily isn’t the one who’s guilty of creating them. He / his creations has to join forces with the PCs in order to bring order back to the world and clear his name.
  4. Megaman X & later
    1. Mavericks are running loose, and your team needs to stop them before someone gets seriously hurt.
    2. Mavericks have hurt or kidnapped someone the PCs care about and they’re out for revenge
    3. The Mavericks aren’t the bad guys after all, the reason why they’re fighting is for their survival – due to a society that simply wants to discard them after they’ve become obsolete; Dr. Light and Megaman is actually the antagonist in this scenario due to having created this advanced technology.

Using these ideas, you can play Megaman and his allies in your own tabletop RPG. Take them for a spin and let me know how it works out for you!

Feel free to comment, like, and share!

Sources/ giving credit where credit is due

The Mega Forum
The Robotic Age Kickstarter