Here at OurBattleTech we have been planning to review new BattleTech (BT) products, but as always, life, along with pressing requirements for the website, get in the way of this. However, as promised, here is the long planned review of The Wars of Reaving.
Please note, I have stayed away from the traditional I love/I hate threads on the Battletech Boards, as firstly they make my teeth itch and secondly, I did not want my own view of the book skewed.
The Wars of Reaving was one of the more highly anticipated BattleTech sourcebooks released in recent memory, describing the events that occurred in the Clan Homeworlds during the Jihad period of the BT story line. Whilst we have known about the general details of the Jihad since the start of the Dark Age period, little was known about what had happened in the Clan Homeworlds during this time. Apart from scattered hints and the known attitude of the Inner Sphere Clans – “We’re not telling you, so piss off!” – There was very little information on what cataclysmic events had unfolded in the depths of space amongst the Clans of Kerensky.
Although not the largest sub-set of BattleTech fans, Clan fans certainly are vociferous, being up there with the Capellan Mafia for sheer ability to demand attention, so when hints that The Wars of Reaving was actually going to see the light of day, sooner rather than later, the Clan Boards on the BattleTech Forum swung into overdrive. It was at this point that the author, BattleTech Assistant Line Developer Ben H. Rome, in one of the more devious and admittedly highly successful manipulations of the fan base, created a frenzy of desire for the soon to be released book.
Ben H. Rome (referred to here on in as GhostBear, his handle on the BT Forums, which is easier to type), has been around BattleTech for some time now, co-authoring several books and generally living a life of subservient grovelling to the BattleTech Line Developer, as all good minions do. Some of GhostBear’s credits, prior to The Wars of Reaving, included Technical Read Outs: 3039; and 3075, Historical: Brush Wars and the Jihad Sourcebooks: Jihad Hotspots 3070; 3072; 3076 (Masters and Minions); and Interstellar Players 2. However, being a Clanman to the bone, GhostBear had long had his eye on the Reaving story line and lobbied good a hard for it. Eventually, his wish was granted and the book began, however, there would be several scheduling changes and many other dramas before the book would see print.
One of the more clever aspects of The Wars of Reaving was the marketing of the book to the fan base, using GhostBear’s blog site and his willingness to join in the conversations regarding the book on the BattleTech forums. This effort, not only at promotion of the book itself, but also of providing players and fans with an in depth look at a sourcebooks development, was highly successful, or so it seems from the outside. The cleverest part of this campaign was the use of discarded material from earlier drafts to create an enormous amount of speculation in the eager fan base. I can’t remember if any BattleTech book to date has been anticipated with such frenzy, with the result being a credit to the author, in that it was managed so well.
However, The Wars of Reaving would now have to live up to all the hype.
The Wars of Reaving follows the standard layout of BattleTech products, but does not have an index. As I have not looked at a BattleTech product in some detail in a while, I am not sure when indexes went out of style. The lack of an index is one of the only problems with the book, mainly due to the pace of the action and the need to be able to find things quickly if you do not have the searchable PDF.
The Wars of Reaving comes in at just over 250 pages, with 180,000 words, not the largest of all BattleTech books, but certainly nothing scoff at, considering the FedCom Civil War and War of 3039 were 216 and 168 pages respectively. Personally, I have no problem with large books, being an exceptionally fast reader, however, there are those that may be daunted by large sourcebooks, or simply loose focus as they plough through. That said, I was more than happy to get the extra detail, especially considering there will be a long hiatus before we hear from the Homeworlds again. Therefore, although a potential negative for some, for the Clan fans overall, it is a positive.
The cover art for The Wars of Reaving set the tone for the entire book, with the artwork, by Niel Roberts, seemingly chaotic, fast paced and full of action. Much speculation by the fanbase over the cover began with its preview, with the eventual story of the defense of the Kerensky Bloodname Chapel describing the action the artwork depicted. In setting the tone for the work to come, the cover art and the later fiction was a powerful introduction for those familiar with Clan history.
The art for The Wars of Reaving introduced two new elements to existing BattleTech art, not previously explored, in ways that gave the book much of its character and assisted greatly in creating atmosphere whilst reading the book.
The first element was the page border, often an artistic addition in recent BattleTech works, which jumped to a new level in The Wars of Reaving, in essence telling its own story as the reader turned from page to page. The icons of the twenty Clans were set in stone columns, depicting what many might expect to see on the columns of the Hall of Khans on Strana Mechty. Entwined with the images of the Clans are the first lines of the Clan’s epic poem, The Remembrance, further adding to the gravitas of the image.
The first two pages displayed the icons of the original twenty Clans, with this pattern continued on the next two pages. Then suddenly, the Wolverine icon is shattered into rubble on page seven, shortly followed by the erasure of the Widowmaker icon on page 21. The page border was telling the story of the Clans through the changing of the icons over time, providing a unique and clever addition to the story. By the books end, the tragic state of the Clans in clearly shown in the starkly bare columns.
The second addition to the artwork was the use of pictures of tabletop miniatures, altered to appear as though they were from the gun cameras of BattleMechs involved in the actions of the Wars of Reaving. This was a clever idea and an excellent way to provide art, with some images of excellent quality, whilst others could not quite manage to convey the same level of realism (yes I do understand the inherent contradiction when talking of realism whilst discussing BattleMechs). Nevertheless, this concept added to the overall fell of the book: One of snippets of information and random images, brought together to try to tell the story of the grand events that had unfolded. This effort was, in GhostBear’s own words, controversial, but like all artwork is objective. Some will love it, whilst others will not, but if you are going to pan the book just because of those images, then you really need to leave the house and get some perspective on life.
The remaining art, the usual good quality BattleTech artwork designed to tell parts of the story in pictures, brought balance and variety to the interior art, with the personalities section following the excellent and ever growing collection of first rate BattleTech character sketches, images which have become a hallmark of recent BattleTech products. Additionally, the usual appearance of new BattleMech and other unit artwork was of a good quality as well, but as always, is a highly objective aspect for players, which is loved as often as it is hated in most BattleTech books.
The Layout of the narrative sections of The Wars of Reaving, designed to convey the feel of a heavy bound tome provided to the Inner Sphere Clans, as the final word in a chapter they would all rather forget, managed to pull of that feel through its layout.
However, although laid out in much the same way as many other BattleTech products, side bars were changed to boxes within the text, much like snippets culled from other sources. Personally, I found this broke the story up too much, although it did, as always, provide additional information on specific events in the story. I like my snippets out of the way, but that is just personal preference.
Upon reaching the end of the narrative, the rules and campaigns chapters followed the stared BattleTech layout for such sections.
From the end of the Great Refusal in 3060, to the collapse of the Second Star League in late 3067, Chapter 1 collects and summarizes the information, most of it known to BT fans, of the decade following the official end of Operation Revival. This chapter is primarily a summary of events, where hints and analysis show the early seeds of actions that would come to dominate the Wars of Reaving in their infancy. This period is “known,” as in it pre-dates the Reaving Trials and was a period where the Inner Sphere was receiving good intelligence on what was occurring in Clan circles. Therefore, the overall understanding of events and their interrelation by the report’s narrator is clear and connected.
The presentation of new information is limited (with side events only fleshed out a little), the motivations of the major players examined and actions that lead to the feuds detailed. With so much information on this period, no more than a summary could be provided, but the use of the sidebars allowed for enough detail to be given, along with some new information on elements of the Clans like the Dark Caste.
For those less familiar with this period, the background provides a solid grounding in recent Clan history, whilst not bogging down in details. For those more familiar with the Clans of this period, don’t skim read, as there are several interesting new pieces of information, which not only explain actions from that time, but also provide important background for what is to come.
Chapter 2 begins to chart the decent of the Clans into madness, opening with the Clan’s take on the collapse of the Second Star League and the unusual reactions of several Clans to it. The narration quickly makes clear that the Clans are already sliding down the rabbit hole, not aware yet of just where they are going, but more than willing to drag each other further into the maelstrom. Additionally, this chapter outlines the reasons and actions behind some of the better known Clan actions during the Jihad, such as the Hell’s Horses, Snow Ravens and Ice Hellions moves in and around the Clan Occupation Zones and of the Diamond Sharks attitudes to both their brethren and the disintegrating Inner Sphere.
The chapter slowly builds the momentum, starting from the comparatively civil tones of the Grand Council Chamber, then gathering pace as it moves into the battlefields of the Homeworlds and the Inner Sphere. An early surprise revolved around the Blood Spirits who, although following historical precedent, suddenly present the reader with a very interesting project.
For fans of Jake Kabrinski, he gets a solid examination, one that shows him as the tool The Powers That Be (TPTB) used to alter certain historical relations within the Clans. Additional information on most Clan’s preparations, or lack thereof, for the storm to come are also detailed as is the fate of the Eridani Light Horse.
Chapter 3 opens with little subtlety in pointing the finger at the instigators of the Reaving Trials, with the point made that the Council of Six (you find out who they are and no they are not a sinister shadow group) know much of the story in this chapter, but that most was not clear to the Inner Sphere.
This is where the new material starts to gather momentum, as the fallout from the December 3071 Grand Council meeting and the election of the new ilKhan become apparent. What the fanatics that launched it (as always is the case with ideological actions) saw as a pure and logical move, is shown quickly to spiral down into the darkest pits of Clan madness, as methods long beneath the Clans become the everyday tools of war and politics.
Chapter 3 begins to really quicken the pace and present much new and interesting material, but can also be seen as the place where certain Clan purists and individual Clan fan boys probably did and still will take offense. Nobody likes the faction they have loved for a decade get spanked, but that’s life and this life gets ugly. An interesting note is how quickly the standards of the Clans were thrown aside and the reasons for it, with ideology trumping honor and expediency trumping law.
The chapter ends on two very interesting notes, with a pivotal meeting of a certain Clan and its scientists and an old friend returning to the fray.
Chapter 4 opens quickly with the beginning of the end of the Homeworld Clans’ chances at a clean and quick war, as one Clan, ironically one noted for its strict adherence to the Way of the Clans goes, in a word, nuts.
More importantly, is the discussion of an entirely new armed faction within the Homeworlds, one which would quickly come to be the vortex of the chaos that spreads across the Pentagon and Kerensky cluster. The narrator also notes that this is where the story becomes sketchy, however on reading The Wars of Reaving, the narrative never really seems to break up or become disjointed, as gaps are clearly stated and the reader allowed the connect the dots in their own way.
Most readers will likely find that the gaps are just that, gaps, not confusing omissions as hinted at by the narrator. Likely, for someone involved at the time, it would have been a chaotic event; however, to the reader the information seems to be there if you look hard enough.
Events in the Homeworlds are shown to fall ever deeper into rage and revenge and all out war breaks out, amid news forms of biological warfare being used and entire Clans going to war with each other.
This chapter also revels some other old friends, long thought lost, who give one of the fading Clans a chance of survival. However, one thing this chapter makes very clear, is that several Clans are on they way out, either from Clan space or from history.
Chapter 5 makes shows from the outset that this period is one where each Clan remaining in the Homeworlds was of the belief that it was fighting for its life. With new factions arising, communications between the factions poor, for various reasons, and the old rules of conduct long gone, entire worlds disappear with little or no comment.
This attempt at creating gaps, although successful, did not break the narrative off, as we are told what worlds suffered cataclysms. The effect allowed the reader to skim past and almost shrug, as the deluge of losses and battles at this point has almost saturated the bloodlust capacity of even the most crazed Blakist.
The chapter continues the hectic pace of its predecessor, as each Clan makes it final moves for position in the great game. Information on the Inner Sphere Clans continues, but is limited to fall out from actions centered in the Homeworlds. By the end of the chapter, it is rapidly becoming clear that there is little time left for several Clans (with some gone in all but name already) and that all combatants are nearing complete exhaustion.
Chapter 6 brings about the end of the war, with several titanic changes in the outlook and structure of several Clans, likely setting off several fan boys along the way again. Opening with the titanic naval and surface battle of Tamaron, this last part of the war is quickly shown to be the decisive final act.
With the various side players who had created much of the chaos dealt with earlier out of the way, the various Clans turned to settle their final scores, with one Clan lucky, through politics, to survive at all. Other twists and turns see the original instigators of the wars punished in dramatic fashion and the new order of the Clans begin to shake itself out.
Chapter 7 provides and overview of the Clans strengths shortly after the battles over the Homewards conclude, but instead of the usual factional overview, this section has some surprises of its own. The final fallout from the Wars of Reaving are shown to still be causing issues in Clan relations as further events cause additional realignments of Clan factions, their strengths, outlooks and positions.
Status on each Clan’s Homeworld holdings and military strengths are provided, along with summaries of the current positions of each surviving Clan, as well of those of the Inner Sphere Clans, without the detailed breakdown the Homeworld Clans receive, due to this information being available in other products. The personalities section again provides the useful and detailed biographies of the various major players of the time and provides an interesting end to a long asked question. The tally of the remaining Bloodnames is one of the most potent reminders of the severity of the recent fighting, painting a clear picture of the devastation wrought to the heart of Clan culture.
The rules annex provides the usual fare of new technology, this time focusing on one of the new factions and their attempts to even the playing field against the established powers in the Homeworlds. Several new ProtoMechs are unveiled, as are several new BattleMech designs and the rules required for using all the new toys. Biological, combat drug and genetic warfare is also examined and rules provided for their use, however, this seems to be more out of a need for thoroughness, as such technology would rarely be used in games.
The Wars of Reaving Campaign is the Chapter I am least qualified to look at, as I rarely play on the table top, preferring to immerse myself in the fiction rather than the game. A recent examination of the campaign can be found here: http://www.scrapyardarmory.com/2011/11/26/chaos-reaving/
The review, by the ScrapYard Armoury, provides a detailed look at the system and its use. A nice feature of the campaign section is the before and after maps and territorial holdings tables for the conflict, providing another avenue for detailing the massive losses of the wars. One thing missing from the tables, which was shown in The Clans: Warriors of Kerensky, was the population of each world. This could have shown the true losses suffered by the Clans, but was only a minor omission the scheme of things. The usual Clan glossary follows, but as mentioned before, no index is provided.
Overall The Wars of Reaving provides the later historical bookend that is counter-pointed by Historical: Operation Klondike, both books the pinnacle in writing regarding the Clans over their published history in BattleTech. The contrast between the promise of the future seen by the Clans of Nicholas Kerensky’s time and the reality of his visions collapse in the 3070s is a stark one indeed.
The Wars of Reaving is an excellent addition to the BattleTech line, providing the Clans with an end story, for now, that was a dramatic as their entry into BattleTech lore when they crossed the Coreward borders in 3050. The fast pace, detail (despite notes stating otherwise), obvious attention to each faction and its torrid and devastating changes make The Wars of Reaving one of the best BattleTech products in years, easily in the same class as the Historical series, which are currently the benchmark for excellent BattleTech setting material.
One last point: Did The Wars of Reaving live up to the hype that the author created? Yes it did, with the threads regarding the book providing the evidence. Whether your faction was pounded out of existence or not, few can argue that The Wars of Reaving provides a powerful and dramatic end to one of the major events in BattleTech history. I would highly recommend The Wars of Reaving to anyone with even a passing interest in the Clans or to BattleTech in general.