During the BattleTech writer’s summit in September, we had a very short talk (a sidebar actually) about the Renegade Legion (RL) universe – mostly between Randall Bills and me. Both of us agreed that the Centurion and Interceptor game mechanics were very good and highly innovative, even by today’s standards. Centurion’s armor widowing was groundbreaking at the time. Centurion really crossed that line between a sci fi game and a true tactical wargame, which is a tough nut to crack. Centurion, all on its own, was worth the price of admission to the universe. Interceptor’s flow-chart mechanic is one that I keep expecting to pop up again in some other game – it was that good. While Interceptor came out first, it was Centurion that made the biggest splash (I think) with gamers.
For those of you that don’t remember, it was TOG – the Terran Overlord Government vs. the rebels – set in a sci-fi Roman-esque setting. In many respects, it was Star Wars – right down to the aliens. Hover tanks, space armadas, cool fighter aircraft; the universe had something in it for everyone. TOG was the evil empire vs. the Commonwealth, which desperately clung to a sliver of the Milky Way that was still not under TOG control.
Leviathans – the big ship game – was a lot of fun and probably one of the best space battle games out there until the recent FFG Star Wars Armada came out. Prefect allowed you to do full planetary invasions – and fight the battles using the other games in the system. How freaking cool is that? The game had good balance, some awesome sci-fi weapons that were backed up with some pretty solid sci-fi tech. Back in the day, this was all revolutionary.
I wrote a few Renegade Legion sourcebooks and did some of the design on the RPG for the universe (Legionnaire). What most of you did not know was there was actually a book of the mathematics of the science behind the Renegade Legion stuff. I still have it somewhere in my vast archives. It was VERY complex and well thought out. So why did it wither?
Randall pointed out that even if you custom built your tanks, they more-or-less looked the same. Unlike in BattleTech when you build a custom ‘Mech is can look distinctly different than the others – not so much with Centurion. Also, custom-built vehicles really weren’t part of the universe setting. Also, when you look at BattleTech as a comparison, a lot of players build their own mercenary units. In the RL universe there just wasn’t a good way for players to carve out a piece of space for themselves.
One thing I think that hurt the universe was the fact that it was fixed. BattleTech has a timeline – different eras, new stuff always on the horizon. Shadowrun – always changing things up. The Renegade Legions universe got set up and stayed right where it was.
Another problem that plagued the RL universe was that it was space opera without the inspiring characters. Most game systems that take on something big have these characters that are larger-than-life, who are devastatingly good and bad. Even in BattleTech you had Hanse Davion and Max Liao – so you had powerful personalities. The game never fostered and developed those.
Also, TOG had the upper hand, conquering the universe except for this tiny sliver. They were big-ass Space Rome. TOG was supposed to be the big-bad Empire and it was. As such, I remember raising the issue – “So how could the Commonweath win?” Ultimately the answer was they couldn’t. Well, that seems a bit of dead-end. At least with Star Wars there was a feeling that the rebels might win. In Renegade Legion, you got the gut feeling that it was all over but the crying. Imagine starting your journey into the Star Wars universe with The Empire Strikes Back. That was what Renegade Legion felt like to me at times.
Finally, when it came out, 1989, it was right near the time period when game companies could easily crank out a wealth of sourcebooks that sold tens of thousands of copies. Things were starting to tighten up in the gaming industry. Print runs on sourcebooks were getting smaller, less profitable. If the game had popped three or four years earlier, it might have built up more traction – in my opinion.
Still, some of the stuff put out for it was incredible, innovative, and fun. Bill Keith wrote Renegade’s Honor which was a good solid novel. When Centurion re-released with plastic miniatures, they were a big hit. The Wake of the Kraken module featured a freaking haunted starship. The sourcebooks were solid with lots of great material.
Personally, I would love to see the game come back with some major retooling of the universe.