Mercenaries and Mass Chaos

Partial merc “portrait” (unnamed unit) for Total Chaos, by Chris Lewis

The Jihad was not just a time of intense violence and interstellar war. It was also a breeding ground for the rise (and fall) of the mercenary trade. Some experts postulate that one in every five mercenary commands survived the fourteen years of incessant war. Looking back through the carnage, one can trace the success and failures of many of these groups through the recent conflicts; I’ve opted to focus on three different commands for this project. Each one began with dissimilar origins and followed a divergent path through the Jihad. While their success is relative to their own goals and vision, these men and women possess a rare common bond.

They survived the Jihad.
—Belle Lee, A Treatise of Jihad-era War; Fortymile Standard Press, 3095

[A continuation of the developer’s notes on the Total Chaos project, soon for sale in PDF format. Print version (tentatively) available in August.]

When looking over the vast number of tracks needing compiled for this book, one question really nagged in the back of my head. How would we turn this collection of previously printed tracks into something worth printing – and buying? True, adding in some of the JTP e-publication tracks would help. As would several new tracks. But there had to be something else as our ‘hook.’ This wasn’t a simple reprint compilation here.

I revisited the opening sections of the Warchest campaign in Dawn of the Jihad. Going over the setup, I realized what that hook could be. Mercenaries.

Mercs are the most common “faction” (used loosely) in the BattleTech universe. We have made hundreds of these units throughout the course of nearly three decades, and always suggest and hint that there are more. Many, many, MANY more that exist. It’s an obvious window for players to “enter” their own home-made unit into the universe for their personal games, as well as an easy ‘out’ for authors in case they needed a filler force for the protagonist or antagonist role in a project. The entire idea of the Chaos Campaign setup in DOTJ was that a player’s merc unit would be the principle star of the story, giving the author (me) a lot of leeway in crafting wide-ranging tracks that could then be tailored to specific player and house games. Changing up the minor details in a track to account for a House or Clan unit is left to the player and doesn’t take a lot of brain power to work that out.

So, mercenaries. One unit or more, then? Canon or new?

Logo treatments for Gannon’s Cannons, by Chris Lewis

Had to be more than one unit. Initially, I thought of two – one for each of the main “paths” that weaves across the skein of the campaign. Each track would be refreshed not just with rules and a stripping of extraneous material (such as “Additional Hooks”), but would include personal notations or whatnot from these specific merc units. The idea was to show how these two units fared while working their way through the entire campaign.

Looking over the complete track list, I realized two wasn’t really enough. What about the ‘gray area’ missions? And the tracks pulled in from the JTP series?

Three merc units, then. One with a “good” bent, one “neutral,” and one that slipped to the “evil” path. (I use these three terms loosely, defining more or less the paths that support The Republic’s formation, are ambivalent, or end up supporting the Word’s doctrine and subsequent “escape” from the Inner Sphere.)

Canon? Ultimately, no. How would you choose three over hundreds? Plus, because we’re trying to highlight the players and their “average” campaign style of starting out small, we’d replicate that here. Three new merc units, all small to start (a company or less of troops and support personnel), and introduce the two main personalities from each so there was a character baseline for our journal/observational entries. Almost every track would showcase one of these three new units – before the mission and their take on the aftermath. It wasn’t going to be a tried-and-true formula, as I broke it up in spots, but it would suffice to tell each unit’s story.

So you could follow along their path, see how they did, what they saw, how they felt, all the way through the campaign.

Initially, I was going to let them sit undefined for the writers to pitch. But after some thought, I reserved one of them with a name: Gannon’s Cannons. See, last year, the (then) six-year-old son of one of our playtesters – who also happened to be a friend of mine and an occasional opponent across the table – was diagnosed with leukemia. There was an amazing outpouring of support for Gannon Derer, where many Catalyst Demo Team Agents bought, assembled, and painted miniatures in Gannon’s favorite colors and then sent them to the little guy. Gannon, recently a BT convert (ask around the BT forums for reports of his incredible prowess), had an instant force all his own within two months, rivaling his dad’s own collection. (BTW, Gannon survived chemo and treatment and the disease is currently in full remission.)

Bio photo for Gannon Derer, CO of Gannon’s Cannons, by Peter Johnston

An offhand remark turned that force into a merc unit called Gannon’s Cannons. Initially, Ray and I were going to make up a dossier of the unit to print and give to him as a gift. But then this project began to coalesce… (And it certainly helped when Oystein named the unit in Field Manual Updates: 3085.)

Every unit needs a back story, right? Well, here was our chance to fill out the Cannons.

I dropped in art notes for the two bio pictures, a sketch of what I envisioned this unit starting out as, and its general approach. Three writers pitched for it and I assigned it to Craig Reed.

The other two units, after some finagling and discussion, were then selected from the pitches and assigned. Christopher Purnell and Geoff Swift were slotted to create and flesh out Grandin’s Crusaders and Cumberland’s Missiliers.

To maintain the unit’s voice, these three writers would also be responsible for their assigned tracks’ introduction and aftermath material, provided on a master list once I had coordinated the entire campaign listing – which enveloped nearly 170 tracks.

Aside from the merc unit “fluff” and fiction, the units would not be forced upon a player to use in Total Chaos. The core of the campaign still relied on players using whatever they wanted – be it their own house merc unit, a Great House unit, Clan force, Periphery whelp, or what-have-you. These three canon merc units were there to provide context and an all-important story element for the book, tying it all together.

Next project: planetary campaign dossiers.

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3 thoughts on “Mercenaries and Mass Chaos

  1. Great read. I love the convergence of life and BattleTech into a project. Pretty awesome what you guys and the community did for Gannon. A double helping of good karma for sure. I’m really excited for this book. A comprehensive 170 tracks is going to be pretty fantastic. Thanks!

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