I was ten years old the year that the GameBoy Advance released. I was gifted the new handheld around Christmastime, and my first game was Mario Kart: Super Circuit. I had a cousin about a year younger than me who I visited pretty frequently in those days. We both loved video games and so he too had received a GameBoy Advance around Christmas. But where I had gotten Mario Kart, he received a new Mega Man game. It’s important to keep in mind that taking turns playing Mega Man X was a pastime of ours – every time we hung out we would try to push through the game and finally defeat Sigma. So when I saw him playing Battle Network, I was immediately jealous. Mega Man was a computer program? He had these cool battlechips, and one even made his arm a SWORD! I had to have this game, and fortunately for my spoiled ass it wasn’t long before I had my own copy and began to fall in love with the world of Battle Network.
While Mega Man X was my first Mega Man game, the version of the Blue Bomber that I will look back upon with the most fondness is Megaman.Exe. I played the majority of the Battle Network series over the years, loving the unique features added with each new entry. Styles! Programming! Dark chips! Liberation battles! CrossSoul! Battle Network had unique game mechanics that almost no video games have tried to recreate, and when the series finally came to an end I was sad to my favorite version of Mega Man become a thing of the past.
As we played the Battle Network games and more and more of the series released, my cousin and I would play elaborate games of pretend where we’d be NetOps living in 200X. Thinking about the types of NetNavi we would have and coming up with different combinations of battlechips to use was a regular part of our play, and I still remember some of the original concepts I had for characters. And while it would probably be frowned upon in modern times for me to run around my apartment pretending to be Dash.Exe, the world of tabletop roleplaying games is always there to enable creative exploration of the worlds we love.
Enter NetBattlers, an RPG created by fans of Battle Network to allow players to experience that world at the game table. If you’ve played any of the Battle Network games in the past those elements will be familiar to you. You play as an elementary school student with access to a PErsonal Terminal (PET) that allows you to access the internet, make phone calls, and even check your e-mail (what miraculous and unrealistic technology!). As a NetOp, you also have access to what is called a NetNavi (short for internet navigator). This is more than just your online avatar; a Navi is an AI companion and friend more than they are a program at your service (though they are definitely that too). Unfortunately in a world as online as this, viruses run amok, so even a kid like you has to have a bit of experience in the art of deleting virus, known as Busting.
Against this backdrop, you portray a NetOp and NetNavi pair along with the other players, all of whom are in the same class together in elementary school. As characters just shy of pre-adolescence, coming of age and becoming more grown-up is a major theme of the Battle Network series, and it is a key aspect of the sessions you’ll play as part of NetBattlers. Of course, in this world, growing up also involves a healthy dose of fighting wild internet viruses as well as hostile NetOps and their Navis. If conquering the challenges of preadolescence along with fighting bad guys on the internet sounds like a fun day to you, then NetBattlers may be right up your alley.
My favorite way to get to know a new-to-me RPG is the character creation process. During character creation, you have to take a close look at the systems in the game and understand how they work in order to make the best possible decisions to fit your character. Each aspect of your character touches a different game rule, so by the time you’re done you should have a solid working idea of how the game works. My goal today is to recreate my childhood visions of my NetOp and NetNavi, all while exploring the mechanisms of the game to highlight what’s cool about NetBattlers.
We’ll follow the book and start things off with the NetOp, the human character who attends elementary school. The five step process for creating this character involves character info (name, personality, look), starting stats, starting BattleChips, a Bond with another character, and finally a talent. For my character, I’m picturing a young edgelord who has a hard time fitting in with the other students. His gruff exterior is a front to hide his low self-esteem, but given the opportunity to make friends and learn his strengths he can grow up to be a great NetOp. To keep with the video game’s theme of naming characters based on terms related to technology, I’m going to name my character Sequel (SQL). The next thing I need to do is determine his stats. That means looking up the stats and what they actually do.
Each NetOp in NetBattlers has three core stats, each of which has three skills associated. The stats are Body, Mind, and Soul; the skills are Strength, Speed, and Stamina (Body), Sense, Coding, and Info (Mind), and Charm, Bravery, and Affinity (Soul). When you roll dice to test whether or not an action is successful, you roll a pool of six-sided dice based on the skill you’re using and the appropriate stat that it is affiliated with. Most of the skills are pretty straightforward and do what they sound like they do, but it’s important to consider what specific mechanics they are tied to. For example, Info is the skill for knowing about stuff, but it’s also important for using BattleChips effectively. While Charm and Bravery are important social skills for interactions with other NetOps, Affinity is important for connecting with your Navi.
Your character begins with a one (1) in every stat and a zero (0) in every skill. You can raise a single stat to two (2), five skills to one (1), and one skill to two (2). For my NetOp Sequel, I’m leaning towards Mind as his higher stat to showcase his skill with all things internet: hacking, coding, jacking-in (the term for connecting the PET to the cyberworld of a specific device), and utilizing BattleChips. I’m also going to put my 2 skill ranking into a Mind skill, specifically Info. With both Mind and Info at 2, this means I’ll be able to choose a total of six BattleChips for my starting folder, giving me a large number of creative options in battle. With 1’s in Coding and Sense, Sequel will have a good awareness of his surroundings and the ability to operate and infiltrate devices with ease. I’ve got two more 1’s to assign in my skills and six skills to split them between. I know Charm is out for my brooding edgelord, but I’m still somewhat interested in Bravery (to resist fear effects and make him a little intimidating to other people at first glance) as well as Affinity (for having a strong connection to his Navi). This would leave me no Body skills, making Sequel pretty weak physically. I decide this makes sense and maybe contributes to why he had a hard time making friends – he doesn’t excel at physical activities and so didn’t make social connections early on in school. I boost Bravery and Affinity to 1 and leave all of Sequel’s Body skills at zero.
Now it’s time to select BattleChips! These are the weapons which my NetOp will be able to bring to the table in order to assist his Navi in combat. As I mentioned above, maxing out both Mind and Info means that I’ll get the maximum possible amount of starting BattleChips (the minimum would be 1 Mind + 0 Info + 2, for 3 BattleChips). As a Battle Network veteran I recognize the various chips and am familiar with the basic idea of what they should be capable of, but it is important to keep in mind how they are different in the tabletop setting. There are 12 starting BattleChips to choose from, which means I’ll have half of them at my disposal for the start of the game. I know I want Sequel to be the kind of person who fights strategically but without being focused on support.
While we haven’t gotten to Navi creation yet, I’m envisioning Sequel’s Navi as one focused on speed and electricity. There are a few BattleChips that fit that idea. Dash allows the Navi to deal heavy damage while moving into close range; Plasma creates lightning orbs that rotate around the Navi and deal moderate damage to anyone who touches them; Zap Ring deals light damage but stuns the target for a moment. With a strategy that seems focused on stunning the enemy and then closing in to deal heavy damage, Barrier (a protective chip) looks pretty useful. Sword offers another close range attack option and deals moderate damage to the enemy. For my final chip I waffle a bit between Attack+1 and Air Shot; the former boosts my Navi’s basic attack while the latter is a light attack that also pushes the opponent backwards. With so many close-range battle chips it seems like pushing the opponent away with Air Shot isn’t wise, but I have Dash to close the distance again if needed and I can see some advantages to pushing an enemy away and then stunning them with Zap Ring or throwing up a Barrier. So I ultimately settle on Air Shot.
Two things left for my NetOp: deciding a Bond and deciding a talent. A bond is a connection with another player character, so it’s something that I’m not able to do in this scenario where I’m making a character by myself. Bonds work by giving your characters points equal to their bond level when they spend quality time together, and they can use these bond points for special abilities like surviving a lethal blow, jumping to an ally’s defense, or using CrossSoul to benefit from an allied Navi’s power. Finally, the character’s talent. A talent is a relatively specific skill that the character possesses which they can use mechanically to shift their success on a dice roll by one degree. NetBattlers uses a tiered success system where you can fail, partially succeed, fully succeed, or critically succeed based on the number of successes in your dice pool. A talent lets you manipulate that for one skill. Since Info is Sequel’s jam, I want his talent to be related to his knowledge in some way. I decide that he wants to be a professional NetBattler when he grows up (a common aspiration in this series), so his talent is being really good at recognizing pros in the industry. With that, I’m done with my NetOp and can move on to my Navi.
Navis have a similar character creation process to NetOps but with one less step overall. As before I’ll need to think about name, personality, and appearance as the first step; after that comes stats, then the Navi’s element, and finally choosing Navi powers. Sequel’s Navi is named Dash.Exe; he’s quite cheerful in opposition to Sequel’s brooding nature and he is the positive encouragement that Sequel needs. He’s also impulsive, so Sequel’s wits are key to helping Dash productively focus his abilities. I want to emphasize this opposition in their stats as well, so I’ll be keeping that in mind as I move forward with Dash.
Navis get a different stat and skill block from NetOps; a one (1), two (2), and three (3) in stats, then two ones (1), two twos (2), and one three (3) in skills. I’ve already mentioned that I envision Dash as a speed-based character so you know right away where my 3’s are going: Body and Speed, for a total of 6 dice on any speed-related task. This makes Dash incredible at dodging ranged attacks – maybe I should rethink having him as a close-range specialist? Then again, I like the idea of him being so good at dodging ranged attacks that the enemy wants to get in close, exposing them to his most deadly moves. I also put his two 2’s in Strength and Stamina, making those 5 dice total for using melee attacks and resisting them as well. Now conceptually, I want Dash to have Mind as his lowest skills to highlight Sequel’s strength in that area – that said, I would like it if Dash could occasionally land his ranged attacks, which means that putting a 2 in Mind and a 1 in Sense would be a pretty decent idea. But then, I read a little something in the rules that changes my mind – BattleChips don’t test accuracy! This means that Dash can use his ranged chips without having to worry about having good Sense, so I decide to put my 2 stat in Soul, and my two 1s in the Charm and Bravery stats. Dash won’t know much about technology, but Sequel will be able to cover that weakness, and their Affinity will have the same value at the beginning of the game.
Next come elements and powers. The Navi’s element can be a more traditional element (fire, water, earth, wind) or it can be a more abstract concept (justice, love, leadership). The Navi uses Affinity to wield a manifestation of their element. In my case I’ve already mentioned that my concept for Dash involved speed and lightning; with his speed pretty well covered in the stats department, this is the perfect opportunity to bring the lightning. For powers, each Navi can choose three options out of a list of 45 available powers, 5 per skill in the game. There are two power types; cost powers are guaranteed to work but lower the corresponding skill until the Navi can jack out and recover, while roll powers require a successful skill test to utilize. The effects of powers are related to some degree to the skill they are tied to. For example, the Info power Analyze allows you to learn about a virus or enemy Navi with a successful roll. The affinity power Save lets you spend a manifestation of your element and one Affinity point to heal someone for 3 HP. While I do see some powers outside of the Speed category that I’m interested in, the low rolls or inability to spend points on those skills push me in the direction of Body powers only.
As far as which Body powers to take, what are my options? Strength powers allow for options like knocking enemies away, sending shockwaves after them, or lowering their Body stat to make them more vulnerable to future attacks. Stamina powers give you options like parrying ranged attacks, healing when using chips, and moving a range band when taking damage. Then of course there is Speed, which opens up options like rolling dice or spending points to move range bands, avoiding traps in the environment, and making it more difficult for enemies to attack you. I definitely want JumpJets to allow Dash to move into close range with an enemy, as well as SneakRun to create opportunities to avoid inanimate traps or motion sensors using Speed. I’m torn on my third choice between Afterimage, which makes 3 attacks against Dash more difficult by allowing him to roll defense twice and take the better result, and Reflect, which allows the Navi to parry ranged attacks in a similar manner to melee attacks. Afterimage seems like a really useful ability but it lowers Speed when I use it, whereas Reflect requires a roll but creates a new ranged attack option for Dash. I decide that Afterimage better fits my existing strategy and compliments my stats better (Reflect would roll with Stamina instead of Speed, so it’d be mechanically worse than simply dodging). With my powers chosen, that wraps up the character creation process for my Navi.
In the end, I’ve created a NetOp and Navi who are designed to compliment each other’s weaknesses. Sequel is smart but lacks social grace and is physically weak. Dash is powerful and likeable but needs guidance from a sharp mind. They’ll work together to grow and improve one another and learn the lessons of adolescence as a team. I have lots of BattleChips to bring to the table and can utilize them along with Dash’s special abilities to implement a battle strategy focused on forcing the enemy into melee combat and then overwhelming them with powerful close-range chips. This of course is just one example of the types of characters that can be created in the game; different combinations of stats, powers, and BattleChips will create a very different NetBattlers experience.
If reading about the character creation process for NetBattlers has piqued your interest in the game, you can check out the rulebook by visiting MerryMancer Games. The game pretty recently entered its sixth update (so recently, in fact, that I had to adjust this article immediately after writing it because I had used the fifth beta rules!) so this is a good time to check it out and see what you think. I’m excited to learn more about the game and maybe even to try it out if I find an interested group, so I hope this article has helped to transfer some of that excitement to you too!