Thursday, April 22, 2010


[no, this post has nothing to do with the Middle East]

And while I’m thinking about it…Happy Earth Day!

So just in case anyone was wondering, I get easily distracted. No I do not have ADD or ADHD, but I do have something I like to call “Wandering-Obsessive-Compulsive-Disorder” or WOCD. Something sparks my interest or curiosity and then I dive the hell into it and plumb the depths for awhile, only occasionally coming up for air…at which time, sometimes something new will catch my wandering eye.

From an astrological point of view, this can be linked to a Mercury in Scorpio in the 12th House…not only do I need to plumb the depths of things I study, but I do this about EVERYTHING not just particular arenas (though escapist fantasy stuff and the occult holds the biggest “draw”). The Mars in Aries ruled by Mars in Aries accounts for the “wandering attention span” and the fact that it is in direct opposition to Uranus (pronounced Urine-Us, not Your-Anus) means that the more prohibited I am from doing something, the more likely I am to fight like hell to do it.

All of which is to say that I COULD have fixed my computer and internet connection (or at least made some attempt to do something practical that I should have been doing), when in fact I was really just distracted by BattleTech.

I have said before that, pacifist though I am, I dig on military fiction, especially of the speculative (sci-fi) variety. BattleTech is a guilty pleasure in which I’ve occasionally indulged for…well, shit, nearly a quarter-century. That is a long-ass time for something that started life as a board game with a single not-quite-64-page rulebook (I think it’s more in the 30-40 page range).

Of course, look how much time Dungeons & Dragons has sucked from my lifespan…talk about obsessions! : )

So my buddy, the Doc, picked up an old Xbox game called MechAssault which is completely and utterly based on BattleTech, and then I picked it up (I owned it before, but had sold it awhile back), and then decided it just wasn’t “BattleTech” enough, and went down to Gary’s for “board game night” where I thought I might be able to entice a few folks to break out the old hexagonal battle map. Problem is, I don’t own anything BUT the map (and the rule books, of course…the OLD rules that is), and I was also looking for any BT miniatures I might borrow for the evening.

Instead, Tim produced a used copy of the original BattleTech boxed set, complete with cardboard stand-ups, the same game my buddy Scott had owned “back in the day.” The same set I had originally learned to play on (and Scott had shamelessly targeted my Rifleman’s head with a Marauder PPC…why in God’s name would you design a ‘mech with only 6 points of armor on the head? Even a 20 ton Lotus has more!).


So I bought it, of course. And I skipped Board Game Night at Gary’s and spent the weekend indulging in BattleTech…including looking for freeware java apps on-line that would allow me to run huge as BattleTech scenarios like I used to with MechForce on my old Amiga 500 (I told you I’ve been doing this for awhile). Well, I couldn’t find MechForce for the Mac but I DID find an app called MegaMek that is a near perfect duplicate of the current version of BattleTech (sans MechWarrior rule stuff). Unfortunately the campaign builder only works with Java6 and Mac hasn’t bothered making that, so I have to edit everything line-by-line by hand and…

…well, you can see how my obsession with this stuff led to me being “off-line” for a few days. One thing leading to another to another, etc.

So, I’ve come up for air and decided that it’s time to take a big ‘ol break from BT (editing code and programming languages is NOT my forte, and my frustrations have been piling up). Plus I’ve got other stuff to do. AND BattleTech “Total War” is NOT the same BattleTech of my youth anyway.

Though it seems more like a miniatures/war-game, I always considered BattleTech an RPG. If your character sheet has a place for your character’s name (not to mention skills: piloting and gunnery), then as far as I am concerned, you are playing a role. If I am imagining myself to be some dude named Bob in a 60 ton, 15 meter tall, be-weaponed construction, by God this is an RPG…and if I’m commanding a lance or company of these mechwarriors, you better believe I’ve got names and call signs (and possibly personalities) for each of ‘em…usually based on friends and relatives (just easier that way).

Of course, that makes it tough to watch ‘em get shot all to pieces…but doesn’t it make you fight harder, too?

Of course, BattleTech DID have a role-playing game attached to it called MechWarrior. I don’t know if MW has been incorporated into the current three-volume-set of BattleTech Total War or not. I re-read MechWarrior over the weekend and man oh man, this is a vastly under-rated game, in my opinion.

In fact, I’ve often heard it remarked (or seen written) that MW is considered a spin-off game to BT…an RPG “based on BattleTech.” Frankly, I find this pretty insulting. Without MW…including it’s wonderful background material, BattleTech as a game loses a lot of my interest.

I’ll say this here and now: as far as original science fiction backgrounds/alternative histories/game settings go, I find the MechWarrior/BattleTech universe to be the most interesting, imaginative, and compelling story published in RPGs. Really.

Star Frontiers, Traveller, Aeon Trinity...even Warhammer 40,000 (I know there’s a lot of Rogue Trader fans out there!)…in my opinion, none of them holds a candle to the BattleTech universe, at least the original material up to the 3rd Succession Wars (I don’t have the later rules, so I can’t really judge the whole Clan Invasion thing, though on a superficial level I think the alternate-evolution-based-on-eugenics-and-warrior-lodge thing is cool…and better done in many ways than the Legion Astartes background of WH40K).

Even without the giant robots, I find the whole BattleTech story extremely interesting and compelling. As I said, I find it by far the most interesting ORIGINAL background material written for any game (I’m not going to judge it against games where the background/setting comes from fiction established in other mediums…for example, Star Wars…but it sure beats the hell out of plenty of those). Which is all the more surprising considering how many of the original mech designs were ripped off from other sources, including Robotech (the anime TV series) and Robotech (the 2-Issue comic book series that had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the Japanimation). The former provided the mech designs for the Wasp, Stinger, Phoenix Hawk, Crusader, Warhammer, Rifleman, and Marauder. The latter provided the designs for the Wolverine, Griffon, Shadow Hawk, Battlemaster, Thunderbolt, and Goliath. In fact the only mech from the original game NOT appearing in one of these two sources is (as far as I can tell) the 20 ton Locust. No idea where the game authors got the Gooney-Bird.

Despite not originating a single mech design (apart from the Locust) the background/history of the BattleTech universe (at least its skeleton) was already incorporated into the game, appearing in the side bars of the original rule book. MechWarrior fully fleshed the thing out and provided a great galaxy to scheme and intrigue in “outside of the mech.”

However, it appears that the game, because of its nature, tended to attract wargamers that weren’t interested in role-playing and repelled role-players that weren’t interested in the basic premise of mech combat.

Excuse me…I know there are plenty of folks out there that enjoy both aspects of gaming, but I’m talking about people interested in more “hard core” role-playing, not just “how much XP do I get for the mission and how do I level up my character’s piloting skill?” There’s plenty of room in the MechWarrior RPG for exploring other aspects of the BT universe without needing a Mech…or an Aerospace vehicle…or whatever.

It’s a shame because it’s a pretty nifty little system. Oh, it’s simple enough to use (base skill roll based on ability score plus skill level, hit points by location determined by overall “Body” score, simple point-buy character gen taking up about four or five pages total in the rule book), and immediately adaptable to the BattleTech game (if you DO want to keep exploring the “war campaign” aspect of the game). But the story ideas ingrained in the game: from court intrigues and diplomacies, to pirate kingdoms, to missing/recovery Lost Technology, to ComStar and the Word of Blake, to the alliances of the periphery, to assassination attempts and spying, to infiltration and sabotage, to jumpships and gladiator games, to political positions and acquisition of titles and land (planet!) grants…all of this is the stuff to make a great sci-fi RPG, even withOUT the “giant robots.”

Anyway, now the game is about “Total War,” a phrase reminiscent of WH40K’s tag line about there being only war in the 40th millennia. Which is fine I suppose, but I’m kind of “war-gamed-out” these days. As I said, I’ve come up for air from my BattleTech obsession, and I see that it doesn’t have what I want…mainly the role-playing aspect that I desire as much as the mech-on-mech combat. So fun as it is to re-tool and re-design the existing mechs for optimal efficiency (Step One: give the Rifleman more armor…on the head!...and make sure it’s using DOUBLE heat sinks), BT is going on the shelf for awhile. At least till the next time my wife is out of town and I’m thinking about Board Game Night at Gary’s.

: )


  1. "I have said before that, pacifist though I am, I dig on military fiction, especially of the speculative (sci-fi) variety."

    H. G. Wells, father of the modern miniatures game, was also a pacifist, as am I. He provided one of my all-time favorite quotes to explain how he could be a pacifistic wargamer: "Lead soldiers leave behind no lead widows or lead orphans." :)

  2. LOVED Battletech. Played it as a wargame and an RPG. Had a great little campaign as the 'Black Omen' Merc battallion in the days leading up to the Clan Invasion. But as much as I like giant robots, it was the setting that hooked me.

    Unfortunately, as with a lot of settings, the more it was 'expanded' upon by various authors (in the gigantic SLEW of novels that came after the clan invasion), the less I liked it. Same thing happened with Star Wars. The original vision got stomped all over by a bunch of different creative groups, each with their own agenda. And often, one 'creative' would completely contradict what another one did-resulting in characters and plotlines that seemed schizo (sp).

    I lost interest after the initial Clan novels. Then lost even MORE when the 'Dark Ages' supplement went out... which pretty much literally destroyed the universe. No more space travel. Junk-mechs duking it out. Bleh. Not for me.

    Again, I'm rambling. Love Btech. Bye.

  3. Wasn't the Locust one of the INVID battlesuits from Robotech( or whatever it really was in Japan)?

  4. @ Stu: Never got farther than the first series of the franchise, so I couldn't say. But I find it tough to believe any of the mechs were original designs until CityTech and those truly awful Ostsols and Ostocs, etc.

    @ Rolo: I've never read any of the BT novels, but in reviewing "character bios" on the wikipedia, I can totally buy into the craptasticness of an expanding universe. I'm not a huge fan of exploding canon material myself (and the Star Wars frachise is just about the worst one). But folks have to make money, right?

    @ Sir Larkins (your Lordship): Couldn't agree more with you and the esteemed Mr. Wells.