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Shattered Sphere: A Sourcebook for BattleTech
Diane Piron-Gelman, with Michael A. Stackpole and Dan "Flake" Grendell
FASA, 128 pages

Art: Chris Moeller
Shattered Sphere: A Sourcebook for BattleTech
Additional Information
In 1990 BattleTech was one of the most popular science fiction games on the market, supported by dozens of supplements, and it has moved well beyond that base today. To anyone without at least a passing familiarity with today's popular game systems, the amount of material available to the dedicated BattleTech player will appear staggering: the core rule books, supplements, battle records, and other published goodies now numbers well over 100. Most of these are rule supplements which average 100-200 pages in length. In short, there are more volumes available in the BattleTech series than there are in the Encyclopedia Britannica. And that doesn't include the novels and trading cards.

FASA Corporation
SF Site Review: The Battletech Universe, Part 1
SF Site Review: The Battletech Universe, Part 2

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Don Bassingthwaite

Wow. You want to talk about your daunting games to look at getting into, BattleTech and its role-playing companion MechWarrior have always intimidated me. Not necessarily so much in the rules side of things, but in terms of the scope and history of the game, not to mention the number of supplements for it. BattleTech has been out for 14 years, with approximately 45 in-print products and 30 novels (figures courtesy of FASA Corp.). Where do you start? Well sure, there's the core rules, but what about anything that's happened in the game universe since their publication? Do I have to rush out and grab all the supplements, too? Which supplements are going to tell me what I want to know about the current state of affairs in the game setting?

And the answer is: just one.

Shattered Spheres is an interesting product. Its purpose doesn't seem to be so much to cover the history of the Inner Sphere and humanity's existence among the stars -- although it certainly does touch on it with a brief, well-written overview -- as it is to cover recent events and current affairs. The back cover copy says the book offers "an in-depth look at events from the Truce of Tukayyid [3052] through early 3062," a span of 10 years. In fact, the events that have real impact through the book begin more in the range of 3056 or even 3058 -- as far as significant events go, 3052 is almost ancient history. Just to give you an idea of what's been happening in the last few years of the BattleTech universe: the legendary Star League has been reborn, the invading Clans have been beaten back -- one of them virtually destroyed in the heart of Clan territory itself, another defected to the side of the Star League, and a third learning peaceful co-existence in the Inner Sphere, a throne has been usurped, borders have shifted and seem likely to shift again, old enemies have become allies, a "religious" schism rages...

Yes, it's still intimidating, but Shattered Sphere brings it all together very nicely. The framing structure of the book is a series of military intelligence reports to Victor Steiner-Davion, hero of the war against the Clans, Precentor General of ComStar, and newly made Commanding General of the Star League Defense Force. Some are reports to Victor Steiner-Davion directly, others are reports made to various other Inner Sphere leaders, apparently hijacked and copied by Star League Defense Force Intelligence (phew, long title -- but don't worry: most organizations are referred to in the text by their initials, although that in itself gets a little confusing at times). Comments by the head of SLDF are scattered throughout, lending an air of immediacy to the book.

The first section is the aforementioned brief history of the Inner Sphere, thorough without going overboard though at times convoluted -- it is history after all. You might want to tuck a bookmark in where the section discusses recent events because you'll find yourself flipping back for reference often.

From there, Shattered Sphere goes on to discuss each of the major political factions of the Inner Sphere in turn. Each discussion generally takes the same structure: an interesting little historical tidbit as a preface (the description of a major battle or military operation or an excerpt from a personal journal), a discussion of recent history and affairs, a summation of military strengths, and a gallery of a few notable personalities.

The final sections of the book consider the state of the Clans, the conflict between ComStar and its radical spawn, the Word of Blake, and the condition of the lesser territories that exist on the fringes of the Inner Sphere.

The writing is very clear throughout the book and easy to read, a valuable trait in a book that could easily have turned into a tediously dry report. The history does tend to depend very heavily on military conflict for its defining moments, but since the game itself has a strong military focus, that's not out of place. There's a good deal of political manoeuvring going on as well and Shattered Sphere gives an excellent sense of the entire process, from origins to manipulations to repercussions.

Players of the game and readers of the novels might want to be aware that this book does have certain spoilers built into it, however. The framing report is dated January 1, 3062, some months into the future of other recent products and novels. This is deliberate on the part of the designers, since it means Shattered Sphere won't become totally redundant only a few months after its release. The spoilers are nothing major -- they might give away the final resolution of some situations, but they certainly don't give away any of the drama that comes across in more detailed products.

There are two specific criticisms I'd make, though. The first is that several of the reports contain comments by their "authors" to their commanders, but they refer to the commanders in the third person because other people may make use of the report at a later time. I could handle the reference once or maybe twice, but after that it was just annoying and it probably could have been left out entirely with no one missing it. But that's a very small thing. The second criticism is more significant: an appendix citing sources would have been wonderful. Shattered Sphere's ties to the BattleTech novels are fantastic and the author even thanks the novels' authors in her acknowledgments. I don't think it would have broken suspension of disbelief to step out of character at the end of the book and link novels or sourcebooks to particular events. It would have made the book just that much more useful as a guide to some of that multitude of BattleTech products.

The other thing you might notice about Shattered Sphere is that you won't find more than the barest sense of culture here -- the Capellan Confederation is clearly Chinese in heritage, the Draconis Combine Japanese, the Free Worlds Alliance militaristic, etc. -- but again, that's not the purpose of the book. It's a summary and a very fine one. Big product line? No sweat and no more intimidation. Well, not much anyway -- BattleTech is still a big game with lots of bits, but this gives you some sense of what's going on (think of it as basic training for this summer's release of the MechWarrior, Third Edition role-playing game). Whet your appetite for BattleTech with this, then go looking for more.

Copyright © 1999 by Don Bassingthwaite

Don Bassingthwaite is the author of Such Pain (HarperPrism), Breathe Deeply (White Wolf), and Pomegranates Full and Fine (White Wolf), tie-in novels to White Wolf's World of Darkness role-playing games. He can't remember when he started reading science fiction, but has been gaming since high school (and, boy, is his dice arm tired!).

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