Battletechnology - an overview This is primarily intended as a primer for those who are unfamiliar with battletech, but also serves to highlight any differences between battletech canon and that used in Gates of Avalon which is not limited to battletech construction or combat rules.
The king of the battlefield for much of the past several centuries is the iconic battlemech, ever since the first Mackie engaged in trials against a quartet of remote-controlled tanks in 2439. This rather dumpy-looking 50-ton machine nonetheless proved unexpectedly effective in tests and in battles, though acquisition snafus and instutitional inertia meant that uptake of the battlemech was slow and halting and soon matched by a dozen other states large and small across the Inner Sphere. Mired in internal disputes, the Terran Hegemony squandered its lead in this military revolution and was soon boxed in by other states who had their own battlemech programs. By the end of the 25th century the battlemech had matured to something resembling its present status, with many innovations spearheaded by states outside the Terran Hegemony.
The single most vital part of the battlemech is the neurohelmet, though strictly speaking neurohelmets are not actually part of the battlemech proper. This non-invasive neural interface allows the pilot to directly control a massive, ten meter tall bipedal machine. On the most basic level they allow the battlemech's own systems to use mechwarrior's own sense of balance and kinesthetic sense while the most sophisticated ones allow the mechwarrior to forgot physical controls and their own senses, replacing them with a direct connection to the battlemechs' systems and sensor equipment. In addition to this, learning software installed on the neurohelmet hardware adapts to the mechwarrior's neurology and habits; over time the neurohelmet (and by extension the battlemech) will react faster and smoother. Thus while a battlemech is undoutedly a far more valuable possession, a well-trained neurohelmet is a mechwarrior's most valued possession.
A for the battlemechs themselves, they are the pinnacle of most of a millenia of industrialized warfare. Fundamentally not unlike enormous metal humans, they have 'bones' of superstrong foamed alloys, 'muscles' of electrically-driven myomers and 'skin' of thick but lightweight ablative armor. These combine to make them both highly resilent - actually destroying a battlemech past the point of repair is extremely difficult - and shockingly agile. Of course mechwarriors are not suicidal or foolish and while angled slabs of armor can be patched or replaced in just a few hours with standard tools, damage to more vulnerable internal components requires far more time - and money.
Battlemechs have been broadly classified into several types for centuries, primarily based on tonnage.
- Light mechs are the smallest battlemechs, conventionally in the 20-35 ton range though smaller models do exist. In general, light mechs are fast and fill the roll of reconnaisance and electronic support, though the weightier end also sees good success as low-priced battle units in the Periphery or specialized gunfire support units.
- Medium mechs are in the 40-55 ton range and are generally considered the smallest true 'battle' mechs, having the tonnage and armor to meaningfully fight on the battlefield. Mediums tend to be quite a varied lot, with some acting as oversized lights where their heavier armor lets them 'fight for information' better while others are relatively slow but quite effective 'budget heavies'. Most however fall somewhere between, acting as the fast wing in a larger force or, just as commonly, independent groups. Many consider medium mechs to be strictly inferior to heavy mechs in most situations, though their price and lighter logistic train makes them attractive for the budget conscious - which means they are the battlemech in the Periphery and for smaller or poorer states.
- Heavy mechs are in the 60-75 ton range and are roundly seen as the optimal balance of speed, payload and protection - to the point that the term 'Main Battle Mech' is sometimes applied to them. The lighter end can fill a similar fast cavalry role as medium mechs but in general heavy mechs fill the battlefield generalist role, a roll they perform with aplomb. Most Major Houses and Minor Houses field large forces of heavy mechs, with models such as the Archer being ubiquitous across known space - to the point that century-old copies can be found as the prized possessions of potentates and warlords in the Deep Periphery.
- Assault mechs are in the 80-100 ton range, though the largest assaults like the Terran Hegemony's ASD-7 Atlas are only nominally in this range and tip the scale rather significantly more once fully loaded with ammunition and ablative armor packs. Assaults cannot match smaller mechs for speed or agility, but make up for that with being extremely tough, carrying inordinant amounts of weaponry or both. A force of these is a force to be reckoned with; a single assault mech is often seriously threatened by its tonnage in lights or fast mediums, but a lance of assaults that can cover each other can easily take down multiple times its tonnage in small machines. The price and support overhead of assault mechs generally limits their significant use to the richer powers, though more than one bandit princess stumbling into the cockpit of a Highlander has become a goddess among ants in the Periphery.
- Superheavy mechs are those that (significantly) exceed 100 tons. This dividing line is because the generally accepted limit for bipedal chassis is ~100 tons (though the Hegemony's new Atlas is proof that this is no hard limit), with superheavy mechs using multiped systems; quadruped superheavies can go up to 200 tons and hexapods up to 300 tons. Superheavies are normally piloted by a crew as opposed to a single mechwarrior, and are generally seen more as 'weapon platforms' than battlemechs in the purist sense. The sheer bulk of superheavies brings with it a host of issues and while some have been built to be massive assault or frontal defense units, most are instead used to either be self-contained artillery vehicles or mobile anti-orbital systems.
As weapons of war, battlemechs are both armored and armed. Three main types of weapons are used by battlemechs; ballistics, DEWs (energy weapons) and missiles. All of these are produced in a dizzying array of varieties and of varying quality, though the benefits of standardization (or the ability to use an enemy's ammunition stocks) means that it is not nearly as bad as it could be.
Ballistics are the most straightforward; one of the most common weapons on battlemechs is the self-loading autocannon. Standard autocannons come in various sizes, ranging from 20mm right up to 200mm. Generally speaking autocannons primarily inflict damage not by direct kinetic impact but by explosive charges in the shells. This keeps them relatively light and minimizes recoil, but does give them reduced range compared to more conventional-style tank cannons. They are still very effective though, heavy autocannons (the dreaded AC/20 - ed) are effectively demolition cannons and can crumple small mechs in upon themselves. More advanced version of autocannons do exist; most models currently in production have reinforced firing mechanism allowing them be double-tapped, increasing their instantaneous firepower. (ultra breeches are standard - ed) Rotary autocannons are another popular variant, smaller-caliber weapons that do not fire one shell at a time but fire in sustained bursts. The final common variation are smoothbores (LBXes - ed) which can be loaded with cluster rounds, proximity-busting shells that can scatter explosives all over a target.
The other main style of ballistic weapons are the rifles. These come in both both chemical variant, high-velocity weapons akin to conventional tank cannons (hypervelocity ACs - ed) and electromotive which use electro or superconducting magnets. Rifles - which ironically are not rifled, whereas most autocannons are - are heavy, long-range weapons that use kinetic impact to inflict damage. Thus while autocannon are effective in fast-moving skirmishes and brawls, rifles are the archetypical 'sniper' weapon with the largest gauss rifles being perhaps the single most powerful weapon on the battlefield - with a tonnage to match.
Other uncommon ballistic weapons exist, including 'mech mortars' firing guided rounds in high arcs, grenade launchers for urban conflicts to large-caliber gyrojets which are effectively gun-missile hybrids. All of these have fallen in and out of favor at various times.
The second weapon family are energy weapons. By far the most common of these are the myriad styles of lasers, ranging from ones barely larger than manportable squad support weapons up to weapons fit for the main gun of a tank, some of which fire in raking beams while others fire in rapid-fire pulses. All hit at the speed of light, making them quite accurate, though they require both significant power sources and generate prodigious amounts of waste heat. Nonetheless when coupled to a battlemech's fusion reactor they can fire effectively forever until their warranty expires. Needless to say, this makes them a very popular and very effective weapon. The one true weakness laser weapons have is that they are seriously affected by local atmospheric conditions; extreme atmospheric humidity or particulates can seriously degrade laser performance and opaque anti-laser smoke can provide an effective if short-lived protection. Conversely, lasers perform particularly well in airless conditions.
The other primary type of energy weapons are particle projection cannons - PPCs. Generally coming in big and bigger, PPCs are one of the weapons typically treated as heavy weapons by battlemechs. Firing a fast-moving bolt of ions, they hit hard with not just thermal effects, but kinetic and ionizing effects too - it is not unknown for damaged mechs to 'blink out' when struck squarely by a PPC. Like lasers, PPCs are affected by local conditions, though not to the same extent - a PPC could potentially blast through an aerosol cloud that would stop a large laser cold.
The final family of weapons are missiles, which come in two types. The first are short-range missiles which are a variety of fast, direct-fire missiles that can be fired in singles or in volleys. Packing a hefty punch they are a deadly weapon up close, though lacking more than rudimentary course-correction they less of a threat to fast-moving targets. The others are long-range missiles, which are fully guided and capable of indirect fire against sensor locked targets. Like SRMs, LRMs come in various sizes and ranges, with large volley launchers being one popular (albeit somewhat vulnerable to damage) style to overwhelm a target's antimissile system with sheer numbers while large unitary missiles more akin to small battlefield artillery rockets are another popular type. (missiles are assumed to be beefier but less numerous than the frankly tiny-ass canon size - ed)
In addition to their arsenal of weapons, battlemechs are fitted with multispectral sensors from thermal to optical to seismic/audio. As battlemechs are primarily front-line combatants their sensor suites are optimized for that role and are fairly limited in range though scout mechs are commonly fitted with significantly more comprehensive and longer-ranged passive and active systems, while mechs fitted for air defense will mount radar sets for engagement purposes. ECM systems are likewise common, with most mechs fitted solely for self-defense against guided weapons while support units carry significantly more powerful systems for battlefield control. Various auxilary systems are also commonly fitted, such as smoke generators, grenade launchers for aerosol smoke and UAVs.
All these systems require power and generate waste heat; the former is provided by the mech's onboard fusion reactor (and in doing so generates additional waste heat!) and the latter is dissipated by a machine's onboard heat sinks. Heat management is a key skill for any would-be mechwarrior and heat dynamics are a major aspect of battlemech design, as a battlemech with internal temperatures too high will suffer electronic problems, reduced myomer efficiency and potentially even worse problems. Plus, it becomes extremely uncomfortable for the pilot.
And finally, battlemechs can punch and kick. And even jump-jet onto enemies to give them a highlander burial.
This is the essence of battletechnology, but it doesn't stop there. Mechs share the battlefield with armored ground vehicles (colloquially known as 'tracks' or 'movers'), battlesuited infantry that have acquired the moniker of 'elementals' due to their all-environmental capabilities (unarmored infantry often having no place on a battlefield dominated by line of sight lasers and extraordinarily powerful artillery) and aircraft both vertol and fixed-wing.
Interstellar Travel Interstellar travel is accomplished via the Kuerney-Fuchida (K-F) Drive, which enables nearly zero-time interstellar jumps between two points up to 30 light years seperate. K-F drives are strongly mass-sensitive and in general they travel between established jump points at a solar system's zenith and nadir points; though other dangerous 'pirate' points can be used to appear much closer to a target object. Mechanically reliable but electronically delicate, K-F drives need to be trickle-charged and attempting a jump faster than the recommended rate of once every 6-7 days becomes asymptotically less reliable - or safe.
K-F drives themselves are imposingly large, and standard types can jump a mass approximately twice that of the entire drive assembly. Thus to enable adequate transport abilities the typical interstellar craft is essentially little more than the K-F drive itself, giving these jumpships a payload in external stowage - dropships - of a bit less than the dry mass of the jumpship proper. More powerful variants are normally used for military vessels, with 'compact' K-F drives having a mass budget roughly three times that of the drive core itself. Even the most uncompromising star dreadnought will still be dominated by the demands of an FTL drive, and most military warships will have a third of their mass budget for the drive proper, a third for the ship and a third for dropships, excess cargo and mission redundancy.
The other and definately most obvious element of K-F drives is the drive sail, a thin sheet of conductive metallized fabric of several hectare area hung 'behind' the jumpship. While these are not strictly speaking necessary to perform a hyperspace jump, the efficiency and reliability gains they provide in casting the jump cone is such that they have become ubiquitous.
(This is a rework of some of the K-F drive descriptions to clear out some of the less logical aspects and does not align exactly with Btech canon, but should have no effect on the feel or mechanics - ed)
The large mass penalty of a K-F drive - 30-50% of a ship's tonnage - means that jumpships capable of planetary landings are vanishingly rare, little more than technological curiosities. Instead, the second half of the interstellar transportation duo is the dropship. These are large fusion-powered space craft, coming in either aerodyne (aircraft-shaped) or spheroid design and all but the largest are capable of atmospheric launches and landings. Dropships fill a number of roles in both the civilian and military sector. The broad groups are listed following.
- Cargo dropships are the single most common types moving across space. Class likes
Buccaneer (a popular and affordable fast freight dropship)
Classes like the Mule (the single most numerous dropship class by the numbers), Mammoth, Jumbo and
Ground Forces The fundamental unit of force is the [u]Battalion[/u]; a Battalion typically consists of 36 mechs (3 companies of 3 lances of 4 mechs each)