Tabletop: Retooling Battletech Part 2 – The Clans

Look at that title. Didn’t I laugh at the Clans and call them Sneetches last time? Well, yes. It’s not that I object to the idea of the Clans; rather, it’s the implementation that could use some work.

My spouse offers this reinterpretation of the Clans, intended as a means to keep them largely intact, altered enough to make sense within the milieu of our homebrewed AU:

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The question is how to get a society and storyline which has the same attractions as the Clans, with a more realistic and nuanced culture(s) and back-story.

The thematic elements which make the Clan invasion reach epic proportions include (1) a story of a group of people who went off, never to be heard from again; (2) a warrior caste with a particular code; (3) multiple Clans, which while sharing an overall culture each have their own particular cultural elements and interpretations; (4) a sudden, frightening invasion into the Inner Sphere from an unknown people; and (5) technology and fighting tactics which are unknown in the Inner Sphere and therefore are intimidating.

So, here’s how we’re keeping those elements, but changing them around for a more nuanced, realistic Clan culture/history:

Rather than having the Star League flounce off, to settle on uninhabitable worlds with nothing to help them terraform, it makes more sense for the Clans to come from already established worlds. So we make them a handful of sparsely-settled, peripheral colony worlds, which because of distance and lack of market interest are not on normal trade routes. It wouldn’t take much for these planets to fall off the interest of the Inner Sphere – a disease quarantine, a few decades of self-focus among the Inner Sphere planets, perhaps even a corporate merger or take-over in which the proprietary trade-routes to the colonies got lost in the shuffle. After a while, when interest in the periphery planets returns and a few messages go unanswered, it’s assumed the colonies failed as so many others have before. Instead of the Star League disappearing into the darkness, we now have the Lost Colonies.

This means the Clans would not have started off as explicitly warrior cultures. Just that the first portion of the culture which the Inner Sphere sees would have been the warrior aspects.

First, a cultural note of interest with respect to the Clans: they take bond-slaves, and they exile (do not kill) captives who aren’t wanted as bond-slaves. This suggests that their culture did not arise in a place of resource-scarity, but labor-scarcity. If the Clan origin worlds were resource scarce, culling would be a more common practice; instead, everyone is guaranteed food and is put to work.

So the planets on which the Clans originated would have been places with an abundance of resources, but which didn’t allow large, centralized population centers. These planets would likely have had numerous, small municipalities. When contact was disrupted with the Inner Sphere – no more supply runs, no more news from back home, no more psychological support from origin worlds – the populations of these planets could easily have split into warring factions as the tenuous over-arching government broke down (or was actively torn down), as each locale hunkered down and attempted to hoard its own resources against its neighbors.

After years of this, enter Kerensky, the warrior-philosopher, who sets forth a principled set of rules to govern society. He travels with a cohort, who sometimes themselves branch off and travel to new locales to advise local populations in setting up schools and training programs. When the locals are not interested in welcoming or listening to the strangers, Kerensky’s philosophies are demonstrated through practical application at the point of a gun. The code he and his cohort create form the base of the Remembrance, and are designed as a strict social contract designed to ensure social function even in the absence of government. Every member of society is schooled in the code and expected to live by its precepts. The justification for the more violent efforts is that, absent a society governed entirely by the code, there will always be war. The self-identifier of “Clan” is intended to promote the idea of peace-through-unity.

The specific warrior caste arises out of the two to three generation period in which those following Kerensky’s structure take control of first Kerensky’s home planet and then the other nearby periphery colonies. Believing themselves to be spreading order amidst chaos, and to have found a superior social structure, the role of the warrior (and sometimes warrior-martyr) becomes firmly entrenched as a glorious position which most purely encapsulates many of the best qualities of Kerensky’s philosophy.

The Clan code would be modified as time passed to account for certain cultural differences among worlds. Portions of the different planets (occasionally an entire planet itself) would have particular cultural traits which would be deliberately preserved and ritualized. Clan titles would have taken their name from particular mission names and call signs used during insurrections against the Colonial governments and/or the names and call signs of the warriors/warrior-martyrs who first brought Kerensky’s code to the area. This would form the basis of the first splits in the Remembrance, and the ritualized passing-down of Names and parenthood.

While power-armor would have been known to the colonists, they probably would not have had many examples of them. However, “mechs” would have been available for the same reason that the Inner Sphere would have been using them – as industrial, construction, and agricultural equipment. As the warrior identity became entrenched in the social philosophy of the Code, battle between adherents would be seen as an opportunity to practice Code precepts. Mechs – the big, lumbering machines – would be carefully crafted as markers of cultural pride in a Clan’s warriors and to be psychologically intimidating to opponents. Challenges would serve a role similar to jousts of the medieval European era, as venues for demonstrating both tactical prowess and adherence to a set of ritualized behaviors, as well as being popular cultural events.

By the time the Inner Sphere took an interest in the periphery worlds and decided to send long-range communications, the Clan periphery planets would not be interested in renewing contact. There would be no reason to pollute their pure culture. However, any attempts at contact by the Inner Sphere would certainly make people consider how the Inner Sphere would benefit from the Kerensky social structure.

So when the Clan invasion occurs after generation upon generation, the Clans are operating off of a history which glorifies an evangelical warrior ethos; have developed a fighting style focused on intimidating one’s opponent and engaging in one-on-one combat; have developed weapons technology because of cultural pride and in anticipation of eventually spreading their message of peace into the Inner Sphere; and have been completely hidden from the Inner Sphere until the Clans decided to make themselves known.

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Some additional notes I’ll add about the benefits of this approach:

  • This points to one of the other things we wanted to address, the thousands of worlds in the standard BT universe. If colony failure was a more common affair, the Inner Sphere would likely have remained relatively compact. I’d like for our AU’s inhabited worlds to total no more than 10% of BT’s.
  • The merchant caste would be more of an administrative unit than a capitalist-model commerce machine. Inner Sphere economics would probably disgust the Clans as much as any other portion of society which went against Kerensky’s code. Sorry, Diamond Shark fans – no backroom dealing here.
  • So the Battlemech is here, but exclusive to the Clans. ‘Mechs built specifically for combat would evolve to become very different from their industrial roots. If you’ve read Michael Stackpole Mary Sues Battletech! Starring Phelan Kell, you’ll remember the scene where the first Clan ‘mech to appear “on camera” made his computer go nuts trying to assign a designation. Somehow this was supposed to make the Clans’ technology seem alien (as if no ‘mech’s computer had ever encountered an as-yet unknown design before? Please), but it felt flat to me, even as a genre-obsessed teenager. This alteration means that Clan tech is truly unknown to the Successor States, save that they seem to favor bilateral symmetry and attach similar weapons to their war machines. Phelan and Anastasius Focht might have actually been justified in mistaking them as alien invaders if they’d never seen a ten-meter walking tank before.
  • Eugenics is eliminated from the equation. It’s more like cloisters of warrior-monks with orders based around the contributions / valorous deeds / innovative tactics of those who came before. Takes a little of the creepy Nazi vibe out.
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