My Thoughts and Memories on the Renegade Legion Universe

 

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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.

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The Interceptor Damage Flow Diagram-Thingy.

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.

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You have to give a nod to the artwork on some of these FASA box covers.  I LOVED this one.

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.

16 thoughts on “My Thoughts and Memories on the Renegade Legion Universe

  1. Simon Calcutt

    2nded. No idea who would pick it up. Market is a bit flooded with miniature games but this had a good core and great mechanics. If this could come back then it would be a dream. Who knows, even Crimson Skies could make it. 😛

  2. The games sound awesome and could probably do well enough if re-released now. I never played back in the day, but got a copy of Golden Medusas in a sale, probably when the setting was on its way out and enjoyed reading it a lot. Other than there being a lot of good games out at the moment as competition, the only downside I could see in bringing it back is that BattleTech is probably it’s closest competitor, and it might divert resources from its more established cousins.

  3. Paulh

    How could one write a review on RL and leave out a GREAT setting book like Peter Rice’s Damned if we Do? I loved that book and how it gave a lot of feel for grav tank combat, much like the Slammer’s novels did. Renegade’s Honor did a good job for the naval side.

    The books and games hinted at the rot at the core of TOG. It was probably going to collapse from it’s own internal rot before the Commonwealth or any of the alien species were able to make of a headway against TOG. It was just too vast of an enemy to be able to do much more than slow them down. Though, by the books standards, the Commonwealth was doing a great deal to even slow down such a behemoth like the TOG was.

      1. paulh

        Shoulda added this in the original, but, yanno… it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. It’s actually quite easy to not mention one, or two thousand books. I enjoyed your review and I heartily agree with it.

        Personally I enjoy the fictionalization of many games – so long as the books are a decent read that is. Bad fiction, regardless of the setting, remains bad fiction.

  4. Val Cassotta

    This is a game I wish they’d rerelease – the damage system was so unique. Plus, who doesn’t love Romans in Space 🙂

    Also loved the old SSI computer game (especially the sound track!)

  5. Adam (Froggie)

    Years ago, back when I had all the box sets, I toyed with adapting the “armor widowing” concept to Battletech. I thought the concept as shown in Interceptor was really neat.

    Blaine, any idea if the talking heads at FASA considered adding it to Battletech before they sold?

  6. Scooby Drew

    Fun memories. Thanks. I had Centurion (2nd) with the plastic hover tanks – those were cool – and the RPG book which I now found out you wrote. I kept some of the cardboard tank crew markers to use with BT games and still have them. The rest of my little RL stash is long gone. Thanks for the memories.

  7. OMEGAMan

    Honestly here is a game that I would like to see come back. Yes the Commonweath was going to be a speedbump unless something change for TOG. But I can see advancing the timeline some, and having like Roman Empire break up in small parts all “engaging” with each other in different manners.

  8. Kurt Kunz

    As OMEGAMan says, push the timeline on with TOG internal breakdown and civil wars, just like the Roman Empire did. Also while the damage system for Centurion is really good for skirmish games, for bigger battles i’d like to see an additional / alternative streamlined version to speed the game up.

  9. EDWARD LAFFERTY

    Always did like RL.

    First…some of the points you made were recognised. Nightshift Games had a plan to reinvigorate the universe. TOG was basically going to fall into a Civil War, and break up into rival factions. Not something FASA could do….it would turn it into BT with grav tanks and the games would cannibalise each other.

    Second…last I heard, FASA, were trying to reacquire the rights from Topps. They weren’t expecting anything quickly but were still looking at it. So there is hope…slim hope…of a comeback

  10. Scriba Digitalis Peter Campi

    As someone who has been recently transcribing your written work in the Shannedam County Sourcebook to RL’s fan Wikipedia (TOG Academy, aka TOGA), I have to say that this universe is well fleshed out!

    Sure there is an error here and there, and the sourcebook map is missing quite a few of the minor systems (mostly TOG’s), but the information within is enlightening! I also learned two new words; treble (alternate form of triple) and potentate (what dictators wish they were).

    Star Wars is as much a fantasy franchise as it is a space opera, but Renegade Legion is legitimately science-fiction. Everything is so grounded and the lore is deep enough, even in 1st edition, that you can get into the mindsets of the two major factions of the battle of good and evil.

    My friend and former mentor, David Wessman, was a developer on the X-Wing/Tie Fighter games of the early 90s, and he had some glowing praise of Interceptor (which is likely one of the inspirations for his latest project: In The Black, formerly known as Starfighter, Inc.)

    I suppose what I want to say is, even with my limited experience with the franchise (one game of Interceptor with friends on teams using the advanced rules for movement), the games still maintain the potential that they had when they were first introduced. This franchise deserves a Renovatio Ludi (renewal of the games)!

    If you want to meet with Renegade Legion players on Facebook, we’re holed up in the Renegade Legion International group. It’s puny compared to the Battletech International group, but it’s slowly growing!

  11. Iracundus

    A TOG breakup and civil war would be the obvious way to break up the black and white status quo. The KessRith empire could also get in on the action to seize back territory, resulting in TOG having to commit forces on multiple fronts, easing up the feel of the unstoppable juggernaut on the Commonwealth front.

    Friction and conflict can be seeded between the Commonwealth and the Renegade Legions also to add more variety. As the Commonwealth retakes some ground, there are calls to slow down, consolidate, and not overextend. Maybe some voices want to even reach a peace agreement or at least a temporary armistice with TOG, as they do not want the Commonwealth to exist in a permanent state of war. For their part the Renegade Legions can be eager, overeager, to keep pushing towards Terra. A setback can lead to mutual recrimination with the RL feeling unsupported by the Commonwealth whereas the Commonwealth might think the RL charged too far ahead, leaving them open for a TOG counterattack. There can also be the militant voices in the Commonwealth, with their critics arguing they would turn the Commonwealth to be like TOG in order to fight TOG.

    The Resistance within TOG might also start to splinter into various more or less extreme groups, especially if the KessRith make inroads. The memory of KessRith oppression lingers and Resistance groups may be confronted with the unwelcome choice of deciding whether to aid the KessRith or help humans against the KessRith, even if it means curtailing their anti-TOG activites.

    A TOG civil war can also be interesting with different factions, maybe some that can move beyond being corrupt black hat moustache twirling villains. TOG does not need to be a good white hat but neither does it need to be comically bad. Maybe a space Vespasian?

    The Free Traders can also meddle with scheming in the background.

    As an aside, the setup of an authoritarian government vs a more democratic government, with a trading 3rd faction seemingly playing one off the other, and big capital ship space battles seems similar to the anime Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

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