Battletech: Farscape, June’s CotM

Today we’re joined by GM Robling to talk to him about his game Battletech: Farscape, be sure to tune into yet another truly awesome interview!


First off, feel free to tell us about the person behind the GM screen. Where are you from? What do you do both aside from gaming? Wife and kids? Where can we stalk you on the internet, that sort of thing!

I’m Southern Alberta (Canada) born and raised, and spent my formative years wandering the foothills of the Rockies making stories about why things were the way I saw them, from as far back as I can remember. It was kismet when I encountered role-playing. Worlds to create and make come alive. Professionally I’m a manager, which means that the OCD part of my brain is fed regularly, trying to herd my glaring of staff.

When not gaming or planning my next session, I love reading (pretty much any genre), listening to music (pretty much any genre), watching TV, and letting my computer abuse Steam. I admit to being a bit of a shut-in, and though single, still date from time to time. I keep a low on-line profile, but haunt Facebook. I’m a closet writer, with several short stories (unpublished), and three or four rough novels written into a couple scatterings of chapters here and there. One day, I would like to write the “Great Canadian Novel”, instead of just reading them. In a lot of ways, my campaigns are my outlet for writing.

So…tell us about Battletech: Farscape.

The original concept was to try and mirror the “Farscape” TV-series, in having a group of former Mechwarriors conduct a prison-break while their DropShip is being attacked and boarded. The rest of the campaign has followed where they have decided to go from there. Ultimately, that’s kinda how most of my campaigns run; very much an open world concept where I offer options and let the group choose which direction they want to go. Like one of those old “Fighting Fantasy” books. There are secrets hidden from even the first episode that haven’t been resolved, but their echoes run through the campaign today. Over the past few years, it’s been interesting watching them build the Iron Dingoes, slowly evolve their own culture and traditions, and build something from nothing. Watching them develop their own secrets and plans, and seeing them develop. That’s ultimately what I enjoy about the campaign the most.

What do you enjoy most about battletech?

Battletech’s greatest feature, beyond its wealth of history and sheer density of source material, is its open nature. There are so many things going on, so many optional eras and cultures to play in, that no two campaigns ever seem to resemble each other. Also, even though the game has been around for decades, it’s core rules haven’t really changed, such that it plays almost exactly like it did when I started nearly thirty years ago. Few table-top games can say that today.

How regularly do you play, and where do you play? (If you play online, do you use any certain tools to accomplish your gaming such as Google hangouts, roll20, etc.)

We meet every 2nd and 4th Thursday of the month at the local gaming store Mecca, “The Sentry Box” that hosts open gaming every Thursday night. They allow us to meet in a lockable back room, that has tables, chairs and a washroom, making for a perfect venue for the size of battlefield needed in Battletech, and also allows us to run late in a fight, if need be. They’ve been very patient with us.

Who puts all of your wiki together?

Originally, one of the players was the “Loremaster”, but eventually, I just started writing the story, which has helped build the wiki, inter-connecting the locations, people and machines together. It’s also helped in telling what the players view, and not necessarily what the whole truth is in every situation. The wiki has also been helpful in allowing players to review information during the week, especially the adventure logs with their wiki-links, to make their own plans.

Where do you draw inspiration from when preparing your game? How much time do you usually take to prepare for a session?

My sourcebooks include everything and anything. Traveller, Robotech, and older modules from early FASA Battletech have been instrumental. But I don’t limit myself, and will use everything from Twilight 2000, Darwin’s World, Heavy Gear (Dream Pod 9!), Star Wars, Star Trek, Aftermath, Space Opera and Gamma World. Every source material is potentially lootable for information and ideas, and some of the older sourcebooks and modules are the best sources of material, if only because they aren’t very well known to most.

Gathering all this information together into a single session that builds on character traits and plays against player motivations can take hours of thinking and pondering. Ultimately, I take about four to five hours in actual planning for the next session, spread over the previous couple weeks. The longest time is spent updating character and item information, and writing the actual campaign logs, and that takes most of the Sunday morning the weekend following a session. Sometimes you’ll plan something and it won’t work out, so you file it away and then four months down the line you can use it again, so that sort of activity can really help a plan for a night’s session fall into place quickly.

Aside from Battletech I’m sure you have played other systems too, what are some others you enjoy?

D&D was my first love, but I have fond memories of Boot Hill, SFB, Traveller, Star Wars and Villains & Vigilantes. I’m presently also playing in a Shadowrun campaign. I like to sample most anything (and pretty much have played everything at some point), and really want to have that feeling we all had in the early years of gaming, when everything was fresh and new.

How do you know your players, how long have you been gaming with them?

My gaming group includes peeps I’ve known since high school, some from college and others I’ve met only since the beginning of the campaign a few years ago. We also have a handful of relatively new players, who had never played the game, but heard about it from the regulars and are playing for the first time. Since we pay at a gaming store, we get people watching and asking questions who have never encountered the game before, and that’s its own kind of fun.

How long have you been using Obsidian Portal? What brought you to the site and what keeps bringing you back?

I initially started using the portal as a mine for new ideas; characters, items and campaign concepts. I tripped over it trying to do research for a new campaign, and I started using it full time when I started the “Farscape” campaign, since it seemed like a good means of keeping campaign information available to players without my having to repeat myself over and over. That way, those who want the information, can look it up and the others can just review information at their leisure. We use e-mail more than the in-game forum, but that’s more because we tend to pass vehicle load-outs and technical sheets about. I absolutely feel its an indispensible tool for my campaign, and everyone should seriously consider using it to organize information for their players.

Now that the Reforging has been live for a little while now, what are your favorite parts?

The Reforging was fantastic. Graphically, it’s very wonderful. It also managed to deal with a couple of the issues I had with the original site, and makes it easier to access campaign logs, as well as organize all the characters and items in your campaign. I think the thumbnail aspect for these was the most successful and striking change.

What would you say the single biggest highlight from Battletech: Farscape has been so far?

It’s Longevity. How long it’s gone. They say most Battletech campaigns last one to two years. We’re running into our fourth year, and I suspect we’re going to run for a couple more, and that’s saying something. I hope it’s entertaining, and fun and keeps people guessing and planning and thinking. And having fun.

Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GM’ing pearls of wisdom.

I think as a GM, we tend to get into an adversarial viewpoint with the group. That’s the wrong relationship. Sure, they kill our lovely monsters, loot our dungeons and change the face of our maps, that we’ve lovingly spent hours and hours designing, building and stocking. And they spend it on a new PPC or a +2 Battle Harness. But that’s the point for the players. They want to win. They want to feel good about what they do, And they want the “crunchy bits”, as Robin Laws wrote once. They want the next level so they can get that trait they’ve been eyeing for the last couple months. They want the XP so they can get new skills and stats. They want to improve their alternate personas and succeed. Players will likely succeed. Expect to lose. Accept it. Move on.

Be the storyteller, and make the players the focus of the campaign. If a player says they want a Catapult, find a way for them to get it. If they want a +5 Holy Avenger, find a way for them to get it. That’s what they’ll remember, and that’s what will keep them coming back. Just tell the story you want to tell, but make the players the heroes and the villains. Build an interesting campaign concept, and they will come. Build a tale of dreams that evokes their earliest memories of wandering the Foothills of the Alberta Rockies, and they will stay.

That’s it for this month, be sure to keep the suggestions coming our way, and game on!

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