Author Archives: Abe Sargent

About Abe Sargent

When his first attack roll with an LRM15 from that Crusader destroyed a Ryoken deep in the jungle, Abe grew hooked on the game that brought heavy metal to a smart sci-fi universe that realistically portrays humanity in the future with all of the foibles of today.

The Just Wars of BattleTech

It’s no surprise that BattleTech, which is a war game, has a lot of wars.  A lot of strife and conflicts.  That’s what we need to keep the property moving. Succession Wars?  Wars of Reaving?  Clan Invasion?  The Jihad?  We have wars in spades.

So given that, I thought it would be an interesting thought experiment to delve into some of the history of the wars in BattleTech that meet the jus ad bellum, or Just War criteria.

I’m currently working on (yet another) Master’s degree, this time one in Theology as a Catholic College.  In the European tradition, for centuries during the height of the Catholic Church’s power, war between Christian states was virtually unheard of.  The amount of stuff you had to jump over into order to declare war on your neighbor was rough.  From St. Augustine who began the Just War tradition to St. Thomas Aquinas who formalized it in his philosophy, we have a major shift in the way war is viewed.  In fact, the Pope would often and regularly lean on people to not declare war, or to end it immediately, when these conditions were not met.  The only major exception during this era was the Hundred Years War which began during the weakening of the Papacy and the Avignon era.  In order to declare war, you needed a casus belli.  A just cause.  But you also needed a lot more as well.  They fleshed out a list of things you needed to do, before and during the war, in order for it to be just.  And this just concept of war continues through today in major philosophies, politics, military, and other places.

So I thought it would be a fun thought experiment to go over the jus ad bellum concept of a just war, and then look at some conflicts in BattleTech to see if they line up.

Just War

Just War

I’m using a few books as the core for this article. One is Ronald Musto’s The Catholic Peace Tradition that looks at the history of Peacemaking in Catholicism, and talks about this at length.  But the major one is Morality and War, by David Fisher.  Both a trained philosopher and a high level position in the British Military for about 20 years, he has a unique perspective about what is just, and what wars have been as well – he comes from the practice side as well as the theoretical one.  In particularly, his 4th chapter outlines this quite nicely.  And he’ll look at dozens of conflicts, wars, attacks and more to try to suss them out.  So what is just?  What does it require?  These are great questions – let’s check it out!

 

The Just War Principles

  1. Authorized by a competent authority
  2. For a just cause
  3. With a right intention
  4. As a last resort
  5. Harm from war not disproportionate to the gain
  6. Non-combatants not deliberately attacked

So let’s look at each of these in turn.

Authorized by a competent authority.  This was added to the tradition by Aquinas.  His basic point is that some ruler of a city or a Baron somewhere can’t declare war justly.  It has to come from the highest power in the land.  If it does not, they it isn’t a just war.

A just cause requires a legitimate reason for going to war, not the mere pursuit of land, materials military factories, or more.  There needs to be a major just reason.  Was someone just invaded?  Is a massive humanitarian catastrophe about to happen?  Take the Six-Day War as a good example. Israel argued they were defeating themselves preemptively and that Egypt had unfairly cut off their oil and other supplies by the closing the Straights of Tiran.  So a just cause would be to fight and capture the ports, or to free up the Straits for their shipping.

The next requirement is a right intention.  Is there a just cause in the actions itself? Many rulers will use a just cause as an excuse, but then really want something else, right?  So in addition to being a good just cause, one of the key ways to know if the reason for the war was rightfully intended is if the side that declares the war ends it when their objective is achieved.  Take a real life war like the first Gulf War as a good example.  The just cause was removing Hussein from Kuwait.  That is a just cause; he just invaded and took it.  And as soon as the goal was achieved, the war ended.  That is a right intention.

Is this a last resort?  Were other things attempted first, such as diplomacy?  That is needed.  Now I would certainly claim that sometimes a last resort is sort of obvious.  America entering World War II after being attacked is a last resort.  You don’t need to ask Japan for reparations instead, after they bombed Pearl Harbor.  You also need a level of proportionality.  If you have an issue, and your response is a lot worse, then that’s not just.  If you drop a nuke to end a minor military junta that was only hurting the locals a bit, then that’s not proportionate, even if you only took out the junta leaders and military.

Finally, are you trying to keep civilians safe?  Out the way? Or have you harmed civilians by putting them into play or on the battlefield?  That is not just.  If you kill civilians as an accident hitting legitimate targets, that’s one thing.  If you bomb a military base, sure, you’ll likely kill some civilians.  But it’s still a military base.  That’s a fair target.

Still one of my favorites!

Still one of my favorites!

The Aleisha Liao led Ares Conventions puts a lot of just precepts into play in the BattleTech universe and the clan concept of Zellbrigen echoes it as well.

Alright, so given that, what wars count as Just?

Many conflicts are out straight away because they never had a just cause to begin with.  But let me start you with a war that I believe actually qualifies as just from every definition.  And then you can see how that operates.

Operation: Guerrero?

The ruler of the Free Worlds Leagues discovers that his son and heir passed away, and was secretly replaced by a fake by the Federated Commonwealth.  The implications of this are obvious.  If the duplicate takes over, then the League is in a bad place due to duplicity and subterfuge.  Going to war against the Commonwealth is the only way to punish them for this atrocity.  It is a just cause.  And in this case, given the surprise nature of the attack, the last resort is arguable as well.  Now what is the intention?  To punish them. What does that punishment look like?  Merely taking back the worlds that were captured from the League by the Commonwealth in the Fourth Succession War.  The Free World League even has international support from the Capellan Confederation and the now-splintered Lyran Alliance to show solidarity.  The war begins, the Free Worlds League takes their targets quickly, and then they call it. Peace is achieved, the Commonwealth is suitably punished for their actin, and the status quo occurs.  That is a rightful intent, just action, and more.  The Free Worlds League theater of the Operation meets the requirements of jus ad bellum, just war.

What about other Wars?

The Fourth Succession War?

On the other hand, the Fourth Succession War by the Federated Suns and Lyran Commonwealth certainly isn’t.  Even if you grant that Hanse Davion wanted to punish Maximillian Liao for doing something similar with a duplicate, his response came years later, and therefore lacked the immediate last resort concept.   Nor was his response proportional, nor with a right intention.  He wanted to end the Capellan Confederation as a state.  That is different in kind to the Free Worlds League response. Without rightful intention, and without a last resort and barring a proportionate response, the Fourth was not a just war to my mind.

And we can do that with other conflicts in the universe all day.  So what conflicts are out there that you think are just?  What is close?  How about the common fighting in cities we see?  Barring a major military target in there, is that truly keeping civilians out of the picture?

 

 

Crossing Generations

Most of the games we play in real life are big for a while on release, and then that’s it.  They die down sooner or later.  There are a lot of reason a game fails to make it long term.  Maybe the people who played the games turn to others.  Perhaps the game never sold copies to make money.  Sometimes the company goes out of business despite that product being good.  Other games replace them in the mind’s eye.  For whatever reason, we’ve seen lots of games come and go.  Many of my favorite games, like HeroScape or Middle Earth: Collectible Card Game (ME:CCG) are done for – I’ve given up playing any more, which is real sad as they were quality games.  But the company mismanaged it, or the game went out of style, and I’m now looking back and wondering what could have been.

Luckily BattleTech is still trucking along!

tocover_final-copy

A few games have endured the test of time.  But you never know which is going to hit lightning.  Take Dungeons and Dragons as a good example.  No one knew how big that was going to end being.  The same is true of Magic:  The Gathering or Warhammer.  They are here for the future, and aren’t going anywhere.  Recently we saw World Champions in Magic who are younger than the game they are playing!

One major secret to these games’ longevity is that they crossed generations.  I was playing Magic back in 1994 when it was new on the scene.  And I’m still playing today.  Most of the people who played back then have left the game, but that’s fine.  Many others have joined.  And when I walk into a tournament, I’m often one of the oldest people in the room.  Magic crossed into the younger generation, and it will last.   On the other hand, I picked up Dungeons and Dragons in the late 1980s – 1988 to be precise.  Almost 12 years after it had been introduced.  I was one of the newer generations of players who was brought to it by older players.  And now there are players 20 years older than me and 20 years younger than me and its spread across one generation to another.  It crossed generations.  Shoot, I know four students at my small 1250 strong college down here in Mobile Alabama who play Warhammer: 40000 on the weekend.  Generation crossed.

So where is BattleTech?

Has it crossed generations enough to sustain itself in perpetuity? Or is it continuing with the people who came to it in its heydays back in the later 1980s and early to mid-1990s (like me, who came to it in late 1992) when it was at its peak?

I don’t know. I haven’t played a lot of real life BattleTech in a while – since I was in Philadelphia for a year back in 2012.  Mostly it’s online for me with MegaMekNet and other variants of the MekWars client online.  I know the folks there tend to my own levels of experience and age.  But that could easily be a self-selecting subsection of the overall community.

I love BattleTech.  And I don’t want it to end.  I don’t want it to be my next ME:CCG, lost to the mists of time.  Hopefully, the new video game will help to put it on the map of more people, much like the MMO MechWarrior: Online hopefully has.  And I would love to see a BattleTech real life movie that could really push this thing.  There’s a lot of appreciate with it.  Could you imagine if this became as big as Marvel right now?  Wow!

For now though, I wonder if we are in a good place moving forward.  Any idea from what you see?   Your games?  The people who you interact with?

Review of David Drake’s “Redliners”

Recently I had decided to pick up and read David Drake’s collection of military science fiction short stories called “Hammer’s Slammers.”  I was a bit surprised by just how evocative it was of many of the central concepts of BattleTech universe writ large.  We aren’t any better in the future than we are now.  We still have unethical wars.  We hold onto our religious and ethnic identities and use those to exclude and attack others.  We still have these “us versus them,” mentalities.   Technology has not led to morality.

Beleaguered Soldiers on a Far-Flung Colony

Beleaguered Soldiers on a Far-Flung Colony

There are a bunch of other similar things, like similar weapons, similar concepts of mercenaries, and more — and I was so taken aback by this pre-BattleTech story, that I wrote a review on it here.  Having read that, I decided to eventually take on another military science fiction book as well and review it for you.  Two weeks ago I was shopping at a Books-a-Million superstore when I came across “Redliners.”  It was recently re-released in this prestige format as part of the 20 year anniversary of the novel.  On the cover is David Drake talking about how this is his best work, to his mind, and the one that changed him the most after writing it.

Well that sounded compelling.  So I picked it up and started reading.

Now as I have mentioned before, I’m very comfortable with David Drake.  I’ve read a few short stories, and this is my 6th book by him.  He’s not an author I follow religiously, but he’s good at what he does and I respect him for it.  He was at a major school for studying Law when he was drafted in the 60s, and sent to work with tanks in Cambodia for two years, and then returned.  He always found it difficult to re-assimilate into life.  And this novel follows a similar track.

In a future war by a star-spanning human empire, a high reputation striker force does some bad stuff and loses a lot of people on the front line of a war against some aliens.  They have crossed the red line.  But instead of them being sent home to keep them quiet, the leader of the Empire decides to try something new.  They are sent to escort a group of colonists to a hostile but potentially wealthy colony world.  And they are pushed together and forged by fire.  (I’m trying to keep this relatively spoiler-free).

Now the book itself has a lot of the typical military science-fiction accoutrements.  Death.  Weapons.  Battles.  And the style of Drake is compelling.  It’s powerful and evocative.  And while it’s not my favorite book in the genre by any means, I get where Drake is coming from.  The book is worth the reading.

I’ve always wondered what would happen if David Drake wrote a BattleTech story.  Would it feel like a conventional one?  Would it be different?  Would he continue down that path or hew something else?  He has written in shared worlds before.  He is a big fan of the Cthulhu Mythos and has written stuff there.  So you never know.

Are you familiar with “Redliners?”  Have you read it?  What did you think?

Are You Heading to Mech_Con?

On December 3rd, over in the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, Canada, Piranha Games is hosting a day long BattleTech and Mechwarrior themed convention.

A variety of events and fun stuff is planned.  Many guests from various community members and companies are planning on attending, such as Jordan Weisman and Randall Bills or online media personalities from Twitch and such.

Mech_Con

In the best traditions of the Solaris VII Games, one of the headline events is the first World Championship of MechWarrior Online.  Don’t you want to establish dominance and win that trophy?

Hey look, everybody knows that we don’t always get a chance to flip some dice and push around metal the way it was meant to be in real life.  I’m playing online with stuff like MegaMek.  So, getting the chance to play live with real enthusiasts, purchase stuff from live vendors, get some autographs, and rub noses and talk shop with with all of you folks is a great opportunity.

So what about you?  Are you heading over?  Why not check out all of the information they have to see if you are interested in getting your ‘Mech on, Vancouver style!

Review of “Hammer’s Slammers”

Slamming that Hammer

Well I felt it was time.  See, one of my passions in life is to read the books and works that helps to make something exist.  Take Dungeons and Dragons as a good example.  In his famous Appendix N at the end of the first Dungeon Master’s Guide, Gary Gygax listed a bunch of writers and works that were influential to the game, and as launching off points for campaigns.  And slowly and surely, I’ve been reading Appendix N stories and writers.  I enjoy reading pre-D&D writers that had an influence on that game. And I do this with a lot of stuff, from epic sagas from other cultures to forgotten gems that few appreciate.

And there’s where my decision to read Hammer’s Slammers, by David Drake came from.  Published in 1979 and featuring an eponymous mercenary tank unit in the future of science fiction, it seems like a potentially interesting synergy with BattleTech.  The book is a collection of short stories, and thus easier to read for those that are involved with doing stuff.  So let’s read this thing!

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Kickstarter Awards Arrive for BattleTech Video Game

Well, it arrived today!  I was one of many Kickstarter backers of the various levels for Harebrained Schemes’ BattleTech Video game, slated for release next year.

Like many folks I backed at a high enough pledge to get both some nice BattleTech swag, as well as some strong comfort in helping to bring back a major video game opportunity for the franchise.  We need an infusion of marketing and interest.  Hopefully the latest video game will prove just the ticket!

It’s hard for me to find swag anywhere but online these days, so it was nice for me to open up my sweet bag of Draconis Combine swag.  Here it is!

Swag = Mag

Swag = Mag

I’m pretty stoked! I’m wearing my Draconis Combine pin to work tomorrow!

Did you order anything?  Has it arrived?  What did you get?  And who’s ready for some BattleTech?

My Favorite Technical Readout

You wouldn’t think it by looking at me.  I love BattleMechs and smashing with the big guys.  I’m not a power armor or tank or anything else enthusiast.  I adore the big heavy sluggers of the battlefield.  That’s why I’m playing BattleTech and not something like Warhammer.

So why?  Why is my favorite Technical Readout the Vehicle Annex?

My Favorite Cover Art!

One of my favorite aspects of early Technical Readouts like Technical Readout: 3025 and Technical Readout: 2750 is the ability to include things like support vehicles and other important battlefield concerns.  I want stats on a MASH Support vehicle or an Ammo Carrier.  Because these things matter.  If I land one extra DropShip of stuff for a campaign, how many tons of J-27 Ordnance Transports can I fit?  How much ammo do I have available to me?

Frankly, I’ve long wanted this area of the Inner Sphere to be fleshed out.  We have a lot more ‘Mechs, Tanks and such in the various TROs through the ages than the good old support vehicle.  And we need more.  We need more conventional fighters.  More transports, and such.

And that’s why the Vehicle Annex is amazing as a piece of work.  It’s just satellites, IndustrialMechs, cars, trains, airships, planes, and so much more.  It’s so loaded down with great stuff that there always seems to be another strong entry on the next page.

I also love mining this for adventure ideas.  I loved the CattleMaster so I had a rebellion on a ranching planet that a conventional mercenary force had to put down a ton of these CattleMasters.  In another area we had a bunch of riots in a city that were causing violence and fires.  In addition to the normal responders like some infantry and tanks, we had two Cellco Rangers, one Saurer-Bucher Fire Engine, and a trio of Kressly Dillinger Police Vehicles.  Fun stuff!

It also adds a massive amount of options for the actual battles.  How many times are you fighting in a construction area?  If it’s like me, it’s pretty common.  And now we have stuff like dump trucks or a pair of LoaderMechs to toss in and make bystanders.  After all, having some hastily abandoned dump trucks could provide combat options for infantry or others.

At the end of the day though, in addition to great combat options, I feel that the Vehicle Annex is a massive flavor win for the universe.  From the great cover by the lost-before-his-time great Doug Chaffee to the awesome details on things like passenger trains we have it all.  Welcome to the Inner Sphere!

So do you have it?  What do you think of the Vehicle Annex?

Where Are The Bouncers?

Green Birds and Ham

In my copy of the Jade Falcon Sourcebook, it talks about the various battles of the Falcon Corridor of the Clan Invasion.  Many of these vignettes are just quick little paragraphs about the fall of an entire world.

On Page 36 it discusses the fall of Alkalurops to the ongoing Clan Assault.  And the results are very simple.  The planet is going to fall.  In addition to the local militia, there is the Bouncers, a combined arms regiment there defending.  The major cities and trade of the area is taken very quickly, but much of the outer-lying areas, as well as the Dravinna Vale will remain in the hands of the defenders, including most of the Bouncers.

And then, that’s it.  The Sourcebook says:

Just days after the planet’s surrender, these forces formed organized and effective resistance, attacking the invaders near the ore-processing factories of Dravinna Vale, using the valley’s perpetual fog to cover their activities.

That’s it. We know the planet falls.  We know it’s under the command of Falcon, but I’ve always wondered what happened to The Bouncers.  Did they evacuate?  How successful was the campaign on the planet?  I don’t know.

We know that numerous mercenary units were destroyed in the Clan Invasion, such as the 12th Star Guard.  So The Bouncers could have been destroyed.  In my campaign I have them cut down to less than half their force, get off-world, and then begin to rebuild with other contracts out in the Chaos March.

But I’ve always been obsessed with The Bouncers. What happened to them?  Where are they now?  Who were they?  What’s their history?  A regiment, even a mixed one, is not a small force, so how did they become The Bouncers?

And that’s one of the great things about the BattleTech universe.  There’s always something out there to grab a hold of and make it yours.  The huge sprawling universe is such a large, extreme place.  And while there is a lot of definition here and there, there’s a lot more to consider and run with.  A lot more decisions.  And little passing phrases here and there to tantalize them.

So what is your little obsession out there?  Is there a unit, a planet, a group, or something else to tantalize you?  Something that’s always been out there, with just a hint of information to intrigue you?

Who are your Bouncers?

Campaign Operations: First Look

Campaigning in Style since 2016

Campaigning in Style since 2016

Well that was fast!

After Interstellar Operations was being written for years before release, the next Operations books came quickly after.  Welcome, to Campaign Operations.

I’ve always wondered if other players play Campaigns as much as I tend to.  My playgroups, interests, games, and more are invariably part of an ongoing campaign.  It’s important for me because when I see the actual results of campaigns, folks play more realistically.  If you have a company of BattleMechs for a campaign, you might be more inclined to jettison one that’s critical in four spots, missing its right arm where the main weapon was, and just had a blasted hip actuator and is reeling.  You can save the unit by ejecting now, and then grabbing it post-battle, and just fix some internal stuff, rearm and re-armor it, and then grab a spare arm to weld back.  You might have to make some changes with weapon payload or something, but the unit is saved for later battles if you can salvage it.  A unit with both an XL Engine and CASE will just shut down when an ammo explosion destroys your left torso, not be destroyed.  Sure, it may not matter on the battlefield right then and there, but it’ll matter later for sure when you salvage it.  Folks are playing smart, long-game warfare, and worried about things like infrastructure, materiel, and support.  Campaign BattleTech supports a realistic form of warfare.

It’s rare that I don’t play some form of campaign.  They make me.  They invest me.

So it’s odd to me that we haven’t had a lot of Campaign stuff in a lot of more Core works, even heading back to earlier editions of the game.  We often have to wait for Campaign rules.  Now, we had some good ones sprinkled around in Tactical Operations and a few more rocking Strategic Operations with linked scenarios and such.  But it’s nice to have a new book that’s really focused on my zone of interest.  So hopefully there’ll be a lot of stuff here that sells me.  Now, there are still some things that are missing that I’d like help with as a GM of campaigns.

Take the industrial side of the Inner Sphere.  We know that there is a cozy relationship between the Military and Industrial complexes out there.  So how much would it cost to retool a Mechline to a new one with new technology?  What does that require?  So in a campaign, if I have a mercenary group with a good relationship with a particular company, how much would be needed to get your own ‘Mech design made?  Or how much to simply reconfigure a current line?  How about tanks?  And similarly, lots of missions will have units head out for stuff of an industrial nature.  “Hit that convoy!”  “Take out that construction group before they can finish building their defenses!”  Stuff like that.  How much money is salvaged from ferrocrete?  How about a few tons of industrial equipment?  If my mercenary unit is being charged for damages to local infrastructure, how much does it cost for various repairs?  TacOps has some of that, sure, but there’s a lot more out there I wonder about.

So I kept hoping that a Campaign-based rulesbook will talk about things like costs of military units to make, tooling factories, industrial finances, stuff like that.  But that still hasn’t really made it to the level I like.  Ah well.

Meanwhile we have a full-on Campaign Operations!

So what’s next?

Well you have the latest edition of rules like force creation and contracts.   Everyone has to get their Objective Raid on, right?  Buy some land.  Build a base.  And pretty much set up some shop.

And then skip past that for some formation building, and even some special pilot abilities.  Now I have to be honest.  I don’t have perfect recall by stretch of the imagination at all.  But there are abilities here I don’t remember in other products, like the Fist Fire ability that lets you fire weapons in the hand of a melee weapon (or punch) at the same time and hitting the same location the physical weapon hits.  And then we have stuff on conversions and campaigns for Chaos Campaign and Inner Sphere at War stuff.  And don’t forget solar system generation either.  I remember Beta Testing that for Interstellar Operations a while ago, but that was never included in it, and this is a lot more robust than other systems we had before.

So there’s a lot under the hood here to mention. Good stuff on my first read through, and I’m excited to try the new versions of some old rules, and new stuff as well.  Fist Fire away!

So the main question then is what are you looking for?  What excites you?  What’ll be the first thing your playgroup tries out?

Your Favorite IS BattleMechs from 3067

All Along the Civil War

The Civil War between siblings is over.  Much of the Inner Sphere rests in a very tentative, damaged, and brutally won peace.  And it stands on the threshold of oblivion.  War-torn and battle-weary.

Hey look, we all care about tanks and aircraft, infantry both powered and conventional, and more.  But at the end of the day I don’t keep coming back to this game year after year after year for the small stuff.  I’m here to smash BattleMechs together!

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