Old Mechwarrior shares old houserules

About a thousand years ago, a good friend* and I cobbled together our own house rules for our ongoing Battletech group. Inspired mainly by our growing use of 3D terrain, the desire to incorporate more roleplay, and my love of Starfleet Battles, the system addressed some things which crop up for long-term players, but frequently pass unnoticed for the casual player.

I suppose in that list above, in the current ‘design environment’ of RPGs, the desire to increase roleplay probably seems like it doesn’t belong. One thing that often gets overlooked I think, is that roleplay requires information and that information has to come from somewhere. In a game rooted in the titanic struggles of giant war-bots, that pretty much boils down to relationships, politics, the physical results of the battles, and the intelligence vital to the missions. The latter two are handled in a case like this by the structure of the war game, but  as the game was designed to abstract the combat and results, and in roleplay we would want to detail those things, a route was needed to enhance one, without reducing the fast, fair, and balanced play of the other. Hence… our house rules.

Now that I have gotten back into Battletech again this past year after a long hiatus, I have found that answers for a lot of the things we covered have been addressed and compiled in Tactical Operations. Those new (to me) rules keep everything I love about Battletech’s ease and basic design, while also letting a little more real-time action seep in around the edges, so I do not now use, nor am I likely to return to using our old homebrewed rules. In the spirit of not taking all your secrets to the grave, however, and in hopes of maybe sparking a little discussion, I have decided to share an overview of these modifications and variations.


The number of units in a battle added bonuses to the larger force.

  • +1 for exceeding by 1/3
  • +2 for exceeding by  ¾
  • +3 for exceeding by more than 2x

Movement + Firing

Using the same approach as undertaken by Armadillo Design Bureau for SFB, we unified the  movement and fire phases and processed them in a fluid number of phases set by the top speed of the fastest mech present on the board.

We could have opted for a set number of phases reflecting the top unit speed of the Battletech Universe, however, there was a negative reaction to the idea of phases spent “not doing anything” on the part of some of the players. Choosing to use the same number of phases as the fastest unit’s top speed did keep things moving quickly, and kept people engaged at all times, so that was good.

Initially, it worked like this:

  • Assess the fastest speed on the board, set that speed as the number of phases per turn.
  • One turn is still set at 10 seconds
  • A unit moving at that top speed will move 1 hex per phase on normal terrain
  • Terrain which costs more than 1MP to enter will slow travel and the unit will not fully enter the new Hex until such time as the full MP cost has been paid
  • Units can fire 1 time per Turn, but have the freedom to fire on any phase of a turn, provided a full turn’s set of phases has elapsed since the weapon was last fired.

Later, after the video games, we added more complexity by adding in our own take on varied rates for recharging/reloading cycles by weapon type. We also added in our own aiming rules at that point.  I discovered later that a lot of this turned out to be a reinvention of the wheel once I got a look at the Solaris 7 rules, but that is a recurring theme with me, so I didn’t mind.

Weapon firing rates were kept as simple as everything else, but we did have to acknowledge that we were changing the nature of the game to make these alterations. Our initial take on the rules were that the damage values given reflected the damage a given weapon could inflict in a 10 second period, and that for some weapons that meant a single hit, while with others it represented sustained fire over a period of time. This left us with the choice of firing appropriate weapons (like machine guns) more often but for less damage, or allowing these weapons to simply have the option of firing more often.

I worked out a system for both, but we used the latter system before scrapping the option.

Aiming was set up to reflect something I had seen and liked in TSR’s Top Secret, which was the option to shift a rolled hit location toward a more desirable one based on skill. Again, to keep things simple, we would roll the hit and location normally, but keep track of the amount by which the roll had exceeded the target number (now enshrined in the rules as the Margin of Success). If desired, the excess could be used on a 2:1 basis to shift the location on the chart sequentially. If you exceeded the TN by 4, you could move the location up or down two entries on the chart.

To reflect the impact this could have on critical hits, we voided the possible crit for rolling a 2 on the front/rear location chart, and allowed specific areas of the mech to be targeted by adding on modifiers. Again, we had to acknowledge the effect this had on the feel of the game, as this allowed a much greater degree of precision in firing and removed the sense and scope of the technological Dark Age of the successor states fostered so lovingly by the fiction.

Generally, we found that the location shifting rule took care of the desire to hit specific parts of a mech, such as the head, or some previously damaged area, and that if we wanted to go for further accuracy, this would be focused on specific weapons or systems on the mech visible to the naked eye. In other words, we allowed highly precise attacks at short-range to target visible weapons, joints, or sensor pods again for an increased cost in modifiers.

To negate the issue of great gunners trying to hit specific points on a mech but failing to hit anything because they missed, we turned the problem around, and had the system be applied in stages. This had the potential to slow things somewhat, but as we had already been using the first stage of the aiming rules for a while, it did not in point of fact.

The system would work like this:

  • Declare an aimed shot or a targeted shot
  • Resolve the aimed shot (roll normally, and apply excess on 2:1 to shift hit location)
  • If not also targeting a specific point on a location, end the player’s firing phase
  • If also targeting, the excess points from the original roll minus the points spent to shift the location were used to shift the hit from the location itself, to components of that location – if possible. External items such as weapon systems could be hit directly in this way, with damage applying To Hit penalties and eventual disabling. As usual, armour would need to be degraded in an area before sensitive internal components such as actuators and heat sinks could be damaged. Damage or disabling of external components could be repaired in the field fairly easily. Damage scored on a critical slot after penetrating the armour would be handled normally.

In the end~

All in all, it was a lot of extra complexity, to reflect a game that had grown and characters and units that had developed over time. Not all of it worked in all situations (although most of it did most of the time), and none of it had the classic appeal of the standard rules, but these rules were fun nonetheless.

As always comments, questions, and experiences of your own are very welcome~

* Readers of this blog know him as Mad Dog

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