For all the years I’ve spent writing Fighter of the Week columns over on bg.battletech.com, I’ve never actually written a blog post before, so I’m not quite sure of the protocols or format involved. Of course, I’m sure someone will call me out if I screw it up too badly, so I might as well dive right in.
I’ve always felt that FASA’s Renegade Legion is one of those settings, and game-franchises, that deserved better than it got. Granted, the RL universe was pretty clear-cut in setting up TOG as the tyrannical empire of baddies and the Commonwealth/Renegades as the heroic underdog goodies – a distinct contrast to BattleTech’s Great Game and grey-vs-grey approach – but like BattleTech, the interplay of the super-sciences and assumptions underlying the setting was carefully arranged to shape everything from high-level strategy down to game-board tactics, and FASA’s writers always had a flair for evocative and inspiring flavour-text.
In case you weren’t aware of it, one of Renegade Legion’s unusual design-choices was to use a ‘damage template’ system. Each damage-location on a unit was ten columns wide; you rolled a d10 to determine where a given weapon’s strike was centred, then applied the template for that weapon at that centre-point. Depending on the shape of the template(s) you applied and which column each template was centred on, you could stack up hits in one place and kill a unit in a single salvo, or you could pound it for several turns and it Just. Wouldn’t. DIE. (I guess it was a bit like playing a game of Tetris in reverse.) It was unpredictable to the point of producing some of the wackiest and improbable outcomes you could ever imagine – or quite possibly couldn’t have imagined! – but it was precisely the ‘golden BB’ element that kept you on tenterhooks as you resolved every single hit. Absent the use of rules like Floating Criticals or aerospace Thresholds, to me BattleTech always felt like it lacked that same ‘is this the fatal strike?’ factor, since you always know exactly how much armour remains between incoming fire and your squishy internal bits. In 2008 or so, I came across Francis Greenaway’s (d6-based) Renegade Tech, which combined Renegade Legion’s damage templates with BattleTech’s ‘Big Stompy Robots’, and it was like putting raspberry jam and whipped cream onto a pikelet: the last element that completes the tasty treat.
That said, there have always been things about Renegade Tech that… bugged me a little, especially with how it handled laser weapons.
Part of that niggle was a balance issue: once players get a certain degree of what’s now called ‘system mastery’ with BattleTech, they tend to prefer energy weapons on their ’Mechs and other units. After all, energy weapons don’t need ammunition that can run out (or blow up), they can’t be shot down like missiles, they have pretty good ranges, and if you have the heat-sinks, there’s almost no reason not to take a low-odds shot, because you just never know what the dice will do. When you get into SLDF technologies and the advent of the double heat-sink, the bias just gets worse, to the point where weapons like the long-serving AC/5 is regarded as dead weight – or just a joke. If lasers kept the same single-column templates they had in Renegade Legion, they were the perfect weapon to just ‘ice-pick’ through a unit’s armour to the important stuff beneath it, making all other weapons that much less valuable.
Another part was a matter of realism, both in-universe and out-of-universe. Out-of-universe, the current understanding of high-energy laser-weapons is that they don’t ‘cut’ or ‘burn’ very deep into a target, and the materials struck don’t melt or sublimate; the energy-transfers from weaponised lasers are just so massive, so brief, and concentrated on such a small area, that dump all their energy into the surface layers, causing a chunk of material to flash directly to plasma, and that plasma-explosion is what causes the real damage. An evocative image, to be sure… but it doesn’t sound like something that has a ‘narrow but extremely deep’ damage-path. In-universe, there’s also the small matter that if mounting armour didn’t protect you from weapons with the other advantages of lasers, designers would either set up their war-machines to evade weapons-fire (and leave off armour to save weight) instead of withstanding it, or they’d keep trying different armour formulations until they came up with something that did blunt lasers. (The mobility route leads through territory well-trodden by universes like the Mobile Suit: Gundam franchise, which are awesome in their own right but have completely different aesthetics compared to BattleTech.)
Speaking of aesthetics, that third and final part of my niggle grew out of the first two: I like that most BattleTech combat-units are armed with a mix of weapons for different uses. A fondness of space-opera death-rays comes with growing up with Star Wars, but a BattleTech game where nothing but ‘flashbulbs’ took the field would be boring to me. I love my beam-spam as much as the next geek, but I also love the image of flights of missiles burning across the sky to wreath their target in explosions, and streams of tracer-bullets arcing between shooter and target to rip deep into armour-plate.
Which, in my usual long-winded way, brings me to my work on Renegade Tech, Second Edition. One of my key concerns was to ensure that every weapons-system has a role and a reason for remaining in use on the modern battlefield. That meant turning laser templates from ‘narrow and deep’ weapons into ‘shallow and broad’ ones – so lasers can peel a ’Mech layer by layer, or exploit a breach in armour under the right circumstances, but they can’t end a fight fast-and-early the way the old templates could. That meant combining some canonical weapons into the existing ones – like letting standard LRMs use ‘Thunderbolt’-style unitary warheads as an alternate munition, so that long-range missiles can punch holes and exploit them with a simple change of ammunition; or like letting the humble machine-gun act as an anti-missile system. That meant keeping the old PPC ‘deep double-column’ template, since that made it a good complement to lasers and kept the fan-favourite combo of “PPC + lasers” viable (although balanced by heat), but it also meant re-vamping autocannon templates to mean that ballistics were also viable as hole-punching weapons, and arguably superior.
Part of that ballistic re-balance was committing an act of heresy against BattleTech: sitting down, deciding exactly what I think a ‘point’ of damage really is in BattleTech, and using that to set some hard numbers. For the purposes of my personal AU The Virginia War, I had to look at how dangerous 20th– and 21st-Century weapons might actually be to BattleTech’s Magic Armour, especially if it shifted from the full-ablative model of BT canon to the semi-ablative model used by Renegade Tech. (The results were, uh, sobering, especially for the poor beggar driving a 21st century tank against a BattleMech. If that’s you, I’d recommend you sign up for your GI insurance policy….) In the end, though, I think I managed to make sure autocannons are a useful and flexible weapons-system, well-suited to the battlefields of the 22nd Century and beyond, and just as viable a primary armament as missiles or beams.
With the balance issue of laser-templates dealt with, I looked at another matter: the march of technology. Since the release of the original Renegade Tech, the Total Warfare range of core rulebooks has introduced all manner of new gear and gadgets, many of which have ‘always existed’ in the BattleTech universe but hadn’t been evident in any previously-published rulebook, Technical Readout, or sourcebook. A lot of them would have positively thrived in the ‘lostech’ era of the Succession Wars, and arguably could have had a decisive effect on their outcome if they’d been part of the universe back then. For various entirely sound reasons, it’s unlikely that the creative team at Catalyst Games Labs will make that kind of sweeping change to the BattleTech universe’s history… but as a fan-writer, I have more options.
After a lot of thought, I decided that my ‘default setting’ for Renegade Tech 2.0 would be the Inner Sphere/Periphery of 2829. I was already looking at the period closely for The Virginia War, and the more I did, the better the fit seemed. The (First) Succession War had just petered out, but with a little nudge, you can justify hostilities of almost any scale on any or all of the existing contested frontiers – meaning that players and play-groups can take the initial set-up and run with it in any direction they choose, ranging from minor border-skirmishes to playing out a campaign of the Second Succession War. With the Amaris Civil War and the First Succession War lasting so long and being so bloody, every power would have re-learned a lot of the lessons of large-scale warfare that would have atrophied during the ‘peace’ of the Star League; they also would learned how horrific that kind of warfare was, and you can make the case that with only a little push, the Successor Lords might have decided to back away from those strategies in favour of something less indiscriminate. They’ve had incentive to develop and deploy new battlefield weapons and technologies, so the proliferation of advanced or novel systems – be they comparable, superior, or even notably inferior to SLDF hardware – is justifiable. They still have armies and fleets big enough for large-scale operations, but smaller, more precisely-targeted actions are entirely possible. Despite the carnage of the First Succession War, Operation HOLY SHROUD and the true start of the ‘lostech’ phenomenon are ten years into a future that may never happen, so the forces each nation fields can range from fully teched-out bleeding-edge platforms, through the unsophisticated but ‘proven workhorse’ hardware seen in TRO:3039, down to ‘Primitive’ systems fielded by local militias and last-string nobility, or even to ‘RetroTech’/mix-and-match designs produced on a ‘national emergency’ basis.
I fully intend to keep creating and distributing additional material for both Renegade Tech 2.0 and the Virginia War, including unit armour-diagrams, additional weapons-systems, and even factional run-downs of who has what and how they’re using it. But I’ve been staring at what I’ve already got done for so long that I’m pretty sure I’ve all sense of what may be right or wrong about it, and I need fresh eyes. So, it’s time to put my ‘working drafts’ out to people who can actually read and play-test them without ‘knowing’ what they say, so they can tell me how well those rules work (or don’t). For instance, I know that there are some rough edges in the aerospace rules, and that nukes (in particular) can turn a fight into a matter of luck and point-defence.
Anyone who wants to try out these rules, please download them, read them, play some games with them, and let me know how things went – brilliantly, horribly, or in between – either in a post on my section of the OBT forums (http://www.ourbattletech.com/forum/virginia-war), in my thread on the official BattleTech forums (http://bg.battletech.com/forums/index.php/topic,12576.0.html), or by emailing me directly at [email protected] (please start your subject-line with [RTech], so we can outwit my spam-filters). Your feedback will lead to the improvement and refinement of these rules, so please: don’t be afraid to be specific and detailed.
To borrow a phrase from one of BattleTech’s former leading lights: Have fun! Play BattleTech (and Renegade Tech 2.0)! And as always, enjoy!
Renegade Tech 2.0 is available for download here.