Friday, April 11, 2014

The Passing of a Friend -- Rob Madson 1965-2014

This has not been a good week for me. A good dear friend, fellow Battletech player, and my co-writer of the story Snakedance, died last week. I posted a blog entry on my other blog, taking about Rob and our friendship, but I'm going to write about here about Rob and game of Battletech.

Robert Madson was from Illinois, but came east to work for the Department of Defense for one of these agencies that's better know by their initials. I met Rob back in '85, in the recently opened Games Workshop store in the Laurel Center Mall (the store lasted only a couple of years). We both found out we had an interest in the recently published game Battletech. From that, we both found common grounds in other areas to expand our friendship beyond the game, but the game was still an important part.

Rob was a computer science major, a programmer who earned a Master degree after he moved to Maryland. It was this mindset to which Rob applied to Battletech. Before there was such a thing as a Battle Value, he created a system that we and our fellow Battletech players used in our games to balance out the sides. It was called the CODR (Combined Offense-Defense Rating), and it was simple to use and was fairly accurate, for our purposes. We used it just like the BV is used, setting limits and making sure each side's forces were evenly matched. A simple system that worked.

But his greatest claim to fame has to be the Battletechnology BattleMech called the Rattlesnake. TRO 3050 had just come out, giving us the first look at the new equipment --- The XL engine, endosteel construction, and the double heat sinks. After we had gone through the data, and with a convention coming up in Baltimore, we began planning to field a force of 'Mechs of our own design, based around tactics we developed. We called the plan "HAMMER and ANVIL"

The designs came in two categories: the first was the ANVIL force, 65-ton 'Mechs modified from Crusaders, carrying Gauss rifles. We called these designs Conquistadors. Their job was to hold the line and force the enemy to slow their advance. This would allow the HAMMER force to flank the opponent and catch them in a crossfire.

What Rob did was take a Jenner, strip out everything, replaced the regular internal structure with the Endosteel structure and an XL engine. That left enough room for the design's main firepower --- seven medium lasers, with enough weight left over for double heat sinks and two extra jump jets. He also gave the design max armor, so it could take some punishment. This wasn't a glass cannon, but a fast-moving (7/11/7), hard-hitting brawler with enough firepower to shred the back armor off any 'Mech it got behind, and enough heat sinks to keep it running cool. I think we also discussed using the C3 system, which is why one variant had a C3 slave installed, while another one had an ECM system in it.

I can claim only one input on the design: the name. I said something about it being as fast and as deadly as a Rattlesnake, and the name stuck. We had some success with the design at the convention -- I remember one Rattlesnake getting behind a Crusader and destroy it in two turns with its lasers. From then on, Rob would always have a couple or three on the board at our games, and soon, everyone was either using the Rattlesnake, or designing 'Mechs to defend against it (One of our group designed a Grasshopper variant that had a rear-firing AC/20, just to keep the Rattlesnakes off of him.)

Then one of us (Me, I think) thought it would be a great idea to write for Battletechnology. We tested the waters by submitting a 'Mech design, the UM-90 SurbanMech. That appeared in issue #16, and we looked at each other and said, "We can do this!"

This time, we decided to go all out -- Story, 'Mech design and scenario. The 'Mech design was easy -- the Rattlesnake. The story? That was another thing entirely....

We wrote the Rattlesnake's TRO entry first. The TRO background was a mix of both our universe backgrounds. Rob's contribution was Phoenix Heavy Industries, located on Ashkum, while Hammerstorm Electronics was my industrial contribution. The Fire Hawks mentioned was Rob's unit, while the Antietam Guards (AKA Mallory's Headhunters) are mine. (The logo of the skull in the crosshairs that I use on the forum as my avatar is the insignia for the Headhunters).Then, we moved onto the story.

I can still remember the time and effort we put into writing that. I would go over to Rob's apartment, and we would spend more of that evening creating the story. We didn't plot it out, or make character notes beforehand. We wrote by the seat of our pants, throwing lines, ideas, and descriptions at each other. Rob would do the actual writing (It was his apartment and his computer after all), while I would either sit next to him or pace his apartment in thought (Which did annoy him, so I tried hard to curb the urge when I could.) Rob's mom was a teacher, so Rob's writing skills were superior to mine, so he was the one who did the editing. The scenario, once the story was done, was easy for me to create. Once we had all three, we mailed it off to California and waited.

We wrote that story with only a few scraps of information from canon sources, and looking at it today, it does look kind of rah-rah, and had we set out to write that story, say a year ago, it wouldn't be the same story we sent in then. But it's still a good story, with characters that reflected both of our personalities. You could have though we were high on something when we saw our stuff on the pages, in print. We said, "Let's do it again!"

But that issue was the last regular Battletechnology issue ever put out, and in some way, that was the high point of our romance with Batletech. We played on for a few years, but Rob drifted from the game, and took up other hobbies. I drifted away too, but after a couple of years away, I found myself being drawn back into the game. I tried to get Rob back into it, but he was resistant to the idea. I wrote a couple more stories with the characters from Snakedance, but the drive and passion for the game wasn't there for Rob. I kept after him, trying to nudge him back into the fold, but it wasn't easy. That didn't affect our friendship; even after I moved down here to Florida, we would talk once a month to six weeks, catching up on what we were both doing. I told him about my writing, trying to draw him back. Anytime I saw a mention of the Rattlesnake on the forum (and I never seen anyone have anything bad to say about the design), I would email him the link so he would know that the Rattlesnake was liked, despite not being considered an canon design. He knew people liked it, and like to use it.

When I found out about Rob's death, I asked Randall and CGL to make the Rattlesnake a canon design. It is about the only thing I can do to mark my friend's passing. I want him to look down and know that a small piece of his passion still lives on in the game that he loved, and over which he and I forged a friendship that was still strong, if not as long as it should have been.

Good bye, Rob.