Monday, March 29, 2010

'Mechs in the era of Devlin Stone

Hey, y’all!

Let’s dig into TRO-related things to start this post.

What’s the update?

(1) Our layout man gets his medical tests done this weekend and I might see some prototype pages after those tests are done. Pneumonia tends to put everything through the wringer in a man’s life, however, so it’s my guess Josh will not be able to turn his full attention to the TRO for another couple of weeks. He has a job to catch up with, a family to keep and friends who probably worry about him. He might be over the actual affliction, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to go at life full-blast yet.

So we’ll wait a bit and refrain from bugging him. He knows we’re here. He’ll get to us when he’s ready.

(2) Lee Madison still has not emailed or notified me in any way what is going on with him. The clock is ticking.

(3) Payment is going out to David Dryburgh. Not much as such things go, but some.

(4) I turn 50 today.

Well, that last really has no bearing on the TRO, but I thought I would slide it in anyway.

Print Copies Update

As you can see, I have a quote here from FedEx Office for twenty-five copies. Double-click on it to get the details. They are farming out the binding work, as they cannot do it themselves. The cover is now going to be #100, much thicker than before. The color pages? Believe it or not, those twelve additional color pages jacked the price up by $130. But they would not look half so good if they were in black and white.

And here is a quote for thirty copies. Please, if anyone looking at these quotes can tell me of a place that can do the same kind of job for less, I am all ears.

Getting Too Fancy?

Someone has accused me of falling into the trap of tweaking the TRO right into unaffordability, adding glitz and bells and whistles to the point where the print cost will be prohibitive. I responded by noting that the overwhelming majority of copies of the TRO:3063 will be electronic, a PDF which will probably still be circulating on the Internet long after the relative handful of paper copies has crumbled into dust.

And remember too, there are going to be two versions of the PDF – one in full color for online and personal computer viewing via an Adobe reader, and the Print-Only version, which minimizes the color so that anyone can render their own paper copy if they so desire without breaking the bank. Furthermore, there will be an additional PDF, again mostly in black and white, which contains all the record sheets for every machine even mentioned in the TRO:3063.

All of these ‘Mechs and Vehicles are useful designs; there are no ‘clunkers’ or misfits among them. Some may beg to differ, but the range and scope of these designs covers everything from ‘Mech-on-‘Mech combat down to scenarios where one side has mostly tanks and a whole lot of troops. Try to keep in mind that BattleTech has been revamped so that you can play nearly any kind of military encounter you like. It takes regular troops to hold the ground the BattleMech has taken. And it takes tanks and smaller ‘Mechs to dig them out again.

The IndustrialMech and its Application

Some of you are aware that very shortly (in about five years, game time), the Inner Sphere will become the Republic of the Sphere and stay that way for about sixty years. This period of relative peace will certainly include brush wars and all the smaller conflicts that mark human existence. But strictly speaking, there will be no action on an interstellar scale. Or at least, that is how it was portrayed in the Mechwarrior:Dark Age game (ClickyTech to some of you). How much of that will hold now that WizKids is gaming history is up for debate.

What is certain is that if the BattleTech line developer stays true to the vision of the original creator (principally Jordan Wiseman), we will see the large-scale BattleMech recede into the background, to be replaced by… well, presumably other weapons of war. But even if these particular swords are being beaten into plowshares, there is no guarantee that some of their civilian brethren will not eventually be beaten from plowshares back into swords. Or at least very long, very sharp knives.

See, there is more to the BattleMech’s advantage than meets the eye. And even with internal combustion engines, fuel tanks, negligible heat sinks and slow speed, the ‘Mech in any incarnation presents an advantage no Grange Hall general will be able to ignore.

A Piece of FanFic to Illustrate My Point

What follows is an excerpt from a story written four years ago for my son. It started out as a simple child’s tale, but rapidly grew as my son asked question after question. He was ten at the time and becoming proficient at playing BattleTech with his Dad’s gaming group.

Don’t run away! It reads pretty well and I have kept it down to the pertinent section in order to show you why the BattleMech – or rather, a ForestryMech with a big gun – is still a viable combatant in the coming years. The speaker is Grandfather Lassiter, and his audience is his grandson, Dillon.

The year is 3115.


“Alright. MSF3. That stood for Mobility, Survivability, Flexibility, Firepower and Fear. Let’s start with Mobility. Tanks could navigate most terrain, but were limited when it came to woods and steep inclines. Same with hovercraft and wheeled vehicles – they could move real fast, even over water, but just couldn’t climb or go through woods worth a dang. But the BattleMech could move through all of this, even walking underwater. There was almost no place it couldn’t go. Heck, for a while, they could even fly through the air!”

“LAMS!”, said the boy excitedly. “I read about those in the library!”

“Son, I…..yes, Land-Air ‘Mechs. Great idea on paper, nightmare to deploy, from what I read. Neither fish nor fowl, they weren’t very good at any one thing. They were expensive, fragile and spent a lot of time in the garage for every hour they were on the field.”

“What happened to them, Grandpa? Why didn’t they work out? They look so cool!”

“Well, son, they were a solution looking for a problem. Turned out, they WERE a problem, so now you only see ‘em in history books. Now, onto the next letter – ‘Survivability’. Here, let me draw you a picture.”

Grandfather drew a box on the paper, then drew eight circles inside it. “This is a carton, with eight eggs inside. What happens if you step on it? “

The boy looked at it for a moment, suspecting a trick. “Umm….you get to eat omelets for breakfast?”

“That’s right! All the eggs are broken. Now. Suppose you build a box made out of thick steel around that carton. What happens if you step on it now?”

“Nothing. You can’t stomp a hole in steel.”

“Right again. You can’t. But suppose I wheel a big gun up and take a shot at that box with armor-piercing shells?”

The boy replied immediately. “You’d break all the eggs inside.”

Grandfather nodded, adding “Especially since it took so much force to get through the steel plate in the first place.”

The old man then began drawing what looked like a figure of a man, made of boxes. A long box for each leg, one for each arm, a small one for the head, and three right next to each other for the body. Inside each box, he placed a single circle. When he was done, the boy peered at it. “It kind of looks like a man, but… hey, that’s a BattleMech, right?”

“Yes, it is. Now, each one of these boxes has a single egg in it. If you want to break all the eggs, you have to break through eight armored boxes, not just one. The secret to the BattleMech’s survivability was just that. Everything was spread out and well-protected.”

Grandfather pointed at the drawing with his pen. “Take a tank. If you broke through the armor on any side you’d lose the crew, weapons, ammunition, powerplant, drive train, sensors – the whole ball of wax.” And with that, he penned an ‘X’ through the drawing of the single box.

His pen moving over to the other drawing, Grandfather continued. “But you could take out the arms” and he scratched through two boxes, “the left and right torso” and here two more boxes were crossed out, “and even one of the legs”, with a final stroke of the pen through another box. “And though it would be very hard, a MechWarrior just might be able to remain standing - on a single leg! - and fight back. I’ve read where someone did just that and gave a good account of themselves.”

Grandfather returned the pen to his pocket and shoved the piece of paper off to one side. Glancing at the boy, he asked “Got any questions?”

The boy shook his head.

“Okay, let’s move on.”

“The next letter is ‘F’, an’ it stands for ‘Flexibility’. The BattleMech came in every shape you could imagine, from twenty tons up to a hundred tons. They were able to do just about any job you could imagine. The same basic body layout, using the same combination of parts and technical know-how, was extremely flexible, way beyond what the original designers intended.”

“Massed assault, body guard, scout, ‘Mech killer, peacekeeper, anti-aerospace, insurgency ops, crowd control, gladiator, infantry suppression – you name it, they could do it. They could go just about anywhere, carry just about any payload. With the BattleMech, mind you, one size did not fit all. They were expensive, technology-intensive, and hard to get. But they came dang close.”

“Hmmm…next letter is also ‘F’, for ‘Fear’. Fear was a very real thing with these machines, son. They were just so danged huge, most folks couldn’t get their heads around the idea of seeing one. Imagine if our firehouse just got up and started walking around? Even the soldiers who fought alongside them were careful. And fear is useful, son. A MechWarrior can use that sort of fear to get things done without firing a single shot. Poorly-led troops will break and run, citizens will behave, and folks in general will be a whole lot more agreeable when there’s a BattleMech in the area.”

Grandfather stopped, sipped his coffee and gazed out the window at the sun, which was just beginning to dip below the tops of the treeline. “Beautiful day.” he thought. “Can’t wait for spring, though.” He slowly got up, favoring his knee, and moved over to his favorite spot in the den, the reading chair. Resting his left leg on the ottoman, Grandfather set his coffee down and reaching up, switched on the reading lamp. Taking up the day’s paper, he shook it out to the business section.

“But Grandpa! What about the third ‘F’? You said you were going to tell me what all the letters meant!”

“What did I tell you they meant back at the beginning?”

“Umm…Mobility, Survivableness, Flexibility, Fear and I forget the last one.”

“Well, you think about it some, and maybe it’ll come to you. But think quietly, ‘cause I’m readin’ and I need peace and quiet.”

Chapter 2 – AD 3115

The boy sat in the den, gazing out the window at the slowly setting autumn sun. The forest treetops broke up the streaming light into fingers of red that gradually faded away, leaving only a bluish-purple sky. Stars began to appear.

Deep in thought, the boy turned to his grandfather. “Grandpa, if each BattleMech had several different compartments, instead of just one like a tank, couldn’t they put some more guns on it?”

Grandfather looked up, his old blue eyes peering over the top of his newspaper at the youngster. Secretly pleased that the boy had thought of this on his own, he replied “Why, yes. And they did. That’s the third ‘F’. Firepower”. With that, Grandfather put his paper aside, pulled his pipe from a pocket, and began filling it with tobacco from a weathered pouch. “In fact, for a time, the biggest problem the BattleMech had was with heat from all those extra guns.”

The boy began drawing again, working on a crude figure of connected boxes, next to the diagram his grandfather had sketched. As he worked, he peppered his Grandpa with questions.

“Could they have guns coming from the head?

“Sure could”

“How about the arms?”

“That was the first place for a lot of them.”

“How about the legs?

“Yes, although it was a challenge for the Mechwarrior to point with his legs and shoot.”

The boy paused. “Why?”

“Well, because it wasn’t natural. In other words, putting a gun in your ‘Mech’s arm was a lot like shooting a rifle as a person – there was a connection between the two, and it wasn’t that much of a stretch for the techs to program the pilot’s computer. But no one normally aims or shoots a gun with their leg. So it took a lot of practice. And it wasn’t very popular.”

The boy then began rolling off questions again, and Grandfather recognized them as mostly nonsense – a tactic all boys resorted to when they sensed bedtime approaching.

“Could they have guns in the feet?”

“Not really. There wasn’t much room.”

“How about in the… shoulders?”

“Sure did. Big ones, too.”

The boy paused. “Did they ever put one in the back?”

Grandfather smiled. “Oh, yes! Quite popular with the larger models, too. You couldn’t move very fast in those, and while there was lots of armor everywhere, the back was always where the armor was thinnest.”

The boy nodded. “So somebody with a faster ‘Mech could slip in behind, and shoot you in the back if you weren’t careful?” He frowned. “That’s not fair.”

Grandfather’s smile faded as he leaned forward and held the boy’s eyes with his own. “No, son, it isn’t. But that’s war for you. Anything goes when you got someone shootin’ at you. None of it is very fair, and it’s a serious business for some people.”

Settling back, he smiled again as he lit up his pipe and with the first puff of smoke, pointed the stem at the boy.

“They tried just about everything you could think of. Some designs solved the problem with arms that flipped over to shoot behind. But most Mechwarriors wanted arms with hands, and that limited where you could aim”. He puffed again on his pipe and with a twinkle in his eye, said “Once, someone even built one that had a gun coming out of the ‘Mech’s butt!”

The boy looked up sharply. “No way! Really?” He began to giggle at the thought. “Why would anyone do that?”

Grandfather stood up, brushing ashes off his legs and pointed at the boy. “Tell you what. You get yourself ready for bed. Shower, toothbrush and into your pajamas. And if you’re quick about it, maybe I’ll have a story about that for ya.”

The boy scrambled to his feet, and headed for the bathroom. Grandfather chuckled to himself as he picked up the paper. “Works every time”.


Whew! If you stayed with me this far, I will try to tie this into my original point.

PaintItPink suggested that IndustrialMechs had their place if properly augmented and deployed. But make no mistake – deployment is the critical factor, not how many missile racks you can stuff on the poor ‘Mech itself. With all their weight and space limitations, it won’t amount to much.

But against tanks, armored cars and standard troops, it can make a hell of a difference.

The augmented IndustrialMech still has Mobility, which means it can go where men can go and at a much higher rate of speed. It still has Survivability, being pretty much immune to small arms fire and able to take more damage overall than a vehicle with similar statistics. It has somewhat limited Flexibility – after all, this is a special-purpose machine that has been tricked out with weapons.

As for Firepower, that too is limited due to the nature of the power plants used in most IndustrialMechs. But it is still a great deal more than you will find with a squad of infantry, and enough to turn the tide in combat against wheeled or tracked war machines. Fear remains the same – giant diesel-powered walking men are just as terrifying as their fusion-driven brethren.

Note that in order to get the most from an augmented IndustrialMech, you have to use tactics that take advantage of all these abilities, not just one or two. There probably will not be a situation where a ForestryMech with a big gun – or even two of them - can just bull through the opposition. Springing from an unexpected hiding spot, though, or taking advantage of terrain considered impassible by standard war machines – that is another matter.

What It All Means

What does this all mean? It means the adventure and the tabletop intrigue will all take place on a lower power scale than many of us are accustomed to. It will still be a challenge to win the fight, but you will be accomplishing your task with – and against – machines which are more vulnerable and which must be deployed carefully to get the maximum benefit. Needless to say, the player who has been partial to using smaller ‘Mechs in his or her playing career will have a distinct advantage over the player who has never set foot outside of their Warhammer.

In case anyone is still wringing his or her hands at the thought of taking a ForestryMech up against an Awesome, rest easy. Remember that your opponent will not be fielding assault class BattleMechs. And if they have assault class tanks, you will have similar forces available. You will not be required to take out an Alacorn with a ForestryMech - that is what your tanks, troops and tactics are for.

The armed IndustrialMech in the era of Devlin Stone’s Peace will be something that initially appears as a hastily contrived fallback. It will be an option used only if it appears it will help win a victory – or if needed to mount a desperate defense. However, with brush wars and border conflicts and Periphery pirate raids almost a sure thing in the Republic of the Sphere, this will gradually change. There will eventually be plenty of upgunned AgroMechs to pilot.

Your job is to make the most of them.

Thanks for stopping by.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Up against Silence and All-American Creeps...


Well, our layout man Josh has informed me that we are short a few House emblems but that the foundation art of the PDF is nearly complete. We should be ready in a week or so to begin doing test layouts to see what we’ve got in terms of look and feel.

Communications Breakdown

I have been trying to get in contact with Lee Madison, who is supposed to be working on the Merkava MkVII and the CM-33 background art. Unfortunately, it has been over two weeks since I got a reply from him. He had assigned me some writing work to support art he is going to create for his own needs – re-imagining the Imp and the Flashman. These are worthy projects and I have put together two brand-new designs and tentative writeups that support them. The designs are really good – if this was four months ago, I would consider putting them into the TRO.

Lee has done a really good job, despite his apparent discomfort at modifying someone else’s work. There are only two pieces to go, but the lack of communication – not one email telling me he’s busy with another project or anything – is getting me down and I am seriously considering just relieving him of the assignments and offering the commissions to someone else. I don’t even know if he’s received my emails and attachments. Hell, he won’t even pick up his telephone.

This has happened before, as some of you may recall, but we resolved things amicably and the TRO sports several good pieces from him. I will give it another two weeks and if I’ve received no word from him, will assume Lee is too busy to complete the commissions. We have a schedule to maintain, after all. I can work with delays – I have been working with them for over two years. But I cannot plan around silence.

Paper Version Publishing Notes

I have been down to the publisher’s and have revised the printing schedule and proposed costs. As some of you may know, I was quoted an original price of $23 and change for each of 30 copies. That was with a color front and back cover, Perfect binding, four color interior pages and 230 pages total.

The new quote is based on fourteen color pages (which includes the color covers) and a page count of 232 (I forgot to insert a ‘Mech somehow). Again, we are going with 30 copies, as I cannot afford more and the price does not come down until you get up to 50 copies. I have $500 to spend on this, and it will probably require about $100 more in savings before I can go down and get the work done.

Of course, none of this will be possible until we finish the PDF version, which at present looks like it will be ready at the end of April. I have lost two weeks due to Lee Madison’s silence, and while this gives me more time to save, there are other issues holding things up. Our layout man being ill with pneumonia is one of them.

Book Prices go UP!

It seems the quote I got last November for the printed versions was done by a fellow who thought he knew what he was doing, but didn't. To be fair, the software they use to calculate this stuff is pretty complex. And it's not like I knew what I was looking at.

The result is that the actual price of printing 25 books has jumped to $671. 30 books will cost me $800. This is all before tax, mind you. After tax and assuming the shipping remains about five bucks, a book will cost you $34.

It's about ten bucks more than I quoted last year. The fellow who did the estimate for me said the company would call me, hopefully offering a better deal, later.

Let's hope so.

Some Thoughts on the CGL 'debacle'

Looks like we got some visitors this past week with about three times the number of daily hits on the blog. I was complimented on my last post – apparently it comments on a fact that the denizens of Dumpshock and the BattleTech site have curiously overlooked. We have no say in this matter of misappropriated funds or the potential collapse of a gaming company. We never did and we never will.

This is common sense if you think about it. However, actually putting it in print brings another uncomfortable fact squirming and wriggling up to the light of reason. And that is: we have never had any real say in what the company does or does not do. That includes rule changes, publishing schedules and product offerings. If the folks over at CGL ever do pay mind to our endless babbling, it is with the clear knowledge that we do NOT represent their target audience except in a very tangential way.

Most of their customers are new players. We are the grognards, the old guard made up of older men (and women) who have been playing this game for what seems like eternity. Furthermore, we are the vocal minority that actually goes out on the interwebz and posts – a lot. Take a look at the post count of some of the older members of the BT community on the company website and you quickly realize that some of these people have been posting up to eleven comments a day for the past four or five years. That is a lot of posting, and does not speak well of time spent elsewhere doing other things – like, say, actually playing the game and using the new materials.

I am a firm believer that cross-pollination is what keeps a game – and a gamer – alive and active in the hobby. Concentrating on the game to the exclusion of much else that exists in day to day life might give you the chance to become a subject matter expert in the Fourth Succession War. But it does not make you an average gamer or a potential money-making consumer. I believe the folks at CGL know this.

The 'Fan Base' has No Base...

When they said they would not take unsolicited ideas or comb the forums for artists and writers, they meant it. The unspoken corollary is that they don’t take much of anything else from there, either. Considering the massive amount of backstory CGL’s line developer has to take into account when making new materials, I am not surprised. What amazes me is that folks post there like they think someone from the company is reading it and making adjustments based on the ‘fan base’. I don’t believe that is the case, for reasons already given.

They have already decided where they are taking the license for the next three to five years – they told us that! – and while older hands might gripe at the Jihad and the coming sixty years of Devlin Stone’s ‘peace’, nothing short of a major replacement of writers and editors is going to change it. After three shifts in proprietorship and the collapse of WizKids, the timeline is still going in the same direction and most of the creative names are the same. So unless CGL loses their license – possible but not guaranteed – AND the new licensors are determined to alter the present course and toss out a lot of research and existing work, it simply won’t happen.

And you know what? It won’t matter either way.

The game is going to make money for its owners and license-holders only if there is a fresh influx of new players. This can be accomplished many ways, but I have read the forum posts and have decided that the future of BattleTech, no matter who produces it, no matter which way it goes, is not going to put off new players. For them, the game will be fresh and new. They have no idea of what went before, they just know they like piloting big stompy ‘Mechs. For them, the Jihad is NOW. From them I get no impassioned ranting against the Clans, or quibbling about the Republic of the Sphere. This is just the way things are and the way they will be.

I have enough youth left in me to see the coming of the Jihad and the ensuing peace as something exciting. I have no desire to live exclusively in BattleTech’s past, just as I am tired of listening to the ‘oldies’ on the radio from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. I have been listening to that stuff for the past forty years; it is time to listen to something new. Likewise, some folks prefer to stick to the BattleTech of their youth. More power to them and I hope they have a good time. But my ‘good old days’ are right now.

And frankly, I can’t wait to see where BattleTech goes next.

Thanks for stopping by.


And Now, a Few Words on an All-American Creep
Frank Trollman

Frank Trollman (apparently his real name) was the man 'chosen' to reveal the various embarrassing goings-on over at Catalyst Games. Initially I thought that a good thing, as you can tell from the previous blog posts here.


He recently posted what was supposed to be a private letter from Randall Bills to the various freelancers out there who are still owed money. Now, Randall is a churchgoing man and he mentioned that he was relying on the Lord to help him make the right decisions and carry on through what is obviously a very trying time.

Frank ended his revelation with a broadside directed at Mr. Bills' religious faith, ripping the poor man up one side and down the other for something which had nothing whatsoever to do with Catalyst Games or the current situation, but everything to do with how he was hanging on and what he was using for a moral compass in the meantime.

Apparently God is not counseling Randall to deal with the friend of a lifetime as harshly as Frank Trollman would like. And as Frank himself has no personal need to resort to a mythical creator - we should all be so adult and integrated, according to the tone he takes - Randall Bills must be insane.

Here's my first beef: Trollman acts and talks and writes as if all of this was his personal business. As if it made a nickel's worth of difference to him. As if Frank had anything to do with how that whole thing was going to turn out. And he doesn't. On all three counts, Frank Trollman is the messenger who overstayed his welcome.

It Gets Worse

It seems to me that Frank Trollman has an atheistic bent, and that's fine. Everybody gets to choose. If he wants to vent about it, they got Internet Infidels and other places like that. But the sad thing was that he had some valid points and up until that time I was actually rooting for him.
Then he injected his own anti-theistic rant and I began to understand - just a tiny bit - how Randall must feel about the Colemans. Frank is not my long-time friend, nor do I have any kind of personal relationship with him, but I felt shocked and - yes - betrayed when he suddenly began spouting his anti-theism. I would have felt the same if Randall had suddenly injected comments about the healing power of Christ into his forum comments on TRO:3075 over at

Vanishing Threads

The thread was deleted shortly after I asked him what the hell he thought he was doing. Guess the mods don't want to get a flame war going over theism vs atheism, and apparently some folks can't stop once they've started.

Fine by me, but what got me steamed, what really chapped my fat white ass, was that the other forum mushrooms sat around for a page and a half cheering for that sorry son of a bitch before I came along. Frank Trollman beat the tar out of poor Randall Bills in a Shadowrun forum - a guy who didn't even have anything to do with Shadowrun. Not one of those lazy 'impartial' moderators did a goddamn thing.

When I stopped by, the shit hit the fan so hard it ripped right off the wall. The whole thread was deleted - for the second time, it appears.

I got warned about my choice of topics afterward, while apparently Frank got a pass on his religious cheap shots. I was told not to make comments like 'atheism requires as much faith as theism does'. According to the one who scolded me, it was inappropriate for the topic and anyway, it wasn't true. No one bothered to warn off Frank, however. He got shown the door for the official violation of Terms of Service - revealing that private communication. But not until a lot of us had had a good look. Ooops! I don't think CGL has any friends among the moderators and admins of DumpShock.

In fact, I get the impression the mods admire the man for his brass balls and sympathize with his militant atheism - which would explain why the post lasted as long as it did and why it disappeared after I got involved.

Seems to me that DumpShock place harbors a lot more nastiness than one might suppose just cruising by. I notice Frank's post of that letter violated the hell out of the ToS for Dumpshock, but you bet your gamer's ass it wasn't addressed until everyone and their brother (including me) got a chance to save that page. Only after I called him on the language and slander did the mods shut the thread down.

{Late Edit: Looks like they changed their minds even on that, and re-instated the thread. What is DumpShock, the Weekly World News of the Shadowrun set?}

{Later Edit: It appears the DumpShock mods are on the ball and eager to stem the flow of nastiness - as long as it appears to be coming from someone like me and not one of their multi-thousand post regulars. Seems like there are a LOT of inflated egos over there who take themselves way too seriously. Tell them that it's none of their business and brother, look out. I just deleted my links and bookmarks to the place. There really isn't anything I can add to what I already posted, and they don't seem to be very receptive to the message.}

Is there a connection? Who the hell cares? I am going on record as saying I think that Frank Trollman is a creep. I sent him an email mentioning that I admired certain of his qualities a few days back.

I wish like hell I could recall it.

If you are reading this, Frank, hang your head in shame. You're a
creep and what's worse, you're proud of it.

I'm here to say it's a mighty poor life you're living, if that's the sort of thing you're proud of.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Stand Down from Red Alert? Ummm... sure.


Well, it looks like Lee will take on additional work for another piece, the CM-33 Ammunition Carrier. It needs surroundings to look its best.

I apologize for the somewhat frantic tones of the previous post. No, this is not solely in response to all the folks out there who were waiting for word from The Powers That Be (TPTB) and, when they got it, immediately shouted “SEE?! WE TOLD YOU IT WAS ALL LIES/EXAGGERATION/SLANDER!” Apparently the fellow who reveals the dirty goings-on by way of a few publicized departures can have nothing but the most base of motives. Motives which appear to be manufactured on the spot if evidence for them is somewhat lacking.

This of course conveniently ignores the question which immediately comes up – namely, if some poor disgruntled ex-employee can publish misinformation simply because he’s no longer gruntled, what prevents TPTB – who are, after all, wicked men like the rest of us – from publishing opposing misinformation of their own with similar motivation?

And it does not help that the company site and its forums are all saying the same thing. Essentially, 'Show's over, folks. Nothing to see here. These aren't the battledroids you're looking for. Move along, move along.'

And the sheep obediently move on, totally failing to understand what has just happened. Or, far worse, they know perfectly well and nod with approval as they move along. "I won't let them catch me like that when I get to the top', they think to themselves, for they are secretly wolves inside that sheep's coat.

Homo Homini Lupus *

It appears some folks have faith in a company and its reps just because it is a company and its reps.

Gosh, they have more money than me. They must be right.

Gosh, they have their name on countless books and are legend among the BattleTech pantheon. They must be right.

Gosh, if I say anything suspect they will never publish my fanfic – or look at my art – or let me play alongside their Inner Ring – or consider me one of the Loyal Fans. They must be right.

This requires a curious sort of faith in people and institutions that I simply don’t share. Here's an example why:

Made Men...

Back in the days when I was a sailor, I watched a Chief cut to the head of the beer line on the flight deck over and over and over, getting extra beer for his buddies and drinking himself three sheets to the wind. Never mind that the rest of us had not had a beer in three months – or that we were restricted to a large and a small can on Beer Day and our names recorded so we could not pass through the long line twice. Nor were we allowed to give our beers away.

But this Chief not only cheated, he did so with the blessing of his fellow Chiefs, who sat there marking names off the lists while winking at his perfidy. The bastich even came down to the divisional office and bragged about it, inviting us up to watch him do it so we would understand what being a Made Man was like.

This was not the 1940s I speak of, people. This was 2003. It is still out there.

And frankly, I see Mistah Coleman as just another Made Man. As anyone who ever saw the movie ‘Goodfellas’ can tell you, regular folks don’t screw with a Made Man. So none of us has. However, his fellow Made Men appear to be willing enablers. The ones who weren’t, bailed the hell out at the first opportunity. And now a lot of players and readers and other folk who depended on the character of the writers and artists and management… well, we feel betrayed.

The Debate on the Various Forums

I was once accused by an atheist of employing ‘blind faith’ (what in Heaven’s name was he using?) Neither of us had any incontrovertible proof – which he saw as justifying his stance, and which I saw as a necessary condition for free will. He considered his feelings to be just as valid as any logic I could bring to bear – a curious reversal of our presumed roles - and it was eventually a case of live and let live.

The arguments going back and forth in the gaming community are something like this – either Catalyst Game Labs is absolutely a company and immediately suspect, or the naysayers are just absolutely unhappy fans with too many rejection slips. Both sides act as their viewpoint were an unanswerable finality whose very existence ruled out the possibility of an opposing opinion. It seems like there is no middle ground, but that is an illusion. Both parties could have valid points. I think if you can give the company some credibility, you should extend the same to the fellow who comes along with bad news. And vice versa.

The trouble is that, as with God, we have few clues and a lot of impassioned shouting going on around them.

-=[The Truth about Us and Catalyst Game Labs]=-

The truth is sobering. We players, readers and so on will not have any say in this series of events. We are - and always will be - spectators. It seems to me that the real lesson to be taken away from all this is: don't place too much faith in an institution or its components. People fail. So do companies. If we feel betrayed, it is because we expected a certain degree of moral perfection from CGL and its members that they simply cannot have. They make the game and do it well. This does not necessarily mean that as individuals they are more honest or chaste or temperate than the rest of humanity.

I mean no slur on the reputations of the various people who work for CGL, but there are plenty of examples outside the gaming community - men making millions of dollars, captains of industry, who go home and abuse their wives and children. There are talented movie stars, celebrities who can sing the telephone book and make it sound good, who cheat on their spouses and hop from bed to bed while fudging their tax returns. When ego is given its head, it corrupts everything, and that eventually includes reason and the instinct for self-preservation. Why would CGL be exempt from this? They are men and women, too.

Meanwhile, none of us has lost a dime. Or the chance to play BattleTech.

In Conclusion....

I will still buy BT product and play the game, no matter who produces it. The effects of having another company concoct the stories and maybe produce new rules is just too far above the level on which I play. It doesn’t affect me. Give me a three year period of time – 3060 to 3063 – and I can produce a Technical Readout, write reams of stories and play with giant stompy robots with delight for the rest of my life. That is the glory of the game we have chosen.

I want to remember that, not the Inner Ring and the lawyer-ese and the passionate snark from outraged fans with too many posts to their credit.

Operation Rat!

We played in Redmond today. My son was along for the ride. He had a good time, finding a lot of tactics in the game reminiscent of the methods he uses in his video game Call of Duty. I was tempted to cheat at least a half dozen times, but took only one and it was a re-roll of a questionable ‘cocked die’. So maybe I didn’t really cheat.

We were the Capellans, attacking a large domed building with fortified walls. The Davions were to guard it and keep us out. They failed, despite the building having only a single two-hex-wide entrance and plenty of cover inside. My son would have placed all the Davion units inside, spread out and waiting behind cover. I would have set four ‘Mechs at the door and made the enemy destroy them all to gain entry while shooting the piss out of them with my remaining units as they attacked.

As my son pointed out, there were answers to both of these strategies, but we’ll never know if they would have worked, because we were the attackers and our foe did nothing remotely the way we’d have done it.

The Davions lined up single file inside and shot at anything that approached the door. We sent a single Stalker up the middle outside to give them something to shoot at, discouraging them from venturing outside while we worked our way up either side to the entrance. It worked. We lost the Stalker. However, in a single turn we squirted into the building past the two badly mauled defenders they belatedly turned out to block us.

My Capellan Charger with a 2/3 pilot and an AC20 stepped into the doorway and in three turns, stripped the armor completely off the center torso of a Davion Thunderbolt and a Warhammer, as well as ripping the left torso and arm off a Dervish. I got some good SRM shots in as well, but the Warhammer pegged me with inferno rounds and I was rolling to avoid ammo explosion very quickly. Fourth Succession War ‘Mechs have single heatsinks. Brothers and sisters, it does make a difference.

My Charger went down. Meanwhile, I accomplished my private goal of getting a machine into the enemy’s backfield with a fast Javelin. Two SRM-6 launchers may not seem like much, but by the time I engaged, the enemy was full of holes. My son’s Catapult was the last to enter the building and put paid to the Warhammer and Thunderbolt with well-placed LRM-15s. He has become a crack support ‘Mech player and it showed in this game. His Ostsol was in the thick of it, but the enemy decided my Charger and Dan’s Cataphract were more pressing targets. Meanwhile, John cleaned up on them.

We got inside, we killed four of their eight machines with two more on the ropes – it was a moderate victory as we’d lost machines of our own, but a win is a win. The best part for me was that we managed to pack eleven turns into a mere four hours.

It’s good to be playing again.


* Latin for 'Man is a wolf to Man'.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I hope like Hell this isn't true...

[I will not turn this art into a metaphor for current events at CGL.]
[But brother, is it ever tempting.]

...but if it is, Bill Burt and I saw it coming a long time ago. Back in 2007, in fact.

Writing freehand today. I am not going to post the entire piece from DumpShock. Just go here:

and read it for yourself.

Stansel-Garner is the former Operations Manager at InMediaRes, IIRC.

The bookkeeper/office manager is bailing due to ethics issues - on the part of others, I believe.

The head layout man for ShadowRun and BT is gone, baby, gone.

For additional reading pleasure, read the company's own statement:

Personally? I think it is interesting how they spin the events. Imagine if I'd had someone phrase my habit of shoplifting in my youth as a 'shortcoming of the shop owner's security procedure' and described my making off with stolen food and electronic parts as 'business assets regretably co-mingled with the personal belongings of one of the customers'. Gosh, I don't think I would have had to pay that fine to the Lake Forest Park judge. I might even have continued my thieving ways.

"The owner in question now owes the company a significant balance and is working to help rectify the situation." Let's see how that hound scrambles to redress nearly a million dollars in 'missing' funds.

Does anyone see the connection between the ego, arrogance and presumption of little folks who are corrupted by power - even the minor power over a gaming company - and that of people like Bernie Madoff? CS Lewis was right.

Also note the departures of key personnel - not mere drones as the phrase 'employees' would have you believe - and the implied haste with which they departed (to make sure they got clear of the implosion zone and subsequent fallout). So CGL's press release would have you thinking that it was a few faceless flunkies who left because they couldn't live with the revelation?

No, folks. No. When the main layout guru, the company bookkeeper and the capital behind it all head for the hills, something is seriously kaput.

[Either that or they are secretly forming the core of another company which will secure the license rights... isn't speculation fun?]

However, let me assure you that no matter what CGL does or does not do in the coming months , it will not affect my own work. I will continue to follow my publishing schedule, although the bill from David makes me cringe. Are you reading this, David?

I'm about to turn 50 and I'm cringing.



So this will bring the art total up to a nice round $2300-ish. It makes me feel bad because a piddling bill like this is something my peers would shrug and pay - they put more in their fishing boat last weekend. I am not as successful at 50 as perhaps I should be.

Be a while before I can finish paying that off. Maybe I can pay it down before the company and product vanish.


I guess I better hurry. At the rate they are collapsing, there will be an event horizon where their offices once were - before June. We'll be lucky if they don't suck WOTC in after them.

David's art IS good work, though, so hey.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Beginning of the End...


We’ve received two excellent pieces of news!

First, Lee Madison sent me the finished Sarpedon art. That was one of two computer-generated pieces created by Ian Stead over in England – perfect in every way but the backgrounds, which were blank. Click on the image at the top of this blog entry for a closeup of their work. I am sure you will agree that it really stands out!

Second, David Dryburgh finished his color vignettes, all eight of them, and they are going to be placed on the back pages of the TRO’s individual sections, meaning there will be very few blank pages left! Together with the four original color interior plates and the front and back cover, this means we will have fourteen color pages in the printed version.

Run, little Commando - RUN!

Of course, this will raise the price of the print version a bit – how much, I will find out tomorrow when I visit the printers for an updated estimate.

Meanwhile, Josh is nearly finished with the layout backgrounds and I expect to hear from him very soon. We have one remaining piece of art, the fleshed-out Merkava MkVII, and we should be ready to assemble the PDF version. Lee has promised to work hard on it, and I promised to send him his $30 – yesterday. Well, it won’t leave the mailbox until Monday, but it will eventually get to him.

I have asked Lee to do one more piece, one of David Dryburgh’s black and white illustrations, which is lacking a background and looks kinda bland. No word back from him, but if he takes it, it will delay things only a bit more, and that will be time I can put into working hard and saving for the print run – and finishing up my payments to our artists. I am nearly caught up but for $$$ I own David for the original commissions and an unspecified amount for the vignettes.

I am killing time looking over the text and doing some spot writing of a similar nature for Lee to accompany his revised take on some veteran ‘Mechs – one of them is the Imp. Gonna be tough explaining why Wolf’s Dragoons decided to revise the chassis, but that is the writing biz.

To be honest, I came close to commissioning a re-work of the art for the Blitzkrieg and would have included it in this TRO but I ran out of time. If there was ever a ‘Mech which needed a new look, the Blitzy would be that machine. We even came up with a design that was a significant improvement on the original.

Eww. Just.... eww.

The BTZ-3F is a fifty-ton ‘Mech which is horribly under-armored and has a single weapon – the Ultra AC-20. Moving at 7/11/0, it has a XL engine and two tiny T-Rex arms. At least I think it does, because the design parameters tell me so. The picture above says there are NO arms, like a thalidomide-warped child. Is that gun turret-mounted? In a game where most 'Mechs have been forbidden to have turrets for more than a decade?

But ugly is not enough to condemn a 'Mech. There is a distinct drawback to this little killer. I recall the day we had to face one of these – on the third turn, the gun jammed and the player had to walk it off the table as an effective ‘kill’ for our side, as it could not do anything but charge after that.

The new version, the BTZ-4F, moves at 6/9/0. A bit slower but it carries the same Ultra AC-20 with the same amount of ammo – 20 rounds. However, because the engine is smaller, it has full armor protection (32% more!) and also mounts three medium lasers. Not a stupendous improvement, but remarkable nonetheless and even if it loses the clout of that big cannon, it can still go about wreaking havoc.

But here we are. I promised not to expand the TRO any more, and while I believe I could talk Eric Ou into doing another piece, it would set things back a bit more. And really, we have enough machines as it is.

Also, I have changed up the music list, taking out some old chestnuts and inserting some new hotness. Well, new to me, anyway:)


Well, the local airsoft ground that was open to the general public has been closed for now. Seems that during play, one of the ‘visitors’ decided to take his goggles off to wipe them clean. While he was doing this, he saw an opponent approach and decided to take a shot at the guy. He did not put his goggles back on first.

Predictably, the ‘target’ shot back and nailed this fool in the eye with a pellet. At 350+ feet per second, it’s no laughing matter. The victim claimed full responsibility for the incident and his eye is on the mend, but the word got out and there is nothing that kills public approval of a sport quicker than some lurid headline in a desperate local paper about "the dangerous sport’. So the club in charge decided to close it to walk-in players until further notice.

It is probably for the best. The word in the local shop is that the club was not very good at enforcing safe practices on the field, and a lot of walk-in players were ignoring range and other safety rules which were spelled out in their signed waiver.

There is a local church group hosting airsoft events – I will check it out Monday. Meanwhile, my friend Bill has been inducted into a local airsoft playing team and he is quite proud of it. My son and his friends have not played lately, but that is likely due to inclement weather. Hopefully they will become more active as the temperature warms up.

A thing of beauty - the anti-Blitzkrieg

My M-14 is completely repaired now. I am told by reliable sources that even modified with an M-120 spring, it will not allow me to become a Designated Marksman (I need a tighter barrel for that) and it is a long way from making me a potential sniper. To make an AEG (automatic electric gun) into a sniper rifle requires far more money than I am willing to spend – and when the gun cycles, even in single shot mode, it apparently makes too much noise, giving me away and spoiling the tactics which make snipers so effective.

That’s all, folks.

Thanks for stopping by.


Saturday, March 06, 2010

Last Playtest and a Missed Opportunity....

Hey there!

After checking with my three hard-working amigos, I have the following to report:

Lee Madison has received his models – just the $30 money order and we are even. He is still working on the background art for the Sarpedon and the Merkava MkVII, but also has art to create for an upcoming convention - and his regular job starts up again soon!

David Dryburgh is doing his eight small pieces in color, as he did with the ‘No Mercy’ series. I have seen the roughs and they look good. An example of the ‘No Mercy’ series is at the top of this column. Click on the image and enjoy the detail. He has recently suffered from vertigo but is now on the mend. I used to suffer from chronic seasickness so I can feel his misery. In my case, the cure was to retire from the Navy.

Our layout man Josh is nearly finished with the background for the PDFs. It is a lot of work, and is more than just making pretty pages. He has to create the framework for the TRO so we can drop the information and art into it with a minimum of fuss. I have deliberately provided artwork which is much higher resolution than he will ever need so that Josh is free to reduce them to any size he wants in order to fit them on the page. He will probably also catch some textual errors – no, I am not convinced I have eliminated them all. Like a software publisher, I am simply at the point where the product will work and can be sent out with the confidence that at least 80% of the readers will find favor with 80% of the TRO

Of course, the only ones I will hear from will be individuals with an axe to grind, or a complaint about continuity, or even a genuine correction to submit. I know for a fact someone will say something about the interior plates – that they are not ‘serious enough’ for a ‘genuine TRO’. They will say I got everything right but those plates, because they are lighthearted and you would not find them in a company product.

And maybe you wouldn’t. But this is not a company product. And it is, among other things, meant to entertain.

The Final Showdown…

I got one additional email from Jeff over at BattleTech Universe. He set three Jenner X machines against a single Timberwolf Prime (that’s a MadCat to us old-schoolers). I have no idea what it is with Jeff and Clan ‘Mechs, but he did a good job. He sent them out using the recommended tactics and reported the following: he lost a Jenner X to a headshot and the two remaining machines took a real beating. However, the Timberwolf Prime lost all of its effective weapons and most of its armor. It was capable of walking off the battlefield, but not much else.

I think when you consider the Timberwolf Prime’s warload, this is a very good showing for the Jenner X. I do not know the pilot’s skill levels, I do not know what tactics the Clan pilot used, but I do know that the Timberwolf Prime’s warload is fearsome and has a very long reach. The Clan medium lasers alone have the same range as a Jenner MRM launcher – without the +1 penalty. And they do more damage on average. Yet – the Jenners could be said to have been successful.

Someone may point out that there were three 35-ton Jenners up against a single 75-ton Timberwolf Prime. But that’s really the best way to defeat a Clan machine – sheer weight of numbers - and for the Inner Sphere, it is often the only strategy available. Inner Sphere forces simply can’t match the hitting power and range of most Clan ‘Mechs, not even in 3075, so they have to use greater numbers and better tactics to close the gap.

As you can see, it works most of the time. That Timberwolf Prime may have a veteran pilot, but he still has to deal with three targets, not one. And he still has to overcome the high ‘to hit’ modifiers the Jenners gain from moving so fast. Not in keeping with zellbrigen, but how many Clanners still subscribe to that curious tradition?

A Missed Opportunity…

You may have noticed I complain about lots of things, or I used to, and have tapered off lately. You can see I am getting bitter about some things, and I felt it best to sit on the occasional rant, as this blog is primarily about the progress of the TRO. But one of my recent diatribes was directed at myself, notably for the lost opportunity to spend more time with my son playing BattleTech.

There was a game today in Redmond. My son allowed as he wanted to go with me on this one. My wife agreed that this was my day to go gaming.

And I passed on it.

I actually volunteered to work today. It meant I could not go to Redmond for the monthly game, but to be honest, even though my son wanted to go with me, I just could not work up the interest. Normally, I put on my BattleTech shirt (yes, I have one) and get the goodies stocked in the car, fuel up and away we go. Just, not today.

I still like the game, but it's an all-day affair. Two hours to get there after meeting up with our carpool. Another two hours to get home. Used to be, I didn't mind. It was my Saturday off. But today I looked at it, and the money I had to spend on a round trip of two hundred miles, and factored in an extra jaunt to Everett and back down to South Seattle. It appeared that I probably would not get back home until eight in the evening. Then I thought of the last game, where events abruptly ended with one player hammering a miniature under his fist. Ouch!

The games are getting more and more lopsided as time passes. I find myself watching the clock and calculating the number of turns per hour. I spend less time actually interacting with my fellow players. I love to BS, but the truth is, I am vexed when my fellow players lollygag about, taking multiple smoke breaks, forgetting to calculate their numbers until the last moment. But the real reason is my shame.

I can’t help but feel that my fellow player’s loss of temper could have been avoided if I’d just had the good judgement to keep my big mouth shut. It wasn’t enough to assist the GM in a win – I had to rub in all the misteps our brave opponents made, before – during – and after they made them. Not very sporting at all, and probably irritating as hell. I know why I did it – ego – and my own frustration with my fellow players’ inability to learn from their mistakes. But there is another reason.

I have been tempted many times recently to fudge dice rolls.

Or dismiss poor results as ‘nervous rolling’ when no one appears to be paying attention, or when a potential fumble or fall appears at a critical time. It bothers me a bit that I am tempted, but much more that I have given in a time or two to the temptation. I notice others doing the same thing, or similar things – like not declaring targets, or not coming up with firing solutions until the last moment so they can maintain firing options right up to the last second.

Yes, I could point this out in a blog post. Who doesn’t bitch once in a while about their opponent’s less-than-honorable gaming habits? But I am just as guilty. And I don’t like anything that is supposed to be a hobby being so important to me that I am willing to cheat my friends in order to come out on top.

Do you want to know the most embarrassing part?

It’s this: I am sure that somewhere along the way, someone has noticed me doing this. And not called me on it. And I am ashamed that they should know it and still not say anything at all. They are holding back from respect, or not wanting to confront me with all of our friends around us, or just because… I don’t know. I just know that it’s possible that everyone in my gaming group knows about it, can see it happening, and I now have a reputation. A bad one. When I congratulate myself on superior play, it rings hollow because I know that somewhere along the line, one or more of my successes may be due to my cheating.

I turn fifty later this month. There’s this voice in the back of my head and it whispers “how old do you have to get before you decide to play honorably all the time and not just when it suits your position in the game and your ego?” So I suppose you might say I have been taking a break from the game. At least until I can get my head straight on this. I have promised my son and my God that I will not succumb to this temptation ever again, but it takes cojones and self-discipline to make it stick. Persistence is so hard and I need to keep my ‘Mech upright just one more turn!

On the other hand, what kind of man cheats against his friends in a friendly game? That is the part I am trying to fix. I am not quitting BattleTech – oh no! – but I need to be the best player I can be, not necessarily the most successful. And that requires honesty even when no one is looking.


We are a bit behind schedule – I am hoping to get into a local airsoft game on Sunday. The weather is pretty nice but none of my son’s friends are playing, so we have to make do. I purchased some black pellets for my gun, hoping to get the drop on a foe without revealing my position.

They work, but you cannot see them in flight and one of the more common tactics in airsoft is to walk your autofire into a target. I have mixed white pellets into the black for a ‘tracer’ effect and so far it seems to work, but I will have to rely on my iron sights and my gun’s adjustments more often to make sure I can hit even when I cannot see the pellet.

I suppose I can practice my honorable ways in airsoft as well. It is entirely up to the target whether or not he reports being hit. The temptation to win is strong there, too.

Thanks for stopping by.