Deadlines are great.
They make you knuckle down and make decisions that have been put off for far too long. Here's a rules decision that has been made in terms of the Living Rule book, and some of the thinking and process that went into it. This rules decision is one that developed from one concept to another as I delved into the thinking behind what a Stealth technology is and what it does, and doesn't do.
I'm going to use the Stealth trait as the example because it is one trait that there has been a lot of back and forth work on. The trait has settled nicely, though the why and the how of the rule, and how it functions in the game, is worthy of some discussion.
Real life Stealth: Stealth is one of the strange military technologies that sounds simple enough in practice, but in reality it is a very fickle thing. Stealth aircraft for example, sure you can make your plane have the radar cross-section of a large hawk but Radar can pick up stuff as small as a sparrow, and computer algorithms can tag the hawk signatures that are travelling in lines and moving faster than 100 Mph.
Stealthy submarines are a different story, they have sonar absorbing surfaces, and many other modifications that reduce their noise signature. As long as a submarine does not give its position away through active noise it remains a much harder target.
Land vehicles with stealth technology often have angled radar reflecting technology, using the geometry of the vehicle to scatter the radar waves to active IR technology used in the new British Chieftains where the IR signature of a non-military vehicle like a car is projected on the side of the tank to allow the tanks normal tank shaped IR silhouette to fade into the background.
Stealth by the Heavy Gear background: On land stealth technology has a lot of advantages. First is the fact that there is cover on the ground to hide behind. Though there are many ways that targeting systems can be used to detect targets and that stealth technologies are tailored to face the challenges of the battlefields they exist on. In the Heavy Gear background we are assuming that there are already many design principals that Gear manufacturers use to make the sensor profile of most Gears the smallest it can be economically, according to the standard of the era. Stealth gears are the supercars of their time, costing far in excess for a very slight improvement in performance.
It can be assumed that the Gears use basic directional sound receptors, or as we like to call them, microphones, to detect movement and the sounds of hydraulics, actuators, and foot falls of Gears in addition to the various light radiation wavelengths the omni-camera senses. Stealth systems must be designed to reduce the effectiveness of these systems, or at least the mass production systems that go into the generic trooper models that make up the massed forces of Heavy Gar armies.
Stealth in the Heavy Gear rules: One of the basic premises of stealth is that it makes your defense better in some way. Early versions of Stealth in the Alpha simply added a dice to defense. This did fine but there was always the question, did this reflect how stealth systems actually work? This was a distinct problem in the Locked and Loaded rule set (the previous edition) where Stealth applied some pretty hard modifiers to one models ability to detect another model rendering some armies virtually invulnerable to long range weapons fire (Black Talons anyone?). This is naturally a problem when you are trying to create a fun play environment for both players. One player having all the agency is going to make for a frustrating game for their opponent.
In other words I knew that we wanted Stealth to be a thing, but not an overwhelming thing.
There's also this saying, "When your only tool is a hammer, all your problems start to look like nails". In the early Alpha the only hammer we had was dice, adding dice to the defender, or reducing dice from the attacker.
Now we've got a couple more tools; adjusting skill, adding dice, or modifying sensor ranges. The problem we found about adding dice is that a model with excellent piloting will benefit dis-proportionally from what should be a passive trait.
Here is the actual trait from the list of traits:
[Stealth] Stealth: This model improves its Piloting skill by 1 for defense rolls against Direct and Indirect ranged attacks. This modifier does not apply when the model is using an attack action or reaction, active sensors, an EW action, or making a Comms roll. This modifier does not apply if the model is attacked with a melee attack, or has no Cover from the Observer of a Forward Observation (See 14.3). Sensor Lock against a model with the Stealth trait has a -6” modifier to the range of the Sensors (See Table 7.2).
Adjusting the Defense Skill is the most appropriate application of the Stealth trait to cover since the most obvious application of expensive stealth technologies is to cut down on the thermal, audio, and mechanical noises that would otherwise inform targeting sensors. Essentially the stealth modifications overall allow a pilot to more fully use their cover than the average target. Notice that the effect of the rules is very easy to implement too. The model gets a better Pilot Skill unless it is doing something to attract attention, like shooting back or pumping out some ECM defense of its own.
The second part of the rule is a special case. If the stealthed model has full cover, that is, 100% of the models silhouette is blocked by intervening terrain, then the attacker must have Sensor Lock to target the stealthed model. Sensor Lock is just a standard attribute that all model in Heavy Gear have that determines how far a model can see if there is full cover terrain in the way. This is one of those future tech situations, but you can see real world applications when you see footage of Infrared video where you can see human heat signatures through solid walls and windows. Just imagine that with a couple of dozen centuries of R&D added on and then we're getting to the kind of situation that we can assume is going to have a significant effect.
By moving away from the dice modifier to a defense skill improvement we ensure that though the total potential for defense does not increase for a stealth model, the capacity of the model to fully utilize what defense dice modifiers that apply is improved.
Since the terrain cover modifiers in the Beta rules are being reduced to only two levels, Light cover at +1D6 or Heavy cover at +2D6, the significance of a trait like Stealth is greater when the margin for a successful defense is tighter.
A trait like Stealth is great since it really affects how a model plays in the game. It makes the player gamble a bit. Will their stealth model avoid the attack and be able to respond better later, or should they give up the stealth bonus to Snap fire in return now just in case they are crippled or destroyed? Having a 2+ Pilot for defense sounds like the best thing ever until you realize that your top result is going to be an 8 on 3D6. Your opponent on the other hand can reach or exceed that with a basic autocannon. Fear the Burst:2 weapons that make a mockery of even heavy cover.
It will be interesting to see how players negotiate that choice.