Tears of a Machine

Elevator Pitch: Play the pilots from Evangelion, if the Angels were an especially creepy version of 40k’s Tau.

Core Mechanic: Talent d6 pick the highest + Proficiency + Benefits vs. opposition value.

Dice Used: 1-5 d6s


When humanity reached the limit of its ability to survive on the planet’s limited resources and the world was plunged into chaos and war, the Legulus came forward. An alien species that had lived among us in secret, they offered to use their incredibly advanced technology to relieve the crisis, in exchange for territory they could use to set up their own communities openly. Although there was a great deal of suspicion at first, the most desperate places were quick to accept the offer, and in time they came to have communes around the world. True to their word, the Legulus used their technology to change matter into food or other resources, but were not forthcoming in sharing the technology itself.

In time, many humans came to look up to their alien saviors, and wanted to join them. The Legulus’ social structure or culture had no name of its own; it was simply the way they lived, focused on the good of the community and the subservience of the individual to that goal. Humans who adopted it named it the Communion. But in time, it became a source of tension: many existing nations, philosophies, and especially religions began to see the Communion as a threat. Things came to a head when terrorists in the Middle East launched an attack against a Legulus enclave. As nations scrambled to distance themselves from the Legulus to prevent similar attacks, the aliens, faced with growing resistance, simply packed up their followers, sealed their enclaves, and flew them to the stars. Although now denied their miraculous technology, the extra breathing room the Legulus had given them allowed the rest of the world to return to an ordinary civilization again, no longer so desperately in need of resources.

Ten years later, the Legulus returned, this time heralded by invasion ships that crashed to the earth like meteors. From within emerged mechanical nightmares, which razed our defenses and carried off the people behind them. No longer content to be gatherers, the Legulus had become harvesters: their overwhelming technology wrought havoc on the world as they returned to take us despite our feeble resistance. Their greatest weapons, called Magnas, were hundred-foot tall statues of porcelain and chrome; launched as objects of beauty to rival any marble statue, they arrived scarred black and pitted from the fires of reentry. Unlike the Swarms and Locusts from the comets, the Magnas were rampaging beasts, seeking only to destroy. As if in retaliation for our original aggression, the Magnas burned the entirety of the Holy Land to ash; it is the only recorded action wherein the Mayzor, as the Legulus were now being called, took no prisoners. As for the prisoners? Research suggests that the Mayzor are actually multiple species, all part of a massive telepathic hivemind, and it seems they have chosen humanity as its latest extension, whether we like it or not.

Faced with this overwhelming force, civilization nearly collapsed, until the Cloistered Research Council stepped forward. A mysterious scientific organization whose members only appear in public as such when masked, the CRC had been working to reverse engineer the Legulus technology. Using what they could of the wreckage of the few destroyed units from the initial attacks, they offered to make weapons of resistance if the governments of the world would grant the resulting military autonomy in executing its mission. Dubbed the Preservation Force, it exists outside of national affairs, with a strict policy of non-intervention; it acts only to respond to Mayzor attacks.

Its initial weapons, robotic tanks affectionately nicknamed Robbies proved effective against Locusts and Swarms, but not the awesome might of the Magnas. To combat that greatest threat, the CRC developed the SAInts: giants derived from the remains of the few Magnas that were destroyed. Essentially techno-organic life forms, the Magnas in their natural state are mindless creatures of destruction, so the SAInts were lobotomized, requiring a new intelligence to drive them: a pilot. Unfortunately, experiments quickly found that only certain very specialized brain patterns could interface with a SAInt, and only at certain stages of development: a pilot’s mind must be both flexible enough to accept the alien input and strong enough to resist its effects on their impulses. Thus, would-be pilots are selected through a harrowing process, with their ages being between 13 and 17.

To allow for quick deployment and to protect resources as best as possible, the Preservation Force operates Arx, giant flying military bases/communities where the pilots live, train, and learn while awaiting rapid deployment. Pilots live either with foster families in their youths, or in dormitories when older, and attend specialized schools. Here, they live their lives, while shouldering the burden of humanity’s last, best hope . . .

System Features

Pilots in Tears of a Machine have Talents, their innate attributes that determine how many dice they roll when making a test, and Proficiencies, which are added as skills. When the dice are rolled, the highest number is chosen, and then added to the Proficiency to determine the level of Effort. Effort is increased by any relevant Benefit: any relevant equipment modifier, a +1 for each die that matches the highest number in your pool, or a +1 for every point of Ego spent. If the total Effort exceeds the target number (usually some supporting character’s value), the action succeeds. It can be made more successful by applying Boosts, which can again come from equipment, from matching dice (even if that was a necessary Benefit!), or by spending a point of Ego (though each point spent can only be a Benefit or a Boost).

Ego is a measure of the Pilot’s self-confidence, and is a pool of 0-5 points. In addition to spending it on challenges, a character can gain or lose Ego from doing things that involve following their Hopes or overcoming obstacles that relate to their Despair. When taking an action related to these two things, if the character succeeds, she has a chance to gain a point of Ego; if she fails, however, she might lose one instead. Characters also have Relationships with NPCs; when these NPCs are involved, because they remind you of your Hope or Despair, you might also gain or lose Ego.

When piloting a SAInt, Ego is important as a means for keeping control against the SAInt’s Id. Id can be spent like Ego, but only on attacks or other acts of destruction, and only up to the point necessary to succeed. It builds any time the pilot doesn’t invoke her Ego, either by spending it or gaining/losing it through an action, and if it gets higher than her Ego, she has to fight to retain control against the SAInt’s destructive impulses which threaten to put it into a frenzy.


Pilot (Homebrew)

No official scenarios exist yet, but the game tends to generate them fairly effectively in play. Its precise content is thus to be determined.

Getting the Game

You can buy the PDF from DriveThruRPG. As of right now, the physical book isn’t available unless you got it from the Kickstarter, but if it does become available, the author’s blog will probably have the information on where to get it.

Tears of a Machine

Ann Arbor Game Day zcipher