Exploring The World Of BattleTech Part Two: Backstory & Setting

August 29, 2016 by crew

We’re back, Beasts of War, for further explorations into one of the most richly detailed, vastly expansive, and tenaciously enduring universes in the history of Sci-Fi wargaming. I’m talking, of course, of BattleTech. I am your host, BoW contributor @oriskany, hoping to show you just a sliver of what this staggering franchise has to offer.

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If you’re just joining us, please take a moment to check out Part One of our series, an Introduction to BattleTech.

Created by FASA in 1984 and one of the true powerhouses of Sci-Fi wargaming in the 80′s and 90′s, BattleTech is the franchise that just won’t die. Conversely, under new ownership it has tapped into the loyalty of its original fan base and the imagination of a new generation of gamers, and now stands poised to make the mother of all comebacks.

Like all great gaming franchises, part of what makes BattleTech such a giant is its backstory. The labyrinthine depth of its history, the intricate tapestry of its campaign area, and the myriad of choices it offers its players – all can be equalled by very, VERY few other settings in Sci-Fi wargaming. Let’s take the briefest of possible surveys together.

The Inner Sphere

The BattleTech universe is primarily set in the so-called “Inner Sphere,” an expanse of space with Earth at its centre. The Inner Sphere measures about 500 light years across, contains some two million stars, with about two thousand inhabited star systems.

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Depending on when a campaign is set in the BattleTech timeline, the Inner Sphere is divided into vast nations usually called “Successor States.” These states are almost always at war, recovering from the last war, or on the brink of the next war. Between these kingdoms, smaller states occasionally split off in rebellions, uprisings, or civil wars.

Surrounding the Inner Sphere is a fringe curtain of space called the Periphery, where colonization is much more sparse. Small, independent governments subsist out here, often lashing out against each other in small “bush wars,” fending off expansion by one of the Successor States, or quelling renegade mercenaries or pirates.

The Houses

Each Successor State is controlled by a feudal house, ruled by a noble dynastic family. Earth itself (usually called Terra) is typically a neutral territory, ruled by corporations, multilateral coalitions, quasi-religious orders, or their own independent government.

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The five houses are loosely based on cultures we may find familiar. The Lyran Alliance, for example, is ruled by House Steiner, a vaguely Germanic-Scandinavian society. The Free Worlds League is a generally “American” nation governed by House Marik, while the Capellan Confederation is ruled by House Liao, loosely based on China.

Rounding out the Successor States are the Draconis Combine, ruled by a Japanese-inspired House Kurita, and finally the Federated Suns ruled by House Davion, a loosely-inspired throwback to the society and traditions of the United Kingdom.

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This isn’t to say that BattleTech is cleanly split into these five simple factions. Between and within these alliances, innumerable nations rise and fall, and dozens of smaller governments rule along the Periphery. Each of these is fully developed in resource books and novels, creating a true “universe” in which players can lose themselves.

The Wars Of Succession

I’m actually not kidding when I say that trying to summarize a millennia of BattleTech history in one article is almost as hard as trying to summarize real history, say … since the Norman Invasions. The BattleTech backstory has been fleshed out to THAT level of near-Silmarillion detail. Nevertheless, let’s have a go at the highlights.

Following the development of FTL travel and an explosion of interstellar expansion, colonial states began to break away from the Terran government. These interstellar states (the earliest manifestations of the houses mentioned above) then fought with each other for centuries until they finally fused together into the “Star League” in 2571.

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The Star League heralded 200 years of peace and technological growth until the ruling First Lord was befriended, betrayed, and put to death (along with his whole family) the usurper Stefan Amaris. This sparked a savage war to save the Star League, eventually won by the incomparable military figure of BattleTech: General Aleksandr Kerensky.

But in the aftermath, even Kerensky couldn’t keep the peace. The “Successor States” again went to war over the Star League’s future until finally, Kerensky could take no more. Appalled by what the Star League had become, he simply left known space to form his own vision of the future. About 80% of the Star League’s armies went with him.

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Bereft of their idealistic leader, the Successor States rebuilt their armies and launched into a series of apocalyptic “Wars of Succession” which shattered whatever remained of the Star League and its epoch of utopian progress. Genocide was undertaken on a planetary scale, and humanity backslid centuries both socially and technologically.

The Clans

The Wars of Succession (four in all, plus several other shattering conflicts) continued for hundreds of years until finally, in 3050, a new threat exploded out of the Periphery. This new enemy launched an unstoppable interstellar blitzkrieg, overrunning dozens of planets with vastly better soldiers, technology, and tactics. The Clans had arrived.

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Only gradually did the reeling Successor States realize who the Clans were: The descendants of Kerensky and the armies he’d taken with him centuries ago. With a ruthlessly militaristic caste system based on genetic engineering, Clan society is perhaps a little twisted by their generations of struggle for survival in deep space.

Once there were over twenty Clans, but many are now extinct since these guys love fighting even with each other. They are generally divided into two camps, the “Warden” Clans who believe they’ve inherited a mission to protect Humanity, and Crusader Clans who want to invade all the way to Terra and re-establish the lost rule of Kerensky.

Recent Events

To stop the Clans, armies of the Inner Sphere soon united under the direction of ComStar, the organization on Terra that had always maintained “hyperpulse generators” that allowed all FTL communications. But after centuries of wielding such immense power, ComStar had evolved into a quasi-religious order as well as a technological entity.

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Although they never ejected the Clans from the Inner Sphere, ComStar helped stop their invasion and it almost looked as if the Star League might finally be re-established. But when the Houses withdrew their support from the “religious” zealots of ComStar (the Word of Blake), another round of gigantic wars engulfed the Inner Sphere.

Known as the “Jiyhad,” this war involved every major faction and lasted over a decade. It also saw the first use of weapons of mass destruction in centuries. Finally, the Word of Blake was defeated on Terra in 3081. Terra became the capital world of its own small republic and a shaky peace finally settled over much of the Inner Sphere.

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Then came the “Dark Age,” the most recent era of BattleTech history. In the early 3130s, a series of attacks have brought down the hyperpulse generator network, leaving each planet effectively isolated. Recrimination, fear, and blame have taken hold, and war threatens to erupt anew as no one can identify the source of these attacks.

Mercenaries & Solaris VII

Yet even these dozens of republics, clans, houses, kingdoms, and federations are only the core choices available to BattleTech players. In addition to the myriad of smaller powers along the borders of the Successor States or out on the Periphery, one a popular option for mechwarriors remains: The mercenaries.

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BattleTech depicts such a war-torn society that long-standing mercenary companies, some with battle records centuries long, exist as fully-equipped military assets available for hire. Such outfits regularly take contracts with various governments, enabling players to play their armies wherever they want in the BattleTech universe.

Meanwhile, there’s also Solaris VII, a planet set aside for gladiatorial ‘mech combat. Much the way jousting tournaments kept knights out of trouble between the endless feudal wars in the Middle Ages, so Solaris VII offers yet another avenue of BattleTech play … at least until the next war inevitably ignites.

As any “mechwarrior” familiar with this franchise will quickly tell you (or hopefully point out in the comments below), this article barely scratches the most superficial surface of BattleTech’s history and setting. If you want the full story, you’ve got 160+ novels to read, plus 200+ supplements for the wargames and RPGs.

Do you have questions, comments, or your own BattleTech stories? Do you have a favourite House or Clan? Drop your comments below, and come back next week when we dig into the technology and mechanics of the various BattleTech game systems. We’re just getting started, mechwarriors. The battlefield awaits!

James Johnson

If you would like to write articles for Beasts Of War and have something to say then get in contact with us at ben@beastsofwar.com for more information!

"This isn’t to say that BattleTech is cleanly split into these five simple factions. Between and within these alliances, innumerable nations rise and fall, and dozens of smaller governments rule along the Periphery..."

"If you want the full story, you’ve got 160+ novels to read, plus 200+ supplements for the wargames and RPGs..."