In our latest review of BattleTech products, we here at OurBattleTech look over the first of the post-Jihad era’s sourcebooks – Field Manual: 3085.
Field Manual: 3085, following the highly anticipated release of The Wars of Reaving, seemed to have come upon us quietly, with little of the hype accorded to the Wars of Reaving. Additionally, Field Manual: 3085 is not a pure story line book, as it has a dual role within the cannon of BattleTech: firstly, to update players and fans as to the state of the various realms in 3085; and to provide the first detailed look at the Republic of the Sphere outside of former Wizkids releases.
One of the strengths of Field Manual: 3085 is that it is a sourcebook for nearly everyone, with just the deep Periphery fans and Clan Homeworld fans left with no glory or real mention in this tome. However, Clan fans have little to complain about at the moment, unless their faction was recently Annihilated and the three deep periphery fans have not been heard from for some time now.
The authorship of Field Manual: 3085was as varied as the state of the Inner Sphere itself and looks to be the current Catalyst All Star Fluff Writer team. Top contributors to the book include Joel Bancroft-Connors, Herbert A. Beas II, William Gauthier, Ken Horner, Luke Robertson, Geoff Swift, Øystein Tvedten and Patrick Wynne, with additional input from Keith Hann, Johannes Heidler, Paul Sjardijn, Brian Alter, Joshua Franklin and Jeff Skidmore. I am not going to try and list former works by this group, as it is easier for you to just go and read the current in-print BattleTech products list.
As the first of the post-Jihad books, Field Manual: 3085 was always going to reset the tone of the universe for a time, at least until everything falls down in the 3130’s. As such, Field Manual: 3085 was going to have to provide more than just a listing of units.
Field Manual: 3085 follows the standard layout of BattleTech products, but combines the attributes of Field Manual: Updates with sourcebooks like The Shattered Sphere with elements of an Era Report. As with the last product reviewed, there was no index, but as always, that is just my own problem and not something that seems to upset much of the BT community.
Field Manual: 3085 comes in at just over 258 pages, eclipsing The Wars of Reaving, but due to requiring more role-playing, game aid material and being a true multi-faction book, it never felt like Field Manual: 3085 was nearly as big as The Wars of Reaving. One of the advantages of these multi-faction sourcebooks is the ability of a faction fan to ignore all but those sections that make him croon, or cry, depending on how much hurt his favourite faction has dealt or received.
The cover art for Field Manual: 3085, by Eugene Negri, is a little more touchy-feely than most BattleTech products, as the sight of wild London crowds cheering members of the Republic Armed Forces (RAF), was a little less destructive than the usual fare. However, this is not all that surprising as the whole point of the next fifty years of the BattleTech timeline is an attempt to create one giant interstellar group hug (or pan-Human Sphere peace.)
Field Manual: 3085 did not attempt new means of depicting the BattleTech Universe, sticking to the tried and true methods of previous sourcebooks. Black and white line art, courtesy of Mr. Lewis and Mr. Plog, provides a solid background to the factions and story, without doing anything that appeared to my untrained eye as a radical departure from past works.
Sadly, one component missing from Field Manual: 3085 is a full colour RAF section. One of the better additions to the old Field Manual series was the inclusion of full colour uniform, unit paint schemes, rank and medals. Unfortunately, these pieces were not included in 3085 and the RAF came off rather visually bland as a result. It is unknown at this time whether or not the Republic of the Sphere will be given its own Handbook like the other Great Houses. If one is not forthcoming or planned, then CGL missed a golden opportunity to really flesh out their newest BattleTech faction.
Another aspect of the art I would like to comments on, though not the first time it has been used in a BattleTech work, is the colour Star Maps. To many in the BattleTech community, these maps are described in one word – AWESOME. However, as someone who has to make complicated archaeological and survey maps for a living, the use of fit inducing primary colours is a bit much for my cartographic sensibilities, for with mapping, less is always better at conveying more and pastels truly are a map makers best friend. However, this should not take away from the excellent work that Øystein Tvedten has done in countless BattleTech sourcebooks. Mr. Tvedten, through his attention to detail and obvious drive to improve from book to book, has provided the community with tools that are a wealth of detail. Still this boils down more to my personal taste more than anything. The detail of the maps, now with unit locations displayed, are a resource older school BattleTech-types have always wanted, and now have.
Layout and Editing
The Layout of Field Manual: 3085 broke no new ground, with the book presented as a report to the upper echelons of the Republic and RAF by Victor Steiner-Davion. As with most BattleTech sourcebooks, sidebars are presented for additional detail, out of the way of the main body of text, with some larger actions or elements provided with larger blocks of independent text.
The rules and role playing section at the end again follow standard format, with one notable omission being any new units, but considering that it has rained Technical Readouts for a year or two now, the omission is not a noticeable loss.
One small point were the more noticeable series of typos than were present in the Wars of Reaving, however, the number present was not on the scale of Historical: Reunification War. The likely reason for the errors in Field Manual: 3085 is the number of authors involved, but still more than should be allowed in a “finished” product.
When talking about the story for a book like Field Manual: 3085, it is not so much a plot book, as it is an encyclopaedia of military units and their support. However, parts of Field Manual: 3085 do flesh out events and provide details on how the universe has progressed since the death of The Master.
After the pre-requisite opening fiction and introductory letter from the both the in-universe and real world authors, Field Manual: 3085 gets down to business with a review of the Jihad for those who either are new to BattleTech, been asleep for five years or a BattleTech fan absolutely at odds with the Jihad story-line. The overview is a brief five pages and leads to the first sections of new material, where the Republic’s reconstruction programs are outlined. Part of this chapter also looks at the chase of Blakeist war criminals. There are a few mentions of old favourites within the text, as well as some interesting questions raised about the final disposition of the Manei Domini. The discussion of the Word of Blake’s last gasp shows why many are happy that these robe-wearing nuts are no longer major players.
Chapter two, From Many Comes One, describes the events that lead to the formation of the RAF, through Operations GOLDEN DAWN and VINDOLANDA and the convoluted methods used for combining the disparate national elements that made up the original RAF. Additionally, the concurrent civilian operations to ensure a diverse and stable Republic are also discussed and detailed where Stone’s ideology and the hard realities of the Inner Sphere begin to collide.
The first of the state chapters focuses on the Capellan Confederation, which has been on the rebound ever since Sun-Tzu returned the crocks in May of 3052. However, it would seem that the powers that be are finished with hearing the gloating of the Capellan Mafia on the forums. Although many of the CCAF commands of the 3050-3080 Era are still around, it would appear as if the age of the successful Capellan hissy fit might be coming to a close.
Following the Capellan chapter, we tour the shattered remnants of House Kurita, the once proud bastion of old school BattleTech bad guys, now reduced to shell of its former glory. In my own personal opinion, Kurita got it in the teeth as badly as did the former Free Worlds, but that is understandable from a game designer point of view when striving to bring balance back to the BattleTech Universe. An un-humbled Draconis Combine would have been the player in the universe had CGL not brought the heavy hand of the Jihad down upon it.
The Federated Suns, despite having that annoying mole on its nether regions known as the Filtvet Coalition, gains some measure of pride back during Operation MATADOR. Without giving too much away, the operation’s name speaks for itself and will leave most Davion fans quietly chuckling. Beyond that, the LCT program, first outlined in the Field Report: AFFS expands its use, along with a few changes in the upper echelons of the AFFS command and control.
Unfortunately for fans of the Free Worlds League, Field Manual: 3085 does not provide much incentive for stopping your rocking in the foetal position or ceasing to mumble “…say it ‘ain’t so…” However, one thing the League still has is a healthy dose of paranoia, mixed with heavy firepower and a little bit of chivalry. Still, when looking at the encroaching wave of blue, many Free Worlds League fans are likely looking forward to the 3130s already. Despite the death of central authority, all the old friends are still here, playing with the other children in the sandbox…in a manner akin to a cockfight.
As a Lyran fan of epic proportions, I was happy to see the Lyran Commonwealth (yes, note the name change) probably in the best shape of all five Successor States (the Free Worlds League no longer being counted.) Whoever wrote this section is getting a beer from me next time I see him for his efforts at regimental necromancy, and likely a few more beers from other LCAF fans as well. With Skye now part of the Republic, the Free Worlds a memory, and a gutted Combine and Clans not a real threat, the Lyrans are looking very strong at the moment.
The Clans present an interesting mix, with the effects of the Jihad and Wars of Reaving leaving many short on troops and infrastructure. The Ghost Bears are still a formidable power and a true threat to all their neighbours, overshadowing all other Inner Sphere Clans. The Diamond Sharks are showing the initial steps they take to become their Dark Age incarnation, whilst the Hell’s Horses have more than made themselves at home. Although not as comfortable as the Bears, Clan Snow Raven fans will likely be happy, if not smug about their own position. For the former leaders of the Clans, Clans Jade Falcon and Wolf, both are in less than ideal circumstances, with many Wolf fans likely praying for someone to get the band back together. The Nova Cats are the most surprising of the Clans, with their mystical hubris coming home to roost in a significant way.
The Periphery is a picture of contrasts, with some states celebrating, whilst others drown in a dark sea of their own making. The Magistracy of Canopus, always the poster child for getting things by using methods other than war, is as ever, doing better than the last time we visited. The only dark spot for the Magistracy appears to be the promotion of one Kit deSummerville to high rank, something not to be taken lightly. Taurian fans will either be pleased that the Calderon Protectorate still exists, or see it as an insult, seeing that the Protectorate is what the Concordat should be. The Outworlds/Raven Alliance is still packing more firepower per square inch than has been the norm, but both partners still seem to have a way to go before they are a cosy as a Rasalhague Ghost Bear. The Marians are still being Marians, but with the vaporisation of Circinus, they have one less enemy to worry about. The Filtvet Coalition is still the little province that could, but try as I might, I just can’t seem to get excited about it. The other Periphery powers are all much the same as before, but then, they usually are.
If anyone is making the Free Worlds League look wholesome and strong, it is the god-awful state of the mercenary market in 3085. A quick look at the numbers of Mercenary Battalions in 3050, show that the market has fallen by just under two thirds from over 300 to little over 100. This grim reading is one of the more effective yardsticks of the past 35 years of BattleTech history. However, not all is doom and gloom, as some old mercenary favourites have survived. There also appears to be some new units added to the roster that will hopefully be fleshed out down the track.
The next section of Field Manual: 3085, is the part that many players have been waiting for, a detailed look at the working of the Republic of the Sphere. This section outlines the role of the citizen, the effects of the Relocation Directives, and the Military Material Redemption Program. The section continues with a discussion regarding the function of the Republic government and the positions within it. The information on the Republic Armed Forces (RAF) in this chapter details the ranks, uniforms, decorations, formations and the associated Knights of the Republic. Additional information is supplied on the economy, industry and trade of the Republic of the Sphere, rounding out the chapter.
Lastly, the Rules Annex provides additional information on the time period, followed by details on unit special abilities provided, and the ever-present random assignment tables (RATs) for game-masters and scenario builders. The role-playing section updates all of the faction affiliations as well as providing guides to the general reactions/outlooks of many within the universe after the Jihad and recent events. A table of major events is also provided, outlining key points in the BattleTech Universe from 3085-3100. The final part of the chapter and book, details the effect the Jihad has had on the currencies of the Inner Sphere and provides information on these currencies up to 3100.
Overall Field Manual: 3085 provides the first major step away from the Jihad since 2005, for some, it is something that could not come fast enough, yet for others, like Knightmare here at OurBattleTech.com, it is a dark sad day. Nevertheless, Field Manual: 3085 accomplishes its goal in providing an update to the realms of the Inner Sphere and Periphery, driving the story line forward, whilst also giving players a solid understanding of the workings of the Republic of the Sphere and the RAF.
Field Manual: 3085 will likely result in one of the two following reactions from fans: One, my faction suffered less than your faction (see Lyran section above), so CGL must love me, or two, why was CGL so mean to my faction? However, once the fans get over whatever misgivings they might have they should begin to see that Field Manual: 3085 is not an end, but rather the first foundation of a new era. A new era that will surely have BattleTech back in uncharted waters where every sourcebook is a new revelation.
For those interested in only their faction or in the BattleTech Universe of 3085 in general, Field Manual: 3085 is a solid addition not only to the Field Manual series, but also to the progressing BattleTech story line as well.