Mechwarrior: Running ‘A Time of War’ ~ pt.3

With my Mechwarrior: A Time of War (Battletech 4th Edition RPG) campaign in full swing in addition to my ongoing Palladium Fantasy Campaign, and various plots and preparations for Hollow Earth Expedition, Daring Tales of Adventure, and All for One, I have not been posting much.  Now that the first mech battle is complete, and the subsequent reduction of all the associated work that goes along with that sort of undertaking, I have a little breathing room to discuss what is going on behind the scenes.

The first battle

The first ‘mech combat scene in the campaign occurred as a sudden flash back to a lance on lance battle in a simulator, with the players suddenly finding themselves under fire and under some pretty unusual environmental conditions. Combat ran for 14 five-second turns using the Tactical Addendum Rules from the RPG to serve the dual purpose of testing the feel and flow of those rules, and preparing the players for how out-of-mech violence will work.

One of the reasons for having the first combat mission be a run in a simulator was to allow any alterations, inclusions, or deletions of rules to occur seamlessly and with a certain degree of dreaded realism. This was of value to me because it had been so long since any of us had played Battletech that there were bound to be things which we needed to explore or see in action before forming a clear opinion.

The first review

I like to get a feel for how things are going in a game, but as my players are scattered across the globe, I could not just evaluate post-game chit-chat according to my usual methods. I had to just come out and ask.

Reactions were split among the experienced players in terms of desire to continue to use the rules at this scale. I cast the deciding vote and opted to use the normal Total Warfare scale for mech battles simply to reduce my own workload. I prefer the feel and timing of the Tactical Addendum, but spent far too much time in this combat sequence on record keeping because of the PBeM format. To free up that time, it makes sense to use the default rules. I reserved the right to implement the Addendum should a battle of great import, or one between just two mechs occur.

Evolution in Play

We began with the combat being purely narrative, represented in an entirely abstract way with visuals being described, and ranges to targets and specific terrain features being key points of each post. While this could have been a good approach to maintain – and certainly faster than what followed, it was also very work intensive, particularly as each scene was being described from three varying points of view. It also limited player action to either what I could predict for them, or tied them to a series of what-if question cycles in their responses. I don’t enjoy those as a player that much, and did not want to inflict them on this crew. As I was already using maps and overly-detailed charts of my own to keep all the details straight from turn to turn, it was a logical extension to use maps as a resource.

Home of the Devil

The Problem of Maps

Of course, the problem with maps is that I am not an artist and my maps tend to look like the image below.

I forgot to put Cartography on my character sheet

Fortunately my old friend Douglas, who plays the part of MadDog in this campaign, is able to elevate his artistic pursuits beyond the level of napkin sketching and so he was kind enough to produce, expand, detail, revise, re-revise, further expand, and then sequence a set of maps for us. A section of one has been shown before but here is another section~ with full detailing, and a cloud of dust for your viewing enjoyment.

Terra Obscura

With highly detailed maps at our disposal, we could now quickly deal with movement issues, and players could ponder tactics from a wider frame of reference. Needless to say, subsequent turns took on new life, and greatly expanded the immersion of the players based on the style and depth of the responses. Art adds life.

Addenda and Expansions

This review process then pushed on to Tactical Operations and the advanced rules therein. I like the vast majority of them, and suggested incorporating them whole-cloth. After some discussion, good points were raised about not using the expanded Critical Hits rules. While technically, there were enough votes in the group to sustain using these rules, the arguments were persuasive enough for me that I felt that there was a good possibility one or more of us would come to change our minds about the expanded rules and regret opting to use them. I have it in the back of my mind to create a variant of the expanded rules which allows them to come in to play, but addresses the specific counter-arguments raised against their inclusion, but am unsure if it is worth the time we would spend play-testing.

The Complaint about Expanding Critical Hits

At issue with regard to critical hits, was the drastic alteration of the probability curve for specific weapons to generate critical effects. Inclusion of the new rules would involve altering the play style and revising the tactics of both experienced players, and the GM, and completely reversing the normal flow of play we had enjoyed and experienced in the Battletech Universe to this point. The argument as presented, posited that adopting this set of rules would further augment weapons systems which already have significant advantages, and in so doing, would actually serve to penalize weapons systems which used to be balanced in comparison because of how the original critical hits rules were constructed. While we can all see how the rule would have evolved in play tests, the resulting shift in effectiveness for weapons systems, and the attendant changes to preferred ranges and the tactical considerations required to capitalize on those ranges seems to make it a poor fit for our group at this time. The only part of the expanded method which we will be adopting is the expanded critical effects charts for each type of weapons system, but it will be applied for purely descriptive and roleplaying value for the characters involved in refit and repair.

Possible Solution to the Complaint

If motivation and opportunity strike, I believe I will propose a method where the amount of damage which is applied to a mech’s internals will generate a potential bonus on the critical hit chart. Time will tell~

Reaction to this Phase

I am pleased to see the strong character development which has been an ongoing feature of the campaign to date, and the speed with which the setting has been recovered or learned by the players. I did have a moment about 2 weeks into the game where I suddenly had a much better idea of how I could have structured the campaign to have been much less work for us all (me in particular) but, c’est la vie. There is no use crying over severed myomer.

Speak your piece~

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