BattleTech Scenario Building

No pretentious title.

I have been creating BattleTech scenarios for months.  I had a Davion/Kurita campaign where I was tracking results but didn’t really do much with those results.  The current campaign we are playing is called “Arms Race”, as it’s about the hunt for Lostech in the 3025-3040 period, where I think around 3033 makes sense for the actual year, though it may not matter a lot.

My faction is Warrior House Kamata.  Gary’s is a merc unit with mysterious backing.  Andy’s is the Atrean Hussars unless he tells me differently (he has only played one scenario so far).  I like the idea of the crap Houses getting advanced tech and changing the course of history, especially Liao not being the whipping boy for those periods I know anything about (which is about to 3057).

Anyway, scenarios.  By anecdotal measure, I’ve gotten a lot better at them.  Some of the Davion/Kurita ones didn’t go over well, though that had something to do with not planning to maps and mechs, not knowing LOS, movement, and water rules all that well, and whatever.  I’m actually quite surprised by how many of the Arms Race scenarios have worked out well.

Experimenting may have paid off.  Of course, the next experiment may end up a failure, but it’s heartening that so many experiments haven’t failed.

Such as?

The only real exploration scenario for Arms Race involved building ruins and random mines and exploration results.  It was quite funny how often Gary failed to find any Lostech early on and got hammered by mines but managed to acquire the almighty Gauss Rifle in the end.  Liao still hasn’t gotten their hands on a Gauss.

That might not be a great technology to introduce since it’s so good compared to 3025 tech and makes for a high percentage of one-shot kills to the head.  Other tech recovered has been Ultra 5, LB 10-x, Artemis IV, Small Pulse, Medium Pulse.  There will never be double heat sinks or XL engines, as those completely change the game.  LB 10-x is the autocannon that should have existed in 3025 play.  Streak SRM-2 and CASE are two clearly acceptable things to add.  Maybe Large Pulse, though I want to encourage ammo using weapons since they are so awful, which, by the way, means that Anti-Missile Systems will never appear.

Getting back to scenarios that worked, I had a three faction scenario that was 2 v. 1, two Liao mechs, two merc mechs, four Marik mechs.  It got defensive towards the end, after a Gauss Rifle shot decapitated a fresh Archer.  So, it wasn’t perfect.  But, it had a number of interesting things going on and allowed three players to play, where our previous attempts at three player play where everyone was on their own side I found to be incredibly tedious.  I’m writing a scenario that’s a treasure hunt where everyone is on their own side, to see if it’s possible to have a three-sided game actually work.

Gary and I have built out our companies to where we have defined pilots (mine have names, including the one who got killed last session).  Our last session saw interesting negotiation over salvage and not just murdering each other’s mechs/pilots, which is how things would have gone in earlier play before we defined pilots.

That’s probably the hardest thing about putting together scenarios.  Almost all of the ones in scenario supplements I’ve bought in the last 20 years or whatever involve destroying the other side or gaining VPs for destroyed mechs.  That’s really not all that fun when you bother to personalize your mechs/pilots.  Mech destruction should happen.  Pilots getting taken out by Gauss to the brain will happen.  But, it shouldn’t be 50% turnover every week.  For one thing, the harsher combats are, the less incentive to put at risk your forces, which leads to boring defensive struggles.  Thematically, House forces can easily replace but mercs shouldn’t be able to easily replace mechs, though I’m fine with handwaving a lot of this to not produce faction death spirals.

So, as this campaign has gone on, I’ve added more and more thematic content.  I have in mind who the mysterious backer of Gary’s merc unit is, after considering and discarding a number of possibilities the other players guessed.  I see the Free Worlds League/Capellan Confederation alliance breaking down during this campaign.

I’ve also added mechanical content, in that I often didn’t previously specify how maps were going to be set up before play, what happens when you retreat, whether units deploy on to a map or start on a map, etc.  I always had VP conditions, but I introduced a round-by-round score card system, a la boxing, to have more VP possibilities and to encourage aggression.  It has worked really well, so far, flattening out VP acquisition and encouraging me to get aggressive when “behind on the card”.  Gary put together an experience point system for pilot improvement that uses margin of victory.  I think adding unit special abilities would be another good way to use XP.  Individual pilot abilities might make sense, but I don’t know about getting too far into accounting and increasing detail too much.

In the Davion/Kurita campaign, I was seeing a lot of the problems in BattleTech.  Fights could often be unfun due to randomness, rules, movement issues, mech stupidity (even though one of my main goals was to play with mechs right out of TRO3025 to see how they really play, before you fix them).  Player style led to one side being very aggressive and the other side defensive.  Fights were often one-sided as pretty much everything came down to taking out mechs.  How salvage was ever supposed to happen except in one-sided beatdowns was unclear.

In this campaign, I’m seeing a lot of what BT should be.  While I don’t expect to get into Mechwarrior, I feel a narrative in this campaign, even before pilots got defined.  I have to be creative, but I’m finding ways to not have scenarios devolve into total annihilation.  Mech vs. nature effects are interesting to me.  We are probably going to introduce strafing and other pseudo-environmental effects soon.  Mech design/refit is under way, with the group trying to keep reasonable on modifications and with no new design yet being introduced.  I’m taking map configuration more and more into play.  We tend to do three mechs on three mechs as a sweet spot on volume of decisions and volume of firepower.  We tend to play slower, less maneuverable mechs to reduce analysis paralysis.  We avoid light mechs not just because of maneuverability issues but to have more of a slugfest.  We minimize elevation, and I think avoiding woodriffic maps makes for better play.  I hate water, but I’m going to try a scenario with frozen rivers just to use water maps without having to put up with water nonsense.  There’s even some hope for salvage without the result being brutally one-sided.

Due to limiting space taken and to encourage faster engagement, we have been using mostly one map, sometimes two or even 1.5.  I’m thinking two (or 1.5) makes more sense to have the longer range weapons have more play and to create more variety in maneuvering, but we can’t feasibly do more than that and we have only limited time much of the time, so smaller engagements that resolve faster are better.

I usually do a 10 round limit on the scenario to prevent drawn out endgame situations and because I may have to do other gaming after BT.  This has been in use for a lot of scenarios at this point, but it was a huge improvement when it got introduced.  Again, the more we make BT like boxing – win by decision, TKO, rather than requiring a knockout – the better it seems to get.


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