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Periphery

The BattleTech Universe
A Look at FASA's Rich Gaming and Fiction Franchise, Part II
by John O'Neill
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Last issue, in Part I of this article, we looked at the origin of the BattleTech game and its basic components. This issue we dive into the heart and soul of the system -- the wealth of gaming supplements, adventures, and playing aids that have been published by FASA since BattleTech first appeared in 1984.

Crafted for the most part by a small group of extremely creative writers and artists, these supplements offer far more than just colorful background and firefight motivation; taken as a whole they present a strong narrative thread that spans over three decades of tumultuous history, a time of invasion, betrayal, and grand heroism. It is a story line with all the momentum of classic science fiction, capable of capturing the reader all on its own -- with the added bonus of allowing her to step into the heavy metal tread of a BattleMech at any time to re-create pivotal battles in BattleTech, role-play the member of an invading Clan in MechWarrior, or even pilot a starship in BattleSpace.

BattleTech Field Manuals

Cockpit After the Rules Expansions volumes (covered last issue), perhaps the most useful books for those seeking additional rules and densely-packed game info are the BattleTech field manuals. Each of these thick volumes is filled with military history, profiles of the famed units of a specific House, and even fine detail on the combat units themselves -- including their tactics, officers, color uniforms, insignia, and more. Also, these books include special rules for weapons and 'Mechs exclusive to the House profiled. The Draconis Combine (1996, $20, Stock #1698) is perhaps my favorite of the bunch, detailing the feared army of the House Kurita, a distinctly oriental clan with a long and fierce history. The Free Worlds League (1997, $20, #1699) covers the history and strategies of the noble House Marik, one of the few spared the destruction of the Clan invasion of 3049 (see below). With its elite Knights of the Inner Sphere and feisty militia, Marik possesses one of the largest and most well-equipped armies in the Inner Sphere.

Technical Readouts

Technical Readouts If you really want the goods on the rich hardware of the BattleTech Universe, though, the place to come is the Technical Readout manuals. In my opinion, these are what truly distinguish BattleTech from the legions of pretenders -- no other game system has the enormous depth and internal consistency of these reference books. Each is an exhaustive guidebook to the weaponry, BattleMechs, and support ships of a specific arena or game era. Every entry provides complete game statistics, from armor rating to ground speed to communication systems. It's all here for you, in a compact and consistent form.

One of the most intriguing aspects of these books is the surprising differences in technology from House to House and from era to era, and this is most readily apparent when you compare them in chronological order. They begin with The Succession Wars: 3025 (Second Edition, 1996, $15, #8603), which details the BattleMechs in use when the Successor Lords to the Star League first vied for supremacy over the entire Inner Sphere. Technical Readout 3026 (1987, $15, #8606) covers the same general era and fills in the details on vehicles and personal equipment. Drop Ships Things really get interesting by 3050 and The Return of Kerensky: 3050 (1996, $18, #8614) with the arrival of the Clans: the military descendants of Aleksandr Kerensky, Protector-General of the Star League, who departed the Inner Sphere with nearly half the military force of the Star League more than 250 years ago and was never seen again. Now his descendants are back, with weapons and 'Mechs never before seen in the Inner Sphere, mounting an invasion force that penetrates deep into the heart of known space with astonishing swiftness and ferocity. 3055 (Revised Edition 1996, $15, #8619) and 3058 (1995, $18, #8621) continue in the same grand tradition, as 'Mechs and tanks capable of going toe-to-toe with the invading Clans finally roll off the assembly lines of the Successor States. But the most intriguing book of the lot is still Dropships, Jumpships, & Warships: 3057 (1994, $18, #8620), which is exactly what you think it is: stats for space armadas, cargo ships for transporting 'Mechs and the convoy ships to protect them. A nice complement to BattleSpace.

Sourcebooks
Periphery Midway between the down-to-the-rivets detail of the Field Manuals and the Adventure Scenarios are the Sourcebooks, rich volumes which fill in some of the background detail on the more interesting aspects of the BattleTech Universe. Most of them are useful for both players of BattleTech and its role-playing spin-off, MechWarrior. Of the current lot, my favorite is The Periphery (1996, $18, #1692), which details the star systems at the outskirts of the Inner Sphere, mostly unexplored and the home of tiny realms who until now have been overlooked by the powerful Successor States. Invading Clans (1994, $18, #1645) describes the history, culture and military capabilities of the sons and daughters of the legendary Aleksandr Kerensky, the Clans Ghost Bear, Steel Viper, Nova Cat, and others. 1st Somerset Strikers (1995, $18, #1687) is the complete source book of the BattleTech animated series, describing every character, BattleMech and vehicle from the show. And Explorer Corps (1996, $15, #1681) fills in the details on the division of the ComStar consortium which has been charged with exploring the Deep Periphery, including their desperate efforts to locate the Clan homeworlds.

Clan Sourcebooks

Wolf Clan The Clan story line resonated deeply with gamers, with its historical overtones and desperate battles. FASA has fanned that interest by slowly releasing sourcebooks which reveal the history and capabilities of the invaders of the Inner Sphere. The Wolf Clan (1991, $15, #1642) and Jade Falcon (1992, $15, #1644) sourcebooks both contain everything you want to know about two of the premier clans, including full-color drawings of uniforms and insignias and details on military tactics and unique 'Mechs.

Scenarios and Adventures

Sourcebooks and field manuals are all well and good, but where the metal really hits the road is with a game's scenarios. These are the portions of the game that are actually played, rather than serving as simple reference works. And since the BattleTech game-umbrella covers a number of different rules systems -- including the BattleTech game itself, MechWarrior, BattleSpace and CityTech -- FASA has earnestly produced a well-rounded selection of adventure packs for each.

Living Legends Living Legends (1995, $10, #1646) is a role playing adventure for use with MechWarrior. Despite the rather embarrassing spelling error prominently displayed on the back of the book ("An unknown WarShip's sudden appearance deep in the Clan Occupation Zone may jeapardize (sic) a spying mission vital to the Inner Sphere"), this is otherwise a fairly well-written and nicely thought-out adventure, one which gradually draws the characters into a centuries-old mystery involving the ancient Star League, the omnipresent Clans, and an enigmatic WarShip that has appeared out of nowhere. Day of Heroes by Thomas S. Gressman (1993, $12, 1677) is subtitled The Continuing Adventures of the Gray Death Legion, the famous mercenary 'mech unit which stumbled across a precious and long-forgotten Star League memory core, complete with detailed advanced technology. The Fall of Terra Armed with that knowledge they went on "to blaze a trail of glory across the reaches of known space," and their exploits have been well chronicled in William H. Keith's Gray Death Trilogy of novels. This campaign pack for BattleTech gives the set-up for four of their most interesting battles, with complete victory conditions spelled out, allowing players to re-play some of these epic conflicts using basic Battletech components. The Fall of Terra by Chris Hartford (1996, $12, #1684) likewise lays out a blueprint for several fascinating battles, all focused on the struggle between the warring factions of ComStar for control of Earth. The Falcon and the Wolf by Rodney Knox (1995, $10, 1689) and The Battle of Coventry by Thomas S. Gressman (1996, $12, #1693) are similar scenario packs for BattleTech, with detailed story lines and background info that impart genuine tension to the battles. And finally we have First Strike by Bryan Nystul (1996, $12, #1697), an extremely ambitious little package crafted for new players which fuses together scenarios for Battletech and CityTech (thirteen in all) in a huge catch-all campaign featuring battles from the Clan invasion.

Record Sheets and Map Sets

Record Sheets BattleTech record sheets are an extremely handy play-aid for virtually any battle. These volumes contain pre-generated sheets for the 'Mechs and vehicles described in the corresponding Technical Readout tomes. All the information you need to keep track of damage to your 'Mech during combat is here, nicely laid out in a compact form. Maps set Like the Technical Readout books, the record sheet volumes are era-specific, so if you tend to game in a particular era or with a particular style of 'Mech or vehicle the decision for which volume to purchase is easy. Game information for most relevant weapons and equipment is also included on the sheets for easy reference.

The map sets are another attractive play-aid designed to supplement the materials provided in the boxed sets. Each comes with eight full color terrain maps for use with BattleTech or CityTech. Providing additional terrain features -- including Mountain, City, Deep Canyon and Moonscape -- these add a great deal of color and flair to the battles. There are currently five in the series.

Novels

Novels As of this writing, there have been over thirty BattleTech novels published, by such notable authors as Michael Stackpole and William H. Keith -- further evidence of both the popularity of the gaming universe and the allure of the background story. For newcomers, the best place to start may be the Gray Death Trilogy by William H. Keith, which chronicles the saga of Grayson Carlyle and his legendary mercenary unit. Stackpole's Blood of Kerensky trilogy also provides a lot of background on the Clan invasion, the seminal plot thread in the BattleTech Universe. Robert Thurston's Jade Phoenix Trilogy follows the exploits of one of the most famous of the invading Clans, seen through the eyes of Aidan, who longs to become a Clan MechWarrior and to compete for the Bloodname that is his birthright. More recently, Loren Coleman's standalone novels Double-Blind and Binding Force have draw some attention, as has Grave Covenant by Michael Stackpole, in which the Truce of Tukayyid -- the pact which ended the war between the Clans and the Inner Sphere -- nears its end.

Unlike virtually every other licensed property, the BattleTech novels are not merely an adjunct to the core series, constrained to return everyone and everything neatly to its proper place by the end of the book to maintain continuity. The BattleTech Universe is ever-changing, full of surprises and constant energy. Here main characters die, battles are lost, and heroes scatter to fight another day. That such a place can be brought to life by a group the size of the FASA design team, and yet still retain the consistency and purity of vision of a single-author work, is perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the BattleTech story. If you haven't tasted it yet, then by all means do so. Because the BattleTech Universe is on the move, and there's a very real danger that you'll be left behind.

Copyright © 1997 by A. John O'Neill

John O'Neill is the Founder and Managing Editor of the SF Site.


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