Thursday, May 30, 2013

Battletech: Introductory Box Review

Having played some Battletech last year, and then again at the local gaming club night a month ago, I was inspired to try and get into Battletech again.  Previously when I looked into the game I've been a bit daunted by the sheer volume of information. There are numerous eras, a legion of different mechs, and more names of important factions than you can shake a stick at. Given that my knowledge of Battletech is largely due to a cartoon from the 90's and a TSR video game I didn't have a manual for it seemed pretty insurmountable.

I've since found out from my friend Bryan, who played 'back in the day' that the eras are all a result of the steady march of time in the universe and real of new products. Unlike grimdark 40k, with it's extremely vague dating/chronology advance (none to really speak of), there has been a steady advance in the Battletech universe. Given that's it's been played for almost 30 years (!!) it's understandable that there would be a richness of the game.........which is a bit challenging for the neophyte.

Riding to the rescue is the Battletech Introductory box. The box comes stuffed with goodness and weighs in about 2.5 pounds and is ~12x10x3 inches.

The books are all full colour and most have a heavier card cover. There is:
Rulebook - clearly explained, appropriate use of diagrams
Inner Sphere at a glance - Gives the complete history of the Battletech universe. Actually very useful for framing everything in your mind. Also gives writeup on the major houses/factions of the inner sphere. Gives some info on each of the included mechs as well (though not as useful as the painting and tactics guide).

Also included are some less robust (though still largely colour) documents:
-Big map - ho hum, not really my thing
-Mech record sheets - important, although the wonders of the internet would make printing a bit easier than photocopying in my mind. Omitting this would be cause for complaint though.
-Quickstart rules - for those impatient to begin.
-How the core rulebooks work - This little gem actually sheds a lot of light on the various scales and rules books
-Painting and Tactics Guide - This is another gem in the box. While giving some standard painting advice, it also has sections on the houses: what their common colour schemes are, and (better yet), strategies for working with these colours while painting. The tactics are very well discussed for the beginning player as well, and (in my mind) aren't super obvious and/or ambiguous/difficult to use in practice pieces of information. The final section gives a writeup on each of the mechs included and roles of mechs (Scout, striker, skirmisher, brawlers, snipers, juggernauts). It's actually very well done, and gives more insight into what is important in mech design for different objectives. Probably the second most important read of the box. 

Pre-book compression
The maps are quite nice, being the original Battletech maps but printed on a heavy card. The were a bit stiff and didn't lay flat when first removed from the box, but a night under a heavy book remedied that quite easily.

24 'cheap plastic' miniatures are actually pretty nice. The are obviously recognizable as what they should be, have decent detailing, and have minimal casting faults. My one negative surprise was just how tough this plastic is when I started to clean off the flash. It took far longer than your typical plastic model to clean. I'll be posting more as I get them (ever so slowly) painted up.

The minis cover a good range of inner sphere mechs from light to heavy. One of the things I like best is that with the introductory set, and the Sword and Dragon campaign book, you have a substantial number of the needed mechs covered. I think if you wanted to cover ever single mech in the campaign book you'd need another 12. Certainly there is a lot of scope for swapping out mechs and proxying to cover your needs.

The worst miscasts show some bubble holes

2 additional 'high quality plastic' mechs are included which are clan mechs. These cleaned up much easier and are very nice sculpts. I will probably save them till then end when I'm used to the paint schemes for mechs. Given that my regular opponent Brian is not a fan of clan mechs, given that "they do everything too well and there's not a lot of strategy to them", and of course that the campaign book we've started with is pre clan invasion, they shall have to guard the lead mountain.

High quality. Nice casting

In my mind, this introductory box is totally worth it. You can play straight out of the box and it's a great way to get your foot into Battletech. If you decide that you wish to play in a later era the mechs provided are still useful as second line/militia/poor mercenary mechs as well. The cost is very reasonable as well ( especially considering that basic rules for many systems are pushing 60 bucks).

Two lower arm actuators up!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Battletech: Sword and Dragon - Overview (1)

It's a fairly hokey cover graphic
I've picked up the Sword and Dragon starterbook. It's a great little product that is largely geared towards those who have the introductory battletech box (which I just picked up and will review shortly). It details 2 house companies (Sorensen's Sabres - house Kurita, and Fox's Teeth - house Davion) and uses the Chaos campaign style (free pdf!) campaign system.

The system runs by giving you warchest points that you use to repair mechs, buy new pilots and gear (including mechs), ammo, etc. It is also required to 'invest' in missions....this represent the costs of jump ship travel, logistic tail etc. Example is a recon mission that costs 50WP to play. The objectives can yield up to 100WP. A defend mission costs 400WP to play and can yield 500. In addition there are variable (optional) conditions you can play under to generate bonus long as you achieve at least one objective. These can include downpours or heavy winds that reduce shooting ability, to surprise by the enemy that hurts your initiative rolls.
Special lead figs for the campaign (optional)

After battle you need to make choices about how to repair your mechs.....which I suspect is the major drain on your WP. This is a bit of a simplified campaign system compared to the chaos pdf, as it omits the higher tech, pilot improvement, factors that adjust the WP won based on your force composition, etc. Great things as I'm just beginning.

The set up for each mission has one player running one of the house companies (their company really, as they will always be managing it) while the other player runs the opposing forces. These are randomly generated each mission with rolls. The rolls tell you the number and type of mech, as well as who is piloting the entire force (house, mercenary, militia). There are then tables used to generate the mechs indicated. Luckily the tables largely refer to mechs that come with the introductory box.

There's a variety of ways you could run this, depending on the number of players you have. Minimum is 2 and it would appear the ideal situation is alternating each player getting to play a protagonist force (The Sabre's or Fox's Teeth).  Another option that I toyed with was just running one of the protagonist forces and the other player running the opposing forces for the entire campaign. My BT partner in crime, Bryan, has a lot more experience with the game than me.....although this is from many years earlier so he's a bit rusty. He's pretty keen on both of us getting to play a protagonist force. Having just played a few nights ago I have to say it's a VERY different experience playing a force where you are worried about your damage/ammo/pilots than a more usual situation where you are happy to throw your assets at the problem in a risky way.

Additional players can be accommodated by assigning one player to all the opposing forces, splitting up the protagonist forces in some way (in half, by lance, assigning one character and alternating battle played, etc). 

My one noted complaint (so far) is with the variable/optional objective bonuses. They seem fairly random, and open to abuse. For certain missions the options would give an obvious bonus to the attacker, yet they increase his warchest payout. An example of this would be in the recon mission, where the attacker wants to get in, scan the enemy, and get out with minimal damage. Adding the option of heavy rains that makes all shooting rolls difficulty 1 greater is obviously an advantage for the attacker......yet it would give the attacker a bonus of 25 WP. Weird. Similar weirdness are options that cause the defenders mechs to show up later as reinforcements, yet again the attacker benefits. On the other hand you get options like 'Surprised' where the protagonist force gets a -4 to all initiative rolls for 10 turns. Definitely a penalty that should generate some bonus points. I think with some thought you could probably use these appropriately by changing the sign on the value (i.e. make it a negative number for those that benefit the attacker).

Having got two battles under our belts I have to say I'm fairly keen on this format and interested to see how long it goes. I can definitely imagine coming up with extra details to enhance the game experience such as coming up with planet names you are operating on, and environmental conditions that affect the battle. This would give a constructive framework for the options presented for each mission which otherwise seem strange and open to abuse. Likely you would finish a few missions on a given planet before relocating to the next area. Everything in this paragraph would be highly optional, a nice thing when it does represent extra work.

EDIT: While hunting for some pics to glam up the post I found this one of some nice looking Davion mechs. I checked the website and it's the blog that inspired me to check out the starter book (and largely to start playing more Battletech). Terminus Omega is run by Lead legion, whom appears pretty active in the corner of the blogosphere I visit. I also had the fortune playing in a short run WFRP game online.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Osric: The life and death of fighter Dan (14)

We find ourselves on the edge of a sandy river bank having just defeated the floating skull and a mess of skeletons. Rather than risk having another group of undead appear in the areas we already frequented, Jenks the druid scouts out the area and finds a safe campsite in a slate hill. The approaches are visible and it's noisy to climb. We rest for a day and a bit, but keeping in mind the meta game that the GM is likely to try and kill us if we try to stay still and rest for too long, we debate our next move.

Scabs, Chester (the gnomish father/son thief pair), Archon (dwarvish priest) and Renault (the fighter) are sent to investigate one of the natural chimneys leaking smoke from the dungeon under the ruined city of greenwood. Chester has a resist fire spell cast on him, and is lowered into a smokey chimney from which regular clanking and puffing emits. Unfortunately we didn't consider the difficulty of breathing in such a noxious environment and rapidly Chester is overcome by the fumes. He is lowered until the rope (soaked in water before hand) goes slack. After a few minutes of no movement the party pulls him back out. He is a long time in waking up, so the group reunites at the slate hill to further consider options.

The next day our group is approaching full health and we decide to risk heading back into the dungeon via the chimney we escaped out of last time. Jane (illusionist) casts see invisible on Jenks who is lowered into the depths. Almost immediately he spots a duergar sentry, as expected, and prepares to cast charm person......but has to wait until he gets to the floor. The sentry on the other hand powers up his enlarge spell, gaining ogre size, and heads over to club poor Jenks. Initiative is in Jenks favour.......but the Duergar saves. The next couple rounds see Jenks get beat down by the sentry and losing a fair number of spells to miscasts. Eventually the party on the surface heads down and Renault saves Jenks just as he's bashed into negative hitpoints. Thankfully the fountain of Jenks blood has identified the (usually) invisible Sentry, whom is quickly dispatched.

After being revived by Archon the group decides to head to the undead area rather than facing more deurgar. As they enter the Cesspit room with the otuygh they are surprised to see some goblins answering natures call (surprising as they had previously done a fairly thorough job cleaning the vermin out). A brief parley has them provide some highly questionable information that the Duergar are good to visit, and that the necromancer is to the Northwest. They take off to the north muttering death threats when Jenks 'accidentally' drops their exorbitant payment into the cesspool.

Chasing after the goblins the group encounters the floating skull guardian, with it's bevy of objects floating beneath it. Jenks begins casting dispel magic and the spirit attacks. As the fighers block it's advance it unleashes a swarm of magic missles before it is rendered inert by Jenks spell. The objects include some finely wrought items including valuable rings, broach, elvish dagger and bracers. A detect magic spell shows none of magical however. As an aside the GM points out this spirit drains the power to nourish itself....a magic battery of sorts. Hence the toll it demands.

Next door Dan uses a hand drill to create a viewing hole and sees a large pit mines that goblins are working with hobgoblin supervisors. The 2 goblins are ratting the group out to the hobgoblins and we see them grabbing weapons and heading over. Dan times it just right and kicks open the door as the hobgoblins arrive send 4 flying over the edge into the depths below. The party quickly finishes off the few survivors who don't flee into the depths. A large number of iron and silver ingots are found, and not a few pocketed.

We investigate the hallways North of the mine for a bit before locating the forge. Once again Dan uses his drill, but this time he sets off a poison gas trap. He keels over foaming at the mouth.....dead. Jane finishes the hole, views the 2 hobgoblin smiths with a half dozen goblin assistants and tiptoes in. She color sprays the smiths, and the battle is joined. The party is fairly hurt by the end. Jenks and Jane barely alive. Dan is dead. Renault is almost killed by another poison trap on the far door. We decide to barricade the forge closed on both doors and escape up the smoke hole. Jenks is able to shape stone to allow sufficient width for all to escape.

A goblin survivor (surrendered) tells the group the poison trap on the far door protected versus the rat swarms in the next area....further on are some scary sounding fire/lava creatures. The silver and large amount of iron equipment is handed over to the duergar for tribute. Once again we have managed to do something to piss the dark dwarves off.

After our escape we pack Dan's body with virtuous herbs and coverings to attempt to preserve it and head with best speed to Shadowdeep. We end up needing to go to the temple of light and law for raise dead services. The temple is amazingly might as well be called the temple of heavy taxation. Due to the length of time Dan has been dead (2 weeks) the high priest himself must cast the spell. 8000gp are needed as "donation". Despite our pointing out Dans devotion to good and fighting evil and offering to take on quests we can't get a price break. The priest is excellent in pointing out the ways of the gods are mysterious, and if Dan were meant to be denied the afterlife then obviously we would be able to lay our hands on such a large sum. Indeed the goodness of the individual is often seen by the large amount of capital they are able to access. All this pious crud is delivered while the man scratches himself with an ivory and gold backscratcher in an opulently appointed private room drinking expensive and rare brandy.
Gold is the sign of goodness my son

We manage to cash in the ruby Dan managed to pillage from one of the Duergar, further denude the compliments treasury, and flog the silver we pillaged. A miracle is performed and Dan returns to life, although he requires 2 weeks recover, and we rent a townhouse for the duration.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Check your 6 basing by John

John W. runs games of check your 6 fairly regularly at trumpeter nights (once a night club games). There was a question about basing for check your 6 on TMP, so I thought it'd be good to get some pictures up that I can link too.

The planes all have small metal posts of what I think is brass wire. This is inserted into airplane servo arms (ball joints) which are stiff enough to all you to tilt the planes for cinematic effect during the game. The joints on the bottom end have the stiff wire which is of sufficient size to nest quite snugly into brass rod....the heart of the system.

The rods come in 6 lengths, and each one has a tiny number scrawled on them. The numbers are a bit worn from use, but you can usually figure it out by looking at the pile. Each length of rod corresponds to one of the altitude bands in the rules.

The rods then fit quite nicely onto the bases, which also have some of the stiff wire. The wire also acts as a pivot for a dial to indicate air speed. Possibly one of the greatest things about this system is that it breaks down to a very small size, and there is minimal prep work for each plane to make it compatible with the mounting.

 The first pic is a good shot of the upper assembly. You can see one of the downed planes lying on the mat with the servo ball joint thingy.

The second shot gives a good sense of the height differences. The Italian planes have all just some step climb and turns as they come past the bombers to try and get on their tails. The Italian plane to the right closest to the picture  (not one of the british fighters in the foreground) is a bit loose in the brass rod, but it does give a sense of the fight of the brass stem into the rod.

All the pics are fairly high resolution and can be clicked on for a closer look.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Osric: Scouting the surface around Greenwood? (13)

Having been beat to within inches of our collective lives by the fury of the duergar raiding party, we escape under the heavy fog cover create by Jenks pyrotechnic spell cast on the circle of flame. Being the lightest on his feet in the wilderness, Jenks (druid), manages to locate a possible cave entrance mostly hidden by snow, and leads
the party there.

The gnomes head in first to investigate and find 2 skeletons at a fire, with knifes buried in one another. It appears to be a set of bandits who were disagreeing over the sac of gold between them. Recognizing this as a put up job by the GM to activate some vengeful spirits, we ignore the treasure as we are brutally hurt and make camp further back. Archon the priest is encouraged to say some words to thank these bodies for sharing their space.

Overnight we attacked by something....I believe it's more wolves (I've forgotten). They are dealt with fairly handily as Jenks has some good animal spells. The second attack by owlbears, summoned by the fresh meat in the area is a bit more battering. We are stuck in a cave with a pile of corpses at the entrance, short on spells (no one got a good sleep) and totally hurt. Fantastic level of attrition delivered by our GM.

We head out the following day to investigate the bits of smoke and steam seen rising from the hills around Greenwood. Hoping to find some other paths into the dungeon below....or better yet, use them to drop some horrible revenge on our enemies. The 3 of them are: 1/. likely a forge. 2/. probably a dragon.... regular puffs of smoke, smelling of sulphur. Also a sense of terror when standing in the smoke. This smoke hole is covered by a gravelly landslide; we're not likely to get through here. 3/.I forget...I think it ended up being the hole we escaped from and there was some confusion from the DM.

We investigate the possibility of routing a river to flood the complex. Unfortunately the river has cut into the land, definitely below the ground level where the holes are located. It would require some pretty serious engineering project. In the meantime we find some more trouble....

A floating skull is spotted tailing us. It's a bit challenging to see as it's a neutral tone, no heat is emitted, and it's trailing us in the underbrush. Dan the fighter waves at it and is spitted with magic missiles for his trouble. The skull peels off and escapes.

A Dwarven (hill dwarf) mausoleum found, and we try to excavate the doorway (A gravelly slide has covered most of the building except for the roof). Mr Floating skull shows up with a gaggle of skellies and zombies in tow.  We hide on high ground and Archon turns a batch of undead. The tough ascent up the gravel impedes the undead and we mostly beat them up.....but once again the skull spits some of our team with magic missiles. It's all looking a little dicey that we are going to lose some party members soon. We decide to close up the mausoleum, so we don't get trapped in there and to prevent undead access, and move on towards the river.

We can't decide if the skull is a familiar or a demi-liche. As a player if I knew I could venture a guess, but I try not to munchin out and read the monster I have no idea except it's either bad, or REALLY bad.

Down by the river we are attacked again (by the previously turned undead), this time without benefit of terrain. The remnants rush us as the skull moves in and begins to launch magic missile salvos. Eventually we manage to expode the skull (with arrow fire) and defeat the skellies. Jane went down, barely kept alive, and we are back to being barely alive.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Your Imperial Majesty.....

From IV Corp Hq - Burgos
Date: 17 March
Time: 1352
To: Emporer Napoleon Bonaparte presumed at Paris

Your Imperial Majesty,

I write to you to inform you of contact with the enemy. Marshal Victor has done himself great honors in defeating a host of British-Portugese troops in the field. While heavily outnumbered he managed to inflict approximately 8000 casualties to the enemy while losing 4200 valiant french soldiers. Alas great numbers forced him to withdraw in the night back toward Burgos.

We have rumor of the General Wellington operating in the area, and believe him to be to our west with approximately 28000 troops. I hope my next correspondence to report a similar bleeding of the red devils.

The fortresses of Zaragoz, San Sebastien, Pamplona, and Burgos have all been invested by our forces but hold out yet for relief. We have rumor that Catalonia has fallen to the vigorous actions of Marechal Bessieres.

I regret to inform you that the actions of Marachel Augereau have been extremely disappointing. His forces moved with sufficient elan to invest the fortress of Zaragoz, but he has since languished there, not deign to respond to messages requesting his status, nor encouraging him to move on to meet his objectives.
I ask for your imperial majesties permission to replace the command of his troops with a more vigourous commander, and reassign Augereau to a post closer to the capital.....where perhaps he can answer what has been occupying his time and attention.


Marechal Lefebvre

Our campaign having restarted still is lacking the command for one of the French marshals. It's a bit of a bother as it's a spanner in my master plan. Ah well. I'll give it a few more days in game time for the messenger to reach Paris, and then perhaps the GM will re-assign the command. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

1/3 of the year summary

I suppose it's worthwhile to add a summary post being a 1/3 or the way through the year.

January, for whatever reason, was a great month for painting and modeling in general. I managed to keep up the momentum into much of february, but slowed down towards the end of the month.

March was a write off for painting, and thus the habit was broken. My family cat ended up having a tumor that required it to be put down and my scooter was stolen. Fantastic end to the month.

April was a horrendously crappy month for me with work. We transferred over to a new schedule (that everyone largely agrees sucks) in January and I think the pace finally caught up with me. It's possible the lengthy winter and unending grim economic news were getting to me as well. In any event I crapped out that month and even stopped doing a lot of non gaming activities that I enjoy. Swing dance being a notable one. Gone were the 2 nights a none! I finally started to have more energy and verve in the last week of the month and am starting to feel myself. I'm also holding on for another 2 weeks till my vacation arrives.

Osric: Our games have been a bit more spotty since the GM is much busier with a tiring fulltime job at a grocery store and his gf (the other key player along with me) is fairly busy with school again. We have gotten in a couple of games, but like today, there are sudden cancellation from time to time.

Savage 1889: I haven't really bothered to write up anything for our 1889 campaign (which is a local face to face campaign). I started to one day, and realized there was so much back story I ended up despairing and stopped writing. We have been fairly diligent about getting in a game a week, but we are facing a gap soon. One player is out of commission for 2 weeks followed by a 2 week vacation. I'm gone for vacation just after he returns.

Tabletop wargaming: I managed to get in a battletech game on Friday at the local gaming society night. Brian (the 1889 GM) and I played a company(?  3 lances) of light mechs that were raiding and destroying some high value target vehicles (artillery and hq escorted by tanks) that were fleeing down a road towards a heavy lance. We managed to do pretty well, killing 3 of the 4 high value targets and MIGHT have been able to finish the job but we had to call the game with the time to play being up (closing in on 11 or midnight). About a year ago we played some games of battletech which I had found quite enjoyable...they are usually finished in a swift manner (if they are smallish) and you can sometimes get in 2 games.

My largest complaint with the game (given the small number of games I've played) is that it's so freaking hard to understand what you need and what era to play etc as someone interested in maybe getting the game. Also the minis are a bit expensive (11-15$ per) so you don't want to make a mistake. I spent a few hours looking up stuff and it might be worthwhile to get the introductory box, a few metal figs, and play a campaign out of sword and dragon. There is some blog that appears to be doing something like this which is a source of inspiration.

A-to-Z challenge: Holy crap this was hard! About a quarter of the way through I started to fall off the bandwagon and need to catch up on sunday. Once I got into my funk it was all over. Even in the absence of that it'd still have been iffy. Certain letters I was simply stumped on. Working on a theme is even more challenging. I think I'll need to pre think this if before I try next year. I have huge respect for those who manage to pull it off.

PBEM Naps: The campaign ended up taking on a major hiatus after the first battle. It looked like it had died in fact. A large component was that Gavin has a new, hard, job with a terrible commute. I think the absence of most of the players being able to game out the fights was probably a tough blow too. A large problem was how to convert the battle results back to the system. It's interesting to me that Paul Leniston had a post talking specifically about how his system is built from the table up to the campaign and that he thinks this challenge (results to campaign) is a major barrier often. Apparently true in our case.

In any event, it appears there may be a game resurrection. Gavin is back, one turn has been fired off, and most of the french players are back. We appear to be one short (of 7) and one (of 2 or 3) allied players are missing. We have taken the weekend to see if there is any word from either. Crossing my fingers this one lurches back into life.

Future Plans:
I'm definitely feeling split by a lot of shiny new projects. I'm hoping to get in some battle tech games again, and I may try some DBA with Brian while the 1889 game is on hiatus.

I think I should buckle down and continue to work on my naps figures, as it'd be amazing to 'finish' my french army. And I have an open invitation with another local gamer to play some napoleon's battles when I have enough ready. We intend to try Marengo for a good intro game. He is another player I met from Malcolm's online game (which inspired Gavin's game).