Sunday, September 23, 2012

Final thoughts on TRO:3063

I was going to write more about TROs, but I don't have my notes together yet, so... TRO:3063!

It was initially released back around August 25th with the final version posted on September 9th. You can download it from The BattleTech Reader, OurBattleTech, BattleTechUniverse, Lords of the Battlefield, or the BattleTech Engineer. If you are considering a similar project, I highly recommend you look at the advice in Steve's 'Lessons Learned' document. Much of it applies to non-BattleTech, non-book projects as well.

There's already been some discussion of the TRO and the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. It matches, and in some ways exceeds, the quality of the current official TROs -- if I knew nothing about BattleTech, I don't know if I could tell the difference between it and Catalyst's books. (Granted, it was produced as a leisure activity over five years; Catalyst does not have that freedom.)

Looking at it now in retrospect:

Many readers seem curious about why the book covers the units it does or why they're built the way they are. (Power level, prevalence of SPLs & AMS, lack of infantry/spaceships/Clans, etc.) The reasons have been touched on in a few places, but for a book like this, it would be helpful to have a foreword explain more completely what the writers hoped to achieve and some of the thinking behind their decisions.

TR:3058, TR:3060 and TR:3067 show an overwhelming trend towards putting fusion and XL engines on new and upgraded vehicles. (The Tokugawa and Schiltron, for example.) I don't know that it was intentional, but TRO 3063 fits that trend quite well.

The manufacturing dates published by Catalyst (TechManual, Tactical Operations and so on) haven't been accurate enough for me to take them as Gospel, so me and Steve talked about how far R&D might've gotten by 3063. I suppose in-universe editorial comments [set off in square brackets, the way TR:2750 does] could have covered those weapons from a 3070s point of view.

I miss the Heavy PPCs. Not for the PPC itself, but for what having a heavy main gun forces you to do with the rest of your armament. It's more elegant. Less jumbled to read and fewer weapons to roll during play. (On the whole, the designs in this book are probably a little too optimized for my taste, but not moreso than what I remember of Catalyst's trends for the period.)

It's so hard to tell what's changed since I did my editing pass because I reviewed most entries only once, looked mostly for just the biggest issues, and tried to preserve/highlight (instead of replace) the original intent. (If you see a spot with too many three-clause sentences, or where paragraphs are all weirdly equal lengths, that's probably me.) And I really need to thank the other editor(s?) for going through entries after/before I'd gotten to 'em. But man, I'm scrolling through the book, and I know Steve's changed stuff, but it's so hard to pick out. I've only got two so far: looks like he overruled my cuts to the Feng-Niao, and I think he took a couple SPLs off the Sabra.


  1. Thanks for the review, Paul. Yeah, we had to backtrack and explain why it was IS only, and why only Vehicles and 'Mechs. And Aerospace. But to be honest, we had only one or two people ask about that.

    Yes, we optimized the designs in some cases - actually, in a lot of cases - because we felt that there were enough 'flavor' machines out there already. We wanted something you could print out and play right away that would perform its mission profile right the first time.

    I am on board with making things interesting to read, and quirky enough to leave room for improvement. I understand how this has to translate into in-universe poor decision making, but it's needless handwaving, as far as I can see. Sure, you're gonna get a few lumps in the batter but going to the time and expense of manufacturing something as complex as a 'Mech or a tank that falls on its face or is seriously under-equipped for likely missions?

    I look at the real world and as much as I want to take my own advice and stop torturing cat girls, it really grinds my gears when people stop acting... well, like *people* and start following a script better suited to a cheesy horror movie. (I don't like those, either, and for the same reasons). I don't mind bending the laws of physics to accommodate a storyline, but people acting like people is supposed to be a given. It's the bedrock of the storytelling.

    It reminds me of the boredom I felt many, many years ago when our D & D gaming group found itself in the lair of yet *another* 'mad wizard'. That supposedly explained all the weird traps and monsters and improbable treasure, but every time? Over and over?

    The designs in BattleTech? Yeah, like I said, you get a few lumps in the batter. A *few*. Mostly you get smooth batter, and that was what we were shooting for in the TRO:3063.

    To be fair, I don't like the way major BT characters seem to careen from one foolish error to another as they fulfill the role of the 'mad wizard' of yore. But writers... what're ya gonna do? Just, I think they should stop issuing so *many* designs that are sub-par. Or at least drop the description 'over-optimized', which is a polite way of describing cheese. (I use it myself, so I'm not angry with its use in this review).

    And it's true, even if the cheese is a new flavor, it's still cheese - it's still min-maxing to game the system. We did - *I* did - just that to get the most out of neglected weapons systems. It worked out pretty well as a showcase for those systems - really, who in an ordinary BT game fears the LRM-5? Or the LB 5-X? Or thinks the AMS is a good use of tonnage?

    Otherwise, we had to take it in an entirely different direction with the stuff you'd *think* we would run into the ground. LPPCs, HPPCs - no one misses them more than I do. There were some designs that lost their luster when this gear was removed and replaced with (ugh!) PPC capacitors and Blazers.

    OTOH, where you gonna see that stuff appear in the company books of that era?

    Anyway, I had to take the SPLs off the Sabra to make room for internal ammo bins (we were not sure the unit could legally function without them). And the Feng-niao took a beating from John and Eric long after you'd had your cut, so no telling what was changed or left the same.

    Thanks again.


  2. Steve, if John or Eric altered the Feng-Niao writeup, it must have been before you passed it to me. The version in the TRO is identical to the pre-edit "Feng-niao Mk III Geoff 775 NEW.doc" file you sent me a year ago. (Also, the Sabra you passed me did have a single ton of ammo - I can see why you would've tweaked that.)

    Anyways, I'd like to answer the rest of your comment, but I don't have time to be extra thorough right now. Would you mind elaborating a little before I try to respond?

    * How are you defining which machines are or are not 'flavor' machines?
    * Can you give a few examples of machines which fall on their face or are seriously under-equipped for their likely mission profiles?
    * Do you primarily mean in-universe mission profiles, or game-table mission profiles? Can you describe a few?

  3. Okay, that's weird - I *know* the Feng was changed at least once (it was way too anecdotal and wordy) and I thought it worked well with the changes you made. John made the majority of the changes - needful as well - but I would have to go into the archives to see what you mean. Ouch.

    I guess I define a flavor machine as one that is not necessarily the most practical design - armor is too light, engine is too large, weapons don't match any sort of bracket idea. It's usually a design that is taken whole from wherever it is. The story is more important in this case than the actual 'Mech's performance on the tabletop. It (the story) usually adds interest to the game (thus 'flavor') without being a rousing success on the tabletop.

    More later.

  4. Hi Steve, sorry I took so long to get back to this. I've been busier than I like to be.

    Ultimately, I think I agree that there's a problem with how official machines are designed, but I disagree about what that problem is:

    Inefficient use of tonnage does not translate to poor decision making in-universe. If real people preferred stopping power to range, they'd mostly take SRMs over more technically demanding lasers; if they were more interested in range than in stopping power, they'd mostly take the more plentiful AC/5 over the LRM-5, and get a machine that's a few tons heavier; and if they wanted certain weapons and armor at a certain speed, they wouldn't settle on a final mass until they'd gotten the engine big enough.

    Only the bookies on Solaris VII measure a 'Mech's value by pitting it against equal tonnage on a .5km-2km field. That mission is exactly as weird and improbable as the traps and monsters of a mad wizard, and gaming groups play it over and over for the same reason they did the wizard lairs of yore.

    I don't mean to condemn that mission, not at all. The 1A1 Charger, for example, is pure min-maxed cheese (up to 56 point physical attacks every turn) and I love it for that. And, as I alluded to in the post, your 3063 designs aren't any more optimized than what TR:3058:Upgrades added for the same time period.

    Unfortunately, the game doesn't have a fun way to integrate more "realistic" missions - breaking infantry pickets, chasing logistical assets, large formation-scale maneuvering, probing and disengaging from beyond weapon range - and I think that skews how players see the game universe.

    I think you're right that official designs don't play the way they should. Not because they're sub-optimal, but because the firepower that DHS/XL/Clantech crams in can make even maximum armor look insufficient. "Design better 'Mechs" doesn't really solve that problem. The only solutions I see are to voluntarily design for lower levels or bite the bullet and rerule armor balance completely.

    PS: Total Warfare's AMS is worth its weight as long as you take frequent fire from racks size 6 and up.