Since writing the analysis of BattleTech: The Animated Series (also over at Psycho Drive-In with illustrations), I've been poking at the current BattleTech RPG, A Time of War. The core mechanic is simple enough - roll 2d6, add skill level and attribute modifiers against a set target number - but character creation takes time. The game also is focused at the character level, whether the PC is a MechWarrior outside his walking tank or a merchant operating a DropShip throught the Successor States. Given the background of the game, though, it struck me that BattleTech could use a King Arthur, Pendragon approach.
Pendragon allows players to not only play a knight in the time of King Arthur, but to also build the knight's family and holdings. The Great Pendragon Campaign is set up to follow the events as chronicled by Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, placing the player knights at the major events. The game becomes generational; as one knight dies, the player creates the deceased's heir to continue. The main drawback of The Great Pendragon Campaign is that players can feel railroaded at times, staying close to the book. A fictionalized version, though, would allow a campaign to flow where it wanted, and this is where BattleTech comes in.
BattleTech has several eras of play, from the end of the Star League through the Succession Wars, to the Clan Invasion and the Jihad. Most of the eras have huge events happening at the upper levels of the major Houses, from the machinations of Stefan the Usurper to the wedding of Prince Hanse Davion to Archon-Designate Melissa Steiner. The details, though, are left up to players to fill out, through either the wargame, as 'Mechs throw down on a distant planet, or the RPG, as PCs connive their way through the echelons. A Pendragon-like campaign can start in any era and continue on its own way, not necessarily bound by canon. If a GM doesn't mind players conspiring to take over a major House like Steiner, the sky's the limit!
The catch, as always, is keeping what makes Pendragon Pendragon and what makes BattleTech BattleTech. Pendragon has Passions, beliefs that drive a player knight, whether it's the love of family or the hate of an enemy. BattleTech setting books and fiction show similar Passions at work. Citizens of the Lyran Alliance and the Draconis Combine along the path of the Clan invasion could easily have Hate (Clans), just as citizens of the Taurian Concordat can have Hate (Federated Suns)*. Skills in Pendragon have their equivalence in a more advanced era. Battle becomes Tactics, Horsemanship maps to Pilot/BattleMech or Pilot/Aerospace, and weapon skills can be expanded to include Firearms and Gunnery.
A typical King Arthur, MechWarrior** campaign would follow minor Houses of a Successor State, though a challenging game may have players as the heads of the major Houses and the larger Periphery nations. Having players all be from one Successor prevents immediate in-fighting, though political maneuvering should be expected. The idea, at least for the typical campaign, is to have players work together to benefit their Successor State while still trying to gain political and military capital of their own, building up manors on worlds to protect themselves from invaders, marauders***, and bandits. The GM can still have key events happen, but the immediate impact on the players' plans should be minimal. Of course, if a FedSun PC has Hate (Steiner) and the wedding between Hanse and Melissa happens, that's a role-playing opportunity waiting to be exploited.
A key part of Pendragon character creation is the effect of previous generations on a player knight. Events that occurred to the knight's father and grandfather have an impact on the knight himself, leading to passions and personality traits. The GM and players will have to work out the details of what happened before, but that will depend greatly on the chosen era and Successor State. A King Arthur, MechWarrior campaign will feel closest to Pendragon if set in the Federated Suns, which is similar enough to England with French and American influences. However, a campaign in the Draconis Combine will allow for samurai and one set in the Marian Hegemony will have a more Roman feel. It's all dependent of GM and players.
The mechanics used may not matter at this point. Converting Pendragon for MechWarrior houses requires adding and updating skills to reflect the setting. Converting A Time of War will need some work to reflect the Passions. Adding the Passions as Compulsions at various levels may work, though, but the more extreme levels may not work well. A character I played in a Pendragon campaign, Sir Tanicus of Newton, had Hate (Saxons) at 19, meaning to invoke it, I had to roll 19 or less on a d20. That level of Hate could be a Compulsion worth -4 Trait Points, which leads to a -7 on rolls around Saxons.**** The third option here is to use a different ruleset, one that can meld the needs of both approaches. As this is still high level planning, I'm not worrying about the rules right now. Players could use one set of mechanics for role-playing and switch to the BattleTech rules to fight battles.
For players who want to explore the nightlife of Solaris VII while fighting in the broadcast games, the above thoughts may not be useful. For those who want to explore the nature of power in the 31st Century or who want to build up a dynasty to challenge the ruling Houses, this may be the way to go.
* Citizens of the Federated Suns along the border with the Concordat might have Indifference (Taurians). "Who are these guys and what's their deal?"
** For lack of a better name here.
*** Which may include MAD-3R Marauders.
**** Sir Tanicus managed to roll a 19 exactly when facing some nasty Saxon berserkers, which increased his Hate (Saxons). The berserkers died on the lance of Sir Tanicus; he out-hated them.