Kevin Siembieda on Robotech RPG Tactics

On Monday, April 15 I called and interviewed Kevin Siembieda over the phone about the upcoming Robotech RPG Tactics Kickstarter. While other legendary RPG designers have worked on multiple game systems over the years, Siembieda has spent the last three decades delving deep into his own Palladium rules system producing titles at Palladium Books like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Beyond the Supernatural, Ninjas & Superspies, Heroes Unlimited, and of course, RIFTS and Robotech. As of April 18, the Kickstarter from Ninja Division is LIVE and seeking to raise $70,000 in 32 days, but he had a lot to say on Monday about his playtest experience with Robotech RPG Tactics, the newer post-2005 edition of the Palladium Robotech RPG, his experience wargaming, Kickstarter, and RIFTS.

Banner with Valkyrie Robotech artwork but text reads Robotech RPG Tactics Now Being Funded on Kickstarter. Join the Cause

CG: First off, Minmei or Lisa Hayes?
KS: Oh, I’m a Lisa Hayes guy. I like women who are mature. [Laughs] As simple as that.
CG: What’s your favorite song that Minmei sings though?
KS: “We Will Win”, no question about it. That fight scene was epic.
CG: You just had your birthday. How old did you turn?
KS: I am 57. I feel like 27, but the white hair says otherwise.
CG: You’ve had that for some time, right?
KS: Yeah, I started turning grey when I was in my twenties, so yeah, my hair turned silver about ten years ago. It just gets a little whiter, but blondes have more fun, so I’m enjoying being a platinum blond.

Siembieda on Robotech Eras

CG: There seems to be a vocal community of fans desperate for the Masters and New Generation sagas, do you have anything to tide them over? I know you mentioned recently that hopefully you’ll be including them, but any further news on that?
KS: There is no “hopefully” including them. I mean, when we started this project, our goal from the very beginning was to do all eras of Robotech. So that has been our plan from day one and that continues to be our plan. It’s easier to tackle them pretty much in order, starting with Macross, so that’s what we’re doing. We plan on banging out pieces for every era of Robotech.

Resin sculpt of Robotech RPG Tactics VF-1A Valkyrie Miniature with UEDF Fleet in art background Palladium Books and Ninja Division

New Sculpt Unveiled for Robotech RPG Tactics: The VF-1A Battloid Valkyrie

The Newer Edition of the Robotech RPG

CG: For someone like me who played Robotech from Palladium back in the ’90s, what about the newer edition of the game, what are some reasons for someone like me to pick it up and take a look at it?
KS: If you’re talking about the current role-playing game, let me just clarify for people who may not be familiar with the game line or haven’t looked at it in a long time: back in 1986 we came out with the Robotech role-playing game that was based on the Harmony Gold anime series and it was hugely popular. And we had that license for like fifteen or seventeen years, I forget what it was, where we let it go after a while because we just kind of thought that we had done everything we could with it and other things were happening.

Then in 2005 we got that license back and one of the big differences is back in the ’80s and ’90s when we originally had the license there was not the wealth of information that we have now. And even Harmony Gold as the licensor didn’t provide us with the kind of information we needed to do what we as fans [saw as] a truly accurate representation of the television series. For example, Southern Cross, we had a bunch of cool animation/artwork/model sheets, but we had no information as to what a lot of that stuff was. You got to remember, this was back in the day before the internet or just as the internet was starting to take off and a lot of this information just was not available. Harmony Gold didn’t have it, we didn’t have it, and I think in the earlier days of Harmony Gold, they were really focusing and looking at Robotech as being their unique extrapolation from original material, which of course, it very much is, but in the advent of the web and the world getting smaller, where everything’s at your fingertips, there’s just a lot more information available about the original material and I think the new generation of creators at Harmony Gold, such as Tommy Yune and a bunch of other guys, sat back and said “Gee, it’d be cool if this stuff was more accurate and was more representative of what you see in the TV series. That’s some of the fun we’ve really been having with the re-tool of this; when we launched Robotech in 2005, we really looked at it as if we had never seen the license before and we gathered all kinds of information. This time Harmony Gold had a wealth of information they could share with us and input and ideas and stats on the various ‘mechs and weapons and characters and things. We dug up even more and so little bits of it are still extrapolations of things.

For example, Southern Cross in particular, there’s just a truckload of new material that people have never seen before. I mean there’s power armor and robots and drones and vehicles and a ton of weapons that are all part of the Army of the Southern Cross and it really makes Southern Cross or the Masters Saga, so much more dynamic and exciting and fun, because there’s just tons and tons of what I call “toys”, like I said, weapons and power armor, all kinds of stuff that you get glimpses of in a TV show, but there’s never really been a lot of information on, so that’s been a blast for us, to do stuff like that. We really just feel like the representation of what we’re doing is so much truer to the TV show than our first run with the series and it’s been a blast doing that. So there’s just a lot of good stuff.

And then when you were talking about Robotech RPG Tactics, that’s even going beyond the strictly roleplaying stuff. With RPG Tactics we’re taking the Robotech environment and the characters and mainly focusing on the mecha and the combat and coming up with an extrapolation on the roleplaying game that enables people to basically play a fast-paced, combat-oriented tabletop game. So you’ll actually have one 1:285th scale plastic figure, what we’re calling game pieces. The detail is just beautiful. You’ll be able to play skirmish games, you’ll be able to scale it up to mass combat. It just brings a whole new dimension and the fact that you’ll now have these beautifully sculpted and detailed figures, that’s wonderful, because obviously in a combat game scenario you really need to see your figures and know where the guy is, where that character is or where that mech is, and where he’s going. We have all these tight, very formal, very crisp playtested-like-crazy set of rules that allow you to really engage in a broad range of combat. It’s just a blast.

White-haired RPG Designer and Legend Kevin Siembieda smiling in crowded Gen Con Exhibitors' Hall

Living Legend: Kevin Siembieda at the Palladium Books Booth at Gen Con 2012

And then for Robotech collectors and fans, these figures are gorgeous. As a fan myself, if someone else were producing this product, I’d want to buy it just because I want the damn figures on my shelf! I’ve never really been a tactical combat guy or a wargamer, so that has limited appeal, although I think this game for me personally as a roleplayer and a Robotech fan, this game is so fun that a lot of people regardless of what their orientation is for Robotech can pick it up pretty easy and have a lot of fun.

Kevin Siembieda’s Wargaming Experience

CG: You’ve touched on a couple of things I wanted to ask you about. So you said you’re not much of a miniature wargamer yourself? What have you played?
KS: For me, I’ve dabbled with a few things. I played a couple of homegrown things with some friends in the past. I’ve played Ironclads a million years ago. I played Battletech. I’m familiar with the market, so I’m familiar with some of the games by Fantasy Flight and of course, the Warhammer 40K stuff, but I’m very much a roleplayer.
CG: So yeah, you don’t have a Warhammer army yourself?
KS: No, sir! [Laughs] But I have plenty of friends who do and that’s the beauty of this product too. For role-players, the pieces are really nice to have too whether they’re just display pieces or whether they represent your character as you’re playing through the game. It’s nice to be able to position them, so everyone knows where their mech is and what their characters are doing. That’s the beauty of this game. The way we approached it is to try to create a game that would have really broad appeal so that any number of Robotech fans can dive in and find some use and find some pleasure with it.

Robotech RPG Tactics 1:285 Scale

CG: Now why the scale of the 1:285th, is that going back to Battletech and other things, that that’s just the micro armor scale?
KS: Yeah, again, we know enough and, of course, the Ninja Division guys know that market inside and out, because they are the guys from Sodapop Miniatures and Cipher Studios. And yeah, they felt that was the best scale, because it coincides with a number of other games and that way you can always mix and match, for those who want to do that. You can mix and match different models and miniatures from other games, especially depending on how far you want to take this stuff. You can have different creatures and mechs and stuff that could be from alien worlds and things, because ultimately all the games you’re only limited by your imagination, so we wanted people to have a wide range of possibilities. Plus, it’s also the scale that most people seem to really want! When we ourselves started to explore this market, we put the question out there and asked the gamers what they really wanted to play and the overwhelming response was the 1:285th scale. So if that’s what players want, then that’s what we’re going to give them. [After the interview, Kevin Siembieda also mentioned the ease of finding terrain in the scale as another contributing factor.]

Palladium Books and Ninja Division: The Robotech RPG Tactics Kickstarter Campaign

CG: Now what is Palladium Books role in Robotech RPG Tactics exactly? Are you in partnership or is one of you the licensor? How is that working?
KS: Yeah! Palladium is the licensor. We have the rights to the Robotech property for roleplaying and various other things. We’re also going to be the publisher, so we’re bankrolling all of this. And of course, we’ve had input with game design, because while I may not be a wargamer per se, I certainly know Robotech inside and out, know what feel we need for the game. And game design, the fundamentals of game design, apply to most mediums so you want stuff that’s fast-paced and fun, that creates the television experience. It’s all translation. We’ve been working with Sodapop/Cypher Studios/Ninja Division guys to achieve all that.

CG: Who is actually masterminding the Kickstarter campaign? Are you behind that or is Ninja Division doing that?
KS: Well we’re working really closely with the Ninja Division guys, but they are the guys behind the Kickstarter. It’s simply a matter of they have the experience and we don’t.
CG: Right.
KS: So yeah, we’re deferring to their expertise.

“As a Robotech fan, I mean this is just a product that I would kill for. It’s the kind of thing that I’ve wanted to see for the last 25 years.”

CG: I know you’re just as excited as the fans for the Kickstarter, so what are you personally looking forward to getting your hands on?
KS: [Laughs] Oh my gosh! It’s one of these things that’s been killing me! Because Ninja Division doesn’t want us to reveal a lot of what is going to be in the Kickstarter or what’s going to be in this game line. It’s been sort of killing me not to be able to tell people that yes, there’s going to be all the Destroids and yes, the M.A.C. II Monster is freaking gorgeous! And all the figures are gorgeous. As a Robotech fan, I mean this is just a product that I would kill for. It’s the kind of thing that I’ve wanted to see for the last 25 years. So it’s a double kick for us that we get to be the guys who can do this. It’s been very exciting!

Two legged mecha M.A.C. Monster from Macross Sourcebook as line art with huge shoulder-mounted guns and guns on hands

The M.A.C. II Monster: Wait for Kickstarter to See the “Freaking Gorgeous” Sculpt

Kevin Siembieda’s Robotech RPG Tactics Playtest Experience

CG: Are you going to be more of a Zentraedi guy or more of the United Earth Defense Forces?
KS: When I was playtesting I actually played the Zentraedi, so both sides are fun to play.
CG: So you also just answered another question I had. So playtesting: you’ve definitely played the game quite a bit yourself?
KS: Oh, heck yeah! For me, it’s been a learning curve. But I think that worked really good, because I asked a lot of the lowest common denominator questions. One of the things I found, for example, is while the game designers were focusing on certain elements of the game, I – as just a Robotech fan with very little war game experience – I stepped in and when I’m playing the war game, I’m like “Well, why can’t I do this?” And “Why can’t I do that?” And “Can my character do this?” And when they didn’t have an answer, I’m like “Well, why not?” [Laughs]
CG: Do you think that you have shaped the game a bit or did they just explain more of wargaming terms to you?
KS: Oh, well in some cases, it was a matter of “Ok, these are common tropes in this kind of game and this is why we do this.” And in other cases, “Oh yeah, gosh, why can’t we do that?” And “You’re right, it should be faster.” Or “It should be able to do this.” Yeah, I definitely contributed conceptually to what the game should be and my focus is simply to recreate the television experience. If you see it on TV, you should be able to play it. If you couldn’t, it was like, “Well, we need to fix that.” And that’s what the guys who know the rules sat down and did.

CG: I forget the technical name for this, like the Alpha Missile Strike [Macross Missile Massacre], the thing with all the missiles swirling around in the air, but is there an in-game equivalent to that?
KS: Oh yeah, absolutely. Again, at the risk of being a nerd (but that’s what I am)… everything you can see in the television show, we are trying to provide in the gaming experience, so, yes! You can have an Armored Valkyrie or a Super Valkyrie just loaded up with missiles and unleash! You can have missile volleys, you have all kinds of great stuff. Again, everything you can see in the show is pretty much there. There are some exceptions and some modifications and some elements – like a lot of the playtesters have brought up questions about three-dimensional play and… there’s some things of sitting back and saying “You know what? These will be saved for advanced rules.”

CG: Ok. I think even with Ninja Division and the Youtube video, I think they mentioned that one of your characters could be Miriya or play as Roy Fokker, right?
KS: Yeah! Well, I don’t know how I can reveal this quite yet, but yeah, there’ll be mechanisms in there where you can actually play specific characters or use the specific characters as part of your squadron and their inclusion gives you and your team bonuses and such. And then, yeah, especially for roleplayers, it’s easy enough for you to just put your own character in there or a specific TV character and “This model represents that character or another character.” Go to town, man! Just have fun!

John Cadice from Ninja Division on Robotech RPG Tactics at GAMA Trade Show

CG: Were you playing with a measuring tape?
KS: Yeah, yeah! We were using laser pointers and measuring tapes, yep.
CG: So it’s not a hex or grid? You were measuring in inches or centimeters?
KS: Right. I believe it was inches?

CG: Is it a game with alternating activation or do you just sit there while your opponent moves all his figures and then you go?
KS: That’s one of the things that we’ve been fooling around with and… [Kevin Siembieda later clarified:] The fact of the matter is that Robotech® RPG Tactics™ is most definitely turn based. It uses a fast-paced turn system with players trading off activating squadrons during each turn. This helps ensure that a player never has to sit and wait for long periods of time while his opponent is moving and attacking with his entire army. One of our main goals in the design of this game is to keep the action fast and reflective of the action you see in the anime.

CG: What about M.D.C. [Mega Damage Capacity]? Is there an MDC stat or is pretty much all the damage MDC anyways?
KS: Yeah, it’s pretty much all MDC, but yeah, there is an MDC stat. You know, obviously it’s not the same as in the games. [Garbled.] You don’t have to pull out a calculator to do the math, but yeah, it’s basically an MDC equivalent.

CG: Ok. So someone at Ninja Division had to point out all the units to make them equivalent, like one Zentraedi Battle Pod is worth how many ever Destroids?
KS: Oh yeah.
CG: Did you have any input on that or you left that to them as wargamers?
KS: I pretty much left a lot of the real nitty gritty to them as wargamers, although again, it was one of these things where… you know, in the course of all this, because we have been really working on this for- oh God, it’s probably close to six months now, that we fooled around with everything. For example, I think the game started out with a-, in fact, I know the game started out with three Zentraedi to one Earth Defender. And then we adjusted that to two, and then we adjusted it to one and a half, and that was really imbalanced. And then I think we’ve ended up back at what we originally started with, as three Zentraedi to one Earth Defender.
CG: Ok. And we’ve seen Rick Hunter do that many times easily.
KS: Yeah, exactly! And again, we all rewatched the TV show, we all talked a lot about it amongst ourselves, and then we sent in our input to the various people. We had weekly discussions, telephone conferences with the Ninja Division guys and some of our own guys. A few of the playtesters really know their stuff too. We got some really valuable input from a lot of the playtesters and we had a lot of playtesters, because we really wanted to get a lot of different views. In fact, one of the things we did when we sent stuff out to various playtest people is we tried to do a range from experienced tabletop gamers to guys like me, who have never or rarely picked up a war game, to guys who can quote from twenty different systems and armies of, like you were saying earlier, Warhammer. Here’s my 400 Warhammer figures or whatever game they’re into. So we really did want to get a good range of input and see what people who were experienced and inexperienced thought. People who knew Robotech and who didn’t know Robotech. So it’s been really, really an experience getting all that input.

CG: Are there any weird stretch goals for fans like Rick’s civilian plane? Or floating giant fish out in outer space, any weird stuff like that?
KS: [Laughs] You know, I don’t really think I’m at liberty to say.

Timeline for Kickstarter

CG: Haha, ok. Any update on when that Kickstarter will be? I’ve heard April 19th at the latest, but I also heard this coming Saturday. Any update on that?
KS: Yeah, we are shooting to get that up as soon as possible. The 18th would be ideal. We’ve even been talking about doing it sooner if that would be possible, but it looks like the 18th is probably a solid date, but certainly within there, give or take a day or two. We need to do it right. And right now, the Ninja Division guys are just-, since they’re doing 99% of the work on the Kickstarter itself, I mean they’re just busting their backs right now to get it all up and done. We’ve been going in and mostly pointing, you know, “Change this. Fix that. Tweak that. Here’s a better image. Here’s a suggestion. Here’s a this. Oh yeah, that’s approved.” That sort of thing. And they’re doing all the heavy lifting on this, so whatever they can get done and how quick they can do it and make it look good. Because we don’t just want to crap it out. And, of course, Harmony Gold has to take a look at it and approve it and hopefully that’ll simply be a matter of a quick look and approval, but that could be… some delays if they want us to change something or tweak something, but they’ve been great to work with so far. We’ve been getting good, quick approvals from them. They’re super-excited about this project too. On 04.16.13 Kevin Siembieda emailed that the Kickstarter will be THURSDAY.

Robotech Live Action Movie: No Real News

CG: Of course they should be. So the pressure’s on for me so I need to type this up pretty quickly. Do you know anything about the Live Action movie or is that in development hell? What do you know?
KS: Uhhhhh, yeah, I guess I don’t really know anything officially.
CG: Ok, so obviously it would benefit everyone involved, but you also have no control over that, right?
KS: I have absolutely no control over that and I’ve heard some rumors that it’s in development – and by the way those rumors did NOTcome from Harmony Gold, so … I really don’t know if it’s in development or not.

The 2006 Palladium Plea to Fans and Kickstarter

CG: You made a very public plea years ago in 2006 for funding and support from your fans. So now in conjunction with Ninja Division, you’re going to be Kickstarting; do you see those as any different?
KS: I guess yes and no? It’s different in that the circumstances were certainly different, but yeah, ironically we kind of did crowdfunding before we even realized-, well, actually before crowdfunding even existed. In 2006 we were just in those desperate straits of having basically been sabotaged with embezzlement and theft that put us on the verge of bankruptcy. And we were in desperate straits and there was just no way to raise the kind of revenue we needed to stay alive and I came up with the idea of-, gosh, we’d been around at the time for 25 years and what if we went to our fans and said, “Hey, this is what’s going on. We’re in desperate straits. And if you’re planning on buying books, please buy them now.” And “Here’s a bunch of special items, prints and things, T-shirts that we’re making now to fund all this and keep us from going out of business.” The fans were just phenomenal. It was unbelievable. It was nothing short of a miracle. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, which is pretty incredible, because they turned a nightmare situation into something wonderful and beautiful. Because in addition to just the financial support we got all these emails and phone calls and letters, just espousing how much they loved us and the products, you know, “Thank you for doing these.” And “We’re not going to let you go out of business.” Yeah, it was pretty incredible! But obviously this is a much more formalized thing. I think crowdfunding through companies like Kickstarter is fantastic! Especially in the new, sort of global economic environment that we’re in. It’s so hard to find one or two investors willing to pump in X amount of money and it’s great if you can go to the people who actually know your stuff and love your stuff and want to support your stuff and get them to put in the money. It’s a win-win for everyone, because they get cool product and you get the resources you need to do those cool products. Yeah, it’s a great idea.

Siembieda on RIFTS and Possibility of Rifts RPG Tactics

CG: There were RIFTS miniatures in the 1990s produced with RAFM. Any comment this early on on whether we might see a Spider Skull Walker in resin anytime soon?
KS: [Laughs] That’s a great question! I don’t know about someday soon, but yeah, we would love to see that. We would love to see a RIFTS tabletop game and yeah, wait till you guys see some of the designs in the Northern Gun books. Oh man! There could be some beautiful, epic RIFTS battles, man. It’d be great, yeah. We’d love to see that. But we’re not counting our chickens before they hatch and we have NO plans. I don’t want to start any rumors. We have no plans to do a RIFTS tactical game at this time.
CG: None? Really? Ok. So at least this will give you guys a chance to see how the process works and so on with Kickstarter and everything else. If you did it, it seems like Kickstarter [or crowdfunding] would be involved.
KS: Oh yeah, absolutely. If we did do a RIFTS RPG Tactics game line, we would certainly do it as a Kickstarter-funded thing. I’m not saying we’re not going to do it, I’m just saying that we’re trying to stay focused [laughs] on what we have now. Once we launch this, if it’s as successful as everyone seems to think it is- because everyone from the Ninja guys to the gaming base that we are tapped into to our distributors, – everyone seems to think that it’s going to be a big deal. Everyone seems excited about it. So yeah, if this is the success we think it will be, then after we have Robotech in all eras of Robotech in the pipeline to come out as part of this game line, then we’ll think about what we might do with RIFTS. But yeah, I think it’d be a hoot to do it.

The Success of RIFTS

CG: RIFTS, compared to Robotech… RIFTS of course came out later, but it seems to be the flagship product for Palladium Books, right?
KS: Yeah! Oh yeah, in fact our first big hit game was Ninja Turtles. Our next big hit game was Robotech and then our – chronologically – our third big hit game was RIFTS. But RIFTS eclipsed both of those. Yeah, it was just a mega-hit. People love the thing. It’s been around for twenty-some years now and still going strong.
CG: Any figures on number of books published for RIFTS?
KS: Oh god! [Laughs] Including sourcebooks and things? Millions. I think the- Oh gosh! I should have those numbers at my fingertips. I think RIFTS Core Rulebooks alone- I should say the RPG and the RIFTS Ultimate Edition, you know, the two versions of the core rules have sold something in the neighborhood of 350,000 copies. So yeah, it’s pretty strong. There’s got to be a dozen source books for Rifts – World Books – that have sold 100,000 copies all by themselves. But a lot of that goes back to the heyday of the ’90s when RIFTS was kicking and roleplaying was just hot. The first six Rifts titles all hit 100,000 or more. So, yeah. It was big! When we came out with RIFTS we printed 10,000 copies and thought, “This is a three month supply if the game is as hot as we think it will be.” And we sold out in three weeks and we were like “Holy crap!” And we pressed 20,000 the next time around and that sold out in like two months. Yeah, we knew we had something special at that point.
CG: Well, I wish you the greatest of success in a similar way with Robotech RPG Tactics then!
KS: Thank you, Brant. I appreciate that.