Author Topic: Shield Wall: Smart Meat Weapon Systems  (Read 396 times)

Tegyrius

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Shield Wall: Smart Meat Weapon Systems
« on: 13 January 2018, 18:20:09 »
SOLARIS CITY, Solaris VII, April 10, 3062 - Even though I know the attack is imminent, it's a shock when it comes.  I have no warning.  One moment, I'm anonymous in a crowd of revelers on Montenegro's Amethyst Strip; the next, the crowd is scattering as a wiry man in red leather lunges for me with a knife.  I'm paralyzed by shock, seeing only the glow of neon on the blade as it plunges toward my heart.

A massive hand closes on my shoulder and hurls me backward into a knot of protesting bystanders.  The knifeman stops short as my benefactor advances to meet him with a smile on her face.  There's a flurry of bladework, blocks, and kicks, too fast for me to follow.  Then muscles strain beneath a half-hectare of tailored black suit as the attacker finds himself pinned, lifted into the air, and hurled over the crowd's heads.  He vanishes into the mouth of an alley with an anguished scream and a clatter of trash cans.

"Freezing like that will kill you," my savior growls in justifiable irritation.  Then she's bulling her way down the street, her height and mass enabling her to clear a path for me with ease.  I follow, still shaking and trying to watch in all directions for the next attack.  What was a familiar scene of nightlife just minutes ago now seems an alien and hostile cityscape with assassins lurking behind every door.

We turn the corner and my guide resumes a normal pace, pulling me in close and leaning down to murmur into my ear.  "The next one will have a pistol," she advises.  "Let me take the shot."  She taps two fingers over her sternum for emphasis, then glances at a street sign.  "Four blocks and you are safe."

The expected next attack comes a block later.  As we pause for traffic, a tall, dark woman with Maori facial tattoos locks eyes with me from across the street.  She shifts her gaze, but she's trying too hard to be casual.  My guardian feels it, too.  She's already moving, pushing me down behind a parked sedan as the tattooed woman's hand comes up with a pistol in it.  She fires twice and I feel the car's bodywork thrum with the hits.  Then an answering volley comes from beside me as an immense handgun, seemingly powerful enough to take down a BattleMech, thunders.  The tattooed woman drops in a sprawl of limbs as crimson blossoms from her chest.

"Unf."  The woman dabs a hand under her jacket and cocks her head.  "Armor stopped it," she replies to my querying look.  "We continue."  She reloads and stows her pistol again before dragging me across the street.

"What next?" I ask as we weave through a restaurant's outdoor seating area.

"I do not know."  She considers for a moment as we cut down an alley.  "The third will be an overbid.  Something excessive and unique."  She smiles thinly.  "They want to kill you as much as I want to keep you alive."

The next few minutes pass in a blur of movement.  Then we emerge from another alley a half-block from the Solaris River waterfront.  Safety is only a minute away and I feel my shoulders relax incrementally.

It's a mistake.  Sudden out-of-place motion on a third-story balcony catches my eye.  My escort shouts, spins, her jacket flaring as she raises her gun.  Adrenaline jolts through me.  The 'Mech-killing pistol roars.  A man falls back from the balcony's edge, bright red sprayed across his arm and shoulder, a long and angular rifle falling from his hands.

My escort turns toward me and her face falls.  "Shit," she says, the Inner Sphere obscenity incongruous with her Clan accent.  "I am sorry.  That is your ascending aorta.  You are already dead."

With a shaking hand, I feel the spot on my upper chest that's just beginning to sting from an impact I didn't even notice.  My fingertips come away a brilliant blue from the marker round.
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Tegyrius

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Re: Shield Wall: Smart Meat Weapon Systems
« Reply #1 on: 13 January 2018, 18:20:55 »
The debrief for Vigdis' Trial of Readiness takes place in the conference room of Shield Wall's headquarters, an office suite in a skyscraper overlooking Silesia's Upper East Side.  The remains of a working dinner occupy the massive rhombus of polished steel that serves as the conference table, and the plush leather chairs are Brobdingnagian to accommodate the company's Elemental members.  Judging Vigdis' performance are Shield Wall's three founders and co-owners, the trio of current agents who served as tonight's aggressors, and - surprisingly - myself.  As the "dignitary" in the Trial, my experience and survival are the ultimate standard by which Shield Wall judges its prospective agents.

Despite my "death" at the hands of counter-sniper Augustín Baník, the assessment of Vigdis' work is generally positive.  Review of the recordings shot by sensor remotes shows that Vigdis' first shot struck before Baník fired.  In a real engagement, the heavy-caliber round might have broken his arm, throwing off his aim.  Then again, it might not.  As Shield Wall co-founder Fuyuko points out, "As in any other war, this theatre carries no guarantees.  Sometimes you can do everything correctly and still lose."

Baník and Roimata Hibbert, she of the Maori tattoos, are critical of Vigdis' evasion skills.  "Why did you keep going in a straight line?" Hibbert asks, calling up a map of the trial area on a wall screen.  "That made it easy for us to set up in front of you."

Vigdis shifts uncomfortably in her chair - an act that, despite her self-characterization as the runt of her sibko, is still reminiscent of a well-muscled avalanche.  "I... was uncertain my principal could keep up if I took a longer route," she admits with an apologetic glance at me.

"Then you carry your principal," Baník says flatly.  "You're an Elemental, don't tell me you can't drag and shoot.  Look.  Underground parking structure here, connecting to a mall here, and that has restaurants on the waterfront.  You could've made the last two blocks without street-level exposure, and in an area with private security - not those morons Montenegro puts in uniform."

The critique is harsh but necessary.  Shield Wall's reputation rides on its ability to protect its clients - "principals" in the trade's unique parlance - sometimes even from their own folly or weakness.
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Tegyrius

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Re: Shield Wall: Smart Meat Weapon Systems
« Reply #2 on: 13 January 2018, 18:21:29 »
Fuyuko refers to Shield Wall's MRBC registration as "largely ceremonial."  In truth, being a registered mercenary unit grants Shield Wall certain legal rights and privileges that would otherwise be difficult to come by - particularly for a corporation that counts a third of its employees as Clanners with no Inner Sphere citizenship.  But this "mercenary unit" has never deployed on a battlefield and, if it does its job right, never will.  Shield Wall's business is dignitary protection: bodyguarding.

Over coffee in their communal office - they work best as a three-headed team, and often finish each other's sentences - Fuyuko, Seppo, and Athanasius Kozlov share their company's origin story.  After the Battle of Tukayyid, Fuyuko - an Elemental of Clan Diamond Shark's Romashina Bloodhouse - and Seppo - a freeborn Ghost Bear Elemental - both needed to understand the Inner Sphere that had produced warriors capable of fighting Kerensky's heirs to a standstill.  Independently, they took passage toward Terra and wound up on Solaris VII.  Here, they met Kozlov, a former SAFE operative left in the cold by Free Worlds politics, in the employ of Cathayan crime lord Giang Ngo.

Ngo's Solaris Police Department file reveals a range of enterprises ranging from a wholly legitimate 'Mech dueling stable to a human trafficking ring.  Ngo took advantage of the Clanners' innocence, using them to shield his aboveboard pursuits from the repercussions of his criminal activity.  Meanwhile, Kozlov became the head of security for Ngo's Shadow Gallery stable.  Though the challenges were suited to their skills, all three felt trapped in a bargain that they'd not fully understood when they entered it.  "It is difficult to feel honorable under a dishonorable leader," Seppo says with his typical understatement. 

The trio's dilemma resolved itself when Ngo was found dead in his suite's hot tub, stabbed to death by parties unknown (but probably including his mistress) after dismissing his bodyguards for the night.  Meeting for drinks after their respective interrogations by the SPD, all three agreed that they could have prevented the assassination if Ngo had heeded their advice.  No one is willing to admit to being the first to take "we could do better" to "why don't we do better?" but by the end of the night, Fuyuko, Seppo, and Kozlov had agreed to a trial partnership as bodyguards for hire.
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Tegyrius

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Re: Shield Wall: Smart Meat Weapon Systems
« Reply #3 on: 13 January 2018, 18:21:56 »
The Trial of Readiness is Shield Wall's unique adaptation of the Clan Trial of Position.  With a third of the company's agents coming from the Clans, it's a familiar element that eases their passage into an unfamiliar world.  But where a Trial of Position determines a Clan warrior's rank and command privileges, a Trial of Readiness serves only to demonstrate a Shield Wall agent's individual skills - and glory-seekers who equate prestige with kill count will quickly be disillusioned.

Through an arrangement with the notoriously-flexible Montenegro sector police (and a willingness to salve minor damages and hurt feelings with Marik Eagles), Shield Wall runs its Trials of Readiness in public, using non-lethal marker ammunition and other simulated weapons.  A candidate's objective is to move a single "principal" across six blocks while defeating or evading three assassination attempts.  In Trial of Position fashion, the first opponent is armed with a melee weapon, the second with a handgun, and the third with some form of superior weapon.  However, avoiding combat entirely is a valid strategy.  Shield Wall values tradecraft as much as pistolcraft.  If the candidate "dies" but gets the principal safely to the extraction point, the exercise is a success.  If the principal is taken out, it's usually a failure, regardless of the candidate's survival or combat prowess.

Vigdis' performance falls into a hazy middle ground: I took a marker round to a location that would all but guarantee my death, but her faster reflexes might have negated Baník's marksmanship in a real gunfight.  This outcome is more common than one might expect in an arena where milliseconds matter, which is why all three "aggressors," the "principal," and, when available, all three of the company's leaders have a say in the decision.
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Tegyrius

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Re: Shield Wall: Smart Meat Weapon Systems
« Reply #4 on: 13 January 2018, 18:22:19 »
Inevitably, comparisons arise between Shield Wall and the galaxy's best-known Elemental-heavy mercenary unit, the Raging Horde.  Shield Wall's executives exchange an amused look when I broach the topic.

"Apples and oranges," Fuyuko replies.  "Roberto Maine is a friend and I have met Calvin Moon.  But we are not competitors."

"They have a Diamond Shark leader and we have a Diamond Shark leader," Seppo adds with a nod toward Fuyuko.  "They have Elementals and we have Elementals.  That is as far as it goes.  I would not presume to dictate battlefield tactics to them," though his smirk suggests he might, in the right venue, "but nor would I accept their input on how to screen a hotel's security systems or shepherd the Hollings twins through a red-carpet premiere."

"If you're looking for a benchmark, use another dignitary protection firm," Kozlov says.  "People's Protection.  Steel Curtain.  Executive Solutions."  He ticks off some of the Inner Sphere's best-known bodyguard companies on his fingers.  "Or compare us to the major state services, where you can find records of their ops."

Indeed, the "major state services" and larger planetary security organizations supply the bulk of Shield Wall's agents.  The company prefers to hire individuals whose mindset and training already inclines toward protection over other covert operations or conventional warfare.  But then why so many Clanners, almost all Elementals?

"Well, I like to think they can be taught," Kozlov says with a laugh as Fuyuko mimes tearing off his head and tossing it out the window.  "No, in truth - the ones who come to us are more mentally prepared for the job than most Inner Sphere soldiers."

"Synergy," Fuyuko adds.  "It is a combined arms approach, if you look at it in the right light."

Indeed, Shield Wall boasts a degree of integration between Clanners and Inner Sphere personnel that is vanishingly rare, even after a decade of cross-cultural contact.  That's another screening criterion: the ability to work seamlessly with individuals from nations or Clans that may be enemies on the interstellar level.  In speaking to Shield Wall's Clanners, though, it becomes clear that none of them see what they do as mercenary or dishonorable, and many still consider themselves members of their Clans.

"This is a battlefield of the mind," says Serval, the Nova Cat second-in-command of Shield Wall's flagship Alpha Team.  He sweeps a hand up his torso.  "Everyone looks at us and thinks, 'meat shield.'  Or, on a battlefield, 'crunchies.'"  He smiles grimly at the ancient epithet for infantry.  "But here, out of the iron, unaugmented, it is more obvious when we win by thinking.  Or by not fighting."

"Assassination is a reality in the Inner Sphere," explains Celeste Bourjon, one of two Bloodnamed Elementals currently serving with Shield Wall.  "It is not something we have experience countering.  It is dezgra but calling it dezgra will not make it go away.  Here, I am learning to ward against it.  One day, I will take these lessons back to the Clan."

"Setting aside Headhunter details, this is small team work at its purest," says Nova Cat Sigmund.  "Even though I have won the right to wear the iron, I am an insignificant freebirth, one tiny speck in a cluster, eminently disposable.  Here, I have a team that is closer than my sibkin, and we fight with fingerspitzengefüh."  He mangles the Lyran word but waggles a hand to demonstrate the "fingertips-feeling" of instinctive coordination that only the closest-knit teams achieve.

And what do the Inner Sphere agents serving alongside these Clanners think?

"They're solid," opines former MIIO agent Lucas St. Martin, my knife-wielding assailant.  "Some of them need a bit of dialing in on playing nice with others, but they don't panic.  And when it's crunch time, they've got no brakes.  That's rare.  A lot of troops never get down to hand-to-hand after basic training.  Elementals are full-contact as a lifestyle choice.  They don't hesitate to go hands-on and being punched in the face is like a polite invitation."

Hibbert, Sigmund's usual partner and late of the Togura Planetary Security Force, laughs delightedly.  "When I'm facing down some troublemaker, having two and a half meters of Nova Cat behind me makes it a lot easier to de-escalate the situation without violence.  And face it - they're noticeable.  That means the rest of us have a better chance of staying covert, which is what we get paid to do a lot of the time.  Also, for a high-threat detail, having a couple of toad suits in the pain wagon is a really good equalizer.  Or remodeling tool."
« Last Edit: 13 January 2018, 18:53:26 by Tegyrius »
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Tegyrius

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Re: Shield Wall: Smart Meat Weapon Systems
« Reply #5 on: 13 January 2018, 18:22:39 »
A "pain wagon" is Shield Wall's weapon of last resort, a passenger or light cargo vehicle equipped with covert armor and filled with heavily-armed agents - up to and including Elementals in their signature armor or smaller-statured troopers in Grey Death Scout suits.  Deploying one means a team expects a coordinated, well-armed attempt to kill or kidnap its principal.  Actually employing one means the situation has gone, in Serval's words, "irrevocably kinetic."

Shield Wall is understandably reluctant to disclose too many details of its composition or tactics, but Alpha Team has a well-oiled presentation of information that is in the public domain.  The first point is that every detail is a team operation.  The Trial of Readiness I experienced is an anomaly; in such a situation, the lone agent and principal would be on the run because the rest of the detail was already out of the fight.

A typical team is eight to twelve protection agents plus half as many technical specialists.  The techs aren't combatants and aren't expected to interface with the principal, though they are more than capable of defending themselves if an adversary makes a run on the team's support structure.  They are procurers, sensor operators, communicators, mechanics, and armorers, there to keep the team and its equipment mission-capable for the duration of the detail.  At least one is a trauma medicine specialist, capable of rendering aid up to and including battlefield surgery.

Protection agents can be as covert or overt as the detail requires - or as the principal desires.  Shield Wall spends a non-trivial amount of its operational budget on tailoring to ensure its agents can blend into any conceivable venue while concealing their weapons, armor, and other gear.  "This is a definite advantage over the Homeworlds," admits Celeste Bourjon as she undergoes fitting for an upcoming black-tie gala.  "I did not know what I was missing until I encountered formalwear."

In a more overt posture, agents can gear up to full infantry battle dress, though Shield Wall prefers to avoid such deployments.  "It's an unnecessary escalation," says Kozlov.  "It attracts attention, which is usually the last thing we want.  And it annoys the local police."  Usually, such equipment remains in the pain wagon, coming out only when a team needs to shoot its way out of an attack or ambush and apologize later.  A much more typical loadout is what Vigdis had during our sprint across Montenegro: a radio (the most important piece of hardware, in most agents' assessment), a selection of less-lethal armament, body armor, a personal medical kit, and primary and backup pistols, all concealed under the aforementioned wardrobe.
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Tegyrius

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Re: Shield Wall: Smart Meat Weapon Systems
« Reply #6 on: 13 January 2018, 18:22:53 »
In the end, the panel accepts Vigdis as a probationary member, with Baník casting the deciding vote in her favor.  She'll enter Shield Wall for a six-month immersive apprenticeship under Inner Sphere trainers who will polish her non-combat skills and acculturation.  After that, she'll undergo a second Trial of Readiness.  If she passes, she'll move to an operational team as a junior dignitary protection agent.  If she fails?

"Then I will return to Zeta Galaxy with my head held high," she says with a stoic shrug.  "I will still have learned where my sibmates have not, and succeeded at something it never occurred to them to try."

She's unfazed by the knife's-edge nature of her Trial of Readiness or the training and second Trial ahead of her.  "Why should it be easy?  If I could not fail, then I did not succeed."
« Last Edit: 13 January 2018, 18:49:48 by Tegyrius »
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Tegyrius

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Re: Shield Wall: Smart Meat Weapon Systems
« Reply #7 on: 13 January 2018, 18:23:12 »
GM Notes

Shield Wall is amazingly unsuited for tabletop play.  Each of its nine field teams can, at most, provide a mixed Regular squad of Elemental and Grey Death Scout armor.  The unit's Dragoons rating remains a solid "Unrated," reflecting its complete lack of MRBC-recognized combat contracts.

In a roleplaying context, PCs may encounter a Shield Wall team guarding celebrities, planetary nobles, industrialists, the latest Solaris champion, or some rich jerk who wants to look important.  Depending on the PCs' desired interaction with the team's principal, they may be anything from obstacles to allies.  The company is based on Solaris VII but takes contacts anywhere within three months' travel of Solaris.

As a roleplaying campaign, Shield Wall offers a good change of pace for players who want to brush up against political intrigue and the Inner Sphere's highest-flying social scenes while still having a variety of personal combat scenes with objectives beyond "turn the other guy into a red smear."  The GM and players should note that many "threats" Shield Wall agents face are more destructive of the principal's dignity than his vital functions, and blasting paparazzi into photographer paste is generally counterproductive even if it is satisfying.  Depending on the play group, resolution of such lesser issues can range from tense to comedic.

Shield Wall protection agents are well-versed in etiquette and diplomacy and won't make a scene if they can resolve a "soft" problem without overt conflict.  Even the Elementals - of whom each team has at least two - can use a delicate touch, though they're perfectly comfortable playing the dumb brute card if that's what the team needs.

If it comes down to a fight, Shield Wall agents' first priority is to protect their principal.  Their second priority is to protect the company.  Personal survival comes third.  Agents on the close protection part of the detail - i.e., closest to the principal - will typically have communications gear, concealable armor, and concealable weapons.  At least two others will be nearby with heavier weapons in covert bags or cases.  The team will be intimately familiar with the local geography and will have a liaison arrangement in place with any law enforcement agencies that might show up to a gunfight.

Vehicles will be pre-positioned and guarded, and will contain infantry weapons, heavier body armor, less-lethal crowd control munitions, and extensive medical gear.  Whenever possible, Shield Wall tries to procure or modify vehicles with covert armor capable of resisting most small arms fire.  If a pain wagon is on site, two to four agents in battle armor will be on standby in case they need to clear an escape route with firepower.  Although it's not their forte, agents with battle armor training are capable of anti-'Mech attacks - in particular, fending off a 'Mech attack is a quietly-discussed worst-case contingency for Shield Wall's Elementals.
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Daryk

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Re: Shield Wall: Smart Meat Weapon Systems
« Reply #8 on: 13 January 2018, 18:46:28 »
Very nice!  I like these guys!

BTW, to get italics here, you need "[" vice "<" brackets.  Also, your last post before "GM Notes" is missing the first letter...

Tegyrius

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Re: Shield Wall: Smart Meat Weapon Systems
« Reply #9 on: 13 January 2018, 18:52:02 »
D’oh. HTML hand-coder’s reflex. Fixed. Thanks!
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ckosacranoid

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Re: Shield Wall: Smart Meat Weapon Systems
« Reply #10 on: 02 February 2018, 17:52:53 »
Talk about a very take on messes that do something different. I love this unit and the make up. Thanks for sharing.

Cavgunner

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Re: Shield Wall: Smart Meat Weapon Systems
« Reply #11 on: 13 February 2018, 21:27:21 »
This is good stuff.  More please!

Tegyrius

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Re: Shield Wall: Smart Meat Weapon Systems
« Reply #12 on: 13 February 2018, 22:08:50 »
Thanks, guys. :)

Cav - not in the same style, but in the same line of unconventional mercs: Aerial Recovery Solutions.
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DOC_Agren

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Re: Shield Wall: Smart Meat Weapon Systems
« Reply #13 on: 17 February 2018, 11:21:18 »
I have to say you have the ability to produce neat, support units for other groups to run up against.
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