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.



Eric said...

Try Lulu or Cafe Press for quotes as well. Take the quote to a Copy Max and see if they'll try to beat it.

Steven Satak said...

Lulu cannot make the landscape version I have planned. That is the format for all previous TROs; I see no reason to change it.

I will have to find a local CopyMax, but it is worth a shot. Hope they can do Perfect binding.

Doug said...

Check out these folks here in metro Detroit:


Paint it Pink said...

I think the low power, quirky industrial mech battle is going to just as enjoyable as the uber Clan mech versus WoB versus Inner Sphere X-model mech that the Jihad offers us now. After all, in 3025 nothing much was really uber fantastic and we all enjoyed the heroic fights in well mangle machines that we played then. Otherwise we wouldn't be here now.

Steven Satak said...

@ Pink:

I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, a lot of folks are going to reminisce fondly about the heat sink capacity of 'real BattleMechs' in 3025 after piloting a hastily-converted ForestryMech with one or two (!) double heatsinks.

Doug said...

I think Steve is just starting to show his age...

Steve, how often do you yell at kids to get off your lawn?

Even better is that Steve starts all of his stories with one of the following:

"When I was in the Navy..."

'Back in my day...'

'This one time, at band camp...'

Steven Satak said...

By the way, I usually avoid putting up fanfic. Did anyone find that bit entertaining or useful as an illustration of my point?

I originally thought it might be a good idea to put a few fanfic pieces in there, ones which were well-written. But the TRO was to hew closer to the older style of books and not so much resemble the current crop of product coming out of CGL. I like stories; just, not in a TRO and not my own (really, I like my own stuff, it's just a little too self-serving).

I wrote one story for another fellow's TRO about two years back. It finally appeared but the formatting was... off and he had used a version which was not completely edited. But it was a good story nonetheless and to frank, I still get a kick out of reading it.

You know the Grandfather in my example here? That short story featured *his* grandfather in a 3025-era Valkyrie.

Doug said...

You know, after reading that whole entry now, I think you are on your way to being The BattleTech Philosopher.

Doug said...

So, time to stop working on your Ph.D. in art history; and switch to a Ph.D. in philosophy. You have not started your dissertation yet, so most of the credits should transfer without issue. If the academic department chair gives you any grief, just read them that post... :)

Steven Satak said...

I am curious - what part prompted the 'philosopher' part of your comment?

Shepard Gunn said...

I liked the fanfic, myself. I thought it made it's point and illustrated what you were trying to get across very well.

There is one thing I don't understand about the whole Devlin Stone era... What happened to Solaris? I mean, I would think at the very least Solaris mechs would still be popular. It's NASCAR and Pro-Wrestling all rolled into one. That's not something I see dying during peace time.

I have to admit, I've not kept up with the whole Jihad storyline, and so if it's described there, let me know. Nonetheless, I still can't understand how there's no BattleMechs duking it out in the arenas. I would think that would keep the 'Mechs alive and well even during the whole "Devlin Era".

Steven Satak said...

I don't pretend to know very much about the incipient Era of Peace, but you are correct, it would make sense to keep Solaris going. It is profitable after all, and Lyrans are nothing if not about the C-bill.

That said, the 'Mech is not going away in the sense that it is suddenly being junked. It's just that the demand for them is going to drop precipitously - no Succession War, no Clan Invasion, no crazy toaster worship - and the companies making them will gradually diversify as everyone stocks up.

Frankly, I see a lot of used 'Mechs on the market in 3088, and fewer and fewer after that. Yeah, they can last for hundreds of years, if you have the spare parts in constant production. Think of the BattleMech in 3115 like you would a Hudson Step-Down from 1953. You might get one in pristine condition in 2010, but the minute a part breaks, you are hosed. Plenty of cars around, and Schuck's is right down the street, but you ain't finding that tie rod for your antique.

Meanwhile, the Solaris market is profitable largely because 'Mechs and their support networks are quite prevalent. When the parts dry up and the spare chasses become harder to come by, you may see fewer combats between the 'Mechs and more military-maneuver style combat between tanks.

The 'Mechs might even be modified Industrial units, which are still quite common, can be upgunned somewhat and come in sizes all the way up to around fifty tons (that last is a guess on my part; the biggest ForestryMech I have used in my stories so far is a 45-tonner, not much on the BattleMech scale but quite suited to harvesting redwoods).

Anonymous said...

Steve, I stumbled on to your blog here after digging up some info on Battletech after years of languishing in Battletech/Mechwarrior No Man's Land. I cut my gaming teeth playing MW2 (years into the process for you, I know) and branched out to the books and eventually the tabletop game.

Let me just say that your undertaking is truly breathtaking.

I *WILL* be ordering a copy of your TRO.


Steven Satak said...


Sorry, but if you order a copy, it won't be from me. I dropped that idea once it became apparent to Bill and I that we'd probably be sued by CGL for doing so. Hell, we might get a cease and desist letter from them over issue of the PDF. You can get that for free, however, when it comes out. Along with the Record Sheet Annex, of course.