Decision at Thunder Rift

Decision at Thunder Rift.jpg
Decision at Thunder Rift
Product information
Type Novel
Author William H. Keith, Jr.
Pages 374 (original)
288 (reprint)
Cover artwork Jim Holloway (original)
Bruce Jensen (reprint)
Illustrations David R. Deitrick
Duane Loose
Publication information
Publisher FASA (original)
Roc Books (reprint)
First published June 1986 (original)
September 1992 (reprint)
ISBN-10 0451451848
Era Succession Wars era
Timeline 3024
Series Saga of the Gray Death Legion
Followed by Mercenary's Star

Decision at Thunder Rift, by William H. Keith, Jr., is the first book of the Saga of the Gray Death Legion, and the first novel ever to be published for BattleTech. It tells the story of the young Grayson Death Carlyle and the events that led to the founding of his famous mercenary unit.

The novel was made available on BattleCorps on 26 October 2010 as a PDF file (text only, without cover, pictures or any other interior artwork except for the usual BattleCorps frame graphics). The PDF copy includes a disclaimer stating that it was created from a pre-final edition text that might differ from the printed version and that canon-wise, the print edition trumps the PDF edition.
(Unlike other BattleCorps publications, the PDF versions of print novels are not available for purchase.)

From the back cover (1986 edition)[edit]

"Thirty meters tall, 70 tons of quick-striding death and destruction, the armored war machines called BattleMechs are the fighting arms of the crumbling star empire locked in the horror of the Succession Wars. Their pilots are MechWarriors, 31st-Century knights riding armored machines powerful enough to take a city apart."

Grayson Death Carlyle had been training to be a MechWarrior since he was 10 years old, but his graduation came sooner than expected. With his friends and family dead and his father's regiment destroyed, young Grayson finds himself stranded on a world turned hostile. And now he must learn the hardest lesson of all: it takes more than a BattleMech to make a MechWarrior...

To claim the title of MechWarrior all he has to do is capture one of those giant killing machines by himself... If it doesn't kill him first.

From the back cover (1992 edition)[edit]

30 years before the Clan invasion, the crumbling empires of the Inner Sphere were locked in the horror of the Third Succession War. The great Houses, whose territories spanned the stars, used BattleMechs to smash each other into rubble...

Grayson Death Carlyle had been training to be a MechWarrior since he was 10 years old, but his graduation came sooner than expected. With his friends and family dead and his father's regiment destroyed, young Grayson finds himself stranded on a world turned hostile. And now he must learn the hardest lesson of all: it takes more than a BattleMech to make a MechWarrior...

To claim the title of MechWarrior all he has to do is capture one of those giant killing machines by himself... If it doesn't kill him first.


As of 3024, the planet Trellwan, situated near the Lyran Commonwealth's periphery border, is garrisoned by Carlyle's Commandos under Captain Durant Carlyle whose 20-year-old son Grayson is trained to become his successor.

Viscount Olin Vogel, a personal emissary of Archon Katrina Steiner, has prepared a pact with the nearby Oberon Confederation by which they will garrison the world, freeing up Carlyle's Commandos for duty elsewhere. The population on Trellwan is incensed about the deal, because Oberon Confederation troops have raided the world in the past, and they are now generally paranoid and hostile towards off-worlders.

A neutral third-party freighter of House Mailai is expected to deliver the Oberon Confederation delegates to finalize the treaty. However, the DropShip unexpectedly opens fire on Captain Carlyle's Phoenix Hawk and deploys BattleMechs. Carlyle is killed when an enemy Marauder destroys his 'Mech. The garrison base near the capital city of Sarghad is simultaneously stormed by commando troops with the aid of Stefan, a Trellwanese traitor. A small number of Carlyle's Commandos escape on their DropShip while most senior personnel are killed; Grayson Carlyle and Olin Vogel are captured and brought before the enemy warleader. He shoots Vogel in cold blood and proceeds to execute Grayson as well. Grayson is actually only grazed by the bullet to his head, but passes out and is left for dead.

He awakes three days later in the house of Berenir the merchant, a local connection sympathetic to him. Berenir's son was trained as a tech by Carlyle's Commandos and tried to rescue SeniorTech Riviera, but found him dead and rescued the unconscious Grayson instead who was the only one left alive in the hangar.

Briefed on the situation and urged to leave the house because helping him means trouble, Grayson decides to seek out his girlfriend Mara who happens to be the daughter of Defense Minister Stannic. However, at the palace Royal Guards and militia units try to apprehend him. He escapes and meets another off-world squatter who reveals himself as Renfred Tor, an independent starship captain who had been hired to work for House Mailai by one of their principal traders, Proctor Sinvalie. Tor relates to Grayson how he was assigned to ferry the delegates between Tharkad, Oberon VI and Trellwan for the supposedly secret agreement. On the way here, they were waylaid by unknown forces in Oberon Confederation livery but the raiders summarily killed the delegates aboard Tor's ship, brought BattleMechs aboard and modified the DropShip to carry concealed weapons. Piloting the DropShip to the planet with a gun to his head, Tor realized that he would likely be killed sooner or later and hid, then escaped into Sarghad.

Grayson tries to bring Tor to Berenir's house, but they find it destroyed by the same Marauder that had killed Grayson's father. Tor decides to head for the starport and hire out as a tech, while Grayson retreats to Thunder Rift outside the city with a stolen militia hovercraft skimmer to think the situation over. He returns to Sarghad, only to be caught up in a BattleMech attack against King Jeverid's palace. By a combination of battlefield instincts and pure chance, he ends up commandeering a militia skimmer with a heavy machine gun and uses this to kill the pilot of a Wasp in battle, thereby rallying the defenders and leading them to victory over the attacking pirates. He even manages to corner an overheating Locust in a dead end and forces the pilot (Lori Kalmar) to surrender by means of a shoulder-mounted inferno launcher, thereby capturing the damaged but functional 'Mech.

Following this "Battle of Sarghad", Grayson, reunited with Mara, is hailed as a hero and receives praise and a decoration from King Jeverid in a reception ceremony. Over his objections he is then tasked with creating a specialized anti-'Mech combat formation, the Trellwan Lancers, from the two captured 'Mechs and assorted militia and Guards forces, to fight the pirates still holding the garrison castle.

Competition and bickering between Guard and militia units makes training them difficult, and they also lack the spare parts and tech skills to repair the Wasp. Captive Locust pilot Lori Kalmar reveals that three of the attackers including herself are inexperienced conscripts from the Oberon Confederation, forced to work for the pirates on Trellwan because of circumstances beyond their control. Grayson decides to integrate her into the Trellwan Lancers over the vocal objections of the other soldiers under his command, who do not trust her and also have problems accepting a woman in a command position in Trellwan's male-dominated culture. With her help, the Trellwan Lancers carry out their first mission—capture the other pirate Wasp to salvage for spare parts. The attack succeeds beyond expectations when both the Wasp and a Stinger are captured, and a prisoner camp liberated on the sidelines.

Political pressure soon forces the Trellwan Lancers into action again against Grayson's better judgement. A commando raid is staged against the garrison castle with orders to fatally sabotage the Shadow Hawk undergoing repairs there, but inside the hangar the 'Mech turns out to be fully functional. Only Grayson and four others escape the trap. Following the debacle, the Lancers are redesignated as a company within the Royal Guards and Grayson is relieved of duty.

Shortly afterwards, DropShips from the Draconis Combine arrive carrying Duke Ricol and his entourage, and subdue the pirates who reportedly surrendered immediately. Grayson notes that King Jeverid and militia General Varney are curiously absent, and Guards officers under General Adel have apparently staged a coup. He evades arrest and informs Mara, who draws a gun on him and takes him prisoner; her father Stannic is in on the coup.

Lori Kalmar and Wasp pilot Garik Enzelman, who also defected from the pirates to the Trellwan Lancers, stage a rescue together with militia elements of the Lancers who had gone to ground. They break Grayson out of prison and he leads the ragtag remnant of the Lancers into Thunder Rift to hide for the time being. It is decided that House Steiner must be warned of House Kurita having taken control of the planet, and Renfred Tor's JumpShip is their only chance. Gambling on his crew still being in control of the vessel, Tor leads a commando team into the DropShip while Grayson sneaks into the garrison castle to forge flight orders in the computer. From the computers Grayson learns that the "pirate raid" was a ruse orchestrated by Duke Ricol so that the people of Trellwan would welcome him as their saviour. He escapes by commandeering the Shadow Hawk.

Aboard the DropShip, Tor finds that "Proctor Sinvalie", his House Mailai contact, is in truth one Captain Yorunabi of the ISF. Tor takes him captive, recaptures the ship, and takes off while Lancer ground forces stage diversionary raids, providing him with an excuse to take off to avoid the fighting.

Fifty-five hours later, as Tor's DropShip is scheduled to rendezvous with the JumpShip, the Lancers stage another raid against the starport to destroy the ground-based communication array, ensuring the Kurita forces cannot order their own DropShips to intercept it. To this end, they stage a fighting withdrawal into Thunder Rift to draw off the defenders while Grayson in the Shadow Hawk, lying hidden, approaches the array. He is confronted by Singh, the enemy warleader, in his Crusader and the enemy Marauder, but manages to escape after detonating fuel tanks. Tor's party successfully recaptures the JumpShip and jumps out, negating Ricol's advantage of surprise. Seeing how there is nothing to be won on Trellwan for him, the Red Duke leaves the planet.

In the epilogue, Grayson assumes full command of the Trellwan Lancers and reforms them into the Gray Death Legion mercenary unit.

Featured characters[edit]

Featured places[edit]

Featured BattleTech[edit]



  • Warrior H-7 Attack Helicopter
  • Karnov UR Transport Helicopter
  • HVT (unspecified hovercraft transport)
  • HVWC (unspecified hovercraft weapon carrier, capable of carrying a range of support weapons including machine guns, missile launchers, lasers and PPCs)


  • Danais (modified, possibly to Trojan specifications; no ship class named for Tor's DropShip but it was later established to be a modified Danais)
  • Leopard (by implication; not named as such)
  • Union
  • unspecified DropShip Alpha



  • No exact dates are provided in the novel, but the Gray Death Legion (scenario pack) establishes the climactic battle at Thunder Rift to have occurred in November 3024.
  • The exact nature and composition of Carlyle's Commandos is not elaborated upon in the novel, and subsequent sources provided seemingly contradictory information. Eventually, the BattleTech Line Developer ruled that they were an understrength mercenary company consisting of two 'Mech lances and several platoons of infantry, augmented by a third 'Mech lance of local Lyran Commonwealth regulars who had accepted Durant Carlyle as their CO.
  • The book is often (falsely) listed as the second novel published, switching places with The Sword and the Dagger, presumably because the latter is a standalone novel that may have been commissioned earlier yet took longer to complete and because Decision at Thunder Rift formed a trilogy together with the third and fourth novel in the classic BattleTech line.
  • According to Duke Hassid Ricol's (apocryphal) writeup in BattleTechnology issue #0102 (p. 5), Renfred Tor's JumpShip jumped from Trell to Antares to spread the word about the invasion.