Battletech is a very, very long running wargame, and has had a constantly progressing metaplot over that entire period. With nearly 40 years of sourcebooks and lore to sift through, Catalyst has divided the timeline into several Eras, with each having a distinct tone and gameplay experience.
It’s common for people setting up games and campaigns to pick an Era to play within, determining both what mechs and weapons are available in game and the general background that a campaign is set in.
This article will be an overview of each Era you can choose to play in, the tone that it has, and what you can expect gameplay wise from each era. We will be using the Eras as displayed on the website Master Unit List, which is Catalyst Games Lab’s official online gameplay aid, as well as their database for unit availability. Another thing to note is that the first few Eras up to the Late Succession Wars are not generally played in by most players, and exist in a similar space to the Horus Heresy in 40k, being an important foundational backstory that you can play games in if you want to.
AGE OF WAR
The Age of War era covers roughly the years 2005-2570, and concerns the initial spread of mankind to the stars and the formation of the star nations that would go on to drive the Machiavellian backstabberia that is the rest of the timeline. Notable events of this period are the invention of FTL travel (In 2018), the collapse of the Soviet Union and reunification of Berlin (In 2014), the founding of all of the various Great Houses, the signing of the Ares Convention to ban nuking planets from orbit, and the invention of the BattleMech. The Era ended with the creation of the Star League, a galactic government ruled from Earth that would bring a (debatably) golden age to (most) of humanity.
Gameplay and tone wise the Age of War offers:
- The Foundation and early days of all of the nations that would go on to define the setting
- Massed tank combat with early, primitive BattleMechs
- A primitive tech-base that leads to the vast majority of available ‘Mechs and tanks being some degree of terrible
The Star League Era covers the years 2571-2780, and concerns the rise, fall, and horrible death-throes of the Star League, a vast pan-human government. The Star League was in many ways the golden age of the setting, and is treated as a golden age by a majority of people in-universe in later eras. Notable events of this Era include the Reunification Wars, where the Star League consolidated its hold over the most distant colonies of humanity, a region called the Periphery, The Periphery Revolt where, egged on by an actual cartoon supervillain named Stefan Amaris, the Periphery revolted after centuries of exploitation by the Star League, and the Amaris Civil War, where said cartoon supervillain fought a knock down, no holds barred death war with the Star League army for control of the government, which he lost. The Era ended with the Great Houses all claiming that they should be in charge of the Star League, and most of the remaining Star League Army, under General Alexsandr Kerensky, deciding that they had fought enough Civil Wars lately and fucking off to deep space to ride out the next few centuries while the Inner Sphere nuked itself. Most of the time when you play in the Star League era you play in the final civil war, as the era was otherwise mostly defined by being at peace, which doesn’t provide a super compelling setting for a wargame.
Gameplay and tone wise the Star League Era offers:
- Brutal police actions against rebels
- The collapse of the most advanced society the Inner Sphere has ever known
- A massive civil war with huge amounts of technologically advanced ‘Mechs
EARLY SUCCESSION WARS
The Early Succession Wars, so named because they were (Initially) fought over who would succeed the throne of the Star League, is where humanity collectively oof’d itself and covers roughly the years 2780-2900. All 5 great houses started nuking the hell out of each other, assassinating every enemy scientist, engineer, tech enthusiast, and particularly bright high schooler they could, and blew up all of their space warships in an apocalyptic hell war the likes of which you rarely see in fiction. This complete and total war nearly destroyed humanity as a space-faring species, and flung technology back to the dark ages (otherwise known as the 1980s). Notable events of this period include the Kentares Massacre, where the Draconis Combine went nuts and killed 52 million people with katanas after their leader was shot by a sniper (the new leader ordered the katanas thing, he preferred his war-crimes a bit more Sengoku style), the complete and total loss of much of the accumulated knowledge of the human race, the transformation of the Star League’s main interstellar internet service provider into a cult like religious organization named ComStar after they took things a little too seriously and started praying over the internet cables, and the arrival of a strange warband of highly advanced ‘Mechs named the Minnesota Tribe, who rampaged around a bit before fucking off to deep space.
Gameplay and tone wise the Early Succession Wars offers:
- The actual space apocalypse
- Lots and lots of Nukes
- The loss of most technology
- Lots and lots of War Crimes
- Huge armies of ‘Mechs grinding each into absolute paste
- One of the only opportunities to dust off the space naval combat rules
THE LATE SUCCESSION WARS (Lostech)
The Late Succession Wars, covering roughly 2900 to 3020-ish (CGL is super weird about the late succession wars and have split them in half on Master Unit List, so I will split it in half here), is the Era where the consequences for humanity oofing itself start to set in. The entire Inner Sphere exists in a state of low intensity war for this entire period, raids and single planet assaults replacing the massive hell wars of the Early Succession Wars. Most technology has been lost and the few remaining ‘Mech factories are greatly reduced in output and technology level. New ‘Mechs are primitive in comparison to old ones, come at a higher price, and can only be made in much smaller numbers. As a result of this, Mechs become enormously valuable and begin to be passed down from parent to child, slowly forming a warrior aristocracy out of what used to be large, professional armies. Losing a ‘Mech becomes a tragedy and an honor culture takes hold, with ‘Mechs often surrendering when they become too damaged to fight and being ransomed back to the military that employs them. ComStar ascends from a weird religious cult to a major authority in setting, with the power to cut communications in any nation that upsets them, directly compared to medieval excommunication in-universe. Notable events of this period include the arrival of the Wolf’s Dragoons from deep space, who are a mercenary group equipped with a huge amount of very advanced ‘Mechs, a ton of minor wars and conflicts, and ComStar generally mucking about the place making everything worse. This period ended in 3020-ish with negotiations between two of the Great Houses, House Steiner and House Davion, which would set the stage for the next few eras.
Gameplay and tone wise the Late Succession Wars (Lostech) offers:
- Knights in Shining BattleMechs
- Low intensity, small conflicts which are great for the scale of game that Battletech excels at
- A low tech level and limited selection of equipment, leading to a more balanced game overall
- Great fun making do with old, beat up ‘Mechs with sub-optimal loadouts out of a lack of anything better
- The experience of the game as it launched in the 80s
- A world where giant robot pilots regularly loot and scavenge for replacement parts, as the factory that built hip joints for their ‘Mech got nuked in the last apocalyptic hell war
THE LATE SUCCESSION WARS (Renaissance)
The Late Succession Wars (Renaissance) period is the first bit of meta-plot after the initial launch of the game and covers roughly the years 3025-3049. This period is where humanity finally dusts itself off and starts putting things back together, and technology has almost reached the level of the Star League by the end of this period, though it is not evenly distributed across the Inner Sphere. Large scale wars start to come back during this period, and a huge amount of plot and fluff is set in this period. Important events of this Era include Hanse Davion giving most of an entire star nation to his new wife at their wedding, The Fourth Succession War that he used to get that entire star nation, the discovery of the Grey Death Memory Core, which was a set of documents and software that jump-started human technology by acting as a replacement for all those scientists that humanity blew up a couple hundred years ago, ComStar continuing to muck about and sabotage things, and the War of 3039, where Hanse Davion tried to go for a second entire star nation but didn’t succeed this time. This period also sees the slow erosion of the Knights and Warrior Aristocracy, and the return of large, professional armies with government issue equipment. This Era ended with, well, what the next one is named after.
The beginning of this era will be familiar to players of the Battletech computer game created by Hare Brained Schemes, with many mods available that extend the game through the entirety of this era.
Gameplay and tone wise the The Late Succession Wars (Renaissance) offers:
- A mix of primitive, old, and basic ‘Mechs with new, advanced ‘Mechs that are slowly replacing them
- Larger armies and campaigns than the previous era
- Hope as humanity picks itself back up and starts putting society back together
THE CLAN INVASION
The Clan Invasion Era, the one that the recent Kickstarter was focused on, covers roughly 3050-3061. This period is where the Star League’s army gets tired of fucking off to deep space and decides to come smash up the place and conquer humanity. When they came back however, they were not an army, but a collection of animal themed space mongol tribes called the Clans, with an elaborate honor code, a love of eugenics and cloning, a superiority complex, super mega ultra advanced ‘Mechs, and a warrior culture that would make a Spartan Hoplite tell them to maybe consider reading a book for a change. Notable events of this period include… well, the Clan Invasion, the leader of the invading Clans being killed by a pilot ramming the bridge of his ship, Return of the Jedi style, and the defeat of the Clans by ComStar of all people at the battle of Tukayyid, where Space Catholic Comcast revealed that it had a massive army this entire time and got the Clans to sign for a truce due to weird honor stuff. Some time after Tukayyid, the Inner Sphere collectively got up and flew to where the Clans came from in Deep Space and killed an entire Clan for the crime of using a nuke. The Era ended in 3060 with the Great Refusal, where the Inner Sphere, having (sort of) reformed the Star League, fought a ton of honor duels and battles with the clans to get them to halt the invasion permanently. Which didn’t actually stop them forever, but it was still impressive.
Gameplay and tone wise the Clan Invasion offers:
- Battles between two asymmetric factions
- The most support from Catalyst at the moment
- The most iconic ‘Mechs in Battletech, with the Mad Cat, Thor, and Bushwhacker all making their first appearance here
- Catholic Space Comcast kicking the ass of weird future space tribes
- A large potential player base
- The Standard Rules Level used at tournaments and events
- A huge wealth of fluff, novels, and material to chew through, and some of the best stories from the setting
THE CIVIL WAR
The Civil War Era covers the years 3062-3067. This period is where all of that progress and togetherness starts to collapse as the largest state in the Inner Sphere, the Federated Commonwealth, is split in half by a massive civil war. Technology continues to advance as the Inner Sphere closes the gap with the Clans and even develops some tech that the Clans don’t have. Chaos seeps back in as the togetherness that the Inner Sphere felt when faced by the Clans immediately collapses into backstabbing and war. Notable events of this period include ComStar becoming just Space Comcast and dropping the Catholic part, a breakaway sect of the ones who liked the Catholic part forming the Word of Blake, the massive civil war that gives the era its name, and the Clans sort of ignoring the whole “Stop Invading” thing and starting to kind of half ass invade again. The Era ended in 3067 when the half-ass Star League voted to end itself after the Civil War and the Word of Blake threw a titanic temper tantrum, starting the next Era.
For people coming from the old MechWarrior video games, this is the era that Mech Warrior 4 and its expansions takes place in.
Gameplay and tone wise the Civil War offers:
- Even more advanced tech as the Inner Sphere catches up to the Clans
- Large, fully professional armies waging organized, modern style campaigns and offensives against each other
- A fully rebuilt tech base allowing for much larger numbers of ‘Mech chassis and a huge range of variants for them
- An Assault class version of the Mad Cat!
The (unfortunately named) Jihad Era covers the years 3068-3080, the Word of Blake’s galactic scale temper tantrum at the collapse of the second Star League, and the time that every Scientist in the Clans was evil and formed an evil secret society literally called “The Society”. This period is a very divisive one in the Battletech community, with some being fond of it for its good VS evil narrative and cool ‘Mech designs, and others hating it for its inconsistent writing quality and good VS evil narrative. The entire Inner Sphere explodes into war as the Word of Blake starts nuking people and generally committing war crimes and violence not seen since the Early Succession Wars. Notable events of this period include the revelation that the leader of the Free Worlds League was a body double, the near-destruction of the Wolf’s Dragoons, the Wars of Reaving on the Clan homeworlds where they figured out that their scientists were evil all along and started purging each other for being tainted by science, a ton of war crimes and nukes, Clan Ghost Bear going nuts on the Word of Blake for said war crimes and nukes, and the appearance of a man named Devlin Stone who would be pretty important in the next era. The Era ended with a coalition led by Devlin Stone taking out the Word of Blake and establishing a neutral state in the middle of the Inner Sphere, at which point everyone decides that that war sucks really hard and gets rid of all of their BattleMechs. Wait, What? I am not going to lie, this era is, in my opinion, not very good, but plenty of people get genuine enjoyment out of it. The reason for its inconsistency is the company that made Battletech breaking up halfway through this arc, and leaving it to other people to pick up the pieces and make something coherent out of it.
Gameplay and tone wise the Jihad offers:
- Very cool looking ‘Mech designs
- An unambiguously evil faction to root for the destruction of
- Chaos and Pandemonium as old and outdated designs are pressed into service against cutting edge ‘Mechs
THE DARK AGES
I am lumping the Republic Era and Dark Ages Era together here, as nothing really happens in the Republic Era aside from setup for the Dark Ages Era. These Eras cover the years 3081-3150. After the entire Inner Sphere gives up their BattleMechs at the end of the Jihad, basically nothing happens until the year 3132, when the entire Space Internet is blown up at the same time by an unknown group, plunging the Inner Sphere into total chaos as they start rapidly re-arming and starting wars, everyone blaming their old enemies for what happened. They start out by strapping guns to farming and mining ‘Mechs, which the old BattleMech factories were building in the 50 years before this, until they manage to get enough production tooled up to have proper BattleMechs again. Notable events of this Era include Gray Monday, which is the name of the day that the HPG grid blew up, the complete annihilation and later reformation of the Free Worlds League, Devlin Stone deciding to peace out of the current chaos and putting up a Space Wall around Earth and hiding in it until the war stopped, and characters living to be really, really inexplicably old. This Era ends with the Conquest of Earth by Clan Wolf and the Establishment of a Third Star League in 3151. The Dark Ages is also, in my opinion, not very good, but some people enjoy it, and there are genuine reasons to like it, just like the Jihad.
Gameplay and tone wise the Dark Ages offers:
- Militia Mechs and refitted farming equipment fighting alongside actual BattleMechs
- A generally improvised warfare vibe
- Super advanced technology and the coolest guns
- The most comprehensive and complex Ruleset.
The IlClan Era is currently being established by Catalyst. There is not much information out about this Era yet, but that is exciting, as we can watch the Metaplot move forwards for the first time in a while, and hopefully move past the questionable writing of the previous 2 Eras.
Gameplay and tone wise the IlClan Era offers:
- A currently moving plotline
- All of the same fun toys as the Dark Age
- Hope for better writing going forwards
The world of Battletech is vast and each Era has a wealth of lore, supplemental material, and cool stompy robots. Each Era caters to a different sort of person, and almost anyone can find one that they enjoy and can build their force within. An important thing to bear in mind is that a force built for any given Era can be played against a force from any other Era, as the Battle Value/Point Value systems do a decent job of balancing for the more advanced technology and complex rules of later eras. There will be issues with lower or higher tech mechs and the system doesnt work in all cases, but it usually should be capable of balancing things out. My personal favorite Era is the Late Succession Wars (Lostech) period, as the scavenging, low tech, and knights lead to a very unique feeling compared to other sci fi settings. I hope this article gives you some ideas about which Era you would want to start a Force in and play, as, again, there is something for everyone here.