Tuesday, March 4, 2014

How Much Battletech Universe Background is too Much?

Battltech is a large, very detailed universe that has evolved over the last three decades. In that time, A detailed history, covering from about 2000 on up through 3145 has been created. Over fifty interstellar factions have been created, detailed, and given their own personality, then set out in to the universe to live or die at the will of the Line developer. Scientific explanations have been created to explain HPG stations, KF drives, and Battlemechs themselves. Each military has their own ranking system, formations and equipment. It's a large sandbox with countless stories that still need to be told.

But the universe isn't perfect.

I've seen questions from fans and players asking questions on the forum that ask for too much detail. For example, questions about the numbers of 'Mechs produced by a certain factory, or how what is the tax rate in a certain state, or what the population of an interstellar state. Most of these questions fall into what is called "FASAnomics," a term to describe the original creators lack of interest in the economical side of the universe. But those questions are still asked.

My own view, away from the forums and here on my blog, is simple; why worry about those details? For one thing, the economics have no bearing on the game itself, and very little on the fiction. The number of Panthers, Archers or Atlases that exists at the same time is immaterial to the game play. No one is going to complain you have too many 'Mechs of the same design on the board. There are no hard production numbers for any design because there is no need for them, and it isn't anyone's job to keep track of how many 'Mechs there are in the universe.

What do I mean by this? Take for example, the DCMS in 2765: at the height of it's power (or close to it), A quick add up of the number of 'Mech battalions in the DCMS put the total around 350 battalions. Assuming that there's a battalion command lance in each battalion, the numbers of 'Mechs in every battalion is 40. So, th entire number of Battlemechs in major DCMS commands is around 14,000 'Mechs (And that is probably on the low side, as it doesn't take into account over-strength units, other training units not noted in the FR, private forces and secret forces). At no time is there going to be 14,000 DCMS 'Mechs in play on the board at the same time, even across the world. It would be impossible to do so, not matter which age you're playing in. Now multiply that 14,000 by a factor of twenty, to account for all the other interstellar state's military forces, including the SDLF -- Now it's up to 280,000 'Mechs.

There is no way keep track of every single canon  'Mech design or their variants. There are close to 2,000 canon 'Mechs and their variants on the books. The Battletech Brain Trust had enough grief keeping track of all the units and the WarShips during the Jihad, and those are large units to keep track of. Now, try keeping track of, say 100,000 - 200,000 individual 'Mechs, and you see the problem.

But I'm not aware of, say Fields of Fire, keeping track of the number of tanks each country made (even though that is already known), or even the number of soldiers, as the game works at the Platoon/company level, and maybe to battalion level, but no more than that. The same thing with Star Wars' TIE fighters and X-wings, Warhammer 40,000 Rhinos, Walkers in Dust Tactics, or the number of Federation Heavy Cruisers in Star Fleet Battles. There is no need to track individual units in any of these games, because the games are played at a level below the need for hard numbers.

As for keeping track of populations: Again, why worry? Civilian populations have a very limited effect on the game, except as a target, an obstacle, or as an objective. They, as a whole, are not important to either the board game or the RPG, and only mildly important in the fiction.

While I like the interest in people asking questions, there is such a thing as too much information. And it's already a daunting job to keep track of the events, major characters and units, without adding another layer of difficulty to the job. The more details that has to be kept track of, the harder it is to do the job, and the easier it is to screw something up. (See the Black Thorns, as an example of what happens when a detail is overlooked.)

For most of the people CGL work with in putting together Battletech products, this is a secondary job, and they don't have time to spend in minute details that have no effect on the game itself. As for writing, It's dependent on the needs of the plot. If the plot calls for a lance of Valkyres, I will use a lance of Valkyres and not worry about how many there are in the Inner Sphere.

Battletech's universe is a deep and detailed one. But there are some areas in which detail isn't needed or really wanted. To take time in filling areas that have no effect on the game, means that the attention is taken away from more important areas. Battletech doesn't need any more detail, especially if the details don't have a bearing on the game or on the story.

Enough for now,



  1. Point of order: the original creators *did* create working numbers. (E.g. 2700 BattleMechs constructed annually circa 3025.) "FASAnomics" happens when later authors can't figure those numbers out and thence do things which clash.

    I agree that players don't need information that's not relevant to their actual play. Succession Wars / Inner Sphere in Flames / Interstellar Operations players don't need to know how many people are on a world or how many of which machine are in a regiment, for instance; it only matters that logistic sector X can contribute Y resources to a force-chit of arbitrary winningness Z.

    Note, however, that the distribution of resources and machines is essential to campaigning at the company / battalion level. Production numbers are very useful in this regard.

    If absolute "top-down" numbers are too overwhelming, perhaps a "bottom-up" approach using ratios and frequency would be more forgiving?

    1. There's something like that in the RATs....Besides, how much extra work will it take to keep track of all those units?

      Thanks for commenting,


    2. Catalyst does not presently treat RATs as sufficiently representative. I meant something more like the availability tables we have for spaceships ("roll 7+ to get DropShip X") and general comments about the military's overall composition ("there is a Valkyrie in every light lance").

      If you pose such comments as the expected future composition a few years from the in-universe date, and leave a year or two between the in-universe publication of each interacting batch of comments, then you don't *really* need to track them at all. You just make sure they don't clash with the rough overall composition and style of each House (which I assume Catalyst plans already).

      PS: completely ignoring production numbers can open the writers to other potential errors. For instance, is overall production circa 3145 supposed to exceed, equal, or be significantly lower than in 3025? (Even if you don't tell the readers outright, it has an effect on the ambiance.)

  2. Whoa. But if we don't have factory output numbers, how can we determine if conquests are legitimately made-up or super made-up made-up? I mean, if a factory on Sian can produce 1,000 Ravens a year, maybe Sun Tzu Liao can retake Chesterton, but otherwise I call fiat.

    Sincerely, a completely unbiased FedSuns player.

    1. Yes, well, it wasn't that the Cappies were producing too much, it was the Feddies were producing too little....And the Haseks didn't help with that stupid invasion...I think the Davions should have flipped the Sandavols and the Haseks to the other March every fifty years or so...

      But we already had one Great house go splat...I expect the Cappies to take it in the shorts sooner or later...and maybe had a Hanse Davion-like leader to strighten the mess and kick the Cappies back to Sian!

      (Not allowed to play favorites)

    2. I maybe neglected to add some much-needed [massive sarcasm] tags to that comment.

    3. Hey, I like having/finding those numbers, but I'm arguing for campaign tools. Like, it's helpful to know the frequency of crapsack 21st century worlds vs. places industrialized enough to manufacture autocannon parts. How many major dropports are on a planet, how many major cities, resources likely available within a major city, are useful things to know.

      Production numbers are the same sort of thing. Is an invasion aimed at factory planet X, or is factory Y larger/smaller enough that it might be a feint? How easily will certain replacement weapons be available on this world? Does enemy regimental composition change if we transit two jumps further?

      The data has use.

      PS: I completely and totally missed the Great Davion BurnOut of 2011 (or whenever it was).

      PPS: I wonder if there's a way to transition players off of "Factional Fandom" and onto "Regimental Fandom."