Monday, November 26, 2012

Simple Fantasy Halfbreeds

Progress Quest is a weird and satirical yet very authentic experience. As my Double Wookie Battle-Felon climbed to level 8, I got to looking at the game's racial types. They're really not that far off from what D&D-style games actually do. I've tried before to distill D&D3.X's sub-races into more efficient templates; looking back at that, I now realize that race and alignment can be collapsed directly into the base ability scores.
  • "Elf"-ish ability score = dexterity, agility, foot speed, personal beauty, vision, hearing, affinity for & resistance to musical / mental magic.
  • "Dwarf"-ish ability score = physical health and resilience, sprints, sense of position / direction / elevation / orientation, mechanical engineering / architecture, affinity for & resistance to runic (artifact-based) magic.
  • "Orc"-ish ability score = size, strength, stamina, sense of smell, affinity for & resistance to blood magic.
  • [Elemental] affinity score = terrain-specific survival & peasant skills, discipline, piety, ethereal awareness, affinity for & resistance to pact-based magic. (Choose an element: fire, water, earth, wind, wood, desert/void, light, dark, etc.)
  • "Society" ability score = domestication, class, literacy, common lore, device skills, teamwork, leadership, loyalty, sensing motives, affinity for civilization & technology.
  • "Detachment" ability score = coolness in the face of danger and horror, resistance to plight of others, resistance to magical healing and resurrection. (Also replaces stereotypical Cthulhu-esque insanity stats.)
Balancing the three bloodlines creates a human; raising the highest stat to double the second-highest creates a pure ("double") breed; in between lie all the shades of half-breed; terrain-specific [Elemental] breeds can give way to pure elemental sprites; "society" can indicate "high" or "low" breeds; hobbits, pixies, gnomes and goblins amount to "short" breeds; and any of the various animal-faced races can be emulated by relabeling Elf, Dwarf or Orc to the animal type. Use either your "society" score or the best-shared of the first four stats to try communicating in someone else's language.

"Detachment," "Society," and the ratio between the two offer a more concrete and nuanced view of "alignment" than the standard good-evil / law-chaos layout does. They don't address the character's goals or commitment to the party, but those things can make or break a campaign, and really ought to be hashed out with the group before play begins.

Without complex character builds, where will players turn to flex their stat-wonkery? I think it would be useful to treat lair design & stock scenarios the way character creation has been treated - point builds, random generation, class/level systems, with a few new options or ideas costed out in each splatbook to help sell more splatbooks. Can't hurt to turn player attention to something that's routinely in short supply, and to have your books always trying to address new & different aspects of an encounter.

PS: I prefer how D12s roll to how D20s roll. So, instead of rolling 1D20 against dodge+armor (or whatever action you're taking), roll 2D12 and assign one die result to accuracy and the other to potency.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Notable 'Mechs and MechWarriors

TR:3025 describes the "feats and foibles" of 168 Notable combatants. I think Steve (Centurion13) put it best when he said these sections read like a notation in a real military – they say what the person does, how they do it, and what impact it has on themselves and the people around them.

Besides giving players colorful characters to interact with, these kinds of briefs are essential to establishing a MechWarrior's-eye-view of known space. They form very careful ratios of rank, faction, and perhaps even gender. (Almost 29% of the Notables were women by a quick count, though I didn't record it.)

You can see a more detailed breakdown here.

Half of all Notables have no command rank; one quarter command a lance; one eighth command a company; the remainder spreads more or less evenly across battalion, regiment and ships; only two command more than a regiment; none of the 168 are House, mercenary or bandit leaders; and Natasha Kerensky is as close as they get to the stable of novelized point-of-view characters. 

TR:3025 was written in conjunction with the 1st edition MechWarrior RPG, and the number of 'Mech regiments that the RPG claims for each House is almost exactly three times the number of Notables TR:3025 assigns to that House. The ratios are so exact that I feel confident assigning Hap Carsburg (Dervish) to the Lyrans, Charles LaPierre (Ostsol) and Timothy O'Neil (Grasshopper) to the Capellans, and it's all but certain that there are 102 mercenary 'Mech regiments in known space in 3025.

I think future TROs would do well to follow the halving pattern for rank and to apportion factions according to the forces those factions actually field. (It'd also be good to have a sprinkling muster out, be drummed out, desert, defect, or otherwise change factions.)

It looks like the authors of TR:3025 wrote maybe half as many Notables to start and then did a second pass to even the ratios out. However, since BattleTech revolves around MechWarriors, the number of MechWarrior Notables per regiment is the best measure of factional bias. Not only do Steiner, Davion, and Mercenaries have disproportionately more MechWarriors than other Notables, but "slightly more than half" of Davion's 110 regiments are mercenaries, as are about one third of Steiner's. This exaggerates their existing bias and leaves few merc regiments to the other four factions.

(Considering this Davion/Steiner/Mercenary bias, the "students of history" and "Successor Lords" comments from the introduction, the "Comstar officials" comment from the HCT entry, the alleged Davion agent in the OSR entry, how designations for Kapteyn-exclusive designs (ie, their Aerospace fighters) differ from everything else, how the back cover quotes the New Avalon Herald, and how FASA had not yet begun using ComStar as their default neutral point of view: TR:3025 was most likely written either for academic (non-military) studies within the NAIS or by someone outside the Davion hierarchy as a guide for FedSuns-aligned mercenaries.)

Of the 168 Notables, a whopping 48 mention the condition of their machine. Twenty (12%) are in mint, best, or perfect condition. Twenty-eight (17%) are battered, scarred or understrength. (Notable Davion machines tend towards good condition. Steiner and Marik split more evenly.) Conversely, only thirteen (8%) of the 168 mention which variant they are. Of those thirteen, three (SDR, CPLT, WHM) specify the stock variant; three (WHM, VTR, BNC) specify an established variant; four (OSR, CP, Leopard, Overlord) modify their communications or electronics; and two (QKD, WSP LAM) have special armor.

Out of the whole book, only one Notable machine and combatant (HBK Shawn Philips) has unique game stats - and that was a rare ground-up assembly of a design already known to have a large class of undocumented variants. The universe is altogether more interested in the long lasting, preexisting damage to a given machine, and individual pilots are overwhelmingly more likely to restore a design than they are to alter it. What modifications they do make tend to fall outside the formalized rules or scales of play.


Two of TR:3025's Notable MechWarriors are notably dead. Since they are both on the same page (JN7) and one of them is really about the guy's present-day descendant anyways, I believe that page is an aberration. Historical figures (Aleksandr Kerensky, Ian Davion, etc.) belong to Battle History.

All 166 other Notable combatants are still live and active in the field. Sure, Maria Gutierrez (F-90) spends most of her time behind a desk, Sealth (ZEU) wants to retire, and a host of others have almost run out of luck. But their fates haven't been decided yet - that's up to the player. Cadre duty (including many of the highest ranked Notables) and bionic limbs seem to be as close as death and retirement can get before the person is no longer worth mentioning. (Mentioning in a TRO, anyhow. Feel free to discreetly finish one or two as Easter Eggs in scenario books or novels.)

The Repair Facility, MASH, Coolant Truck and Boomerang Spotter Plane (quite sensibly) have no Notable combatants. The J-27, Mobile HQ and Swift Wind note crew mainly for the continuously exceptional risks they take.

The Rommel/Patton also has no Notable combatants, but its "Notes" section addresses all the points that Battle History, Variants and Notable Crew normally would. I'm not sure if that reflects the early stage of the tanks' development or an early stage of TR:3025's real world development.

Finally, I'd like to say that I really like how, instead of using generic ranks all the time or using confusing factional ranks all the time, the TR3063 fanbook compromised by putting factional ranks in the bold header and using generic ranks in its actual writing.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Play a Short Battalion as Easily as a Lance

Provided that you're not too keen on 1:1 accuracy with the fictional setting, there is a very simple way to preserve the "feel" of BattleTech while fielding seven times as many miniatures:

Assign each location on regular 'Mech sheets to a separate figure.

Ignoring the head, this turns a lance into four squads of seven (twenty-eight figures total), and uses basically all the same rules as regular BattleTech. No need to roll on the hit location table, obviously, since each figure will target other figures individually; jump jets apply only to whichever figure has 'em on its crit table; heat is shared across all units in the squad; use 60-degree firing arcs, no rotation, for all figures; critical hits largely the same, except shoulder/hip crits immobilize the corresponding figure; figures occupy the entirety of whichever hex they're in, and can block LOS; ammo explosions apply full damage to the hex they're in, then apply half the excess to adjacent hexes; limbs mass 10% of the "full" 'Mech's mass and torsos mass 20%; physical attacks and weapons attacks are handled in the same phase, since each figure can only do one or the other anyways; each figure can do whatever physical attacks the location could normally, except that torso locations do 1/3rd normal charging damage.

  1. Instead of making a second roll to check for critical hits, treat a roll of doubles on any appropriate To-Hit roll as a single successful crit.
  2. A squad deactivates when its "Center" is destroyed.
  3. Jump MP replaces ground MP 1:1 instead of being a separate movement mode.
  4. "Leg" figures can move anywhere they could normally; torsos can only move towards "legs," and cannot move beyond legs; arms must also move towards legs but can also continue beyond them.
  5. Split-location equipment (ammo, autocannon spillover crits, Artemis, etc) is removed from its current location and considered to be mounted outside the armor on the rear hexside of whichever figure carries the primary/bulk of the associated weapon.
  6. Legs get zero free facing changes; torsos get one free facing change; arms get two free facing changes.
  7. Figures (for purpose of city fighting or physical attack damage) determine their mass by summing all equipment and armor and structure etc. in the location. Assume split-location equipment spreads mass evenly across all crits, and that the engine puts 1/3rd of its mass in the center torso and splits the remaining 2/3rd between the legs.
  8. The "Center" figure absorbs the head location's armor & structure and weapons, but ignores pilot effects. 
  9. Instead of the "short/medium/long" "+0/+2/+4" brackets & modifiers applying to the range between shooter and target, assume all weapons are always in range, and apply them instead to the target's movement in place of the standard Target Movement Modifier table. Green pilots subtract one hex from their effective movement for this purpose; veteran pilots add one. 

Edit, November 16, 2012:
  • Alternate to variations 2 & 4: the center must remain within (Flank MP) hexes of at least one leg; each side torso must remain within (Flank MP) hexes of the center (or the hex the center was destroyed in); each arm must remain within (Flank MP) hexes of the associated side torso (or the hex the side was destroyed in).
  • Alternate to variation 8: each item in the head gets assigned to different non-center location; when a non-center location is destroyed, the whole team suffers effects as though the corresponding head item had suffered a critical hit.