I think I want to make a run out of these; we'll see how long I can keep the series up. The title comes from a bit of fiction in one of the Battletech sourcebooks, I unfortunately don't remember which one. We discovered last night exactly how poor at everything a starting character is (though that's okay, because you should actually "level" those early skills up pretty quickly). I appreciate that the game book actively encourages the GM to award skill experience points generously (you get skill experience any time you roll a two or a twelve on two D6, but the book notes that happens once every eighteen rolls on average "so it is more common to get skill points from the GM" -- I should be awarding skill points more often than once every twenty times they attempt a skill). I also realized that I don't have to award skill experience to skills the player characters have, I can award those points to skills they try to use, even if they're using them unskilled. I'm probably doing unskilled use wrong; I need to review those rules again. Several people took "Wealth" as an advantage, so I'm working out a very basic "stock market" system for them to invest their money in. We also discovered that, since it was a game designed well before personal cell phones became ubiquituous, the idea of a personal commlink isn't as ingrained in the books as you'd expect: everything's still kind of "military radio" oriented.
The game session itself was astounding. Part of it was my fault: I wasn't well equipped for the party to want to do bar-like things in a bar. (Buying cigars? That was totally unexpected.) Then, the adventure proceeded to fly off of the rails, before finally ending up back on track. Pretty much how a role-playing game session ought to go, if I'm honest. Everyone had a good time, with one player even saying "this is a gritting setting that I don't actually hate!" So let's break it down:
I'm starting the game on January 2, 3028. That's just after the end of the Third Succession War. The Fourth Succession War will start in August at the wedding of Hanse Davion and Melissa Steiner but for now, the Inner Sphere is in a period of tense peace. The player characters have recently "left" the employ of a self-styled Pirate Lord, "Fatty" Wick. Wick had a "Menagerie" of 'mechs that he used to extort worlds and try to establish himself as a big-time pirate. Most of the menagerie is now in the hands of the players, who have fled three jumps away to the small world of Issen, in the Magistry of Canopus. Issen is predominantly a mining world, digging up bauxite, but with recent discoveries of titanium and palladium. However, their mines haven't done the world much good lately: bandits have started to raid resource caravans, leaving the planet impoverished. After their militia fails to prevent these losses, the planetary governor takes a risk on a band of would-be mercenaries, offering generous salvage terms but nothing up front and little hard currency even after the job is done. The players have tracked a member of the militia, who their sources suggest is feeding information to the bandits, to a very seedy bar called "The Atlas Shrugged." The player characters are the wealthy "bumpkin" technician "Jaguar Takedownriser" (who insists on that alias, which he cobbled together from various technical read outs), a Stalker pilot; Sir Zeke Zephyr, a nobleman piloting a Catapault; Galen Amador, a Crusader pilot; Ions Clarke, who pilots a Phoenix Hawk LAM, and Emma Desmond, who pilots a Wasp LAM.
In the bar, the players start with Galen buying a box of cigars and Ions ordering a drink. They settle in to watch for their target, the militiaman Alexander Mark. It is then at this point that things go a little...odd. Jaguar marches up to the bartender and orders a milk. Yes, that's right. The bartender, of course, tells him to get out of the bar, because seriously, a milk? Jaguar slaps a hundred C-Bills down on the bar. This gets everyone's attention, because this is a terrible hole in the wall where most folks don't have that kind of cash to throw around. Especially not for a glass of reconstituted powdered non-dairy creamer. Then, just to further play the part of a diversion, the character wanders off to fix the broken jukebox. All this excitement startles an already nervious Alexander Mark, and his furtive glancing around catches the attention of the other members of the party. Ions sneaks up close to Mark and the man he's talking with, a bandit named Frank Cross, to listen in on their conversation. The others fan out to watch the exits.
Cross and Mark chat for a bit; it seems that Mark is starting to get cold feet on this deal, especially since the governor has hired some off-world mercenaries to solve the bandit problem. While Ions listens in, Galen is watching the back door, located in a hallway near the bathroom, and because he's loitering back there, he's propositioned by an aging prostitute. He's not interested, but he pays her to go give Jaguar "an education." I am surprised as this proceeds to happen, and I abandon describing the situation as quickly as I am able. Alexander Mark and Frank Cross continue their conversation. Cross eventually talks him into handing over data on the next convoy in exchange for a pay-off. Mark goes to leave the bar, and Ions tries to use his communicator to tell the others to let him go -- Cross is the real target. That's when it is discovered that only Ions has a personal communicator, everyone else just uses the radios in their 'mechs, so they have no idea he's even trying to tell them anything. Sir Zeke steps smoothly up behind Mark at the door and holds him at gun point. Shockingly, Cross doesn't actually notice that going on. Sir Zeke tries to extort Mark for the payoff, and while he does a good job, he's just not quite convincing enough, so instead of the payoff, Mark hands him a much smaller wad of cash; less than 20CB, folded up to look like more, and then Sir Zeke lets him go.
Abandoning the back door, Galen sits down at Cross' table and offers him a cigar, asking for a job interview. Surprisingly, Frank Cross has heard of Fatty Wick, so having Galen tell him that he's a 'mechwarrior who worked for the pirate gets Galen in good graces with the bandit. Cross tells him to return to the bar the following day; the bartender will have a message for him after the bandit are able to check on Galen's reputation. Galen agrees and leaves to go buy a personal communicator, having realized that a "phone" is a pretty good thing to have. He's planning to come back and watch the outside of the bar's back door from the alley. After a short time, Cross leaves the bar, and Ions sets off in pursuit, hoping to shadow the bandit. This is pretty much according to my own plan for the adventure. Having Ions be spotted by Cross and then fail to appear nonchalant, so it's obvious that he's following Cross was less according to plan. Cross darts into an ally, and Ions follows, shooting at him with a sonic stunner. He finally catches Cross with the stunner as Cross tries to run out the other end of the alley. Ions searches Cross and ties him up, gathering the rest of the party (except for Galen, who is watching from hiding nearby), to interrogate the bandit. After being sullen and unhelpful for a time, Cross tells them that the bandit can be found in a box canyon twenty kilometers north, and then demands to be let go. The party is wary that Cross is simply lying to them, but they have the data that Mark sold to Cross, so regardless they have that advantage.
We'll see where things go from there, that was the end of the first session. Right now, they're talking like they want to have Galen stage a rescue, to cement him as an inside man among the bandits. I probably could have had Cross escape, as I fudged a few things that were questionable to be in the players' favor in that combat, but I think that having him be captured is a more interesting scenario. They also did a decent job of tying him up -- Cross has already failed an escape artist check that I didn't tell them about. I'm pretty happy with the way the game went though. It was a nice, mostly-roleplaying session. I didn't award as much skill experience as I'd have liked to, so I'm going to do more of that. It seems like awarding one or two adventure points per session (with a whole bunch more awarded when missions are completed) is what the book recommends too. It costs a lot of AP to increase attributes and edge, but surprisingly little to buy or increase skills, so even these small awards do matter. I'm pretty pleased with the advancement system right now, we'll see how I feel once the players actually get enough points to advance some things. Combat was a little rough, but should go easier the next time. Right now, I'm still really stoked, and we're still in what is essentially the prologue: the "real" game won't start until they get done on Issen and head to Galatea, the Mercenary's Star (in 3030, Davion gives the world of Outreach to the Wolf's Dragoons, and they quickly transform Outreach into the new Mercenary's Star, completely eclipsing Galatea, but that's a few years out). If I can keep up the level of excitement and engagement, this is going to be a great game.