Sunday, April 25, 2010

New Art for New Machines!

Hey hey!

Promising news on the progress of our Technical Readout:

- Lee Madison is working on his assignments; he promised something by the end of Sunday, I think, but we’ll see. At least he is working on them.

- Eric Ou (Eriance) has completed the illustration of the new Scorpion II. What was interesting about this pieces is that about halfway through it, Eric emailed me with the request that I change the warload and its arrangement a bit. He has never done that before, but I believe it was necessary to balance the design.

What is more, Eric also delivered an updated version of the Culverin, a Capellan OmniMech. His earlier version apparently did not please him and so, like the Nightsky, he redid it. My son John thinks the new version is smokin’ hot – ‘made out of 24 karat win’.

- My co-author Geoffrey Butler is presently working on the second draft of the Scorpion II writeup, polishing what I have sent back to him from the original rough draft. He has to work with a single computer in the house (his Apple is belly-up) so it takes a little while.

- There is a new artist I have been watching – rockman_forte - and he has taken some of Eric’s artwork from (including a few of my commissioned pieces) and colorized them. He does a very good job and I have approached him on the idea of commission work. However, I have to ask you all – are you interested in at least a few pieces being in color?

and another piece done by theplasticone over at Classic

The Changes to the Scorpion II

The warload of the Scorpion II changed, as I noted above. We dropped an ER medium laser and added two standard medium lasers. We moved the dual AMS from the center torso and head to the left torso. Finally, we dropped a ton of gauss rifle ammo.

There are still eleven double heatsinks so we don’t have any problems there. We now have two pairs of lasers – one medium in each side torso with the twin ER mediums in the center torso. After discussing it with Chris, I decided to drop that ton of gauss ammo and leave the Scorpion II with sixteen shots. That should be plenty for the average engagement. Due to the nature of the quad, it has no ability to torso-twist and so one of the anti-missile systems remains facing the rear.

Bill Burt has decided to join our evening game this next Saturday. Should be interesting to see what he does with his machines.

Catalyst Games Update…

It would appear that there are some lawsuits aimed at Catalyst Game Labs and InMediaRes, LLC. Don’t look here for details, though. There are plenty of references out there for those interested in the current state of affairs. I find the company announcements to fall between annoying and amusing. They continue to talk about events at GenCon 2010 as though CGL will retain control of the BT license. Folks still discuss the release date of Interstellar Ops and the Boxed Set as though there was enough money remaining to pay for producing and shipping this product. From what I hear, their original shipping computer left with its owner, an employee who was fired due to undisclosed circumstances.

Finally, I find it the height of hubris that the company is ‘in negotiation for the rights to BT and Shadowrun’ – especially as I have reason to believe their chief negotiator is none other than the man who (allegedly) stripped the company of nearly a million bucks, Loren L. Coleman. I am not sure what the result will be.

Who knows? Maybe there are folks at Topps who so admire Coleman for his chutzpah that they will allow him to retain said licenses. It could happen. It would be a travesty, of course, but after witnessing the antics of Goldman and Sachs, Enron and Washington Mutual, it’s clear to me that if nothing else, the Inner Rings are aware of each other and do what they can to preserve the status quo.


Bill and I attended an airsoft event yesterday hosted by a local group, the First Sword. It rained most of the day and I am afraid that my green raincoat did not provide much of a camo effect. I went out three times and got shot three times. Each time, I got a clear shot at my opponent, but I fear that at least two of them considered themselves bulletproof because they refused to count my shots. The second fellow I caught unawares; I am positive I nailed him, but he just dropped and then he and his fellows returned fire. I took a pellet to my chest and retired from the field for lunch. Meh. Like Bill says, any practice is good practice. And any exercise is good exercise.

The really goofy part was that for about two hours, neither side realized that the objectives for the game were actually behind the American side’s respawn zone. Every time we Russians got near the respawn zone for the Americans and stood a chance of advancing far enough to discover the real objectives (besides shooting American soldiers), the referees called in an ‘airstrike’ and killed our patrols. They considered us to be ‘spawn-camping’. So it was the Americans who discovered the objectives and eventually, with the help of renegade Russians, overcame the snipers and captured the pilots who had the lock combinations.

It was fun and a lot of exercise. Just the same, I think the host group should probably think carefully about this event and maybe plan the next one a little better. The Russians, despite their numerical superiority, never really stood a chance. No one knew where the boundaries were and we all assumed the respawn points at either end defined the end of the playing field. It turned out the American respawn point was actually in the middle of the actual playing field!

I heard the snipers were getting mighty lonely until just near the end. Serves those gillie suit-clad sneaks right to have to sit for two and a half hours in the rain waiting for us. I wanted to use my M-14 in this game, but they chrono’d the guns at the start and I made the mistake of assuming they wanted us to do the test with .20 gram pellets. My gun had been upgraded to shoot .28g pellets at 385 feet per second (fps).

Naturally, when I used .20g pellets for the chrono test, it registered at 427 fps. I could not shoot anyone who was closer than 100 feet with the M-14 and with the relatively light .20g pellet, I could not reliably hit anything at that range. So I left it in the car, using my backup G36K instead.

In hindsight, I should have just left my .28g pellets in the gun. They would have tested below 400 fps and I could get out there and fight. Even though we were supposed to use eco-friendly pellets, the small amount I would have shot would not have made much of a dent in the ecology. Besides, I just got a couple of bags of .26g eco-friendly pellets – the heaviest I could find – and they should do a bit better in future games.

Well, better luck next time.

Thanks for stopping by.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Scorpion II Playtest, Catalyst Games and TRO News!

The Game


Word of warning: this is a long one. I have a lot to natter about. Get your coffee or tea now.

It’s Saturday and I have finally gotten a response from Lee Madison concerning the letter I sent him. He is having computer troubles, but is back and paid up to date on the work he has already done. I am hoping to get something from him by next Wednesday.

I have checked in with Josh, our layout man, to see how his health is coming along. No response yet.

We changed the look on this blog a bit – mostly the font and a few colors. Is it easier to read? Click on that picture above to get a better look - the Free Worlds League and Capellan crews have some time on their hands - why not a pick-up game? Winner buys lunch.

I asked Red Pins to playtest the Scorpion II as outlined in the last blog post. What follows is a turn by turn description of the action:

Scorpion II Playtest

[Ok, finally done. The game got delayed from Saturday afternoon to evening. Feel free to shake your heads - my newbie player (my boss Ray) rolled nine 12's and a single 2 in 6 turns.

Two Scorpion II vs Tempest TMP-3M and Cestus CTS-6Y, 3/ 4 pilots, special rules lateral movement, partial cover, and fire are in effect. Random map Rolling Hills #1, roll leaves Ray (my boss) to choose to come in from the top right.

Turn 1, Initiative Ray
Tempest jumps behind the Level 3 hill in the corner and the Cestus moves further down on a Level 1 rise. I move the Scorpions in. No firing.

Turn 2, Initiative Me
The Tempest remains in place, while I move Scorpion #2 and after a bit of discussion with the newbie, he moves the Cestus. Surprise! I flank the L2 wooded hill and freeze out the Cestus. Scorpion #2 has no hope to hit with the HGR at this range after the jump, but #1 hits and strips the RA, getting 2 criticals and blowing up the Cestus’ gauss rifle. Sweet! His RT is hanging by 3 internals points of structure and if it goes so does the XL engine.

Turn 3, Initiative Ray
I jump deeper into the map with Scorpion #2 for the L2 ridge, it being the highest terrain on my side of the map, guarding the no-man’s-land in the center of the map. After more discussion, Ray jumps the Tempest and I move Scorpion #1 – I smell an early kill, so I don’t want to back off too far.

We exchange fire, me holding off until he gets closer (I have only 7 shots left). I advise him to start fires to shorten LOS – he needs to use the Cestus to hold off Scorpion #2 while trying to bring his large pulse laser (LPL), MLs and SRMs to bear in my minimum range where he outguns me. He successfully lights up three hexes with laser fire, and the Cestus is ready to cross under cover of the smoke. So far, it’s been frozen out of the game, and it’s spotless.

Turn 4, Initiative Ray
The Tempest charges in, keeping me out of partial cover, so I make the first mistake – I move to to cover them both. The Cestus runs in and I make my final mistake – I move Scorpion #2 to cover my retreat. I’m unfamiliar with the HGR – I’ve moved to +2 with both Mechs for minimums.

We both fire and Ray lucks out. A single SRM from the Tempest knocks out Scorpion #1’s pilot with a head hit after I roll snake eyes for the consciousness check. He’s out for Turn 5. Everything hits the Scorpion #1 but a ML and a single SRM, and the Scorpion’s Streak launcher misses the Cestus’ RT completely. The Cestus hits the Scorpion #1 with his gauss rifle (GR) and a large laser (LL). I pepper him with the Streak missiles from Scorpion #2.

(As it turned out, right there I screwed up. Scorpion #1’s pilot never regained consciousness. If I had taken the HGR shot, I would at least have had a chance to land a big hit and stripped one of his arms or torsos, or set up a chance to strip a leg or his CT next turn. )

Turn 5, Initiative Ray
Scorpion #1 moved first, since he was out (and it took some time to explain the reasons for this to Ray). The Tempest moved to the hex adjacent to Scorpion #1 after I explained the ‘Prone’ to-hit modifier. I moved Scorpion #2 hoping to wipe out the Cestus’ RT and retreat later with both units. I tell Ray he has the advantage for now and he is on his own.

So what does the newbie do? He runs through the fires he set (he should never have made it, he never went onto the slope but I mis-counted, and it was a back shot anyway.).

We exchange fire and the Tempest puts a LPL and SRM into the head of Scorpion #1, reducing it to a single internal point. Ray misses the chance for a critical on Scorpion #1’s head. The recovery roll becomes a 7 and I miss it later on. Scorpion #2 wipes out the armor over the Tempest’s RT, but the SRMs miss, and that torso (and the Tempest) hang on by 2 internal structure points. The Cestus scuffs Scorpion #2’s thick leg armor and rolls the CT (R ) critical but fails the critical roll. That’s about the only thing he’s missed, as his LL pegs me in the head.

There is no justice. Except for piloting skill rolls (PSRs) from HGR fire, I’m rolling crap.

Turn 6, Initiative Ray
Scorpion #1 moves first again, as the Tempest jumps to get out of the LOS from Scorpion #2. With the Cestus in my rear and Scorpion #1 still unconscious, I’m in trouble and move. The newbie does the expected, and turns to follow Scorpion #2. I get only a +3 from movement and woods, but he doesn’t get any modifiers.

We exchange fire again, and I miss him completely. The Tempest does the expected, firing its 3 MLs and SRMs while he cools off a bit. Since he can kick this round, he does and Scorpion #1’s RT finally goes. He rolls a single critical on the RT and hits the HGR for a 25-pt internal hit, wiping out the internal structure in that location and the XL engine. Scorpion #1 is destroyed.

Turn 7, Initiative Me
With the worm turning and the Tempest and Cestus at close range with their energy and SRM backups, I opt to retreat Scorpion #2 before I get too far from my entry corner, and jump off the map. Game over.

A quick overview; I went into the game confident I had the single-impact damage that was going to peel ‘Mechs like a banana. Unfortunately, success with an HGR requires a certain set of conditions and I did not get these with the random terrain and bad rolls. I compounded my problems by misusing the HGR. The extra minimum range was a concern, and the SSRM-4 wasn’t a big deterrent. The quad made the HGR PSRs no problem but most of all I missed significant back-up weapons, plural.

Fighting from Hull-down would have worked, particularly if he had to close, but the hills and woods shortened the LOS and made it impossible on that map. Over all, I’d say the Scorpion II is ideally a sniper, despite the way the damage drops off. It reminds me a great deal of a Blackjack, dangerous against Lights (Mediums, in this case) and fine as a Lance member, but the combination of movement and lack of back-up weapons make me leery of groups, and 8 rounds is just not comfortable.

As an option, I’d go for the Gauss Rifle or Ultra/20 (probably the Ultra, despite the range and limit of 10 rounds), and a Light engine in 3063.]

My Take on This Playtest

Note that there were several factors already against the Scorpion II going into combat. The first and most crippling was that this was a demo. When you give a demo, you are not supposed to win. That pretty much scotched any chance that the Scorpions would come out on top even if they hadn't lost five of the seven initiatives...

Equally influential was that Red Pins had to teach Ray how best to use his machines, which is fine - but a little like playing chess against yourself. Part of what makes a ‘Mech useful is deploying it in ways which force your opponent to make mistakes. Until late in the game, Red Pins advised his boss in order to avoid those mistakes. This is the essence of a demo, but not the best way to playtest a new ‘Mech.

Second was unfamiliarity with the main gun and its minimum range. This complicates movement choices and overall strategy – as mentioned, the Scorpion II makes a good sniper but lacks the ammunition supply to capitalize on range while ignoring the occasional miss.

Which leads us to the third factor, which was a reluctance to use the main gun in all but the closest encounters due to its fairly short ammo supply. Unfortunately, with a ‘Mech that is 4/6/4 and has a big gun, you must either stand off and stand still or else get in close as quickly as you can to neutralize the opponent’s long range advantage. Neither of these tactics appears to have been used, probably due to the terrain.

However, there is more.

Definite Shortcomings...

In all fairness, a stand-off was not really a live option due to the limited reloads for the HGR. And as was pointed out, firing at close range was troublesome due to the restrictive minimum range of the HGR and the negligible effect of the Streak 4. Eight rounds seemed to me enough to get the job done, but the minimum range and damage drop-off complicate things. A desire to conserve ammo wastes one of the HGR’s biggest advantages – its long reach. Ten rounds is often enough for an AC/20, but then that weapon is short-ranged and not likely to tempt someone into wasting rounds trying for a ‘long shot’ across a mapsheet. Who likes the thought of running out of ammo while having next to nothing for a backup?

And that lack of backup was obvious in the playtest. I can gripe all I want about the lackluster initial conditions, but the facts are clear. The Streak SRM-4 is a fine weapon system, but in this case it was inadequate by itself to capitalize on the damage done by the HGR. I have come to the conclusion that the original Scorpion II, while a fine platform for the HGR, is not equipped to cover the inevitable demands a player will make in tactics and overall strategy. Especially if it is cornered alone!


The Scorpion II has been reconfigured. It now weighs sixty-five tons and carries a gauss rifle and three ER medium lasers. For protection against enemy missiles it carries not one but two anti-missile systems (AMS) and features a C3 Slave unit to capitalize on the range of the gauss rifle. It now comes from the Draconis Combine and should do much better when coupled with that House’s 3060 medium quad, the Bishamon BSN-4K.

I have accordingly dropped the Pillager from the ranks of the DC ‘Mechs and re-instated the Zeus PE in the Lyran list.

As you know, I originally had some qualms about pulling the Zeus PE from the lists despite its capable design. This had to be done. I have no such qualms about the Pillager. Not only is it a Capellan ‘Mech far from home with only four working examples of its type in the Draconis Combine – it carries weapons which are decidedly experimental in 3063. The heavy PPC is definitely under development, but the chance of a player acquiring one of these ‘Mechs in the course of a campaign – or even encountering one – is pretty damn small.

I will playtest the new Scorpion II in a couple of weeks. Red Pins has done all he can – he has a house to sell and other things on his mind. He did a fine job and I wish him luck. I regret having to reconfigure the Scorpion II’s warload but it has several drawbacks and upping the tonnage simply turns it into a copy of the Lyran Barghest BGS-3T of 3062. Pairing it with the Bishamon, which has a C3 Master computer and a much faster movement profile, should prove very interesting.

More comments on Catalyst Game Labs….

Barring a miracle from on high, I have the feeling that The Powers That Be will soon be getting their paychecks from a new source. Some of the stuff I have read on the forums sounds almost comical, yet for me it is not. It's just sad because it repeats patterns I have seen time and again.

Just, you know, not on this scale.

I watched it happen with a late 1980’s convention assistance group out of Seattle calling themselves the KnighHawks. I watched it happen to a gaming shop out of Poulsbo called Fantasy Realm. I watched it happen to a Seattle Star Trek fan club in the mid-1990s. I heard about it second-hand in 1997 from an artist who watched TSR (the originators of Dungeons and Dragons) go down the tubes at the hands of people eerily reminiscent of Loren L. Coleman.

All different, yet all curiously linked by a common theme. Perhaps it’s just me, but they were all in the business of weaving dreams and making them as real as possible for entertainment purposes. At least at first. And it was those people in charge, the magical storytellers, who eventually led to the downfall of the organization. Their gift for the gab, the silver tongue which could sell any idea to anyone, finally sold them on their own entitlement to do whatever they wanted.

Pathological liars are some of the most convincing people you will ever meet, because they lie about everything, no matter how petty or great. They honestly believe the truth of what they are saying, while they are saying it. Which is why it is a mental sickness. Most of us can delude ourselves and even a few others once in a while. The pathological liars do it all the time. They can't stop. And when confronted with the actual truth, they react in really strange ways.

Someday I will have to tell you the story about my encounter with a hobby shop owner in San Diego's Chula Vista suburb. I still have electronic modules out in the garage left over from that mess. (Good news: I was able to use several of them in the GenCon 2007 dropship display).

Questions and Opportunities

Someone wrote to me and suggested that this would be a golden opportunity for folks like me to get our stuff out and noticed. I would rather pass on the opportunity considering its cost to everyone else, but as it is going to be there regardless of what I wish, here are some thoughts:

- We may see a real chance to make a splash with this TRO, considering the almost-certain dearth of printed material that will come from the license. In fact, with its writing and fresh art, it might contribute to the continuance of the hobby in 2010. Yeah, I can dream. Bill says it will depend on how hard-hit the fandom is by these events.

- That doesn’t mean no material will be forthcoming in 2010 from the erstwhile Powers That Be. However, between the collapse of one company and (presumably) the pickup of the license by another, I predict there will be a significant delay. There will be writers and artists who have not been paid and who will withhold their copyright permissions until they do get paid. The majority controllers of CGL will be under investigation and involved in lawsuits, tying up a lot of what does exist. Publishing is probably the last thing CGL is thinking about right now.

- Meanwhile, you have to wonder what CGL… excuse me, the future holders of the license – have planned for GenCon2010. Or if BattleTech will even appear there. I’m thinking mmmmmaybe. If things can be cleared up by then. Who knows? Maybe the new owners will hire Bill to do a table. We still have that wonderful working 1:285th scale monorail waiting in the wings…

- I wonder what the shops will think of this? Especially if product dries up for three to six months?

- What will happen with Iron Wind Metals in the meantime? Will they lose their license to produce BT miniatures? If they do, which foundry will be up to creating the entire line of miniatures all over again? I have a feeling IWM will still be around, just from the sheer number of molds and product on hand. But they won’t have the same deal as they did with CGL.

- What will happen to the CGL website? Will it stay up? (My guess is ‘yes’, but there will be a lot of long faces).

- What will happen to the Commando organization? Will it fold? Go on hiatus? What will happen to the results of Operation Rat?

- What will Randall Bills do? Here is a guy whose past two decades have been pretty much defined by this hobby and BattleTech in particular. How can he ever hold his head erect among BattleTech fans and players again? Even if CGL pulls out of its current troubles somehow, gets rid of Coleman and keeps the license, Randall Bills will never be free from the looks, the whispers, the declined invitations.

We trusted Randall with too much, built him up to be more than he actually was, more than perhaps he ever could be. He went along for the ride. How many of us wouldn't? And to our great surprise (and his?), he turned out to be a wicked man like the rest of us.

This will follow him as long as he lives amongst gamers. Will he be able to just... walk away?

- I have no questions about Loren L. Coleman. He is one of those creatures whose humdrum perfidy is notable only because of the amounts involved, the number of people affected and the gigantic testicles it required. He can't take his licking and slink out of the public eye fast enough.

- On a lesser note, I will have to go through my TRO Credits section and change the disclaimers to some other company.

As you can see, the current crisis is going to affect a lot of things great and small. I don’t think it will kill our game, but this certainly isn’t going to do it any good. Bill thinks the worst case scenario is that the player base will drop back to what it was after FASA collapsed – namely, the 3025 and 3050 mavens. There is a lot of product we will never see because it was cancelled due to lack of funds.

What is more, I still have not figured out how the future license holders are going to maintain a universe filled with war in Devlin Stone’s peace. Bill thinks they are probably going to ‘jump’ the timeline past the years of peace as soon as they get firm control of the game. It certainly seems reasonable.

But I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

The Upcoming BattleTech Game

Meanwhile, I must learn to do something new – successfully operate a lance of heavy and assault ‘Mechs. It is not easy to make the switch from machines whose average movement profile is 6/9 or 5/8 to those that can, at best, move 3/5 or 4/6. This is where I playtest the Scorpion II.

Two of these ‘Mechs are equipped with long-range firepower – the Scorpion II (in its new configuration) and the Zeus ZEU-9S. Those will be my support guys. The other two are close-range bruisers whose ideal fire envelope is a mere 90 meters – three hexes. They pack AC/20s and a host of other smaller stuff, including a hatchet – they are the Atlas AS7-S and the Axeman AXM-1N. My problem will be getting the most out of these designs while performing as part of an overall effort to beat our foe – the rebellious Pro-Victor forces. As I do not know the terrain or the force composition of either my allies or opponents, there can be no further plans until the evening we play.

I’m taking a nap before this one. It will be a night game, starting at 1900 and ending whenever. I hope like hell most of the folks who show up are experienced, because I want to force a decision before midnight and that will be very hard with all the armor these monsters have.

It’s not that we’ll get kicked out – the shop will stay open all night. It’s that I have an hour drive to get home afterward, and I will be bushed. Late night gaming is definitely for the young.

Thanks for stopping by.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

“Funeral For A Wonderful Daydream”

Greetings and salutations.

Got some new tunes on the old musical box. One is by Jethro Tull, the other by a band called Porcupine Tree. Make of them what you will, they are nice jams and it is about time some of the older stuff gets rotated.

I sent my final missive off via the US Postal Service to Lee Madison today along with his final payment. We’ll see if that gets the remaining images from him, or indeed, any contact at all. Hell, for all I know the man could be dead.

Josh is mending slowly and getting his energy back. I have been keeping him posted as to the various changes, status, etc. He will jump in when he’s ready.

Losing a BattleMech!

I have already announced (via the previous post’s comment column) that I will pull a Lyran ‘Mech from the TRO and replace it with a new quad design. This ‘discarded’ design is good – make no mistake, it is not dross we were keeping in as filler. It has a complete writeup and art, as well as being a very useful design. However, we have already decided not to increase the machine count in the TRO as it has been solidified past the point where we can easily change things around – or expand the page count.

This ‘discarded ‘Mech’ is the Zeus PE, a ‘Mech specifically designed for the Federated Commonwealth’s Periphery Export Program.

The Zeus PE was intended as an offering to various Periphery realms in need of a good assault ‘Mech (most of whom cannot produce this class on their own in 3063). It was deliberately designed with an endo steel skeleton and Artemis-enhanced SRM launchers to ensure the recipients would remain dependent on the Federated Commonwealth’s good will for a steady supply of the special ammunition and chassis replacement parts. This tactic of keeping the Periphery customers coming back to the ‘company store’ might have actually worked. Instead, it backfired

The problem is that this is the only Zeus variant with an endo steel frame. Civil War politics halted production after forty examples and the kill order included all endo steel spare parts. With no chassis replacements for sale, even cash-strapped mercenary units pass on the Zeus PE. It is nearly impossible to repair significant damage to the PE’s internal structure. The Outworlds Alliance is stuck with twenty such units and they will probably run them until there is nothing left to salvage. Ironically, standard launchers have already replaced the only complex system with relatively plentiful repair stocks - the Artemis-enhanced SRM racks.

Someone requested that this design be made available after the TRO is published, as an online ‘bonus’. I think that is a good idea and will take it for action in the near future.

A Solid Replacement

Meanwhile, the potential of the new Scorpion II to be a standout machine in the TRO is very good. Its design philosophy makes all kind of sense both in terms of game design (a lot of synergy between the warload and the four-legged chassis) and in-universe storytelling. The design has always been over-engined – most of the obstacles encountered in designing an effective Scorpion were related to the fact that it has less tonnage and internal space available and thus cannot mount nearly as much hardware. Forcing the poor thing to move 6/9/0 required an enormous engine that ate up drastic amounts of tonnage and contributed to a lackluster performance regardless of the variant.

The trouble is that weight-saving moves such as endo-steel and ferro-fibrous armor are bulky and gobble up critical slots, something which is in abundance with lighter designs but not so much with medium or heavy ‘Mechs. This is doubly so with quads, which lose the critical slots normally found in the arms of bipedal machines.

We fixed the biggest part of the problem by de-rating the powerplant. This left room for a good warload. I am already in the playtest phase of development, while Geoff is busy throwing together a rough draft for the writeup. By the time you read this blog entry, I should have some preliminary results from actual combat. While we are busy at this, our artist Eric Ou is working on the visual portion. He has had trouble in the past with quads and sees this as an opportunity to hone his craft. Between the two of us, I think he will amaze everyone.

Death of a Daydream

There are many, many established freelance writers and artists, as well as the usual assortment of BattleTech gurus, who are going to be left twisting in the breeze pending the (presumed) failure of CGL to retain their BattleTech license. But even if a miracle occurs and they keep it, a complete overhaul of the major players in this debacle is all but assured.

A lot of writers, artists and product ramrods do their work for very little compensation beyond getting their names in print. The line of folks waiting in the wings who write passable BT fiction and produce good art for this hobby is as long as your arm, and then some. We all hoped – or in my case, daydreamed – that one day, if we kept at it and the timing was right, we’d get our chance to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) with CGL and have a shot at ‘the big time’.

Yes, even I occasionally indulged in the fantasy that CGL would see this TRO and knock on my door with a request that I go to work for them as a freelancing writer or editor. And a guy should have goals, even ones that are unlikely. I’m pretty sure I am not the only one who consoled myself with that happy fantasy. And how many of the published authors began that way?

For me, part of getting over something like this is figuring out what the hell it is I have to get over. Why should I be bothered by this? Look at the past history of this intellectual property… where’s my stake?

Here’s the deal… with all the recent activity concerning InMediaRes and Catalyst Game Labs, the dream I had of being allowed to working on official material has been smothered in the crib. And I’ve finally realized that its passing was the primary reason I was so upset about what the folks in charge did. Don’t get me wrong - the pity candle is just about burned out on CGL, at least for me. And the fantasy I entertained was never a driving force behind the TRO, so my pretty dreams are just another example of what the military calls ‘collateral damage’. I’ve no doubt it is an element behind some of the outrage you find on the forums.

And that’s what bothered me.

A Guess at What Lies Beneath

Bill recently tried to explain Loren L. Coleman’s actions to me, sizing him up as a man so devoted to BattleTech, he gave decades of his life to promoting it and developing it. Thus, he probably felt he was honestly entitled to the proceeds - regardless of the company’s debts and contracts.

My response was immediate: if Loren L. Coleman was so dedicated to BattleTech, so honestly convinced the money was rightfully his, why did he willingly gut a successful company’s finances on the sly and ensure its eventual ruin? And why didn't his closest comrades in the company stop him?

That's devotion to the self, not devotion to a hobby. And Bill had no ready answer.

Nevertheless, I can understand Loren Coleman without too much strain – a combination of greed and arrogance, encouraged by decades of being a big fish in a small pond. His is a textbook case of never believing your own press releases. Randall Bills was a tougher nut to crack – he had to know. He had to. And Randall was a good man when I met him last in 2003. I prefer to remember that Randall Bills. But what prompted him to go along?

I believe the answer lies in something I re-read today by C.S. Lewis.

Lewis wrote an essay titled ‘The Inner Ring’. In it, he said:

"…to nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to Scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colors… Over a drink or a cup of coffee, disguised as a triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man or woman whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still – just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or na├»ve or a prig – the hint will come.

It will be the hint of something which is not quite in accordance with the technical rules of fair play; something which the public - the ignorant, romantic public - would never understand; something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about, but something, says your new friend, something which “we”… always do.

And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back into the cold outer world…. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit.

It may end in a crash, a scandal and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel. Of all passions the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.

I think Randall wanted to belong to the BattleTech Inner Ring so much, he was willing to look the other way when his fellow Inner Ringers began twisting things. It all fell apart when the money ran out – and don’t think this is the first time I have seen that happen (ask me about Fantasy Realm). To his credit, when it became public Randall was the only one who expressed some remorse.

The rest, presumably, called a lawyer.

We’ll Never Really Know

But of course, there is no telling if any of this is fact, beyond what is published by the company itself and its former employees and partners. And that is subject to spin both ways. We can’t see into their hearts, or catch any more than a glimpse of what they’ve so carefully hidden all these years.

What we can all assume with some assurance is that we’ll never hear the full story from the lips of those most intimately involved. This is not really surprising. No one involved can admit they turned a blind eye, or that they even knew what was going on, because that path leads to lawsuits, prison and a mountain of debt.

And anyway, why should they tell us? Starting with a mindset that sees nothing wrong with spending mind-boggling sums from the company coffers on personal projects, why should they even consider an explanation? It’s not like they owe us an apology, either - as has been stated somewhere, it was their money and their company.

All I know is, I will probably never get anything for BattleTech into print that is not put there with my own money. Joining the Big Boys in their story-telling was an unlikely event before, but Mssrs. Coleman and Bills have driven the last nail into the coffin of that dream. I am fifty years old. How long will I have, to write and create, before life – or death – intervene?

It’s hard to let a dream go.

Thanks for stopping by.


PS: Just received an email from Loren Coleman - no, not Loren L. Coleman, but apparently another Loren Coleman. I would like it to be truly said that no other Loren Colemans were impugned during the recording of this blog post. So - if your name is not Loren L. Coleman, the fellow currently connected with the woes over at Catalyst Game Labs, no offense is intended.

And if you took offense, please accept my apologies. I sometimes forget how wide the Web is and how far my net can be cast.


Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Good News and So-so News.... and the Game!

Good day!

Some good news, some not so good.

No word from Lee Madison yet. I am still pinging him with email but so far no luck.

That’s not as big a deal as it was a couple weeks back – our layout man is still recovering from pneumonia and some other issues, but he is doing his best to get back on his feet. Josh’s condition makes me think of that old maxim “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything”. We just have to be patient. I email him once a week to get the status on his health. I don’t even mention the TRO work, because that is a distant concern compared to him getting through his times of trouble. But he knows we’re here.

This delay gives me more time to mail off money via snail mail and PayPal. Several of you have chipped in recently, some of you in a very big way. I thank you from the bottom of my heart and promise to keep plugging away at this project.

My wife went to get her teeth cleaned today. We discovered that during the years since we left the Navy dental system, she’s developed a few cavities. Those will have to be fixed. However, she and I still have OUR health and we are working hard. So that will cause a bit of delay – mainly to saving for the printing and paying off commissions.

A New Design

During this down time, I have been tinkering with various machines and came across one that has not really been developed much since it first appeared. The Scorpion in most of its iterations has been a clumsy-looking machine and has a poor reputation among my fellow players. Even the original writeup for that machine all but called it a failure due to its clumsy gait and lack of internal space. Recent books have revised the look somewhat and the upgrades are considerable – my favorite is probably the LB-10X variant with the SRM-6 which appears in 3067. But I have issues with all these machines.

First, what is the point of even fielding the Scorpion if you are not going to play to the strengths of the quad design? For example, take that model I just mentioned, the SCP-12S. It moves 6/9/0 and has a light fusion engine. Moving at full speed and firing both weapons, this machine generates a whopping eight heat. Why does it have double heat sinks? And as any player can tell you, a fifty-five ton ‘Mech wearing armor appropriate for a forty-ton frame is just asking to be wiped out.

And really, can anyone see this thing running at sixty miles per hour?

I took a hard look at the concept of the quad and decided to see if I could play to its strengths better than what has come from the company so far. There are a few worth the mention.

First is its ability to go ‘hull down’ behind Level One terrain. Bipedal ‘Mechs enjoy a +1 bonus to cover and any hit on the full-body chart which strikes the legs is ignored. The Quad design goes this one better – since all its limbs are legs, that is four out of eight possible locations where a hit is ignored. The only portions that can take a hit are the head and the left, right and center torsos. And the Quad can still fire back!

The second is the stability of the design – any Piloting Skill Roll (PSR) to avoid a fall is taken at a –2, which is very good. For example, a Mechwarrior with a piloting skill of 4 would normally need to roll 4 or better. Now he needs only avoid rolling snake eyes.

I can understand the hull-down feature and make ready use of it regardless of the Scorpion’s warload, but what could you possibly do with a bonus to your PSR? They are only made when you are attempting to do something dangerous - or a bracket of heavy gunfire has smacked you really hard. The quad’s stability is great, but it doesn’t seem to be useful until you are in a desperate spot.

Well, as it happens, there is one weapon that forces a PSR if you fire it on the move – the heavy gauss rifle (HGR). This is normally not an issue because the HGR is found only in larger BattleMechs. There are PSR modifiers based on the size of the machine you are flying – Mediums are at a +1, Heavies are at 0, and Assaults grant a bonus of –1, which means you don’t normally see this type of weapon in anything smaller than a Heavy.

However, even with the penalty of +1, a medium quad ‘Mech could move and fire a heavy gauss rifle and the pilot would still enjoy a total bonus of –1 to his PSR. Not bad. All of this prompted me to tinker with the Scorpion to see if I could fit that huge bastard of a gun into the Scorpion’s modest 55-ton frame.

Well, I did it.

The result is much slower than the original – but it has something no Scorpion ever had, and that is the ability to jump. It moves 4/6/4, has over 90% of maximum armor and carries a Streak-4 rack as a backup weapon. There are only two tons of gauss rifle reloads – eight shots in all – but I have seen what an AC20 can do mounted on a 4/6/0 Hunchback during our last game, and eight shots is plenty when you are close to your target. Best of all, the heavy gauss rifle has twice the range of the AC20…

I bumped the tonnage up to 70 to see what else could be done with this concept – the speed stayed the same, but the armor increased tremendously and I was able to fit two Streak-6 racks in there. I don’t think this is a radically better design, but the pilot would have his full bonus of –2. That counts for something, but there are quads out there of similar tonnage that have greater flexibility. I think that was lost when I focused on the heavy gauss rifle. And it runs nearly four million credits more than the medium version.

So we stick with the original chassis plus 5 tons to bring it up to the heavy class. A couple of these can command a whole mapsheet.

I am thinking of pulling a finished design from the Lyran section – this will cause no small amount of trouble as I have to modify everything to fit in the new machine. But the concept is a bit more useful than the Zeus PE, which is a ‘Mech designed for Periphery States and which, in any case, has not been successful for a number of reasons.

What is tipping the balance is that Eric Ou has agreed to illustrate this new ‘Mech. He has not done a quad before, so it will be a while before he can turn it out. He might not be able to pull it off, so I am crossing my fingers while I create the new writeup. If Eric can do this, we will see a very solid quad taking its place in the TRO, which is a good thing and a harbinger of things to come.

Somewhat Frustrating Game Day

I went across the water alone last Saturday. This time I went as far as Tacoma, where our GM hosted a game at the Game Matrix. On the one hand I was happy to see that we had eleven people turn up to play.

On the other hand, we had eleven people turn up to play.

As most BT players can tell you, things slow way the hell down in a game that exceeds four players to a side. To make matters worse, all of the High Rollers players chose to work with Free World League and Capellan ‘Mechs, leaving the more numerous and harder-hitting Davions to the players with less experience. The battle took place in 3028, with everyone piloting a Level One old-school design.

Five players were on our side, all deferring to Dan for the final call on critical moves. Six players on our opponent’s side, all endlessly discussing the potential for this move or that. At least they knew how to run their machines. But they had no ‘whip’, no one to keep them moving and the turns passing quickly. Ray tried to remedy that, with mixed results. But the truth is that we were the underdog and it took all our skill and experience to stay in the game.

So we had eight turns in six hours of play. Not enough to determine whether or not either side had the advantage – the pilot’s skills were average and this made for a lot of shots which required a ten or higher. We didn’t really begin dropping ‘Mechs until Turn Six. Our UrbanMechs were used to soften up and distract our foe, but they played very, very conservatively and so we didn’t see much close action with the big boys until they finally approached the edge of our city map on Turn Seven.

I had three ‘Mechs.

One was an Orion ON1-K with an AC/10, an LRM-15 and some smaller stuff.

The second was a Hunchback HBK-4G with an AC/20 and a couple of medium lasers.

The third ‘Mech was a Flea. Yes, a Flea. This one was the FLE-15 with a couple of medium lasers, two machine guns, two small lasers and a flamer.

To be honest, when I sent the Flea up to the front, I did not expect it to last very long. It dutifully dumped its machine gun ammo and buried itself in a building with a view. Then for the rest of the game it acted as a spotter for indirect LRM fire from our other ‘Mechs (Trebuchets, my Orion and a queer little Locust with two LRM-5 racks and so little armor that a fall could have destroyed it).

And the doughty Flea persevered.

Anything it could see, we could reach with our missiles and soon our opponents sent an Assassin to destroy it, approaching the Flea from behind. The building absorbed most of the resulting weapon fire and the Assassin pilot discovered to his chagrin that the FLE-15’s small lasers were rear-mounted and those arm-mounted medium lasers could flip! He got a face full of coherent light for his trouble and hastily backed off, grumbling good-naturedly about ‘that damned Flea’ for the rest of the game.

Dealing with Bullies

In our backfield, I kept my other two ‘Mechs in reserve along with those of my fellow players, a sort of ‘layered defense’ meant to wear the enemy down so that when they reached towards the back, they encountered hard-hitting machines which were fresh. The enemy thought to pull an end run and take out my buddy’s paper-mache’ Locust with the LRMs. We’d hidden it in the rear, but the enemy Locust nearly nailed it anyway. Unfortunately for him, we’d seen him coming for three turns and so my Hunchback was right there when he took his shots. I cored that bully with a single ginormous autocannon shell to the center torso.

I mean really, our poor Locust had exactly sixteen points of armor - total. It was a popsicle-stick ‘Mech with toilet paper for protection. It was worse than a Hussar - a medium laser to the head would have gone internal. Who but a bully would attack a poor thing like that? It barely survived with a single point of internal structure left in the center torso (and kept lobbing missiles for the rest of the game).

The abrupt, violent end of the enemy Locust was startling and it got people’s attention. A ‘furball’ had developed a mapsheet away – when the Hunchback moved up the following turn to get into range, my friend Chris described it as "like watching cockroaches scatter when the lights come on". My pristine Hunchback had command of a large, conspicuously empty piece of urban territory when the game was called.

The Orion finally got some blood. After lobbing missiles for six rounds, I back-doored a Crusader and did severe damage. We got our wires crossed for a moment and the poor Crusader’s player was about to scratch his ‘Mech due to a critical hit to a full ammo bin when another player corrected him. I had announced a hit to his right rear torso, not the left - and so the successful hit stripped off armor instead.

*Sigh*. On such things do games turn… such a kill might have tipped the game in our favor, but it was not to be.

Meanwhile, my Orion took some light fire from a nearby JagerMech. I am sorry, but AC/5s and AC/2s do not inspire awe, even in pairs. I would have taken more damage from a kick. And speaking of kicks, the Flea successfully landed one to that enemy Crusader from the inside of a building as the much larger machine walked by. Sadly, the massive four points of damage did not go internal to the enemy’s leg, though a lot of players laughed at my hopeful query.

On the way to that final confrontation, the Orion had one hurdle to overcome – a Jenner had made it to the middle of our area but was so beaten up that his pilot attempted a ‘death from above’ on my unsuspecting Orion. The player missed it by one. The Jenner paid for its perfidy with a crippling smash into the ground, knocking the pilot out.

What was funny was that the next turn, my buddy Dan’s ‘Mech went for a healthy kick at that immobile Jenner, hoping to take it out of the game and tip the balance. He needed to avoid rolling snake eyes to hit. Naturally, Dan rolled snake eyes. The Jenner pilot needed a three to regain consciousness – he also rolled a 2 and snoozed on.

The game was supposed to run for 12 turns, but lasted only 8. After much back and forth discussion, all parties agreed on a draw. However, we got what we came for – a ripping good game as well as a chance to hang with our friends and meet new players. Well worth the trip and the money spent, and a lot closer to home than I have played in a very long time.

Catalyst Game Labs – the Story Continues

It looks like CGL is attempting to pay off as many freelancers as they can while they are still somewhat solvent. It is touch and go, and there is no sign that Mr. Coleman will step down from his position. Which, come to think of it, is presiding over the extinction of a perfectly good game company. You’d think he would be eager to vacate, but the news on the forums indicates otherwise. I don’t envy Randall Bills one bit. He has a tough row to hoe, and no one but the Lord to help him with it.

From the notes I have read, the business of not paying / late payment of freelancers has been going on from FASA to FanPro to Catalyst Game Labs. Hell, I heard about it back in 2007 when there was some question of being paid for my Union Class dropship display for GenCon 2007. I got paid, but other did not. It might have continued but for the discovery of so many missing funds.

I feel bad for most parties involved – most. I have no respect now for Mr. Coleman or Mr. Bills. To be honest, the appearance of our Technical Readout: 3063 may actually be the biggest BattleTech release of 2010. Not because it is worthy (though Lord knows we’re trying) but because there won’t be anything from the game company itself. I hope Topps lets them retain the license, but frankly, with their operating capital pretty much gone, I don’t see how InMediaRes (the parent company of CGL) can afford to keep it.

Their credibility is shot. Their finances are in a mess and unpaid freelancers are withholding the rights to many finished products. At least one game company that was working with them has bailed out and is looking elsewhere for a partner… it doesn’t look good from where I stand, and I am sure Topps officials know far more than I do about the situation. And then there is Uncle Sam and his IRS.

Well, anyway, that’s what’s going on with BattleTech and the TRO.

Thanks for stopping by.