My thoughts on BattleTech from a few weeks back all point in the direction of a new mecha-obsessed setting, codenamed Yet Another Mecha Setting. Here’s a quick distillation:

Early Modern Scale

Space travel? Maybe. Full-bore space colonialism? Nah. Let’s go for a smaller scale, comprehensible to individual characters. Perhaps, even, a scale smaller than current earth!

In 1600 AD, earth’s population was in the hundreds of millions and was fragmented, geographically and politically. This strikes me as fertile soil. It’s very large, of course; the world has basically always been large past human imagining. But wars in a world of that size and with that sort of semi-isolated political geography can conceivably run the gamut from massive, intensely destructive conflicts to small backwater struggles.

Near Future Warfare

We want mechs, right? The romance of the machine! But if we turn the tech dial up too much we send our society straight into late spacefaring situations or equip our militaries with technology whose uses we won’t be able to anticipate correctly, which will inevitably create plot holes to fill (High! Verisimilitude!).

But mechs themselves ought to serve a somewhat different purpose than they do in other settings. In Gundam media, mechs seem to exist to straightforwardly amplify their pilots. The person who is capable of piloting the machine crosses a certain threshold of being able to affect the world around them, and the stakes go up. Pretty simple from a narrative point of view! In BattleTech there is a similar effect, but it’s backgrounded a bit for the mech’s function as a symbol of resource and pedigree: the great knight’s steed, basically. Anyone who is anyone can stable and feed their machine, and any pirate that can get their hands on one and keep it operating might just be seeing their own star rise.

In this setting I want it to come from the other direction: mechs are a tool of war, created by the in-universe logic of warfare. A specific tool, at that: just like tanks can’t win you every battle, mechs won’t either.

And as implied in the last post, main battle tanks are the obvious point of comparison. MBTs are heavily armored, highly mobile (in most contexts), and carry a powerful main weapon capable of defeating other MBTs and other armored and unarmored threats. Basically, if you need something that can get to a place and shoot at and destroy things while enduring return fire, the MBT is the best tool for the job provided that the terrain is appropriate.

Mechs, the way we think of them (big bipedal heavy metal machines with big guns), will mostly fill the same role. They have the armor to resist incoming fire and they have main direct-fire weapons that can defeat most threats. The big difference is those two legs. If you can design legs that can carry fifty tons of war machine, then those legs will confer huge benefits in rocky, mountainous, and otherwise difficult terrain. The bipedal orientation (which tends to make the machine taller) can help with visibility, too, and can enable a few other tricks (maneuvering in shallow water, sparse forests, and potentially even offering some flexibility in urban battlefields). But the downsides are also significant:

So what do we make of this? Probably: tanks have significant (though not insurmountable) advantages on an open field, where their lower profile makes them more difficult targets and their stability prevents them from being knocked over by enemy fire. But mechs can maneuver in places where tanks cannot, bringing armored presence to places that were previously only accessible to infantry and aerial forces.

Both can be core elements of fighting forces! Both are vulnerable to artillery and need support to deal with certain threats (well-positioned infantry, aerial bombardment, etc.). Neither enjoy total primacy over the battlefield (in contrast to other mech-featuring settings). But we have mechs, and they are cool!

Scale and Tech?

The previous two elements interact in an interesting way. The technology of 2021 earth is enabled by and dependent on a globalized economy of 7 billion people: robust labor forces, advanced systems of international trade, and mass production at enormous scales. Near future tech produced by a much smaller, more fragmented population probably relies on something else to make it tick. Possibly:

Alternate World

The setting isn’t earth. Future-facing fantasy and sci-fi often take place in imagined future earths. YAMS will not.

For one thing, this helps reconcile the early modern scale with the near future tech without having to elaborate on some sort of late 21st century calamity that would then determine the rest of the setting’s history.

For another, it helps shed some of the baggage of having to write about real societies or their descendants. Real human societies are, without a doubt, tremendously deep and interesting elements of a story. But they require a lot of work to get right, both in terms of raw facts and in terms of tone and representation. And they beg commentary about themselves. I don’t want to bait myself into writing about the relationship of the United States to Israel or the history of class conflict in Europe or whatever. Rather, there are other things that I think this setting can excel at showcasing, and real world history and politics would mostly serve to distract from them.†

Fictional politics, maybe! I think the culture and institutional makeup of a fighting force and its relation to the society that produced it is a deeply interesting space to explore, for one thing.

For an example of an alternate-world setting, the Advance Wars series of handheld turn-based strategy games elect to set their narratives in a non-earth world, and it works very well.


One of these days I’m going to write a PC or tabletop tactics game or maybe a handful of short stories set in YAMS. That’s when I’ll sketch out some geography, societies, and conflicts. I’ll have these ideas to guide me whenever I get down to it!

† No, I am not some sort of weird coneheaded nerd who thinks that combat is some sort of honorable realm apart from politics.