03 May 2017

Why I Got Into Battletech

  So, this past weekend I had the distinct pleasure of teaching Battletech 101 to some good friends.  A couple of them I've known for 15 years, and a couple I just met on our Geek Cruise in January but are awesome individuals.  Christopher, Cathey, LB and Erin- this post is for you.  Oh, and for you, too, Elizabeth since you expressed curiosity.

  Sherman, set the way-back machine for Chisholm Trail Middle School's cafeteria, circa 1986.  I had just started the sixth grade and had spend part of the summer playing my first games of D&D.  Gaming was already in my blood, and I was eager to see what else was out there.  Games started flowing my way from my mom's work friends at Eaton, and I was looking at Traveller, Star Frontiers, Marvel, Palladium stuff, etc.  One day at lunch, one of the regulars brought out this neat book- Technical Readout 3025.

WOW!  This book was a treasure trove of neat giant robots, many of them very familiar looking to me since the designs had been taken from Macross and Dougram, both familiar to be from the Revell model kids.  Plus, you know, Robotech.  But the text of the descriptions wove a tale of a very distinctive world from that of any cartoon or comic I'd read before.  I wanted to know more.  I borrowed the basic Battletech rulebook and read all the sidebars about the Succession Wars, and how MechWarriors were basically knights and passed their ancient war machines down parent to child.  Just the small amount of world information in that slim rules volume fired my imagination in a way no game had until that point.  D&D had opened the door, but science fiction was my groove just a wee bit more than fantasy and the idea of feudal empires with mecha rapidly became a bit of an obsession.

So, what was it that made Battletech one of my favorite game worlds of all time?  Let's see...

Artwork.  FASA stalwarts Dana Knutson, Dave Deitrick and Duane Loose illustrated TRO: 3025, that first Battletech item I ever read.  The rulebook had some of their artwork as well, and I think some Liz Danforth art, too.  Jim Holloway's art appeared for me soon after, his covers for MechWarrior (which made Battletech even more attractive to me by making it a full roleplaying experience) and CityTech were particularly awesome.  The re-use of original Macross and Dougram art on the back of the boxed set was iconic as well, and who can forget the Warhammer blasting its way off the cover of the box?  The art fished me in, and my fist foray onto the hex grid was at the helm of a WSP-1A because it obviously had Roy Fokker's paint job. That Wasp got blown out from under me a lot, since everyone else loved heavy 'Mechs...

Mad Max meets Dune meets Giant Robots.  OK, here's the back blurb off the boxed set:
A Dark Age has befallen mankind. Where the United Star League once reigned, five successor states now battle for control. The destruction of war has ravaged the once flourishing worlds and left them in ruins. The advancement of technology has not only ceased, but the machines and equipment of the past cannot be produced by present-day worlds. The Succession Wars are fought over water, ancient machines, and spare parts factories. Control of these elements will lead to final victory and the domination of known space.
BATTLETECH: The study and implementation of battlefield technology.
BATTLEMECH: Ranging in height from 7 to 15 meters and weighing 10 to 100 tons, they carry more firepower than a 20th-century tank battalion.
MECHWARRIOR: Brave men and women who are 31st-century knights piloting their 'Mechs into battle. Serving one of the five Houses, or in the employ of a mercenary company or bandit king, these warriors are the most respected and feared individuals in the galaxy.
Now you are a MechWarrior and the time has come for you to go into battle.
In the 30th century[1], life is cheap, but BattleMechs aren't.
BATTLETECH is the second edition of BATTLEDROIDS

  The links?  They take you to Sarna.net  Feel free to lose HOURS learning about the Battletech universe by following those links.  Anyway, this blurb is both why I love Battletech and why I'm one of those die-hard "3025 or bust" players the current developers hate.  You see, what is above is what pulled me into Battletech.  The terminology fans use for the 3025 time period is often "Mad Max" or "Post-Apoc", and that's the world I fell in love with and the game played within it.  A few short years after I started playing the timeline was advanced to 3050, and the game and world changed dramatically.  The lost technologies were making a comeback, and the MechWarrior became less knight and more basic military pilot.  Some of the mystique was gone, some of the hard-scrabble was gone.  Now, don't get me wrong, we got a LOT of mileage out of playing the technologically inferior Inner Sphere forces against the invading Clans circa 3049-52.  But from there on, the game drifted further and further from that Mad Max feel.  That's what got me into Battletech.  That's the world I want to explore.

The Factions.  The Five Great Houses gave people story fodder.  Me?  I immediately became a lifelong devotee of House Steiner and the Lyran Commonwealth.  As I type this the Lyran dogtags from the Harebrained Schemes Battletech video game kickstarter hang from my neck.  Reading the sidebar on the Lyrans my teenage self was enchanted by the idea of Melissa Steiner, Archon-designate.  The idea of a MechWarrior "princess" had me convinced my MechWarrior would eventually woo and marry her, and rule the Commonwealth.  I had no idea from just the rulebook that Hanse Davion was going to move in on my action, but that would come later.  Battletech fans tended to be like football fans- they would choose a faction and get rabid about it.  And like me, many folks chose a faction by some random criteria.  House Kurita's logo is awesome.  House Davion uses brit pronunciation of "Leftenant."  I like House Liao's signature color green.  Stuff like that.

Where it gets interesting is where these initial impressions lead.  As players read more and more about the faction with that neat patch, or cool terminology and planet name, they find a REMARKABLE amount of depth.  Starting in 1987, the House Books were released.  I picked up the House Steiner sourcebook immediately.  It was nearly 200 pages of background, history, people, units, planets, so much information.  And not a single game rule. It was a text on the Lyran Commonwealth and the Steiner family.  In fact, in the House book series, to include The Star League and The Periphery, have nearly zero rules.  In fact, if you don't count a couple of 'Mech designs, there are no rules.  Just pages and pages of one of the most detailed game worlds ever committed to paper.

The RPG Element.  Even in Battledroids and Battletech, there were rules for increasing the skill of your MechWarriors.  This was something I was familiar with
from Car Wars - the games weren't one-off affairs, if your pilot survived game to game they would "level up" like a D&D character.  The game's factions meant every throwdown started to have a story.  We all had favorite factions or mercenary units or pirate bands.  We kept score.  We started tracking damage and repair parts since the background at the time DRIPPED with the hardscrabble nature of Battletech.  TRO 3025 would mention that you knew that particular 'Mech belonged to a particular pilot because of the limp caused by the bad knee actuator.  Things were so bad damage could be "permanent."  That was so exciting, so compelling.  Can you achieve victory without crippling your own priceless BattleMech?  Would you join the ranks of the Dispossessed and condemn your family to a brutal fall from nobility?

By the time I purchased the MechWarrior RPG sometime in 1987, I was well and truly hooked.  And the background information in that book hinted at so many things worth exploring - the New Avalon Institute of Science, ComStar, Solaris VII...  Then there was Battletechnology Magazine with all the in-universe fiction, rules expansions, and even an NAIS graduation exam.

That was how I got sucked into Battletech fandom, and why.  This summer marks me being past my 30 year mark as a MechWarrior.  I don't know the exact date of that first game in 6th Grade, but it had to happen between September '86 and May '87.  Hanse Davion may have married my girl, but at least I still get to play in one of the greatest science fiction universes ever created for gaming purposes.

Want to know more?  Check out the 3025 Battletech Primer HERE at the current publisher, Catalyst Game Labs.

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