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Tabletop Game / Planet Mercenary

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Planet Mercenary is a Role-Playing Game by Hypernode Press set in the world of Schlock Mercenary, first released in 2017 after its Kickstarter funded in 24 hours and proceeded to blow past multiple stretch goals. The mechanics of the game were developed by Alan Bahr and the text written by Alan Bahr, Howard Tayler, and his wife, Sandra Tayler. The base mechanic of the system is the D63 mechanic, namely that most actions are resolved on a roll of 3d6, but the actual face values rolled matter as well as the total. One die is designated as the "Mayhem die"; if it shows a number higher than either of the other dice, and if the action is successful, a card is drawn which modifies the action's effects — resulting in anything from the character becoming paranoid that their gun has broken (requiring other players to roll to convince them to still use it), to the success of the action causing the player to gain a point in an unrelated skill, to the player being given a roleplaying opportunity to deliver an inspirational speech to gain RiPPs, tokens which can be used to stave off future disaster.

Outside of that core mechanic, the system is very simple. Characters have a Command Package — their role in the Company, a Background — where they came from, and a Sophont type — what race they are. Each choice adds some bonus skill ranks, and possibly some skill specializations and special racial abilities or penalties. After that, skills and their specialties are bought with a point system and players buy equipment from a communal pool of points for the Company. Characters, when created, start with a skill cap, but can transcend it with points gained from completing Contracts. Every player is assumed to be a commander, in charge of an in-game Fireteam which can be directed to provide covering fire, snipe threats, perform sidetasks, or simply to pump bullets or raw energy into opponents, and the group is accompanied by unnamed grunts who can take a bullet for the price of an RiPP and a small emotional burden of giving that grunt a name and a handful of traits before their fate is decided with a flip of a coin. Death is expected to be common, albeit not always permanent, with fallen characters replaced by members of their Fireteam or random grunts who step into the break in the line.

The official website can be found here. There is also an official Facebook page and a less-official but sanctioned Reddit group.

Because the book is a fictional publication from an in-universe entity for Schlock Mercenary, there is some overlap between universe details in the book and that of the comic.

Tropes in this game:

  • Anti-Armor: Two types, Armor-piercing weapons ignore two points of Damage Reduction while weapons with the Anti-vehicular payload (AVPL) quality are necessary to hurt someone in heavy power armor or an armored vehicle.
  • Ascended Extra: The Esspererin were a late addition to the game, "space gremlins" suggested by Alan and his wife, Erin, under a placeholder of "Extra Something Small" which were accepted and immediately added to the webcomic universe. The name is a pun off of "Extra Something Small, per Erin."note .
  • Bad Boss: Planet Mercenary CEO Clutch Razormatron Feaule Azraena frequently threatens the in-universe writing staff in the footnotes, and goes so far as to hunt down and murder two of them. Which leads to the writers plotting to capture her, resulting in the much less homicidal Janodomadiwabavoheewa replacing her in the Locations chapter and later.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Partially averted. Rolling low values, or getting particular Mayhem cards, forces the character to reload or to switch to another weapon. The game book notes that even melee weapons can get a reload forced on them from a Mayhem card (the example given is that a combat knife might get slick with blood, or stuck in an opponent). Some weapons qualities reduce the incidences of reloading by providing additional ammo sources.
  • Chainsaw Good: The BFF Autocutlery Chainsaber Mark IX is an incredibly dangerous weapon. Sometimes even to your enemies.
  • Chunky Salsa Rule: Normally, any damage that drops your health to 0 or below makes you fall unconscious, with the next attack killing you. However, getting hit with damage greater or equal to twice your maximum health will just insta-kill you. Due to the setting, soldiers are generally recoverable as long as the head survives, and with RED-REO blood nannies, almost anything is survivable — although some packet loss is expected with loss of body mass.
  • Character Class System: Largely averted. The Command Package and Background provide a fixed set of skill bonuses and sometimes a Specialty, but have no in-game effect after that.
  • Combat Medic: One of the Command Packages is the Doctor. While they receive skill bonuses for Medicine and Xenobiology, they also receive bonuses to Dodge and one Combat skill.
  • Critical Failure: Rolling all 1's always results in failure, but generally doesn't come with any other consequence unless other mechanics come into play. Weapons with Failure Prone (a hallmark of weapons from Phubahr) will malfunction disastrously in such a case — usually by exploding. Of course, they also malfunction disastrously in the case of rolling all 6's, despite also giving you a guaranteed hit.
  • Critical Hit: Present for all skill rolls. Rolling all 6's, and beating the Target Number, gives you an Upgraded Success which can result in anything from double damage with an attack to creating something lasting when jury-rigging a solution.
  • Damage Reduction: The chief benefit of armor is that it generally carries Damage Reduction that is subtracted from incoming damage before it hits you. Some armor does a better job of protecting you from certain damage types.
  • Death Is Cheap: The default starting point is post-Delegates and Delegation, meaning that RED-REO blood nannies are commercially available. So long as an organic character with the nannies leaves some remains they can be regenerated, while AI characters can have external backups.
  • Death World:
    • Damaxuri is a radiation-blasted desert with most of the water locked up in a spongy matrix hiding under black sand, which it can collapse when disturbed.
    • Some parts of Earth have been rewilded with clones of extinct fauna, including dinosaurs.
    • Eina-Oafa is technically a giant space station, but the internal ecosystem is dominated by megafauna who've evolved creative work-arounds to the Square-Cube Law, some of which breath fire.
    • Ellwor is covered with a vast cybernetic Hungry Jungle that fused with a dead civilization's nanotech. Colony sites are cleared out with heavy ship weapons, if not nukes.
    • The Amorph homeworld of Ghanj-rho has soil contaminated with heavy metals and radioactives, but at least the most dangerous life-forms can be reasoned with.
    • Venus suffered from a botched terraforming program, resulting in an unstable ecosystem that the tourism department describes as an "ongoing garbage fire."
  • Design-It-Yourself Equipment: There are options for generating custom weapons and armor via specific process of combining manufacturers, chassis, and qualities.
  • Fictional Document: The game is supposedly published by a military outfitter called Planet Mercenary as an educational tool; mercenary leaders are meant to buy it for their grunts, in order to trick them into learning useful information under the guise of learning how to play a game. The book contains annotations from its (fictional) compilers in the margins of almost every page.
  • Flavor Text: The Mayhem cards have in-universe quotes to back them up, and as aforementioned, the manual is written as an in-universe resource complete with footnotes.
  • Game Master: Called the Game Chief, there is one person who volunteers (or is assigned) to run the game.
  • Grappling with Grappling Rules: Averted. Grappling only helps you hold someone in place, and the checks are uncomplicated.
  • Hit Points: Every character has Health based on their Sophont type and Endurance skill.
  • Jack of All Stats: Humans have no skill bonuses or penalties, but they have higher Health than most other species (excepting neophants and ursumari) and a "last act" special ability. For the alien species ob'enn choose their skill bonuses, but have a penalty to socializing with other species. Jackbot A.I.s get no free skills unlike the other AI formats but they are not chassis-locked.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: The written version on pages 168, 169, and 186 as the Planet Mercenary CEO kills two writers for maligning the company's products, and one of the legal team who complained about her methods.
  • Luck Manipulation Mechanic: Having a skill specialty lets you reroll one of the three dice when doing your speciality. A RiPP can be spent to negate a Mayhem card or to reroll one or more dice on a check. Lastly, some weapon Qualities either skew the results to provide a better probability, or allow for rerolls.
  • Magnetic Weapons: Pulsilinear Electromagnetic Array (P.E.A.) weapons are one of two types of lethal projectile weapon, along with gunfoam bullets that use their casing as chemical propellant. Some guns, like the Strohl G/G series, can switch between the two types, gunfoam has a wider array of variant ammo while P.E.A. usually does more damage (aside from the G/G 29, which does less but is silent in P.E.A. mode).
  • Mechanically Unusual Class:
    • The A.I. Sophont type functions the same in play, but has different rules for creation and upgrade, gaining stats by spending company resources rather than from mission completion.
    • Carbosilicate amorphs can't wear most regular armor and every time they take damage they temporarily lose a skill rank at random. It's recommended that amorph players keep a jar containing notecards with their skills on them. They also have some unique skills that they can't take at char creation.
  • Min-Maxing: The system is flexible, but relies on players and the Game Chief to enforce balance. While Backgrounds and Command Packages are, by definition, pretty much equivalent, some Sophont types provide more bang for their buck than others, some weapons are both more expensive and lower-powered, and there are certain combinations of Fireteam actions that can make players almost unbeatable.
  • Painting the Medium: The fictional annotations from the writers, legal department, and company management throughout the document have an ongoing story to them. About halfway through the murders begin.
  • Plasma Cannon: Includes not only Schlock's trademark Strohl BH-209 and the more practical but less intimidating AP-130, but also a Phubahr P-51 "Blaster" that's even more likely to explode and fires a "cloud" of plasma that cools off and decelerates rather quickly. However the P-51 is also somewhat popular with boarding crews because it's less likely to blast holes in the hull than other plasguns.
  • Point Build System: The only dice rolled for character creation is for cosmetic features such as the number of eyes an Amorph has. Grunts who survive Ablative Meat and get "promoted" to PC start with more points for their combat experience.
  • Powered Armor: Range from "looks like a normal uniform with hidden servos," to "walking tank."
  • Red Shirt: Player characters get a fireteam of grunts under their command, by default most of them are unnamed until the "Ablative Meat" rule is invoked. When that happens the PC spends a RiPP to avoid taking damage and picks one of their grunts, writes a name and backstory for them on a notecard, and then the Game Chief flips a coin, on heads that grunt gets upgraded to a Mauve Shirt, tails the GC tears up the card and there's an opening in your squad. On the off chance a PC does buy the farm, their player can promote a named grunt as their new character, with ten extra char points per time they survived Ablative Meat.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: Weapons with Failure Prone will explode if triples are rolled. This includes rolling all 6s, which also may guarantee double damage. Certain Mayhem cards may result in weapons running out of ammunition (or getting stuck in targets for weapons such as knives) or being damaged enough to require repair out of combat to unjam them.
  • Skill Scores and Perks: Skills are primary, standing on their own with no additional attributes. Specializations can be added to allow rerolling one die in a particular subset of rolls. Carbosilicate Amorphs also can attain special secret specializations that allow them to perform completely new actions but do not allow for the reroll.
  • Taught by Experience: Two of the three skill points gained for completing a job must be used on skills used during the job.
  • Treacherous Quest Giver: The advice for designing adventures suggests that almost no Contract involves someone giving you all of the details and that a Twist is to be expected, which may or not be a betrayal on the quest-giver's end.
  • Uplifted Animal: The humans uplifted Rillas (gorillas), Neophants (elephants), and Ursumari (polar bears) among the playable races. Among the aliens, Kreely are known as an unintentionally uplifted race (their sentience is the result of an infection, which they can choose whether to apply to their offspring. Most offspring are not made intelligent because they're delicious and valuable as pets and snack food, even among the Kreely). The Frellenti are generally believed to be artificially uplifted due to peculiarities in their DNA. Lastly, the Polyflorians were uplifted by the Gzeaul.