Friday, June 7, 2024

40K Friday - Ork Horde Gathering


Not much playing around here lately but plenty of building. Even before the release of the Ork codex for 10th I was feeling like I needed to spruce up my horde. For one, I felt like it was finally time to upgrade the green tide to 32mm bases on the boyz so that's a project that really got rolling in May. Some of the units were in a playable-but-never-really-finished-to-my-regular-standards state so there is painting going on as well.

And yes ... my Goff army core is 120 2nd edition Goff boyz. What plays into the "faceless horde" more than 100+ identical miniatures? Each 20-man mob has a slightly different paint job and markings to make unit identification possible and then the nob for each squad is an old metal nob because they just fit together. 

Building this out for 10th I am also making sure I have 3 warbosses and 3 weirdboyz - all old metal units also - because that seems to ba the way to run a green tide army right now. Most of this I've had for years anyway so some of it is just reorganizing and touching up paint jobs. For example some of these were organized in 30-ork mobs for earlier editions and need to be touched up to make some new 20-ork groups. 

Rebasing also means trying to ensure that what I do now matches up with the basing I did back in the 90's. This actually hasn't been terrible as I used a lot of "Woodland Scenics" train flock back then and they are still around as are many of those same products. Adding a few modern touches like tufts here and there livens up the bases while being easily retrofittable to the stuff where the bases are already good.

Beyond this I am touching up my Battlewagons as that's how these will mostly be run and finally finishing up my Ghazghkul model so his current ridiculously huge version can lead the force while his old 2E models take over as Warbosses for individual mobs. Part of this will be building and painting the Meganobz that will serve as his bodyguard too. If I can maintain focus the old ork army will be looking pretty good.

Thursday, June 6, 2024

The Hard Realities of the Mechwarrior Campaign

I'm approaching a confluence of variable factors when it comes to our ongoing RPG time and I'm going to have to make some decisions.

First, Con Season approaches. Four of my eight regular players are involved with putting on a convention  - and have been for years so this is not really a new problem - and it nukes their availability for part of the summer. The variables here are "when does this interference start?" and "how long does it last?" and now I know these details so I know July is going to be thinner and best case is that for about 5 weeks I will have 4 players at most. We non-cons will keep playing but it will probably not be "the main game".

Second, We are nearing the end of the opening situation for the Mechwarrior campaign so I need to decide how to proceed long-term: Are we going to keep on with the Battletech thing or are we going to do something else? For July we will need to do something else anyway so can I lay the groundwork for a new thing there or is it just an interlude until the full crew re-gathers in August? More details below but I will probably start a new campaign with another system & setting and think about coming back to Mechwarrior down the road. 

Here it comes ...

Third, I really am not enjoying the MW 3rd edition as a system and my players are not terribly attached to it either. The first part of the campaign was intentionally mech-heavy and we used the Battletech rules directly for most of that. This past weekend was a zero as far as mech content but involved meeting some other members of the unit, exploring the local city where they are stationed, and getting into a bar fight. They had a good time but the rules kept getting in the way and I am ready to replace them. More on that below.

So I have these factors all coming together at around the same time.

In addition I have realized that I am not quite as much of a Battletech Universe fan as I was. All of the later metaplot stuff after 3060-something means nothing to me. I have a ton of material for the earlier era and I still know it well enough that it's the era that makes the most sense for me to run but when it comes to fictional gaming universes there are others I enjoy more. This doesn't mean that I don't like it enough to run something in it - just that running it for a year or more straight might not be the way I want to go. BT also suffers from something I have seen in way too many game settings: namely the "lore" tends to be page after page of dryly written history and dates and names and none of it really means anything nor does it add anything to the campaign I am running right here and now
(More on that in another post)

Catalyst, while I have a problem with some of what they do, has at least gotten the game back into circulation with decent support and a new line of miniatures that might actually be better then the metal line we've had for decades. The boxed sets are nice, the art is decent, there is an alternate set of rules for tabletop Battletech -Alpha Strike - and two sets of RPG rules as well. So the support is actually pretty good after a long gap. 

The problem may just be that my tastes have changed a lot since I played and ran these games years ago.

  Wow, how insightful, your interests as a teen to twenty-something may not be the same ones you have at 50+, yeah, applause all around for this discovery. 

I know, I know, but a lot of my tastes have not changed that much - keeping it to hobby topics I still like RPG's, and miniatures, and board and card games. In fact, I like a lot of the same ones I did back then. Despite that Battletech feels decidedly old-school rules-wise even with a modern wrapper on it. Alpha Strike is no help as it loses almost everything that makes BT unique, like hit locations and all of the details on the various weapons. Sure it plays faster but it plays nothing like Battletech to me so why bother? 

Star Fleet Battles has this issue too but they came out with Federation Commander years ago which somehow manages to keep 90% of the look and feel of classic SFB while streamlining it and modernizing it in important ways. I think that was a goal with Alpha Strike but it just does not work for me.

The Battletech RPGs have a similar problem. Mechwarrior 3rd edition is from 1999 but it feels like a much older game. The basic core mechanic is a lot like Traveller with d10's: 2d10 + skill level vs. a target number of 10, roll high. Typical skill level for most people is 1-2 with some getting to a 3-4 and not many going over 5. It is possible to have a "0" skill level in something representing training with no real experience. Just reading through the initial system mechanics I thought it was decently playable. The issue is that they then go and add the old-school-list-of-comprehensive-modifiers that makes every roll a checklist scan prior to the actual roll. For example for combat the base target number is not ten but it's not a set stat or skill or anything else either - there are 4 different "base target numbers" for each of melee and ranged ... here, take a look at it yourself.

Also the damage system  -after you jump through the hoops with all those modifiers then damage is another chart where you compare the damage rolled to a set of numbers to find out what you actually did to the target. Imagine if you were playing Mutants and Masterminds but still rolled damage based on each attack but then still had to consult a chart to find out the actual effect:

I'm sure it would play faster if we spent more time on it but the problem is that after taking up much of a session just trying out personal combat I am not terribly excited about doing it again and neither are my players. I'm going to run the campaign in this system to it's planned end point but if we pick it up again I'm probably going to run it in another system. Right now I'm actually looking at GURPS as a strong candidate for this and I haven't run GURPS in 20 years. However, if you want mostly normal humans in a setting where they are terribly vulnerable to modern weaponry it's a solid candidate. It would take some customization to things like the skill list and some of the equipment but it might just be worth it. Savage Worlds is on the list as well as we know it pretty well and it would be another easy adaptation. Heck, I have half a mind to tweak up a version of Star Wars d6 system just to see how well that would work.

"But if you're willing to mod GURPS or Savage Worlds why not just mod this game?" - well, because having run it again now I just don't find this game all that appealing. Somehow it worked for us 20+ years ago but it just falls flat for me now. It's not just the skill system - character generation was lengthy and involved and I thought having all of those house books with specific background tables (it has a kind of lifepath system) would really immerse my players in the setting. It sort of did that but it mostly just took forever and drained everyone at the table's life force away right when they should have been getting excited. Then there is a convoluted system to convert the point system used during character generation to the different point system used during play and for XP.  Then the XP system turns out to be terrible too so it just fails to shine for me. The novels tend to be fairly cinematic yet the RPG mechanics do almost nothing to reinforce that feel and so there's nothing about the game that really "feels" Battletech the way Star Wars d6 feels like Star Wars or the Warhammer Fantasy RPG feels like the gritty universe of old school Warhammer. There's just nothing special about it. 

Pretty much every subsystem of this game feels like it has extra - and unnecessary -  steps and I'm ready to try something else for our out-of-mech action. 

This probably came out a little harsher than originally intended and this is by no means an "unplayable" game - I've been running it for months now. It is totally playable but I don't like playing it as much as some other systems I know and there are probably other rules that will do this in a way I like better. So that's the plan now. More to come on this journey ...

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

The Promise of the Long Term Mechwarrior Campaign


So why did I choose to run a Mechwarrior campaign? Regardless of rules, the setting has a ton of potential. Let me focus in on 3 things that put it over the top for me:

1) The particulars of the setting:    

    • It's science fiction but there are no aliens and no psionics. This does limit things somewhat in comparison to say, Star Trek or Warhammer 40,00 but it is nice sometimes to dive into a straight-up-human-centric universe with no supernatural weirdness.
      (Was this a reaction to running Deadlands for the last few years? Why no, certainly not!)
    • It is set in the future of the real world. Granted it's 1000 years in the future and there are things like FTL travel and giant robots with directed energy weapons but there are recognizable cultures and languages still present. It's usually easier to explain House Kurita as being heavily influenced by Japanese culture than say to explain Klingon culture if someone is unfamiliar with Trek. Earth is still a place you could go and English is still a language people speak - among many others.
    • The aforementioned giant robots! This is the major part of Battletech's appeal, right? Tons of designs, tons of art, the ability to modify them or just make up your own with a heavily battle-tested set of rules - this is the main draw!
2) The support: There is almost 40 years of material tied to this setting from boardgames to RPG's to videogames to novels to comic books to at least one mediocre animated series. If you want to do your own thing you certainly can but if you want to dig into the place and see where you could hang your ideas on to the setting there is  likely to be a time period or planet or faction that works for what you have in mind. From toppling interplanetary governments to locating where that one particular battlemech model was produced before the early Succession Wars blew up the factory to fighting in mech-based gladiatorial arenas there are a ton of campaign options out there. Finally, if you want to run a war story from infantry to tanks to mechs to aircraft to space battles there may be more supporting material here than for any other RPG.

3) The timeline: This is a very strong point to me. There is a bunch of history sketched out for a GM but the most interesting part is where the game started: a post-apocalyptic era of damaged and limited mechs that are nowhere near what they once were ... mostly operated by noble families where much technology has been lost and resources are scarce. Then we begin a slow climb upward where technology is slowly rediscovered, factories reopen, and life gets better - just in time for the leaders to start a major war. technology continues to progress as planets change hands and mechs come into play and then just as things settle down the Inner Sphere gets hit with the clan invasion which upsets the whole apple cart and then some odd stuff with ComStar getting too big for their britches. 

This roughly 50 year stretch gives us a big, global backdrop to run whatever kind of game we want with some major events to hang things on and it's pretty easy to see the campaign as being about much more than one group of PC's. As the back of the 20-Year-Update said "don't think of your character as being 20 years older  - think of his son as being ready for battle". This sets up an interesting potential mix of ongoing war story across several generations. You don't have to use any of it if you don't want to but it's all there if you do. Once you pick a  starting point your mission is to let you players mess up the timeline as much as they want to! Sure, if you want to the Clan Invasion still happens - or maybe it doesn't! maybe there is a different Davion on the throne when it does ... or a different Steiner!  Maybe your players lead an expedition Beyond the Sphere and run into the Clans first!

The cool thing is that you have a timeline laid out to follow or ignore as you choose and if your players have some familiarity with the setting it only gets better as they recognize things and then eventually figure out you've left "canon" behind and it's a whole new world out there.

This was part of my vision when I started this operation: Play a group from 3025 on up through the next succession war and eventually into the Clan Invasion and beyond, likely through at least two generations of PC's and possibly a 3rd.

There's the big upside of a Mechwarrior campaign. 

Tomorrow the not-so-up parts ...