06 November 2023
This scrappy RPG has a satisfyingly solid core
Written by Anna Blackwell
A Corp ship has gone down in the ruins of a city to the west of our Crawler. Normally the corps, like anyone else, would transport their goodies by mech, which means whatever it was carrying was expensive. Our goal? Find the crash site, recover any useful scrap and return to the Crawler before Corp security arrives.
This was the intro to our first session of Salvage Union, a mech-centric RPG set on a distant planet that has gone through a series of brutal wars and ecological collapse, forcing the majority of the population to carve out difficult lives among the ruins and deserts while the corporate elite live in high-tech arcologies.
What is the setting for Salvage Union?
In Salvage Union, you play as members of a Union who are the lucky few who live and work on settlement sized mech’s known as Crawlers. These giant mechs serve as your home base where all your friendly NPCs live. It is where you return to repair any damage gained from your forays into the wastes and it’s where you bring your Scrap back in order to purchase new Systems and Modules for your personal mechs from travelling merchants. It’s your home to design as you wish, so ours resembled a Star Wars AT-AT if a group of rabid van-life enthusiasts got a hold of it.
In our first game, I played as a fabricator who used their Jury Rig ability to craft a handheld riveting gun, that I used to repair an old armoured Reliant Robin after I’d had to self-destruct my beautiful mech during a fateful encounter with a bio-titan. From there on, I spent my time constructing traps and seeking the aid of wastelanders while my fellow salvagers continued on with the main mission and it was great. Even without a mech, it was possible to be useful! Sure, I’d be turned into a smooth red-paste if any enemy mechs saw me, but I got to jury rig an explosive and drop a crumbling skyscraper on some corporate security scum, so that’s a win in my book!
What is the rule system like for Salvage Union?
Outside of the usual RPG fare of “go here, do this, oh no there’s a bio-titan dragon attacking that poor waster settlement,” you will have to continually supply your Crawler with Scrap in order to maintain it; this is, after all, a slapped together AT-AT-RV travelling across irradiated desert. To do that, players strap into their own unique mechs which are akin to full characters from other RPGs. For ease, we went with pre-created Mech Patterns which are as varied as anything can be, with options ranging from the cargo hauling Mule with its plodding quadrupedal stance, the hopping and hovering bird-like Mazona as well as more familiar bipedal mechs, armed with chainsaw arms and rifle-like laser systems that are bigger than a car.
With 30 different chassis and 150 different Systems and Modules providing abilities, there are a lot of options for customisation. Finally, each player also controls a pilot, their actual character, who makes all the decisions, controls their mech and who interacts with the various NPCs who you’ve created for your Crawler community. Much like the mech, there are a bunch of different pilot classes, each of which has a variety of skill-trees that provide interesting powers or role-play opportunities.
Is Salvage Union a good RPG system?
Packed with character and lore about the wars that reduced the world to ruins and a robust GM guide, Salvage Union is a beautiful book that, while packed with options, does its best to be accessible to those uninitiated in the usually spreadsheet-centric world of mech fiction. If you’re excited about mechs and want something to scratch that itch, Salvage Union is a fantastic choice.
Play it? YES
What RPG system is Salvage Union similar to?
One of the longest running mech-focused RPG systems is Mechwarrior and their latest iteration, Mechwarrior: Destiny, is known for its more accessible intro to the world of mecha. Try Salvage Union if you like your RPGs to have a bit more bite.
This review was originally published in Tabletop Gaming Magazine Issue 83 (October 2023)