Author Archives: Fishbreath

The Opinionated Bastards: Back Home For Now (Jul. 1, 3050)

Last Month’s Action Items

Hasek10 presented a proposed reorganization, but discussion is still ongoing. Continue the discussion, and we’ll finalize our organization before the next deployment.

A strong consensus emerged on taking the money, packing up, and heading out, so that’s what we’ll do.

Packing Up, Heading Out

The Opinionated Bastards remain on-world for the ceremony around the pirates’ surrender, mechs serving as the honor guard. The tech teams mothball our mechs, the administrators accept the final payment and pay out shares, and before we know it, we’re packed into a creaky old Buccaneer-class DropShip, headed for the jump point and, eventually, Piedmont.

On the way back, we make a very interesting pickup. An man odd in speech and dress, Ed Yuksel approaches Captain Halit at the Telos IV jump point and says his only desire is to die honorably in battle. He shows us a mech, an unusual-looking Locust painted with a red wolf’s head. Despite Halit’s attempts to weasel more information out of him, he says nothing else of consequence.

ed
locust

Eventually, Halit welcomes him aboard as a private and promises him combat aplenty.

House Rules (Early Clans)

That’s right, our first Clanner. There are several special rules around him (and other Clanners with which we may associate until, say, 3055).

First, his mech is packed with Clan tech, which we can neither obtain nor readily repair. I’ll figure out how to represent that mechanically when the time comes. He can’t be reassigned, and if he’s injured, nobody else is allowed to pilot his mech.

Second, he’s here early, before the Clans did much in the way of associating with the Inner Sphere at large. He must therefore be disgraced in some way, cast out by his people. Yuksel’s main goal (as mentioned) is to redeem himself with a fighting death on the battlefield. Whenever he’s deployed, he’ll fight just shy of suicidal.

Finally, since he has no connections to anyone, we won’t be required to pay out the cost of his mech on his death. If his mech is destroyed but he survives, he’ll expect another one. If we refuse, he’ll demand payment and hit the road.

Contract Offers

We return to Piedmont in late June, and unpack the mechs for some training in between contracts. On July 1st, the following offers come in. (Note: I’m still tweaking the game settings to find contract generation options which are neither insultingly bad, like last time, or unbelievably generous, like this time.)

We have six contracts available, all of which have at least something to recommend them.

  • The Free Worlds League offers a five-month objective raid, fighting well-equipped FedCom regulars on Laiaka, eight jumps away. Notably, we negotiate for liaison command rights; any allied mechs will be under our direct control. Battle loss compensation is included at 40% of lost equipment value. 20% salvage rights. The estimated profit before shares is 24.8 million C-bills, including an advance of 12 million C-bills.
  • The Draconis Combine offers a six-month planetary assault, fighting elite but poorly-equipped troops of the Free Rasalhague Republic on Thun, nine jumps away. 50% salvage rights. Battle loss compensation is 10%, and the estimated profit before shares is 27 million C-bills, including an advance of 13 million C-bills.
  • The Federated Commonwealth offers a five-month objective raid, fighting poorly-equipped Capellan regulars on Propus, 11 jumps away. 30% salvage rights. 10% battle loss compensation; profit of 27.2 million C-bills along with a 14 million C-bill advance.
  • The Federated Commonwealth also offers a second objective raid, fighting Free Worlds League regulars with average equipment on New Hope, nine jumps out. 20% salvage rights. No battle loss compensation, profit of 25.4 million C-bills, with a 12-million C-bill advance.
  • The Free Rasalhague Republic wants to hire us for six months of guerilla warfare against poorly-equipped FedCom regulars on Surcin, nine jumps away. We receive no support payments whatsoever, neither for operating costs nor for battle loss compensation. 70% salvage rights. Pay is poorer than the others, too, at 23.8 million C-bills and 12.2 million C-bills in advance money.
  • Finally, the Draconis Combine has offered us a four-month pirate hunting contract on Kilmarnock, nine jumps away, based on our previous successes against pirates. They’re known to be decent mech pilots, but have typically poor equipment. No battle loss compensation, and very poor pay relative to the other contracts on offer, but also low risk and fewer limitations on parts and supply. 30% salvage rights. Estimated total profit of 9.6 million C-bills, and a 7.3 million C-bill advance payment. (All the other contracts have anywhere from worse to much-worse parts access. It’ll start to get less important as our administrators improve, but we aren’t quite there yet.)

As ever, I’m partial to low risk, but we’ll see how the voting turns out.

Kill Board

I’m going to leave this in every post, because it saves me having to dig through old ones to find the up-to-date version.

All-Time Leaders

  1. Captain “Drake” Halit (3, 1 mech)
  2. Lieutenant “Rook” Ishikawa (3)
  3. Lieutenant “Linebuster” Atkinson (3)
  4. Private Frajtov (1, 1 mech)
  5. Private “Ker-Ker” Ec (1)

Status

It is now July 1, 3050.

Finances

We have 3.343 million C-bills in the bank right now. Our current operating costs are 135,810 C-bills per month.

Supplies

The Opinionated Bastards are back to eleven mechs. We have supplies which enable us to embark on a mission with below-average parts availability, but I’d probably still want to bulk up the stocks a bit if we do.

Unit Market

There are several mechs for sale on the unit market at present, but they’re all on the black market, which has a one in six chance of turning out to be a scam. There’s a Thunderbolt, a Commando, a Centurion, and a Shadow Hawk; I’ll post variants and prices if there’s interest in purchasing a new unit.

Action Items

  • Should we take a contract, or wait for something better? We have room in the budget to chill for a few months.
  • Should we buy a mech, or wait?
  • The following mechwarriors remain to be claimed. To claim a mechwarrior, give me a callsign for one of them. I’ll refer to them by their callsign in most places, and bold it so it’s easier to find them.
    • Pvt. Yuksel
    • Pvt. Jamil
    • Pvt. Ngo
    • Pvt. Frajtov
  • For the record, the following mechwarriors are claimed.
    • Captain Huri “Drake” Halit (Mephansteras)
    • Lt. SG George “Linebuster” Atkinson (Hasek10)
    • Lt. SG Mariamu “Rook” Ishikawa (Culise)
    • Lt. JG Sung-min “Double Dog” Dare (a1s)
    • Pvt. Jose “Milspec” Ortega (milspec)
    • Pvt. Ferdinand “Woad” Kohler (A Thing)
    • Pvt. Jan “Euchre” Kojic (EuchreJack)
    • Pvt. Cathrine “Severe” Payne (Burnt Pies)
    • Pvt. E-Shei “Ker-Ker” Ec (Kanil)

The Opinionated Bastards: Gacrux Part II (May 1, 3050)

The month of April turns out to be an exciting one for the Opinionated Bastards. Read on below the fold.

Last Month’s Action Items

Hasek10 took the lead this time, so I went with his plans. The light lance remains on training duty. We’ll discuss procurement at the end of the month.

The Action of April 19, 3050

On April 14, the unit intelligence officer receives word of a pirate concentration near a grassland town some distance from our base of operations. Happily, the light lance is training locally rather than on an exercise elsewhere, so they join in the deployment.

We’ll probably need them, too. This is some battle. A full six lances of mixed enemy mechs and vehicles are facing our ten mechs (Private ‘Severe’ Pain’s Locust is currently in refit, adding some armor and two more medium lasers). Happily, when they catch wind of our approach, they flee. We’ll have to chase down and destroy half their force before we can declare victory.

Captain Halit has four levels in the Tactics skill, which means we get to reroll battlefield conditions up to four times. The end result is this: muddy grassland with a town in the center, in moderate rain, on a moonlit night.

Because this is a chase battle, units deploy in order of speed, fastest units in early rounds and slower units later on. Attached to our lance is a Lyran Phoenix Hawk. Since the contract stipulated House command rights, the Lyran pilot is not under our direct command.

Rounds 1-4

Nothing happens.

Round 5

The Lyran mech deploys, along with the rest of the enemy light mechs. In total, they have four Wasps, a Spider, and a Stinger.

The mud is proving tricky.

stuck

Round 6

Our two fastest mechs take the field: our Phoenix Hawk (piloted by Jose Ortega) and our Vulcan (piloted by Tedros Jamil). They both fire on a Stinger stuck in the mud a few hexes to the north, but do limited damage.

Round 7

The remainder of our ‘light’ lance arrives on the field. Our two Trebuchets come first; Private Frajtov is driving the short-range TBT-5S, while Woad has the LRM-equipped TBT-5N. Damayanti Ngo rounds out the deployment, piloting our Crab.

deploying

The pirates deploy a number of Vedette medium tanks in a flanking position. Fortunately, the weather will make it very hard for them to hit our mechs at any distance, and Vedettes are slow at the best of times. They may have trouble moving at all.

The light lance concentrates its firepower on a stuck Wasp, the Stinger having escaped the sucking mud and jumped further away. (Ortega pursues him in the Phoenix Hawk, but can’t line up a good shot.) They do a good job, hitting the Wasp for more than 20 damage. Its pilot fails to keep his balance under the barrage, and the Wasp tips over into the mud.

die, wasp

Round 8

Our heavy lance hits the field. Expert gunners with long-range weapons should begin to tell here. Three of them (Captain Halit’s Flashman, Double Dog‘s Rifleman, and Linebuster‘s Lancelot) deploy with the light lance, while two of them (Lieutenant Ishikawa’s Thunderbolt and Private Ec’s Lancelot) deploy further east, behind the enemy vehicle line.

heavies

The pirates deploy their lone heavy mech, an Orion, just to the southwest of our forces. Double Dog turns to face it, ready to engage.

In the Phoenix Hawk, Ortega has run up too much heat from weapons fire and jump jet use, and forgoes firing this turn. The western heavies engage the Wasp, and the eastern heavies focus on the enemy vehicles, including two PPC-equipped Manticore heavy tanks. The mediums (and the Rifleman) divide their fire between the Orion and the vehicle line.

Captain Halit proves his worth on his first turn in battle. Lighting up the stuck Wasp with his large lasers, he draws first blood, neatly coring the enemy mech.

The eastern heavies badly damage the pair of Manticores, knocking out the nearer tank’s engine and scything into the more distant tank’s armor.

The Orion, unfortunately, aims true and hits Woad‘s rear center torso with an AC/10. The Trebuchet’s engine and gyro both take hits, and Woad is unable to keep the mech’s legs beneath him. The Trebuchet bogs down in the mud, and rattling around the cockpit like a pinball does Woad no good, either. He’s alive and conscious, but it seems unlikely he’ll be able to get unstuck and stand back up, especially with an ailing gyro.

Round 9

Let’s talk about a particularly devilish foe: the SRM carrier. A simple tracked vehicle with an enormous box of SRM launchers on the back, the SRM carrier has one of the most devastating alpha strikes in the BattleTech universe. It mounts ten SRM-6 launchers, each of which fires six missiles, each of which does two damage. That’s a potential total of 120 damage; for comparison, the Flashman, the most heavily armored mech in our hangar, has 216 points of armor altogether. It’s altogether possible for a lucky SRM carrier to blow up a mech in a single turn.

Why do I bring this up? Well, our piratical friends have laid their hands on five of them, all of which are part of the rearguard with which we’re currently engaged. We’ll come back to the SRM carriers.

This rearguard, by my count, contains enough enemy force to fulfill our mission requirements, so rather than pursue the enemy across the map (and allow the rearguard to fire on us from behind), I decide to focus on beating down the enemy here. That means nobody moves very much, although the medium mechs move closer to the vehicle line to the east of our main body to secure better shots.

Woad is still prone and unable to stand up. His mech takes some light fire from the Orion, but weathers it without further drama. Double Dog, running hot, takes an ineffectual medium laser shot at the Orion, but successfully kicks an SRM carrier, stripping its armor. The Lyran Phoenix Hawk, standing next to him, finishes the job with a kick of its own.

Linebuster destroys a second SRM carrier with well-aimed laser fire from his Lancelot, while Lieutenant Ishikawa and Private Ec in the Thunderbolt and other Lancelot make short work of a Manticore heavy tank and the lone LRM carrier.

Then the SRM carriers shoot back.

Three shoot at Captain Halit’s Flashman, but he’s moving, and the range, darkness, and rain conspire to protect him. He takes a pounding, but his armor holds.

Two shoot at Private Ec’s Lancelot. She’s not moving, and she’s much closer. Missile after missile slams into her mech’s armor. Holes begin to open up, and the explosions move inward to the mech’s frame. The dust settles. In all, 61 missiles hit Private Ec’s mech, destroying weapons and heat sinks, and damaging leg actuators. Several missiles hit the cockpit. The armor holds, but the shock knocks Ec out cold. Her mech collapses into the mud.

SRM carriers remaining: 3.

Round 10

Well, we should probably do something about those. Captain Halit and Private Frajtov will continue shooting at the Orion, in the hopes of bringing it down. Frajtov places his mech directly in the Orion’s path.

Everyone else is going to set up to shoot at an SRM carrier.

Linebuster hits one, knocking out its engine but leaving it alive. Lieutenant Ishikawa destroys one outright. The others survive unmolested.

Surprisingly, it’s Private Frajtov who takes home the trophy for largest mech destroyed to date. A simple medium laser shot at point blank range penetrates the Orion’s armor and lights off its AC/10 ammunition. Fire blossoms within the pirate mech, then bursts forth in a tremendous fireball which leaves very little of the Orion left.

Then the SRM carriers shoot back.

Private Ec’s mech takes the brunt of the barrage. Happily—she was basically doomed anyway. In the end, there isn’t much left of her mech besides a frame and, surprisingly, a cockpit. (It survived with one internal structure point remaining; happily, she did not die in her first battle.)

Double Dog takes fire from the final SRM carrier, and it’s a doozy. It gets into his Rifleman’s internal structure, knocking out several weapons and damaging a leg actuator. He can’t keep his mech upright, and it topples, getting stuck in the mud.

That’s bad. Hitting an immobilized target is easier, and Lieutenant Dare’s mech is still in relatively good shape. It would be a shame to lose it.

SRM carriers remaining: 2.

srms, sadface
The mud-soaked battlefield as it stands now.

Round 11

We’re winning, per the objective; we only have to destroy half of the enemy’s starting force before it escapes, and we’re currently up to 45%. Mopping up here in the south should suffice to win.

As far as positioning goes, it’s pretty static. Now that the Orion is dead, Captain Halit can turn around to help with the vehicles. He hits a Manticore and kills it. Linebuster destroys another SRM carrier.

Unfortunately, Private Ortega, the only pilot with a clear shot at the last SRM carrier, misses altogether. Hopefully that won’t come back to haunt us next round.

One SRM carrier shoots at the Lyran Phoenix Hawk; the other shoots at the Rifleman. The Rifleman survives, somehow, amidst a bevy of internal structure damage. It’s alive, but I don’t know how much longer it can take this kind of beating.

SRM carriers remaining: 1.

Round 12

Captain Halit accounts for the final SRM carrier with a hail of laser fire. Just before it goes up in a towering explosion, it gets off a shot at the Rifleman.

The Rifleman eats it. Its engine is destroyed, its head is destroyed, and its AC/5 ammo explodes just to really clarify that yes, it’s gone. Happily, the autoeject system works, flinging Double Dog free of the flaming wreckage just before the ammo goes off. He’s badly wounded and unconscious, but he’s alive.

doubledog down

To add indignity to our vaguely Pyrrhic victory, Woad finally gets himself unstuck from the mud, but doesn’t risk standing with his damaged gyro. Wouldn’t want to set ourselves up for yet more repairs.

SRM carriers remaining: 0. Thank God.

Rounds 13-22

With the SRM carriers dead, there isn’t much else left in the south; a few damaged Vedettes, mostly. They go down much more easily, and don’t obliterate our mechs in the space of seconds.

Private Frajtov walks his Trebuchet past the still-burning Rifleman, pops out, and brings Double Dog up to the cockpit. At least he isn’t in the rain anymore. Private Ec, still unconscious in the cockpit of her very dead Lancelot, remains there for now.

An ad-hoc lance comprising Captain Halit, Lieutenant Ishikawa, Linebuster, and Private Ngo heads north to chase the pirates, now in full retreat, off of the map.

Further in that direction, the Lyran Phoenix Hawk beats up on an immobilized transport hovercraft.

wrapping up
At least someone’s having a good day.

Eventually, the pirates make it to the north end of the map, and I call it a day.

Damage Report

damage report

Man, it would have been nice to have some battle loss compensation in this contract.

There are some bright spots. Miraculously, Private Ec’s Lancelot is not a total write-off; it has enough internal structure left to rebuild. We are, therefore, only down one mech.

dead lancelot
It’s going to take a lot of work, though.

Four of our ten pilots are wounded, including Double Dog and Woad. Only Double Dog‘s wounds are serious enough to impact his piloting skills, but he should be fine in a few weeks.

injuries1
injuries2

Salvage Report

The Wasp Captain Halit nailed is a total loss, so I took as salvage an SRM carrier and a Manticore heavy tank. We’ll strip the weapons and armor and sell the chassis.

In doing so, we make nearly 800,000 C-bills, and add a spare PPC, some armor, a medium laser or two, and a ton of SRM-6 launchers (even after selling half of them).

The husk of Double Dog‘s Rifleman yields an arm and a leg, along with a few actuators and a heat sink or two.

The salvage we took comes to 35% against our total allowed of 30%. We’ll have to pay the employer back for the overage if we don’t get our salvage percentage down below the 30% mark; the payment required at present is about 185,000 C-bills.

Kill Board

Last Mission

kill log

All-Time Leaders

  1. Captain Halit (3, 1 mech)
  2. Lieutenant Ishikawa (3)
  3. Lieutenant ‘Linebuster’ Atkinson (3)
  4. Private Frajtov (1, 1 mech)
  5. Private Ec (1)

Repairs and Refits

The Rifleman is good for an arm and a leg, which simplifies getting the second Lancelot back in action.

Unfortunately, we need some expensive parts. The damaged Lancelot’s gyroscope is a total loss, and a new one sets us back 900,000 C-bills. Other parts come to about 200,000, eating into last month’s payout a bit.

By the end of the month, we’ve rebuilt the mech, which has earned the name Frankenstein from its tech teams.

frankenstein

Status

It is now May 1, 3050. I decided against advancing the game further because…

Mission Progress

deployment
After taking such heavy losses in equipment, morale among the pirates here on Gacrux has collapsed, and they’ve made overtures to the planetary authorities about surrendering. At the same time, the local government has located the pirates’ main base of operations and passed that information on to us. See the action items for more.

Personnel

organization

All pilots except for Double Dog are in good health. Lieutenant Dare’s concussion symptoms are lingering. The doctors estimate he’ll be back to 100% in a week’s time.

Captain Halit’s Negotiation has improved, which increases our company’s reputation.

Finances

We kick off May with 2.881 million C-bills in the bank, and two payments of 884,800 C-bills remaining in this contract. That leaves us with an expected balance of 4.6 million C-bills after this contract, and about 2.9 million C-bills after transit back home.

Supplies

Per Hasek10’s directions, I’ve obtained spare ammunition and armor suitable for a deployment of moderate length and intensity, and laid in stocks of common weapons and equipment.

Action Items

  • As far as this contract goes, we have two options. We can attack the pirate base, or accept the pirates’ surrender and head home. In both cases, we’ll be paid the remaining balance of the contract. In the former case, we have a chance at more salvage, although there are no heavy mechs among the enemy’s known forces. In the latter case, we don’t risk losing any further mechs in a costly battle, but we’ll have to pay 185,000 C-bills to the employer to cover our over-salvaging.
  • As far as the company goes, should we reorganize? We may be able to find more favorable engagements (read: MekHQ generates less difficult missions) if we go to a more traditional lance structure, heavy units supported by lighter units. On the other hand, that places a greater emphasis on pilot skill; we do have some skilled pilots, but they’re distributed mainly in the heavy mechs right now. If you think the answer is ‘yes’, you should describe a structure you think would be an improvement.
  • Mechwarriors are going fast, but there are some remaining. Give me a callsign and the pilot is yours; I’ll follow them more closely in subsequent updates, refer to them by their callsign in most cases, and bold their name so you can track them more readily.
    • Captain Halit
    • Lt. SG Ishikawa
    • Pvt. Jamil
    • Pvt. Ec
    • Pvt. Ortega
    • Pvt. Ngo
    • Pvt. Frajtov
  • For the record, the following mechwarriors have been claimed by members at the Bay12 Games forum.
    • Lt. SG George “Linebuster” Atkinson (Hasek10)
    • Lt. JG Sung-min “Double Dog” Dare (a1s)
    • Pvt. Ferdinand “Woad” Kohler (A Thing)
    • Pvt. Jan “Euchre” Kojic (EuchreJack)
    • Pvt. Cathrine “Severe” Payne (Burnt Pies)

The Opinionated Bastards: Gacrux Part I (Apr. 7, 3050)

The Opinionated Bastards sign on the dotted line, and will be employed by the Federated Commonwealth hunting pirates until July 7, 3050 (or earlier, if we’re very successful). Read on below the fold for more.

En Route

To save on transit costs, I had the techs mothball the light lance. With only five mechs in mech bays, we fit into a smaller combat dropship; the mechs in mothballs go in a small cargo dropship. Mothballing takes two days, but a tech can unmothball a mech in a single working day, so we should be deployed as soon as we hit the ground on Gacrux.

Along the way, our human resources division makes a few paid recruitment rolls, spending 100,000 C-bills per week to load up on mech techs and administrators in the other categories. The Opinionated Bastards now have a fully-stocked tech division, as well as administrators and doctors fit for a unit of our size. In all, the Opinionated Bastards total 121 personnel, including the 72 local astechs and 12 local medics supporting our tech teams and medical staff.

Rick Papatamelis
Rick Papatamelis is one of our new administrators. Hi, Rick!

(Note that since this is my first campaign following the Campaign Operations payment and maintenance rules, I’m using Campaign Operations rules for administration and tech support too; I had to triple the administrator allowance to get a reasonable starting position.)

Finally, I ordered some parts for delivery at Gacrux: ammunition, armor, and heat sinks, all of which are consumables after a fashion. (Heat sinks don’t get used up, of course, but they’re the most common part in our force and therefore the most likely to take critical hits.) I also bought some hand and foot actuators before I realized that’s probably a good thing to vote on, so check the action items for more.

map
The seven-jump path from Piedmont to Gacrux. The top of the map, in blue, is the Clan invasion. Terra is the white dot just below Yorii.

Monthly Happenings

Gacrux, our destination, is a fascinating place. We arrive on March 7, 3050. I deploy the heavy lance to seek out action right away to fulfill the terms of the contract, and set about unpacking the light lance. The latter, hosting all of our rookies, goes on training duty, in the hopes of bringing some of them up to a slightly higher standard of performance.

Nothing much goes on in March. The pirates won’t come out to play, which is quite a shame.

We do pick up a local; an astech by the name of Kian-zhi Ewerlof signs on permanently. He’ll apprentice under one of our proper techs for a while, and perhaps someday he’ll grow into a proper tech himself.

Status

It is now April 7, 3050.

Personnel

As mentioned above, we’re fully manned as far as administrators, techs, and support personnel go. Since we have administrators with an HR specialty, we can make paid recruitment rolls to find candidates for specific positions at a cost of 100,000 C-bills per weekly recruitment cycle.

Mission Progress

deployment report

The heavy lance is searching out the enemy. The light lance (such as it is) is training. Enemy morale is now Low. If it reaches Rout, we win, and we can collect the remaining payment and hit the road.

The Locust LCT-1M is refitting to a variant which mounts three medium lasers, a solid punch for such a lightweight mech.

Finances

financial report

After transit to Gacrux and the first month’s payout, we have 2.378 million C-bills. Our net income before share payment is 1.106 million C-bills. After shares, the company nets 884,800 C-bills per month. The May, June, and July payouts remain, for a total of 2.654 million C-bills remaining to be paid. At the end of the contract, discounting salvage sales and battle damage repairs, we should have 5.032 million C-bills. Transit back to Piedmont should cost about 1.7 million C-bills. We should therefore have about 3.332 million C-bills after all is said and done for this contract.

Supplies

supply report

Armor, ammo, heat sinks, and cheapo actuators make up the majority of our supplies right now. (Note that LRM ammo and SRM ammo are interchangeable. 240 shots of LRM 5 ammo is 720 missiles, or 60 shots of LRM 20 ammo.)

Action Items

  • First up, deployment. Should the light lance remain in training, or deploy? Units actively seeking out combat have a much higher chance of finding it. On the other hand, Hasek10 is correct in saying that the game will generate roughly even forces. (Not quite BV-equivalence, but approximately weight-equivalent for sure.) That could make for a tough fight, given the light lance’s actual weight and inexperience in piloting.
  • Next, ongoing procurement. I want to have about four million C-bills in hand before we leave; that leaves room for transit back, transit to the next world, and some downtime if we roll a bunch of undesirable contracts. Should we save the money, or secure sufficient spares and ammunition for a long, independent operation? In either case, I’ll get spares for commonly-used weapons and so on. If we’re planning on taking a long, independent contract, I’ll also likely want to get more actuators and some spare arms and legs. The latter would set us up for a longer contract out of contact with friendlies. The former might yield a treasury which can absorb the price of a light or medium mech.
  • Mechwarriors are still available to claim; all you need to do is say so and give me a callsign. I’ll try to follow claimed mechwarriors more closely in future updates. Available mechwarriors:
    • Captain Halit
    • Lt. SG Ishikawa
    • Lt. JG Dare
    • Pvt. Jamil
    • Pvt. Ec
    • Pvt. Ortega
    • Pvt. Ngo
    • Pvt. Frajtov
    • Pvt. Kohler
    • Pvt. Kojic
    • Pvt. Payne

The Crossbox Podcast: Episode 23 – Fall Ahead Edition

In our latest episode yet, we sneak in under the wire with a mere seven hours left in September. We revisit some old warfighting equipment, some old games, and some more recent guns.

Further reading
Collector Grade Publications
M60A2 Starship, which looks less like a starship than I might have hoped.
CZ P-09 proposal. You can find the review in the recommended posts.

Continue reading

The Opinionated Bastards: a MekHQ BattleTech Mercenaries Campaign

Introduction

Welcome to what I hope will be the start of a long-running Let’s Play: a mercenary campaign, more or less following the Against the Bot campaign rules, using MekHQ and MegaMek to handle the bookkeeping.

That’s a lot to unpack. We’ll start with MegaMek. This is MegaMek:

MegaMek

MegaMek is an open-source implementation of the BattleTech rules, which greatly simplifies playing out battles. It covers just about everything in the BattleTech rulebooks, but it’s also a little on the dense and questionably-documented side, as open source projects are wont to be. (See also: my very own OpenTafl.)

Next up, MekHQ. This is MekHQ:

MekHQ

MegaMek runs battles; MekHQ runs campaigns. It implements some of the many, many variations in BattleTech’s rules for maintenance costs, mercenary contract generation, and so on and so forth.

Finally, Against the Bot. No screenshot here. Against the Bot is simply a set of rules on top of those implemented in MekHQ, concerning the generation of a mercenary company and some of the mechanics of running one left untouched by BattleTech’s rulebooks.

I have a few house rules I plan to layer on top. First, a set of rules I cooked up for pre-existing enemy damage. Especially in the Third Succession War era, it’s hard to come by spares and time for maintenance, but the Against the Bot rules have no provision for setting up the enemy forces to be as battered as yours. The pre-existing damage rules present a mechanism for wearing down the enemy force over the length of a campaign, an important part of warfare.

Second, I have a litany of little tweaks to the Against the Bot rules.

  • I’ll be using the contract payments and maintenance costs from the Campaign Operations rulebook. I won’t be using maintenance rolls or the unofficial percentage-based maintenance costs in MekHQ; Campaign Ops costs neatly fix a lot of the issues with the old type-based maintenance costs.
  • I plan to turn the contract search radius down to about 200 light-years to start. This keeps transport costs limited. That’s important: the default contract radius of 800 light-years covers pretty much the entire Inner Sphere. Contracts 20 or 30 jumps and a year or two away require very favorable transport terms to have any chance of being profitable. Contracts five or ten jumps away can still be feasible to take even with poor transport terms if the other terms are sufficiently favorable.
  • Retirement rolls will be ignored for the first five years. After that, retirement rolls will always have a -2 Target Number modifier.
    • In any given year, every full month of downtime on the mercenary’s home world will add a -1 modifier to the retirement roll Target Number.
  • Mechs associated with the founding members of the company are company property. If/when founding members retire or die, they don’t get to take mechs with them. Pilots hired later on who bring their own mechs must get the same mech or a comparable one on retirement. Further, they may not be reassigned from their personal mech to a worse one.
  • I reserve the right to ignore Big Battles and Special Events; the Against the Bot generator in MekHQ seems not to get them right on some occasions. If they’re reasonable, I’ll play them.
  • Reinforcements.
    • Any or all lances can be deployed on missions where I’m the attacker.
    • Any lance with Defend duty can be deployed on missions where I’m the defender.
    • Any lance with Training duty can be deployed on missions where I’m the defender on 4+ on a D6.
  • If I have a DropShip, I can add mech bays to it at the cost of cargo space. Adding a mech bay costs 120 tons of cargo space and 7.5 million C-bills.

Process and Participation

I, as the company commander, will play roughly a month of game time per week of real time (my time permitting). I’ll be using a customized build of MekHQ which contains some brand-new features; you can download the source from this branch on Github.

You, as the readers (either at my website or at the Bay12 forums) have a few participation options. You can pick a mechwarrior, aerospace pilot, or vehicle crewman to follow, and give me guidance on how that person ought to develop his or her skills (and possibly input on mech refitting, if that happens). Whether or not you do that, you can also vote on the contract to take.

Company Generation

Now we come to the fun part. Given that my blog is the primary venue for this Let’s Play, I’ve decided we will be known as the Opinionated Bastards. We still have a few things to figure out, though. First off, time period.

  • 3025: at the tail end of the Third Succession War, there is very little advanced technology to be found. Mechs are more likely to be held together with spitballs and baling wire, just barely kept running by industrious techs. Classic BattleTech.
  • 3050: the Clan invasion is in full swing. Advanced technology is back on the menu! We may also have to fight the Clans. Classic BattleTech for me—I cut my teeth on MechWarrior 2, back in the day. If you vote for this item, specify whether you want to start on the same side of the Inner Sphere as the Clans, or elsewhere.
  • 3075: the Word of Blake Jihad is the crisis of the day. Modern-ish BattleTech.

Furthermore, we have to pick a flavor of company.

  • Adventurous Merchant: company commander and officers will have worse piloting and gunnery skills, but better mechs. Start with an extra 5 million C-bills. Chance to start with a DropShip. Start with one Logistics administrator only.
  • Mercenary Veteran: company commander and officers will have better piloting skills, but receive no bonus to mech generation rolls. Start with an HR administrator plus administrator of choice. Receive a 10% signing bonus on contracts owing to reputation. Also owing to reputation, it is no longer forbidden to assign mech pilots who bring their own hardware to worse mechs. (They still get to take them back when they leave.)
  • No Special Background: -2 Target Number on all retirement rolls. Start with two administrators, my choice.

Action Items

  • Your votes needed! Give me some preferences for time period and mercenary company type.

The Crossbox Podcast: Episode 22 – Sacred Cows Edition

In this episode, we talk about guns (lots of guns), and how sci-fi designers can’t design them; about Star Wars and space flight games; and about red dots on pistols, and how we can’t design experiments to save our lives.

Further reading

Continue reading

Fishbreath Hefts: ALICE (large) Hellcat Pack Review Part II

The year is 2017. Your correspondent recently purchased and reviewed an ALICE large field pack and frame, plus some modifications, to make a package sometimes known as the ALICE Hellcat1. Or rather, reviewed in part: no review of field gear can be considered complete without some actual field time, and that’s what this article addresses.

If you, like me, do not live under a rock, you may have heard that there was recently (at time of writing) a total solar eclipse. You can be sure I wasn’t going to miss my chance at seeing one, and you can be similarly sure that I wasn’t going to spend the money on a hotel. Some college friends decided a camping trip was in order, and I decided to tag along. The destination: Shawnee National Forest. The plan: unimproved camping near the Garden of the Gods2.

That brings me to the first part of this review: how roomy is the pack? Well, it’s complicated. The ALICE pack is shorter than your average backpacking pack from top to bottom, but wider and deeper. This has its upsides and its downsides. In the bottom of the pack, I could fit things next to my sleeping bag in both directions—both toward the front face of the pack3 and to the sides. I packed my ground cloth in front of my sleeping bag, and used the space to the side for the base of my tent.

On that note, my gear generally is not backpacking gear—although I grew up camping, I mostly grew up camping out of cars. The family two-man tent comes in a bag twenty-seven inches tall, and weighs something like eight or ten pounds4. My sleeping bag is a backpacking model, I suppose, but it’s also a three-season bag, and as such doesn’t pack down as small as a summer model might. In general, I made no particular effort to bring lightweight or compact gear, and overpacked generally for the sake of the experiment5. I ended up with a pack which weighed about thirty-five or forty pounds and filled most of the available volume of the pack. As the packing list in the footnote there suggests, this was not an ultralight or even an efficient trip. Packing as luxuriously as I did, an overnight or weekend trip is plausible. I expect I would have very little trouble packing for a longer stay if I had more appropriate gear—with access to water on-site, compact dehydrated food, and no extra-fancy mess equipment, I suspect I could pack a good week’s worth of summer clothing.

Now that we’ve loaded the pack, we can talk about how it fits and how well it carries weight. As far as fit goes, I don’t know if I could recommend it to someone very much taller than me. As I said in the previous article, I’m USGI-standard height, a hair over 5’9″. The MOLLE straps on my frame can be adjusted to ride lower on it (thereby moving the hip pad nearer to the shoulder straps for a shorter person), but they’re already at the upper limit of their adjustment. On my back, the pack fits perfectly, with the MOLLE hip belt extending from about belly-button height to my hip bones. I had a few taller people give it a try, and it didn’t fit them nearly as well. I suspect there is some further room for adjustment—by lengthening the bottom of the shoulder straps, the pack could be made to ride lower, and likely fit long torsos better—but the primary adjustment, that effected by moving the entire yoke up and down, is only really useful for average-to-short men and short-to-tall women.

We’ve established it fits people my size and smaller well. How does the ALICE Hellcat carry weight, though? As described above, the ALICE pack is short and squat relative to modern backpacking gear. Taller, flatter packs, such as the latter, put the center of gravity higher and closer to your back. Well-packed, they’ll primarily press down on your hips; the shoulder straps are primarily to stabilize the load and keep it close to your body. The load on the shoulders tends to be a downward load. The ALICE pack is a little different. It is, once again, short. Even with a sleeping roll lashed to the top, it only comes up to about the middle of my head. It doesn’t exert a downward force exclusively; rather, it exerts a sort of pivoting torque in addition to downward pressure. It’s as though the waist belt is an axle, and the pack is trying to fall away from your back.

I wouldn’t characterize this as bad, though. It’s just different. The weight on the shoulder straps, is on your upper chest just below the shoulders. The pivoting movement helps to hold the pack onto the hip pad. My forty-pound pack was no less comfortable than I would expect out of a more traditional pack. Some adjustment of the shoulder straps is necessary; there’s a middle ground I had to find between, “Too tight up top, weighing on my shoulders,” and, “Too loose up top, pulling me backwards.” Once I found it, though, I found myself able to carry it neither bent forward nor pulled backward, and as an added bonus, the smaller top-to-bottom height made for easier crouching under obstacles.

As far as hiking goes, we only had to walk a few hundred yards in total with our packs. I can’t speak to the Hellcat’s comfort over the course of a long hike. I have no reason to think it would be significantly worse than it was with my static testing and light hiking. The MOLLE straps are excellently padded and provided good comfort, even when loaded heavily by backpacking standards.

So, we got to the campsite. How is the pack to live with? Again, not bad, if perhaps not up to the same standard as present-day backpacking gear. One of the bigger things to note (again) is that the ALICE rucksack has no bottom access. It’s traditional to pack a sleeping bag at the bottom of the pack: something bulky but not terribly heavy. Many modern packs have a zipper or some other means by which items at the very bottom of the pack may be gotten at without having to unpack everything on top of them. With the Hellcat, you have to pack a little more carefully. Follow the two cardinal rules of packing (rarely accessed things go at the bottom, eavy things go closer to the frame) and you’ll be fine.

All convenience is not lost, though. The ALICE large pack has six exterior pockets, plus one pocket in the top flap. The six pockets come in three different sizes: three small (up top), two medium (on the sides down below), and one large (bottom center). The large pocket fits a mess kit and notebook with room to spare. The medium pockets are roughly three-espresso-cup moka pot-sized. The small pockets are large enough to fit a hard-sided glasses case, or an alcohol burner, pot rack, and folded aluminum foil windbreak. All are easily accessible without opening the pack or even loosening the compression straps. The top flap pocket was originally designated a map pocket and is not rated for heavy items, but it is very roomy. It easily held my maps, flashlight, phone, charger, cables, and earbuds, and could have fit much more.

The lashing points, too, are a wonderful piece of old-time fun. Putting the MOLLE straps onto the ALICE frame yielded a pair of straps used to secure the ALICE shoulder straps to the frame; I borrowed those, ran them through the buckles on my British P37 canteen carrier, and attached it to the outside of my pack. There are a good dozen or so lashing points spread out over the pack. The full Hellcat pack uses some of them to attach the MOLLE sleep system carrier, and potentially uses others to attach the MOLLE sustainment pouches, but even that would leave a number of them open for other gear. The compression straps are also very generous in length, and can readily be used both to hold gear to the top of the pack (I had a fire kit, a sleeping pad, and a spare water bottle up there) and to tie it to the bottom of the pack. If you want more strappage, you can find MOLLE accessory straps on Amazon which should serve just fine for lashing items to the pack.

Speaking of lashing and straps, the pack has exactly zero zippers. All the external pockets close with snaps. The main compartment has a drawstring closure, and the compression straps hold the top flap down on top of it. Despite that lack, I didn’t find opening the pack to be all that inconvenient. A little on the slow side, perhaps, since you generally have to loosen both compression straps, but certainly livable.

Lastly, the ALICE pack is definitively not waterproof, or even water resistant, and doesn’t come with a pack cover or dry bags6. You’ll have to work out your own solution for keeping things dry. For myself, it was lots of ziploc bags, some garbage bags, and one garbage bag big enough to serve as a pack cover. The lack of waterproofing out of the box is freeing, in a sense; it doesn’t lock you into any one solution.

So, the bottom line. Is it worth the buy? Provided it fits you, I say it is. My pack cost $70, including shipping, and if you have a nearby surplus store you can probably find one for a similar price. (That is, the pack and the frame together.) The MOLLE straps and belt came to about $30, again including shipping, and again with the similar caveat about brick-and-mortar storefronts. For the money, you get more pack, and more durable pack, than you might shopping for a traditional backpacking pack on the same budget. That said, I wouldn’t pay much more than $100 for the whole setup unless you’re very into the Hellcat’s modularity7. Once you get to, say, $150, you’re in the range where you can get a used or discounted pack from REI. $200 will buy you a new one. The quality of life there is, admittedly, better, and you have a warranty to go with it.

All told, though, I’m happy with my purchase. For my very occasional backpacking trips, a proper pack makes little financial sense. For a solid discount over even cheap hiking packs, I have something which works very nearly as well. Who can argue with that?


  1. Well, kind of. As I say in the previous article, one of the characteristics of the Hellcat is the MOLLE sleep system carrier attached to the bottom of the ALICE medium pack; I just went for a large pack right off the bat, which yields approximately the same capacity. 
  2. The one in Illinois, obviously, not the one in Colorado. 
  3. That is, the side opposite the straps. 
  4. It’s an excellent tent. It’s been bone-dry inside after taking a full day of rain on the fly. It just isn’t small or light. 
  5. For reference, I brought the following: sleeping bag and pad, tent, large cooking pot, mess kit, dinner for the whole group (three cans of chunk chicken, two boxes of rice and beans), an alcohol-burning stove, pot stand, and foil windbreak, a moka pot for coffee, coffee and stove fuel, a hoodie, cargo pants and cargo shorts, pajama pants, three t-shirts, three pairs each of underwear and socks, my trusty P37 canteen, a separate 20-oz. water bottle, maps, phone charger, sunglasses, various plastic bags to hold things and serve as pack covers, a pad for sitting on, and earbuds. 
  6. At least mine didn’t. It was issued with dry bags, though, and the full kit list did include a pack cover. 
  7. Which is to say, you like the idea of bringing the sleep system carrier and sustainment pouches as necessary, or leaving them behind when you don’t need them. 

Fishbreath Hefts: ALICE (large) Hellcat Pack Review Part I

The year is 1975. The brand-new ALICE load-carrying equipment has been released, and it brings relief for American soldiers worldwide from a system of equipment which has its roots in the mid-1950s. Improved webbing, nylon for everyone, not just the men in Vietnam, better pouches, suspenders, and belts, and at last, a proper frame pack as part of the general issue kit1, with both a medium and large rucksack available.

ALICE generally, though it’s an interesting system and what I would call the first truly modern American load-carrying equipment pattern2, is not our topic for today. Our topic for today is, instead, the ALICE pack frame, its associated belts and straps, and the large ALICE rucksack.

First, the frame. Primarily constructed of tubular aluminum, it also has some flat aluminum crossmembers for rigidity. Some D-rings at the top provide a place for shoulder straps to attach, and the waist pad attaches through larger D-rings at the bottom. Some holes in the waist pad bracing provide bottom attachment points for the shoulder straps. The ALICE straps need no further attachment points, and accordingly, the frame doesn’t provide them.

Next, the rucksack itself. As packs go, it’s very large, but not quite as large as your average expedition pack. I’ve seen figures from 3800 to 5000 cubic inches cited (about 65L to 80L, for you metric fans/backpackers), which ranges from ‘enough for long trips with smart packing’ to ‘enough for long trips’. Curiously, given American experience in Vietnam, the pack itself is not waterproof3. There is a waterproof compartment in the lid, but it isn’t large enough to fit much or rated for heavy weights. The pockets and main compartment all feature drain holes to let out any water that gets in.

Speaking of external pockets, it has six: three large ones at the bottom, and three smaller ones nearer the top of the pack. The bottom pockets close by means of straps, as does the main pack; the bottom pockets, at least, feature snaps for quick-opening goodness4. The main compartment is divided in two; a smaller, secondary compartment on the frame side has inside compression straps. (It might also be a place to put a water bladder, if you have such a thing.) This compartment is absurdly spacious by backpacking standards; although it isn’t especially large in the absolute sense, the maximum cross-sectional area of the pack is significantly greater than your average modern backpacking pack5 of the same size. The outside of the pack is festooned with gear attachment points, loops of fabric through which you can tie, lash, or otherwise secure equipment to the pack. Of course, being a 1970s-vintage pack, it has none of the modern conveniences like bottom access, vertically separated internal compartments, a built-in rain cover, a dedicated hydration bladder compartment, zippers, a water bottle pocket… In the interests of saving space, let me say this instead. It is a large sack with pockets. That’s about all there is to it.

The large pack fits onto the frame by means of a large padded envelope at its top edge, as well as some retaining straps which attach to the frame near the bottom. The padded envelope at the top does double duty as the padding on the pack side of a more modern yoke. And, to be honest, it doesn’t do a very good job.

Let’s back up a bit first. I ordered an ALICE pack from an eBay surplus outlet because I wanted something I could take on backpacking trips (in particular, a camping trip for the upcoming eclipse) that I couldn’t break, and something which wouldn’t break the bank. Military surplus fits the bill on both accounts, and ALICE is cheaper and yes, more hipster than the current state-of-the-American-art, MOLLE6. Then I put it on, and realized that, although the frame and pack are solid, the parts you actually have to wear are not.

First: the shoulder straps. That’s literally all they are. Very little padding and no sternum strap. Nobody ever told the GI of the day that soldiering would be easy, but for a pack designed to carry a load of seventy pounds7, adding an extra eight ounces of softness in the straps seems like a no-brainer that the Army managed to brainlessly miss. The waist belt is a similar case: the padding reaches more or less from kidney to kidney; the official name for the padded piece is the ‘kidney pad’. It’s maybe three inches from top to bottom and eight across, and remember, behind the kidney pad there are two D-rings to hold it and nothing else. The pad has to isolate the wearer from a lot of force applied over a very small area. It doesn’t pay to skimp. Lastly, the padded envelope at the top of the pack does not do a very good job at keeping the frame off of the wearer’s back. I wore it for five minutes unloaded, and there was very little comfort to speak of. Something would have to change.

Fortunately, there is a solution. The ALICE pack is still popular among some ex-military who liked it during their days in the service, and also has a following among the prepper crowd8, as well as in the cheap-outdoorsman crowd (to which yours truly belongs). Someone from one or another crowd worked out how to attach the MOLLE yoke and waist belt to the ALICE frame, making what the internet calls the ALICE Hellcat9. Since I had foreseen the problems with the raw ALICE gear, I ordered some surplus MOLLE items at the same time. The MOLLE pack straps are a proper yoke, with padding for the upper back; the MOLLE waist pad is gigantic—it wraps around nearly to the front of my hips—and both stiffer and softer than the ALICE equivalent.

I won’t repeat the build instructions here; you can find them pretty easily by searching for ‘ALICE Hellcat’. After some time spent in assembly10, and some time spent with a kitchen lighter melting a frayed strap end back to something approaching integrity, I was ready to try it out. Most of my camping gear lives away from my apartment, so I had to improvise. A pillow on the bottom of the pack simulated a sleeping bag. A pair of ammo cans and a bunch of 7.62×39 simulated my heavy kit—rations, tent, mess and cooking equipment. Those ended up pushed against the frame by ‘clothes’, another pillow stuffed in the front and top of the pack. I cinched everything down, put the pack on, and tightened up up the straps. All told, the load was about 35 pounds, and the pack weighs five or six pounds itself.

And it was surprisingly comfortable. I’ve heard bad things about ALICE, even with the MOLLE upgrades, but in ten minutes of wearing the pack around my apartment11 with a fairly heavy load by backpacking standards12, I experienced neither the bounce and wobble people talk about (the MOLLE waist belt doesn’t quite fit the ALICE frame perfectly; it’s a touch loose) nor the frame digging into my back at any point. I should note that I’m very nearly ALICE-sized: the frame was designed with a 5’10” man in mind, and I am a 5’9″ man. Larger or smaller people may have different experiences. The MOLLE straps in particular are a worthwhile investment. Proper padding at the top of the pack is payoff enough for the price of admission. Beyond that, they also have a sternum strap and load-adjustment straps, so you can change the weight balance between hips and shoulders on the fly. Beyond the serious ergonomic gains, I now have some spare ALICE attachment straps I intend to loop through some of the lashing points for utility purposes. For instance, they may carry my Pattern 37 British canteen, so I have some water on the outside of the pack. In a similar vein, I expect I could use them to secure other parts of my Pattern 37 webbing to the pack if I need extra capacity.

That’s all the testing I did—or at least all the testing I’m going to report before the inaugural trip. “It works in my apartment” is not a ringing endorsement of outdoors gear, and there are some outstanding questions about this setup. Will my frame attachment straps hold? Does the pack provide adequate access to supplies on the march? Will the lack of waterproofing be a serious problem? The trip is in about two weeks, and although it’s only an overnight, it should provide a much better indication of how the Hellcat Light works in actual practice. Expect Part II after I return.


  1. It’s my understanding that frame packs were issued starting in about 1965, but they were issued alongside the 1956 and 1967-pattern load-carrying gear, rather than being part of either set. 
  2. I think a reasonable marker for modern load-carrying gear is, “Has an associated frame pack.” By that measure, the British didn’t have modern load-carrying gear until the Pattern of 1985 PLCE. 
  3. It may be that American experience in Vietnam suggested that making something with as much stitching as pack waterproof was doomed from the start. Troops were issued waterproof liners of various sizes instead. 
  4. Not as quick as a zipper, obviously. 
  5. The ALICE packs had to fit above a pistol belt, so rather than build tall, they built wide and deep instead. 
  6. It’s a shame we didn’t name our other web kit so creatively. BETTY in WW2, say. I suppose acroynm-sanity is a modern phenomenon. 
  7. S.L.A. Marshall wasn’t even dead yet, and he still would have been rolling in his grave. 
  8. Because it’s surplus, and preppers love them some surplus. 
  9. Technically, the standard Hellcat is a medium ALICE ruck on the ALICE frame. The medium pack rides high enough to put a MOLLE sleep system carrier beneath it, attaching to some of the pack lashing points. This makes for a pack about as large as the unmodified large ALICE rucksack in volume terms, with extra compartmentalization, which substitutes for bottom access. If ever I’m interested in a serious backpacking trip, though, I can still add the sleep system carrier and/or MOLLE sustainment pouches; doing both with the large rucksack makes a pack with something like 8000 cubic inches/130L of volume, which is more gear than I could carry for very far. 
  10. When connecting the MOLLE straps to the ALICE frame, the attachment straps make two laps. Once around the frame, once through the buckle, then repeat around the frame and through the buckle again. Otherwise they slip. 
  11. To my wife’s amusement. 
  12. I’m not an experienced backpacker by any means, but it’s my understanding that packs north of thirty pounds are out of vogue among the lightweight backpacking set nowadays. 

Fishbreath Shoots: CZ P-09 .40 S&W Review

If you read a certain previous article of mine, you might remember that I decided to build a USPSA Limited race gun out of a CZ P-09. Well, my base model P-09 arrived, I took it to the range, and now I have some thoughts for you.

The Gun

The CZ P-09 is a full-size, polymer-frame, double-action pistol. In common with all of CZ’s handguns, the slide rides inside the frame. The slide is cut down in the front to save weight, swelling to the usual squared-off profile at the ejection port. CZ provides an accessory rail forward of the oversize trigger guard. As is common with your polymer pistols, it comes with three interchangeable backstraps.

One of the innovations CZ brought to the table with the P-07 and P-09 is the so-called Omega trigger system. The most interesting feature thereof is the safety. From the box, the P-09 comes with a decocker installed—a pure decocker, unlike the safety/decocker on my Berettas1. Push down on it, and the hammer falls to the safety half-cock position without risk of falling all the way to the firing pin2. Provided in the box, though, and easy to swap to, is a pure manual safety. It can’t be engaged while the hammer is down, and offers no way to safely drop the hammer. All it does is prevent the sear from disengaging while activated. Swapping the decocker for the safety (or vice versa) is a five-minute job, and more or less tool-free3. As I mentioned in the race gun proposal article linked above, the option for a pure safety was a major driver of my choice of the P-09 over the Beretta 96.

Size and Feel

The P-09 is a duty-size pistol. Compared to my M9, it’s very slightly shorter nose-to-beavertail, roughly the same width at the slide, and significantly taller. Unlike with the M9, however, I can hit the P-09’s magazine release without breaking my grip. The P-09’s grip thins toward the top, where the strong-side thumb goes, and this gives me enough extra wraparound to get my thumb to the generously-sized button. I had planned, in my race gun build, on adding the extended magazine release. Turns out I won’t need to.

The sides of the grip are nicely textured, and the backstraps have substantial knobbly bits to hold your hand in place. The front of the grip has the most aggressive texture I’ve seen on a bog-standard factory gun. It proved highly effective on a hot, sweaty day at the pistol bay. Textured patches on the left and right of the frame above the trigger guard provide a nice obvious place to put one’s finger when off the trigger.

The controls are nicely sized and well-placed, even for my average-sized hands. The safety is easy to flip off and difficult to engage, accidentally or otherwise. The trigger reach is significantly shorter than on the M9. I do quibble with the placement of the slide release—it’s far forward, and would be hard to hit under pressure—but in the manual, CZ recommends the slingshot method for dropping the slide from slide lock. With that out of the way, there’s little need for an easily manipulable slide release.

Now, for a few final notes. Despite being bulkier than the M9, it’s lighter. Not tremendously lighter, but notably so. It’s also less well balanced, which should come as no surprise. Polymer pistols always have that issue; a metal-framed pistol is going to have a more favorable center of gravity (nearer your hands) in both loaded and unloaded conditions. Lastly, both are similar in terms of grip angle, which is shallower than that of, say, a Glock. If you’re coming from that direction, there will be a bit of transition to get the point of aim down.

Disassembly and Ease of Maintenance

The P-09 field strips in the same manner as CZs the world around: pull back on the slide a hair to line up a notch on the slide with a notch on the frame, then pop the slide release out with the corner of a magazine. The slide comes off, and then you have a pretty standard tilting-barrel pistol. Compress the recoil spring, remove it from its shoulder on the barrel, remove the barrel. Mine came from the box in desperate need of lubrication, but after a liberal coat of oil, it slides much more freely.

Deeper maintenance, on the other hand, seems a bit trickier. Most of the components of the action—ejector, lifter, sear, double-action roller—ride on one pin. The hammer and disconnector, which are pinned together, ride on the hammer pin. The firing pin and related parts are retained by a roll pin, that nemesis of home gunsmiths everywhere. I’ll have more to report on this front when I get into its guts for my various race gun modifications.

Range Notes

I swung by the local gun shop, picked up two boxes of Remington UMC4 180-grain .40 S&W, and hit the range at lunchtime today. One hundred rounds isn’t enough to draw serious conclusions, but nevertheless, here we are.

Trigger

Out of the box, surprisingly poor in single action. On my M9, which hasn’t seen any trigger tuning beyond a lighter hammer spring, even sitting down, watching my finger rather than the sights, and dry-firing with every effort to find creep, there’s very little to be had. The takeup, which pushes the firing pin plunger out of the way, is distinct from the actual trigger pull.

The P-09 is, in comparison, not great. The takeup is less smooth, building to what feels almost like a striker-fired wall (or a ‘rolling break’, if you want to use the euphemism). This is extremely noticeable sitting and dry-firing, if you’re looking for it; it’s less obvious on the range. Even being below my Beretta-based standard for a double-action trigger, it’s as good or better than the best factory-made striker-fired triggers5.

Neither gun is anything to write home about shooting double action. The Beretta is lighter, which is expected based on the lighter hammer spring, but also smoother. It doesn’t matter, really; with the safety installed on the CZ, the double-action pull is an in-case-of-failure-only tool.

Accuracy

I’m not a pistol marksman, neither on the level of major gun reviewers nor even on the scale of our own parvusimperator. I am an average shot at best, so I won’t bore you with tales of bench shooting, or a picture of a terrible 25-yard target.

That said, the P-09 seems to suit me pretty well. This was my first range trip; the first shot out of the first magazine at my traditional 7-yard familiarization target ended up dead on in the center ring. The 15-yard plate rack at the local range is a traditional nemesis of mine, and I managed to clear it with the dregs of my second box right before leaving. It points naturally. The night sights on mine out of the box are blockier, more target sight than I would prefer on a competition gun. They are night sights, though, which are pretty cool.

Recoil

Here we come to one of the more interesting results. The P-09 is a very soft-shooting .40; it doesn’t feel that much punchier than the M9. The typically low CZ bore axis has something to do with it, I’m sure, converting the muzzle flip into much more controllable backward force. The choice of recoil spring may have some effect on proceedings, too. Either way, it’s much more pleasant to shoot than I expected it to be.

Reliability

Two boxes of good ammo is hardly enough to say one way or another, but I had no failures of any kind.

Conclusions

As usual, I won’t muck about with star ratings. I will say, however, that the P-09 presents an excellent value proposition. The version I got, which includes night sights and three magazines, set me back just over $500 from Bud’s Gun Shop, including transfer fee. For that price, you get a handgun with industry-leading magazine capacity, excellent controllability, good ergonomics, and a passable trigger. If you like your guns double action, as Saint Browning intended6, this one’s a good buy.


  1. Rather, it’s like the pure decocker available on other Berettas. 
  2. Unlike my Berettas, it does not appear to rotate any part of the firing pin out of the way, though. 
  3. Unless you have excellent fine motor control, you’ll need needle-nose pliers or something to replace the decocker spring. Installing the manual safety is entirely tool-free. 
  4. UMC stands for Union Metallic Cartridge. How did we let that one sneak away into the mists of time? 
  5. At least, those factory striker-fired triggers trying to be single-action triggers. I’ve test-fired the Walther PPQ from the Parvusimperator Arsenal, and I find it to be pretty darn good. Rather than emulate a single-action pull—something impossible to do with the half-cock nature of most striker-fired pistols—it aims to be the best darn double-action pull you’ve seen. At that, it succeeds. 
  6. I am informed that Saint Browning never made a double-action pistol, but I pose that he would have done if he’d had more time7
  7. Objection! Speculative. -parvusimperator