If you are a fan of Schlock Mercenary by Howard Tayler, you can stop reading and go buy Planet Mercenary. The answer is, "Yes, it does the comic justice." For others, here is a science fiction role-playing game (RPG) based on a long running web comic that captures the fun people expect from reading about a group of space-based, future mercenaries.
Howard Tayler, Sandra Tayler, and Alan Bahr to capture the universe of Schlock Mercenary. Instead of me trying to tell you what this universe is like, go on-line and read through some of the history the mercenary company has gone through.
I reviewed Planet Mercenary in PDF. I cannot address the binding or page print, but I can tell you about what I found.
The layout of the book made it easy to read and to find information. Clear references are provided if you have to go to another page, which made looking something up fast. The equipment sections are grouped nicely so I wasn't flipping back and forth trying figure out what I was needing.
The artwork was fun and precise (of course, when you have the game based on a comic and the artist is involved in the production). The placement of the art helped explain what was in the text.
There are a couple levels of text that demonstrate what this game is about. Throughout Planet Mercenary, you are reminded playing this RPG, and any RPG, is about having fun. Everyone is there to create an experience that everyone there is going to enjoy. Even when you are in sections that are loaded with information, they are presented in a lighter manner with ways of showing how to keep the experience of game play lighter and well-paced.
The second layer of text demonstrates this is a game for fun storytelling and the authors had fun putting it together (I'm sure they worked hard because I read their acknowledgements). Throughout the book there is a secondary story being told in the sidebars. It starts in the introduction where the CEO of the company Planet Mercenary makes a comment in the sidebar about what is in the text. This is followed by comments from others—and that sets the tone. The side bar comments tell a story all their own. At one point, I stopped and read just the comments from beginning to end because in those comments a story is presented that highlights how the game should really be considered, and played.
The front half of the book helps get the players started while the back is for the Game Chief (GC) to have information for running a game. This includes information about significant places, people, and events that can be used for adventure hooks. The information is provided in the same fun format making it something you can enjoy reading without it being just a travelogue.
Characters and Mercenary Companies
Planet Mercenary is designed to be played in a campaign setting. Each player starts with a main character who is part of the team of officers of a mercenary company. This means the players need to start out working together to determine who is going to take on the distinct roles (not everyone can be the captain, then again, not everyone wants to be the captain). There are many races to choose from and there is good balance between them so the role-playing aspects of the characters can come to the forefront during play.
Along with creating a character, the players can create their company. Of course, it could be built by the GC and given to the players, but it is recommended that the players combine their creative talents. Part of the company is the ship, which has an artificial intelligence (AI), which will be played as a player character and non-player character. This is done by shared play during things like space combat by the players, or by the GC when the action is slow and if being done by a player they would probably be surfing the internet in this era, instead of participating in the future.
After the creating the characters and the company the players need to equip. This isn't done by giving each player an amount of money to buy guns, ammo, etc. Players are making a company and because of that many items have to be shared (that is party how they have a ship). There will also be some characters that need to have supplies for the company, because no one want the medic to say, "Sorry, I'm out of bandages." The monetary system is broken into resources and supplies. Resources are there to be able to gain larger items and to convert into supplies. Supplies are what are used for gaining the smaller items everyone needs. This system works well without having to have a player be the company bookkeeper who spends game night on a calculator and spreadsheet.
Dice and Mayhem
The base mechanic is using 3d6 when determining success or failure when needed. Simply put, roll 3d6 and add to the character's modifier, the bigger the better. The mechanic is elegant in simplicity with the added element of adding mayhem to the event.
When dice are rolled to determine success or failure a side effect may be mayhem. One of the three dice rolled is marked in some way to make it different than the other two—the mayhem die. When the roll results in a success and the mayhem die is greater than either of the other two dice, a Mayhem Card is draw. Mayhem isn't always undesirable. They are designed to add additional color and consideration to the role-playing taking place at the table. These unexpected events may alter how events are unfolding in the moment, or later, depending on the card. Additionally, they may not occur at all if a player decides to spend a Role-Playing Point (RiPP).
RiPPs are used by players to make minor adjustments during game play. They don't always work, because the GC may decide the event is important enough, or fun enough to have happen. But, the players can try.
Initiative and Playing the AI
Planet Mercenary favors the mercenary with quick thoughts. Many games have initiative diced by a die roll, or the quickness of the character. In Planet Mercenary, initiative is won by the bold player. The first person to speak up with an action is the first to go in the round.
After the first player takes their action the next action is determined in the same fashion. After all the players have gone then the GC determines the actions of the forces under their control.
It sounds confusing. And, in minor ways it is. And, it plays up to the setting of the game to create the level of uncertainty during the battles taking place, or even the activities happening between battles.
Ship to ship battles are handled by the AI. At this point in the game the players take on the role of the AI in the battle. Initiative is the same. The difference is the players take actions as though they are the AI running the ship.
This initiative system and group play of the NPC AI leads to some interesting role-playing.
Fireteams and Grunts
Mercenaries get killed. And, as pointed out by the comments in the sidebar this can be funny. However, players don't like characters dying if that means they miss out on playing.
Each player is a command officer. Officers need to command somebody. So, each officer commands a fireteam of three. These are specialists chosen from the number of grunts the company is employing. They have some extra abilities that complement the officer they work with (this is chosen by the player creating the officer). In the event of a character death, a fireteam member may get a field promotion.
For players, this means they have backup, partially created characters—no one sits out the rest of the night, or take on the role of the company bookkeeper.
There are more nameless grunts also in the fight. A player who loses a fireteam member, through promotion of death, is able to replace the fallen, or risen, member from the collection of grunts.
Planet Mercenary was a fun book to read and a fun game to play.
The longest point we had was the creation of the company as players decided how to apply their resources and supplies.
Mechanics of the game were easily learned and easy to follow. The Mayhem Cards provide a sense of the unknown, both dread and hope.
For those who don't know about the comic, I think there will be new fans.
Thanks to Hypernode Press for the opportunity of reading and reviewing Planet Mercenary.
Originally posted on Guild Master Gaming.