Battletech has a huge amount of factions, both major and minor, all of which are well fleshed out with long histories and appealing traits that can make one want to play them. One of the most interesting things about the world of Battletech is how factions change and adapt to different times as the eras proceed onwards. While few factions change identity entirely, most will react to the actions in the wider universe, not being a totally static monolith. Some factions don’t exist in certain eras, or are wiped out/radically transform/come back as the timeline advances.
Another interesting factor is that each “Category” of faction (Inner Sphere, ComStar, Clan, Periphery Minor) has a shared list of mechs that they can all pull from. This means that, aside from unique variants and a small handful of unique, faction specific mechs, the difference between different factions are more about theming and lore rather than actual gameplay changes. A good way to think of them as similar to the Space Marine Legions in Heresy. They all pull from the same unit list, with a few unique units, different flavor, and a preference for doing things a specific way, but they all field all varieties of formation.
This article will cover the 5 Successor States that the game started out with, also known as the Great Houses. Each Successor State is known both by a proper name, such as the Draconis Combine, and by the name of their ruling house, such as House Kurita. We will give a vague overview of each’s lore and appeal, and suggestions on how to theme a force for that particular house.
The Federated Suns, ruled by House Davion, is one of the less repressive dictatorships of the setting. While still an autocratic state ruled by a despotic royal family, its citizens enjoy a broadly higher standard of living and have greater freedoms and rights than most in the Inner Sphere, a fact which makes them almost unbearably smug and superior. They still possess a stratified society with a warrior elite and a noble class, no matter how much they preach about equality. House Davion are the default “”Good Guys tm”” of the setting, and most of the more positive stories about the Inner Sphere involve them. They maintain one of the only functioning technological universities in the Inner Sphere, in spite of ComStar’s constant attempts to level the building and kill everyone in it.
In the lead up to the Clan Invasion, they were united through a royal marriage with the Lyran Commonwealth, ruled by House Steiner, into a single super-state called the Federated Commonwealth, taking the two generic terms in each name and combining them, rather than the far cooler sounding Lyran Suns. Despite this partnership allegedly being a partnership of equals, in practice House Davion and the FedSuns ran the state for the most part, a fact which caused simmering resentment leading to the Fed-Com Civil War and the collapse of basically everything good in the Inner Sphere. In the Dark Ages, their fortunes have broadly reversed, with them being pushed back to the brink by a series of incompetent leaders and military disasters, with their long time enemy, the Draconis Combine, seizing their capital and generally making a mess of things.
In terms of gameplay, Davion ‘Mechs and variants are categorized with big guns, and lots of them. The Davion love affair with the Autocannon is well known, and the majority of their iconic ‘Mechs mount some variety of Autocannon. They are one of if not the most powerful houses militarily for most of the timeline, despite not being the richest, with good doctrine, good commanders, good strategic and tactical planning, and a general love of combined arms warfare and sane, stable military tactics. Their army, the Armed Forces of the Federated Suns or AFFS, is one of the most professional in the setting. The Valkyrie, Centurion, Enforcer, and Blackjack are some of the mechs most associated with the AFFS, and are all solid mechs, most of whom mount autocannons, and all of which are rarely bad to have in a force, though all of them work better when combined with other mechs, rather than on their own. A well themed Davion force would be flexible and contain a lot of medium mechs, with a smaller proportion of lights and heavies.
The Lyran Commonwealth, ruled by House Steiner and embodying every possible stereotype about Germany simultaneously, is the richest state in the Inner Sphere, an advantage that would make them a military juggernaut were it not for their god-awful very bad no good incompetent commanders. The Lyran Commonwealth is more authoritarian and repressive than the Federated Suns, though not nearly to the extent of the Draconis Combine or the Capellan Confederation. It was formed by a conglomerate of merchants, whose mindset of throwing money at problems to make them go away never really went away. It managed to skate through the Succession Wars with much more of its industry intact than the other states, and owns one of the single largest mech manufacturing complexes in the Inner Sphere. This fact means that they can seriously throw their weight around, quite literally, as Lyran armies contain the highest proportion of Heavy and Assault class ‘Mechs by a country mile.
They formed half of the Federated Commonwealth with the Federated Suns, though in practice they mostly just acted as an economic supercharger to send the AFFS into overdrive, rather than an equal partner. Their internal political system is a complicated mess of feudal lords, scheming merchant-nobles, and corruption. In the Dark Ages, the Lyran Alliance (There was a name change for political reasons at one point) has been greatly reduced in size, with the invading Clans (particularly Clans Jade Falcon and Wolf) having taken huge chunks out of their territory. It still remains one of the richer powers in the Inner Sphere.
In terms of gameplay, the Lyrans are all about the big ‘Mechs. Their army, the Lyran Commonwealth Armed Forces or LCAF, is the best equipped by a huge margin, with massive stockpiles of Heavy and Assault mechs that they can use to brute force their way to victory. Their commanders, commonly disparaged as “Social Generals”, are broadly incompetents who got their positions from family connections or graft. The enlisted ranks are no less skilled or trained than any other army, but the staggering inadequacy of their doctrine and grand strategy hinders them at every level. The general opinion of Lyran High Command is that any problem can be solved with the biggest mechs available, and SHOULD be solved with the biggest mechs available. They do have a single perfectly adequate domestic light mech, the Commando, which is often the only light mech one can see in their formations. The danger of the Federated Commonwealth, to the other Successor States, was the concept of Steiner money with Davion command. A good Steiner themed force would contain mostly Heavy and Assault mechs, with a few Commandos and Griffins mixed in here and there for flavor.
Their individual unit commanders and warriors are not any less competent than any others, they just tend to end up in bad situations. Almost all of their iconic ‘Mechs, such as the Zeus, Hauptman, Fafnir, Banshee, and Atlas, are Assault class ‘Mechs, and these can be some of the most fun and individually powerful ‘Mechs to use in game. They also have a bit of a love affair with the Griffin, which is one of the only medium ‘Mechs that has any strong association with house Steiner. Just like in the lore, an on-theme Lyran formation of huge ‘Mechs will generally find itself outnumbered and out-maneuvered, but devastatingly powerful if commanded by a competent leader and in a good position. The fluff and crunch work together really well with the BV/PV system, as their incompetent command is easily represented by the smaller amount of units present for Lyran forces.
The Draconis Combine, ruled by House Kurita, is one of the most authoritarian states in the setting. The state and ruling house are basically indistinguishable in the Combine, with none of the pretenses at fair governance or elections that the other houses sometimes put up. In most of the other Successor States, a ruling family seized control of a pre-existing and more fair governmental system. House Kurita founded the Combine, from the very start, as a monolithic dictatorship with them at the top and everyone else below, with no effort being made to play at being a fair state. The Combine has an authoritarian caste system, an enforced Japanese culture across the entire state, a strict and rigid hierarchy, state control over all media, and an overwhelming focus on its military. The Combine is one of the most culturally monolithic Successor States, most of which are made up of a variety of cultures that are mostly allowed to exist so long as they don’t cause problems. The ruling Kurita dynasty enforces Japanese culture on all of its people regardless of their original background, due to their founding leader being a bastard and firmly convinced of the superiority of his own culture.
Most of the atrocities in the Inner Sphere, assuming ComStar didn’t do them, were committed or allowed by the Combine. They are broadly speaking completely evil, and served as one of the settings go to villains before the introduction of the Clans. They have never been as successful as they think they should be, being bordered on one side by the Lyrans who can simply throw more equipment into wars than them, and on the other by the Davions who are far more competent militarily and far more sane. This evil is one of the reasons I have a large force of them, as I enjoy playing factions that are complete bastards in games. In the Dark Ages they have pushed hard into the Federated Suns, and generally stand as one of the bigger military powers in the Inner Sphere.
Militarily, the army, known as the Pillar of Steel or the Draconis Combine Mustered Soldiery/DCMS is tactically inflexible and bound up in a general insane bushido mindset, glorifying blind obedience and a theme park version of Samurai honor carefully cultivated to create insane warriors who would gladly die for the ruling Kurita Dynasty. Their focus on single combat and honor made them easy prey for the Clans, as the DCMS would actually accept the Clans offers to settle things through honor duels and single combat, which they would constantly resoundingly lose due to their technological inferiority. Their doctrine has a particular distaste for Medium ‘Mechs, seeing them as bad compromises with neither the speed and maneuverability of a light ‘Mech nor the hitting power of a heavy ‘Mech. The fact that 2 of their 3 most iconic mechs, the Panther and Dragon, are, respectively, a light ‘Mech that is slow as hell and carries similar guns and armor to a medium ‘Mech, and a heavy ‘Mech that is fast as hell and carries similar guns and armor to a medium ‘Mech, is potently ironic.
A good Kuritan themed force would be a swarm of light ‘Mechs supporting a few hard hitting heavy ‘Mechs. This style of force is my favorite to run on the table, and the Kuritan variants of mechs tend to favor better heat management and thicker armor, which makes them very effective. Their third iconic mech, the Jenner, is one of the best Striker mechs in the Inner Sphere, carrying a lot of gun and a lot of speed, with variants that give it more armor and survivability if you need it. Kurita forces can be very fun, and you get to play the most transparently villainous successor state, with none of the pretense that the others have. It is also important to note that House Kurita is the only successor house to get a book in the (tragically killed before it’s time) Combat Manual series. I desperately want them to make more Combat Manuals, and I dont remember if they intended to stop or just did. Combat Manuals serve as a sort of equivalent to a 40k Codex, a big book of lore and special, custom, faction specific rules. The fact that CGL hasn’t released one for each Successor State is a tragedy.
Free Worlds League
The Free Worlds League, ruled (allegedly) by House Marik, is a successor state that has been criminally underserved by the metaplot of Battletech. It is a state with an actual surviving republican traditions, and actual elections, though it is still ruled by a despotic noble family abusing emergency powers. Known in universe mostly for not doing much, constantly fighting civil wars, and being more of a threat to itself than it’s neighbors, the FWL doesn’t ever really do anything in the timeline until the Jihad, where it explodes and stops existing as a state because they harbored a fundamentalist, extremist, genocidal splinter cult of the phone company. It was a federation of multiple smaller states which were allowed to mostly self govern, including the right of each state to raise its own armies and militias, which meant that any provincial governor with an idea and a lack of respect for the ruling house could easily mobilize an army and try to seize power, leading to a lot of instability.
In addition to this, the FWL was noted to be particularly culturally diverse, with no “Main” culture or even predominant culture the way other Successor Stats do, with many languages and many different peoples living inside of it. This is a good thing, but contributed to the provincial loyalties that lead to the constant civil wars. Despite this instability, the FWL is fairly wealthy, with good commerce and a decent standard of living for its citizens (Unless your world is currently a battleground in an ongoing civil war, Glory to Marik!). They are however noted to be bizarrely and inexplicably prejudiced against “Cyborgs”, meaning anyone with artificial limbs or prosthetics. This caused a really stupid plotline in the Jihad arc. The Jihad arc was the only time that the FWL really did anything in setting, and most of what they did was get taken over and funnel money into the aforementioned telephone cult. In the Dark Ages the descendant of a body double of the last legitimate Marik ruler (long, stupid story) has re-unified the state, and it actually exists again. The FWL is my favorite Successor State, I even own their special dice set, but they are broadly just not involved in most of the important plots of the setting.
The Free Worlds League Military, or FWLM, is categorized by a lack of PPCs, good technology, and a lack of cohesion and loyalty, on account of the civil wars. The lack of PPCs is due to them not having many factories that produce them, and all the ones they do have go immediately into the production lines for the Awesome, which is one of their iconic mech designs, and a damn good use of PPCs. Their military has a handful of iconic mechs, primarily the Awesome and Orion, which are both solid and durable mechs. Their variants tend to swap PPCs for Large Lasers and extra armor/heat sinks, which is in my mind a good trade off. Their forces are broadly generic and unremarkable aside from their dubious loyalty to the central government, and difficulties mobilizing for offensive campaigns due to that provincial loyalty. They can be fun to play, but there is a fairly low amount of lore here, just like every other part of the League. The Awesome is honestly almost singlehandedly a reason to play Marik, as you would be justified in putting a whole lance of them on the table, and that would be sick.
The Capellan Confederation, ruled with a tyrannical, unsteady, and frequently insane hand by House Liao, is a nightmare state of totalitarianism, the very worst parts of Starship Troopers, and a cultural mindset dominated by indoctrination, self sacrifice, and service to the state. It is the youngest and weakest of the Successor States by far, a fact which fills them with a seething paranoia and hatred for their more successful neighbors. It is broadly poor, has a weak industrial capacity, an under equipped military, and a genuinely insane ruling house.
House Liao produces more madmen than a mercury filled swimming pool, and as a result the leaders of this state tend to enjoy stepping on state prisoners with their ‘Mechs, believing that they are untouchable gods, or stealing wedding china as military intelligence. The only way to become a citizen and actually have rights in the Confederation is to serve the state, either in a civilian or military role, and this policy is ruthlessly enforced by the state, which needs an underclass of workers with no rights to keep its inefficient and failing industrial base operating. Much like everyone else who borders them, their government is defined by fear of the Federated Suns. The Confederation frequently loses when the two states come to blows, most catastrophically in the 4th succession war when House Davion conquered the vast majority of the Confederation and nearly totally destroyed it. The state did experience a brief shot in the arm during the rulership of Sun-Tzu Liao, a man who was a functioning, sociopathic form of insane, rather than being violently unstable, who managed to push through a series of reforms that, while not really helping the average citizen, did strengthen the state and lead it to reclaiming much of its territory. It is a damn shame that his successors are back to the normal form of Liao crazy, and have broadly squandered the lead he gave them. The Confederation would be far more horrifying if it actually had enough power to throw down with the other states, and is the common target of jokes and mockery both in universe and in various fan communities, due to its weakness, military mediocrity, and insane rulers.
The Capellan Confederation Armed Forces, or CCAF, are actually an extremely professional and competent force. Much like the LCAF, they are primarily hamstrung by poor high command and an incompetent government. Unlike the LCAF, they also have consistent supply problems and a lack of military equipment. Frontline CCAF formations are mostly made up of ‘Mechs that other Successor States would restrict to garrison duty, such as Clints, Cicadas, Wasps, Banshees, and anything and everything else that they can get their hands on. Their primary iconic mech is the Vindicator, a serviceable and rugged medium mech that embodies the CCAF spirit of doing a lot with very little, as its low price and low tech make it easy for their underdeveloped industrial sector to produce. They also are the main users and innovators in ECM technology and general stealth/subterfuge. As they spend the majority of their time on the defensive, these technologies were designed for the asymmetrical warfare that they are frequently forced into. Their forces tend to be small, light, and incredibly tricky and slippery to deal with, as in a stand up fair fight a well themed CCAF force will likely lose. In the Dark Ages however, the CCAF has taken the AFFS’s place as the premier army in the Inner Sphere, as the Capellans blatantly refused to disarm themselves after the Jihad the way everyone else did, and not only secretly kept the majority of their war equipment active, but continued to drill and train with it. I actually am really fond of the CCAF as a force, as their approach of fighting dirty with small ‘Mechs can be a really enjoyable way to play.
As I said towards the beginning, each Successor State has reasons to want to play it, and they all have any sort of force contained within them if you want to create a Capellan Assault Company or a Steiner Scout Lance (Atlas/Atlas’s Optional). Each has a wealth of lore, sourcebooks, and novels devoted to them, though some have more and others are the Free Worlds League. There is appeal to each State, and most players will find one that they gravitate towards more than the others. I personally like playing Kurita and Liao, and like the lore and ‘Mech choice of Marik. I recommend building forces after the theme of your faction, as it will make for more interesting games if your force is meaningfully different from the force of your opponents. Honestly considering the small size of forces in Battletech and the relatively low price of models, it is not uncommon to end up with a small force for most or all of the Successor houses, and their different paint schemes are very fun to experiment with. Hope this helped reduce some of the choice paralysis, and be sure to check back later for the Clans and other factions.