Michael Moorcock is one of my favorite writers of all time. I have a huge library of most of his work. I don’t think he ever wrote anything in the military science fiction genre, but he certainly appreciated it. I recently picked up a anthology he edited of short stories and novellas written prior to WWI (Before Armageddon), and that’s where I found arguably the first military science fiction story – “The Battle of Dorking” published in 1871 and written by George Chesney.
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.
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?
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!
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?
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?
Well that was fast!
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?
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!
Last week, Techwars Online, a Steam Greenlight success story, that made it through all of the hurdles, was released on Steam for ten dollars. Well that certainly seems like a price worth trying out. So I grabbed a copy of the game, and invested some time into figuring out this turn based tactical game featuring BattleMechs fighting it out.
To begin, you can move each of your units up to three hexes, with a twist of your torso counting as one. And you can fire one weapon. Each weapon has different ranges and firing arcs. You may have short range lasers that can only reach 2-3 hexes away, or long range missiles which won’t fire close in at all, but which can hit with a spread out range. Some weapons require a direct line to hit, like your main cannon, so moving, firing, and more is all important. Also important is turning after firing to protect yourself. It’s all about winning, not about how damaged your unit gets in the process, right?
Sometimes you are just looking for a little ‘Mech on ‘Mech action. Whatever the Intellectual Property, and whatever the style, a quick little online PC action happening can solve that desire. Load up the game, log on, and blast some folks. That’s why a lot of us are playing games like Mechwarrior: Online. This week, another (mostly) online ‘Mech game was released as well. Techwars Online.
The game is an admitted throwback. Slower, turned-based combat in a time of fast games. It’s actually based on a Russian novel of the same name, set in the future as two mega-corps battle for supremacy with BattleMechs. Starting in Greenlight, it arrived on Steam on May 17th. You can pick it up from the Steam Store Page for $10.
In the game, you start with the same ‘Mech as others, and then can upgrade it or change out ammo over time. Grab the game, try it out with others, and see if it’s your style! Turn-based ‘Mech combat. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Even if it doesn’t evoke BattleTech per se, sometimes you just gotta get your ‘Mech on!
I, Dædalus; my poor boy, Icarus;
Thy father, Minos, that denied our course;
The sun, that sear’d the wings of my sweet boy,
Thy brother Edward, and thyself the sea,
Whose envious gulf did swallow up his life.
Ah! kill me with thy weapon, not with words.
– William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 3, Act 5, Scene 6
Was I the only when a little angry when Technical Readout: 3150 was released with absolutely no original designs?
Okay, I get it. The Technical Readout: 3145 series – with each major faction receiving its own book – was fairly massive in the sheer amount of content produced. We received a relatively huge amount of new ‘Mechs, battle armors, vehicles of every kind, DropShips, Aerospace fighters and even ProtoMechs. Heck, we even got a new class of unit: the QuadVee. Vehicles transforming into four legged ‘Mechs. For those people who thought the “beloved” Land Air ‘Mech wasn’t bastardized enough. Or possibly for those people who thought that BattleTech needed to be more like The Transformers. One of those. So in a sense, it is understandable that Catalyst Games would release a significant sampling of choice units from the books of the 3145 series. It is totally understandable, in fact.
“For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d: for within the hollow crown”
– William Shakespeare, The Life and Death of Richard the Second, Act 3, Scene 2
How do you tell the story about the death of a legend?
Those of you who have read my articles may be aware that my introduction into BattleTech was the start of the Clan Invasion era, beginning with the novel Lethal Heritage. Michael Stackpole introduced us to a generation of larger-than-life characters. Victor Steiner-Davion. Phelan Kell. Shin Yodama and Hohiro Kurita. And, of course, Kai Allard-Liao; the greatest MechWarrior of his time and era, with the self-confidence of a mollusk threatened by a salt-shaker. The confidence part changed, of course, over the course of the novels. Kai, sadly, lost his precedence and became a secondary character to Victor, but perhaps part of that was the fact that the character evolved to the point where further exploration would have been superfluous, at least from a development standpoint. Nevertheless, Kai Allard-Liao was the best of the best. (In fact, the flavor text in this product firmly and definitively establishes this.) I certainly still found him interesting and relevant. (Heck, I even wrote a Sarna Wiki article on his ex-girlfriend.)