When H G Wells read about the Black War, he found himself thinking “Jesus fuck! What if I wrote a book where aliens came and invaded the British Empire right in its stupid fucking face, and were just genocidal assholes just like the British Empire in Tasmania? What then?”
So he did. And he made the
British Martian invaders as disgusting and evil and alien and just wrong as he could. And late one night, hopped up on cheap Turkish tobacco, he had an epiphany: “nothing in nature has three legs, does it? These fuckers gonna be three-legged. Then you’ll know how bad they are.”
The next morning he realised why nothing in nature has three legs: because as soon as it tried to move, it would fall over. So he wrote that instead of walking his three-legged monsters rolled like “a milking stool tilted and bowled violently along the ground.”
The reading, drawing and movie-making public totally agreed with him about the awesomeness of alien invasions and the awesome alienosity of three legged fighting machines. “Fuck yeah, tripods!” they said, all around the world. Even, curiously, in Woking, which he wrote about being flattened and destroyed first and most thoroughly.
But there was less enthusiasm for the “bowling along” rationalization and even less for remembering the whole Tasmanian genocide thing. Which just goes to show that gonzo-imaginative beats sensible, meaningful, and important every time, when it comes to grabbing the public’s excitement glands.
I reckon the next really important moment in Tripod development was Mike Trim’s iconic 1978 painting:
which you probably know from Jeff Wayne’s Progopera. By the time Trim did this, there had already been 80+ years of tripod drawing:
but these hapless tin-men weren’t exactly going to (ahem) set the world on fire. Aside from a tendency toward big heads and spindly legs there wasn’t much consensus about what a Martian tripod should look like – people knew they wanted tripods but they didn’t agree on exactly what that meant.
(amazing gallery of book covers – from which extracts below;)
until two versions pretty much killed all the others. Trim’s, which was really a polished up take on this 1950s effort:
that probably derives ultimately from a comic book (the original of which I haven’t tracked down):
So what’s so great about Trim’s painting?
1: it’s a spider. A daddy long legs like you find in the shower.
2: it has two glowing eyes. Other pictures make it clear that those are supposed to be compound bug-type eyes but here they make a recognisable, almost-human face.
And 3: that face is pure scorn. Trim’s tripod threatens without having to move because it melts the Thunderchild’s valiant heart with pure contempt. That’s not just the haughty angle of the head, it’s also the not bothering to dodge pose of the legs and most of all the I shot you right where I wanted to angle of the heat ray. Compare this Spanish hatchet job, where they messed with the painting to fit a narrow format:
Here the face is looking down its murderous nose at nobody. The ship isn’t going to hit it anyway so there’s no question of dodging. In fact maybe it just did dodge, like a bullfighter, and is dropping the rejón de muerte as the Torpedo Ram blunders past. It’s contemptuous, but not idly so.
And so just how iconic is Trim’s painting? How much does it dominate the imaginative landscape? Ahem:
OK. But the real reason I went off down this rabbit-hole is that I saw a godawful bit of lazy 3D and I had to share it in the right context.
See, the confrontation of the Thunderchild and the tripod is one of the big scenes in the book. It’s the definitive moment when the reader understands that the British Empire – and therefore humanity – is completely screwed. The Thunderchild is not the Empire’s biggest ship, but it is its most spitefully violent. It is an outstandingly stupid idea realized as expensively as possible – a ship made to destroy things utterly, no matter how Pyrrhic the victory. It’s a fucking giant steam engine made to ram things with torpedos. And it gets one good strike on a spindly leg before the Martians wise up and melt it. So you’d want that scene to be pretty dramatic, right? Something like this:
only there the drama rather gets in the way of the clarity of what exactly is going on.
Trim’s painting gives you drama, futility, scorn, tragedy and clarity in one neatly pointed triangular composition.
And then we come to this flabby bit of 3D rendering, which gives you absolutely none of that, plus a boring alien cannon doohickey:
Yes, it’s sticking a tentacle up in the air creating tension with the edge of the frame. The horizon line is off communicating a loss of control. And like Trim’s picture we see the point of the Thunderchild’s sacrifice – the steamer full of civilians escaping to France.
But Ugh. Zero character, zero tension. It could be a picture about air pollution. In spite of the fact that the Thunderchild is clearly just about to run that sucker down on pure momentum. It’s… just…
Here, have some alterna-tripods as a palette cleanser:
Still here? This Goliath thing looks like it could be fun. And look, tripod minis! The old Tin Man rides again! Roger Dean’s version as a model. And finally Fimm McCool’s Orkshop has an actually fairly original design!
I could use that.
How many months since part 1?
Well, mecha combat seems imminent and unavoidable, so here are some rules for handling it. They are completely untested and will probably fold like a carnival float after Holi, but here goes:
Mechs have a pilot, and optionally one or more gunners and an engineer.
Piloting (and therefore moving) goes first, but after that all attacks and damage are simultaneous.
1. Pilots roll against each other to see who gets advantage each round. This is determined by:
MECH AGILITY + SKILL + d10 + GAMBLING BID + AWESOME PLAN.
The one with the higher result gets to do the thing they wanted to do and gets the difference between rolls as a bonus on the gunner’s roll (or rolls if there are multiple gunners). Example things pilots can do: ram (an attack, see below), dodge, run away, brawl, take cover, evade (apply your bonus as a penalty to the enemy’s shooting), change range.
2. Gunners shoot and reload their weapons. They can also GAMBLE but doing so exposes them to enemy fire without the benefit of armour or risks their weapon malfunctioning somehow. Damage depends in large part on how well you hit.
3. Engineers repair, jury-rig and salvage stuff on the fly. They may also GAMBLE to give the pilot a bonus on the next turn and make DESPERATE SAVES to mitigate mishaps this turn – though these must be extravagantly surprising – see under MISHAPS, below. Engineers sometimes go EVA to get stuff off the battlefield, set traps etc. They can also try to spy on or jam enemy communications, or use any other gadgets during combat that you can think of.
4. If you can think of it, you can try it. Just because I haven’t mentioned spellcasters, psychics, boarding parties, grapnels, human cannonballs, fifth columnists, weresquid or airbags doesn’t mean you can’t introduce them. If you surprise me you automatically surprise the enemy too.
GAMBLING AND MISHAPS:
Gambling is declaring a numerical bonus you want to apply to your roll. Anyone – pilots, gunners, engineers – can gamble. Everyone’s gamble gets added together to get the MISHAP target. If you roll under the target on the d10 then a MISHAP happens (roll on the MISHAP table).
You can simultaneously succeed in your roll and MISHAP at the same time – the order in which the two happen depends on how badly you rolled relative to your mishap chance. Other factors can also increase your mishap chance/gravity – damage, environmental factors… some of these will be obvious (skating on glass, pilot’s seat destroyed so he has to cling to the controls) some will be secret (eg. faults in your machine that you didn’t know about). And mishaps tend to damage your rig, breeding more mishaps.
Getting hit costs you +1 mishap the next turn per hit. Ramming costs you +3 next turn. Getting rammed costs you the margin of the rammer’s success in mishap penalty this turn.
When engineers gamble successfully, they reduce the overall mishap penalty by their margin of success. BUT if a mishap happens on an engineering roll then it happens personally to the engineer, and/or the place where the engineer is at the time (usually the engine room).
All hitting is simultaneous – its consequences come at the end of the current round.
To hit roll 9+. This is modified by the pilot’s margin of success + gunnery skill – range +/- any bonus given by the dancers and gambling.
There are 3:
i. close enough for fisticuffs n flamethrowers. This is too close for most ranged weapons (-1 to hit) but not for the sidearms of crew members.
ii. shooting range.
iii. long range. most weapons are at -3, a few are unmodified.
To change range you have to win a piloting contest, unless you both want to change range in which case it might be automatic or you might charge past each other. Mechs are like bulls. Which means I should have a surprise system but I don’t yet.
Damage = the amount you succeeded by on your roll + weapon damage bonus. When you inflict damage, roll for location (see PARTS, below). Damage is taken straight off armour. When armour is gone, then further damage to a part disables it and/or hurts the crew there.
Mechs also have a WEIGHT CLASS which = their damage bonus for melee attacks/ramming.
Ramming does double damage – triple if you actually have a ram fitted.
When ramming, if your margin of success + difference in weight class is 10+ you can knock the opponent over: -3 to all rolls, no movement until they get back up.
One point of vehicle damage/one vehicle HP = 1d10 HP for a person.
Mechs are made out of parts. Each part has armour points (HP). Armour shelters the part’s mechanisms and crew members: as long as there is armour on a part, the crew on that part are safe. Once the armour is gone, any hit will disable the part AND damage the crew there. Also any critical hit (margin of success = 10+) disables the part even if it still has armour and damages the crew unless they save vs CHA.
Each mech has a COCKPIT (where the pilot is),
a DRIVE (often where the engineer is, also the bit that makes it go), and other subsystems, such as
WEAPONS (manned by gunners, whether they’re guns, melee weapons or other) and a wide variety of
When you get hit, roll d10 for location.
Then each extra Part occupies another number on the die.
Any numbers left over are DRIVE.
If you want to call a shot to a specific part you add 3 to the target to hit, but if you hit it you add 3 damage (ie cancels out the damage penalty, since damage is success-based).
MECH AGILITY is baked into the mech design rules (TBD). Some designs come with more agility than others before you add weapons. In general bigger mechs have less agility but can carry more stuff. It’s just a flat +/- to piloting but also indicates relative top speed: a higher agility mech can reliably run away from a lower agility one after long range is reached.
Singers and dancers mostly set a BONUS RESOURCE before combat begins. OPTIONALLY (and probably not for the first combats which are already looking plenty complex enough) they could manipulate bonuses/penalties during combat by swinging the crowd on the narrative arc of the fight.
An example to make things even more confusing:
Shivaji and Mahmoud are mech fighting at shooting range. They are both pro pilots (skill = 5). Shivaji’s mech has 1 cannon and agility 2. But it also has a damaged foot (permanent +1 mishap). He gambles another +3 – so he has to roll 5+ (over 4) on his d10 to avoid a mishap altogether. Mahmoud intends to ram. That means closing to fisticuffs range AND a tricky maneuver – automatic +1 mishap. He gambles +6, so he has to roll 8 or above to avoid mishap.
Shivaji rolls 2 (dice) +5 (skill) +2 (agility) +3 (gambling) = 12.
Mahmoud rolls 6 (dice) +5 (skill) +0 (agility) +6 (gambling) = 17
so Mahmoud gets his wish – he rams Shivaji. If Mahmoud had any gunners then this turn they would shoot at +5 (his margin of success). But he doesn’t. The weight class of his mech is 3, so he does (5 (margin of victory) + 3) x2 (doubled for ramming) = 16 damage. He gets a 2 on hit location: weapon. That weapon had 12 armour: it is lost and the gunner will be killed at the end of the round (4 damage blew through = 4d10 damage to the gunner).
Shivaji lost the piloting contest so his doomed gunner gets no bonus, and range is fisticuffs so that’s a -1 penalty. The gunner has skill +3, -1 for range (movement goes first but ramming is an attack ie it does not affect this attack b/c everything is simultaneous). He gambles +3 and rolls an 8, for a modified 10 – he would’ve hit with a 9, so with a 10 his margin is 2. The gun is a small cannon: +3 damage, so that’s 5 damage in the… rolls a 0=drive. The drive’s 30 armour is cut down to 25.
Both failed their mishap rolls and Shivaji’s gunner added an extra +3 to the failure. So, Shivaji failed by 5 but Mahmoud’s ram margin is added, so that’s failed by 10. Mahmoud failed his by 2. Both have engineers who can try to mitigate the mishaps with a straight grease monkey roll, target 9+, modified by gambling. If they succeed then the mishap number is reduced by the margin of success. Shivaji’s engineer gambles +5 and rolls a 5 +4 for skill = 14, so he avoids taking the mishap on himself and reduces it by 4 for a final result of 6 mishap, which means the other gunner is thrown off the rig! Mahmoud’s engineer rolls a 3, failing to mitigate his mishaps – Mahmoud’s agility is reduced by -1 until repaired.
Next round Shivaji starts with no gunner and +2 mishap (his usual +1, +1 from being hit). Mahmoud starts with +4 mishap (+3 from ramming, +1 from being shot). They might be well-advised to just spend a round recovering unless their engineers make some kind of desperate saves to right their rigs.
The Mishap Table
Every point by which you fail a mishap roll takes 1 from your speed. There are also more serious effects, as follows. “Repair” is a saving throw made by a grease monkey, which takes up the monkey’s action the next turn.
- Drivetrain damage – limit +2 to any mod thereafter until repaired
- Damage: agility reduced by 1 until repaired
- Memorable damage, which is described: -1d6HP to vehicle. Player must invent some excuse for a save to halve the damage
- leaking! +1 mishap thereafter, and some vital resource (blood, food, fuel, transmission fluid) will be gone in 3 turns unless repaired. Fresh mishaps reopen the leak.
- Something is lost (prob. a weapon, optionally something else). Also, secret +1 mishap.
- Crash/man overboard.
- One character suffers Arduin crit. Secret +2 mishap and save every turn against vehicle coming apart (engineering rolls).
- Weapons fire randomly, 2 in 6 at own vehicle. Arduin crits for all characters and vehicle.
- Magazine explosion, or grease monkey turns rogue, starts murdering other occupants. High probability of PC death.
- Fuel explosion, or drivetrain turns rogue
- Meltdown. Vehicle destroyed.
CATERPILLAR: Agility 0. Size +1 (capacity +4 tons of gear)
Cockpit: 8, drive 24.
SMEROE Cutter #5: Agility 3. Size 0 (capacity +23 tons)
Cockpit 0. 6 non-drive legs: 3 each. Drive: 15
Cutters: +6 damage in fisticuffs
BASHER: Agility -2, Size 3
Cockpit: 5 Hammer: 12 Drive: 20
Hammer: +5 damage in fisticuffs
Chisel flinger: +1 damage ranged. (cannot use both at once)
BORER: Agility -1, Size 2
Cockpit: 10 drill: 30 Drive: 20
Drill: +2 fisticuffs and the same again next round unless you beat it in piloting contest, penalty -2
CRUSHER: Agility 0, Size 6
Cockpit: 5, crusher 15, drive 15
On a successful ram, the pilot rolls a second contest to see if you are trapped in the crushing gear. If you are then your engineer has to save to sever the bit that’s being crushed in order to get free. The crusher does 6 damage every subsequent round but must roll over the Size of the mech it’s crushing each round to avoid being destroyed itself.
CATATHUMP: agility -2, size 5
Cockpit 20, thumper 30, drive 40
Can only move by recoil from its gun, therefore cannot give chase against a more agile mech.
Cannon: +5 ranged, one round reload. 3 marines with gold rifles for close defense
JHOOM BARABAR JHOOM agility +2, size 2
Cockpit 15, mine 10, gun1: 10, gun 2: 10, drive 26
If it rams by +4 over opponent’s roll it sticks its mine to them. Engineer save to disengage it before it goes off in 1d3 rounds.
Guns +1 each.
MARATHI SONIC agility 0, size 1
Cockpit 20, sonic weapon 20, drive 20
Sonic weapon attacks for +3 mishap but no physical damage. Ranged.
Unidentified Mechs lurking by the side of the Arena…