Deconstructing Campaigns

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Welcome back. So, the question we left off at:

Would we make the GenCon print date?

Probably.

During the process of building this book, we had one big speedbump that altered the composition of the book. [Edited to add more information that I’d forgotten. Thanks for the reminder, Ray!]

The cover for the book obviously changed:

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As writing wound out and began the edit process, a BIG problem popped up.

We had no ready artists in the pool who could tackle the full-page illustrations that normally divide the chapters. These pieces of art are heavily tied with the fiction pieces. With time winding out and a “let’s see if we can make GenCon” mentality, there was no time to find or schedule quality artists for that task. (The pool is shallow, and our usual suspects were booked up with other work.)

With that in mind, and because upper-level people decided to pair the book with stuff being put out by the computer game license holder Harebrained Schemes (and their in-development BattleTech computer game), the decision was also made to feature two old-school things: the redesigned Marauder (a nod back to the game’s inception and ‘Mech art more than two decades ago), and a mercenary unit that was popular among fans many, many years ago. (Said merc unit has been deceased in the game’s timeline for the last 15 years.)

The intent was to capitalize on HBS’s perceived success of their current project among the older, long-time fans by offering a product that would tug on the nostalgia strings.

And, as you can probably guess, it’s not a decision I necessarily agree with. The reasons are vast and veer a lot into NDA-area topics, so I can’t nor won’t detail them here. But it’s also a decision made above my head, and thus irrefutable. (Normally, the project developer has a lot of say with regards to cover and interior art, as well as content.)

This decision, however, cascaded into the book itself. We now had a cover that did not jive with the story being told inside. Normally, it’s not a terrible issue because we do have rulebook covers that don’t quite mesh with interior fiction.

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But because the epic story being told within the book is set at a time that is more than 100 years in the future from HBS’s game content – and with the book being tangentially tied to that company’s game property – the fiction was ultimately deemed too jarring for the nostalgia crowd.

Combined with the fact we didn’t have interior art, the painful decision was made to completely cut the fiction from the book.

Thus, Campaign Operations will be the only core rulebook that lacks story fiction buffering the chapters.

Good news, though! Philip’s story will be told through different means, most likely as a soon-to-be-released novella. Julian Davion’s story is very compelling and deserves to be out there for fans to enjoy, so we’re working hard to make sure that still happens.

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Aside from that, we did some interior switching and tightening. The Advanced Linked Scenarios morphed in the writer’s hands to a more narrative ruleset. This is an easy-to-follow campaign structure for those players who don’t care to spend hours playing “AccounTech” but still love linked games that tell a story. We then obliquely altered the Map-Based rules to expand on that, followed by the more complete Custom Chaos rules.

I also made sure that the Chaos Campaign rules included were as up-to-date as possible, folding in errata that popped up after the Total Chaos debut in 2012. Additional tweaks were made as well, based on suggestions by various players around the world. While not all 3,000+ Options, Objectives, and Special Rules were included, a sizeable portion did make it in so that GMs could find inspiration for their own games and stories.

And, as a nice little extra, I built and included a track that covers an incident involving Clan Coyote in 3103. A hint for the future? Time will tell.

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Finally, we slammed the book through editing and layout, with some key playtesters checking over examples and functions. Because much of the book was cut material from other rulebooks and supplements, they had already suffered multiple rounds of review. (Mike Miller’s solar system rules, in particular, went through FIVE review processes over the course of the last five years, due to it being assigned and then dropped from various products.)

And so now? Yes, we will make the print deadline. Copies will, barring printing or shipping calamity, be available in limited amounts at GenCon. The digital release is slated for the July 4 weekend. And we’ll probably see this in local stores coming this fall.

Preview the Table of Contents and Intro.

What does that mean for me? Well, it means that I’ve pushed out the fastest core rulebook of the series; less than a year from idea proposal to print. It also heralds what may be the last of my BattleTech projects. (There is one other in the wings that may or may not see the light of day at this point; time, money, and other factors will determine its fate.)

My writing debut in the line started with the Chaos Campaign ruleset. If this proves the end, it’s fitting to cap my run with BattleTech by sharing my inner thought process on track creation with fans and players. Story creation is what I love most; putting together a rulebook that will impact players for years to come is a fitting milestone.

Enjoy.

Constructing Campaigns

A year or so ago, I received an email from Randall Bills, the de facto Line Developer for BattleTech (and my “boss” in as much as a freelancer can have one). “We’ve got a bunch of stuff we had to cut from Interstellar Operations,” he said. “We want to add one last rulebook to the core line, and it’s all about campaigns. Interested?”

Skipping-skipping-skipping…

Ten months ago, I accepted the request I manage this new rulebook concept called “Campaign Companion,” which was to be a softcover supplement much like the Alpha Strike and A Time of War RPG Companion books. Within a week, it was then turned into a hardcover book. And after another week, I was told the new name would be “Campaign Operations.”

At this point, I had only seen three sections of this new product idea.

If you’re familiar with the BattleTech core rules series, you’ll know that each section is separated by a short story that nominally addresses the in-game fictionalized aspect of the following rules section. So I had to immediately figure out what that was going to entail, as well as sort out the rest of the material. This was slated for a summer 2016 release (a la GenCon), and these core books are notorious for being sloooooooow to push through the pipe.

Fortunately, I had a few aces up my sleeve.

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First, I had three already-written sections: Mike Miller’s bounced-around Solar System construction rules (originally written in 2011); Formation Building, which covered a bunch of AS addendum rules; and a partially built Combat Effectiveness Rating formula (because that’s what it was) for Creating a Force. That last one, in raw form, was well over 20,000 words, highly mathematical, and contained enough granular detail to construct a seaside beach.

Second, I immediately decided to go the fiction route I’d built for A Time of War, where the stories were all interconnected. I figured this was a great spot to further the current plot of the 3145 era, and combed through the constructed timeline to see what was what. I needed a major invasion incident that had some major players involved, in order to make it interesting and worth having nearly 24,000 words written about.

The retaking (and subsequent loss again) of New Syrtis. Perfect. That was a Julian Davion story – a fan favorite character.

Rather than farm it out to a bunch of different writers (like we did for ATOW), this one needed a solid, consistent voice. As Jason Schmetzer was otherwise occupied, I knew Phillip Lee was the perfect choice. I jumped quickly and got him locked in.

But what else was needed?

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Ever since the debut of the Chaos Campaign ruleset and tracks back in 2004, fans of the game have been asking for rules on how to construct their own tracks. For various reasons, we’ve never had the opportunity (or desire) to put them out there – but now was the best window we had. So I slated that as a primary section for the book, and assigned it to myself.

Still wasn’t enough stuff to fill a core rulebook, though. Imagine that, we were actually lacking for material! (I had put my foot down earlier and restricted Randall’s mathematical and table-heavy treatise to 8,000 words (that’s 10 pages).) Since we had these beautiful isometric world maps in various digital products, why not consider something for those? And what about players who don’t like doing a lot of math and record keeping, but just want to blow stuff up in a story environment?

Thus, the last two sections came together: the Map-Based Campaign, and the Advanced Linked Scenarios.

I selected my writers, assigned the work, and off we went.

I’ll spare the details of various delays; they’re not all that interesting. The biggest question that evolved: would we still make the GenCon print date?

 

Building Battles

I’ve been pretty quiet about my latest project in production, Campaign Operations. And I’ll probably have a lot more to say about it in the coming weeks leading to GenCon. It’s the first major rulebook I’ve had the pleasure/hell of managing.

So until I do that, bask in the final cover.

Campaign Ops cover

Campaign Operations contains rules for generating and running any type of force within the BattleTech universe. From a single pirate BattleMech all the way to regimental combat teams, players can scale to their own taste. Additional rules cover running campaigns, from battlefield roles and force-building, to missions and the Warchest campaign system. Expanded OpFor rules allow for the easy generation of large-scale forces that mesh with the deployments from the dozen Field Manuals published over the years. Finally, complete solar system construction rules allow players to tailor their campaigns even further with unique worlds to defend or conquer.

Digital version releasing (tentatively) around GenCon 2016.

A Son’s Requiem (Part III)

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18 November 3078
Denver Cargo Transit Tunnels, Terra
Word of Blake Protectorate

“And I don’t give a damn who you think you are, Sir!” The last word came out in a sneer, the balding officer’s face twisting into a snarl as he responded.

Alex sighed, already writing off the conversation as a loss. He pulled his Sternsnacht from its holster and leveled it at the portly man’s jowly face. “It’s not a request, Acolyte,” he whispered.

The man’s face paled in the wane light of the cavernous tunnel. He gulped, then slowly straightened up and saluted, albeit reluctantly. “You can’t have it. You’ll kill us all.”

Alex slowly nodded. “Those who remain, yes. Or hadn’t you noticed the lack of people in the streets after the firebombing the enemy did last night? You do realize that most of the city is blackened rubble above our heads?”

Baldy paled, his already-white skin turning nearly translucent.

“I neither desire nor require your acceptance of my need, so I’m not going to explain myself.” Alex glanced at his wrist chronometer, then back at the officer. “And I don’t have the time, regardless. So. Move­—“ he wagged the gun briefly “—or not. Your body will not be a hindrance, alive or dead.”

After a moment’s brief hesitation, Baldy took two long sidesteps, then turned and ran past Alex and Rogers. Already forgetting him, Alex strode forward and pulled open the truck door. Glancing back at his aide, he nodded in the direction of the car they had driven down into the tunnels. “Drive ahead of me and make sure we have no obstacles. I’d hate to jostle our cargo more than necessary.” The aide saluted and dashed back to the vehicle.

Alex settled into the cab of the cargo truck and turned over the engine. With a muffled groan, the truck puttered to life and rattled as he pushed it into gear, rambling the ancient vehicle back up the tunnel, towards the night and the Word’s makeshift camp. He followed the dim glow of taillights, no further disturbances interrupting their trek back into Denver proper.

Rogers was waiting for him as the truck shuddered to a halt, the engine ticking loudly as he turned off the ignition. Clambering out of the cab, he brushed at his fatigues but the weeks-old dust and grime refused to cooperate.

“What a piece of junk,” said Rogers, glancing up at the ancient four-wheeled hauler, then back down at her handheld. “Pickets are reporting all’s quiet; no sign of incursion along this sector of the city.”

Alex grunted, looking around at the ramshackle ‘camp.’ Suitable in name only, the Seventeenth’s current location looked more of a walking junkyard. Only five BattleMechs—Alex’s Legacy the heaviest of the bunch—remained operational. Rogers’ Skulker was gone; her current roost was in the back of a hastily modified Pegasus. He snorted, knowing that the ‘hastily modified’ tag given by the Division’s mechanics meant ‘almost a wrecked hulk’ than any type of functional repairs. A Goblin held the last four remaining and operational Purifier suits; it was those troopers that Alex needed now. He turned and set off towards the tank, beckoning Rogers to follow.

“I’m assuming they had what you needed?”

Alex shook his head. “Not in the way of arms and supplies, no. The base was mostly reservists, who bolted at the first sign of Stone’s forces entering the city.” He gestured towards the ruined skyline beyond their small gathering. “The firebombing last night didn’t help convince anyone to stick around. I was fortunate enough to have the ranking officer meet me at the rendezvous point…” He stopped, turning to look at Rogers.

“He looked inside the crates, didn’t he.”

The young officer nodded, remaining silent.

The lines on Alex’s face deepened as he frowned with the realization. “He did look, and then tried to argue with me about it, but it was obvious he was done with everything.” Alex let out a deep breath. “Not that I blame him. What we have in mind is somewhat heinous.”

Rogers stood still, her eyes on her superior, saying nothing.

He scrubbed his hands over his face, feeling the grit and sweat beneath his fingers. “It’s a damnable thing, war,” he whispered.

“Sir?”

Alex looked up at Rogers. “Just something my father once said. I re-read it in the journal he left me. ‘It’s a damnable thing, war, but only the strong of heart and purpose can divine what is right, and what is best for the people under his protection.’” He gestured vaguely about the camp. “What we’re about to do, to carry out, will be considered reprehensible by the victors and the armchair generals…but it is what I must do to protect the Seventeenth. There is no other way.”

Rogers nodded once, then cocked her head. “Not even surrender?”

He laughed, a short, grating bark of sound that caught the attention of the nearby troopers standing around an oil drum. “Do you think surrendering to Stone and his ilk is the best option for us? Do you believe they will treat you with accordance to proper conventions and considerations?” He grimaced, shaking his head. “You’ve seen the same reports I have. There’s no mercy with this crowd. They’re here for blood, and that’s all they want. If we surrender, the best we can get is a public kangaroo trial with a bullet to the noggin. The worst? Well, I’m sure you can think that far ahead.”

She nodded again, frowning. He saw the slight tremor ripple through her shoulders, knew what she was imagining. He’d imagined it himself more times than he could count.

“Very well, sir. Just doing my duty, covering the angles.”

Alex smiled, turning back to the knot of soldiers nearby. “That’s why I keep you around, Adept. Someone has to reign in the insanity parade.”

A Son’s Requiem (Part II)

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14 November 3078
130 km Southwest of Denver, Terra
Word of Blake Protectorate

The Legacy staggered into the ad hoc camp, a locked ankle joint giving it a stiff-legged gait that threatened to topple it with each lurch. Mercifully, it came to a stop near a dirty gray field tent and Alex clambered down from the cockpit, his hand rubbing along a laser burn marring the lower cockpit glass. As he reached the ground, an aide handed him a combat vest. Alex slipped it over his torso without second thought, jogging past the tent and towards a battered Skulker. Ever since Dodge City, he’d ordered all troops to remain armored even in camp. The sniper threat from Stone’s Coalition and local rebel cells was all too real.

The Skulker’s side door snapped open as Alex approached. “Precentor, good to see you back in one piece.” A dark-skinned woman, her raven-black hair pulled severely back served to highlight her prominent cheekbones and nose, called to him as Alex slipped inside the vehicle.

“Almost didn’t, that time,” he replied. Twisting around, he located his aide who had followed him. “Get the Legacy in the queue for rearming and then start packing up. I want us mobile in three hours.” The aide raced away as Alex closed the door on the chaotic noise outside.

“Rough hike?” Adept Twila Rogers didn’t bother looking up from her data screen, her fingers flying over the device. Alex knew she was already processing the data from his Legacy’s battleROMs. Her cybernetic links to the Skulker’s sensor suites­—and by extension, to all of the Seventeenth’s combat machines­—were yet another advantage over the invaders stalking the Word of Blake’s Seventeenth Division.

An advantage sorely needed ever since the disaster at Dodge City a few scant days ago.

Her grunt was Rogers’ only response. He knew from experience she was processing the data and let her concentrate. He exhaled slowly, releasing the tension he’d stored for the last thirty-six hours. They weren’t in the clear yet­—far from it, actually—but any moment of respite was one to cultivate. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

Devlin Stone. The Word’s own anathema, birthed within its own bosom. His so-called “Coalition” had invaded the Terran system a few months ago. Several task forces had landed around the globe, a multi-pronged assault that had taken advantage of the low state of defenses scattered around the world. Only a few Blakist Divisions were on-planet, augmented by TerraSec forces, the glorified reservists meant more for pacification and policing actions than active combat defense.

Nonetheless, the Word of Blake fought hard to resist Stone’s juggernaut. However Precentor ROM Kernoff spun it from Cairo, the Division commanders knew it was a losing battle. The Word’s elite forces were elsewhere, and it was up to those left behind to bleed the would-be conquerors dry.

Alex let out a sigh, squeezing his eyes closed at the flashes of memory from the Dodge City disaster. Misfortune had caught the bulk of the Seventeenth Division outside the city, where Alex watched more than half of his command die under Coalition guns. Barely two Level IIs had escaped the carnage, slipping west towards the last North American bastion not under Stone’s threatening gaze.

At least, not yet.

Precentor Martial Cameron St. Jamais’ original plan had been to withdraw from Stone along three separate axis in hopes that Stone would pursue one or two and allow the remaining Word forces turn and strike into the Coalition’s rear. Unfortunately, St. Jamais’ plan fell apart when a nuclear strike missed most of Stone’s forces; the enemy’s force had enough units to pursue each of the Word’s smaller groups.

With the Precentor Martial’s plan in tatters, and the man himself unavailable, it fell to Alex as the highest ranking commander to figure out what to do next. The burden of command weighed heavily on his shoulders, and Alex felt the yoke press him deeper into the Skulker’s bucket seat.

“A fine showing, sir,” said Rogers, her eyes never leaving the screen in front of her. Sometimes he wondered what exactly it was she saw through those green-gray eyes. “Blowing out a chunk of the highway was genius; they’ll need to go another two hundred kilometers around with their ‘Mechs. Assuming they don’t split their force; I’m seeing reports that they’ve got a sizeable VTOL contingent in play.”

“I think by now we know not to assume our own arrogance in this endeavor,” Alex groused. “Looking at it from their point of view, they’ve got enough forces to split pursuit.” He opened his eyes, shaking out the tension in his hands. “But I doubt they’d expect us to double-back and head into Denver.” Grabbing a mapsheet from a nearby seat pocket, he spread it out into his lap. The topographical map of the Rocky Mountain region was streaked with red and yellow arrows. A rust-colored stain covered the lower corner; Alex pointedly ignored it and the memory it threatened to provoke. Instead, he ran a finger along a black ribbon of road. “We’ll head northeast along Route 285 and move into Denver at nightfall. What’s the weather for today?”

Rogers tapped her pad. “Looks like the fog’s with us for the day; should give us coverage up until we pass Mount Logan.”

“Good. Notify any of our agents in Denver and arrange a rendezvous; drop the coordinates into my nav.”

“As you wish, Precentor.”

Alex leaned back, thoughtful. “Is Fort Collins still on lockdown?”

“Last we knew.”

“Find out. If we still hold it, connect me as soon as possible. I think I know how we can rid ourselves of our unwanted guests.”

“Yes, Precentor.”

Alex closed his eyes again, nodding off to the sound of tapping keys. A glimmer of hope remained. It wouldn’t be enough to stem the Coalition’s tide, but it could buy him and his people enough time to escape.

The Word had to live on. Even if it meant abandoning holy Terra.

It’s what his father would do.

A Son’s Requiem (Part I)

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Starting a new short fiction series here. This will be weekly (every Wednesday) and while set in the BattleTech universe, is considered non-canon (for those who care). This is, much like my Shred of Honor story, something I worked on for a defunct project and set aside. Enjoy.

14 November 3078
140 km Southwest of Denver, Terra
Word of Blake Protectorate

Demi-Precentor Alex Emory resisted the urge to reach out and clear his cockpit screen. The gray sky was smudgy with fog­—really just low-altitude clouds, this high in the mountains—and gave the viewable landscape a blurry quality that the weary MechWarrior kept trying to blink away.

The radio crackled with static, breaking the monotonous silence. “Orca Actual, Three. we’ve got contacts three clicks south. Just like you predicted.” Alex glanced down at the electronic mapscreen near his left knee, confirming his picket’s report.

“Copy that, Orca Three. Pull back up the pass; do not engage. Repeat: do not engage.” His eyes traced upwards along the thin black ribbon on the map, curling along a mountain valley that eventually terminated within the distant Denver metropolis. The route passed just below his towering Legacy; the thick fog prevented him from actually seeing the old highway.

It was ages since the last time Alex had traveled the mountain trails he knew surrounded him. Barely wide enough for a person, they offered unparalleled views of the Rocky Mountains on clear weather days. His father used to bring him along on hikes across many of the peak trails, carrying only the bare necessities on their backs. Fog days like the one spread before him were common, terrifying for a young boy. He could still taste the fear, not knowing if the next step would send them plummeting thousands of meters to the earth. His father never wavered, however, and Alex learned to trust him and his instincts.

Alex quickly flicked a finger along his eye, shaking himself from the memory. His father was long gone, missing since the start of the war. Killed by allies of those now slowly treading their way up the crumbled road below.

He strained to see through the fog as his two pickets passed, imagining the Ravens picking their way along the ruined highway with their dainty, bird-like gait. He thought he saw a passing shadow, but the fog slowly swirled, fooling his gaze with shifting shadow in the gray light.

Unconsciously, he rubbed his fingers over the grips of his Legacy’s controls. His eyes fixed on the passive sensor screen, the two icons marking his pickets fading from view as the sensor pod located a few hundred meters from his ‘Mech lost contact. Alex felt more than heard the quiet purr of the massive war machine’s fusion heart, waiting for the approaching enemy. With the extreme cold the night previous, combined with the twenty hours in standby mode, his Legacy would be virtually unnoticeable by the scouting force making their way up the road.

A data window opened at his request. Alex’s hands clenched the sticks in his hands. His eyes took in the streaming data from the pod: four medium-class BattleMechs and several smaller vehicles trailing behind them.

Alex grinned with ferocity. He may only be one heavy machine, but he also had the advantages of height, weather, and knowledge of the terrain.

Hardly a fair fight.

His old man would be proud.

The enemy approached at a slow pace, creeping into his self-designated killing zone. With a savage glee, he unstopped his BattleMech’s power and with a roar, unleashed his fury at the enemy unseen below.