So we’re back with another one of our gamer horror story moments. Today’s trainwreck is brought to you by Catalyst Game Labs, and one of their flagships, Battletech. I’ve run this game several times for a variety of groups, and the constant players that crop up are delightfully hard to manage. I’ll give you some brief highlights before digging into this particularly epic storytime.
Highlight one: One of my players at his absolute cringiest “We’re going to pop that fortification like a cherry.” The entire table looked up at him with the most sincere, what the hell is wrong with you glance we’ve ever used at the same time. The Best part of this is that this basically became his catchphrase, aside from “Gimmie my god damn pulse lasers!”
Highlight two: The player that came to Battletech from Mechwarrior: Dark Age, and constantly insisted that A.) he knew more about the game than I did, and B.) he was a tactical super genius who constantly wanted his Clan forces to engage in melee combat against their Inner Sphere opponents. (His comeuppance is coming in the story below).
We’re playing A Time of War, focusing on the Clan Invasion Era, with the Player Characters (9 of them) all newly minted members of a Federated Commonwealth unit fulfilling a periphery garrison contract on the far end of the Steiner half of the Commonwealth (Spoiler Alert, the Jade Falcons are coming).
Most of the unit is running heavier (heavy to medium units, with a couple of assaults from a couple of cheese monkeys) than normal, and the day starts off with pirates showing up and getting killed into the ground. Eventually Clan Jade Falcon shows up with the big angry Omnis and proceeds to do what Clan JF does, (namely putting holes in local troops).
The PCs are given a mission to escort the local nobility to a waiting dropship and get them off planet while gathering as much intel as they can against the invaders. This leads to an interesting encounter in a heavily wooded area where the PCs actually get the drop on the Falcons. Now most groups at this point would avoid the Falcons and try to get away from the invaders that have consistently kicked the snot out of them so far (this is battle #5, and they’ve had three incredibly ugly run ins.)
So naturally, our brave band of Fed Com rookies charge headlong into a mixed star of medium and heavy Omnimechs with 9 inner sphere refits of varying technological functionality. The Battle is rough, but the Players have a couple of advantages, namely Drewbacca, who understands how tactics work, and at least two players who are willing to follow a damn mission plan.
The fight gets up close and personal fast, which sort of helps the players side out a little. They can’t match the ranges on Clan weapons, and getting into a sniping battle is a losing proposition. The Hatchetman/Axman combo do a functional job of cutting one of the medium Omnis (Dragonfly) into bits while everyone else focuses fire on the Thor that seems to be in charge. They sustain some light damage, but things are working fairly well until creative tactics kick in.
The Clan Omnis avoid closing to melee range with the Axe wielding jerks, and the fight devolves to a medium range brawl. The pilot of the Battlemaster (Note 2 guy) has an inspired plan of utmost brilliance, and surges forward towards the Clan Omnimech that’s been hurling LRMs and other death all day. (He’s also the guy carrying the NPC governor they need to save) This pulls about half of the PCs out of position and into unfavorable placement.
The Clanners get to move, and the Night Gyr that he’s basically dared to walk up to him and do something closes the distance with a fully cooled off mech. “Well he’s not going to be able to hit me from that range, the LRM minimum range penalties are too high.” “Oh, silly you, Clan LRMs don’t have a minimum range.” His face contorts, he rages for a moment as the shooting phase commences for team Clan. The Clans dropped an Axman, an Archer, and crippled two of the other mechs on the Inner Sphere team, but the Night Gyr made Note 2 his personal obsession.
That variant of the Night Gyr mounts multiple racks of LRM-20s, and an assortment of lasers. The Night Gyr fired all the missiles (and the lasers) and ended up dealing massive internal damage that culminated in an ammunition explosion that caused his Battlemaster to effectively cease to be. He managed to eject (with 5 pilot hits, and landing unconscious), the NPC governor of plot landia was immolated in the combination ejection/ammunition explosion.
The rest of the surviving Mechs for team PC manage to rally and drop the other clan mechs, which lead to a wonderfully funny scenario where the Night Gyr is surrounded and kicked to death by surviving ‘mechs.
So they sort of survived the battle, and managed to get the Archer and the Axman up and moving again, but the Battlemaster was a total loss. The Mechwarrior driving the Battlemaster is injured enough that the game rules say it will be at least three weeks before he’s conscious again (and hilariously enough, his player assumed that meant he didn’t need to show up for three weeks of real time). Drewbacca, after the battle is more than a little irritated and asks the question “Why did you charge at that ‘mech when i told you not to?”
Excuse making occurs
I can see the Enraged Wookie’s perspective, from an ingame universe standpoint, the wookie’s his boss, and he disobeyed a direct order that could have gotten the entire team killed. It did seriously compromise their effectiveness, and cost them a lot in the battle the following week where they were down resources that they’d spent on that star of clan mechs. More annoyingly from my perspective is that the guy never actually answered the question. This required milk shakes later.
So what can we take away from this as a lesson for gaming?
There are a bunch of different takes, but the one that comes up most to me, is that if your PCs have a rank structure and chain of command built into their characters, be very careful with who is in charge. The other iteration of how this plays out is the guy who probably shouldn’t be in charge of a snow cone shack orders everyone to their deaths because he doesn’t know what to do.
Leader types have to be able to give good advice/direction to underlings, and underlings need to be able to trust the advice they are given. If there’s a chain of command with more than two steps, make sure the chain works from both directions before things catch fire and you have people threatening to stab each other.