Battletech: Faction Overview: Mercenaries

Howdy, and welcome back to Battletech. Mercenaries have been a huge part of Battletech since the very beginning, with a few units appearing in the very first box set way back in the 80s. Most of the important stories in the setting involve a merc unit or two, and they are the stars of all of the best Battletech video games. Hell, the new Kickstarter is literally called Mercenaries.

While making your own Merc unit is a ton of fun and something that I recommend everyone does, there are a few major units that are worth talking about. Some of the larger merc units in Battletech are essentially miniature states, frequently with their own mechs or variants, and wielding considerably more power than you would think. Several of these units just received new Force Packs, so I’ll be covering them here, and explaining why you might be interested in theming your force after them. There is a bit less to say for most of these than there is for the Successor Houses or Invading Clans.

Eridani Light Horse

Crab. Credit: Rockfish
Crab. Credit: Rockfish

The ELH are a unit that I honestly don’t have a ton to say about. They were a former Star League unit, one of the ones who refused to fuck off to deep space with Kerensky. They stayed behind and became mercenaries, and were mostly defined by trying to keep some Star League tradition going. This made the Clan Invasion a bit of a bummer for them. In terms of general doctrine they are almost painfully vanilla, sticking pretty close to the Inner Sphere standard and not really having any unique mechs or variants that I am aware of. Their Star League nostalgia is interesting, but it was a lot more interesting before the Clans showed up and did it but much harder. As of IlClan they are mostly destroyed, but have a few commands that claim descent from them, and there is a pretty good chance that they end up put back together sometime soon if I had to guess.

This unit might interest you if you:

Like the Star League vibes but want to play in a setting that isn’t the Star League.

Want to play a fairly vanilla (and easy to paint) merc unit with a decent amount of fiction.

Gray Death Legion

Marauder. Credit: Rockfish
Marauder. Credit: Rockfish

The Grey Death Legion are fairly unique by comparison. They are the stars of the literal first series of Battletech books ever published, and are possibly the most historically consequential Merc unit in the setting as a result. They are directly responsible for increasing the technology level of the entire Inner Sphere by a massive degree, and they tend to have pretty high tech equipment as a result. They also were pioneers of Inner Sphere Battle Armor tactics, as well as general anti-mech infantry tactics. They make an excellent faction if you want a cool combined arms vibe, and they have a few unique mech variants and several unique types of Battle Armor. As of IlClan the unit exists again, having been broken up in the 3050s, they have been reformed and are currently massing strength, so they will probably end up getting some new fiction sometime soon.

This unit might interest you if you:

Like combined arms tactics and Battle Armor.

Really like the books.

Wolf’s Dragoons

Wolf’s Dragoons Battlemaster. Credit: Jack Hunter

Oh god there is a lot to talk about here. Probably the second most historically important Merc unit after the Gray Death Legion, the Wolf’s Dragoons are involved in a huge amount of the plots in the setting, are central to half of them, and are basically a miniature state in their own right that happens to fight for other people’s money. They showed up from deep space with mysterious origins and a boatload of old SLDF mechs, which was actually a pretty significant mystery back in the 80s, before the Clan Invasion revealed they they had been advanced scouts for the Clans the whole time, feeding information back to the Clan Homeworlds about the Inner Sphere’s capabilities. They then backstabbed the Clans, and have been heavily involved in literally every plot in the setting going forwards. There is a huge amount of fiction written about the Wolf’s Dragoons, and they have a timeshare on the position of “Overall Protagonists” with House Davion and Clan Wolf. In a lot of ways they are the equivalent of those factions, in the sense that they are generally the most powerful and competent of their type. As of IlClan, they had a bunch of plot happen to them and are a bit on the ropes, but there is literally zero chance that they are allowed to fully die, so expect some fun plots out of them. The Wolf’s Dragoons have a huge amount of custom mech variants and unique entire mechs, including the Marauder II and Annihilator, both of which are kickass. Their variants though tend to be much less kickass, generally lacking armor in favor of more short ranged guns, which in my opinion is generally a bad trade. There are a lot of them though, and they have a huge potential to be a fun themed force, especially as they are an Inner Sphere tech base faction that uses the Clan organizational scheme, with Stars of 5 mechs instead of Lances of 4.

This unit might interest you if you:

Like being the protagonists of the setting.

Like their kickass red and black paint scheme.

Want to use mixed Clan and Inner Sphere technology with Clan organization.

Hansen’s Roughriders

Atlas Battlemech
Atlas Credit: Perigrin

Hansen’s Roughriders are another unit with considerably less going on. They have a sick skull for a logo, and favor heavy and assault mechs and close combat. This combination of things is badass, but other than that their main identity is “Competent but somewhat rough mercenaries”. They are involved in a lot of interesting plots, but tend to be a little bland in comparison to the Wolf’s Dragoons or Northwind Highlanders. As of IlClan they are presumably still around, as we haven’t heard of them being killed off, but they haven’t gotten any writing to bring them forwards that I am aware of.

This unit might interest you if you:

Light heavy Mechs and close combat.

Like the badass skull logo.

Northwind Highlanders

Highlander. Credit: Rockfish
Highlander. Credit: Rockfish

The Northwind Highlanders are defined by two things. The Highlander battlemech, and the fact that they are extremely SCOTTISH. In fact, it is sometimes implied that they might literally be what is left of Scotland and Scottish culture in the far future. They blast Bagpipe music onto enemy radio channels and have loudspeakers on their mechs with which to blast Bagpipes at their enemies. They are agonizingly, painfully Scottish, and this is in fact absolutely hilarious. They also are one of the more competent Mercenary units, falling into the same “Practically a state in their own right” camp as the Wolf’s Dragoons or Kell Hounds. They have a strong association with the Highlander, which borders on being a Totem mech for them, the same way the Kodiak is for the Ghost Bears. They skew towards heavier mechs, which makes them a bit more elite of a force on the table. As of IlClan they fought during Alaric Ward’s great Terran fuckup, and then went back to their homeworld after being defeated, hilariously, in Scotland. Generally a fun Merc group to play, and one of the more absurd elements of the setting, a single merc unit carrying on Scottish culture when no one else will.

This unit might interest you if you:

Are Extremely SCOTTISH.

Like the sort of honor and tradition thing they have going on.

Really love the Highlander as a mech and want an excuse to put 4 of them on the table at a time.

Kell Hounds

Kell Hounds Cougar. Credit: Jack Hunter

The Kell Hounds are honestly less of a unit in their own right and more of a pair of special character protagonist men and their goons. The Kells have a huge amount of fiction written about them, most of which is pretty good. Their unit however is defined, after the succession wars, mostly by being friends with the cool part of Clan Wolf and fighting Clan Jade Falcon a lot, a tradition which they are carrying on in IlClan, by fighting Jade Falcon more. I had forgotten how little they actually had going on outside of their leaders and the Jade Falcon thing. They do have a kickass colour scheme though, and the Kells are enduringly popular characters with a lot of kickass plots which are fun to wargame out.

This unit might interest you if you:

Want to kick Jade Falcon around without being a dirty Clanner.

Enjoy the kickass red and black colour scheme that they stole from Wolf’s Dragoons.

Like using salvaged clan mechs in your forces.


Mercs generally have a bit less going on than whole states, due to, well, not being whole states, but most of the important plots are centered on them. They make excellent heroes and fantastic forces for campaigns, and on the tabletop it is easy to justify them having literally any equipment you want, due to the general merc rule being that if it isn’t nailed down and on fire, they are stealing it. The units listed above are just a sampling, and a few of my favorites (The Big Mac in particular) are missing due to not yet having received a force pack. Mercs are a fantastic part of the setting, and I do genuinely urge you to try playing them, they are really liberating due to those loose equipment restrictions.