Shattered Fortress is almost here! The new sourcebook detailing the end of the Dark Age era of BattleTech is set to debut at GenCon, with the .pdf files to become available the first week of August.
We first heard about Shattered Fortress last February when we interviewed Brent Evans, the lead developer for BattleTech. He said that the previously developed ilClan sourcebook had generated so much content that the Powers-That-Be over at Catalyst decided to break it into two books, with Shattered Fortress being the lead-in to the fireworks display that will be ilClan.
As for what we can expect from this new book, a posting over at the BattleTech forums gave us a lovely little preview straight from the back cover:
“In 3146, the Republic of the Sphere hangs by a tenuous thread. The last fragments of Devlin Stone’s dream to shepherd humankind toward a more prosperous future hide behind the impenetrable defenses of Fortress Republic. As the interstellar communications blackout rages, the ambitious Great Houses vie for military dominance, and the bloodthirsty Clans strive to find a weakness in the Fortress’s armor on their path to conquering Terra and claiming the coveted title of ilClan. When the Wall comes down, will the Inner Sphere plunge even further into the abyss of interstellar war, or will this herald the dawning of a new age?
“Shattered Fortress chronicles the twilight of BattleTech’s Dark Age, as nations are thrown into turmoil and predators circle the broken remnants of the Republic of the Sphere. This volume provides a year-by-year look at pivotal turning points in the history of the Inner Sphere, offers a peek behind the curtain of Fortress Republic, and reveals the fateful decisions that will ultimately decide the future of humanity.”
This is, of course, good news for anyone who didn’t like the Dark Ages of BattleTech, which according to my research, was most people. The whole “everyone is back to using AgroMechs thanks to the general degradation of technology” was just really… well, dark. That, and it’s hard to get excited about people going to war with pitchforks and hand grenades.
We can only speculate on what will happen in each of those years mentioned, but hopefully something happens to the HPG Blackout. Whether that’s a slow rebuilding of the network or some other technology taking its place, we’ll have to wait and see. We’ll certainly get some high-level highlights of what’s to happen with the Clans, and maybe even get a few tales from the Great Houses that don’t involve just giving up planets to the Republic.
GenCon begins this Thursday, so fingers crossed those .pdf files will be available on the same day.
And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.
I always kind of felt like part of the problem with MW:DA was that they’ve should’ve gone further than they did. The whole point was to get a fresh clean start, so why set it when a large number of known characters are still alive and should theoretically have been active during the crisis they needed to justify shaking up the political landscape? To say nothing of the implications that many who aren’t around died during said crisis and that many of the struggles we followed characters through were almost immediately undermined. It’s like how Chrono Cross, despite being a very well made game, was controversial among Chrono Trigger fans for how it extends the narrative. Or how many people dislike the new Star Wars films not because they are racist or misogynist (though there are plenty of both unfortunately), but because they hate the fate it assigns to Luke, Han, Leia, and the Rebellion itself. Coming back after a pause to a work that was more or less seen as finished, and starting out by saying that off-screen everything went wrong & the characters the fans like have suffered terrible losses, all in order to pave the way for new conflicts starring new protagonists, is a really tough way to sell a sequel. It’s like going out of your way to make your journey an uphill climb.
They could’ve just set things 50-100 years later than they did, like 3200. Battletech technology levels were bizarrely stagnant even during the supposed golden age of the Star League, so it wouldn’t be strange for that aspect of the setting to remain largely unchanged even with such a large time-skip. Then all the old characters would be gone no matter what, significant but gradual political change would be expected anyways given where the Twilight of the Clans & FedCom Civil War left off (no Jihad required), and if the writers remain convinced that an off-screen crisis was still needed, the narrative would be “after the great strides made in the early-mid 31st century, things went well for a couple generations, but inevitably mankind began to fall back into its bad habits as the lessons learned in that era fell out of living memory”. Kind of like how the baby-boomers and younger generations are regressing a lot of the progress made by the lost, greatest, & silent generations during the twentieth century. Those cultural and political movements were driven by the lessons learned in the World Wars and the suffering caused by fascism, nationalism, and imperialism. But most people today didn’t experience it first-hand, instead they were raised on a highly romanticized, cartoonishly over-simplified narrative of what went on, so they’re insulated from why such things were so terrible and don’t understand the danger of what & who they’re dealing with.
But I’d say don’t even do an offscreen crisis. Do the longer time-skip, and then let the slowly accelerating descent back into chaos and warfare be the source of the changed landscape. Some of the best stories in old Battletech novels were Wolves on the Border by Charette, and Illusions of Victory, by Coleman, which both have that kind of gradual collapse narrative arc. Hell, a lot of the other early Fed Com Civil War books thrived on that ‘feeling of dread as you slowly realize you’re riding a runaway train’ mood. It’s heady stuff. And to their credit, they did try to achieve that with MW:DA’s HPG blackout, but it just begs the question why they even needed the jihad then? If you’re going to begin your new series with things falling apart and new factions emerging in the upheaval, why do you need to have past events to change the established factions that are only going to be falling apart during the start of the new story anyway? It seems entirely unnecessary.
In addition to that kind of confused, self-defeating narrative choices, the Dark Age also suffered from things like still having the IS/Clan tech divide even after a century of intermingling militaries & economies, which just felt silly. Nearly every faction fields a mix of both anyways. Why not just kick the whole thing off with tech having advanced just enough to reach a new shared standard? It’s neater and cleaner design-wise, less fiddly details to remember (like two different versions of 90% of equipment, have you ever looked at a menu in HMPro or Solaris Skunk Works while set to mixed tech?), and you can fold all the coolest gear from both sides together that way. Just have a page or two of tables showing the relative scarcity of different stuff for the different factions; like the unit generation tables in faction & campaign books of old.
The whole idea behind the regression to using industrial and agromechs to fight wasn’t a lostech situation; it was supposed to be an “insufficient military-industrial capabilities” thing. They still knew how to make that stuff, and it was actively in use among the different factions, but there was more demand for matériel than supply, so other equipment was being pressed into service. It was an attempt to revisit & more fully embrace the grim & gritty, borderline Mad Max-ian aspects of the setting from back when Battletech first began. It really didn’t inform how the game played nor how stories went beyond creating greater stratification between things like militias and premier commands. In the handful of boxes I bought, I had just as many battlemechs as not, and playing in typical force sizes it would have been trivial to avoid using other ‘mechs, especially once you factored in infantry and ground vehicle options (I gave up on trying to find a regular group to play with before the helicopters got added in).
I mean, the Clix system was a cool idea, but many old-timer fans were understandably resistant to picking up a newer, more expensive gaming system. It’s not like they couldn’t have had FanPro/Catalyst make classic Battletech sourcebooks set in the new era concurrent to the Wizkids line. It would have helped grease the wheels towards getting people to give the new direction a chance if they could play in it using the familiar gaming system. They initially froze the timeline for FanPro, because they didn’t want conflicts popping up due to having one company backfilling the time-skip while the other company was moving forward, but if they both time-skipped together, two small companies could’ve coordinated on moving things forward, with Wizkids deciding where to go and FanPro LLC fleshing out details for the old game systems. It was just one more hurdle towards adoption they never needed to introduce. It drew a stark dividing line that encouraged fans to either keep supporting the old familiar game systems and their at-the-time stagnating setting, or embrace the new era and have to buy into a completely new game system. To be fair, they did eventually let FanPro put out a record-sheets book for Dark Age stuff which didn’t sell well, but I maintain a proper TRO would’ve been a different story. By then software like Heavy Metal had caught on in a much bigger way (I mean FanPro was crediting it in TRO’s IIRC), rendering professionally printed record sheets kind of moot, and I doubt many people were aware this RS book would have much in the way of other content. Also, quite a lot of fans wound up house-ruling how to play in the MW:DA era with classic Battletech, and I feel like that just proves my point that coordination would’ve been a better way forward. Hell, Battletech players might’ve started buying the MW:DA figures to use instead of IWM’s.
TLDR; a lot of the decisions for MW:DA felt messy and awkward, like they were trying to have their cake and eat it too by making things “different, but not too different”. And I feel like that, plus the kicked-in-the-teeth response some fans had towards the specific ways they advanced the setting, are why the Dark Age fell flat for most fans.
While I did purchase this even read, I am still scratching my head on how and why New Avalon Fell to the dragon. This is so wrong in many ways.