Battletech has a lot of factions. Up this week are the Invader Clans, the seven animal themed, Mongol empire LARPing, stupidly high tech, deranged honor cults who invaded from deep space. There are many more Clans, but the Homeworld Clans are mostly Free Worlds League levels of insignificant.
The Clans on the whole are the descendants of the big army of the Star League that once ruled all of humanity. That army saw another civil war coming right after they finished the last one, and decided that one apocalpytic civil war was enough for them. They fucked off to deep space, where they decided to settle on what are roughly the poorest, shittiest planets in the entire setting, bar none. After the general who lead them, Alexander Kerensky, died, the army started fighting a civil war to decide who would replace him. His son, Nicholas Kerensky, took a few loyalists on another journey to deep space, had some sort of vision quest or spiritual experience, and realized that being a psychotic dictator could be a full time thing for him. He separated his loyalists into a few groups and then assigned each of those groups a spirit-animal/fursona that he felt expressed the character of that group of people. This is, indeed, kind of nuts.
Nicky K wasn’t done though, and decided that having a few animal themed nutcases wasn’t enough, and went back and won that second civil war that he had ran away from, crushing them allegedly because of the superior warrior spirit and society of the Clans, but probably actually because a lot of the better troops ended up loyal to him as the last leader’s son. He then proceeded to decide that only the people who were in his original 20 animal themed military units would be allowed to fight. This caused an obvious problem of not having enough people, so they broke out some old cloning technology and started growing mech pilots in vats. This started out being a necessity to maintain the warrior caste from a very limited genepool, but quickly spiraled into the tube-men thinking that they were superior life forms to people who were born normally, starting a death spiral into eugenics that the reigning animal themed dictator did not discourage.
Fast Forwards through a few hundred years of broadly unimportant politics, and the Clans decide that actually Alex K didn’t want to stop fighting and prevent his army from being used to destroy everything, and he actually wanted them to wait for the Inner Sphere to level itself with nukes, and then go back and rule over the ashes with their superior technology as animal themed conquerors. This was opposed by the Clans that still had functioning brain cells in spite of several hundred years of eugenics, tube based inbreeding, and spiritual animal themed honor cultism. Everything in Clan Society was decided by a trial by combat, including lawsuits and military promotions, leading to constant military brain drain as experienced officers were executed by their subordinates who wanted their animal themed positions. A big trial by combat was fought to prevent the invasion. The sane people lost and the Clans showed back up to wreck up the place, after ritualistically punching each other in the jaw to decide who got to invade. Initially 4 Clans participated in the invasion, with 3 others coming in later as reserves when the Clans bogged down.
An interesting gameplay note about the Clans is that they have even less distinction between Clans in terms of equipment than the successor houses. Most Clans use the same set of omni-mechs in their frontline units, the distinction mostly coming in special standard ‘Mechs used for garrison and second line forces. Most front line clan units will only vary in mindset and level of adherence to the honor system, not in equipment. Speaking of their honor system, there are optional rules that you can use to enforce that honor system on yourself if you are playing as the Clans. Those honor rules are awesome and really flavorful, but they are almost entirely a downside. You are forced to declare a duel for each of your mechs, and once they have declared a duel, they can only shoot the target of their duel, even if there are better targets nearby. In addition, they cannot receive support in their duels or use physical combat. The non-honorable force builds up Dezgra, or Disgrace, points, and if they build up 3 the honor rules go away and you can fight as normal. Actions that give you Dezgra points are moving out of range of an opponent, firing into a duel, or breaking line of sight to the target. Every turn, the Inner Sphere force removes one Dezgra point, so your opponent gets to manage them as a resource for doing tricksy stuff. This is very fun to use, but the novelty wears off fast as it is legitimately just a downside for the Clan force. My advice on how to balance this is to let the Clan player upgrade the skills on 2 units per Star by 1 step for free, so a 4/5 pilot goes to 3/4 and so on. If they have 1 star, they get 2 skill ups, and if they have 2 they get 4 skill ups. Skill increases are very powerful, and they should act to balance out the inherent unfairness of being forced to use the Honor system. Plus, it seems like a bonus for playing honorably, and who doesn’t want a 3/4 Daishi? Another note is that Clans use Stars of 5 mechs instead of lances of 4 mechs. One Clan Star is roughly equal to two IS lances of similar weight in BV, most of the time.
Clan Wolf is the most prestigious Clan, and also the most sane at the start of the invasion, being the only Clan to vote against the invasion, and the only Clan to fight to prevent it. Due to this and the bizarre honor system that the Clans have, they were forced to participate in the invasion as a way to humiliate them, which obviously backfired immediately. As the only Clan that had functioning brains at the beginning of the Invasion, Clan Wolf beat the hell out of all of the other Clans in terms of advancement and general military competence. They are liberal by Clan standards, their warriors still ruling a huge civilian underclass that basically don’t have rights, but they are far less into the eugenics than some others, and will accept skilled non-tube men and captured enemies into their armies more readily than other Clans. This Clan are a rough equivalent to the Federated Suns, both for being a mostly competent and sane group that is surrounded by evil weirdos, and for being the de-facto “””””””Good Guys tm””””””” of the setting. They do not really bother with the honor system in combat, only using it when they would benefit from its use. They also were the only faction that had Mad Cat factories, as the other Clans had to make do with gifts and stolen examples. As of the IlClan era Clan Wolf has won the invasion, seized Earth, and is attempting to become a new space government. This Clan may appeal if you like wolves, want to use mostly Clan mechs and tech, but still want to fight sanely.
Clan Jade Falcon
Clan Jade Falcon is the polar opposite of Clan Wolf. Insane, hyper-traditionalist, firmly convinced of their own superiority, and having a weird spiritualist thing with the pet bird that their founder owned. They strictly adhere to the rules of the Clan honor system even when it hurts them. Their history and actions are all driven by a hatred and resentment for Clan Wolf, who they always felt they were forced to play second fiddle to even though, obviously, they were the most superior of all of the Clans and their genes were the strongest. This rivalry with Clan Wolf is their main arc throughout the setting, along with their belligerence in general and refusal to accept peace or coexistence. As of the IlClan era they have lost to Clan Wolf and been forced into a subservient position to them. This Clan may appeal if you like birds, really enjoy the honor rules, and want to play as the Clanniest Clan that ever Clanned, as Jade Falcon represents basically all of the stereotypes about the Clans.
Clan Ghost Bear
Clan Ghost Bear is a very interesting one. They began the invasion as bloodthirsty invaders fully in the Clan mindset, but over the course of the invasion mellowed out and began to act nearly sane, before finally reaching full sanity by the end. They are noted to have a far less awful Caste system than most Clans, seeing all aspects of society as broadly equal and important to the functioning of their Clan. They are also heavily, heavily Scandinavian. These two things combined to mean that while invading the equally Scandinavian Free Rasalhague Republic during the invasion, they treated the people of the planets they took over very well, and rapidly began integrating them into their society, rather than ruling over them as conquering nutcases the way the other Clans did. This led to them moving their entire Clan into the Inner Sphere and forming the Ghost Bear Dominion, an actual functioning animal themed state run by a mixture of Clan military and IS Civilian governments that mostly got along and functioned. They started the invasion with a strict adherence to the Clan honor system, but ended it with a mindset similar to Clan Wolf. This Clan might appeal if you like bears, vikings, and stable governments. Their Touman (Clan gibberish for Army) also skews towards heavy and assault mechs the same way House Steiner does, so that can be another draw.
Clan Smoke Jaguar
Clan Smoke Jaguar are the animal themed war criminals of the Clans. They are a fundamentalist Clan in the same vein as Jade Falcon, and honestly have a huge amount of overlap with them in terms of character and lore, only really missing the rivalry with Clan Wolf and having a different animal theme. The most notable thing about Clan Smoke Jaguar is how it died. During the Invasion Clan Smoke Jaguar proved to be utterly incapable of managing the civilian populations of the planets that they conquered, having no clue how to set up an administration to manage it and deciding to cope by butchering anyone who resisted them and massacring civilians to prevent them from rising up. This came to a head when they broke the in-universe Geneva Convention by orbitally bombarding and nuking a planet that was resisting them, levelling its capital city and making everyone else in the galaxy hate them with a passion. After the Invasion, the Inner Sphere collectively got together and decided that Clan Smoke Jaguar must die. They launched a counter invasion and annihilated nearly every trace of the Smoke Jaguars, hunting them down across their holdings in the Clan Homeworlds, and pushing them out of their occupation zone. This is awesome, and one of the coolest campaigns to wargame out using the tabletop game, as you have a multinational coalition command working together to wipe out an animal themed band of war criminals, on multiple planets and in multiple theaters at the same time. Operation Bulldog, Operation Serpent, and the Great Refusal are some of the coolest bits of the lore, and Smoke Jaguar is central to both. This Clan may appeal if you like war crimes, jaguars, or you want to wargame out Operation Bulldog, Operation Serpent, and the Great Refusal. As of the IlClan era Smoke Jaguar has been brought back from the dead by the descendants of some of its surviving warriors.
Clan Nova Cat
The first of the reserve clans, Clan Nova Cat shared an Invasion Corridor with Clan Smoke Warcrimes, and were broadly more functional and competent than them. They had a looser view of the honor system than Clan Jade Falcon, though still more conservative than Clan Wolf. They were one of the Clans more fond of vision quests and prophecy, but are mostly notable for being fairly sane, ultimately joining the Draconis Combine after the invasion and ruling an autonomous region within it. They have a bit less going on than some of the other Invader Clans, spending the first half of the invasion as observers and the second half cleaning up Clan Smoke Jaguars titanic mess in their invasion corridor. This Clan may appeal if you like cats, want to mix Clan Mechs into an Inner Sphere force, and want slightly more honor than Clan Wolf without huffing paint and screaming about your superiority. As of the IlClan era they are no longer a Clan, having joined a rebellion against the Draconis Combine and been slapped down for their trouble.
Clan Steel Viper
Clan Steel Viper is odd. They were one of the reserve Clans, and were activated mostly to spite Clan Jade Falcon. They had a rivalry with Jade Falcon, and the IlKhan was trying to slow the Jade Falcons down by putting a Clan they hated in the same zone as them. This worked massively, with Steel Viper attacking both Jade Falcon and the Inner Sphere at the same time. They had a strict adherence to the Honor System, similar to Jade Falcon. They ended up getting punted out of the Inner Sphere shortly after the invasion, and eventually got destroyed in the idiotic hell that was the Wars of Reaving, where Clan Steel Viper claimed that everyone but them had been tainted by contact with the Inner Sphere, and started randomly purging other Clans until they got purged themselves. This Clan might appeal if you like Snakes, want to wargame out the Wars of Reaving, or just want to spite Jade Falcon without being an honorless Wolf.
Clan Diamond Shark
Clan Diamond Shark is barely a Clan at all. Rather than the insane, warrior dominated honor cult that the rest of the Clans are, they are instead an insane, merchant dominated honor cult. They are noted throughout Clan Space to be willing to sell anything to anyone, and derided for being weak and waging war with their wallets, rather than their weapons. Diamond Shark also runs the Clan Internet, and uses it to spy on other Clans and sell information. Their society is barely bound up in the caste system, technically run by the warriors but in practice mostly run by merchants and the rest of the civilians. They were a reserve Clan during the invasion, and barely managed to get a toehold in the Inner Sphere before the Battle of Tukayyid happened, where they lost very very badly and decided that War sucked and they should just sell things to people more. They built a Mad Cat 2 just to sell to people who loved Mad Cats, which is sick. They barely follow the Clan Honor System, treating it in a similar fashion to Clan Wolf. This Clan changed its name to Clan Sea Fox later in the setting, which was the name they had before Diamond Shark. This Clan may appeal to you if you like Sharks/Foxes, money, you have no honor, or you want to run the Battle of Tukayyid, as while all Invading Clans participated, Diamond Shark has some of the coolest scenario ideas buried in its lore, such as the last stand of the Third Shark Regulars.
Overall the individual Clans have a bit less going on than the Successor States. They tend to end up a little one note due to the writing not 100% agreeing on how they should be treated, and while a lot of the stories involve them, those stories tend to involve single people rather than the Clans as a whole. They are fascinating, and have a cool, tribal aesthetic going on in their better portrayals, but about half of the Invader Clans and the majority of the Homeworld Clans are ill-defined from one another and samey. A lot of the time it feels like the choice just comes down to your favorite animal. Overall I am less fond of the Clans than the Successor States personally, but I am still working my way through a Ghost Bear force and Diamond Shark force, so there is something for anyone in here.