Wednesday, February 24, 2010

We Playtested the Vulcan VL-7M...

Hello all.

Good news from Lee Madison – he has finished work on the Sarpedon original provided by Ian Stead. I sent the Merkava MkVII for similar treatment.

David Dryburgh is working on modified versions of the eight vignettes we mentioned a few posts back – they may contain color or not, depending on his need. I am willing to pay for a few additional color pages to accommodate his artistic style. The subjects are all machines from the TRO itself, so this should be interesting.

I received a Jenner X playtest report, a very short one, from Jeff Wheeler of BattleTech Universe.

“Did the playtesting this weekend for the Jenner. I think it did well; knocked out a Commando IIC with a missile head shot and got a good piece of a Shadowcat Prime before being eliminated by engine crits from that same Shadowcat's gauss rifle. I am going to add it to my HMPro designs.”

Not much meat there, Jeff! But I asked him to put it through its paces with a mate, with the both of them using certain tactics I felt were suited to the design based on earlier playtest results. He has said he will give it a go this upcoming weekend.

So far, no response from the other playtesters, who were unable to run a game or scenario for the Jenner X due to any number of things (weather, illness, etc). Again, perhaps this weekend will give us something more to consider.

One the other hand, I did run a playtest on another TRO ‘Mech about a year back, when I was wondering if the upgrades to the Vulcan were really as good as they looked on paper. I have lost the name of the playtester who ran it – at the time, there was no cover page or anything else and it did not occur to me to save this man’s name for the Credits section. If anyone reading this knows who playtested the Vulcan VL-7M, please contact me.

A kitbash miniature of the new Vulcan is at the top of this page. As you can see from the picture, the new machine is a lot like the old one in many respects (though the TRO art is quite different, it retains all the important styling cues). However, fans of the Vulcan (and yes, they are out there) will note that this model has hands. Hands. Furthermore, there is a big gun poking out of the right torso.

For those of us raised on Duane Loose’s mechanical reincarnation of the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz, the best parts are the actual statistics for this machine. It is part of the Free Worlds League Project Retread, an attempt to upgrade older ‘Mechs without having to actually re-manufacture them from the chassis out. It includes the Thug, the Black Knight, the Guillotine and the Vulcan. All of these machines have been significantly beefed up and enhanced with the latest post-Invasion technology, but the Vulcan can arguably be said to have gotten the best of the deal.

It features many things the older versions lacked – and I am not just referring to hands.

Here is the old version, the Vulcan VL-5M.

As you can see, all the weapons are relatively short-ranged, making this an infighter. However, unlike most close-combat machines, it doesn’t feature much in the way of armor. In fact, some front locations actually have less protection (in terms of points) than the underlying structure!

Furthermore, the combination of firing the large and medium pulse lasers and jumping a full six hexes is covered by the standard ten double heat sinks – I have no idea why there is an eleventh heat sink added. You would not want to waste time firing a flamer or machine gun, given their poor range and low damage potential.

The flamer and machine gun are good weapons for fighting standard infantry – if anything, they are too few to make a difference when attempting to mow down troops. However, as any player can tell you, the mix of two hundred rounds of machine gun ammo and very weak armor (especially in the rear) is a recipe for disaster. Against any other foe, the MG ammo is a liability. Most pilots would get rid of it on Turn One, but that is a wasted turn dumping the stuff and many opt to take their chances.

So – too few anti-infantry weapons to make a dent in a platoon, and a very good chance of losing the ‘Mech to an ammo explosion. Not a good combination at all. No wonder the president of Nimikachi Motors lost his job.

The weak armor is the biggest issue. If the machine could survive close contact with an enemy unit, it would be to the purpose. But even the fusion engine and its inherent toughness will not do more than prolong the agony of a ‘Mech which is neither fish nor fowl.

So I had a go at it. Here is the VL-7M. Click on the image to get a better look.

The VL-7M is a whole new baby. It carries 60% more armor and while dropping two jump jets, largely maintains its movement profile. The warload returns to something a bit closer to the original Vulcan’s, with a large long-range weapon and several guns for close-in work.

The role of anti-infantry has not been neglected; not only does the VL-7M carry medium lasers to augment the ER large laser at medium ranges, it packs no less than four small pulse lasers in the left arm. These do horrid amounts of damage to unarmored infantry and are extremely accurate to boot, quite the bonus when jumping about while trying to get a bead on a bunch of fleeing troopers. But this warload is nearly as effective against battle armor, something that is becoming a greater menace on the 3063 battlefield.

Some may point to the short range of the pulse weapons, or the relative fragility of the extra-light fusion engine, but so far the extra armor has been enough to compensate, protecting the engine at the close ranges required to carry out ‘squishie missions’.

Heat can be a problem… but only if you alpha-strike. As with most such warloads, the important thing is to stick to your range bands. Shooting point blank with an ER large laser may occasionally be useful, but what it really says is that the Mechwarrior in the cockpit is too close, too soon. Wear your foe down at range, then get in there and shake salt in the wounds – that’s the ticket.

Here is the report from that unsung playtester:

“Ok, now the VL-7M went through its paces in the playtest battles quite well. The one thing noted by my players was that the arm-mounted weapons were all short range, and this prevented them from punching/pushing while maximizing firepower. That said, my players did not perform any physical attacks the entire combat, so who knows if that is even a valid concern?

My own personal take is that this is quite a beastly 'Mech for its size. The firepower is well-balanced against heat dissipation and the survivability, when compared to the typical XL-engined scout, is very good. I did find that I missed the lost jump movement, but would be hard-pressed to give up any of the firepower to regain it. One player has come up with a "elegantly simple” solution for my dilemma. He said: "Well, if we capture it, I will just give it a clan ER large laser and that will be that." I felt that I should share that with you all.

I missed the new hand actuators, but apparently my player saw them, the one who was interested in punching. Thus far, we used it in non-campaign battles only. On the lightly forested map it was able to deal handily with two infantry platoons and a Javelin.
While it was taken out by a Trebuchet before it could retreat, the new Vulcan's mission objective (destroy opposition HQ, including all infantry) was a smashing success! In a pair of duels against a Strider omni mounting Clan medium pulse lasers, it lost badly once and had one Pyrrhic victory. I personally feel that with the extra jump jets that near-loss would have become more solid, but again, I have no real suggestions for what to strip off.

On a lark, I matched it against two VL-2Ts and it came out smelling like roses, ripping through both older 'Mechs with little trouble (almost overheated using an alpha strike at point blank range the last round, but it turned out to be worth the risk).
I really can't wait to use this thing as part of a FWL scout lance working in my MW game. It is really a joy to run. Battlearmor is a rarity on our fields at present, but I will try to work up a playtest scenario.

And there you go. The original Vulcan was a poor design outside of its own era, and passed into obsolescence after the Clan Invasion. Even with tweaking over the following years, it never really did well as it was almost always under-armored for its intended missions. The VL-7M upgrade returns this venerable ‘Mech to useful status, even making it a preferred machine for certain missions.

There is another Vulcan in the TRO, the Vulcan II, which focuses on anti-infantry operations with battle-armor hunting a specialty. It lacks the hard-hitting ranged weapon of the earlier VL-7M, but compensates by adding three medium pulse lasers – and a movement of 7/11/7. Very fast, very accurate, and it has the same solid armor protection as its sibling.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.


1 comment:

Paint it Pink said...

I've copied the jpeg and when I play a game next I will test this baby out. Don't hold your breath as this may be some time. Just saying I'm reading what you write and making notes, that's all. ;-)