- Note: This essay was written by CBT.com forum poster iamfanboy and re-posted to those (currently archived) forums on 26 Sep, 2009. Added here with his permission.
Y'know, we toss around words like fire support, heavy cavalry, heavy recon, and plenty of others to describe the various roles of BattleMechs on the field and the type of lances they are organized into, but a quick search around the forum failed to turn up any list of what those roles are.
So, I decided to write up a quick list of the categories that BattleMechs fall into for me. If you see something that I'm missing, or if you disagree, then please don't hesitate to speak up. I'm not entirely sure about some of these categories myself, but I'll just toss 'em out there.
- Scout: A unit dedicated to finding enemy positions, estimating their strength, and returning to its own lines with minimal damage suffered. Generally speaking, top speed will be over 100 kph. Lower speeds than that run the risk of falling victim to scout hunters, skirmishers, or even heavy cavalry units. Classic examples include the Spider, Ostscout, Fire Moth, Hermes, Assassin, and Locust.
- Skirmisher: These units are highly mobile and to screen friendly forces forces from enemy scouts or as raiders to outflank an enemy and disrupt his supply lines. Top speed is fairly high; at least 90 kph is to be desired to flee an enemy's frontline units when you make contact, or to hunt down an enemy's scouts before they can make it back to their own lines. Stinger/Wasps, Ice Ferrets, Commandos, Clints, Falcons, Jenners, and Phoenix Hawks all fit into this category.
- Light Fire: Differing from fire support units in that it emphasizes mobility over the ability to throw firepower downrange, a light fire unit is nonetheless armed primarily with long-range weaponry and uses it to protect other light/medium 'Mechs, or in a fire support unit uses its maneuverability to gain positions that the heavier 'Mechs wouldn't be able to obtain. The typical light fire 'Mechs are the Valkyrie, Panther, Adder, Whitworth, Vindicator, Griffin, and Trebuchet.
- Support: Specialist units that provide something which is either expensive or rarely needed, such as Beagle Active Probes or a helluva lot of flamers. Most specialist units are attached at the battalion level, and assigned as needed to the company/lance level. Ravens , Firestarters and the Cyclops are examples of this - but the Clans rarely need this category, as any Omni can quickly be configured into a support role should it be required.
- Trooper: A 'Mech that can fill any role in a lance - though it is rarely proficient at any of them. However, these 'Mechs are the backbone of their units, as their versatility can save the entire lance if they are thrown into a situation they aren't expecting. Speed is rarely emphasized - as long as it's over 60 kph top speed, it's all good. The Centurion, Crusader, Thunderbolt, Orion, and Zeus are all trooper 'Mechs.
- Heavy Cavalry: Units that are designed with a blend of speed, firepower and armor, able to move at least 80 kph and still deliver heavy loads of ordnance while taking a fair amount of damage. Generally used to either exploit weaknesses in an enemy line or reinforce a weakness in their own, heavy cavalry earn their name by riding in to save the day (one way or another). Wolfhounds, Shadow Hawks, Dragons, Quickdraws, Wolverines, Kintaros, Lancelots, Flashmen, and EVERY Clan heavy Omni fall into this category.
- Frontline: 'Mechs in this category are primarily equipped with shorter-range weapons, heavy armor, and a nasty reputation. Frontline 'Mechs are brawlers, designed to keep blasting until they go down or until the enemy does. Speed isn't much of an issue, but jumpjets are often included to give a nasty surprise. The classic frontline 'Mechs are the Hatchetman, Hunchback, Enforcer, Axman, Grasshopper, Warhammer, Black Knight, Victor, Thug and Battlemaster. The most common Clan frontline 'Mechs are what they consider their second-line machines, though the Executioner and Masakari are vicious exceptions.
- Fire Support: Emphasizing the ability to hit at a distance, fire support is considered by some to be an inglorious but necessary duty. Classically this was done with PPCs and LRMs, but since the advent of advanced technology Gauss Rifles and even Arrow IVs are part of a fire support 'Mech's loadout. Bombardiers, Catapults, Caesars, Archers, Mad Dogs, Marauders, and Awesomes are some of the possible fire support designs that one can field.
- Juggernaut: "Who am I? I'm the JUGGERNAUT!" Juggernaut units are designed with weaponry and armor foremost, speed being a minor consideration, because all these 'Mechs need to do is advance slowly but steadily in order to break a line. Rarely fielded because they are easy to outmaneuver, when they reach the battlefield something is going to die. Probably what they're shooting at. The Stalker, Atlas, Dire Wolf, Highlander, and King Crab are all the backbone of pure juggernaut units.