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.
Last month, the official digitized version of OGRE was released on a few formats, including PC. What is OGRE, how does it relate to BattleTech, and what can it do?
OGRE was a futuristic science-fiction tabletop wargame released in 1977. It was the first game made by famous game designer Steven Jackson, who would create games like Munchkin and GURPS. OGRE was a very interesting design that had a few interesting things going for it, and in some ways, felt a little like BattleTech light. It’s been so popular that countless versions, including some video game inspirations, followed. There was even a sequel based around one of the units – GEV.
OGRE was a good example of an asymmetrical game. One player played a single unit, the great, powerful, battletank, the OGRE. Then the foe had units like hovertanks, normal tanks, missile launchers, and infantry to try and take it out. Each of these units had their own rules. Take the GEV hovercraft, for example. It was the only unit that could move, fire, and then move again, enabling powerful hit-and-fade tactics.
OGRE has been pretty popular since its release. It’s not difficult to finish a game quickly, sometimes in just 30 minutes, which enables fun at the table. Different versions of the games introduce new rules to help make the game more interesting. And the game’s design holds up very well after these years. Some of the rules seem to evoke a sort of spirit of BattleTech. For example, if a GEV begins and ends its movements on a road, railroad, or water, then it gets +1 to its move. Sound similar to tanks in BattleTech?
I’ve always felt a connection with OGRE and BatteTech. Can you imagine a game where one side has a single BattleMech and the other side conventional forces with the same BV? Who wins? Let’s find out! From the hexagonal maps to the futuristic feel, the games play into a similar space.
Last month, an official updated version of OGRE was released in video game form by Auroch Digital, and you can pick it up on Steam if you want. Since any game you purchase on Steam can be returned with fewer than 2 hours of gaming, why not grab a copy, take it for a spin, and then try it out? If you have never played OGRE, then this is a great time to check it out! And if you have, then this is a great time to come back to the game!
Get your battletank on!
In a previous article, I discussed the portrayal of the Capellan Confederation early in the lore and fiction of the universe as evocative of the yellow peril anti-China trope common in Europe and American beliefs, fiction and culture. My supposition was only a quick paragraph, and then we moved on to other topics, and the basic premise was initially dismissed by some. But let’s take a moment to delve into the topic and explore it fully, because this is an topic worth considering in full detail.
Interested in getting to play some more BattleTech? Inspired by the beta of the BattleTech video game? Do you have that itch and need to scratch it? Great!
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.
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
- Authorized by a competent authority
- For a just cause
- With a right intention
- As a last resort
- Harm from war not disproportionate to the gain
- 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.
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.
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?
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?
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!
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?
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?
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.
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!
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!
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!
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?