Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Creating a new idea in an old universe

Or- The evolution of the Light Combat Team

This blog is targeted to BattleTech fans, but there are interesting thought processes if you are just interested in the creative process of making **** up.

I've had the absolutely awesome pleasure and privilege to break some really exciting new ground in the BattleTech universe (I can't continue without a quick nod to Herb Beas and Randall Bills, of Catalyst Game Labs, for giving me their trust and the chance to do this, thanks guys). Creating the Caspar II Drone rules was an awesome mental exercise that had me circling my own thoughts like a mad piranha. Creating the Devils Tower Castle Brian and game play rules for fighting in a Brian were just out right fun. And my heart swells with pride when I hear folks talk about their changing opinion of the Republic, based on how they are represented in TRO 3085 and its supplement.

But all of these were truly team efforts. Randall and the ASF Cabal were instrumental in the  Drone rules going from a somewhat disjointed idea to the great implementation they are now, and all I wrote was based on a base of rules written by Dave McCulloch. The same for the Brian rules and the shaping of the Republic Military, all team efforts.

Creating the Light Combat Team, on the other hand, that is something I am very proud of and a place where I got to tread into all new territory. So how did it come to be? What is the thought process to create an all new component to the game universe? 

Well as with a lot of good ideas, it started out with a conversation. That being with a writer's best friend, their editor. In this case that would also be the Line Developer for BattleTech, Herb Beas. As we were working on JHS:3076, I had several conversations with Herb about how to develop the Federated Suns. We faced an interesting challenge. How to explain how the FedSuns of the Dark Age was not a center stage power. BattleTech history, as written had always had House Davion in a pretty prominent role. In Universe history had shown it able to bounce back from crippling damage time and again (Post Kentares in the First Succession War, Post Clan Invasion, etc). And most importantly, BattleTech history had established that the Federated Suns was always putting its nose into other people's business. Whether politically, economically or militarily, the FedSuns didn't know how to keep still. So why were they so bloody quiet in the Dark Age. Why didn't they immediately jump to the fore when the Republic started to falter? In working with Herb, I came to realize that if we didn't lay the ground work now we would have a disconnect when we got to the Dark Age.

So the seeds of the LCT were founded not in anything to do with military formations, it wasn't done "just to do it". The LCT was an outgrowth of a plan to alter overall "fabric" Federated Suns. How did the Jihad change the personality of the FedSuns? What would be the outward appearances of that change?

The ground work was laid all the way back in JHS:3076 with the "Never Again" speech by Regent Yvonne. When if came time to give a snapshot of the FedSuns, in Masters and Minions, I had already written a multi page "state of the FedSuns" report that I'd handed off to Herb. It outlined not only where the Suns was in the 3077, but also broad brushstrokes of where it was going. Credit where credit is due, Pat Wynne (AKA Roosterboy) became a co-inspirer for this and in the end Herb made the final decisions. We had a plan for what to do and that plan rolled out in M&M, JHS:Terra, Field Report AFFS and future works to come.

"Hey! What about the LCT?"

Right, getting sidetracked again. I do that. You know there was the… Um right.

So Regent Yvonne decides to alter foreign policy. With a significant portion of civilian and military leadership gone and the majority of those remaining backing Yvonne (or at least her two largest supporters Tancred and Jon Davion), it was the first time since Alexander Davion that such sweeping changes could be made. It was probably the only chance. By the 3090s politics as usual would probably be back in full force, so Yvonne had to strike while she could.

The change in foreign policy meant a change to how the military was structured. It's mission was changing from concentrated offence to deep defense. Yes, the similarities to Alessandro Steiner's concentrated weakness were in my mind when I plotted this all out.  There is no promise or guarantee that Yvonne's policy changes were smart. That's an interesting thing about writing, sometimes the author is yelling at his own creations about just how stupid they are being. Not to say the FedSuns new policy is stupid, only time (and Herb) will tell.

So how to change the AFFS? Not the easiest thing to do. First off are all the in universe implications, which on the whole are the easy issues. Because then there is the fan base. The good news, House Davion is the most popular faction in the game. The bad news, see the good news. Doing anything with the FedSuns is bound to cause the fan base to react. Just the perception of 3085 short changing the Suns caused much teeth gnashing. So what happens when you change their beloved military?

And that's how I came up with the LCT. A mix of in universe common sense and not treading to far from what the paying fans love about House Davion.

Want to know a secret? Sure you do… One of the reasons I started out as a House Davion fan, was the Regimental Combat Team. I was fascinated with combined arms from the very beginning and I absolutely loved the concept of the RCT. But as I looked at the FedSuns I couldn't shake that the RCT was no longer a viable primary unit. In 3025 there were enough RCTs to send the entire unit hither and yon. But by the Civil War, RCTs were being parceled out in smaller commands on a regular basis. And the Suns JumpShip issues were only getting bigger, so moving those RCTs was a real challenge. How many RCT were stranded in the 50s and 60s for lack of transport? It's no wonder, when an RCT needs a minimum of 61 DropShip collars to move the entire unit. Even if you cut out the infantry and support units, you need 20 DropShips. That's a min of 3 JumpShips, if you can get your hands on two Monoliths, while on average you are looking at 5 JumpShips.

When I designed the LCT I had portability high in my mind. Whatever I designed, I wanted it to be easy to move. This would support the FedSuns low JumpShip count and Yvonne's focus to get more and more JumpShips back into civilian use. An LCT, without its support and PBI can be carried on one Star Lord. That requires using some big DropShips, but as a primarily defensive unit it would be deploying in mostly non-combat situations. (Yes, I am tempting Murphy, but again it is an in universe decision which isn't always a great one. )

Another issue with the RCT, was the command structure. Whenever it split up, you had commands with weird structures. Is the Armor Colonel in charge cause he outranks the Major in change of the 'Mech Battalion? To prevent this in universe command confusion, the LCT was designed to be the smallest contiguous unit. It would be built to operate as a single unit.

Finally I looked to the composition. The Dark Age has a much greater stress on combined arms. Seeing more than a lance of 'Mechs at a time is rare. So cutting the 'Mech numbers and boosting the Battle Armor made perfect sense. If you only have 36 to 44 'Mechs to go around, you probably will end up deploying them in packets across the world, backed by a larger combined arms force.

And so in the end I had the LCT. It was spawned from political changes, but became the first truly new military formation in at least of decade of real life.  The creative process was a blast and I learned a lot about taking in the "big picture" to see how even little things are changed.

Until next time,
Writer, Explorer, Learner


  1. Interesting post on TO&E. I assume you read the threads about task organisation and mission organisation on the old forum by the real military guys. Fascinating stuff, coming from currently serving personnel, rather than what I know from retired personnel, or historical documents.

    In my campaign I've just kick started i've come up with a Steiner task organisation model based on doctrinal ideas being tested out on an experimental basis. Check my blog if you want to know more.

    Great work so far, and I've put you on my list of blogs to follow, so expect property values to drop sharply soon. :-)

  2. Sounds like an eerie parallel to the changes the modern US Army is undergoing, as its moving from large armor/infantry divisions into smaller more portable brigade combat teams (typically with Strykers instead of the larger M1/M2 armored vehicles).

  3. As a life long Battletech fan, I still have a hard time believing the disarmament of early Dark Age novels where 1-3 'mechs were themselves "armies" I could fathom going back to a company of mechs as a heavy force. but nothing about the B-tech universe said all of the major powers wouldn't have just hidden or mothballed their forces for a rainy day. I keep hoping it get's retconned a bit and we end up with at least lance/company/battalion mech formations. It's seems....counterintuitive to turn a game and universe built around "battlemechs" into "woooo there's ONE! on the field" it's not as fun game wise - nor fiction wise.

    That being said I still love the universe, writers and fans that keep it alive and well.

  4. I'll think you'll find that the reduced numbers of mechs are due to the Jihad destroying most of them and the economies of the inner sphere having collapsed. The peace dividend angle seems to have been the positive spin put on it in the aftermath of the destruction.