Battletech Sourcebook Somerset

I saw ads for the Battletech role-playing game in some of my comic books growing up but I never saw any evidence of it. Dungeons and Dragons was the big game in the ’80s and you weren’t likely to see anyone else playing it. I had my own issues with D&D and never had time for any of the other “pen and paper RPGs”, including this one.

However, an animated series was produced in the ’90s and aired in syndication. (I’ve seen a source peg it as a Fox show, but the only place I saw it was a then unaffiliated station that was never part of Fox.) While I didn’t get interested in the RPG I have wanted to play the video game (and it’s spinoff series, MechWarrior). So why do I have this sourcebook?

It’s based on the animated series, but also works to correct factual errors to set events in the main Battletech universe. In-canon the cartoon is an error ridden summary of the events of the Clans first arrival (I’ll explain all that in the article) and the effort to repel them my uniting units of formerly opposing forces. In world, the show is considered poorly regarded, but in the real world I very much enjoyed it. They even found a way to shoehorn in the CG by introducing “enhanced imaging” for the Mech pilots (or “Mech Warriors). That’s why I picked up the book. Over on my other site I’ve gone through my Battletech comics and I thought I would finish my “Battletech Week” here at The Clutter Reports with a look at this book.

The intro for the animated series sums up the situation for people who have no interest in the games.

The basics are that many years after losing contact with Earth, colonies formed their own groups, and the groups ended up in numerous civil wars, vying for control of the “Inner Sphere” of planets. At the point in the story where the series comes in, a new faction arrives from the “Outer Sphere”, calling themselves The Clans. These clans, broken into smaller groups, claim to be descendents of a great warrior and his followers, with a unique culture based on combat. I won’t bore you with the details, but the two factions, the Federated Commonwealth and the Draconis Combine, are forced to come together to repel the Clans and their enhanced Mechs and fighting skills.

The TV series, and this sourcebook, follows the first union, a group named the 1st Somerset Strikers, after the homeworld of the group’s commander, conquered by the series main threat, Clan Jade Falcon. Over the course of the series you get to know the characters and find that the Clans are not the traditional “conquer the universe” villains but are quite complex for a kids show. They believe they’re in the right and looking to fulfill their progenitor’s dream of a united Inner Sphere. It’s just that their methods and culture are rather distasteful to both sides of the current conflict and the Clans operate by force. It’s a good series if you come across it but to my knowledge it’s not on DVD, at least in the US. You might find the episodes on Hulu.

The 1st Somerset Strikers sourcebook is really two books in one. For fans of the television series there is an introduction to the history of the Battletech Universe, a summary of episodes, a character profile section and a BattleMech profile section–all without worrying about the RPG. For fans of the RPG, however, the second half of the book turns all that into game play statistics. There are stats for each character and vehicle, both traditional and robotic, to set up for the game. The episodes are reworked into playable campaigns and I bet many of them ended differently than the television show. According to my research (I haven’t watch the show in years and I’m very unfamiliar with the game’s official canon), the book attempts to fix some of the facts in the show to match how events happened in the main canon, with anything that couldn’t be reconciled written off as artistic license of the equivalent of a biographical drama, showing that the Inner Sphere’s version of Hollywood screws up historical facts as easily as the real thing. 😀

The only complaint I have is that the books starts out in full-color glossy but halfway through, before even reaching the game conversion, it goes to a cheaper paper and black and white. It’s a bit off-putting to see it change that drastically, and the art changes from screenshots, and animation and computer models to original drawings, also used in the game conversion section. I liked it better when they used actual shots from the show, at least in the show information section.

Leafing through the book and reviewing the comics has made me interested in watching the show again, and I can use the book to follow along. After that I may keep it for a curiosity or possibly an art guide since I do like the character models. Somewhere down the line I may change my mind or not. I can’t tell right now, but it is a good reference source for the game and the TV series.