Battletech Dominions Divided: The Goonhammer Review

The newest Battletech sourcebook, Dominions Divided, releases today and Catalyst has sent us a copy to review. If you’re new to Battletech, sourcebooks are one of the main building blocks of the universe, focusing on a specific conflict or region. 

Dominions Divided is one of the more wide-ranging sourcebooks, covering the Rasalhague Dominion, Draconis Combine, and Federated Suns for a period of about a year and a half from 3151 to the middle of 3152. Given the scope, it covers more of what happened than why things happened or how people felt about them, though there are plenty of point-of-view sidebars that add context.

While I’m not going to be covering every plot point during this review, there will be spoilers for both this book and The Damocles Sanction, which also just released. If you want to avoid that, my overall view is that this is a good book with solid world building for anyone interested in the Federated Suns or Rasalhague Dominion, though the rules annex at the end is fairly light on content.

Federated Suns Armored Cavalry lance. Credit: Jack Hunter

The Story

Dominions Divided weaves the stories of Julian Davion reclaiming the Federated Suns and the civil war of the Rasalhague Dominion together, working through the timeline so events occurring at a similar point are discussed in sequence, rather than separating it all out into two separate stories depending on the region. While this does make it harder if you only care about one of them, actions in both have an effect on the Draconis Combine, so presenting them in this fashion makes a lot of sense. For brevity’s sake, I’m going to be splitting them up in this review.

The Federated Suns

Davion Guards Griffin. Credit: Jack Hunter

The story here opens up with a short story placed even before the book’s introduction, in which two mechwarriors have to wrestle with Julian’s decision to keep the Dawn Guards with him and fighting to free the Federated Suns, rather than sending them back to the Republic to fight Clan Wolf. This sets the stage for a constant theme through the FedSuns plot of a pull between multiple different responsibilities. For the most part, this part of Dominions Divided covers the same events as Damocles Sanction, just in broad strokes. I’d suggest reading the novel first, as reading through this sourcebook will reveal much of the plot.

The very first event to be described is the recapture of New Avalon and the start of arguments between Julian and Erik Sandoval-Groell, the prince’s champion who had been holding the Suns together for years. Julian wanted to take the time to build up enough forces to be certain of victory, while Erik was more aggressive. Arguments between Julian and Erik form the core of the division in the Suns, with the Combine invasion serving primarily as a background tool to give those arguments reason to exist. Their positions switched once the recapture of New Avalon had actually begun, with Julian frustrated by Erik’s slow progress. Eventually, in the final moments of the battle, Julian shows up just in time to save Erik and defeat the Combine’s leader, who promptly surrenders to Erik instead.

After taking New Avalon, Erik departs to work on freeing other conquered planets, which he’s able to do between AFFS and mercenary forces. In doing so, however, another wedge is driven between Erik and Julian – many of the freed planets saw Erik as their savior, not Julian. By the time the campaign fizzles out Julian has become concerned that Erik is looking to take his throne, and no longer trusts him the way he used to.

As Julian and Erik are fighting over the Federated Suns border with the Combine, Duke Alexander Hasek returns from a six year absence to the rimward edge of the Capellan March where the Federated Suns border the Taurian Concordat. As a fairly stereotypical idiot noble, he promptly invades them, gets his ass kicked, gets captured, and was eventually ransomed back. 

The Rasalhague Dominion

Ghost Bear Alpha Galaxy Hellion. Credit: Perigrin

As Clans Wolf and Jade Falcon made their push on Terra, the Rasalhague Dominion moved three Galaxies towards their border with the Republic of the Sphere, preparing for whatever happened. In doing so, they set up to deliver news of Clan Wolf’s victory back to Alshain and Rasalhague extremely quickly. Having already discussed possible options for this eventuality, Khan Bekker and saKhan Jorgensson traveled to Terra, where they told ilKhan Ward that the Dominion would need to take a vote on whether to join the new Star League or not.

As they returned to the Dominion, word of the two options spread. On one side were Deniers, people who for many reasons did not want to join the Star League. On the other side were the Joiners, who had just as many varied reasons to join the new Star League. These divisions weren’t split across any obvious lines – all the Ghost Bears weren’t Joiners, and all the Free Rasalhague Republic descendants weren’t Deniers (or vice-versa). Debate turned fairly quickly to low-level violence, which started escalating as they reached voting day.

After several weeks for votes to travel to Rasalhague by jumpship, the Joiners just barely won. Generally speaking the results of the vote were accepted, if not celebrated, though there was some passive resistance (in part in the form of a social media influencer) and some overly aggressive celebrations. When the results were presented to the ilKhan, however, things took a distinctly different turn. He was unhappy with how close the vote had been, and expected the Dominion to deal with their internal dissent before joining.

That decision kicked simmering tensions up into full-scale civil war. Among civilians, Joiners blamed the Deniers, and they started killing each other. Inside the military, it became a convenient excuse for warriors to challenge each other. The conflict reached a peak in December 3151 when one councilor shot another on the floor of the Unity Council, pushing Prince Miraborg to more firmly step in and declare martial law. Although this initially caused the fighting to flare up higher, eventually elements of the military were able to regain internal cohesion and start following the orders of the Unity Council to stop the violence, regardless of which side instigated it.

As the last of the fighting guttered out, Prince Miraborg decided to unite the nation and delay a second vote by one of the oldest strategies – a short, victorious war. Rapid strikes against the Draconis Combine took several planets and positioned the Dominion within striking distance of Luthien, exciting both Joiners and Deniers.

As much as I found this story interesting, particularly because I hadn’t read a ton about the Free Rasalhague Republic or Rasalhague Dominion previously, I found it particularly hard to follow and required a lot of re-reading. Given that it’s a civil war, most of the unit names sound remarkably similar, and it would jump from Galaxy to Cluster level organization without contextualizing which Galaxy a Cluster is in. Nonetheless, I think this is a pretty satisfying way to handle their internal strife, and can see it making a great setting for games.

The Draconis Combine

Legion of Vega Wolverine, Awesome, Locust, and Battlemaster. Credit: SRM

While playing an overall minor role in this book, the Draconis Combine is the glue that ties the stories of the Federated Suns and Rasalhague Dominion together. Concerned by the amount of power being amassed by Toranaga, Yori Kurita was able to use the unrest on the Rasalhague border to justify pulling supplies away from his fight with the Federated Suns, which played a part in how they were able to be defeated by Erik and Julian. Beyond some internal power plays, however, they don’t have a whole lot of exposition in this book.

The Profiles

After we’ve read through the story, which takes up the largest chunk of the book, we’ve got a section with short profiles of the key players and locations in this story.

The first sub-section is the Factions, where we take a look at the Federated Suns, Draconis Combine, Rasalhague Dominion, and Taurian Concordat. In addition to an update on where each faction is at as a whole, some specific units get called out, as follows:

Federated Suns

  • Fourth Davion Guards
  • Eighth Crucis Lancers
  • Seventh Syrtis Fusiliers
  • Sixth Periphery Guard
  • Narhal’s Raiders
  • Brigade of Shiva

Draconis Combine

  • Eighth Sword of Light
  • Sixth Benjamin Regulars
  • Twenty-Second New Samarkand Regulars
  • Seventh Legion of Vega

Rasalhague Dominion

  • Trinary One, Dominion Watch
  • Bear’s Cubs Provisional Trinary
  • Ourse Keshik
  • Silveroot Keshik
  • Second Tyr Cluster
  • Third Freemen Cluster
  • First Bear Regulars

Taurian Concordat

  • Pleiades Hussars

Next is a section of character profiles of many characters, both previously known and unknown that featured prominently.

  • Julian Davion
  • Erik Sandoval-Groell
  • Alexander Hasek
  • Joo-Ryung Clarke
  • Anupam Goh
  • Heathrow Hullarson
  • Masashia Miura
  • Aguri Golubeva
  • Saul Pereira
  • Hjalmer Miraborg
  • Dalia Bekker
  • Lars Magnusson
  • Atsushi Jones
  • Sanura Ghost Bear
  • Gretchen
  • Lars Andersson

And finally we come to some of the key planets.

  • Brundage
  • Coloma
  • Holmsbu
  • Karbala
  • New Avalon
  • Maia
  • Quarell
  • Sheliak
  • Willowick

This is an interesting section that I think could be blended in with the first story section rather than living on its own. While useful if I want to come back to it later (particularly for the units and planets, which I might want to run a campaign including), if I’m reading through this book in order I’ll come across these characters and want to know more about them. It would add a bit of extra context that can make the story easier to understand if you haven’t either recently read books leading up to this or obsessively browsed Sarna.

The Rules Annex

The final section of this book is the thinnest, but could also have the most direct impact on you playing a game. Here we have a set of rules that give you rules to use the characters described above both on the tabletop and in roleplaying games, and detailed information on each unit, including new special command abilities. One of my favorites is the “Family” SCA, given to the Silveroot Keshik. It provides a -2 Target Number modifier against targets near friendly units that have had at least one location stripped of armor, encouraging you to run a force that focuses on short range combatants that can quickly reposition to get the most use out of the modifier.

This section also introduces Irregular Troops to represent games played during the civil war in the Rasalhague Dominion, where a great untrained civilians joined the fighting. The rules also fit the final battle for Avalon City, where people turned out in the streets to support Julian. There are three different types of irregulars – Militias, Insurgents, and Mobs. Militias function basically the same as infantry, but with less experience.

Insurgents are small units carrying either rifles or SRMs, and can additionally be equipped with Molotov Cocktails, IEDs, or Sniper rifles. Molotov cocktails are good at eliminating other infantry or heating up a mech, IEDs turn the insurgent platoon into an areal denial force, and sniper rifles can force morale checks on enemy units.

Mobs are the biggest departure from basic infantry, as they can be very large units, are formed semi-randomly, move early, and take extra damage. They can form in any situation where there would be a significant number of civilians (for example, the city map that I’m working on building would form a mob of 220 x d6 members), and then divide into individual hex units of 100 members. There are quite a few rules dictating how they behave on the board, but to me the most interesting is Frenzy. Each time you roll a double for an attack they gain a frenzy token, which gives them a +1 bonus on the to-hit roll for the mob. After three tokens, they start moving faster directly towards the nearest enemy, possibly attacking any friendly units they pass over.

While very random, mobs seem like they’ll add a ton of fun to urban maps, or represent a prison break, attack on a refugee camp, or other civilian environment. 

After the Irregular Troops come expected Random Assignment Tables for this time period, covering the Draconis Combine, Federated Suns, Republic of the Sphere, First and Second line Rasalhague Dominion, Taurian Concordat, and Mercenaries.

Wolf’s Dragoons Gamma Regiment Ares ARC-V1E Apollo. Credit: Jack Hunter

Nearly to the end is a new variant of the 135 ton superheavy tripod Ares, this one named the Apollo. It comes loaded out with an improved heavy gauss rifle, rotary AC/5, and collection of lasers, LRMs, and SRMs. This is a variant designed by the AFFS during their campaign, where a full lance is described as anchoring the Davion Assault Guard push into Avalon City. Made up of the right arm from a Hera and left arm from an Aphrodite, I think this is my favorite of the Ares variants. It has withering direct fire, great durability, and is not overly burdened by heat concerns. It also comes in at juuuuust under 3000BV, making it the cheapest of the Ares variants by a fair margin, giving it a potential place in your roster just for the durability.

Finally, the included map is designed to aid you in playing campaigns along the Fed Suns / Draconis Combine border. Designed to work with Campaign Operations, the front side of the map shows potential jump routes, including how many hours it will take to recharge depending on the brightness of the star. On the back many planets are detailed, including how long it takes to make planetfall from the jump point, what the system is like, and sample objectives and options for use in campaigns. For the many un-detailed systems there are a few tables that can help you generate some of these. One thing that took me a little while to figure out – the map is divided in half horizontally, the left side of the top half connects to the right side of the bottom. It feels backwards to me for some reason, but works once you figure it out.

Final Thoughts

This is a great book. It’s the first sourcebook I actually have in print instead of PDF, and I think it’s totally worth it – it’s much easier to read though, and full of great art. I found both the Federated Suns and Rasalhague Dominion stories to be interesting and fit what I already know of the characters, with my only issue being some confusion as to which unit is which in the Dominion. If you’re interested in either of the main factions from this book I’d absolutely pick it up, though it’s not as needed if you’re looking for more on the Draconis Combine. One other little thing I noticed here and hadn’t seen previously – all the random mech renders gracing the pages are labeled with what mech it is and what unit it’s from, a great reference for anyone wanting to build a force out of this book.

As far as rules go, I’d like to have seen some scenarios like in the touchpoint tracks from Shattered Fortress. Additional sources of missions that aren’t just two forces shooting each other are one of my favorite things, and I’d love it if Catalyst would put out a book with nothing but generic scenarios. I can’t wait to see what’s next for the Battletech universe.