Monday, November 29, 2010

More New Artwork... and a Reponse to Paint It Pink!

Greetings. It has been about three weeks since our last update. That is about right, given the rate I am paying and the response time from some of the artists / editors. Here is what’s happening:

- Paul Skowronek – spotty communications but we have reached an agreement. Now if he could only get that PayPal account up and running. I want to give you money, Paul, but I have nowhere to send it.

- Lee Madison finally responded and came up with this, the latest iteration of the White Knight.
- Our layout man Bill has had several things come up, mostly family-related. He has been busy with the holidays so no work has been done outside of some of the basic stuff I showed you in the previous blog post. I still have the page count as accurate and we are still massaging the images as well as the overall look and feel of the pages themselves.

One of the important things is the font size and font alignment. As some of you may have noticed, there was no real attempt to proofread the prototype we showed you. Aligning the text is very important and so far, Bill has been doing it by hand. He’s in a hurry and that ain’t good. I am going to take advantage of his down time and see if I cannot get InDesign to let us format the text in the document so all we have to do is drop the text in and it does the justifying automatically.

- Kenneth Schmidt is an intrepid user of Solaris Skunk Works and has done the data entry for the ‘Mechs, so we will provide those along with the HMP files for each machine. Unfortunately, SSW does not provide for vehicles of any sort, but you’ll still have their HMP versions available along with the Record Sheet PDF.

- The HMP files themselves have all been entered. Along the way I found a few issues and tweaked one or two designs in order to comply with their original intent. The writeups were modified accordingly.

- The HMV and HMAero files are still pending. They are time-intensive, as I do not have all the data in this computer. I have to call up the PDF and then make sure what I do have in HMV matches perfectly. Otherwise, I have to work split-screen, creating the HMV file from the PDF. And it’s fricken’ cold out there… in fact, my fingers don’t last long at 28 degrees F.

- Stephen Huda has completed the Werewolf VTOL for the Outworlds Alliance and is hard at work on the Draconis Combine’s Katana.

- The Draconis Combine’s Nemera had some late-breaking issues, mostly to do with perspective. I have sent it back to Chris Seymour for correction.

- The Taurian Concordat’s Auroch armored personnel carrier is finished. Good job, Karl!

- The Panzerfaust is complete. Payment to be rendered by Friday, pending a working PayPal address.

- Stephen Huda has also agreed to take on the Federated Commonwealth’s Werefox family, six vehicles which share a common chassis but which are not Omni vehicles.

- Ian is still working on the Tomahawk. Due to his workload on other projects, I have decided to pass the commission for this piece on to Eric Ou, who has time to do this and one other piece. He has already generated a couple of sketches which look very good and they will form the basis of the two vehicles

A Response to Paint It Pink’s Blog Post “BattleTech 2.1: Uncool Rules”

Some of you who have read PaintItPink’s blog (and who among the discerning has not?) noticed I took exception to a few of the items she listed under ‘uncool rules’. My initial remark:

Steven Satak said...
Oh, I am SO going to comment on this at length. But not here in the comments section, because I would run out of room.

The people at CGL are making a wargame that dips into fantasy. Their attempts to keep the wargame aspect under control are as impressive as their effort to include the fantastic. The two are at constant war with each other and with the current state of the art in the real world.

That they even attempt it, repeatedly, and market the result as successfully as they do, is simply astounding.

Her response was thus:

Steven S.: Wow, a post that has turned you into a Ra-Ra CGL fan boy! ;-) Looking forward to your piece in due course.

All right, the woman has called me out and I have to respond. I simply have to.

First, let me clear the air. I am a BT fanboy, not a CGL fanboy. They had me for a while and then they lost me – chalk it up to unpaid writers and three quarters of a million smackers gone missing at the ATM. I like the game and the fictional universe a lot, but the people who head the company that makes it? No way. I’ve had my rants on this topic and will let that be.

Nevertheless, I stand by my ra-ra because it is, frankly, justified. They have a hard row to hoe and they have done it against all odds (even the ones they have brought upon themselves). Not always gracefully, not to everyone’s satisfaction, but they keep at it. Three years on my part of writing, organizing art and wrassling with the problems involved in making a BT publication which is the equal of the company’s own work has taught me one thing – it ain’t easy. I don’t care for Herb personally, and you know what I think of some of the others. But by Hades, they do the best they can.

That said, let’s move on.

Pink said:

“Being an Old School Player of Battletech, what sold me on the game was the fact that it would allow me to simulate the action sequences I saw in Japanese SF anime giant mecha show, which were/are cool. So, using the concept of the "Rule of Cool", here are the rules in Battletech that I think are not cool. “

Ammo Explosion Rules
1. Ammo explosion rules, and the various CASE rules, are so clunky as to be the first thing everyone I know house rules, so not cool. In fact the ammo explosion rules are a classic example of a broken rule in Battletech, which is amply illustrated in the explosion of one ton of machine gun ammo equals 200 points of internal damage. My inclination is that an ammo hit equals the damage of the ammo. For example machine gun ammo would be two points, LRM 20 would be 20 points. Internal damage is always bad, but this plays far more reasonably (fun & cool), and would remove a lot of arguments for not carrying auto-cannons etc.

I agree with this as far as ammo explosion is concerned. I never did like the idea that a single bin of machine gun rounds could gut an otherwise untouched ‘Mech. It made carrying machine guns a serious hazard and one that tends to force people away from machines that are specifically designed for anti-personnel missions. Unfortunately, this is one mission which practically begs for ‘Mechs, as they are for all practical purposes giant men, with all the advantages of the human form as regards terrain. Despite that, the ammo explosion rules as they stand make a man-hunting ‘Mech a positive liability and most folks I know would rather avoid using them for that reason alone. You never see a tank blowing up from such a hit – why a ‘Mech?

I have never seen a house rule such as the one you list; it is a good house rule and I admit my experience is limited. Perhaps I will suggest it next time I game.

Even Bigger 'Mechs
2. Not allowing mechs larger than 100 tons is so not cool. Giant stompy robots are cool. Bigger giant stompy robots have even more cool. Cool is good, rules that get in the way of cool are not good. Of course the reason these rules have never been codified is that there are some flaws in the engine table when they arbitarily shifted the mid-range engines power to weight ratios. As for the record sheets, again these can be adjusted as there is nothing intrinsically stopping one from doing so.

There are rule sets out there cobbled together to allow larger ‘Mechs and other machines. But reality (such as it exists in BT) in the form of the in-universe flavor the writers want prevents this from becoming canon. Also, there is the acknowledgement by many players (including myself) that a machine much over 100 tons becomes little more than a slow-moving pillbox. We have no shortage of ponderous gun platforms at 100 tons – why would a 200-ton machine be anything other than more of the same?

Over 100 tons, you lose some of the advantages of the human form and the differences between a 200-ton ‘Mech and a 200-ton tank become moot. Further, where do you stop? The rules would have to be modified to account for those larger machines and they are complex enough as it is. The revision of rules has to stop sometime or you would never get the work to market. And soon enough, you’d have games where no one fields anything lower than a 150-ton ‘Mech.

Can you imagine how slow the game would be if you had to plow through four or five hundred points of armor to take down a ‘Mech? Even then, you would still not please everyone – eventually there would be players calling for rules that permitted 400-ton ‘Mechs, or even 1000-ton ‘Mechs. Finally, how would you transport such a behemoth?

No. I don’t believe the additional quality you would bring to the game would be worth the man-years required to shoe-horn it into the existing setting. And I don’t believe it would make for a better game on the tabletop, either.

I once called the fuzzy line between what ‘Mechs do and what infantry do the ‘30-meter Limit’. Once you begin trying to play BattleTech inside that single hex, the rules break down – and fast. You are effectively in RPG territory. You can’t have it both ways, though the writers and designers have worked hard to make it at least somewhat possible. I strongly believe that there is an upper limit to the game’s resolution as well, one I call the ‘100-ton Limit’. Once you start playing above that limit, you are in BattleForce territory, and again, the BT rules break down pretty fast.

Quad 'Mechs
3. The quad mechs rules in Battletch are so not cool. Quads are cool, quads with a torso and arms are cool, quads with a torso and a body with four arms are cool. Tripods with, or without arms are cool. Six legged mechs with turrets are cool. Battletech is about the rule of cool. Again the rules for having quads that can torso twist, or not (think choice of hand actuators etc for Rifleman etc) is relatively trivial. Record sheets can be adjusted so that quad mech legs are treated like biped arms with two sets of internal spaces. Allowing turrets for quads as their version of the built in torso twist. It's all cool.

I think advanced rules already allow for a turret in a quad ‘Mech. I have used HMP to make them. The loss of internal space in a quad’s legs is somewhat mitigated by the fact that they are permitted to carry armor equivalent to a bipedal ‘Mech that is ten tons heavier. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Neither is their ability to fire in a hull-down position behind Level One terrain, effectively negating all incoming hits to the legs fore and aft. That’s four out of twelve hit locations that are essentially ignored and that is the same as a LOT of extra armor!

What do you want? The quads would not even be there except for the Rule of Cool, and the latest set of rules tries very hard to make an unlikely arrangement as practical as possible. To put them in a position where they enjoy not only the hull-down ability and the extra armor, but all of the advantages of a bipedal ‘Mech as regards field of fire is to negate any real difference at all. Cool is great, but we’ve got a game to run.

One Shot SRM, MRM, LRM launchers...
4. One-Shot Launchers (SRM, MRM, LRM) rules are a complete waste of time, so again not cool. My reading of the rocket launcher rules suggests that the fix is in, but the will to remove useless stuff is lacking. I can see from an RPG perspective that one-shot launchers may offer more in-character role-play opportunities, but for Battletech the boardgame, not so much.

No arguments here. I would expect such devices on vehicles, but not on a ‘Mech. Other than a drastic reduction in weight (and I don’t really see that), the only advantage would be to allow the use of special ammunition. And who wants a launcher that can only plant a single minefield?

Breaking the Game with Tarcomps
5. Rules that break the basic premise of the game, which for me is epitomised by the basic rule of thumb that faster machines are harder to hit. So for me this means targeting computers, pulse lasers and any other clunky rules where the rules make it an advantage to sit and shoot, rather than fire an manoeuvre have to go, as they are just not cool.

You flummoxed me here – earlier, you wanted the option of heavier machines that for most practical purposes are designed to get to the area of operations and... sit and shoot. A 135-ton 2/3 ‘Mech is not the epitome of maneuver.

Yet you appear to have an issue with weapons that give additional advantage to that tactical choice – this, despite the fact that pulse weapons are quite limited in range. Targeting computers take up tonnage, are tied into all weapons and grant only a +1 to hit. Are you going to nix precision rounds for the autocannons as well? After all, they negate up to 2 points of movement modifier on their chosen target. Ma’am, those rounds are the best reason anyone would use the AC/10. Which is it to be?

Armor Variants a Waste of Time
6. The additional armour rules for stealth, hardened etc. are great for the RPG, but are a total waste of time for the boardgame, too much detail for very little added play value. So again just not cool.

I have seen stealth armor used and mis-used. Hardened armor is a very great advance for machines which are small and carry very little protection. Furthermore, to be able to prevent a headcap is considered a good thing by most of the players I know. Regardless, I have seen very little of these options used except in games where the opposing forces have them due to House choice. Chalk that up to complexity, or just that no one can figure out how to get the most from a stealthed design – like rocket launchers, they add flavor and have their role, albeit a minor one, in the overall game. How is that not cool?

Electronic Countermeasures, Sensors, Networks a Waste of Time
7. All the electronic rules covering things like ECM/ECCM, Beagle probes, C3 Boosted, Master & Slave, Remote Sensor Launcher rules are just so not cool. All of this stuff needs to be folded into the basic premise that Battlemechs are the ultimate warmachine of the future, and such detail should only rear its ugly head when playing the RPG.

I have never played in a double-blind game, so for me the Beagle and ECCM are things which rightly should exist but which are not necessarily critical assets when playing at the local game shop. That said… I have equipped several of the machines in our TRO with ECM for the express purpose of ECCM, because when it DOES affect my local game, the impact is phenomenal. In fact, one of our recent games turned on the fact that a Raven ‘Mech had a Beagle probe and discovered hidden units early on that were positioned very close to our front lines. With their cover blown, they became fodder for our big guns and much of the enemy’s plans were trashed on the spot. They were off-balanced for the rest of the game and that was VERY cool.

ProtoMechs Do Not Remind Us Enough of the Somme
8. Protomechs that look like animals. Not cool unless you are five and think Transformer Beast Wars is the best thing since sliced bread. Don't get me wrong, Beast Wars can be cool, but it is just so not Battletech, which is grey, unrelenting warfare over centuries, where the advances of the great powers on the interstellar scale look less than impressive. Remember the scene in the Black Adder Goes Forth episode Private Plane. The one where General Melchet shows Lt. George the one-to-one scale model of the 17 square feet of land that the last offensive captured from the Bosch. That's Battletech!

I haven’t much to say here other than that ProtoMechs are a rare sight in any case. Like LAMs they are neither fish nor fowl, and their best use is in actions against infantry – that is, below the Thirty Meter Limit. They rightly belong in the RPG setting, where they would be a positive terror to players. On the tabletop, assuming you ever get to see them, they do not amount to much besides adding flavor. And animal forms will do that as well as any other.

Gentlemen Do Not Fight With Anything but
Ranged Weapons and Their Bare Hands
9. Melee weapons on mechs, except on industrials, and even then they should be field expedient and appropriate to the task of the mech. Hate hatchets, hate swords, and maces even more. This is Battletech not WH40K. Not cool.

Given that most ‘Mechs repeat the human form in large, it seems to me nothing is more natural than two ‘Mechs facing off against each other with swords and such. How is that not cool? Several million avid fans of the Solaris matches would beg to differ.

Double Heat Sinks Do Not Have Enough Drawbacks
- Make Them Explode, Too
10. Double heat sinks rules have no down sides. Not cool. I rather like the suggestion made on the CBT forums that when damaged that they could cause a critical hit on the usual 8+ on 2D6.

Now THAT is an interesting house rule and one I’d not heard of before. I will suggest it next time I play.

Weapons Ranges are Explained in an Uncool Way
11. The way that the weapon ranges are explained are dumb. The way the rules explain extreme and line-of-sight are so not cool. The rules as written tie the game into unnecessary knots.

It’s a tabletop game, meant to reduce ‘real world’ combat into something you can begin and finish in about six hours, give or take. It has to fit on the table. The armor has to be beaten off the machines to get at the fiddly bits inside – how realistic is that? I don’t know if the ranges as explained in the fluff make any sense or not – it’s dipping into that Thirty-Meter Limit and the rulings have to stop somewhere. I have not yet had any of the games I’ve played ‘tied into knots’ over this (other things, yes). So this might just be a case of an imperfect mesh between rules quantified for a quick game and their in-universe justification. I think justifying it is a mistake, but they’ve done it and thus far, it hasn’t caused my gaming group any heartburn.

Infantry Are Not Handled Well in a Game
Where Giant Stompy Robots Are the Main Focus
12. Infantry organisation rules. One mech, or vehicle equals a squad, and 3 to 6 squads equals a platoon. Why oh why oh why then make infantry based around platoons when every unit is equal to a squad. Then you can allow platoons of infantry to be created organically by choosign the number of squads in them as appropriate.

Ah, but now we’re going into WH:40K territory. Or are we? I admit, the equivalents are a bit sketchy, but again, when you are dealing with something that fits entirely inside a single hex, the rules begin to break down. More gracefully in this case than most, because the designers tried to work it out, but only we grognards seem to have an issue with it on a playing basis – possibly because we know too much about how real-world units work.

Rules Supporting My Flavor of the Game Are All That is Needed.
13. Anything that adds extra details needs to go into the RPG side of the game where it belongs. Battletech needs to be streamlined, fast and sexy, because that is cool. At the moment Battletech is a fat bloater who waddles from place to another, and that is not cool.

This comes from trying to appeal to a wide range of players – serious wargamers as well as chips-and-soda casual players. No one group is going to be completely satisfied, and the designers knew that – which is why we have different levels of technology, different eras to play in, and the quick-start rules. It’s a fat bloater all right – but only if you look beyond the rules strictly required for the game you prefer. To the casual gamer, all those books and supplements are a waste of money. To the armchair general itching to get a battalion on the field, they are life itself.

Thanks for stopping by. And Ashley, please forgive me for being a snarky git.



 Ashley said...

Interesting, if snarky ;-), counter points, some of which I will reply to in due course, as it is clear to me that you were unable to fully comprehend my arguments.

(Now that is snarky :-) Tee hee.)

PS: Fabulous to read such a well reasoned response, and you made some very good points, which I need to clarify further.

Electromage said...

Quad Mechs: I actually quite like them, I’d love to see a mech the size of the Scorpion with its main gun (energy weapon) in a turret with a couple of 1 or 2 shot MRM launchers hung either side, sort of like what you see on most IFV’s today.

I don’t know about the “Table Top” game, as I’ve never played it, but as a BT-RPG Gamer I can tell you from 1st hand experience that Stealth Armor & ECM/ECCM are EXTREMELY useful (especially in urban or jungle locations), and as for the “One Shot SRM, MRM, LRM launchers”, while I’ve never used them, members of my squad do, and frankly, they can often be the only thing between life & death on the battlefield, especially when used as a weapon of last resort.

The protomechs are also quite handy; they are basically the “Heavy Power Armor” used in most other RPG’s, you put 8 to 12 of these little monsters on the field and not even the biggest Mech has much of a chance, on their own they can change the flow of battle in an infantry/tank engagement and send the squishies (unarmoured Infantry) running for the hills. I do however wish they would drop the animal look to these things, it just makes them look stupid.

“Infantry Are Not Handled Well in a Game Where Giant Stompy Robots Are the Main Focus” with this I agree, it’s one of the main problems with the RPG (which is Infantry/Tank heavy), yes we use Mechs a lot, but you also need to run spec-ops to gather intel, free hostages, take prisoners, etc, you just NEED to be on foot sometimes.

Steven Satak said...

@Electromage: I could place the Scorpion II's Gauss Rifle in a shoulder turret, but as was stated, it takes away from the advantage the biped design has. Plus, it would be harder to get fellow players to accept such a design - after all, there are many Advanced equipment options which, while seemingly innocuous, actually tend to swing the game heavily in favor of the user. Tandem charges are one, and I think this is another.

One shot systems such as the ones Pink and I are discussing are 'stripped' versions of the real deal. They are nearly the same weight but have only one shot, as the name implies. Most special ammunition assumes the user has more than one shot available. I cannot for the life of me understand why you would even mount such a thing if you had any room at all for ammunition. It doesn't save weight and it's used once. After that, you are hauling around dead weight. Rocket launchers I can see, because they are light and you can pack a lot of them.

And besides, the whole idea of a 'weapon of last resort' = fail, as my son would say. If you have to rely on a five-ton launcher with a single shot as a last resort, you are not trying to win the battle. Why not pack a five-ton weapon with another ton of ammo as a 'weapon of first resort' instead?

I was being somewhat sarcastic with the header "Infantry Are Not Handled Well in a Game Where Giant Stompy Robots Are the Main Focus”. The point was that the game is mostly ABOUT 'Mechs. That infantry are even addressed is an extra, a gimme we should probably not examine too closely. The idea is that if you want to play at the infantry level, you should play the RPG and not BattleTech the miniatures game. The miniatures game breaks down when you try to play it within the confines of a single hex (30 meters).

I believe only one Clan uses ProtoMechs - the rest have fought shy of the concept because first, it is very hard on its pilots and second, it does not do any job particularly well. Yes, a large group of them will take down a 'Mech. A large group of infantry armed with SRMs can accomplish the same thing. So can a couple of tanks. Hell, mount a few rocket launchers on a flatbed truck, field twenty of them and you can get the same results. The point is, they are rare and the product of some very narrow, quirky thinking. I am not at all surprised they look like animals - they are, after all, attempting to mimic animals in their terrain-crossing ability and their usual mission profile - which is as a pack-oriented predator intended to gang up and take down larger prey. Their looks are almost beside the point, so seldom do you see them.

However... in an RPG, they would be hell on wheels. As you pointed out, they are essentially 'super battleamor' and piloting one would be a hoot. Although you would eventually find yourself rolling up another character...

Steven Satak said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bradley said...

I like the reaction post, and liked Pink's original post. If its ok I think I will rant a bit here--feel free to mod the comment if you need to.

I have been thinking long and hard recently about the state of Battletech, as I have gotten back into the game now that there is someone to play with in my area. But in the years in between, I played many other role playing, collectible card and war games, ect, based on what was popular at the local game shop.

Thus like Pink says I agree Btech could use a lot more 'rule of cool' if trying to bring in new players from other games. There is a very large selection of games out there right now, not to mention video games, that have quite good production values. When comparing btech to these other games, my non btech friends have commented quite often on the 'clunkyness' and the time investment that even a lvl 1 mech vs mech action takes. Heck, in running through the very fun jihad campaign at the company level, we can play for 10+ HOURS in a single go.

At 10+ hours per session we have an absolute blast--working through grand strategies before committing forces in a track, contemplating consequences for future employment, ect. This great fun we have is TERRIBLE for new players though. The learning curve is steep, and the time invested is staggering, for what amounts to little payoff--1 battle in 12 hours. In comparison, a 4 hour RPG session like DnD could involve several combats in ~1/3rd the total time. Heck, even in DnD most people tend to hate when stuck in a drawn out combat over 2 hours, where HPs are steadily whittled down, some enemies die but some party members go down, and by the time the fight is over instead of feeling dramatic it feels like you finished a chore.

Now, when talking to my Btech buddy about making battletech play faster, or striping rules out, so that the game would play more like a fast paced wargame, the response is basicly 'But then its a different game, its not battletech.' That said though, without some change btech is far too slow to play at any interesting size like 12v12, while if running single mechs per player you are pretty much hitting that 30 meter limit that Steven states where btech is more or less a role playing game.

I imagine that 4 players each with 1 medium mech headed by a GM would be the best possible way to use the rules as written, using all the chunky btech rules in place of chunky RPG rules. Here the DM would dole out advanced equipment in place of magic items, and instead of fighting a mighty dragon in the bowels of a dungeon you would fight a mighty Atlas in the bowels of a star league cache. This I can see finishing in a 4 hour session, with several small fights leading to a dramatic conclusion. Anything larger that this I would think would just turn new players off with the 'slogish-ness'

Karyudo said...

+100 mechs are bad? Have you never played a Front Mission boos fight? For some reason those things always ended up large and...harder to explain. Interesting to look at I guess. I could certainly see the point of having large weapon platforms but they would be more difficult to move and viable for only special tasks. Shooting down a drop ship? Sure! A mech though? Why move such a huge thing for that unless you actually are playing FM. At that point but they wouldn't utilize the "human form" in fact realistically that form confers few advantages. Yes you have legs but well you also have legs.

I assume Battletech only has quads purely because of Dougram and nothing else, otherwise they would have had a few more early designs. If you inject reality into it an uber expansion war machine designed to be put into direct combat that becomes a big hobbling target after just losing a leg seems a bit far fetched, a four or even six legged machine would much better be able to take advantage of the leg ability and survive some damage. Course Battletech and reality don't get along and custody of the kids is still up in the air. Though I think the rules for them are alright, though maybe more torso space for weapons over the bipeds might be nice. In general record sheet slot variation would be interesting but I would just as gladly see it condensed.

Melee, I like it and think it's ridiculous all in one shot. I like the axe though I have no idea why, the sword is bizarre but the mace sort of makes sense. Your smashing through armor, you can't really cut it after all. I remember Front Mission had a pile driver like weapon, I could see that. A mech seems like a fantasy tank to me so it should really kill anything pretty quick by shooting at it. Yet Battletech makes closing into CQC pretty viable. I think Melee weapons would seem silly if combat was mostly all at range. Even then the rail-spike like backup weapon seems like a good side-arm for a mech.

Infantry have always bothered me somehow. In a real war a giant robot can't assault and capture structures without leveling it...which kills the capture concept. You need infantry to do that and bigger machines exist to support them yet Battletech looks at it the opposite way. I love the robot but that seems odd to me. If nothing else I liked Age of Destruction for the pure fact that infantry were effective. Rather than deploying mechs by the lance mechs and tanks were support units you only had a few of at a time. The trick being that the mechs were still pretty effective support and sometimes simply still the star of the show. Infantry in Battletech has always seem to have some uses to me...just not as much as I would like.

Battletech is alright, don't get me wrong. I just sort of wish it was slightly more real while perhaps slimming on the rules slightly. Maybe I just think that because I don't know many people who understand it though. After playing the PC games though I did come out disliking the armor damage system the game uses. When you hit a real object you don't normal have to shed all of it's armor before it'll take damage. I wouldn't mind toying with more house-ish rules though I would probably end up with a game that was just similar in the end! :D