Luthien, the Black Pearl

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So my newest project – and first as a product developer – has officially kicked off with the ebook release of Turning Points: Luthien. And yes, I’ll take all the credit on this one, because it began as an off-handed comment over cheese sticks at Champs during GenCon this year and turned into what may be a popular series.

Basically, Randall, Herb and I were discussing jihad-related plot threads and the upcoming books (and marvelling at our still-deep secret development of the soon-to-be-sprung Blake Documents) during an impromptu meeting. Herb had lamented that we’d basically ‘skipped over’ several important battles of the Jihad with the release of TRO:3075 and JS:BD, such as Hesperus II and Tharkad. The current format of ‘as-it-happens’ sourcebooks wasn’t giving us the opportunity to really showcase those battles. So I popped up with “So what if we did an ebook PDF detailing several battles on the planet? Maybe in a campaign format using the track system that everyone seems to like?”

The light hit both of them at the same time, I think.

Long story short, I didn’t know I was getting tagged with the project until Herb IMed me a week or so later when we were bouncing and smoothing the product line through 2013. “So what worlds do you think we could do campaigns on?”

“Oh, probably…” I counted up in my head quickly. “Say, fifteen, easily. Why?”

“That ebook idea? Randall loves it. Tag, you’re it.”

So it began.

The current plan is to do / plan five particular worlds, with the most ‘detail-less’ done first and continuing from there. If sales are good, then we’d do the ‘second tier’ of worlds and so on. And if that list got exhausted? Well, then there are other ideas beyond that.

However, the first few have to do well.

Price is an issue, for a book that’s not going to see print. There’s art and writing that remains the same rate as a standard source book, so some type of cap needed set. Initially, I thought 12 pages would be appropriate, according to the initial outline proposal I forwarded on. That’s roughly 6-7000 words. Then there’s art – in these, it would be in the format of an ‘atlas’ plus any unit logos necessary. And of course, the writer, the artist and the layout guy would need paid.

Standard ebook peripherals vary in price, so we settled on the $5 price point. I’ve no idea how many need sold to cover the cost, but I’m guessing a fair amount. And those first few sales would strongly determine if we’d continue the project.

Since Herb’s plate is more than overflowing, Randall decided to take a chance and give me the reigns on the project, which to me was a tremendous honor. It’s evidence that I’m apparently respected for my work now at CGL, despite what fans say to my face. (And in PM / IM and behind my back. And yes, I do hear about it.)

The plan, currently, is a TP ebook every two months or so, though that may fluctuate to start as we’re getting a feel for how the process goes. The art is taking the longest, as these atlases have to conform to previously published art (such as in the now out-of-print Inner Sphere). Then the fact-checking, which is grueling for the maps especially, not to mention balancing the tracks.

Ah yes, the tracks.

I took a slightly different approach with these ones, which really threw the playtesters for a loop. Instead of using a percentage of force for each side, I tossed it completely. I wanted players to feel free to make these track games of whatever size they wanted, having available to them every unit that participated in the battle. With optional weather and environmental rules stated up front, it eliminated those from the “Optionals” section, giving me more freedom to try different custom quirky guidelines and making the tracks more unique. I envisioned a couple of players choosing sides and making the scenario work to their specifications, rather than spoon feeding a list to them and forcing them to use it. One thing I’ve always disliked about the old scenario books is the force-fed list of units involved and set skills; it smacks of railroading to me and more importantly, as a writer in this universe, puts a straitjacket on creativity. So I wanted these campaign tracks to especially be completely open-ended.

That threw the playtesters off. Every single report I got back had the common complaint that I’d “forgotten” to put the force unit sizes in, which made it “impossible” for them to set up a game. Which surprises me – isn’t BattleTech all about personal creativity within the bounds of battle? [As an aside, it still amazes me the level of complex detail some players demand from the universe. Is creativity dead among today’s gamers? Sad.]

Once the players understand that they could fight these battles using one-on-one units to Battleforce-sized games, then the opportunities really open up.

There were things we added as the process moved forward, as well as things we removed because the depth involved was just too much for such a small product. I’ve already seen griping that “not enough” detail is in the Luthien book and all I can do is shake my head – this isn’t some 96 page scenario book here. Even so, I put in a LOT of detail regarding the fight for Luthien, so some may need to develop the skill “Reading Between Lines” on some level to catch it all.

So far, the cycle is running about 8 weeks from initial writing to final PDF. New Avalon is the next campaign, with principle writing completed and playtesting just finished. Truly, the atlas is the only piece remaining as it goes to layout on Monday. And forewarning to those expecting to see the Vengeance Gambit material in there: you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I’ve remained true to my statements that canon game details will never be published. [That’s another blog topic entirely, I think.]

Oh, I realize I’ve not answered one point – why Luthien first?

A couple of reasons. One, it’s the capital of my now-chosen (and favorite) faction, which also happens to be the one I’ve plotted the jihad story out for as well. Luthien’s problem is unique among the rest of the capital worlds during this time frame, suffering under a low-level three-way struggle for several years. It’s also a world I need to put some serious detail in, as I’m expecting the green light to move forward with Handbook House Kurita in the next several months; setting up what happens *after* the time frame of that book will help me properly detail the capital before it went to hell on 25 December 3067.

Plus, I didn’t feel enthused to write the details on Sian, Atreus, New Avalon or Tharkad. I could leave those to others, if I chose (and I am, in order to do other work). Luthien was where I started my foray into BattleTech writing, so it seemed apropos.

And there you have it. Thoughts and ramblings on the new Turning Point ebook on Luthien. Buy it, enjoy it, tell others. Even if you loathe using electronic media and prefer paper (seriously, you’re missing out here), at least spread the word. It’s a great way for CGL to foray into other forms of publishing game aids and I think this is a great start.


THE BLACK PEARL UNDER SIEGE

cat35601_turningpointsluthienLuthien. The Black Pearl. Jewel of the Dragon. The center of the Draconis Combine, Luthien had never been conquered by an enemy in over four centuries.

Then came the Jihad.

Jihad Turning Points: Luthien fleshes out the details of the conflict surrounding this pivotal world published in various Jihad Plot Sourcebooks. Additionally, players can join one of the myriad of units fighting for control—and survival—of the Combine’s capital world. Enemies from within and without seek to cut off the Dragon’s head, while loyal samurai fight to save it.

This new campaign series uses the Chaos Campaign rules and gives players the option of fighting individual battles, following a campaign arc, inserting it into their own campaigns and even create their own scenarios with optional rules to give their games a “Luthien flavor.” The ebook includes a detailed map of the world of Luthien, a run down of the forces involved in the conflict, and several tracks that players can use to run simple lance-on-lance battles, or stage up to a world-wide invasion. Only the players’ imaginations are the limits.

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7 thoughts on “Luthien, the Black Pearl

  1. I won’t swear to it, but I think the original Scenario books were $5, back when a five-dollar milkshake was shocking to John Travolta. It seems a good price for an electronic-only product.

    I too was bugged by the size limits for big battles, especially in the old Luthien book where we’re told to represent whole units with single ‘Mechs. >>Buddy, if I want to play BattleForce, I’ll play BattleForce!<<

    Kudos on your elevation to Light ‘Mech commander, perhaps less glorious but no less important than the Heavy and Assault forces taking on TO and SO. You’re a credit to our people.

  2. I hope you the green light to continue writing Handbook House Kurita sooner rather than later.

    And I will say it to your face-I LIKE YOUR WORK FOR CGL.

  3. I will say this. I love your work for Battletech and CGL. I really like your perspective on the universe and the products in which you have had a lot of input have been friggin awesome.

    I have had complaints (more like suggested tweaks), but I honestly love the Warchest system and think it is really good and intuitive way to do a campaign. I have said some of these tweaks to your face, but at the same time it comes with tons of praise as I honestly love the way the system works.

    Looking over this book (and not having played the tracks), its about what I figured for 5 dollars. In some areas I do wish there was more information, but for the price, and what it does, it was a very good read. I will only second that I wish that the book did fit the normal page-count size as I have contemplated printing the book out and it may pose a problem with the full-on Atlas map.

    Again awesome product Ben, and I hope this product warrants the continued publication of the series.

    -Martin

  4. I do not see why people would complain about your work. It is on the same level as everyone elses: Top Quality. Or, at least, the stuff I know you did.

    And, I would have paid $5 for the Luthien Map and the Recordsheets alone! So, the book is tremendous bargain! It is like buying the Map and Recordhseets, and getting all the other cool stuff thrown in for free!

  5. People complain because they didn’t think of it first, or that your idea is actually better than what they might come up with. I’ll personally unleash Hellbie on them if they keep it up. That’s right, I’ve got my own 6’5″ Jade Falcon on retainer. It’s a small retainer, usually paid in minis or paint supplies and the occasional beer.

    I love this book Ben, it’s really helping flesh out this gigantic war we’re facing.

  6. That reminds me, Slade- you’re behind on payments.

    If you’re not paying me, you become useless. And useless things have a way of disappearing. 😉

    Anyway. Thoroughly enjoyed Luthien, looking forward to seeing the next in the series. Between the fighting there in the Clan invasion and the past few years, one wonders if any two bricks are still stacked on each other on that planet!

  7. Just started a campaign using your Luthien package as a guide this week. The information was detailed enough for us to have a good idea of what went on but open enought to allow us to do our own thing. Used my Field Manuals to generate their loyalist 2nd Sword of Light Battalion, and then some of the the other charts for a selection of enemies. The best thing about this product is no specific force lists, I like that idea a ton, made thing infinitly less dry.

    Played a few of my own made up scenarios to represent the initial betrayal before we fought for the palace gates, and they actually defended it to my disgust 😡 History is changed in this one…

    I have played more Battletech in the last week then I have in the last year since I got this Ebook, thanks a lot for a great Ebook and a neat campaign environment. Look forward to more of your work.

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