Tuesday, December 28, 2010

TRO Prototype... up for your critique (Please beat me!)

Werefox Petain

Welcome back! It has been a little over two weeks since our last update. I hope you had a Merry Christmas and a good New Year celebration.

I have decided to give the response to Pink's blog posts on BattleTech a rest. We've both made our points.

Here is what has developed:

- Paul Skowronek – Our final writeup editor has been hard at work. I have paid him up to date and should be sending another $21 this Friday. We are making good progress… he is now working on the Federated Commonwealth vehicles.

- The HMV and HMAero PDF files are languishing… I am going to work on them this week and hopefully have them all done by this next Friday.

- Stephen Huda has completed two Federated Commonwealth vehicles – the Werefox Petain and the Werefox AAV (anti-aircraft vehicle). See the header image above for the Petain – below is the AAV. Excellent work, as always.

Werefox AAV

- Eric Ou has completed the Draconis Combine’s Tomahawk and Revenant. See below.



- Okay, and now for the part everyone has been waiting for....

Bill and I have been working independently for about the past two months. Friday night I got a chance to set with him for several hours and we worked on the TRO prototype.

I think we made significant progress – though some pages (such as the credits) are not there and will not be until the final version, the whole thing is beginning to shape up. We now have the entire Draconis Combine ‘Mech section in place.

In fact, we are advanced far enough that I am going to solicit reader feedback on this one.

Don’t hesitate to point stuff out – misspelled words, data out of place, canon or continuity issues, art, etc. I need to have as many eyeballs as possible looking at the layout, the text and the art. I don’t care if it is a matter of taste or you spot a hyphen where there should not be one – I will take it on board.

One thing – I have already spotted the model numbering errors in the Isometrus writeup between the Marik version and the Lyran version, so no need to point it out.

A word of caution: I have linked to this and downloaded the PDF using ‘save page as’. About half the time, I get a useful PDF. The rest of the time, what is downloaded is wonky and Acrobat will not open it.

[However, this is while using Google Chrome as a browser. A working version is easy to download if you use the latest Firefox.]

If you still cannot download a working version from the site link above no matter how you try, email me and I will shoot you a copy – it is lo-rez and only about 6.5 megs.

Thank you and welcome to the ranks of the proofreaders… and no, I’m not paying anyone (except Paul). I cannot afford to. But if you find some serious errors, I will add your name to the credits page. Howzat?

Thanks for stopping by.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sweet looking tank... and another response to Paint It Pink!

Draconis Combine's Katana

Hello! It has been another three weeks since our last update. Here is what’s happening:

- Paul Skowronek – gave me his PayPal account and a bill for $57 dollars. He has completed editing another five writeups for the Draconis Combine and is working on seven more at the time of this writing.

- Lee Madison has been working on the background for the White Knight. In addition to that, he has added two-tone shading.

The Final White Knight

Our layout man Bill is working on the layouts. I should be able to get something from him this weekend.

- The HMV and HMAero files are still under construction. I should be done with them in a week or two.

- Stephen Huda has completed the Draconis Combine’s Katana. See the header image above. Really nice, Stephen!

- The Draconis Combine’s Nemera is ready to go.

Final Nemera

- Stephen Huda has begun work on the Federated Commonwealth’s Werefox family, starting with the Werefox Petain, a design which makes use of existing weapon stocks.

A Response to Paint It Pink’s Second Blog Post on Uncool Rules: Battletech 2.3: The Battletech Reader

This post is going to be a response to the one made over on Paint-It-Pink’s blog. Linky:


Even Bigger 'Mechs

Steve said: "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 acknowledgment 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?" [big snip]

Pink replied: I mostly agree, but they already exist (Ares Colossus Class) from MW:DA and sometimes one has to make the most of things as they come. While all you point are valid, the truth is that CGL can't limit what players choose to field, only players can do that. The attempt to control the shape of Battletech through the use of canon designs only works if the players buy into it. I've never bought into canon as the only one true word of Battletech. IMO trying to control the background setting is doomed to failure.

I see the universe canon code more as "guidelines", if you savvy?

Steve’s Reply: What players choose to field is going to be limited not by what the company provides in the way of ‘canon’ designs, but what the rules support. Whether or not you like the idea of the company restricting designs to a range of 20-100 tons, that is what they’ve written the rules to produce. That is what constitutes ‘canon’, after all – what will work within the provided rules and has the company’s blessing. I admit that the company’s blessing ain’t what it used to be, but it is their product and most folks I know will not start churning out 400 ton machines just because they found a nifty set of add-on rules for it out on the net.

And with good reason. First, the game has been tweaked and balanced to accommodate ‘Mechs and other machines of the current tonnage range. To introduce new machines is not a matter of adding a few more tables to the back of the rulebook. The new sizes will affect the game in myriad ways that most of us won’t be able to understand at first. If ever. It may even render certain weapons types permanently obsolete in the era where such monsters exist.

Second, who wants to allow such a beast in a game that is supposed to be over in hours? Has anyone calculated the amount of armor on that thing? It’s sure to be a lot. I don’t want to spend an afternoon trying to beat through it.

The Ares is interesting and yes, cool, but only time will tell whether or not there will be rules to permit such a machine. What function could the Ares possibly have that cannot be done by existing quads and bipeds? I will admit, it looks cool. Until you see it moving, that is. Horribly slow. I wonder if they are even going to bother with a set of rules for what is, admittedly, the only example of a +100 ton machine in the game – and which came from a spin-off game at that. It sets a precedent for something quite unpleasant to consider – the complete overhaul of a good portion of the TW rules. And once a foot has been wedged in that door, only God knows how and when they’ll get it shut again.

Finally, controlling the background setting of BattleTech is what keeps it BattleTech and also something they can put up for sale in the shops. Would you have them hand everything over to us (ugh!) fanfic writers? We’re a pretty shady lot. Someone has to set the limits, after all. Why not the folks who have the license and practically invented the game as we know it?

Quad 'Mechs

Steve said: "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... Neither is their ability to fire in a hull-down position behind Level One terrain,... That’s four out of twelve hit locations that are essentially ignored and that is the same as a LOT of extra armor!"... 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... [lots of snippage]

Pink replied: Yes but, the construction rules are clunky, and IMO could have been phrased in such a way as to make them conceptually easier to stat up designs that look like quad mechs with center torso turrets e.g: unseen Goliath. I also want six leg designs for a Desert Gunner from Dougram, or a quad with an upper body and arms. I'm not interested in super munch, but I am interested in look and feel.

To do this one needs a slightly redesigned record sheet, and the ability to move engines and gyros etc around the center and side torsos. That's all I'm asking for. More flexibility.

Steve’s Reply: I would like to see the construction rules for quads phrased in a less clunky way. You’ve got a good deal of experience in this field – why not generate some of your own based on the Tech Manual?

I think that the idea behind leaving turrets off the standard quad is intentional. It is in the interest of game balance, which I mentioned before.

Six legs – visually, quite impressive, but what effect in the game? Why would more legs help? We could ask ‘where do more legs help in nature’ but hexapods in nature are very small and do things on a scale a ‘Mech would never be able to duplicate – or, so far as I can see, be required to. I can see it in a movie or an anime series where the Rule of Cool is king. But translating it to a game where physics are paid a little more than lip service (not much more, I grant you), it just won’t wash.

The Centauroid ‘Mech is another product of the Rule of Cool. However, it too is a hexapod and furthermore, based on a concept which is derived from a writer’s metaphor for the fusion of man’s Reason and Animal Nature. Separated so far from its roots, all the idea has is visual appeal – significant, to be sure. But I cannot think of anything, even a ProtoMech, which would benefit from that body plan in terms that would be meaningful in BattleTech. In GURPS, or AD&D, yes. BattleTech, no.

Moving the engine, gyros and such inside a BattleMech would, I believe, break some fundamental rules in the game. I am not talking about written rules, of course, but rather the unwritten rules which always place the guts in the center of the ‘Mech. This is supposedly to protect them, and the area does have a lot of armor - but so do legs. There is something about the game’s insistence on placing the goodies in a location represented by a ‘7’ that says to me there is more going on there at the game’s structural level than meets the eye. A ‘7’ is the most commonly rolled number on two six-sided dice.

Some kind of balance is kept on the tabletop by this arrangement, I don’t understand it and as a consequence, I am loathe to screw with it. There is no telling what will happen, good or ill. Mayhap Mr. Eastwood could look into this?

Flexibility is fine, but the more detail you have, the more things slow down. I am not sure the addition would be worth the eventual cost. There’s a break-even point and I believe the game’s designers know where it is better than I do.

Breaking the Game with TarComps

Steve said: "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... 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?" [some snippage]

Pink replied: Can't have you all flummoxed now. Okay, here's the thing. Slow assaults moving 2/3mps per turn are sitting ducks to fast light mechs, which IMO is a good balance for the game. Anything that makes it easier to hit has consequences out of all proportion to the on the face of it bonus. For example, using weapons giving a minus two to hit bonus has effectively made the pilot an elite 2 gunner. That is a big bonus.

My proposal is that targeting computers allow a player to re-roll one die, and the minus two weapons allow a player to re-roll both dice. Only once per weapon per turn of course.

Steve’s reply: Slow moving assaults move slowly because they are armored out the ying-yang and have a significant warload. One thing proponents of sabre dancing (the practice of a lighter, faster ‘Mech ducking in and ‘slashing’ with weapons as it runs past the heavier opponent) do not tell you is that the sabre dancer nearly always ends up a ragged mess. It’s not hard to see why.

The target is nearly always stationary – after all, movement gives it no advantage in combat. Stationary opponents automatically gain an effective –2 bonus against targets that are running as a ‘Mech that stands still does not have a movement modifier to add to it’s own gunnery – and the opposing pilot DOES have to take his own running movement into account.

Furthermore, the lighter machine’s warload is not likely to hit hard enough to match that of the stationary target – who, even when hitting less often, hits much harder with guns only a machine of his size can carry – and usually in quantity.

Finally, the lighter fast ‘Mech is nearly always much more lightly armored. The hits from those big weapons that do land are going to get through pretty fast.

Yes, the big stationary pillbox can use a tarcomp to tip the balance. Many do. However, not many pack pulse weapons and the reason is simple – they don’t move fast enough to compensate for the shorter range. Now that light, fast ‘Mech? It practically begs for pulse weapons, as it needs something to offset the penalty for running with the throttle slammed forward all the time. And a lot of them have such weapons.

Die re-rolls replacing gunnery bonuses? If you must. But the one is designed to work with the existing method for determining target locks in BattleTech. The other is something I might expect to find in the MW:DA game – where such a mechanic is more fitting. In any case, how will you translate the ability of the targeting computer to select a given location – at a +3 to hit – and slam it with every direct fire weapon that makes the to-hit roll?

Electronic Countermeasures, Sensors, Networks a Waste of Time

Steve said: "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." [snip again like we did last summer]

Pink replied: I agree, these things have to exist. They are just a pain in the ass, because IMO such things as ECM, ECCM and Beagle probe should be standard on every mech, not additions that take away from the combat effectiveness of the mech itself. YMMV, and there is little that can be done about it either, so I put up with the stuff for the time it can serve a purpose.

Steve’s Reply: If they were standard on every ‘Mech, THAT would be a pain in the tuckus. Can you imagine trying to figure out the effective ECM bubble for every machine? When would C3 ever be effective? When could you field hidden units?

The one thing about the game that I think really reflects how much electronics are packed into the average machine is this: all players, at all times, can see what units are on the field of combat. They can identify them, determine their state of damage and furthermore, know exactly where every machine is – friend or foe - even if it is behind cover. Unless the unit is specifically Hidden or the game is Double Blind, we all take this privilege for granted.

I see the ECM, ECCM, Beagle, etc as just specialized gear designed to get around unusual starting conditions or to counter special link systems – such as C3. I recall in one of my long-ago blog posts ranting about this very thing – a C3 network, properly deployed, is horrifically effective against unprepared opponents and a pernicious pain in the tuckus to those in the know. Would you deny us the one piece of gear designed to combat it until such time as all machines can boast of having ECM?

Gentlemen Do Not Fight With Anything But Ranged Weapons & Their Bare Hands

Steve said: "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."

Pink replied: Ah but, what happens on Solaris stays on Solaris. Carrying a dead weight around that can only be used close up and personal, is IMO (and Greyson Death Carlyle) a waste of the opportunity to carry something more useful; like armour, heat sinks, or ranged weapons. ;-)

Steve’s reply: Ah, but the Solaris comment was supposed to elicit the understanding that physical weapons also appeal to the Rule of Cool – note their popularity with the gathered throngs – even when they are not strictly practical.

And I would take exception to even that: there is a place for hatchets and swords, and I should know, as I cut my piloting teeth on a Nightsky. The close-in fighter is quite common, and when facing slower machines in its own class, physical attacks are a nightmare. Especially if augmented with TSM – many are not. It’s not a good weapon for a slow machine, but you will often find them on machines that are fast for their size.

The idea is to stick to your own weight class and cash in with the beat stick. The damage done is as much as a kick, with the added bonus that you can strike any location, not just the legs. I have lost track of the number of ‘Mech pilots I have sent to the Great Hiring Hall in the Sky with my Nightsky’s hatchet buried in their cockpit.

If nothing else, the Clan’s disdain for such weapons should be reason enough to consider their use.

Final Comments...

Pink said: …However, I disagree with the 100-ton Limit rules, because in practise I have found that while the younger players will revel in the awesomeness of the Colossus mechs, in the long run they are very specialised units that exist really for the Rule of Cool.

Steve’s reply: I disagree. I don’t think the word ‘awesomeness’ exists. ;) Younger players might revel in the sheer awesome (it is a noun here) of the Colossus, but even the Rule of Cool won’t convince the other players to let them pilot one.

One More Thing…

A reader commented on the utility of ProtoMechs in the game when combating ‘Mechs. I agree, they are one more way of taking down the big bruisers. But only one way, and not every Clan has them. I mentioned that a lance of flatbed trucks equipped with rockets could accomplish the same mission. Here is that truck:

And for comparison, a Point of ProtoMechs:

As you can see, the trucks are slightly lower in Battle Value and similarly armored; they pack quite a punch with their salvo. They don’t jump but at 190,00 c-bills per truck, you can buy four for the price of a single ProtoMech (890,000 c-bills) and still have change in your pocket to purchase more rockets for your surviving trucks.

[A caveat here: I saw the price listed on the ProtoMech construction table, but don’t know if it is just for one unit or all five. Considering the fusion engine, I am going with just one].

Just two trucks confronting a BattleMech at close range bring ten 15-tube launchers to bear. A ‘Mech pilot will ignore that at his peril. An entire lance of these trucks? Something is going to get broken. You might lose a truck – you will definitely put a hurt on that ‘Mech.

Thanks for stopping by!


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.


Monday, November 08, 2010

Updates! And a taste of TRO!

My apologies for the very late update…

The Editing Process… a Painful Decision

- Geoff and I have finished our work on the pieces that were edited by Paul Skowronek (skiltao). I sent another batch to Paul, along with an offer to pay for his work. Three measly dollars per edited piece is all I can manage, but the bill will eventually come to $300 by the time Paul is done. Not much, I admit, but I can afford it at the rate he has been turning them out – roughly a piece a day.

Pretty easy, huh? At the end of the week I send him $21 via PayPal and on to the next batch. The question is, will he do it for so little? And if he does, will he have time to do them?

For those of you with a mathematical bent, Paul has already edited approximately ten pieces gratis. That leaves 97 pieces. Divide that by five (an average - let’s be honest, he is not going to do seven pieces every week) and you have… twenty weeks before the writing is at a level where we can publish it without committing seppuku immediately afterwards.

That’s five months. And we’re being optimistic here, because holidays are coming and everybody has troubles – Paul will not be able to edit steady for five months. But who knows? Maybe he can do two pieces a day. Maybe. That would cut the time down to two, maybe three months.

We Need the Time

We need those months of time, brothers and sisters. I am slowly catching up on my bills, but we have at least four more pieces of art to complete – and if I can afford it, an overhaul of the Federated Commonwealth’s Werefox vehicles. They have all the charm of the Clan ‘Mech drawings in TRO:3050. That comes to at least six additional pieces.

All of this – the writing, the quality art, the solid designs – is pointless unless we have a layout man with imagination, experience with InDesign and an intimate knowledge of BattleTech. We had one, but he took sick and I have not heard from him in a long time.

Meanwhile, Bill Burt has jumped into InDesign. He began his schooling by creating a PDF-based magazine for his airsoft team. Not much to do with BattleTech, I admit, except that he IS using the InDesign for Dummies I bought, and his expertise has already been turned on our layout.

Here is an example of the work he has managed so far:

PLEASE - I know there are errors. This is a prototype where we learn to look for, and fix, crap like that. Just take a look and watch as Bill's skills increase...

Production Values

We have hammered out several decisions since beginning the actual layout work…

First of all, we decided the following:

- There will not be a full color version in PDF and a separate black and white version with color plates for dead tree printing. We realized that a full color version would result in a ginormous file, something we would have to send through the mail on a CD-ROM. Bill proposed a low-rez version for quick download and the hi-rez for those of you who wanted it, but we shelved that. It is a lot of work for not much added value.

- We decided that the original black and white print model in high and lo-rez versions would probably be the best compromise – the lo-rez would be small enough to download (about 30 megs) and still remain suitable for viewing. The hi-rez version would be for those of you who want to print their own dead tree copy, and as mentioned before, we would simply mail it on a CD-ROM.

- Bill doesn’t like to lose the full color option, but there it is. He suggested instead that we provide a zipfile with all the Heavy Metal Pro files inside – something you users of HMP will appreciate. Remember, this TRO is filled with machines you will want to put on your gaming table. So getting around the chore of entering the readouts into HMP is a bonus.

Our apologies to all the users of Solaris Skunk Works, but we don’t have files ready for that just yet. Maybe if you volunteer to do the data entry, we will provide it.

Heap O' Labor

If this sounds like a lot of work, rest assured - it is. But getting things right is more important at this stage that getting it out fast. After all, it has been three years since I began this project.

As I write this, I am sitting at a little card table in the far corner of the Juanita High School Gym, right under the fight song banner. It is Sunday and my son and his drum instructor are part of a group of 350+ drummers who are attending Woodstick – the Big Beat 2010. This year, I had to pay $10 for the privilege of watching a bunch of drummers having fun. I am not a drummer; nor a wannabe, so it was a perfect time to catch up on my writing.

One other thing I will do is begin compiling the HMP files for Bill’s Master List. Most of them were designed (or their data was entered) on this computer, so it’s just a matter of working at it. I may collate them with the Record Sheet Annex PDF files to ensure I don’t overlook any variants.

[A wee bit into the process I began to bog down. It seems I do NOT have all the designs on my trusty laptop, and the data entry was eating up time. As I plowed through reloading the data from the PDF sheet into my HMP program, I realized the writeups would have to be loaded into the ‘Mech data sections for the HMP files to be complete. And the writeups are not finished yet…

No matter. I will continue to create the HMP files, and load the writeup/variant data in as it becomes available.]

What’s Cooking….

- Stephen Huda has is working on the Draconis Combine’s Katana and Revenant, as well as the Outworlds Alliance’s Werewolf VTOL. Depending on the cash available, I may ask him to do the last BattleMech, the Draconis Combine’s White Knight.

- Karl Olson is still working on the Taurian Concordat’s Auroch Infantry Fighting Vehicle.

- Chris Seymour has finished the Draconis Combine’s Nemera – refer to the image at the top of this blog entry

- Ian is working on the Tomahawk. (Still).

- Lee Madison has fallen out of touch again. AGAIN. I sent an ultimatum of sorts – either set a deadline (and fulfill it) or lose the commission. It’s a shame – he does good work – but this falling-silent-for-months-at-a-time shit has got to stop. I can’t work with it.

Seriously, we should have some new work rolling in soon. Everyone seemed to slow down in October, which is why you saw a distinct lack of updates.

- As you know, my wife’s dental work and subsequent replacement partial is costing us a bundle. I am trying to pay people as quickly as I can:

Karl Olson has been paid for his work.
Stephen Huda has been paid up to date.
Eric has been paid as well.

However, there is still some art that has been completed and whose payment is outstanding:

Interior plates - $70 remaining to David Dryburgh
Seven internal color renders - $48 remaining to Terrance Wong
Chris Seymour - $30 remaining

I am hoping to clear those up by next payday, possibly by the end of November.

Control Line!

I have been working on and off with the Jumpin’ Bean plane. I assembled the wing sections and sanded everything, but have not yet made the horizontal or vertical stabilizers.

Below is the Jumpin’ Bean wing in its stock form. I stood the fuselage up so you can get a feel for the plane’s proportions.

And this is what it looks like with the center section added and another engine laid out.

That is quite a bit more wing, and there will be a third fuselage in the center. In fact, I have been thinking about turning those two fuselage pieces into engine nacelles and extending the center fuselage back so that the plane resembles a British Mosquito more than a P-38.

You see, I am worried I will not be able to get the two-fuselage design to line up properly without a jig and I have no time or place to build one. But a single fuselage would be a snap and I would not have to worry about alignment beyond the basic 90 degree angles…

However, I will have to extend the stock fuselage back quite a way to correct the existing proportions and increase the horizontal stabilizer area. I will also have to add plywood stiffeners to the fuselage area around the trailing edge of the wing. That area is notorious on Jumpin’ Beans for snapping in a crash.

One more issue: the tanks are too long to fit between the existing ribs.

I will have to install another rib to mount the tank, then remove the original. Odd spacing, but I don’t think it will sacrifice much strength.

My First Attempt at an Illustrated Work

I was digging through the closet when I came across the artwork and layout for a little book I wrote for my son in 2000, ten years ago. John was five and Daddy had been gone for six months and I wanted to send him something that told a story about my ‘adventures’ while out at sea. It kept me busy and mostly sane.

Believe it or not, this actually happened on our ship. I build a box kite from sticks I made from cut-up mop handles (plenty of those around!) and plastic from the jet shop and tape from the post office. It was held together with epoxy (I worked in Hazmat at the time and there was no shortage) and the joints pinned for strength with thick copper wire from the Motor Rewind Shop.

I won second place (we were not able to get my kite into the air long enough to beat a guy who’d gotten out there an hour before) and still have the T-shirt prize I gave to my young son when I got home.

The artists were a quirky pair from the Print Shop. I paid them $5 per illustration, and they plugged away at it until they got bored, which was about halfway through the project. My mother thought the topic was too drawn out and complex for a five-year old, but what the hell? It accomplished its goals – I kept busy, learned a lesson about hiring artists (handy for this TRO) and learned how not to write for kids. Or so I hope.

Thanks for stopping by!


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Progress and some Reminiscing...


We are working on the writing as well as finishing up commission work.

- Daniel Cherng has given up his commission on the Draconis Combine’s Katana and I will pass it to Stephen Huda pending more money and his completion of the Pershing A-57.

- Stephen Huda has completed the Pershing A-57, as can be seen above.

- Karl Olson is working on the Taurian Concordat’s Auroch (formerly the Damocles) Infantry Fighting Vehicle. We have moved into the third draft as can be seen below:

- Ian has requested another round of suggestions for his draft of the Tomahawk. *Sigh*.

- Eric is busy with school work – he is going to pass the Werewolf commission on to Stephen Huda.

- Paul has completed editing all but two of the Capellan vehicle writeups.

- Geoff is working on filling in the gaps left by tighter editing of those writeups.

- Eric has come up with a template for our PDF, but we are still working the bugs out.

- Bill has ordered a copy of InDesign CS3 for Dummies; it was cheap off Amazon and should arrive in the next few days. It boils the process down and should go a long way towards Bill’s understanding and ability to work with InDesign. I am hoping to get a copy of InDesign for myself so I can help Bill.

- I am still saving and budgeting for the remainder of my wife’s dental work. It should be done by the end of this month. The art payments will resume after that.

- The following is a list of the people I owe money for art:

Interior plates - $70 remaining to David Dryburgh
Werewolf - $25 remaining to Eric Ou
Nemera – $30 remaining to Chris Seymour
Panzer X, San Ku Chu, Auroch, Centaurus - $60 left to pay to Karl Olson
Pershing - $30 remaining to Stephen Huda
Tomahawk – $25 left to Ian Stead
Seven internal color renders - $48 remaining to Terrance Wong

This is a total of $288. We’ll get there.

Old Dreams

A long time ago I was a member of a Star Trek club in the Seattle area. Or rather, I built things for them. I had been doing this for about six years, in Seattle, Hawaii and San Diego. My conclusion was that the fans wanted fancy stuff, but didn’t want to pay what it cost to make the things – never mind the labor or even a profit. Even in 1994, electronics were seen as disposable and the average fan didn’t want to pay top dollar for a Playmates Next Generation Tricorder which had been heavily modified to look like the real thing.

There were others like me, but they were fans and many of them were much more knowledgeable and skilled in electronics and building costume props. One of them was Dave Pinney, who built a sliding door that was powered by pneumatics and triggered by a pressure pad. He also built a console, Next Generation style, complete with graphics and a chair. The console was powered by pneumatics and swung out and in based on a signal from the seat. Here are a few pictures of his creation:


The graphics were printed on paper and sandwiched between two layers of glass. They were backlit by a string of white Christmas lights inside the console. Pretty clever! I told him I thought it would be great if the console actually did something. So – I devised a way of detecting the touch of a finger to the glass (via reflected IR) which filtered out florescent light flicker.

After substantial testing on the workbench, David refined my design and built a working prototype. I built the main circuit board based on that prototype. It cost over a hundred bucks just in parts. With its ten switches, we could have controlled a lot of stuff from that console. But ST fandom suffered a major collapse after the Next Generation show went off the air and the console was disassembled.

I tried to get it built about ten years later, in 2005. I had the console (still!) but no glass and someone else had the base and chair. And they were not going to pay me for my work, or fund the remaining electronics, and they were not going to give up their half of the project. It was the same old story – you pay for and build everything, Steve, and we’ll pat you on the back and play with it until it breaks. My half of the console eventually ended up in a Kitsap landfill, but I could not bear to part with the circuit board and its many unused components. As you can see, it represents a lot of work:

Each circuit was assembled by hand. The infrared sensors had to be proof against the flicker from flourescent lights and the random IR bouncing around out there, so we took the IR signal and fed it into a 741 Op Amp configured as a Schmitt trigger. Suitably cleaned up, the signal was then fed from the 741 into a 567 Tone Decoder, which would not respond unless the incoming signal was within a certain frequency band. We set the IR LED emitters to that frequency, of course. Once the 567 accepted the tone, it in turn sent a pulse to a 555 timer set to single shot mode. We could adjust the length of the final trigger pulse that way, so as to control several different types of transmitter, sound effects boards, or whatever.

On the way to working the bugs out of the prototype, Dave found an odd thing happening. He would tune the circuit so the 567 would recognize the incoming tone, get it to work repeatedly, then run the board from his workbench out to his living room to show to his girlfriend. Whereupon it stopped working! He would take it back to the bench, retune the board, take it back out and it would work. But once back on the workbench for more than ten minutes and it would stop working again.

Dave finally figured out that the strong halogen lamp he was using to light his workbench was heating up the capacitors used by the 567 to set its frequency window. When he took it away from the workbench, the capacitors cooled slightly and altered the recognized frequency! We ended up ordering special tantalum capacitors with zero temperature coefficient – that is, their value would not change with the temperature.

(I later figured out that this was the major stumbling block in my early attempts to create a LazerTag land mine which would set off Worlds of Wonder sensors for our North Seattle games in 1990).

Nowadays I would probably try something like the Next Gen console using a dedicated computer or a microcontroller (same thing), but the business of detecting the touch of a finger to a smooth surface would pose the same problem. I would use Plexiglas instead of glass. It doesn’t filter IR like glass does. You can project an IR beam through the side of the pane of Plexiglas and a touch of the finger to the Plexiglas would give a strong reflection to a sensor on the backside. However, a dedicated emitter for each sensor would be better.

But who would want such a thing?

Sad Relics of a Happy Past

I have two boxes out in the garage filled with Star Trek props I tinkered with. One holds the finished products, the other a small selection of Playmates ST toys that were the basis of my tinkering. I cannot imagine anyone wanting them now. They represent a lot of wasted money and time.

Oh, I tried to get the word out. When I realized few were able to do what I did, I decided to create my own tutorials. The biggest Seattle Star Trek fanclub at the time was founded on the ‘Mirror, Mirror’ episode of the Original Series and (at the time) called itself Imperial Starbase Seattle (ISS). It was run by a couple of fellows who are still around in various forms – Michael Montoure was one of them. I think they have a Facebook page up now. We had a falling-out in 1992 over publishing rights to a tutorial I’d written – the Chief Engineer’s Manual - and I was left to publish it on my own. I copied the cover style of the existing ISS publications as best I could and made twenty copies. I sold all but one, though I don’t really think anyone used them to make a single costume prop.

I continued to deal with the ISS’s satellite fan clubs, and that is when I met up with Dave Pinney. I continued to write tutorials for making electronic costume props (on an ISS BBS). Eventually I published those tutorials in one volume while making another for upgrading the NG Tricorder.

So far as I know, no one ever used them. Though they were written with the beginner in mind, they also assumed a few basic skills – using a VOM, soldering and reading a circuit diagram, or schematic. I have come to the conclusion over the years that 95% of the people out there who might have come in contact with this information never possessed any of these skills. Nor desired to. I gave up trying to get the word out in 1995 when a printed tutorial offering to teach you to upgrade Worlds of Wonder LazerTag guns fell flat on its face.

Nowadays, if the bug struck me, I would blog the hell out of it, as while those skills still do not appear to be common, I can reach a lot more people through the Internet.

Then again, maybe not. In all the years since, I have been installing electronic special effects in Warhammer:40K models and BattleTech displays. Only one person has ever asked me to help him make something similar:

And that was five years ago.

Control Line!

Here is the progress I have made so far on the Double Bean. As you can see, I joined the tanks together to make two larger units. I used some braided wire to bridge the gap in the center and installed some longer copper tubing to pick up the fuel. So far, so good. I also cut some thin plywood in the shape of the ribs in order to replace the two that will support and anchor the bellcrank.

Next up will be a stiff horizontal stabilizer and elevator, along with an extra vertical stabilizer and rudder. All the parts needed are just about finished. Soon it will be time to actually assemble the model. I will cut the rib location notches in the center section’s leading and trailing edges, and locate the horizontal stabilizer mounts accurately in the fuselage. I don’t want a warped wing or model!

Below is a 1964 Gilbert .11 Control line engine running for the first time in decades. It is turning a wood 7-3 propeller.

Thanks for stopping by.