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.



Unknown said...

The trick to running heavies and assaults is to take models with jump jets. That nullifies some of the maneuver issues. Depending on the tech you're using, which sounds 3050-ish, the Axeman is a nice choice as is the advanced Grasshopper (the G-hop is good in any tech). There's a jumping Marauder variant and, of course, the big fat Marauder II (which jumps).

It's the same game, except the payoff for jumping occurs when you can get behind the bad guy or into heavy woods and on elevated terrain when he's not. Back shots at 9 are better than front shots at 8 (most of the time)

Also remember that most heavy/assault players are stupid - they tend to stand and slug it out rather than maneuvering.

Steven Satak said...

Good advice. I have separated the lance into pairs, as you've noticed. One has decidedly short-range weapons and the other a warload weighted towards long-range.

However, one of each has a 4/6/4 movement profile. Are you suggesting I should group them by movement profile, keeping the two jumpers together and the ground pounders in their own group?

Each would have its own long range and short range weapons then.

My style of play is to confer with my associates, then slam the throttles forward and bust the attitude switch off in the 'kill' position. It usually is enough to knock the foe off-balance. It may not be possible with machines this slow.

Any suggestions?


Panzerfaust 150 said...

Most people don't think about maneuver and heavies. I use my heavies in self supporting units. One unit provides base of fire while another closes with and destroys the enemy, I agree with ketjak. You especially do that with lighter, faster enemies. moving in a staggered formation allow you to have somebody cover your back. It's not the 'Mechs, it's the tactics. Use good ones, you'll do well, if not...

Doug said...

How about two (regular) SRM-4s using one ton of ammo for the Scorpion II? Better close range firepower.

I think CGL will be fine.

In fact, lets see a bit of cheer leading for CGL:

Anonymous said...

I have seen the scorpion 2 on CBT.!

Very nice!!!