The practice of engaging opponents in single combat, the genesis of what would later become zellbrigen, was first started by Clan Coyote during the Operation Klondike. Despite the losses incurred by this fighting method, Coyote's Khan Dana Kufahl would continue to encourage her Clan and others to practice this "honorable" form of warfare. Eventually the practice would be taken up by all of the Clans, to a greater or lesser degree, in part as a way to minimize losses in both lives and resources. This is especially true when opposing commanders agreed to a duel to determine a battle's outcome.
During the Clan Invasion the rules of zellbrigen lapsed, primarily because the Inner Sphere had no concept of Clan cultural norms and, in some cases, exploited them for "underhanded" victories. By the end of the campaign zellbrigen had all but died out in several Clans, while most still reserve it for inter-Clan confrontations or against worthy Inner Sphere warriors.
The proscriptions of zellbrigen consist of the following rules:
- Each warrior will issue a challenge to a different enemy. If one side outnumbers the other, then the extra warriors on that side will stand aside until one of their comrades falls in battle. A warrior can challenge more than one unit at a time. Typically the challenge will be made verbally, for example: "I am MechWarrior Franklin of Clan Smoke Jaguar, piloting the lone Warhawk in Beta Star. I hereby invoke the ritual of zellbrigen and challenge the pilot of the Atlas adorned with the unit designation seven to a duel of warriors. In this solemn matter, let no one interfere!"
- A warrior has right to refuse challenges from Inner Sphere units, especially if underhanded ploys are suspected.
- A warrior has the right to refuse a challenge from an unit of differing weight class if other unengaged units are available.
- No artillery or other Area-Effect Weapons shall be employed by either side.
- Intentionally moving out of the line of sight of the opponent is prohibited.
- Systems that requires multiple units to operate, like C3 and TAG, are forbidden.
- Moving out of weapon range is prohibited.
- Failure to fire a weapon when possible is prohibited.
A warrior is also expected to not retreat from inferior foes, or to engage his opponent in melee combat, though these are not part of the formal rules of zellbrigen. Also, though it plays a central role in Clans' combat challenges, the ritual of batchall remains a separate tradition. If the rules of zellbrigen are broken the fight will then degenerate into a melee, a free-for-all battle with no restrictions. Such an outcome though is considered a major breach of honor, usually punished by a loss of rank.
How zellbrigen is interpreted depends not only on the individual, but their parent Clan as a whole. At one end of the spectrum, the rules are strictly followed, the only exception being when fighting bandits, pirates or the most hated of enemies. At the opposite end, zellbrigen is figuratively "thrown out the airlock" and used only against other Clan warriors, and even then only when there is an advantage over them. In between are varying levels of adherence; for example, zellbrigen is followed unless circumstances dictated otherwise, such as being outnumbered or thinking one could get away with breaking it.
In the end a warrior's personal honor is subservient to that of his military unit or caste, which in turn is subservient to the honor of their Clan: this can sometimes result in individuals or units using dishonorable tactics "for the greater good." Many Inner Sphere observers were shocked for example when the 2nd Falcon Jaegers abandoned zellbrigen in their attempt to capture Victor Steiner-Davion on Alyina. Though rigid traditionalists the Jade Falcons recognized that capturing the heir of the Federated Commonwealth would bring great honor to their Clan, and so the unit's personal pride took second place.
Prior to the Clan Invasion, Clan Blood Spirit, Clan Coyote, Clan Ghost Bear, Clan Goliath Scorpion, Clan Jade Falcon, Clan Star Adder and Clan Steel Viper adhered strictly to the tenets of zellbrigen. Meanwhile Clan Cloud Cobra, Clan Hell's Horses, Clan Ice Hellion, Clan Nova Cat and Clan Snow Raven were more opportunistic in their interpretation. Only Clan Diamond Shark and Clan Wolf used a liberal interpretation of zellbrigen in their conflicts with the other Clans.
After their defeat at the Battle of Tukayyid, many of the Clans began to rethink their use of these honor rules, and a number of political, military and cultural changes took place. The Blood Spirits, Jade Falcons and Star Adders became more opportunistic, while the Ghost Bears became more liberal, in the use of zellbrigen. The schism within Clan Wolf resulted in its new Crusader-minded leadership to become slightly more conservative, while Clan Wolf-in-Exile maintain a flexible definition of zellbrigen.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 Field Manual: Warden Clans, p.17
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 Field Manual:Crusader Clans, p.15
- ↑ Field Manual: Warden Clans, p. 40
- ↑ 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 Total Warfare, p. 275
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 MechWarrior's Guide to the Clans, p. 89
- ↑ Field Manual: Warden Clans, p. 169-170
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 The Clans: Warriors of Kerensky, p. 42