Tabletop: Returning to Battletech / Mechwarrior

Battletech is a tabletop game of “big stompy robots” blowing each other up on hex-gridded mapsheets. It has innumerable options for customization, deployment, individual and large-scale tactics and strategy, and mixed-unit engagement (‘mechs might be “king of the battlefield” in theory, but combined arms usually wins the day). It’s a fun beer-and-pretzels wargame if you’ve got a couple hours to spend on a single engagement. The rules are comprehensive and complex but straightforward when you see it in action. I recommend sitting in on a session if your FLGS is lucky enough to host a group.

Mechwarrior was an RPG meant to allow players to take their pilots out of the cockpit so they could get into trouble without having a seven ton particle cannon to get back out of trouble. Token efforts were made to broaden the experience and allow players to create techs or nobles as their characters, but martial folk were still the focus of the game. That’s understandable, considering the Battletech universe. BT is a game steeped in lore and fiction and layers of canon. It’s actually quite silly, since all of the canon boils down to “Guess what? There’s another war!”. When you’re writing fictional space sagas about hammers, the only topic you can really approach is nails.

Timber Wolf Prime; Sylph armor at bottom. Man, I miss this model. 😦

My spouse and I have flirted with the MW RPG off and on over the years. I ran a 2e campaign for her brothers over a decade ago, and she joined in periodically. We ran some brief 3e one-shots in college with friends. Since then we’ve mainly been into fantasy gaming, though we often nod to our MW dalliances: for example, Season 5 of our long-running Rasherochernon’s Folly game revealed that one of the original nine deities had been a Clan Nova Cat Elemental in her mortal life (and how that came to pass is a question best left unanswered), the very same warrior who was the focus of a MW 3e playtest we ran long ago pitting a single Sylph battle armor unit against a Timber Wolf Prime in a Trial of Position. (I also made a papermodel diorama commemorating the event, now sadly lost to child and feline damage.)

Now that we’re in the market for a new campaign, one less intensely gripping than our usual fare, we’ve decided to go with BT/MW once again. Only it’s not Mechwarrior anymore. Microsoft now owns that trademark for its computer games based (often loosely) on the Battletech universe. Catalyst Game Labs, the excellent company that currently steers the tabletop Battletech ship, has instead issued the fourth edition of the roleplaying game under the moniker A Time of War: The Battletech RPG. It’s essentially Mechwarrior 3e restructured from 2d10 back to the 2d6 model of earlier editions to once again mesh better with the big stompy robot action.

Of course, if you’ve been reading earlier posts on this blog about our Folly campaign you’ve probably figured out that my spouse and I aren’t fans of violence and war as a means of getting our kicks. “Well why the hell are you playing something called A Time of War, numbskull?” you ask. It’s mostly because we associate BT with tabletop fun that doesn’t invite a lot of deep emotional commitment. It’s a rebound date, if you will. We know it’s not a solution to the hole in our hearts. We just want something to take our minds off the void left by the end of our last campaign.

Besides, never let it be said that we would let canon get in the way of our fun. We’re perfectly capable of completely redesigning the 2000 years of future history detailed in the BT universe to make it moderately less dumb – no offense to the CGL team or FASA before them. They really are a top-notch batch of writers and designers who put a lot of thought and experience into every rule and every word of fiction that defines Battletech. They’re smart people who understand exactly what they’re producing: a universe full of nails to support a game about hammers. I wouldn’t dream of saying they’ve put out a poor product. Rather, it’s a testament to the craftwork of the system’s design that rules which are so firmly entwined with a heavily predefined canon are plastic enough to be applied to a completely different headcanon interpretation.

I hope to share some of the redesign process between the stitching and fantasy gaming posts. In the meantime, if you have any experience with the BT universe – tactical game, PC games, RPG, or just reading the fiction – by all means share it with me so that we can form an internet BT support group. 🙂

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3 thoughts on “Tabletop: Returning to Battletech / Mechwarrior

  1. I am looking forward to reading more about your future A Time of War / Mechwarrior games. I played a ton of Battletech wargaming (late 80’s – early 90’s) but never the Mechwarrior RPG. Lately I have been thinking about picking up A Time of War but the only issue I have is that I have not, nor plan to invest the next decade reading BT fiction to know whats going on, and what era had what development, and formulate a decent campaign for players. etc. 🙂

    I guess that is what scared me off to a certain extent. I look forward to reading more about your progress…

    Thanks.

    • Luckily, CGL has been a little more conservative than FASA as they helm the Battletech ship. They’ve kept the timeline restricted to the Dark Ages period established by the clickbase Mechwarrior tabletop game (the 3140s, just under a century beyond the Clan invasion), and have spent most of their efforts backfilling the Word of Blake Jihad (the latter half of the 31st century).

      I’m in the same boat as you, though. I haven’t read a Battletech novel in my adult life. I only know as much as I do from hanging out on the CGL forums. That’s a large part of the reason we decided to develop our own alternate universe history – it’s just too much effort and money to get ourselves up to speed on retreading the same old war stories.

      Still, CGL is also doing a great job of supporting every era from the latter Star League years onward. New official gaming events, products, and fiction are still coming out around 3025 and the Clan invasion. So if you want to stick to what you know, you don’t have to use outdated material to do it.

      I guess it helps that the CGL team for BT is mostly made up of familiar names like Randall Bills. 🙂

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