Saturday, 23 October 2010

BattleTech 2.1: Uncool Rules


Again over on the Classic
BattleTech Forum Herb.B is polling the members on the subject of "Your Top Ten Least Liked pieces of BattleTech technology?" Broken link removed.

First I have to to wonder why bother, as the sample size is going to be far too small to be useful, and the forum members are unlikely to be a truly representative selection of players? I must admit I really didn't get the question, or poll as such. For me there are rules that I like, or think work well, versus those rules that I don't like, because for me they don't work so well. Some are only mildly bad rules and I can live with them, some are so bad that I house rule from the get go.

Being an Old School Player of
BattleTech, what sold me on the game was the fact that it would allow me to simulate the action sequences I saw in Japanese SF anime giant mecha show, which were/are cool. So, using the concept of the "Rule of Cool", here are the rules in BattleTech that I think are not cool.

1. Ammo explosion rules, and the various CASE rules, are so clunky as to be the first thing everyone I know house rules,
so not cool. In fact the ammo explosion rules are a classic example of a broken rule in BattleTech, which is amply illustrated in the explosion of one ton of machine gun ammo equals 200 points of internal damage. My inclination is that an ammo hit equals the damage of the ammo. For example machine gun ammo would be two points, LRM 20 would be 20 points. Internal damage is always bad, but this plays far more reasonably (fun & cool), and would remove a lot of arguments for not carrying auto-cannons etc.

2. Not allowing mechs larger than 100 tons is so not cool. Giant stompy robots are cool. Bigger giant stompy robots have even more cool. Cool is good, rules that get in the way of cool are not good. Of course the reason these rules have never been codified is that there are some flaws in the engine table when they arbitarily shifted the mid-range engines power to weight ratios. As for the record sheets, again these can be adjusted as there is nothing intrinsically stopping one from doing so.

3. The quad mechs rules in
BattleTech are so not cool. Quads are cool, quads with a torso and arms are cool, quads with a torso and a body with four arms are cool. Tripods with, or without arms are cool. Six legged mechs with turrets are cool.BattleTech  is about the rule of cool. Again the rules for having quads that can torso twist, or not (think choice of hand actuators etc for Rifleman etc) is relatively trivial. Record sheets can be adjusted so that quad mech legs are treated like biped arms with two sets of internal spaces. Allowing turrets for quads as their version of the built in torso twist. It's all cool.

4. One-Shot Launchers (SRM, MRM, LRM) rules are a complete waste of time, so again not cool. My reading of the rocket launcher rules suggests that the fix is in, but the will to remove useless stuff is lacking. I can see from an RPG perspective that one-shot launchers may offer more in-character role-play opportunities, but for
BattleTech the boardgame, not so much.

5. Rules that break the basic premise of the game, which for me is epitomised by the basic rule of thumb that faster machines are harder to hit. So for me this means targeting computers, pulse lasers and any other clunky rules where the rules make it an advantage to sit and shoot, rather than fire an manoeuvre have to go, as they are just not cool.

6. The additional armour rules for stealth, hardened etc. are great for the RPG, but are a total waste of time for the boardgame, too much detail for very little added play value. So again just not cool.

7. All the electronic rules covering things like ECM/ECCM, Beagle probes, C3 Boosted, Master & Slave, Remote Sensor Launcher rules are just
so not cool. All of this stuff needs to be folded into the basic premise that battlemechs are the ultimate warmachine of the future, and such detail should only rear its ugly head when playing the RPG.

8. Protomechs that look like animals. Not cool unless you are five and think Transformer Beast Wars is the best thing since sliced bread. Don't get me wrong, Beast Wars can be cool, but it is just so not
BattleTech, which is grey, unrelenting warfare over centuries, where the advances of the great powers on the interstellar scale look less than impressive. Remember the scene in the Black Adder Goes Forth episode Private Plane. The one where General Melchet shows Lt. George the one-to-one scale model of the 17 square feet of land that the last offensive captured from the Bosch. That's BattleTech!

9. Melee weapons on mechs, except on industrials, and even then they should be field expedient and appropriate to the task of the mech. Hate hatchets, hate swords, and maces even more. This is
BattleTech not WH40K. Not cool.

10. Double heat sinks rules have no down sides. Not cool. I rather like the suggestion made on the CBT forums that when damaged that they could cause a critical hit on the usual 8+ on 2D6.

11. The way that the weapon ranges are explained are dumb. The way the rules explain extreme and line-of-sight are
so not cool. The rules as written tie the game into unnecessary knots.

12. Infantry organisation rules. One mech, or vehicle equals a squad, and 3 to 6 squads equals a platoon. Why oh why oh why then make infantry based around platoons when every unit is equal to a squad. Then you can allow platoons of infantry to be created organically by choosing the number of squads in them as appropriate.

13. Anything that adds extra details needs to go into the RPG side of the game where it belongs.
BattleTech needs to be streamlined, fast and sexy, because that is cool. At the moment BattleTech is a fat bloater who waddles from place to another, and that is not cool.

End of rant.

Disclaimer: All posts are condensed & abbreviated summaries of complex arguments posted for discussion on the internet, and not meant to be authoritative in any shape, or form on said subject, T&CA, E&OE & YMMV.


  1. Oh, I am SO going to comment on this at length. But not here in the comments section, because I would run out of room.

    The people at CGL are making a wargame which dips into fantasy. Their attempts to keep the wargame aspect under control are as impressive as their effort to include the fantastic. The two are at constant war with each other and with the current state of the art in the real world.

    That they even attempt it, repeatedly, and market the result as successfully as they do, is simply astounding.

  2. Took me a while to find it:

    My contribution,
    In no particular order:

    1) OS missile launcher (RL's are OK)
    2) Variable Speed Pulse Lasers
    3) Swarm LRM Ammo
    4) Mechanical Jump Boosters
    5) WiGE vehicles
    6) Skidding
    7) Advanced Support Vehicles
    8) Nuclear Weapons
    9) -2 to-hit for pulse lasers (but -1 would be OK)
    10) That's enough.

  3. "Double heat sinks rules have no down sides. Not cool. I rather like the suggestion made on the CBT forums that when damaged that they could cause a critical hit on the usual 8+ on 2D6. "

    They do take up more internal slots, and that potentially limits things like FF armor, XL engine, etc.

    Plus, the ever popular (at least among my old group) "HS in head" is impossible.

    Minor, yes, but still a limitation.

  4. Steven S.: Wow, a post that has turned you into a Ra-Ra CGL fan boy! ;-) Looking forward to your piece in due course.

    EastwoodDC: I'm coming to the conclusion that minus numbers for weapons are just such a bad idea that they need to be scrapped period. I'm moving towards the idea of allowing re-rolls on the dice for targeting computers instead, and for pulse lasers allowing either more damage, or spreading the damage (depends on how one imagine pulse lasers work in the BT universe?).

    Anthony E.: Good point, but double heat sinks make energy weapons the de facto best choice for mechs. I'd like to see a better balance and more subtle cost benefit analysis when comparing energy weapons to auto-cannons etc.

  5. Yep, that's why a said it's a minor thing.

    Between ammo explosions and resupply, I've always been a fan of energy heavy mechs since I ran in Mechwarrior campaign where we were Liao Death Commandoes on a world taken over by Davion and we had to run a guerilla campaign from the jungles and swamps.

  6. 1. Completely agree with your house rule for the ammo damage, but I would also include all ammo bins in the location (ex: 2 tons of LRM20 would have 40 points of damage - still far from the 120 it could make in standard rules). I think CASE is a cool thing and this addition would justify its usefulness without compromising the house rule.

    2. I don't agree with mechs larger than 100 tons because at one point they would be too heavy to even move and become a stationary weapons platform.

    3. I don't agree with tripods and six-legged mechs since they conflict with the vision of a humanoid (4 legs is still humanoid IMO) vehicle controlled by sensors in the neurohelmet.

    4. Completely agree with the One-Shot missile launchers being an equipment without any usefulness.

    5. Completely agree with pulse lasers being unbalanced. Although tarcomp are an interesting and militarily-accurate piece of equipment. I would put the pulse lasers with -2 at short range, 0 at medium and +2 at long range to make them balanced. Tarcomps should not work with pulse lasers, just as they don't work with LB-X, which have the equivalent of pulse lasers for autocannons.

    6. Completely agree with your assessment on the stealth and hardened armour rules. Stealth is particularly difficult to transpose to our reality, so it gets even more stupid. I would add reactive armour (real in today's tanks) which would reduce ballistic damage but increase laser/heat based weapons damage.

    7. I don't agree that ECM, BAP and C3 are not cool. They represent a logical development in military technology. BAP can be specially interesting when you allow players to look at their opponents' record sheets only before the start of the game, unless they have a BAP in range, which allows them to look and check the mech's status, etc.

    8. Completely agree with Protomechs having a very childish look, which only gets worse when the fluff behind it tries to justify why all the Clans decided to give mythological looks to their new mini-mechs... a real shame with a development that could be interesting.

    9. Completely agree with melee weapons on mechs being a stupid thing. I would go even further and say that most physical attacks are also stupid (imagining a 100-ton Atlas kicking the butt of a 20-ton Locust). If they should really have to exist, then they should give high damage and critical hit possibilities to both attacker and defending mech.

    10. I don't agree with DHS being unbalanced. They usually occupy a lot of critical slots and if 1 of each pair gets hit, then you have less 2 heat dissipation. This usually creates a lot of problems to mechs relying on energy weapons, as criticals in DHS and Engine increase.

    11. Not sure what you mean by the explanation on weapon ranges being dumb, although I agree that the game would benefit from more speed. However, it really depends on many factors: quantity and diversity of fighting elements, weapon systems, terrain features, etc. I'm not sure how it could be improved without reducing the game to just numbers.

    12. I don't recall that rule about infantry organization. AFAIK, 1 mech = 1 vehicle = 1 aerospace fighter = 1 infantry platoon = 1 battlearmor point/squad, when deciding the number of units in play (for movement/attack order, etc).

    13. I completely agree that BT should stabilize and introduce new features/equipment at a very slow rate to avoid a myriad of equipment and rules as time passes - TW and TM are massive rulebooks compared with the original FASA book that had all rules for Mechs, Vehicles, Aerospace, Buildings, Construction, Repair, etc, in a few pages.

    I would also add a couple other things:

    - Tanks are too fast and too powerful. I would increase hit-roll penalties in attacks in flank speed.

    - infantry is too powerful. I would reduce all infantry damage against armoured targets to a max of 3 or 4 points, depending on the type of platoon.


  7. Since I am late to the party I wont bother with my own list, except to say that yea, the swords/melee, the look of the protomechs and the basic infantry organization are all... irksome.

    As per the ammo explosions, this is an area where I tend to lean on the reality side of things. Ammunition exploding internally in an armored vehicle is the epitome of the term "catastrophic damage". The typical military slang term for it is the vehicle has been "brewed up". After the actions in the Sinai in the Yom Kippur war the burned out hulks of knocked out tanks were examined. Turns out that most of them were knocked out not by the direct damage from incoming warheads but by ammunition and fuel exploding inside the vehicle. The M1 Abrams (and others) have what is basically CASE, which I assume was the inspiration for inclusion in BT. A great video of a typical "brew up" is seen here:

    The initial warhead damage does very little visible damage. Indeed the target tank keeps moving. It is the lightshow afterwards that is frightening. At least it would be quick...

    That said, I have always preferred a more "lethal" BT game, most of the house rules I have liked over the years (back when I actually played) made the game far more deadly. As such, mech's violently detonating was totally in character with my own perception of "cool".

  8. Better late than never is what I say.

    I tend to agree with you, I just think that mechs would all have some sort of case, but can accept that if one is playing 3025 era that this tech had been lost in darkness.

  9. Oh yes, welcome to my blog, and thank you for commenting.

  10. Well, in discussing era's OTHER than 3025, any `Mech that carries ammo that does NOT have CASE is just asking for trouble. ; ) A house rule that we used to have that is almost more of a judgement call than it is a house rule is that ammo bins need not be declared full at the start of a scenario. After all, what logical reason is there to say that you MUST load up 100%. No change to the rules allocating mass to that ammo, but simply permitting the bins to be almost empty. Most of us severely limited the number of MG rounds carried for example to around 10 to 20.

    As per the blog, I'm just amused to see people still play BT as a tabletop game. I still have most of my 2ed Edition box set...

  11. We've done that too, and it is a good option for a standard game of BattleTech to use such options.

  12. Strange, as a study of militry weaponry I do find the range explanation rather strange, as we have hand held weapons that travel farther than the stated ranges of most weapons in batle tech(I know, the playing board would be the size of a house) the CASE issue, I thought it was supposed to isolate rounds to keep them from blowing eachother up, the Abrams tank has a design and mechanical system that keeps the ammunition for them main gun stored in a seperat compartment that is physicaly seperated by location and blast doors, there are also armored plates on the top of the ammo storage that are hinged to allow them to reaise and release the pressure of the propellant charge in the rounds as they cook off. The actual explosive charge rarely explodes as it is a plastique with a shaped charge, or just a super dense penetrator core. The system however does not keep the rounds from setting eachother off. There are plenty of modern tanks today that do not have any such system they just rely on the tank not getting hit and/or penetrated. As far as MG rounds, they would do little actual physical damage as the bulltes are not explosive, and the gunpowder cooking off would simply split open the brass case without any serious explosion. we are all fairly aware of how a closed case bullet in a gun works so no need to explaind that. Ammo explosions of the past have been mitigated severly as aside from large naval guns(5 inch) most exploding shells use plasic explosives rather than TNT.
    The strange way in which the electronic warfare aspect slowly crept in to BT always baffled me, these are rather standard equipment on any serious piece of military harware, so I would imagine a society that can creat gigantic walking robotic engines of destruction, they would be able to engineer some of the "normal' pieces of warfare we use today. The ecm pod used all the way backin the late 70's early 80's was gigantic compared to what we use today and it was about 4 feet long and had a bout a 1 foot diameter. That pod was a bit arcaic in it's methods(long range high power pulsed frequency microwaves) but it got the job done, the new slq32 systems that reach out about 2 miles are the side of a large blue mailbox and are plug and play(just add power). The C3 systems that they talk about with unit coordination is somehting that the army has been developing since the first gulf conflict, and is now something that uses not only sattelite communication but in bad weather it uses each units own systems and antennas' to relay signals and boost communicaiton ranges. These systems are real time what you see is what I see as well as input from radar stations and air assets.
    I could go on but this is getting long in the tooth.

    1. I agree with what you say. As I see it, the problem is that rather than just saying that system X is abstracted within the game mechanics, the writers got themselves bogged down in clarifying detail and adding extra stuff to the game. Bolting on additional rules so that we end up with a rules set that runs into three thick hardback books, where the original rules were one saddle stitched book in a box with map boards etc.

      For me that says it all, and none of what it says to me is good either.

    2. As a simulation of anything like real warfare, even classic BattleTech/CityTech is a dismal failure. (Speeds and weapon ranges, mostly, which mean that it's a game of moving in and out of engagement envelopes rather than of spotting the enemy first and shooting from cover.)

      As an enjoyable game... eh, it's not so bad.

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.


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