Shrapnel – The BattleTech Magazine, is now available for sale on Amazon (Kindle)

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When the Kickstarter came out for BattleTech and I saw one of the incentives was a BattleTech magazine, I have to admit a little kid inside me squealed with joy.  I remember the old days when we had fan magazines, StarDate, and BattleTechnology.  BattleCorps was a good source of fiction, but there wasn’t enough of it. There is a lot of goodness out there for BattleTech that isn’t novel-length, and a magazine would be a great format.

The Kickstarter backers got their copies two weeks ago.  Stop whining if you think that wasn’t fair, you had your chance to take part in the Kickstarter…  I was stunned at the sheer size.  It took me a while to get through it.  This is easily the size of a small book…much more than I expected.

The fiction includes the first part of a multi-part story by Mike Stackpole on the Kell Hounds (huzzah!) some Crescent Hawks love, a fantastic piece by my favorite author (me) on the Smoke Jaguars, and several other solid pieces.  Some of these stories are pretty long and engaging, especially the Ghost Bears story.  Grimm Sentence by Chris Hussey actually made me give a damn about Hendrik Grimm, no small task mind you.  There’s a lot of unexplored corners of the BattleTech universe screaming for this kind of good fiction.

There’s some game support material on the Eridani Light Horse and sniper rifles, for you RPG fans.  I loved Craig Reed’s fiction, Tales from the Cracked Canopy.

Perhaps the most important thing is that Shrapnel opens the door for fans to get their fiction published.  The submission guidelines are there – so go to town!  Fiction is back in the driver’s seat for the universe so this is your chance to prove your mettle.  Will you accept my batchall?

My only hope for improvement is more artwork.  This issue was packed with fiction but not a lot of art.  I would have liked to see more artwork in the pages.

Don’t be a Bob and ask me if this is going to be in print-copy.  I heard it was, but I honestly don’t know for sure.  I also have no idea if this will be an audio book, and, I can’t stress this enough, I don’t care.

BattleTech is back baby!

Okay – The Cat is Out of the Bag Rock of the Republic, an Unnamed novel, and Hour of the Wolf!

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Strike the pipes Craig Gulledge!  It’s time for the Highlanders to wade into battle! 

I have been silent and deliberately misleading about the ilClan book for a long time.  But this announcement:  The Big News!  allows me a chance to finally say two titles out loud – Rock of the Republic and Hour of the Wolf.

There’s another prequel coming out that is not on the list.  I think it simply got overlooked.  Shit happens.  More on that as soon as I find out what is happening with it. I’m confident it will come out at the same time as HotW (Hour of the Wolf) or before since it lays some pretty critical foundation for the events of ilClan.

So, for over a year now I have used XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXXX for Hour of the Wolf in my social media posts. We were worried about the title getting out because people make assumptions – usually incorrectly.  Technically, to throw people off, this fake title could have been deciphered to: Hour of the Jade Falcon.  So all of you codebreakers out there, you didn’t count on me being a total douchebag and deliberately using the wrong number of X’s.  Bad call on your part. Welcome to the Thunderdome!

Key thing here…don’t let the title fool you.  As with everything in the BattleTech universe, nothing is black and white.  Personally, I think it is a fantastic book with some fairly significant twists and turns.  Then again, I wrote it.  We shall see when the editor comes back with final “tweaks.” I seriously doubt we will be changing the winner(s) in this coming struggle.

You don’t have to read the prequels that come out – but honestly, they all layer together to tell a massive universe-changing story.  The story stands alone for new fans that want to jump into BattleTech with both feet – but for the experienced fans, I recommend devouring all of the fiction leading to the big show.

Rock’s rewrite was finished last weekend, so it is going to happen soon.  This story will set the stage for Devlin Stone’s defense of Terra – with a dash of Fidelis goodness tossed in.  I haven’t seen the cover for it, but I know it’s being worked on.  Usually, around the time I see the cover, that’s when I know it’s going to pop.  The unmentioned book will set the stage for Clans Wolf and Jade Falcon.  Throw in Icons of War and some Northwind Highlander shenanigans, and what you’ve already read in Divided We Fall,  and everything leads up to Hour of the Wolf!

I only wish we could have done the release in August at GenCon – as planned. Then again, fans can’t strangle me if I’m not there…so there’s that.

Buried in the announcement is the Spotlight on Snord’s Irregulars…which dovetails into another fiction piece on that iconic unit.  The boys are back with a vengence!

So, finally, the title is out. People will read into the announcement summaries and see in them whatever they will.  Some of you can cook up schemes and plots better than I can.  All I can say at this time is we are building up to a huge fight, sweeping politics, and the deviousness of key characters that BattleTech is known for.  Which Wolf am I referring to?  What of the Dragoons?  Is there are reason that there are Northwind Highlander books coming out too?  What other new ‘Mechs are coming?  Will The Republic of the Sphere be triumphant?  What about the other Clans?  What is Julian Davion wearing to the fall formal?  How do you pronounce Alaric again?  Where is Terra on the map?  Where in the hell are the Wolverines?  He mentioned Snord’s Irregulars, what’s the deal with that?  Why does he mess with us so?

Stay tuned.  “Same bat-time – same bat-channel…”

My Gaming ‘Origins’

While I have written a lot of role playing and table top miniatures gaming material (and novels) over the years, my start in gaming was with board games.  Like so many people, I started with Avalon Hill and SPI.  I had a copy of Tactics II that I played long and hard.  A veteran on my paper route had a game collection and we played almost every week – starting with Panzer Blitz, Strategy I, Panzer Leader, Squad Leader, Blitzkrieg, Soldiers, and other titles.

A bunch of us traveled to MichCon at Oakland University one hot summer, staying in the un-air-conditioned dorms and gaming to all hours of the night. In 1978 I went to Origins (I think in Ann Arbor) and actually got to play D&D under Gary Gygax himself.

During my recent move (we are building a new house) I came across two relics of that era.  One is the photograph of Tim Hopkins and me, in February of 1978, playing Arab Israeli Wars.  I’m the goofy looking kid on the right.  That was a great game.  It made me do research into the weapons and the war itself, which was what was great about gaming.  It’s a gateway drug to broader learning.

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The other relic I found was my Origins 1978 coin they gave out. Note:  RPG’s are not mentioned on the coin!  It is odd, but I think traveling to these colleges helped me decide to further my education – so another positive byproduct of my gaming.

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One summer I played Terrible Swift Sword with some guys…and we played weekly, all summer long.  That was wild.  I also got into miniatures, playing Tricolor Napoleonic’s using Airfix minis.  No matter what you did those Airfix minis would not hold the paint.

I started with RPG’s in high school, 1977-ish and still have my white box D&D first edition.  I never lost my love of board games – but I did lose the time needed to play them.

In college, my Freshman year, I fell in with a gaming group.  We played D-Day, with Panzer Leader.  It was on a series of maps that covered four ping-pong tables and we played round the clock, all weekend.  Thousands of counters – tons of fun.  My airborne forces (I was the 101st) were scattered but managed to cling onto our objectives…barely.

Of course I moved on to RPG’s, hell, many of us did.  I still have a good collection of board games though that I cherish.  There was something about those early days, moving the counters, rolling the dice, that was pure fun.

Anyway, I thought I would share these with you and I invite you to share your origin stories in gaming in the comments.

Part 2: Discussion of Divided We Fall – BattleTech Short Novel

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Aw, they scuffed up the new paint job!

SPOILER ALERT.  I strongly suggest you purchase, download, and read Divided We Fall before diving into this because this blog post will RUIN the story for you.

If you have read the book, please post a review on Amazon or wherever you got it from.  Every little bit helps.

There is trepidation in writing about the Dragoons.  Wolf’s Dragoons lovers treat the regimental CO’s like saints in the Church of Jamie Wolf – I get that.  Just saying “Misery” conjures up images of deep-seated emotional pain for them, even after all of these years.  On top of that, when you write about Wolf’s Dragoons, it is always done in the shadow of Robert Charrette’s fantastic novels. As a writer, you have to admit that up-front. I always wanted to write about them, but was leery of doing so. After all, I am no Bob Charrette. The work he did with Jamie Wolf has stood the test of time. BattleTech fans can be pretty unforgiving (I know, big holy-shitballs revelation eh?) and the Dragoons were sacred ground for many of them. I knew whatever I wrote was going to be compared to Bob’s books and they were beloved. At the same time, I wanted to write this story.

I’m a gamer…and sometimes, you gotta roll the dice and pray for boxcars.

Some other “fans” warned me in advance about their feelings.  They told me they feel that the Dragoons are a “Mary Sue” unit, toughened by ferro-fibrous plot armor, immune to things that “normal” units (as if there is such a thing) must deal with.  I guess if you get nuked and survive the Mary Sue label comes with it. I never saw the Dragoons in this light.  They are the big boys on the block though, and deserve the respect they have earned. I don’t see them as plot armored, and it will be reflected in upcoming works. They are not infallible.  Some leaders have flaws that all leaders do.  In other words: “Hold my beer…I’ve got this…”

And to you Mary-Sue whiners”:  Who wants to read a story where the big unit gets its ass handed to it and everyone dies? You would bitch and moan if I wrote that story.  So I might as well write the story that I would like to read.  Note:  This is my approach to writing anyways – write what I want to read. 

I waited for years, biding my time for the right opportunity. Jason Schmetzer did some great work with the Dragoons a while back (Redemption Rift) and I knew he was paving the way for other writers like me. Besides, I wanted a really special story to write about around the Dragoons, and this is it.

After the Jihad era, I felt like the Dragoons were hard to distinguish from other big merc companies. Their luster was gone somewhat. The Jihad did that to the great mercenaries. Fu*king Jihad.  Yes, they had a storied past, but in that post-Jihad era we didn’t have Jamie Wolf, Natasha Kerensky, or the other iconic characters that had made the unit pop back in the day. Sourcebooks simply don’t allow for that. In other words, the time was right to tell a new story, with new characters, to make the Dragoons sizzle and pop again.

I wanted to tap the roots of the Dragoons and give the fans a small unit that they could easily embrace. To do that, I had to go back to the original Black Widow Company. I hope I achieved this. It was my desire to make the Dragoons stand out again for what they were. To go forward, you have to look backwards sometimes.

The plot was important, but not nearly as important as the characters. The things people like reading about are the characters.  I wanted to show the Dragoons, warts and all. The Dragoons are elite and when you have a bunch of elite characters, you end up with characters that start looking and sounding the same.  This is me fighting that Mary Sue contingent of fans. Most of the characters have flaws, and their flaws define them. In their heart and core though, they are God Damn Wolf’s Dragoons.  Unity!

That led to going to my shelves of source material.  In doing this novella I broke out my first printing of Tales of the Black Widow Company as a starting point. Boy did that bring back some memories, since I was writing BattleTech back in those glory days. Admit it, you liked the rebellious nature of Kerensky’s band of misfits.  Elite?  Aff!  Perfect?  Neg.  I realized that no matter what I did, I wanted to have some ties to that era. I wanted to recapture some of what made that company so awesome back in the day. For the grognard fans, the old guard, this will hopefully bring back some of that era for you.

I wanted an enemy/antagonist that was worthy the Dragoons.  As it turns out, the best enemy for the Dragoons is the Dragoons.  No one is the bad guy in this book, which makes it complex.  They are all fighting for the right reasons.

I dove in on General Brubaker as a character. He is not Jamie Wolf. I hope that comes through in the story.  He is not beholding to the history of the Dragoons, and that is a huge hindrance to him as a leader.  We have all had that outside manager that came in as our boss who thought he kicked ass and took names later…only to fall short.  Brubaker created his own problem with Crews.  His response of leaving this people in a Combine jail tells you a lot about him.  He does reflect on that in one line of the story, which also gives him a lot of depth. People think that Crews is the one that set things in motion – but in reality, it was Brubaker’s decisions that forced Nicholas Crews into a specific course of action.

BEGIN SIDEBAR:  Not to criticize those that went before me, but when the Black Widows became a battalion, and were no longer filled with reprobates, some of the luster of the unit was lost to me. I wanted to go back, if only just a little, to those heydays of the game.  Small unit action is the core of BattleTech play. I like this book because you can play out the scenario for yourself – I did.  END SIDEBAR

Of course, I am treading on sacred soil.  There are some die-hard Dragoons fans out there who will light torches and grab their pitchforks when they read this book. By the same token, this is happening.  You either get on the bus or get run over by it. All I know is that I am behind the wheel with my foot on the accelerator.

In the final rewrite John Helfers had some good suggestions; his best being the death of Doc Crouch.  I loved that character and the thought of killing him bothered the hell out of me for an hour or so. I didn’t like the thought of Doc dying, by my hand.  It wasn’t that it was hard to write, that only took twenty minutes to make the changes.  My issue was that Doc was a neat character, not an off-the-shelf Dragoon. I figured that if it bothered me, it would play on the heartstrings of the fans too.  Doc was a vital link between the Dragoons of old and Marotta Kerensky; he was a bridge.  Removing him hits both me and the characters hard. So, I pulled the proverbial trigger.  Seyla Doc! Trust me, this is just the start of the blood I have on my virtual hands.

To me, writing about characters means they have an arc, a larger story, that is compelling. Some start small, like Major Andrew Krull in this story.  Seeds must be planted to grow.  You will see him again (assuming he survives the Survivor-ish editing process) and when you do, well, it is awesome. Minor characters can have great story arcs.  PS.  It helps that I know Andrew and I know he will pee (just a little) when he sees where I am going with all of this.

Garry Jackson got his name in the story as a request from one of the European BattleTech communities for his contributions.  Where I can, I try and be user-friendly with these groups.  Yes, I can be an egotistical douchebag most of the time, but not always. I try like hell to support BattleTech everywhere.

What you need to know is that this short novel is part of a series of stories that leads to, well, the big show – the ilClan.  That will be evident from the start.  Each one stands alone, but they all are connected and interconnected.  It is a massive thing you are starting with this story.

In the past, I was pretty casual with the paint schemes of BattleMechs.  After hall, camouflage is pointless on a three story running 80 ton 96 kph war machine. Seriously, hot pink would be just as good as gray or green.  I have changed that stand over the years. A lot of fans like painting a unit. As such, I spend some time on thinking this through. I really make a point of talking paint schemes now in the fiction.

Other Stuff

My favorite character is Marotta Kerensky, of course.  His character arc is much larger than this book.  Much larger.  He is a trueborn Clanner that has been given a nearly impossible task to accomplish in a difficult time line. I think Clan warriors are their most interesting when they are outside of their comfort zones. Marotta has to change as a character; learn or die. Unity!

Marotta can best be summed up with the fact that he painted the front of his BattleMech during his Bloodname Trial specifically to infuriate his enemy.  Marotta is not your typical Wolf warrior.  By the end of the book, he is a skilled diplomat too, and that is something rather unique.  His arc, as a character, is very big.  You are just seeing the start of the Marotta legend. Parts of that have already been written too, so be prepared.

About the scene on New Earth.  You get it right?  You know, that ancient Elemental, right?  Aw, come on! So what’s going on with that?  That Chapter 1 scene actually dovetails into another book that is forthcoming which will explain all.  The links (Easter Eggs) in these novels and stories are many and cool.  Some fans are going to say, how did he plan that out? Was that intentional?  The answer is, aff!  Note:  There are at least two Easter Eggs that fans have not called out yet.  

Other mysteries emerge.  Where in the world was Garner Kerensky?  Where is Anastasia going?  What’s going on with the Fidelis? I mean, this opens on New Earth…oh, the intrigue!  Is it possible that the Fidelis/Smoke Jaguars are fighting with Clan Wolf, or is something else in play?

Chance Vickers is introduced in Chapter 1 as well.  She slid in during the final rewrite.  She appears in two upcoming books in much greater detail and is one of the more interesting characters I’ve created in years.  Chance is someone worth following, as you will eventually see. It was time for a female character to emerge who was not overly quirky or batshit-Malvina-Hazen crazy.

In terms of the story, Deborah “Debacle” Sheridan is one of my favorites as well.  We are talking ties directly back to the Black Widow Company. She has to struggle with where her loyalties are – to a person, her past, or the Dragoons as a whole.  How we interpret honor and loyalty is a subtheme of this story. Also, her Bloodhouse is not a Wolf one, which leads to some interesting questions about the origins of the original Dragoons.  That will be further poked at in an upcoming story about Snord’s Irregulars that I have written.

The end of this book is a beginning of sorts. Sheridan’s new command is awesome and a tribute to the Black Widow Company of old.  Will we see them in action sometime soon?  (Yes, but don’t tell anyone.  It will be our little secret.)

Byrne is a neat character too.  We see so little of the lower castes in fiction – it is interesting to see a merchant playing such an important role, that of a mentor to a warrior.  I could have omitted that chapter but it also tells us about Marotta – he is amazingly self-aware for a warrior and knows he does not have what it takes.  He needs Byrne’s experience. Byrne is just freaking awesome because he is a teacher.

Another subtext of this story is the nature of Wolf’s Dragoons.  Are they just a mercenary unit, or do they have a higher calling?  What would Jamie Wolf Do…WWJWD…is important.  His ghost haunts the Dragoons, not literally, but metaphorically. PPS.  I will be disappointed if I don’t see T-shirts at the next Gen Con with WWJWD? on them. That, I’m afraid, will have to wait until 2021.  Unity!

One of my favorite moments of the book is a simple line.  The last time a Kerensky fought for the Dragoons it was Natasha – the Black Widow. Let that sink in and it makes those of us who have followed the unit from its origins smile.  That, my friends, is a moment in BattleTech history rekindled to a roaring flame.

Another favorite line is:  “My apologies, Colonel,” Marotta replied. “It is my first prison break.” Marotta has a quirky humor.

Should this have been a larger book?  Not really.  I was slated to do about 32k in words and went over because that is what I do.  Divided clocked in at over 42k words. Old school BattleTech novels were 65k words or more. It would have been interesting to draw out some parts of the story, but I think the pacing here is critical.  The pacing of the story mirrors the time constraints that Marotta is facing. Tick-tock! Yes, I do think at that level.  Pacing is everything, and I wanted readers to experience that tension. The first draft came in at around 33k words.  When I read it, I realized that we wouldn’t have a ‘Mech battle until the end of the story, which can make it a hard read for some fans.  People like the ‘Mech battles.  So I added in Marotta’s Bloodname trial. It tells you a lot about him.

Yes, I included fans in this book as I have been doing for the last few years.  Two are Kickstarter backers – the rest are volunteers chosen because I like the sounds of their names. I love incorporating fans in the fiction because it gives them a sense of ownership.  One is mentioned, Aaron Krull, but I didn’t put him in the acknowledgements.  He actually challenged me on Facebook to put something in about his canon character and, as it turns out, you can’t toss down that gauntlet casually.  I was including fans in the fiction long before the Kickstarter and will continue to do so. Please don’t ask me to include you.  If I need names, I will post it in Facebook. You don’t use Facebook?  Aw, too bad for you…

So, some douchebaggery to consider:

  • How will Alaric use the Dragoons?  Just the word of that question has a lot of potential.
  • What happens to those Dragoon units that were not heading for Terra?  Imagine how pissed the DCMS is going to be that a massive part of the Dragoons have packed up and left without notice.
  • Will they arrive in time on Terra, early, or late?  What are the implications of that?  Imagine a scenario where the Dragoons arrive after Clan Wolf and Jade Falcon slug it out.  Oh, intrigue…
  • Will any of the other Dragoon officers learn of the mutiny?  How will that impact Brubaker and the others?
  • Is Alaric playing the Dragoons as Brubaker insinuated?  If so, will the Dragoons flip it back on him?
  • Can Brubaker retain command after all of this?  He’s had a regimental CO mutiny, one he took an active part in lying about.  That lie can and should come back at some point to bit his ass.  Given this is BattleTech, it should happen at the worst possible time for Brubaker.
  • When all of the smoke clears, what is the fate of the Dragoons?  I can feel your angst with that question.
  • Marotta has been successful, but at what ultimate cost to the Dragoons? This is a Wolf who has now fought with his dream team as a Dragoon.  How far can we stretch his loyalties and what will be the result?

For a short novel, there’s a lot of possibilities opened in just a few short words.

I have had the honor of writing about some fairly historic mercenary units in BattleTech fiction: The Northwind Highlanders, Snord’s Irregulars, the Eridani Light Horse, and now I get to add The Wolves Dragoons to that list.

So – enjoy – savor what is here and start to anticipate what is to come.

Part 1: Discussion of Divided We Fall – BattleTech Short Novel

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Seyla Doc! 

SPOILER ALERT.  I strongly suggest you purchase, download, and read Divided We Fall before diving into this because this blog post will RUIN the story for you. You will be devastated, upset, and may cry. Then again, the story may have the same effect.  Okay, it’s your call; consider yourself warned.

This short novel almost didn’t happen.  True story.

First and foremost, there is a lot of build-up to the ilClan novel. It’s a big event (and a large book) so there is some stage setting books that are coming.  This story is one of those tales. It is the first step on that journey which will include several short novels, two of which I wrote, and then the big book. There are other things I didn’t write that will come out as well – so be prepared!

You can’t imagine the immense relief and ever-present dread tied with this story coming out.  I’m excited because this is not exploding something that is already in a sourcebook.  This is fiction driving the fucking BattleTech universe again!  I think that was one reason people liked Forever Faithful, you didn’t know where it was going because it was new.  It was boldly going where we have gone before-ish. Divided We Fall is breaking new ground right off the bat. I have long missed the days when fiction called the shots in our universe.  Oh, I like sourcebooks, but in the end, give me a beefy novel first.

This all began years ago, literally.  We had a writer’s meeting in 2017 at GenCon and we talked about all of the big stuff coming.  It’s all very hush-hush, (okay, it was all about the ilClan.)  Jason Schmetzer and I were in the camp of, “The Dragoons have to be a part of this thing.”  Everyone loved the idea at the time. Jason and I felt that Clan Wolf would simply hire the Dragoons. Hey, they are mercs!  Like Larry, Darrel and Darrel; anything for a buck.  At the time, everyone agreed to that concept and that went into the first draft. In my copy I paid them in gold, since C-Bills are worthless thanks to Clan Loan Shark buying Space AT&T at a yard sale in the Duchy of Andurien.

The book underwent two big rewrites since then. I won’t bore you with the petty details, but there was one night when I almost pulled the plug on this book…it had gotten that frustrating.  You have to bear in mind, this was a period of time when we got the Game of Thrones final season (WTF?) and Avenger’s Endgame (yay!).  So as we approach the ilClan era, sensitivities are heightened about ending the Dark Ages and starting the ilClan period of the universe.  Add to that, everyone has their own sense of what they think the Dragoons are from a canon perspective. Everyone thinks they know the lore of people and units, especially the big ones.

My philosophy is simple on this subject: Don’t tell me I don’t know the lore – I AM THE LORE. I’ve been at this for 35 years so if you have a number of novels under your belt, I will gladly listen to your input. Beyond that…well…it gets graphic and involves hand gestures and comments about coupling with your mother.

But I am a professional author. (Interpretation:  A hot-steamy raging egomaniac with delusions of grandeur. All of which is well earned. I know I’m a raging self-centered asshat. I own that shit.) If the suggestions/changes people were shoving in front of me could be tweaked, I could make an even better book, well, suck it up buttercup. I’m your Huckleberry.

I also knew that if I walked away from it, another author would screw it up with idiotic changes.  Some of these characters I was deeply invested in and that thought bothered me.  Also, this book dovetails into the much bigger ilClan novel, tentatively titled XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXX. Anyone else tampering with it could set off a chain reaction of stuff I would have to clean up later.

So I shelved my massive ego and ate a slice of humble pie and rewrote this bitch, almost from the ground up in many places. The final product was mine – not somebody offering their view of the Dragoons – it was mine. Most importantly, I am proud of the final product.

The original title of this book was Wolves’ Dragoons.  Jason Schmetzer had a great theory he shared in 2017. “The title should always tell you the end of the book.”  I don’t necessarily subscribe to that theory but I went with this title because it was subtle and grabbed your attention.  Editor John Helfers asked me to change it in the last draft. I suggested, The Mutiny.  John liked that but in the end came up with a better title that accomplished the same thing.  As a joke, in the first draft, I had the subtitle of the book as:  The Enchanting Prelude to XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXX.

I violated my long-standing self-imposed rule and created a new BattleMech – stats provided in the back of this novella. She’s called the Dominator.  Originally I wanted to go with Dominatrix but that opened up a whole bunch of kinky issues and frankly, I did not want to stat out the ‘Mech sized cat of nine tails. I miss the old days when we put art in the back of the novels.  In this case, I figured, let’s do the full tech write-up and stats.  Brent Evans took my design and tweaked it.  I identified the other new ‘Mechs – like the Goliath C.  Brent worked out the stats on those and some other new ones that are forthcoming, and hired a great artist to work on the tech drawings.  Will they be coming out soon?  Time will tell.

About the story itself; this was always a story about Dragoons facing-off against other Dragoons.  Why?  Like it or not, they are the best at what they do.  Hence the reference to their “Tip of the Spear” clause.  The Dragoons want to be at the front, leading the battle.  They are not garrison forces by nature.  Who else would be a worthy foe, if not themselves?  I didn’t want this to be pitched fight for control of the Dragoons – and it isn’t.

Yes, a Dragoon civil war has been done before, but that was for control of the Dragoons. This is not that story.  This is not a civil war.  It is nowhere near that. It is a mutiny. I actually watched Mutiny on the Bounty the weekend of the rewrite to set my frame of mind. Crews and Kerensky are not vying to control the Dragoons.

Having watched Kelly’s Heroes and The Dirty Dozen, I knew I wanted to write about bad boys and girls. This story definitely has ties to The Dirty Dozen in that these are prisoners, elite soldiers that have run afoul of the law.  We have never seen this side of the Dragoons outside of sourcebook material for the Black Widow Company…35 years ago.  God, I feel old.

Divided We Fall is also a story with no bad guys, which is tricky as hell to write. In other words, it is complex and very human.  Everyone is doing what they think is right for the right reasons.  These are the best kinds of stories I think because it is closer to what we see in the real world.  Black and white characters and scenes are good sometimes – but we live in a world of shades of gray.  If you mentally side with Brubaker, that’s fine, he’s right.  If you fall in with Crews, well, that’s fine too, because he is right as well.  Both have valid arguments and reasons for their actions. Both are passionate professionals. Given the choice to influence the history of the Inner Sphere, what would you do?  Where would you throw your loyalty?

BEGIN SIDEBAR:  In this book you see the Dragoons and they are not cookie-cutter elite warriors. I know pundits will say, “The Dragoons would not tolerate that shit in their ranks.”  Well, you are dead wrong.  Boys will be boys.  I have met some special-forces types, best of the best, elite dudes, who are the hardest to control and the first to break with order and introduce chaos into the mix because they thrive on mayhem. END SIDEBAR

So, needless to say, the journey of doing this book was long, painful, frustrating, and in the end, highly rewarding and almost fun. I love the final product.  I am proud of this novella. Not because of the last minute fact-checker shenanigans, but because I made it into a freaking good core story and wonderful characters that will live on far beyond this book. A new era is coming…sound the alarm.

A few questions have arisen, so I will address the ones I keep getting asked despite my Threat Level Four Bob Warnings.

  1. So what is a White Raven? Up until the last minute, Marotta was piloting a totally rebuilt Black Python in his Bloodright Trial.  Ray apparently suggested a White Raven and I told my editor John, ultimately it didn’t matter to me as the writer since Marotta had stripped and rebuilt the BattleMech. To me, as the author, it didn’t matter because the ‘Mech was not the story, Marotta was. I stand by that and since I’m right, your whining means nothing to me. So at the last minute, the White Raven appeared. Not one of mine, so I had no idea what it is supposed to be carrying. One word: shenanigans. Two words:  Editorial shitfuckery.
  2. When do we get the rest of the story? Has it been written?  Okay, let me break this down for you.  I have written two additional prequel novellas and the ilClan novel.  They are done.  This story is continued (mostly) in the big honking novel, though honestly, it will go much farther.  Divided We Fall sets things in motion for the Dragoons. There are a number of other authors writing material that needs to come out before the big novel as well. No, I do not have timing or the schedule.  I have seen some artwork and stuff for the upcoming stuff, so I know it is in the mythical pipeline.  In other words you will get it whenever CGL determines you will get it.  Suck it up, buttercup. Welcome to my world.
  3. When do we get all of the new ‘Mech stats and stuff? Ray assures me that is forthcoming.  There are quite a few, some tied in with the other novellas and the big novel. I trust that Ray is in contact with IWM on the mini’s too – but that is for him to address.  Remember, I’m just a tiny cog in the vast CGL machine.  I write stories. Some don’t suck.
  4. Will we see Marotta, Crews, and Sheridan again? Yes.  You have to understand, John Helfers is orchestrating a rather complicated sequencing of the stories/books.  Each one lays a foundation, a building block, leading to the big show in the ilClan novel.  Beyond that I have sketched out a further arcs for those that survive what is coming – which is awesome. I can’t promise you that they will all make it.
  5. Where is Anastasia Kerensky going? Sorry, that is classified by the Wolf Watch – though I did write her orders personally in 2017. No, a Trial of Grievance will not solve the issue.  I am not talking.  For some of you it will be a surprise, for others not.
  6. Is that Paul Moon in Chapter 1? Duh.  Of course it is.  Ancient Elemental…New Earth.  Come on!  That entire chapter dovetails into a chapter of one of the novella’s that is a prequel.  That story will explain the whole Fidelis thing once and for all…well, until the big novel comes out.
  7. Why did you stop? Why not tell the rest of the story?  Simply put, the arc for the Dragoons and these characters is big. This novella is not the entire story, it was never intended to be.  It is the first step on a journey.

I know at the end some of you are befuddled…you are wondering what all of the implications are to this.  What happens if word of this mutiny gets out the rest of the Dragoons?  What happens if they don’t arrive on time to Terra?  What if there is a romantic scene with Marotta and Debacle? What is the reckoning that Crews will ultimately face? Is this the end of Wolf’s Dragoons as a unit, or is this going to go a whole different direction?  When will this pandemic lockdown BS be over?  Well, you will have to wait.  Think of this as the BattleTech equivalent of The Empire Strikes Back or Avengers Infinity War.  You got to the end and are left hanging, wondering, speculating…

Yes, I am that evil.

In my next blog post – other stuff, my favorite characters and why, and me being a douchebag with theories, etc.

Snarky Summary of the Jihad the Dark Ages of BattleTech

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A fan, I’m sure jerking my chain, asked me what eras followed the Civil War and Clan Invasion.  Now, a sane person would have steered him to Sarna.net.  I refused to accept the title of “sane.”  So I started a snarky response, a little BattleTech humor, for that fan.  Well I tweaked and modified it.  So, when someone asks me about the Jihad or Dark Ages going forward, this is what I steer them to.  I thought all of you still self-imprisoned at home might enjoy a little quirky humor.

Jihad Summary

Space AT&T (The Word of Blake) gets “a bit uppity” and decides that the best way to unify mankind is by destroying most of mankind.  The Wobbies magically super-jump warships to every capital world, lay waste to them and invade everything at once with an army of cyborgs and crazy-cool looking BattleMechs that somehow they have built roughly a bazillion of.  According to the Word of Blake, it was all just a “slight misunderstanding.”  They were not sending in invasion forces, these were “gifts.” Imagine their rage when they didn’t get thank you cards.  How rude!

They were led by a deformed and disfigured individual dubbed, “The Master,” because that title was bound to calm everyone down.  Anyone that has ever watched Dr. Who knew some serious shit was coming with that name.  Added to that, The Master was actually Thomas Marik – as if his adoption into a techno-cult and horrible face mutilation wasn’t enough, he came from House Marik…only slightly more stable than Charles Manson’s family.

Skull-fuckery was the mainstay of the day.  You get that with people that think you have to chant a song to get your Keurig to work.  Almost all of the major characters, mercenary units, and a few billion passersby are killed in a fate worse that death, killed ala sourcebook footnote.  Assassinations, betrayals, bombings, and outright debauchery happen everywhere at once with no apparent strategy, endgame, or even a bit of common sense.  Everyone agreed that the Word of Blake was rather rude, uncouth, and overreacted often with weapons of mass destruction.

The Wobbies used nukes, chemical, and biological weapons combined with badly written rap music to attempt to persuade their victims that worshiping technology was hip.  In a perfect response to this crisis, the House governments were caught with their hands in their pants and tried to fight the Word of Blake on their own because we all know that isn’t going to work.

Out of this utter drug-addled chaos, a nobody named Devlin Stone emerges and rallies the governments to kick the Word of Blake’s ass.  The Blakeists waged a scorched planet policy until everyone glows a pretty shimmering shade of orange.  You know the old saying, what do you call a million dead followers of the World of Blake?  A good start.

Somehow Stone unites the leaders, apparently because he’s not one of them.  He tells the Ghost Bears that the Word of Blake is actually descendants of Clan Wolverine, which unleashes them on a murder spree.  Nothing says loving like good bear mauling.

Eventually Terra was recovered, or what was left of it – then The Master got nuked, reliving a chapter out of Hitler’s last few days.  No one shed a tear.

Dark Ages Summary

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So Devlin Stone forms the Republic of the Sphere, a kind of Terran Hegemony on acid.  A dash of Camelot, a dollop of the Roman Empire, and a healthy dose of raw egotism were the foundation of the Republic. Stone wears a ball cap that says, “Make the Inner Sphere Great Again!” – true story!

He runs his new realm on a promise to beat swords into plowshares – and if you don’t do that, he will go to war with you.  Ask the Cappies about it.  Go on, I dare you.

Stone promises a golden age of peace and everyone is sick and tired of fighting, so they use ‘Mechs to cut down trees, dig holes, and other goofy shit.  I swear, you will see a mining ‘Mech on Gold Rush, season 522.  His great new universe works, for a few hours/days/years.  Even the Clans chill, having gone Reaving-ass on themselves in the homeworlds, wiping out many clans and forming new ones like Clan Stoned Pony.  It’s like My Little Pony got ‘Mech upgrades.  So the homeworlds are left to be a total frame-up restoration and even their Facebook pages were taken down.

Stone’s knights and paladins run around squashing everyone that gets a burr up their ass to start a new war.  Strangely it works, Wizkids even considers renaming BattleTech to PeaceTech.  Everything is mellow and cool, so much so that Stone packs up and disappears, supposedly sitting on a beach somewhere, getting laid and hammered.

What could go wrong?

Well, 80% of the HPG network goes offline and apparently you can’t shut off the HPG network and turn it back on again to fix the problem.  In a normal society, this would lead to caution, but for the Inner Sphere, it was time to open a whole case of whoop-ass which had been on the shelf for years.  Everybody starts beating their plowshares into swords.  For a while, Industrial ‘Mechs are armed until the factories start spitting out newer and more potent BattleMechs.  They even have Superheavies, which is not a description of someone coming out of Space Golden Corral but a three-legged monstrosity clocking in at over 100 tons.  Who would have thought that cultures that have lived at war for centuries might fall back on that the moment they can’t access Space PornHub?  Oh wait, all of us.

The Republic of the Sphere is seen as an easy target and the House lords hit them like hungry sharks on chum.  The Republic gets gobbled up until puts up, “Do Not Disturb!” signs at all jump points and it turns on its magic space shield (Fortress Republic) that somehow scrambled JumpShips trying to penetrate it.  This super-powered space chastity belt allows a few Republic worlds to survive and prepare for the inevitable onslaught.

Outside of the wall we have Knights, Paladins, Fidelis (Smoke Jaguars disguised as ninjas) and Anastasia Fucking Kerensky.  It’s always a party with a Kerensky in the house!

The magic space shield collapses around to Terra while everyone on Earth runs out and hoards toilet paper and meat products because the Clans are a’comin’!  The Wolves have played hippity-hoppity-get-off-my-property and moved to the Lyran/FWL border.

In this corner, his hair weighing in at 12 kilos alone, Alaric Ward, genespawn of everyone’s favorite star of Real Wives of ComStar, Katherine Steiner-Davion-Wolf and Victor Steiner-Davion.  Alaric is preparing to wreck Terra’s ass because he has the genes of a person that rates a 9.2 on the Amaris Scale of Douchebaggery.  PS.  Before your whine incest…Katherine stole Victor’s DNA.  Ew…why would you go there?

And in this corner, weighing in at 56 kilos, chock-full of maniacal mayhem, the one and only Malvina Hazen of Clan Jade Falcon, the Butcher of Wotan.  Malvina makes the Master look like a choir boy sans the pedophile priests of ComStar.  Seriously, she crashed a Jade Falcon WarShip on one of her own cities – just to make a point.  She is intent on taking Terra too – so that she can crash more WarShips onto more cities as part of the Jade Falcon’s Inner Sphere Urban Renewal Program.

Meanwhile, Stone apparently didn’t retire to a Canopian Pleasure Pit but instead put himself on ice and is now thawed and ready to be tagged in on the match.  House Kurita has landed on New Avalon which has had a significant impact on property values and resale value.  The Capellans are making their own run on Terra (and the Federated Suns) with some solid leaders for the first time in ages.  As it turns out, if you don’t have batshit crazy in your genes, you can actually run the Confederation rather well.  The Free World’s League is doing what it does best, shooting itself in its feet over and over again.

The Federated Suns lost one First Prince, Caleb Davion, the Harvey Weinstein of the Inner Sphere.  No one cried over that death, trust me.  Julian Davion runs it now, wrapped in plot-armor, and dealing with the reality that his nation is about to be pinched off like a turd.  The Lyrans are on their 17th Archon in eight months.  Wedged in between Clans Wolf and Jade Falcon, things are looking pretty dire.  Trillian Steiner seems to have what it takes – but she inherited the equivalent of a mobile home owned by a hoarder with a condemned notice tacked on the front door and 100 hungry cats wandering around.  Let’s just say, it’s not great.

So the stage is set, the music is queued, the DJ is on space-meth, and the Inner Sphere is ready to rock.

 

Review of BattleTech – Shell Games by Jason Schmetzer

Shell Games

This is the story of The Republic of the Sphere launching a military offensive against the Draconis Combine – striking first at Dieron.  As with most novallas, there is a lot packed into a relatively small package.  Jason Schmetzer does an admirable job of giving us the fight for Dieron far above and beyond what was published in the Shattered Fortress sourcebook.

For a decade or more, the Republic has hidden behind Fortress Republic.  Suddenly they reappear mounting a dagger-thrust into the Draconis Combine.  That alone is enough to make you want to pick this novella up.

Sourcebooks tend to be like the bullet points in a PowerPoint presentation.  Stories like Shell Games put some meat on these and tell the kind of in-depth coverage of battle that fans have come to love.  In this, Schmetzer does a great job of taking two paragraphs of sourcebook and turning them into a story of characters, strategy, and honorable struggle.

Most folks have written off The Republic of the Sphere.  Let’s face it, they have suffered defeat-after-defeat throughout the Dark Ages.  Now they strike at the Combine led by Paladin Max Ergen.  Ergen goes after the Combine with the precision of a surgeon, carving up his enemies with a calm that is a mix of confidence and a dollop of arrogance.  Using the secrets that Devlin Stone possesses to outmaneuver the Combine defenders; this is a story of someone manipulating his enemies and them attempting to not play his game.  We learn a lot about Ergen without him saying very much in the story – testimony to Schmetzer’s writing skills.

One thing I liked about this story is that it emphasized that the Republic is not a push-over – they can and will strike and strike hard.  More importantly the paragraphs on Stone inheriting the secrets of the Word of Blake were fantastic.  You get a creepy vibe from these two paragraphs about Devlin Stone, without him saying a word. The phrase that came to my mind was: That when you inherit the secrets of your enemy, you become the enemy.

Novellas are tricky.  You have limited runway to develop characters. Schmetzer works well in this format.  We learn a great deal about the characters through their actions and dialogue.  I loved his one word from a Combine officer when they realize they are being invaded. That one word told me a lot about the character without forcing me to read a lot of sentences.  That one word was powerful and perfect writing – a trademark of Schmetzer’s style.

This is a fight where you find sympathies with the junior officers and front line troopers more than the leaders.  This is their story after all.  True, we get an epic fight between Max Ergen and Tai-shu Kambei Okamoto, Warlord of Dieron, but that is not what this story is about.

I enjoyed the story because the focus was less on the BattleMech battles than it was the execution of a strategy.  I like characters that outthink their foes.  On this front, Schmetzer delivers.  Overall, I give this a five out of five stars for me – enjoyable with some memorable characters.

I couldn’t find this on Amazon – but you can get it from the Catalyst Game Labs store.

New BattleTech Tease – Wolf’s Dragoon Short Novel – Divided We Fall

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So, have we all figured out who this book is about?

Supreme Editor Demi-Precentor John Helfers, said I should show you more of the ‘Mech in this tease…and tell you the title and the release date.  This is one of those rare moments were I am more than willing to comply. Which caught him off-guard.

As a sidebar; My wife and I have sold our house and started construction on a new home near Fredericksburg VA, and are moving into an apartment in the next two weeks – so my time on social media will be hindered.  For those of you taking note, I will be living closer to Tex from the Black Pants Legion and that alone should make you all worried or delighted – your choice.

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You gotta love that new BattleMech smell…

Behold, more of the mystery BattleMech!  It’s a new model – this book will introduce a few new ‘Mechs.  This one we will be releasing the stats on in the book – grin (at least they were there before editing.) This one is called the Dominator. I violated my long-standing self-imposed rule and created this new BattleMech. Originally I wanted to go with Dominatrix but that opened up a whole bunch of kinky issues and frankly, I did not want to stat out the ‘Mech-sized cat of nine tails and other kinky items that the fans would ultimately demand.  There IS some sexiness to this new model, which you will see when they show the full cover.

I miss the old days when we put art in the back of the novels.  In this case, I figured, let’s do the full tech write-up and stats.  Brent Evans took my design and tweaked it.  I identified the other new ‘Mechs – like the Goliath C.  Brent worked out the stats on those and some other new ones that are forthcoming, and hired a great artist to work on the tech drawings.  Will they be coming out soon?  That question is best leveled at Ray Arrastia.  I do know the art is done.

Yes, that is a rear firing laser behind the head.

The story is called, “Divided We Fall,” which was not the first or second title for this project, but is, well, perfect.

One thing I love about this story is that it is new fiction.  In other words, the events you will be reading about have not taken place in some sourcebook.  This is the fiction back behind the steering wheel of the BattleTech universe.  Yes, you can argue that the sourcebooks are fiction – but I am talking meaty, extra-beefy novel fiction.  The stuff (including key characters) in Divided We Fall feeds into my ilClan books that are forthcoming.

Yes, it is all about Wolf’s Dragoons. Yes, I am going to take them in some new and interesting directions.  If you don’t like the Dragoons, don’t buy this book.  Life really is that simple.

So when will it be out?  John has authorized me to tell you that it will pop on or near May 18, 2020.  I am not responsible if it comes out late.  Which brings us to…

It’s available for pre-order!  Preorder Divided We Fall

Don’t be Bob.  Don’t ask when it will be in paperback or some other format because you want it that way for your collection.  I have no idea – I just write this shit.  Don’t ask if it is going to be an audio book.  I don’t know or care. Don’t nag me about when the new ‘Mechs will be out with stats – I don’t know, ask Ray. Don’t ask when the next book will be out – I don’t manage the schedule.  Don’t ask me to read your Clan Wolverine screenplay, I won’t. Don’t ask me if I have included you as a canon character or if you ended up on the cutting room floor. The fact you think I keep hundreds of characters and their individual fates in my head is both complimentary and drunkenly delusional.  I know nothing about the schedule when products will come out – so don’t bother me with that.  Don’t ask me about the Kickstarter – I’m not in the loop.  Don’t ask me for a free copy of anything, I’m not a “giver.”  In other words, don’t be Bob!

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All Bob’s get kneecapped.  I’m sorry, it’s ComStar’s rules…

One of my BattleTech Treasures

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The Rules – Only Cooler

My wife and I are building a new house and we have sold ours (after five hours on the market – screw you Covid-19!).  As such I am packing.  I have a set of shelves filled with the stuff I wrote as well as mementos.

One I have is one I contributed to – this little gem.

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I haven’t seen these up on Ebay before.  

What I REALLY like about this is that it was personally made with my name on the cover and it was a limited print run.  For me, it’s a BattleTech treasure.

I have been pushing John Helfers, my editor at Catalyst, that we ought to do a special print run of the ilClan novel when it finally comes out along the same lines as this book.  I said, “Some fans would pay big bucks for a hard cover elite printing.”  I’m sure it won’t happen…but if you like the idea, please nag the powers that be.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share this with you all just for grins.  Enjoy

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.