BTA Developer Blog 2: BTA and the Clans

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Welcome back to the BTA Developer Blog series, where I take a look at and explain various facets of BTA's design for your edification. Today, I'm talking all things Clan and putting to rest why BTA's Clans are the way they are.

BTA did not start with the Clans, it was IS-only for quite awhile, from BTA's release in June 2019 until April 2020 in fact. However, in April 2020 BTA released v5.0, which brought the Clans, the larger Inner Sphere map, and a bunch of extra IS factions to the party. The first thing everyone did was grab the Clans and start playing with them. This led to the inevitable discovery that BTA's Clans aren't exactly the way BT tabletop depicts the Clans. Their weapons were rebalanced to be different, to be shorter range and higher heat. While I did explain myself at the time, this seems like a fine time to really make it clear how this all works and why it works this way. There's two aspects to BTA's Clans: their gear and their factions. We'll start with factions.

When BTA Clans released, there were 3 Clans available: Wolf, Ghost Bear, and Jade Falcon. All of these had their own space and none of them offered contracts, nor could players ally with any of them or even gain reputation with them at all. This raised outcry, people were confused and some were unhappy: why would BTA do this? Players wanted to befriend the Clans! Why did BTA deny this? The reason is because in-setting, the Clans really don't hire mercenaries. They tend to consider mercs undeserving of respect and dislike them greatly. Since the player is a mercenary company in BTA, it wouldn't make sense to let Clans hire them: why would they hire someone they hate? Much later on, BTA added two more Clans, both of whom mix things up a little: Diamond Shark and Nova Cat. Diamond Shark goes the extra mile and doesn't offer contracts but also can't be fought against either, they barely have a battlefield presence at all: they're merchants, not warriors, they want your c-bills not your blood. Clan Nova Cat is where BTA finally gave players what they wanted: CNC offers contracts and can be allied with. Why them and not the others? Because Clan Nova Cat at this point in the timeline has abandoned Clan precepts, is no longer part of Clan space or the Clan council, and is fully acclimatized to the Inner Sphere. Since they're now Inner Sphere locals, they realize that they gotta work with mercs and so they do.

Also when BTA Clans was released, it did not take long for players to realize that the weapons had been changed, many of them heavily (cLRMs, cLPLs, cERPPCs all were frequent targets of complaints). As a general rule (there's a few exceptions) Clan weapons were rebalanced to be higher damage and lighter weight/smaller size while being shorter ranged and higher heat than a straight TT conversion would indicate. Why? Two reasons, one lore, one gameplay. First, as I was making the Clan module, I was reading over Clan lore and backstory. In Clan culture, there is a focus on dueling and on pilot skill as the ultimate arbiter of combat. However, on table, Clan weapons are universally strictly better than IS ones, often in terms of *range* as well as damage, which made no sense to me. Why would a culture that relies on 1v1 dueling for their conflict resolution also rely on extremely long-ranged guns for those duels? The IRL equivalent is like being a cowboy in the old west and challenging someone else to duel, but instead of pistols at noon it's sniper rifles at noon and you plink away from a half-mile away at each other. It makes negative sense and more to the point it's not how Clan duels are portrayed in fiction. In fiction, Clanners often face each other within visual and sensor range, don't hide either visually or from sensors, and use their superior skill to win, not the limits of their technology. So, I rebalanced Clan weapons accordingly: higher heat and damage with shorter range encourages short, sharp, decisive, skill-based engagements. From player commentary, it seems to have been a success: Clan loadouts favor alpha-strikes that kill or cripple in one or two shots. This is good and what was desired.

However, there's a second reason the Clan weapons were changed: to change the nature of gameplay. Inner Sphere mechs have to make compromises between speed/firepower/endurance. Clan technology generally lets them not have to make those compromises because of cEndo/cFerro/cXL and their weapons all being lighter. This makes Clans strictly better, which is bad gameplay. By introducing downsides to Clan technology, the gameplay changes. Now, Clan loadouts aren't all upside: there's compromises to make. Compromises make interesting gameplay and loadouts. Getting everything for free is boring and bad design. Better gameplay design is introducing side-grades, compromises, complexity. Changing Clan weapons to not be purely upside makes gameplay more complex, which keeps players coming back to explore and experiment more. From what I've seen in various chatter since introducing the Clans, I believe this approach succeeded, at least somewhat (the AI isn't as smart about Clantech as I'd like, still working on that, it's always a process).

There is also the matter of the Clan quirks. True Clanmechs, omnis and battlemechs alike, have a pair of global "Clan quirks", one positive and one negative. The positive quirk provides a lot of good bonuses, such as move speed, heat dissipation, and better targeting, while the negative quirk provides a massive debuff for melee attacks (except for DFAs). These were included to help differentiate the Clan pilots a little as well as to represent that the Clan chassis come with inherent benefits. Notably, the Clan negative quirk was made because Clanners disdain melee combat and don't build their mechs for it. However, a sharp eye will notice that I left off DFAs from the list of penalized melee attacks. The reason for this is that DFAs are bold and come with honor built-in: to pull one off requires high pilot skill and is both dangerous and flashy: the perfect Clan maneuver, doubly so if it kills the target. Other melees are dishonorable but DFAs are big and showy and impressive when they work, so they're ok. Clan culture at its finest.

There you go, BTA's reasons for the Clans. Hopefully, this settles the question going forward. Come back next time for another, hopefully less divisive, blog!