Who Is This Post For?
This post is for anyone who wants to learn about the BattleTech lore that is the originating source for the MechWarrior video game series. It is written particularly for those who were introduced to BattleTech by any of the MechWarrior (or MechCommander, etc) video games... but it should be useful for everyone interested in the BattleTech Lore, particularly those looking for more than a mere list of what novels to start with and what sources to get into.
So you've decided you want to learn about the lore - great! What follows is advice that you will later wish you had known from the start of your journey. It will save you a lot of time and confusion and make the lore much more meaningful in the long run. If you find you simply can't control the itch, skip down to the "what novels should you start with" and the "sources" sections and dive into the rabbit hole, head first.
However, you should know...
... that the BT lore is HUGE and extremely inter-connected; meaning there is a real potential to quickly get lost in it. For example: The BT lore has been around and expanding ever since 1984 - there are about 344 or so BattleTech "print" products out there (maybe more) that in some way or another form the lore. This does not count the Novels, of which there are at least 98 in hard copy, and more e-content on the BattleCorps website(Battle corps is down. I dont' know if or when it will be back up). As for 'Mechs and other units in the lore, there are literally thousands of them: Master Unit List
Make sure you know what information is what and what it really is about. No, the BT lore doesn't change quickly (if at all in most instances); and compared to other fictional lores, ret-conning is pretty rare and the lore is easy to grasp. So why say this? Oddly, even though the lore is (relative to other fictional lores) pretty stable and clear, people sometimes are mistaken about parts of it, especially those of us who are introduced to the lore by the video games.
So what should you look out for?
- Art - It doesn't count as any sort of rule or technical guideline for the universe. No, the artists aren't out to mess you up. The art is there mainly to establish a visual look for the lore. For example, an Atlas BattleMech punching the cockpit of a Masakari BattleMech into a pulp in one big swing;
...or the various BattleMech "blueprint" posters (see pics at top of post for two examples) are extremely cool – but neither of these examples establish how things really are in the lore. These are visually cool pieces of artwork, but just because the artists drew things that way don't mean that these things are that way in the lore. The art is NOT the "visual rules" of the lore.
- Novels - The novels and sourcebook "fluff" stories (which form a HUGE part of the lore) do not always conform the 'Mech's capabilities to how they actually function in the lore (this is not rampant, but it happens). Due to the nature of fiction writing, the authors will at times violate the lore to move their plot ahead or to embellish their stories. Probably the most well known example of embellishment is referred to as "stackpoling," when a 'Mech is destroyedby it's fusion reactor "going up" in a nuclear explosion (which actually doesn't happen). As for solving story problems in order to move the story ahead, "author fiat characters" are sometimes used. These are characters who seem to be able to do virtually anything the author demands with little or possibly no regard for the "rules of the universe."
- Ret-conned (superseded) information - this isn't terribly common, but it does happen. As an (in)famous example, there is the "Ghost 'Mech" MechWarrior skill, where a MechWarrior somehow manages to make their BattleMech disappear from other 'Mech's sensors, making the so Ghosted 'Mech all but impossible to target. This skill also makes other 'Mechs easier for the Ghosted 'Mech to hit. The explanation when it was canon? Mythical nonsense having to do with the MechWarrior's state of mind,etc. In the current lore, this skill is no longer available. It now falls under "observed but unexplained and otherwise unrepeatable phenomena."
- Who inside the lore really knows what? What's just an in-universe rumor? You have to be careful to separate out what the characters and other sources inside the lore believe/propose to have happened from what actually has happened. These two situations usually aren't too hard to sort, but do watch out for them.
- Just what does this game rule represent, anyways? There is a lot of confusion over what parts of the lore some of the rules in the various tabletop and rpg gaming systems represent. For a far too common example: confusion as to just what rules in the tabletop wargaming system represent things the MechWarrior does to pilot their 'Mech in combat, and what rules represent what the BattleMech does – and by extension what these rules actually mean for the capabilities of the MechWarrior and the BattleMech.
This list is not exhaustive, but it should suffice. The next section gives you the information to sort these things out.
Canonicity & A Little More
What is "canon" and why should you care? Simple. You need to know what it is and understand it to sort out the things I just mentioned. The "a little more" is just that ... a little more about canonicitiy. I would write my own definition of "canon," but someone else has done a superior job of it:From the Sarna BT wiki:Canon, with regards to theBattleTech franchise, is the sum of all approved official publications and products that together shape and define the fictional universe that is BattleTech.
It ultimately falls to the owner(s) of an intellectual property (IP) to decide what is part of the same and what is not. Thus, statements, clarifications and rulings made by the BattleTech Line Developer and certain others who are empowered accordingly by the IP owners directly form and affect canon. Fans summarily refer to persons with the power to decide over canon as "The Powers That Be", TPTB for short.
So, positively, "canon" equates to the authoritative sources (print, electronic release, etc) which actually make the "lore." Negatively, any source that is not canon does not make the lore. The person who ultimately gets to decide what is and what is not canon is the BattleTech Line developer. Brent Evans is the current BT LD. http://www.sarna.net/wiki/Line_Developer
Which sources are canon? Whatever sources TPTB establish as in house research material for the BT authors are canon.
The canon list includes:
All sourcebooks and novels produced for BattleTech/Classic Battletech by FASA and Roc in the United States. All sourcebooks and novels (including electronic publications, such as BattleCorps) produced by InMediaRes (and its subsidiaries, BattleCorps and Catalyst Game Labs) in the United States. All material produced by WizKids for the MechWarrior: Dark Age/MechWarrior: Age of Destruction game lines.
However, there are a few select instances where a story or article appearing even in these sources may be considered non-canon, but generally this is because the material was in error (such as date mishaps like original TRO3025's claim that the Zeus emerged from Defiance before the Mackie was even built OR Defiance even existed as such), or it was specifically published as a gag i.e. the april fool's day pranks.
The canon list does not include:
The MechWarrior, MechCommander, MechAssault, and other video and computer games, as well as the various BattleTech games produced for Nintendo and Sega game systems. These are considered derivatives from/out of the canon.The BT ccg is not canon.
Magazines, even "official" ones such as BattleTechnology, 'Mech, and others. The BattleTech cartoon and comic book series. Computer games and the material printed only in Germany (with the exception of the Founding of the Clans novels by Randall Bills) are not considered canonical.
About these non-canonical sources; they are not utterly ignored; rather TPTB have decided to pick and choose which elements in them are "canon" and which are not. For example, the BattleTech cartoon series' events may not be canon, but the characters they contained were, and the series itself has been referenced as an in-universe "propaganda vid" for the children of the FedCom growing up in the wake of the Clan invasion. I am not aware of any list of what's been chosen from these sources as being canon... are you beginning to understand the Alice in wonderland references?
Confused about canonicity yet? Here's the general rule of thumb:
- Fiction written from the "omniscient" perspective trumps non-omnisceint fiction;
- detailed information trumps general information;
- later sources trump earlier sources where they contradict each other.
- When you simply can't figure it out, or it's not in the sarna wiki with a reference link, go to the official bg.bt forums and search the questions sub forums – if it's not answered there ... ask! Remember to be polite. Especially to the line developer!
Here's the rabbit hole you go down that has the origin for the content above, which, btw, is not my original work. I just re-wrote some of it to try and make it clearer.
"A Little more" ... is this: what sources are authoritative about BattleMechs? Currently, the TechManual essay "BattleMech Technology: A primer" (pgs 31-43), along with the tabletop rules that describe how BattleMechs work are the current main canon sources about BattleMechs. How this works: the TM essay essentially "clarifies" what the TT rules otherwise leave obscured. This is where the "BattleMech Technology 411" Thread came from! Also, the authors have had to conform their writing about the 'Mechs (for the most part) to these sources... pretty much from the beginning. So, author-fiat, over-riding storyline concerns, and simple mistakes aside, following this process is what makes a 'Mech perform... like they do in the novels and the rest of the lore.
The source for "a little more" - Is right here.
Last in this list of things, but certainly not least:
Certifiably insane. Cuckoo. Loco. A few bricks shy of a full load. You get the idea. However, for most of us, we're nuts in a good way.
You think I'm joking, right?
No, not really. A few things you should expect: people LOVE their favored factions, rather obscenely so... and utterly HATE certain other factions just as rabidly. There are also those who take a perverse joy in pointing out that all of the factions are evil SOB's... and this all can and does happen in forum-wars and other venues, sometimes pedestrian, sometimes epic. There are those who just love their own particular part of the timeline and utterly hate anything newer. There are those who hate certain additions to the gaming system and insist said additions are broken beyond all repair, etc, etc, etc... and the people mentioned above don't usually seem to be shy about pushing their positions. It's such that on the official BattleTech forums, they've had to strictly forbid ALL discussion of RL politics and similar subjects. Why? First, If they didn't, it would spill right into passionate flaming, screaming, discussions of real life politics, religion, etc, etc. Second, because the moderators already have their hands full policing the discussions of the lore! The BT lore is, in some ways, quite like - and in some ways based off of - "real life" politics, religion, and such; so it is quite easy for that to bleed over into BattleTech discussions. BTW, the above applies to the novels as well - many of them have universal acclaim - others are equally loved and hated - a very few are nearly universally hated.
It's usually safe to expect that the more knowledgeable a person is about the lore, the better the chances are that they are extremely passionate about some or the other part of the lore. It doesn't help much that some people seem(?) to know more about the fictional politics, religion, technology, militaries, societies, etc of the BT lore than they do about anything in real life. Don't sweat this too much, though. *Nobody* knows the entire BT lore. So, expect to feel like you're at the mad hatter's tea party from time to time. Thankfully, most of us nut-cases are the more benign kind of crackpot.
The rabbit hole is deeper than you expected!
So, am I trying to scare you off? No, not by any means! Why all of this information than?
- 1 - You shouldn't expect to learn the whole lore or memorize all of the novels... find something you like and learn that; than expand from there. The lore is huge; which is a good thing!
- 2 - Don't get intimidated by people who appear to be lore encyclopedias - and remember to ask for people's source references for things you want to learn yourself.
- 3 - It's far more important to know *where* to find lore information than to attempt to memorize (or even just read) all of the lore.
- 4- Expect to get very attached to some part of the lore... and expect others to do so too. Don't sweat the arguments that inevitably arise.
- 5- I just don't do short posts. At least I used pictures!
The best "know-it-alls" of the BT lore are those who can quickly find obscure information (and who aren't arrogant about their ability to do so)... and are willing to share that information source. It's a big "universe" - which is part of the appeal of it.
What novels should you start with?
For the parents: With the very rare exception of certain novels by Illsa J Bick, the print novels aren't loaded with ... shall we say, "adult" themes, however, there is a fairly light peppering of "salty" language in most of the print novels, and some fairly heavy themes of war/dirty politics/greed & all that. At least one of the earlier Grey death legion books has a truly monstrous character in it and this fact is illustrated with all the subtlety of a baseball bat hitting an over-ripe watermelon. At least one, maybe more, of the earlier clan books touch on an adult topic (not explicitly IIRC - significant sections of clan culture are pretty transgressive). I'm not going to pin an absolute age for parents, but ballpark I wouldn't say anyone who's, say, under 14 reading them without parental shepherding is a good thing - and no, I am not saying if your child is over this age that it's perfectly kosher. Either way, parents, read them beforehand yourselves.
Some prefer the Grey Death Trilogy to start with for those new to the novels; they're the first series and as such were aimed at people new to the setting, and they are good too. You may have a hard time finding the GDL trilogy in print, but if you can find them at a halfway decent price, get them. Quite a few recommend The warrior trilogy, because it will give you a decent grasp of the IS at large. After the warrior trilogy, read The Blood of Kerensky trilogy. If don't really know what to think of the clans after reading the BOK trilogy, and want more information on them... or if you're demented enough to already like the clans after reading the BOK trilogy (yes, as I said, we're all mad here!), you'll want to read the Jade Phoenix trilogy and than after that the Twilight of the Clans Series (TOTC, btw, is a great series to read even if you DON'T like the clans). If you don't particularly care for the clans after reading the blood of kerensky trilogy, than you just... start at the first book published and keep reading from there. Here's an insanely helpful list of all of the novels. Also very useful, a list of the novels in "universe chronological order" is available :HERE.
If you want a in-depth chronological list that also lists the battlecorps content, check out Mendrugo's truly EXCELLENT work HERE.
BattleCorps is the official seller of the BattleTech novels; you can find the ebook formats on it if you want them (again, battlecorps is down.). Besides the BattleCorps site, google, or amazon, the "bookfinder" website is a good place to search for harder to find BT books:Bookfinder.com. To get the ISBN numbers for any of the novels for your searching, the sarna novel list mentioned above is a good place to check.
Finally, the sources list!
The sources are listed here starting with the more "beginner friendly" sources at the top, progressing to more in-depth and BattleTech-specific sources and places to find the out of publication/harder to find products.
No, I will NOT list anywhere to steal any BattleTech or derivative products. Posts in this thread with such links in them or posts that ask for or offer them (even in PM or private email) in any way, will be reported. No, just because you can't find or afford something that doesn't make it ok for you to steal it.
THE place for newcomers to start: "New to BattleTech?"
The BT universe guide PDF, great to quickly get your toes wet in the lore: BT Universe.
Anything and Everything having to do with the "BattleTech Universe" section, which is right HERE. PS... if you use “noscript" or an equivalent script blocker you won't see the menu dropdowns at this link.
The official page about BattleMech technology in the “BattleTech Universe" section; good to get you up to speed on the combat units that the BT universe is centered around: BattleMech Technology.If you found the information at this link interesting, and you want to go further in depth into the specifics of 'Mech technology, Go read this thread: BattleMech Technology, the 411 If you want even MORE info on BattleMechs and the other kinds of units and tech in the lore, Get the TechManual Core Rules book (link for it is further down).
If you want an overview of the lore from 50,000 feet at supersonic speed, the master timeline is for you: HERE.
Here's a good place to get started in the fiction: Starting in the Fiction.
Speaking of BT fiction, Don't miss the official "BattleCorps" website: BattleCorps (BC is down).
At the BC website is the official source to find BT products: BattleShop. Battleshop is down along with battlecorps.
As of the time of this post revision, Catalyst Game labs Store is the offical seller of BT products: https://store.catalystgamelabs.com/
If you decide to start playing the Board game: Getting started with the Board Game. You will also want to get the Introductory Box set; it's tailor-made to introduce new players to the game and the lore. Get the Intro set HERE.
If you're flat broke but you still really want to try out the board game, there's NO better way to get into the game than Megamek: http://megamek.info/, a third party FREE implementation of the latest board game rules. [addict speaking] I warn you; it's addicting and will make you spend money you don't have on the boardgame! [/addict speaking] Once you get comfortable using MegaMek and want to play a human and not the AI, you can find a game at the bg.bt MegaMek subforum: HERE. You can get the developmental releases of MM, some MM related programs, and map and unit camos for MMHERE.
Starting in the Pen and Paper "Mechwarrior" Role playing game: Getting Started with the RPG.
I recommend at least playing some of the boardgame before starting the RPG, because the RPG is built onto the BT board game.
For more "Grand Strategic" large unit gameplay, you'll want to check outBattleForce (link is a PDF), a game system setup for large unit/faster gameplay.
Lack patience or time and want an even faster game than BattleForce, and you've already played the BattleTech Board game? Get the Alpha Strike Rules book: Alpha Strike.
A list of official BT sites is HERE.
The Core Rules Books: If you're getting into the game or the lore in any sort of serious manner, you simply CANNOT do without these! First get "Total Warfare," than "TechManual," than "Tactical Operations," than "Strategic Operations." If you are so inclined, get “A Time of War." TW is the basic game, TM is the tech info and unit building rules source, TO is the advanced rules addition, and SO is for grander level combat. ATOW is the RPG, but even so it still has much interesting information in it for those just interested in the lore and not necessarly the RPG. Get them Here at BattleCorps CGLS, or at Drive thru RPG. Beyond that use amazon, google, bookfinder, etc, the usual suspects.
Hands down, the BEST place - besides official sources and the BG.BT forums - to start out when looking for BT information, even when you don't know what you're looking for, is the Sarna Wiki. You can usually find the original sources for the information in the references on any given page, which is VERY helpful.
If you can't find it quickly on sarna, search the official BT forums HERE. It's well worth the account registration.
A great place for BT game helps and programs; Medryon Pryde's PRI Website.
One of the best (not just because it's free) Mech building programs, Solaris skunk werks. SSW uses the latest building rules. SSW also includes the sub programs “BattleTech Force balancer" (which includes the faction unit randomized selection tables), “Solaris Armor Works," a vehicle (Tanks to wet navy and more) builder, “Solaris Game Tracker," a program to track unit stats through a scenario, and “Solaris Quick-strike Printer," which prints Quick strike cards (QS is the predecessor of alpha strike). Make sure to grab the SSW master units file, HERE.
The *Official* but somewhat older 'Mech Builder program: Heavy Metal Pro. It uses somewhat older rules for 'Mech building, and it is not free, but the programs are well made and IMO, you should seriously consider getting them if you get serious about the boardgame. The prices are pretty cheap. At the HM website you can also get Heavy metal Aero, (builds anything from atmosphere bound fighters to space battleships and everything in-between), Heavy Metal Battle armor, Heavy Metal Lite (builds protomechs), Heavy Metal Map, Heavy Metal Vee (vehicle builder), Random Unit Selector (uses the faction tables to build randomized faction specific units), and ART (an artillery damage resolving/tracking program). If you decide to buy any of the HM programs, make sure to get the latest update patch for them at the HM website and UPDATE THE UNIT FILES for the unit building programs after you patch! You can also find MANY new and updated unit and custom weapons files for HM programs at Medryon Pryde's PRI website.
Both SSW and HM will work at varying levels with the MegaMek program, allowing you to build and use customized or fully-scratch-designed units in MM gameplay. If you need help on how to get these working check out the MM subforum HERE and the MM subforum at the bg.bt forums.
Megamek Lab (you can get it at the MM downloads link above), which allows you to build the (relatively) newer “super heavy" class of battlemechs. This program is less polishd than HMP or SSW, but is still worth having; obviously as a sub-branch in the MegaMek tree, it interfaces with MM very well.
Here's a great resource to find stores that carry Board games and rpgs; even if they haven't been checked to carry BT specific stuff, they're still worth looking into:
These are truly massive lists. The fellow who gathered these up deserves a hearty thanks.
I just stumbled across something VERY worthy of being in this post. THIS IS NOT MY WORK, it is from a fellow that goes by the handle "skiltao," who has a website here: https://skiltao.blogspot.com/
Many, MANY thanks to him for this work.