Mechwarrior: Hair of the Dog ~ part 1

I am not sure what to think about automatically connecting the phrase, It is a time of war, with the Battletech Universe, but I do. As my project to prepare a campaign with a balanced mix of roleplaying and wargaming progresses, I was not unhappy to discover that what amounts to the 4th Edition of the Mechwarrior RPG has that evocative phrase as its title.

So, here I sit, with a lot of catching up to do, and the fires of creativity jetting every which-way  as I have not played a tabletop version of the game since… 1995.   There is a ton of new material to read over and try to integrate with what I remember of the old. Capping that process is, of course, the comparison and assessment of these two versions of Mechwarrior. Going over the new core books was surprisingly easy, thanks to the relatively streamlined presentation by Catalyst Game Labs, and the enduring nature of the core mechanics of the game.

Setting Criteria: The RPG

I cannot remember ever hearing a truly positive review of any edition of Mechwarrior.  Looking online, I was not terribly surprised to not find much support, or even information, about A Time of War beyond what is on Catalysts own site, despite the readily available pre-release rules circulating and for sale prior to the scheduled December release. In my own assessment, which I guess will amount to the first RPG review I do for this site, I intend to look at three elements:

  • Ease of Adoption
  • Quality of Character Creation
  • Accuracy of Conversion between RPG and Wargame

The first is necessary as my group, should this game ever be played, tends to flip between games and systems on a monthly cycle.

The second is a mix of personal preference, and insurance against players who have little to no experience with Battletech. Early editions of the RPG were little better than the sum of gunnery and piloting. I want more than that, but I also want it to have some bearing on the Battletech I know and love, not just transplant the mood and setting of another game.

The third is essential if this campaign is to have any real merit and survivability.

Thoughts on Setting:

Putting systemic issues aside for later, once I have had suitable time to properly assess all that I am reading, this post concerns thematic and setting ideas for this campaign. To start, I asked myself, “What do I enjoy in the Battletech Universe?” I used the answers that first came to mind to frame the sort of characters and starting point that I might like to present to players, and to lay the ground work for the themes which will make the foundation for the campaign.

Although I really enjoy running mercenary companies and dealing with all that comes with that, I worry about the amount of ongoing preparation time required to do that sort of tale justice. Although the preparation work to set up characters in a stable environment with a regular cast of NPCs, locations, equipment, and the attendant calls to duty will be higher initially, that will drop significantly once play starts. Additionally, this sort of preparation work is good for the soul, and allows for deeper roleplay from both me and the players, so it seems like the right thing to choose.

That typed, I do not want to have  the initial sessions wind up being steeped in exposition and player discovery of things their characters would, or should already know. It is important to demonstrate both types of action, interact with the setting and the initial cast of NPCs, and give the players a chance to find their voices in their new roles.

A way to balance all of this, is to do what the video game series did well more than once: have the characters begin as a resistance movement with no supply lines, and minimal support crew. While that is less-satisfying from the point of view of originality, it does bring with it a certain comfort for the players, and sets boundaries for us all to work and try to get creative within.

I actually thought of the themes first, but in this post I want to begin with the setting and work backward a little bit. As the initial location and framework for character creation, I have decided upon a beloved military academy for top students and those of noble birth. Three years ago, plans were announced that the school would be closing and the site would become a museum. Two years ago, funding for the museum was put on hold as toxic material was found to have been stored in the munitions lockers. Several well-known teachers and former cadets were found to have been exposed to the toxins, leading to calls for early closure of the academy. Construction of the replacement academy, closer to the capital, and with all the latest technologies, was rushed in order to open one year early. Even avid newshounds may have missed mention that one final graduating class would complete their training at the academy before it closed its doors for good due to strings being pulled by a high-ranking noble wanting his son to graduate at his family’s traditional alma mater. All lower classes were moved to the new facility.

Graduation is next month. Sadly, no one will be there to see it as… it is a time of war. Our heroes? Yes, drawn from the faculty, staff, and students of the academy and the residents of the town in which it is loosely based.

The capital, and all major military bases have been seized. Effective control of the government has been established but resistance has broken out. So begins the campaign~  Nothing new, but easy to work with, and with lots of room to expand in a variety of directions.

Theme Thoughts:

As it is a time of war, I want the themes to be strong, and resonate on several levels. I want to see if we can explore the ideas of loyalty, friendship, and honor. I hope to use these as a filter to examine the problem of trust in a crisis. Sources of intelligence about the enemy, new contacts, and allies, old contacts and allies who may have been compromised, and compatriots as new to fighting for one’s home as you are. All of this, wrapped in a sense of high-adventure with a ribbon of revenge.

That gives us a rudimentary setting, campaign starting point, framework for character creation, and themes to guide character arcs, story development, and the focal points of the campaign.

Want to know more?

Hair of the Dog Campaign Development Posts ~ Part 2, 3, 4

Influences on Character

Hair of the Dog Campaign Live Report ~ Part 1

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