I use Roll20 to play my Dungeons & Dragons games and it works well for me, especially in this COVID world. Some of those I play with have shown some interest in Battletech and I thought Roll20 might work well for that too.
Doing some research, it looks like some people did a little bit of work to set it up about 4 years ago, but it didn’t go anywhere. Additionally, I discovered a set up called MegaMek. It’s had a LOT of work on it, as an online way to play Battletech. I didn’t really feel like getting into a total new virtual system, so I investigated a little further before deciding to see what I could create myself.
I thought to start with Character Sheets. Making custom ones requires Dev access to R20, an additional cost. So I paid that and looked into it. The Character Sheets are basically a webpage, built with some code and a style sheet. I started a basic one.
One of the early realisations was that I need to make a single sheet that was able to cope with the myriad of mech designs. This was going to be a lot of work.
I got as far as creating space for some basic details (Mech name, tonnage, class, MechWarrior name) and realised that this wasn’t really worth the effort, if you couldn’t really play the game in R20.
So I ceased work on that and started to look at the maps. R20 can do hex maps, so first tick. I know you can quite easily build maps with pictures, but BT relies on elevation and type of terrain in each hex. This affects line of sight as well as hit and damage calculations so is very important. But isn’t something that is part of R20 (as near as I can see). So I would have to mark each hex, just as the cardboard map sheets included in the box sets do. Annoying, but manageable.
I set about making a bunch of tiny individual hex tiles for the terrain. I could put all of these on the map layer and build my board. I looked up weapon ranges and made a map board that was three times the longest range. That way they wouldn’t be able to engage as soon as the game started, inciting some manoeuvring in the beginning of a game. This made a board that was about 80×30 hexes or so. And I started putting each little hex down. Water, forrest, hills etc. Took a while, but I had a map done up.
Next was tokens for the mechs. I found a bunch of random Mech pics, and used Token Stamp 2 to create hex shaped tokens. Pretty soon I had a bit more than a lance of Inner Sphere mechs ready to fight a star of Clan mechs.
Oh, this was going to need all the same paper recording that playing for real would need. Mech Record Sheets, tables for hits etc. Some more google work and I had some printed out for my test game.
So I set up a scenario with the IS attacking towards a Clan Dropship across my map. I realised very quickly that with all the terrain in between and the way that attacks are calculated, meant that engagements were only going to happen at close range. The heavier mechs could only travel 4-6 hexes a turn so there was going to be several turns of just movement (isn’t that what I wanted? Sure, but not so good from a testing perspective).
As they moved into firing range…. actually I’ll go back a step.
I played BT back in 1989/90. Before the Clans were brought into the story (they were simpler times when the great houses were just whacking each other). After that period, while I still bought the occasional reference book and bought my first minis, I never actually played BT. Sure, I played the computer games and recently have read a lot of the novels, but I never got down and rolled the dice.
The way Battletech works, it uses 2d6 for most things. A hit starts with the attackers gunnery skill (default is 4 for IS, 3 for Clans) then adds movement, terrain, weapon ranges. Using a 2d6, means that the little 1 difference between the two gunnery skills makes a significant difference (about 10-12% I think). Then add better weapon ranges and movement (another 1 or 2 points there as well) and suddenly the IS needs a 10 or better but the Clanner only needs a 6 or 7 to hit. Then add in the better heat management and more efficient weapons and suddenly the IS mechs are getting pounded.
But that’s the game. Later the IS improved their tech, and changed tactics and the playing field, at least in the stories, is levelled somewhat.
So I have a bunch of hex tokens on my map. I’m trying to track heat levels, facing, and movement, while also using the paper record sheets to track damage etc.
I found that I could track facing through using the twist ability of the tokens. Also, each token has three circles above it. In D&D I use these to quickly see a character’s hit points, armour class and passive perception. After some experimentation, I began to use these to track overheat level, the number of hexes moved and whether the token ran/walked/prone/stationary etc. This worked quite well actually, letting me run the fights and the info I needed was available easily.
I also experimented with using dynamic lighting. By limiting the arc, I could clearly see the front face of each mech. The hiccup is that a player in the game would only see out that arc, when actually a mech can monitor 360. Using dynamic lighting, this is all black outside of the lit arc. So a partial solution, but I can use the ruler tool and the directions already in the BT rules to do the same thing.
Overall, my hashed together Roll20 experiment worked okay. I still needed paper record sheets and my BT reference tables. Shots weren’t calculated automatically, and I didn’t really investigate a way to track torso facing. But then, those are all things you can’t do with a set of minis, a big table and a cardboard game board.
What it does mean is that I can get a couple of people together and we can play a game of battletech, without actually meeting up. Roll20 acts as the cardboard game map. And no more. At least at this stage.
Oh, and that size map is way too big. At least if you just want to get in and shoot stuff.