Battletech and Roll20

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.

This is about half the map I made.

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).

The fight is on… the mechs have closed to just a few hexes in range to fight, otherwise shots are needing 9/10/11 or better on 2d6.

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.

This Battlemaster has a overheat of 8, it’s moved 1 hex and is Walking. It’s also facing south.

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.

D&D – Lost Mines Found

Well, time for a bit of an update here. Our scribe has been slack the last few sessions, so I don’t have their entertaining missives to include. Hopefully soon.

Well our intrepid bunch finally found time to head to the mines. The group had returned from Cragmaw with Gundren and the map, much to the joy of Sildar. A rest in Phandalin and they headed to the mines.

Again, they spent their time going left at every junction. Remind me to tell Wizards of the Coast to put some bosses on the lower right of a map occasionally – then my group won’t find them 4 rooms into the dungeon. This happened with Glasstaff and happened again here.

After a brief encounter with a skeleton, they came across the boss. Well, Gundren’s brother, Nundren first. A fight with some spiders and then they killed The Black Spider, only to find it was a doppelgänger. A chase ensued with the enemy rousing the guards and another fight was joined. A well aimed crossbow killed the BS right at the start of this combat but the bugbears fought until death.

So this left the rest of the mine to explore.

Which they did. Alston was almost killed, nearly my first player kill, during a fight with a flaming skull. They killed it and in a race against time, managed to douse it with holy water just seconds from it reawakening.

Sadly, one of the players left us during this part. He’s found another group local to him and can’t commit as many days as he needed to play all the groups.

So the Furious Five fought on, clearing the dungeon and returning to enjoy their rest in Phandalin.

Only rumours of a dragon abound.

And then an orc band tried to raid for supplies as it passed through.

A well timed fireball put that to an end.

A surviving orc gave them some clue as to where they might find the dragon as well. What will they do?

I’m now linking it to the end of the “Dragon of Icespire Peak” module. This came in the new Essentials Kit and isn’t something any of us have played through before. From the finish of that, I plan to move into the other 3 included modules, starting with “Sleeping Dragons Wake.”

Part way through I also subscribed to Roll20 and I have to recommend the Dynamic Lighting function. It certainly adds to the experience on the maps.

DnD: There’s no TIME!

I’ve kicked off this DM caper and it was pretty much going ok. I didn’t feel like the guys were bored and the other new folk were keeping up. There were some technical difficulties experienced in the Roll20 space – mostly our voice comms were a bit iffy. One of the guys had a discord server, so we jumped onto that and away we went.

We managed have managed two sessions since then. Initially weekly, it dropped to fortnightly and I had different people each one. Then all except one admitted they really couldn’t make the timings so we were about to close it all up.

This is disappointing to me as I really want to play and I’ve decided to DM as it seems like its a good way to actually get a game going (people are more likely to say they’ll play if they don’t have to DM). I know part of the reason is the really awkward time – Sunday morning. This is a really odd time to play, but I really don’t have any choice – the rest of my (life) weekend is all pretty full. I even went as far as making a diagram to see if there was another time I could play.

And there is – 11pm to 1am or so… that time’s free every night….

So as we were about to close up the game, I put a last invitation up on the work boards.

I was amazed when we got about 4 new players. These are experienced guys so it will be interesting to DM them. At least two of them regularly DM, so are looking for a break and just be a player. Next game is next week and so I will see how it goes.

At this stage I’m just going to drop them into where the story was up to. I’ll have a chat with them and see if they are interested in resetting it.

I’m also hoping they might offer suggestion on any of the published modules that they might be interested in. I’m really keen to buy one and can’t decide which. I’m hoping this group stays together and I can run them through something. As I keep reading reviews and such my choice keep changing, but at the moment I am thinking one of these:

  • Out of the Abyss
  • Curse of Strahd
  • Princes of the Apocalypse
  • Tales of the Yawning Portal

Me, Dungeon Master???

About two months ago, I briefly joined in a couple of rounds with a nearby D&D group before it was clear that the timings weren’t going to work for me. This was 5e, and I hadn’t played since 1e when I was in high school (I’ll let you work out how many decades ago that was), so long ago that when I brushed aside the cobwebs the notes had wasted away to nothing anyway. I still have a 1988 printed PHB on the shelf (rats just gave away the answer).

Enthused, but not sure what to do, I asked around across the work network and found a half dozen of us who were all keen to play, mostly all new. So in a fit of altruism, and in order to get the idea moving I volunteered to DM.

Which I haven’t done for that same number of decades… and maybe only once then too.

Being geographically disparate we decided to use Roll20 website to run the game. This gives us an online game board to draw and create on, while providing automated character sheets and a host of other tools to use. It also has audio and video.

We’ve had two sessions so far. I hope its been enjoyable. Its a steep learning curve for me as I try to learn all of the players abilities and manage the game, while we all learn Roll20 and its capabilities. Each session has left me with some homework on things to study and read up on. I also try to make sure that I am reading ahead and preparing so that the short 2 hours that we have is of maximum benefit.

But both sessions have included new people joining, so there’s the inevitable period of setting up characters, things not working and the learning we are all doing about both D&D and Roll20. A couple more sessions and I’m sure we’ll be in the swing of it.

I’m running the group through a module called “Lost Mines of Phandelver”, which was included in the D&D Starter Set. It’s designed for new players (and DMs) so a good start for us.

There is also a host of resources online (which didn’t exist when I started, heck online barely existed when I started). Youtube videos that explain rules more clearly, tips and tricks – both generic and specific to the Lost Mines. The official D&D website and the Roll20 wiki have a heap of stuff as well. I had already picked up the Starter Set a year or more back when the Mini Mabs showed some interest and just before the foray into the other group I picked up the D&D box set with PHB, DM guide & screen and MM. So plenty of references.

I am enjoying it, the group is settling in together. I’d like to see it continue, I’d also like to rotate through as a player, but I’d rather keep the group than force the issue. Because I do enjoy the DMing as well. If it does continue, I’d like to get the Storm King’s Thunder as that looks pretty interesting. Maybe keep the same characters or let them restart…. I think that is some time away as there are at least 3 out of 4 chapters to complete in this one first.