Cerium and lanthanum tribromides and trichlorides form isomorphous alloys with the hexagonal UCl3 type structure, and have been shown to exhibit high luminosity and proportional response, making them attractive alternatives for room temperature gamma ray spectroscopy. However the fundamental physical and chemical properties of this system introduce challenges for material processing, scale-up, and detector fabrication. In particular, low fracture stress and perfect cleavage along prismatic planes cause profuse cracking during and after crystal growth, impeding efforts to scale this system for production of low cost, large diameter spectrometers. We have reported progress on basic materials science of the lanthanide halides. Studies to date have included thermomechanical and thermogravimetric analyses, hygroscopicity, yield strength, and fracture toughness. The observed mechanical properties pose challenging problems for material production and post processing; therefore, understanding mechanical behavior is key to fabricating large single crystals, and engineering of robust detectors and systems. Analysis of the symmetry and crystal structure of this system, including identification of densely-packed and electrically neutral planes with slip and cleavage, and comparison of relative formation and propagation energies for proposed slip systems, suggest possible mechanisms for deformation and crack initiation under stress. The low c/a ratio and low symmetry relative to traditional scintillators indicate limited and highly anisotropic plasticity cause redistribution of residual process stress to cleavage planes, initiating fracture. Ongoing work to develop fracture resistant lanthanide halides is presented.