Mechwarrior: Running a Time of War ~ pt.4

I took most of this week off from my pulp-related projects, and spent extra time catching up on the game logs for my Mechwarrior PBeM, and fleshing out the next stages of the Hair of the Dog campaign.

I think the most common complaints about play-by-post gaming tend to be about interruptions in the posting rate, and the overall slow pace. I try to view both of these as positives, having chosen to run a PBeM because the people I wanted to play it with are scattered about the Earth, have busy lives, and deserve to have a detailed and responsive game environment. How better to reach them, and have the time to prepare for them than to have a format which makes light demands on time and schedules?

Establishing Characters

As the characters are Mechwarriors, players can rightfully expect a lot of combat, but over the months the game has been running, only one of the 4 scenes has involved mechs. It took weeks to resolve, but still – the initial focus of the campaign has been setting the stage for the future. While this has a definite effect on the gripping action aspect of the game, it has given us time to develop the quirks and characteristics which occur so quickly during a face-to-face session. The next time the characters strap into their mechs, I expect the players to be able to fight like a lance – not 4 players looking to blow stuff up. If only we had a fourth player, everything would be grand.

Enhancing Relationships

This week, to further this sense of connection between characters and to provide the players with an extra sense of the view points and personalities of those characters, I encouraged everyone to read over the separate game logs for each PC. As the game is built around a partially shared and partially private narrative, intercut with in-character dialogue, not every scene plays out or is interpreted the same way. While this is especially true in mech combat, it has had fairly significant effects in the espionage and team-building aspects of the campaign as well.

At last report, the players have made the effort to go over each others’ storylines, although progress varies due to workloads and the prodigious amount of reading that actually entails.

Using the Rules

The process of running the game has been made both easier and more difficult by virtue of it being the first time any of us have played this edition of the Mechwarrior rules or the most up-to-date version of the Battletech rules. The format makes it easy for people to follow along with rules references and go back later to check and recheck how things were handled, and the pace makes it easy to have the story flow naturally between scenes set up to test or reveal certain aspects of the system. Where it falters is in retention and in a certain passivity leading posters to feel that they can always look something up later. The OOC thread established for rules and setting related questions partially takes care of that latter problem, but nothing really beats concentrated practice and application when one is trying to really learn something.

For the most part, the players seem content to have the story develop purely through narrative devices rather than through parenthetical inclusion of the rules and rolls being invoked. The initial stages of the campaign mixed the two, but I will be reducing the emphasis on reporting mechanics in the future, although for my own benefit I would like to keep them. As I am also learning the system, posting the rolls and results helped me spot, or helped the players find, errors that would have been lost to the ether otherwise.

Where things stand:

The setting is the planet Oliver – formerly a protectorate of the Free Worlds League, but now in the grasp of the Lyran Commonwealth. My version of this abandonment and occupation story no doubt veers widely from the canonical (governmental in-fighting), as do my intentions for the Lyran occupying force (brutal, sadistic, and greedy). If I were to do it all over again, I would have set the same story in the Periphery and in a different time period, but there is so much to be done with the elements the players have brought into play for this planet and this time, I don’t regret forging on ahead with the setting as is.

So far in the campaign…

• The characters have been witness to the formal annexation announcement of their world, and met to deal with the realization that they may be some of the very few on the planet who can act to change the course of events.

• A flashback to a simulated lance on lance battle in very unusual terrain was played out, establishing an expanded sense of the region, the characteristics of some primary and secondary cast members, and planting some major seeds for the future

• They have captured a suspected Lyran spy and had one of their number come close to death from poison intended for them all

• The characters have stepped up to formalize and lead a revolt against the Lyrans, gotten a sense of the resources they have at their disposal, learned more of the forces arrayed against them, and started to lay their plans

• The characters rescued their students and coworkers from a poison gas attack, and uncovered a complicated scheme with links not only to the Lyrans, but one of the PCs’ troubled past.

• The characters have begun an exploration of the underground testing range of an old ’mech factory, reported destroyed hundreds of years before.

• The characters have encountered a massive shell – resembling that of a crab – in the complex and signs that there might be more shells which are not empty out there in the dark tunnels…

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