Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Icons of War (Mild Spoilers)



Okay, I'm writing this a few days before Icons of War is out, but won't be posting it until after the novel is out. If you haven't read the Back Cover Copy, here it is:

Symbols of Power

After the Word of Blake exacts an incalculable toll on Clan Wolf, Elemental warrior Garmen Kerensky is tasked by Wolf Khan Vlad Ward to undertake an audacious, top-secret mission in the Clan Homeworlds. While other covert teams help the Wolves evacuate Clan Space, Garmen’s command will steal the most prized relic of Clan history: the body of the Great Father, Commanding General Aleksandr Kerensky, Garmen’s ancestor. But the father of the Clans’ founder is entombed aboard the McKenna’s Pride, a Star League-era WarShip in permanent geosynchronous orbit above the Clans’ capital city, a staunchly guarded vessel that will take ingenuity, a warrior’s spirit, and more than a little luck to reach.

Stealing his ancestor’s remains is a tall order under normal circumstances, but the Homeworld Clans are on the verge of open warfare with each other, and this mission threatens to blow Clan society apart entirely. As the elite warrior guards of the Ebon Keshik hunt Garmen, he and his hardened team must navigate the intrigue of the shadowy Dark Caste to have any hope of reaching the Pride alive. But no plan ever survives enemy contact, and Garmen must overcome the forces arrayed against him or risk forever losing the Great Father’s body to the chaos and destruction of the Clans’ internal warfare.

So, when John Helfers, Catalyst's Director of Fiction, IMed me with the an offer of writing Icons, I took it. He asked how many words would I need for it, and I, like an idiot, told him 20,000 words....

Blaine Pardoe (who had the original idea) told me that stories will take all the words they need, and Icons fits that. I had gone in, expecting Icons to be a novella (20,000 words) But Icons, for several reasons, refused to fit into a novella. Instead, it has become a short novel, nearly 50,000 words, and it could have been much longer. While it mostly takes place long before IlKhan, it has a direct tie-in with a major event that occurs in Children of Kerensky.

After actually digging into the background (Note to would be BT authors: RESEARCH!) , I realized that was optimistic in the word count. First the body is on a battleship, in orbit over the Clan's capital city; accessible, it isn't. Second, I could not see Vlad Ward ordering a team into post-War of Reaving Clan Space. Six years of no knowledge of what was happening. During the Jihad? That don't make sense, as the Wolf Clan is fighting for its life, and in that case, is retreating a dead body high on their list? Also, if Vlad wanted the body, why wait until years later to do it? the Wolves have been Abjured, they had no assets or intelligence left in the Clan Homeworlds. That approach I couldn't see working. If Vlad wanted all the Kerensky Legacies, he's do it all at once. That's why the story starts in 3071.

Of course, there were other problems: the McKenna's Pride itself. It was used by the Grand Council in Clan Steel Viper's Trial of Annihilation in 3075. It was also used as a meeting place for the Grand Council for a while -- which meant heavy security. With the War of Reaving exploding through Clan Space, security was going to be tight in the Stana Metchy system. So I took the long approach when building the plot -- a plot-line that covered several years. I had to gloss over a few years, but I do have a few pieces lying around that might be enough for a short story that takes place doing those years I skipped. Maybe in a future issue of Shrapnel....

If I has to describe the story, I would say it was a heist story (maybe the wildest one in Battletech history), a love story, a story of revenge and redemption, and a story about duty and going up against the odds. It sets up events that play out sometime in the future (when I don't know), and answers a couple of questions about the Dark Age/IlKhan era that have been hanging around for a few years. 

Writing this was tough, but rewarding. It forced me to bone up on things like Jump drives, WarShips, and space combat. It also allowed me to take a look at Clan Homeworld Society before and during the War of Reaving. It also allowed me to expand on areas of Clan Homeworld Society, like the Dark Caste, the Free Guilds, and the Ebon Keshik -- all had some information out there, but nothing like I created for this novel.

An impossible mission and I hope you will find it a wild ride and a unique story, with characters that are engaging and interesting. I had the honor of writing in an area of time and space that hadn't been explored before in any Battletech fiction. It was both scary and thrilling to create and expand on things that hadn't been really looked at. While I had a couple of anchor points from sourcebooks, most of what I created was taking a reference here, a line there, and expanding on them into fully realized aspects that some people won't expect.

Now, for some reason, as I write this, Icons isn't available in the Kindle format on Amazon, but the POD version is. It's here: Icons of War -- Amazon. The E-book version(and POD version) is available on the Barns and Noble Website (EPUB) here: Icons of War -- Barnes and Noble. Or you could try the Catalyst store and get the E-books (Both MOBI and EPUB -- a value deal!) here: Icons of War -- Catalyst Store.Or, you could try DriveThroughFiction here: Icons of War -- DriveThruFiction. Please pick it up and enjoy it!

If you have any questions, post them here or on the Battletech forum; I will do my best to answer them.

Later!

Craig









Friday, June 26, 2020

Writing Battletech: The BattleMechs And Combat (Part 1)


 The heart of Battletech is the BattleMech -- everything else on the battlefield is a support to them. They are the tip of the spear, the futuristic Knight, the King of the battlefield. Carrying weapons of mass destruction, they are the core of combat in the Battletech universe since they were created by the Terran Hegemony. For nearly four hundred years, the best defense against these armored behemoths has been another BattleMech.

This post is about what a BattleMech is and is not. It’s too easy to think they are one thing, when they are actually something else. The next post will be about writing about BattleMechs and combat, but this one is start with the basics.

A moment to explain something: The term Mecha is considered the general term for armored suits. They can be anywhere from Battle armor (Bubblegum Crisis OVA's Hard suits), to the hulking multi-part monster Mecha of Voltron, or anywhere in between. The term 'Mech refers to BattleMechs only.

The concept of Giant combat Mecha did not originate here, but in Japan. Mecha has been a common trope in Japanese anime for decades. From multiple Gundam series, the Units from Neon Genesis Evangelion, the Arm Slaves from Full Metal Panic!, Patlabor's Ingram, and of course... Macross (Robotech) are examples of combat Mecha in Anime.

For those who grew up watching such shows (Usually bootleg tapes, subtitled by some fan) these were nothing like we had ever seen before. Even today, giant Mecha rarely shows up in western movies (The Pacific Rim Films and the "Classic" Robojox come to mine. The AT-AT and AT-STs from the Star Wars films are sort of Mecha,).

In Japanese anime, Mecha are quick, nimble with weapons that will destroy ships and other Mecha in the blink of an eye. They are comfortable both in space and on the ground. They are only limited by the skill of their pilot, usually a teenager who has the ability to pilot one of these massive machines.  The Mecha is an armored suit, the modern version of a samurai's armor

Not so in the West. Here, the Mecha are walking tanks. They are slow and ponderous, piloted by people trained for months and years to control. In space, they are almost useless in combat. They are less an armored suit as they are armor to spearhead attacks or to hold a position.

To give you an idea about Mecha is seen in the west, let's look at the 'Mech above -- the Locust, with a weight of 20 metric tons, with a top speed of roughly 130 KPH. In Imperial measurements, the Locust weighs 22 tons and has a top speed of @ 80 MPH. in contrast, the average US car weighs about a ton, and can, in most cases, match or exceed 80 MPH. So, while the Locust is fast for a 'Mech the average car has a decent chance of outrunning it. (Getting out of weapons range though, is a little more problematic). Also, the Locust, like most 'Mechs, can't corner worth a damn on roadways.

So, what's the point of this post? Why talk about the difference between eastern and western views on Mecha?

Like most people, my first experience to Mecha was though anime and I saw the nimble, fluid action of Mecha in combat. The Lions of Voltron, the motorslaves of Bubblegum Crisis, Patlabor's Ingrams, and others showed is Mecha in action. It's real easy to carry that impression into writing a Battletech story.

But it's the wrong impression for Battletech.

The Shadow Hawk to the left here has a top speed of 86 KPH (53.5 MPH) and most variants can jump between 90m (98 yards) and 150m (164 yards). It carries a shoulder-mounted autocannon or a PPC, a small missile launcher and some sort of laser. Despite descriptions in the first couple of novels, there is no way this 'Mech can do a shoulder roll or any other advanced actions that a human could do. No handstands, cartwheels, backflips, pulling itself up by its fingertips up a cliff. Physical combat beyond clubs, hatchets, swords, punching and kicking is beyond a 'Mech's capability.

BattleMechs are not subtle weapons. They are in-your-face vehicles of war, used to attack and defend objectives. They are a wall of steel and mylomar, with enough weapons to level a city in hours.

MechWarriors are one-person tank crews. They are responsible for the 'Mech's movement, firing its weapons, receiving and giving orders with other MechWarriors and soldiers, depending on where they are in the command structure. They work as part of a unit, are assigned tasks and follows orders.

That means that went writing 'Mech battles (and you will), you have to remember that BattleMechs are walking tanks, not nimble battle suits. They walk, run and jump -- they do not do acrobatics, do not do spinning back heel kicks to the enemy's head. They punch, club and kick in close combat, as well as push and crash into their opponent. They don't hip throw their opponents, nor do they leap to their feet after getting knocked down. They do not do complex combinations with their sword/ax/mace --its hit as hard as you can, as fast as you can.

The Warhammer to the left is a walking main battle tank. With its powerful twin PPCs and multiple secondary weapons, it is an iconic BattleMech and has been for most of Battletech's existence. But like any 'Mech, it is vulnerable on the battlefield. It is only as good as its pilot -- or as lucky.

When writing a battle scene, you have to remember these 'Mechs are not quick, nimble or able to perform acts humans can. They are between slow and somewhat quick and the larger they are, the tougher they are to bring down generally. They have massive firepower, but are not invincible. They are weapons of war, with their own advantages and drawbacks.

So, Mecha from the East are generally extensions of the pilot's abilities. Mecha from the West are generally walking tanks.

Part 2 is how to write 'Mechs in combat.

This post was revised slightly, with a few grammar mistakes corrected)

Later!

Craig

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Writing Battletech: Characters


One of the great things about Battletech is the characters. From the heads of interstellar states to the farmer on a backwater planet, there is always room for stories and for memorable characters.

The first thing you must ask about your characters is; Who who are they? What is their background? what motivates them? What is the journey the story takes them on? The best stories are those in which the main character undergoes a trial of some sort, a test of their abilities. At the end, they have changed somehow from the character they were in the beginning.

You need to find the hook for the main character -- everyone else is either supporting or opposing the main character's actions. Start with the conflict the main character will face. It could be physically, mentally, it could be another person or a force -- in any case, the character must face some sort of obstruction to the character's goal.

I think the best way to illustrate that is to take a look at three of my Characters from my stories: Kenway Gaines (Salvage), Amanda Rawson (The Promise) and Nathaniel Trivedi (End of the Road.) I choose three of my own characters, because I understand them the best.

At the start of Salvage, Kenway Gaines is a young man starting out his military career. He is from a family of MechWarriors, but he isn't a MechWarrior himself -- instead, he is a technician. 

That right there is a hook. Kenway is from a family of warriors, but can never become one himself. Instead, he is a new tech, a Subaltern fresh out of NAIS, and assigned to a Recovery and Salvage platoon attached to the Fourth Deneb Light Calvary. This is a young man who can feel his family's disappointment, despite the fact he is a hard-working and knowledgeable technician. Because of this, he has no self-confidence in himself and feels that he left his family down -- that is the problem he has to overcome. In addition, Kenway green as grass, an additional problem, one his superiors have taken notice of. It is only his skill as a technician that keeps him from being pulled for the R&S platoon.

On his first mission, his platoon goes out to recover a couple of 'Mechs. While surveying the area, Kenway spots what he believes is a new Capellan design in the water -- a Raven. This becomes the turning point for Kenway's change, as the chance of recovering and inspecting a brand new design has made him forget his troubles and starts gaining confidence in himself. The recovery doesn't go off without problems -- he is still a green soldier and the Capellans don't want to let the Raven go without a fight. In the heat of the action, Kenway finds the strength to take action to keep the Raven from being recaptured or destroyed.

But because of that experience, Kenway begins to find himself, as an officer and a technician. He is not the same person at the end of the story as he was at the start of the story. He has grown up and begun to find his confidence. At the end of the story, he is trying to find out everything he can about the Raven -- he is in his own element now. He has realized that he may not be a Mechwarrior, but he will show his family and his superiors that he is a soldier just like them. The story is about Kenway finding himself.

On the other hand, Amanda Rawson is a veteran MechWarrior assigned to be the XO of a rescue mission. She finds herself in the dark because her commanding officer, Leftenant Colonel Colin Kerse, is hiding most of the mission's details. That is Amanda's conflict -- trying to trust her superior officer when he is clearing hiding information she needs as the mission's XO.

They are heading for the Kurita-held planet of 
Chichibu, where Kerse claims there are Davion POWs being held there. Somehow, he managed to convince the AFFS to give him a force and to lead a rescue unit to . 

Amanda was recruited by MIIO to keep an eye on Kerse. Her orders are to assume command if Kerse acts in an insane manner. From the start, the events and Kerse's actions make her suspicious of him. Her orders are to step in and take command if she thinks Kerse has lost his mind. But what is the tipping point? Is there a tipping point to force Amanda into following her orders?

And that's the hook for her character, the test he must undergo. Can Amanda trust Kerse? Is he leading them into a trap? Even when she discovers Kerse's motivations and the information he had kept from her, can she still trust him? Is this a rescue or vengeance by Kerse? In the middle of the big battle, it falls to Amanda to take command of the rescue as Kerse is locked in a battle with past demons. At the end, Amanda still doesn't fully trust Kerse, but understand his action. Amanda's story is about trying to trust someone who doesn't trust her.

Nathaniel Trivedi's conflict is keeping his sanity in a situation of a grinding campaign. A member of Stone's Lament, he has seen the worse fighting of the Jihad and is currently involved in pursuing Word of Blake forces across the North American continent.

A student of history, he finds an outlet for his sanity in the Grasshopper he has been assigned to replace his destroyed Victor. This is the hook -- the "Mech's interesting history lets him forget the horrors and the grinding fighting for a few hours. The Grasshopper has a long and involved history over three centuries. Despite his lance-mates' teasing and his commanding officer's disdain for the Grasshopper history, he continues on his self-imposed activity. At the climax, the Grasshopper is destroyed, but Trivedi's actions helps Stone forces win an important battle. Instead of rebuilding the 'Mech, he thinks it is time to leave the military and return to pursuing a PhD.

So, three character, three different time periods, three different challenges. Each one must face a challenge -- Kenway, his crippled self-confidence, Amanda, her distrust of a secretive superior officer, and Nathaniel keeping his sanity in an insane situation. All overcame their challenges and all have changed in some way.

I'll talk more about character in another post, as this one is getting too long. I just don't know when, as there are a few matters that are coming up.

In addition, there may be some good news on the horizon, hopefully this month or next, about a Battletech product I wrote. I won't say anything else about it, but as soon as I can, I will write about it. It might just be the most important thing I've ever written for Battletech.

Later!

Craig

Monday, June 8, 2020

Writing Battletech: Plots


All of a sudden, I'm full of post ideas.....

If you seen my last post, I talk about the what you should do if you want to have the best shot of getting your story accepted by Shrapnel's editor. But I'm going to take this a step further, and talk about what makes up a story set in the Battletech Universe. Today, I'm going to talk about Plots.

The Battletech Universe is one of war and intrigue. No one what to read about Joe Shomoe quiet, boring life. Battletech is Military Sci-Fi/Space Opera and the stories reflect that. This post looks at the basic plot areas where all Battletech stories fall into.

Battletech stories generally fall into three areas of plot -- Military, Espionage, and Political Intrigue. Now that doesn't mean each is separate from each other -- there is plenty of stories where two or all three areas intersect within a story. A Military story could have elements of Espionage and/or Political Intrigue. But generally, a story will have a focus in one of these areas.

That is not to say these are the only three area, but these three are the easiest to work a story plot with. Once you have a solid record and grasp, it's easier to see story ideas that while not fitting into one of the areas above, still have a Battletech feel to them.

What do I mean by Military, Espionage, and Political Intrigue? I define each as such and include examples from my own stories:

Military -- The most basic plot. Two side fighting each other. This is anywhere between a small raid or one corner of a massive campaign or battle. Battlemechs, Aerospace fighters, vehicles, battlesuits, or the poor infantry soldier trying to survive. It's a look at the men and women in the battle, their motives, their actions and the consequences of their actions. The center of the story is the battles(s).

There are subplots that help form the battle's context. Below are a basic list of subplots to help tie in the battle:


  • A character's first time in battle.
  • Conflict between two characters on the same side.
  • A character's chance to redeem themselves for past actions.
  • A character looking for revenge.
  • A character who has a mental conflict they must work through.
  • A character has been given a difficult/impossible task.


Those are a few ideas off the top of my head, but the idea is to give the character a stake in the battle beyond winning it. That is not to say they succeed at the end; but they have to try overcoming the roadblock subplot that battle presents.

You can elements from the other two in the story; any story can have espionage and/or political overtones, but the focus is on the battle.

Examples: The Lance Killer, Hikagmono, The Promise.

Espionage: A problem that needs a RCT to handle can sometimes be done with just a knife in the right back. These type of stories can happen anywhere, and involves character's actions away from the battlefield, often light years away. These type of stories don't need violence, but are often violent on a more personal level. These type of plots fall into the broad categories such as:


  • Character must steal/destroy/retrieve/pass on/kill an objective
  • Character must prevent an objective from being steal/destroy/retrieve/passed on/killed
  • Character must hunt down an enemy agent
  • Character must avoid being hunted down by the other side.

(The objective can be data, an object, or a person)

Misdirection and double-dealing are also common in these type of stories, as are betrayal and sacrifice. These are generally small-scale stories, usually involving a small group. Again, there could be elements from the other two categories that are part of the story, but the spies are center stage.

Examples: Evacuation, End of Message, Operation Red Lion. Operation Blue Tiger

Political Intrigue; This is the toughest one to write. Unlike the other two, it needs a dose from one or the other category. These stories are about political maneuvers as two sides vie for an advantage. the plot can involve state vs state, noble vs noble, leader vs leader, or invader vs resistance. The stakes are important to someone, and can extend beyond the story events.

But this type of story needs a healthy does of one of the two other -- the politics are the frame where the action happens in support of someone else's political goals. It could be an assassination attempt, forcing an opponent to deploy forces elsewhere, or distracting the opponent, either though espionage or military actions while the real  work goes on elsewhere, but all the action is related to political ends.

Examples: Negotiation, The Clawing, A Matter of Honor

There is one other area for Battletech stories, but unlike the other three there isn't a clearly defined area they fit into it. It could be a mystery, or a character reacting to events in a way that doesn't fit into any of the above three categories. These stories can have elements of any of the three above, but doesn't necessarily rely on them the same way that political intrigue does with the other two.

Example: State of Grace.

So, that is my view on the subject. Do you have any questions? Leave them here, or contact me via the Battletech forum -- my screen name is Trboturtle.

Later!

Craig

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Submitting to Shrapnel


I've seen a few positive posts about Shrapnel #1, and a couple of questions about actually submitting to the magazine. Back in March of 2012 (Eight years ago!), I wrote a couple of posts I called the "Dos and Don'ts of Battlecorps Writing." Battlecorps has been discontinued, replaced by Shrapnel.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was thinking about revisiting the subject, advice about how to have a fighting chance of having your submission being accepted. I can't promise, in any way, that Shrapnel's Managing editor, will accept your story or article. What I want to do here is give you some tips that will at least make him think about it. I will include examples from my own stories to illustrate my points.

1) Read the Guidelines and Follow Them -- the guidelines are there for a reason. Writing in Battletech is writing inside a highly defined set of parameters, and requires the writer to follow them. If a submission clearly doesn't follow the guidelines, that does not bode well for anything else that is required from all writers. Adhering to the guidelines shows you can follow instructions.

2) Keep the Story Small -- When I say, small, I mean there's no room for massive plot and dozens of characters in a story that is at most, 7,000 words. That's roughly 23-28 pages of double-space typing. That's not a lot of room for plot, characters and resolution.

  • a) Characters -- Ideally, you have one or two characters that are the main point of view the reader has into a story. Most of story will be seen though their eyes, their thoughts will be the one the reader will have insight to. Several supporting characters are possible, but each must have a purpose to the plot. Too many characters and they become just blobs; it is better to have two or three well-defined characters then half a dozen faceless blobs.


  • One of my favorite things to do is take a basic character type and give it a twist; Mouse from my story, Shadow Angels, is an example A large man, he acts as the teams heavy support. Yet, he knits in his down time. In Thirteen, Ansgar Shurasky, an officer recovering from a mental breakdown, finds his new 'Mech haunted and advised by the his sister's ghost -- or is it his his own mind projecting a part of himself? Look for little things to make each character unique.


  • b) Plots -- there is no room in 7,000 words for a complex plot. The best thing to do is have a main plot and maybe a subplot, if there is room for one. Plots need to be straightforward for the most part. It's okay to have a twist in the story, but you cannot go too deep into a plot in so few words.


  • I like working themes into my stories. In The Lance Killer, the story is about superstition, survivor's guilt and redemption. A Matter of Honor is about honor and acceptance.
  • c) Scope -- Scope is important. Scope is the level the story is told at. Most novels have several levels of scope from the rulers and generals issuing the orders, all the way down to the foot soldier who's trying to survive the next five minutes. A short story doesn't allow all those levels. It's best to chose one level and stick with it, the lower, the better. A soldier trying to survive the next five minutes has a more interesting story then a General kilometers away issuing orders. For my story in Shrapnel #1, Blind Arrogance,  I told the story of a battle that had already been told in a novel, but instead of the grand sweep of a story, I told the battle from the POV of a Lance commander, who only saw his small corner of the battle.

3) Know the Battletech Universe -- On the face of it, it sounds like a no-brainier. But writing for Battletech needs a deep level of knowledge than a casual fan had. (I know there's are a few of you out there, just as I know there are some deeply committed fans.) The Battletech Universe has been built up over thirty-five years, and have a background that no other fictional universe can match. A thousand-plus-year timeline, thirty or so factions detailed out, thousands of 'Mechs and vehicles designs, technology laid out, and planets explored. That's a lot of stuff to dig through and it can be overwhelming.

My solution is to pick a time, a place and an event; then research the heck out of it. For the story Salvage, I chose Aldebaran, 3028, during Operation Rat (the story was part of the Operation Rat series, so the time and event were already determined.) For the story, I had to know which units were involved, something about the planet, and the time frame. It becomes just finding where to put the scenes.

It also gave me an idea of what 'Mechs I could and could not use in that time period; I could use a Raven, a Crusader, and a Catapult, but not a Bushwhacker or a Thantos. Being aware of when a design becomes available in the timeline is important; it shows your depth of knowledge.

  • a) It's a matter of Details -- The great thing about Battletech is all the background is already in place -- you bring the characters and plot.  For Salvage, I used the AFFS ranks, and the Confederation using their pre-Xin Sheng rank system, for example.Also, a nugget of advice: The first Clan Mechs seen in the Inner Sphere have two that depends on the point of view of the character -- A Clan Warrior would not call his Timber Wolf a Mad Cat (Which gets a bit fuzzier when talking about the Mad Dog/Vulture, as the Combine uses a third name for it -- the Hagetaka). Any story that gets past the first hurdle (Being rejected right off the bat), will be sent to the fact-checkers, who will look at the details to make sure they all fit. Details are important; it's what makes the stories comes alive.

4) Don't go Overboard -- What do I mean by that? It means trying to make a major splash with your first story. Taking a major named character and using them as the main character. Using your home-brewed Mercenary RCT in your story. Rewritng events in Battletech history. Mary or Gary-Sue characters. BattleMechs acting more like Gundam Mecha. Show you can write a solid story, with your own characters and follow rules. Once you have a few stories under your belt, then you can start reaching out a little more (the home-brewed RCT and the Gary/Mary Sues characters needs to stay home though)

5) Develop a Thick Skin -- being a writer involves ego, and ego can be bruised. It's not easy to have a story rejected -- I have had stories rejected before. It's a hazard of the profession, and you need a thick skin. You may think your story is the best one every written, but it could also be the third or fourth similar story the editor has seen in the last week that has a similar plot/characters or it violates one of the suggestions above.
  • a) So What do you do, if it is Rejected? -- Look at why it was rejected and consider what the reason was. Unless the Editor asks for a rewrite, move onto the next story, and don't make the same mistake

  • b) So What if it's Accepted? Than congratulations and move onto the next story.
That's enough for now. Battletech is a fiction-driven universe; its what make the Universe come alive. It's a fun universe to write in, a chance to create your own thread in the Battletech Tapestry.

I may come back with another post like this, talking about different things relating to the actual craft of writing Battletech.

Later,

Craig

Friday, May 29, 2020

Shrapnel Issue #1 is out!


Well, it's finally here....

Above is the cover from the new Battletech Magazine, Shrapnel. It's being distributed to the Battletech Kickstarter Backers first, then it will go on sale (I don't know when or where, or how much, or any other detail like that at this time.)

So, what is in it? Well, stories from the authors you see listed on the cover above, plus stories from Chris Hussey, Jason Hansa, and Lance Scarinci. They are all brand new stories here, including the first part of a serial story from Micheal Stackpole. Yes, they are all Old Guard writers, but you have to use what you have -- more on that below.

There are also a few articles related to the Game itself, for both the tabletop game and the RPG side of things. There are articles that give flavor to events, but can also be used as the start of an adventure for a savvy Games master. I wrote an article about Sniper Rifles for AToW RPG, to  expand the selection of weapons, giving each faction their own weapon. There is a Dark Era track that can be used by either Battletech or Alpha Strike games, and a look at a unit with ties to a legendary mercenary unit. It's is designed to appeal to everyone who is a Battletech fan, but it's mostly new stories.

I can only talk about what I wrote. When this venture was getting off the ground, I really wanted to do something that hearkens back to Battletechnology Magazine. One of the regular items in Battletechnology Magazine that I enjoyed was the "Tales of the Cobalt Coil." These were stories told by patrons of a bar in the Cathy district of Solaris City, and told in the first person for the most part. There was something about those stories that made them more intimate, and I wanted to recreate that. From this idea, Tales from the Cracked Canopy was born. Set in the rebuilt International Sector of Solaris City after the Jihad, the Cracked Canopy is a bar where anyone can walk in, enjoy some good food and a beer, watch the matches and forget about their worries for a while.

But I didn't want a copy of the Cobalt Coil, so I came up with an idea; The Memory Wall. Along the back wall of the Canopy, there are small mementos and items that have been brought in by patrons and left there. Each item has a story behind it, and each patron who leaves an item tells the tale of what that item meant to them.

Phil agreed to run with the idea, and I wrote what I think is a good story to start it off with. Blind Arrogance is the story of the death of a well-known unit, as told by one of its former members. I won't say anything more than that, but it is a sad story.

I worked out some background on the regular characters, like the employees and a few of the regular patrons, and another writer has already claimed the Canopy story spot in the next issue. I hope it becomes a regular part of the magazine, and would be a good way to break into the magazine (Hint, Hint). Maybe in a future post, if there is a call for it, I will post those series notes here on the blog.

As I mentioned earlier, all the stories were written by the Old Guard, but this Magazine isn't just for us old-line writers this is an opportunity for a writer looking to break into writing for the Universe. I have written about what to do and not to do when submitting to Battlecorps; looks like its time to revisit those pointers, bring them up to date, and repost them as time when submitting to Shrapnel.

So, how do you submit to Shrapnel? You go here: Shrapnel: The BattleTech Magazine - Fiction There is a copy of the Guidelines are there, and a portal to send your story in. MAKE SURE YOU READ THE GUIDELINES!!

That's all for now. I hope you enjoy reading Shrapnel when you get it. I also hope this becomes a great success -- it it does, it will be because of people like you.

Later!

Craig


Sunday, May 3, 2020

The Con Season and Coronavirus


For the sake of transparency, I have never attended Gencon and the last time I attended Origins, It was still a mobile con and was in Philadelphia. It's simply a matter of money -- cons like that are not cheap to go to. The following is my opinion only, formed mostly from reading several sources and casually talking to people.

That being said, I know something about both cons, just because  of my work with Catalyst Game Labs. Both Origins and Gencon are big cons, but the emphasis each one has is slightly different. Origins is a players' con, where people go to play and browse the vendor's hall. Some new stuff is released, but mostly it's Games and good times.

Gencon is a little different -- while it's still games and  times, its the place for gaming companies to reveal their big products of the year -- new games, major expansions, new stuff. It's the place when companies interact with fans in Q&A sessions, where game developers try to sell their home-designed games to a company looking for the next big thing. It's where new companies have the best chance to be noticed. In short, it's a place where business goes on in the shade of fifty thousand people playing games of all types.

But this year is different and that difference is the Covid-19. The Coranavirus. The fear of this virus has thrown everything off-kilter with stay at some and social distancing. For some companies, that is a serious problem. Fortunately, Catalyst is already spread out, with people all over the world and an HQ that's in the Big Boss' house. Also, Catalyst's investment into E-books will allow products to still be released, bringing in money that way. But it's more than that.

First is the manufacturing and shipping. Since most gaming companies use China, Covid-19 has delayed things, and that doesn't include all the real-life politics which still could bite companies in the ass. Things are getting back on track, but there is still too much unknown. It is getting close to the final date to get new products printed and shipped.

Second, the economy shutting down for more than a month. Everything beyond food and other essential services are shut down -- sports leagues, schools, restaurants, and other smalls business have been ordered closed. Conventions and events of all types have been canceled -- San Diego Comicom the big one that comes to mind. Here's a list of the ones so far: List of events affected by the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic. Only now are places beginning to open. Many people have been laid off/furloughed/working from home, and money has become tight for millions of people. Food and family care come before fun.

(In my case, I've been off the property less than a half-dozen times in March and April, and they were for food runs and trips to the pharmacy.)

Which leads to the cons themselves Origins has already been moved to October. Here is that announcement: ORIGINS GAME FAIR POSTPONED TO OCTOBER; ORIGINS ONLINE SCHEDULED FOR JUNE. That's a four-month delay, at a time people don't usually take vacations, and people are beginning to think about holiday season. Even then, it's not a sure thing -- Covid is still too unknown to know if it'll be back in the fall (Or even if it's still going to be around) They plan to have a virtual con in June, but have no idea how that is going to work.

On the other hand, Gencon is still sticking to its schedule. Their most recent update: Updates on Gen Con and COVID-19.

The problem is that the virus is still unknown factor. It could fade away, or it could hang around and continue causing trouble. It has to be making planing difficult -- will the products be on time, will the Con be as scheduled, or, worse-case scenario, will the con happen at all? And if the con goes on, how many people will have the money and time to show up? How much product do you need and how much do you bring to to the con? Can you afford the warehouse feeds for leftover stock? Can you afford a four-month delay or a canceled convention?

And it's not just the conventions themselves, but the business that depend on conventions -- restaurants, hotels, bars, and other businesses around the convention center. Most are already hurting and a reduced or canceled convention will be hard. I've seen stories that maybe a third of the restaurants in the US could go out of business.

Here's the thing about restaurants: they work on thin profit margins. When I was a manager in the pizza delivery business, out FLC (Food, Labor, Costs) were to be no more than 94% of our income. Which meant if the store earned $10,000 in a week, the store made a grand total of $600 profit -- less then $100/day. The FLC covered the cost of food, the employee's wages, and the fixed costs (rent, insurance, maintenance, etc). Most restaurants carry no more than two weeks worth of money in their accounts for unforeseen expenses. I have no doubts that other small business have similar cost considerations. Some are being creative with pickup or delivery, but that is only a small fraction of their normal income.

 Here's an article on the effects the Virus is having on the dining industry: By the Numbers: COVID-19’s Devastating Effect on the Restaurant Industry.

The economy has been thrown for a loop, and a lot of companies are not going to make it. Many smaller companies will go under and even the larger companies are going to be hurting. Little or no money is coming in, but fixed expenses like rent and insurance still need to be paid. Assuming the business survives, it will take some time to get out from under the cloud this virus has the entire world under.

Things are different this year -- and society world-wide has been altered. I think, as I write this, Gencon and Origins 2020 are going to be pale specters of what they normally are. I HOPE I am wrong. Maybe in a couple months, Covid-19 will vanish, never to be a major threat ever again, and both cons set attendance records. But I'm not optimistic.

BTW -- the photos above.... The first and third ones are from this article on Sarna.net: What’s up with Catalyst? at GenCon 2019, while the second on is from this article: Recap: Shadowrun at Origins 2019 The photos are not mine -- they are used to merely illustrate the article.

That's enough for now! Later!

Craig