Cover artwork showing GI Joe, Power Rangers, and Transformers

Using Essence20 To Make The Perfect Transformers Crossover

October 6, 2022 11:00 AM

By: Tyler Chancey

 

Back in August, Renegade Game Studios released PDFs for Transformers: The Roleplaying Game. This will be the third official TTRPG published by the studio using their brand new Essence20 system. While we will have a full review of the RPG featuring the robots in disguise, this feature is about another pressing matter: how to crossover Transformers, Power Rangers, and GI Joe.

As mentioned before, the malleability of the Essence20 TTRPG system followed by the inherently toyetic nature of these properties practically begs for crossovers and team-ups to happen. We've already had a feature discussing how to combine the superhero antics of the Power Rangers with the espionage thrills of GI Joe, now let's throw some cars that turn into robots into that heady mix. But where to start?

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How To Make The Perfect Transformers Crossover – Scale and Tone

Unlike other properties we've discussed, Transformers is no stranger to crossovers. There have been tons of comic book crossovers, including several with GI Joe. Arguably the most audacious however was the 2016 IDW comics megacrossover, Revolution, which spawned a Hasbro comic book universe containing Transformers, GI Joe, MASK, Rom Space Knight, Micronauts, and Action Man.

As for a tone, there is plenty to pull from. In addition to over 40 years of animated series that range between campy and earnest to grounded and serious, Transformers has plenty of comic book and  videogame interpretations to pull from. These include the iconic G1 1980s cartoon, the Cybertron videogames developed by High Moon Studios, and even bizarre “what-ifs” like the Shattered Glass continuity where the hero and villain roles are reversed.

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Artwork from the Hasbro comic event Revolution showing Transformers fighting multiple teams
If this is the ceiling for spectacle, a TTRPG crossover doesn't seem as absurd.

But stripped down to its frame, Transformers is a space opera. It's always about two warring factions, split apart on ideological lines that refuse to budge even as it tears their homeworld apart.  Going back to the superhero comics analogy, if the Power Rangers are The Avengers and GI Joe is SHIELD, then the Transformers are the Shi'ar or Kree Empires. With the scale being that large, a battle with Transformers isn't just a vehicle for bombastic spectacle, it can be grounds for meditation on war and its cost.

With all of that in mind, kicking off a crossover with the robots in disguise practically writes itself. How do the Joes deal with threats right under their noses? What happens to the Rangers when potential world-ending threats go beyond the Earth itself? What happens when the likes of Cobra or Zedd try to work alongside Megatron before the inevitable third act betrayal? What happens when Cobra gets a hold of cybertronian technology? How does The Machine Empire react to the collapse/destruction of planet Cybertron?

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Promotional artwork from the Transformers RPG showing a team of autobots driving through a tunnel
Kind of buried the lede here but also remember that Transformers can also transport other PCs with their alt modes.

How To Make The Perfect Transformers Crossover – PC Group Dynamics

In game terms when considering a Transformers Crossover, this difference of scale applies massively to Transformers compared to GI Joe and Power Rangers. A Cybertronian PC has the highest possible health pool across all three TTRPGs: as little as 3 and as much as 5 before factoring in ranks of Conditioning. Every PC gets a pool of Energon, which they can spend in order to keep fighting even once their health hits 0. There are certain classes that can just ignore a lethal blow in exchange for losing a limb. Finally, there are armor upgrades PCs can requisition that can let them completely nullify or even throw back certain types of damage.

Pair all of that with complete immunity to natural environmental effects and disease as well high mobility (their alt-modes) and a single Cybertronian is faster and tougher than a single Joe or Ranger.

But the Joes and Rangers still bring a lot to the table. In game terms I mentioned that the Rangers were wrecking balls while the Joes were a ton of small successes that added up. That distinction still stands when compared with the Transformers; in fact it has only become more relevant. For example, the most common damage type Rangers have is Energy. Energy-type attacks are one of the few in Essence20 that cannot be deflected or absorbed by armor upgrades.

Furthermore, Rangers and Cybertronians have some overlap when it comes to sci-fi alien interactions. Cybertronians may have the universal greeting, but a Blue Ranger can just get a universal translator as a Grid Power. That can lead to a lot less friction when it comes to extraterrestrial diplomacy.

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As for GI Joe, their information network and operations management is what makes them impressive. Cybertronians may be immune to biological diseases, but they are vulnerable to computer viruses and being hacked, something that the tech division of the Real American Heroes can play a part in. Information and covert ops are their bread and butter, so let them lead the charge.

Promotional artwork of Decepticons from the Transformers RPG Core Rulebook for use in a Transformers Crossover
Don't be intimidated by their alt forms, heroes can still stand against them.

How To Make The Perfect Transformers Crossover – Handling Threats

Finally, we have to address how to mix and match major enemies across all three franchises for unique threats with a Transformers Crossover. After all, half of the fun of a crossover is seeing different groups of PCs show off their strengths, the other half is seeing how those teams deal with rogue's gallery.

The quickest Transformers Crossover to address are Power Rangers and Transformers threats. A team of Rangers fighting the Decepticons is perfectly fair game, either in “David vs. Goliath” struggles on the ground or in a drawn out brawl with Zords. Just keep in mind how size upshifts or downshifts attack rolls and things should even out. Alternatively, the Autobots assisting against a giant monster threat sent by Rita or Zedd introduces their own unique challenges thanks to the Gridblink and area control abilities I've touched on before.

This leaves Cobra. When it comes to enemy encounters, Cobra is packed with multiple different enemy types and vehicles. Because of this, tactical use of the terrain is a must. As for how that can pose a threat to Transformers, bear in mind that Cobra is a ruthless terrorist organization always after some technology or weapon that will give them an edge; and cybertronian technology definitely fits that description. With that in mind, setting up deadly ambushes and creating powerful macguffins with named villains should come naturally. Don't be afraid to get sadistic with these configurations either, Cobra has their own espionage network as well.

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How to Make The Perfect Transformers Crossover – Minor Homebrew Tweaks

Finally, a few personal changes I recommend to help give your Transformers GI Joe and Power Rangers crossover a little extra punch. These are completely optional so do what feels right at your table.

  • Give Cybertronian characters access to the Combiner Perk. This can allow Autobots to combine with a Ranger team's Megazord, which can lead to some bombastic setpieces. Not only does their health get added to the combined pool, but their overall defenses are added as well. For resolving attacks, just add the Autobot PC's skill roll to the Ranger team group check for skill resolution. Alternatively, you can use the Megaform combat rules for homebrew Decepticon combiner teams.
  • Give the Joes limited access to Transformers weapon and armor upgrades. To represent them attempting to adapt cybertronian technology, treat each upgrade as one category higher than what's in the books. A Limited upgrade becomes Restricted, Restricted becomes Prototypical, etc.
  • Establish weapon immunity and resistance scale. The Transformers Core Rulebook states that the GM can rule that a weapon attack has no effect on a large enough opponent; Duke shooting Unicron with his pistol won't do anything for example. To that end, go over all various weapons in GI Joe and mark anything that isn't an anti-tank weapon. Cybertronians and Zords are immune to those weapons while Rangers are resistant. For heavier artillery, treat Cybertronians and Zords as resistant and apply damage to Rangers as normal. Feel free to make exceptions in the moment as you see fit.