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?
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?
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!
As I invested my 130th hour of play into the recently released Fallout 4, I turned off the game for a few days, vowing to rejoin society. I re-emerged into the light-scorched winter landscape of my New England residence. As I saw the trees outside, denuded by weather, and mirrored in them the signs of post-apocalyptic ruin in the Fallout universe, I turned to BattleTech and began to wonder if it was a post-apocalyptic universe.
I have never been much of a fan of vehicles in BattleTech. I grew up in an era when a combat vehicle was considered way too fragile for serious battle. Maybe they had valuable tactical usages, keeping battles in certain places or whatnot, but they were not really something that made the cut anywhere.
Technical Readouts have defined BattleTech virtually as long as there has been a game. They help to shape the era, the conflicts, and the people. They give us units that we will use to face each other in battle. In particular, the BattleMech has defined the game, and that unit tends to really be a major component of the Technical Readout (TRO). What if there was an Ultimate Technical Readout? It would have ‘Mechs from every era, state, and more.
The Technical Readout: 3060 shipped and like always I headed to my local gaming store to purchase my copy very soon after. I still remember looking over those units for the first time, and finding some that really stuck with me. Today I want to look at my four favorite BattleMechs from 3060, and then hear from you about your own.
What do you like in a BattleMech? What makes it work? Everyone’s playgroup will be different. I get that. If you run into a lot of missile boats, then an Anti-Missile System has an enhanced value to you. I’m not a fan of it normally. If you run into a lot of ECM warfare, then electrical enhancements, like Artemis IV are just dead weight in a lot of situations. So what do I like in a BattleMech? Let’s take a look and see!
Viking – Let’s go ahead and start with my favorite BattleMech from the Technical Readout, shall we? My friend, the 90 ton assault class Viking, a combination ComStar and Free Rasalhague Republic force. This is a great missile boat for your army – it sports two LRM20s, and two LRM15s as well – launching a full 70 missiles down field each round. With Artemis IV fire support, it can really blow out an enemy unit. It has a largely redundant quartet of machine guns and a pair of small lasers as close range stuff in case someone gets a little too big for their britches and tries to close. Avoiding the problems that can come with an XL engine, particularly in a unit with so many ammo critical slots (threatening an explosion that would shut down the ‘Mech), the Viking even has a strong amount of armor for those that want to return fire – a full 15.5 tons. It’s one of the best missile boats ever made, and it will not just exploit open areas on units, but it peppers armor itself!
Eagle – When playing I’ve found the Eagle to be a strong and reliable design in a few major roles. 5/8/5 movement is very respectable for a light ‘Mech, because you can always jump to get +3 to be hit if you need it, or else you can just walk +2 or run +3, so you have options to make it harder to hit you than it is to hit others. That’s what you want. In addition to that, we have an ER Large Laser to give the unit a long range bite, and an ER Medium to back it up. You can leap around, finding the right spot to fire off a few lasers. And then don’t forget that is has max armor as well. I like to use it as anything from a traditional scouting role to a flanking force that pushes heavier units or even a supplement to a long-range position where it can head out quickly to deal with anybody who comes close. That’s a good BattleMech, right? And then it has TAG as well, so you can paint stuff for future damage from other units in the right lance. I often don’t even bother. It has enough weaponry, range, armor, and movement to suffice for a 25 ton guy, and when you need it, TAG comes a-calling!
Shugenja – I’ve never a super big fan of XL engines. They work in the right circumstances and for the perfect unit, but otherwise, I prefer a unit with survivability. Particularly when it’s low on armor or tends to explode. That’s why the Shugenja is a strong choice. It’s a larger unit that uses the XL engine to give it enough room for a solid allotment of long range of weaponry – that ER PPC plus the pair of Large Lasers – all energy weapons that don’t rely on ammo – and a strong MRM 30 launcher to fill in a medium range role and to ward off any smaller units from getting too comfortable. Meanwhile the heavy BattleMech sports 13 tons of ferro armor, so it has pretty good protection. It addition, it has the valuable C3 Master unit, so it provides two roles. It’s a good long-range ‘Mech that can sit back and snipe at folks, while also providing the Master for a C3 equipped lance. That combination, along with the strong armor it affords, is a powerful combination for your unit. I use them a lot, and have gotten great results.
Buccaneer – I don’t generally like an XL Engine on a unit that wants to close. It’s prone to getting hit overly much. And the Buccaneer definitely wants to close, so it can connect with its medium and short range weaponry. Other than the ER Large Laser, it doesn’t include any long range weapons. Now you can rock a quartet of Medium Lasers, a random Medium Pulse Laser, and an SRM 6 (with Artemis) for short range fun, and that’s in addition to the hatchet that forces you to close, and gives you a good reason to do so! Don’t forget that unit has great armor – 10 tons of ferro on a 55 ton ‘Mech is virtually maxed out. And the weapons load doesn’t require more heat sinks. Your base 10  can deal with the heat from all five lasers, and your SRM 6 (You make just over 20 heat with your movement as well). So the unit works from all of those angles. But what XL engine gives you is an unusual way to use it. You have a crazy 6/9 movement. That lets you stab in there quickly from way outside of its normal range to hit quickly and powerfully. You can run 8 or 9 hexes, close with a BattleMech, and then carve into it with your weapons. You have the potential for a strong hit and fade tactic if you want, or you can stay and fight for a few turns, with the flexibility that battle requires. I’ve found myself using it in a variety of roles. But my favorite is to snipe with the XL Laser and position my ‘Mech to make a running and basing attack on the flank or rear of a unit and then just devastate it. This thing puts the fear of Blake into you.
So there are my four favorite Inner Sphere BattleMechs from 3060. What are yours?