Flashback Friday: Living Steel

I’m going to start a feature of sorts revisiting a few older and possibly even a little obscure settings or game systems. Not reviews but more of personal recountings of what I genuinely liked about the games without concentrating on the negatives.

I have a soft spot for post-apocalyptic games, movies and books. I think this goes back to living for the first half of my life under threat of nuclear war (probabilistic or not). I entered elementary school at the tail end of when they were retiring the old civil defense movies. By that time, they’d abandoned the “Duck and cover”-type videos of the 1950s and moved on to, “When you hear a siren, just find someplace to sit down and wet yourself.” Watching The Day After and Threads didn’t help matters much. There’s nothing like realizing, “I live in California. We don’t have cellars or basements.” Living close to a number of key military bases may not instill the same nervousness as having a Minuteman silo in the backyard, but it doesn’t help either.

It worked out well for those people in Threads.

So I gravitated towards games like Ogre/G.E.V./Battlesuit, The Morrow Project, Gamma World, After the Bomb for TMNT and Twilight 2000. I also love war machines and mecha. Combine the post-apocalypse with powered armor and I’m set.

Which leads me to this week’s flashback: Living Steel. I first discovered it at a convention, where the folks from Leading Edge Games were running a demo. The guys running it made it look downright easy. Little did I know they were actual rocket scientists. I bought the entire line, using my game purchasing budget (and probably part of my food budget too), and spent the next few weeks trying to figure out the mechanics. We tried to play it once and only once, and then gave up for a Mekton game. I don’t remember a whole lot about the game system except it was extremely complicated. Regardless, I want to go over the cool bits in the setting and not the system.

One thing I remember about the demo is we were part of some scouting party and located a village or town. Having a heavily armed and armored group roll up to their settlement made the locals understandably nervous; since my character was the leader I was volunteered to talk to them. One of the features of the powered armor is the ability to project an image of the wearer’s face, apparently to make the armor more personable. I successfully reprogrammed mine to display a whopping yellow happy face. The discussion went south when one of the locals decided to attack me. I wound up picking him up and trying to explain we were there to help, all the while with that giant happy face on my visor.

Is it me, or does he look like he might have a little problem with gas?

If memory serves me right, in Living Steel there was an interstellar society which was defeated by a one-two punch. The Seven Worlds were defeated by an evil empire, but had placed a number of genetically modified supersoldiers in stasis to be awakened when the timing was right. One of the planets they were placed was Rhand, which was (if I remember correctly) a resort or vacation planet of some kind. When Rhand is attacked by a race called the Spectrals, the soldiers (i.e., the PCs) are awakened.

The Spectrals themselves were fairly interesting. They had a warrior type, which was bipedal and kind of Alien-looking. It was exceptionally strong, could see through walls, and was able to incorporate weapons and technology into itself. There was also a spider-looking “brain” type that had psychic powers. They have a hive mind and had some other servitor races they brought along for the ride.

The Spectrals attacked by taking out orbital assets (such as communications) and then spreading a virus planet side called VISR. VISR stood for “Virally Induced Sociopathic Response”. Once the population had been reduced to a bunch of Mad Max-style ax murderers and society utterly broke down, they finished their invasion. It would have worked too if it weren’t for those meddling Seven Worlders and their powered armor. The invasion not only devastated civilization on Rhand but triggered whatever condition necessary for the release of the super soldiers. They were woken up from their stasis, paired up with some civilian scientists, engineers, etc. who were also in stasis, and set about trying to fight off the Spectrals and reestablish their civilization.

One of the other features of the setting was a teleporter satellite network, called ORCA. The satellite allowed instant transportation from one point on the planet to the other. All but one ORCA satellite was destroyed, and the remaining one damaged. This translated to the satellite only being able to teleport teams once a day or so, and if I remember right the teleportation could be somewhat erratic and imprecise. It was still a reasonably good advantage to have over the opposition.

I also loved the cheesy quotes sprinkled throughout the books’ margins. I still remember some choice ones:

Blam. Blam. “Stop.” Blam. Blam. “Police.”

“We would have believed it was an accidental shooting if he hadn’t changed magazines…twice.”

Overall, it was kind of a neat setting saddled with a terribly clunky system. I’d actually like to revisit it at some point, because I’m certain it would make a great game using Mekton, Silhouette or even a FATE-based game.

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