Taking One for the Team or The Ablative Meat Shield Rule

One of the biggest innovations (yes, I’m gonna toot our own horn here) in Planet Mercenary: The Roleplaying Game, is what we have titled: “The Ablative Meat Shield” rule. The idea revolves around one that, while your characters are the title characters in a show, the real star is the mercenary charter as a whole.  It’s not just you, or your friends in the command staff, but the grunts, the support team, the mechanics. It’s everyone. This rule helps you tell their stories.

The rule reads as follows:

“When you are hit by an attack, you may spend a RiPP (Role Play Point) to have the damage be dealt to a grunt near you. This can take the effect of you ducking behind the grunt, pulling them in the way,  the grunt leaping heroically to take the blow, or plain old bad luck. The grunt absorbs ALL the damage from the hit and you take none. Now, the Game Chief (GM) will hand you a 3×5 note card (or similar thing). On this note card, write the grunt’s name.  Next, write down three things about the grunt. Make ‘em personal and real. Talk about family, or past experiences, or dreams, or likes, dislikes, and more.

Hand that card back to the Game Chief. Excellent. Now, you know that RiPP token you spent? The Game Chief is gonna flip it. Good luck.”

It’s pretty cool, and it really helps the players fill out their NPCS and members of their charter during play.

The addition to the rule in the Game Chief section reads as follows:

   “Ok, so you know that RiPP you’re flipping for the Ablative Meat Shield rule? Heads, the grunt lives. Give their card some sort of marking (a check, whatever) and then save their card. They’ll come up again. Tails? The grunt dies. Tear the card in half in front of the player, and gruesomely describe how their actions killed that grunt. Ooh. Mean.

                As the grunts survive, players can use already existing grunts to take the hits for them. No reason not to.

                In addition, if a player character dies, they can choose to play an existing grunt as their new character. Follow the normal character creation rules, but for each time the grunt has survived the ablative meat shield rule, the new characters gets +10 character creation points. That means, if they survive 5 times, they DOUBLE their starting points.  And you, the Game Chief get the benefit of a character with some sort of backstory with the charter, probably a few grudges, and some real scars.

                Very cool.”

Many of you have played Traveller or something similar , where character creation involves detailing your whole life story. That’s a lot of fun, and playing that level of detailed character is fun. However, it’s time consuming. This rule allows us to tell the story of the grunts and others in snapshots, brief moments of heroism, life or death terror, and some laughs. It leads to great stories, real attachment to some of the NPCS.

If you see me at a con, show me your PM:RPG challenge coin. I’ll buy you a drink (or you can buy me a drink too, I won’t complain), and if you ask, I’ll tell you the story of Rodrigo, the luckiest grunt to ever brave the hell of deep space, who went on to become the captain of Rod’s Rogues.

18 thoughts on “Taking One for the Team or The Ablative Meat Shield Rule”

  1. “As the grunts survive, players can use already existing grunts to take the hits for them.”

    Does this require a RiPP each time, or is the RiPP only required for the initial creation of the grunt?

  2. The RiPP is required every time. The cost of making a member of your team get shot for you is a Role Play Point. That always happens. If it’s a new grunt, you quickly make them.

    Otherwise hope your buddy doesn’t die.

  3. Ah, the ablative redshirt approach.

    It occurs in other games, but I’ve never seen it as smoothly designed into the game mechanics as this. I tip my hat to you, sir.

  4. Three things:

    1) If you want to be using ablative meat, you need to bring your A-game. Role play with style. Earn RiPPs hand over fist, and then spend them like water.

    2) Don’t be afraid to cry. The death of a statistically unlikely five-time survivor of the Ablative Meat Shield rule is going to touch everyone. Let your characters mourn his/her/its death. That emotion will make the game wonderful.

    3) Alan mentioned RiPP tokens and PM:RPG challenge coins. These are things that will definitely happen if we overfund to certain levels. RiPPs are currently off the map (out past $150k) because they’re *expensive.* Challenge coins are coming right up at the $75k mark, and we’re 89% of the way there.

  5. Did you two develop this mechanic after playing Xcom, Howard?

    Because you literally just described how my games of Xcom go. “Goddamnit, NOT my trooper who’s survived all 5 missions previously without a scratch!”

    1. Actually I’ve never played XCOM. I had to go look it up to see what you meant.

      This rule was actually created by me to represent battlefield promotion originally. It later morphed into the form you see now.

  6. OK, that is one hell of a well designed mechanic.

    I am a longtime Schlock fan who has a regular history of randomly appearing in Howard’s vicinity and lobbing cash at his noggin. I like the merch and I like supporting my favorite creators. Heck, it happens monthly since the Patreon.

    In spite of that I figured I would take a pass on this one, since I really haven’t done any role playing in years, but this description got the RPG systems nerd in the back of my brain howling at me.

    Between that and the fiddly bit you added to power the pronounce-ability of the acronym for Role Play Point (RiPP ) you have my attention.

    Prepare yourself Howard, I think another cranium/currency intersection is imminent.

  7. I have a strange question…

    If you have a grunt you’ve got really attached to, and you invoke the Ablative Meat rule to send them into the line of fire and it comes up tails (or 1, if you’re rolling 1d2,) can you perhaps spend another RiPP to make the grunt survive without any skill gain?

    1. If your Game Chief wanted to house rule that sure.

      In playtesting, we would have all sorts of shenigans. I mostly let them spend RiPPs to reflip the coin.

      1. Clearly you need to invoke another grunt as to meatshield for THAT guy.

        It’s like a conga line

        1. @Alan Seems like a reasonable house-rule to me. As a GM, once I have ready-made NPCs on hand, I’d probably use them in-play.

          @Phantrosity
          Let’s just hope the enemy aren’t using Breachers, then. :)

          Uh… Come to think of it, I just thought of another question.

          Can you spend an RiPP to send a Grunt created by *another* player into the line of fire for your characters? I could see that turning antagonistic, if someone’s got a grunt who’s survived long enough that someone is actually considering just straight-out retiring their main from getting-shot-at duty to make that grunt their main, and you start spending RiPPs to try and kill them off.

          1. Nope. RiPP can only be spent to protect yourself as a PC.

            Grunts are a shared resource. Now my core playtest group (the one I run), we had a unwritten house rule, that you asked before risking a grunt someone was attached to. But, there’s no such rule in the game.

  8. What happens if the grunts with the party are significantly more heavily armored than the PC who invoked the rule? For instance, you’re playing a scientist in a labcoat or a social character in a business suit who’s getting shot at with a pistol, and the grunts are running around in great big suits of power armor?

    Alternately, what if all the grunts are the same, like if you’re commanding an army of robots that just came off the production line, or a squad of clones that just got decanted?

    1. clones scar too.

      And if you are expecting a welcome party tough enough to require heavily armoured grunts, the housewarming is probably going well enough those grunts are still on a 50/50 chip.

      You however, would be ash.

    2. For the sake of speedy game play, and abstraction, we don’t worry about that. As a grunt, they get a 50% chance to live or die. It’s just that simple.

      With Schlock, the AIs have personalities and more, so I don’t see a army of robots being a problem. They could each be unique. But “robot” isn’t a playable sophont in the game, so a player couldn’t use one as a character anyways (at this point, obviously, we’re aware of hte need for AI player characters).

      1. I think I’d probably have to houserule that if you spend an RiPP to have a grunt intercept a light weapon – example, Max Halsuka shooting a G/G pistol at nearly-naked Para Ventura, and Ventura’s suborned bot intercepting it – then the Grunt survives on a result of heads or tails, and only dies on a result of edge. :) (For Roll20, I’d probably roll like, 1d6000*, and the grunt only dies on a result of 1.)

        *According to NASA, that’s the odds of a thrown American Nickle landing on its edge.

        And if a player’s become attached to a grunt, I’d also have to stat out their armor and roll damage against them normally. On the flip side, this would mean that they might have less than a 50/50 chance of survival, if you send them into the way of a breacher round. (I’d also have to rule that someone’s preferred grunts are hands-off, just like your unspoken house-rule, Alan.)

        I have another question: How do situations when you wouldn’t realistically have access to grunts handle this? For instance, if the PCs find themselves isolated from any members of the company except each other, such as if they all wind up incarcerated.

        Can you spend RiPP to draft an on-hand civilian or noninvolved party into the line of fire? (If they survive, can you recruit them to the company? :) )

        An enemy, even? (Probably not an enemy. Unless that enemy was generated from whole cloth and if it survives, it goes hostile to you too.)

        I mean, you could just handwave it and say that Dr. Grunty O’Grunterssen, Esq. was locked up with the group, too… But I think I’d prefer drafting a civilian/noninvolved party into the fight instead.

        Lastly: Would you object over-much if I shamelessly stole the Ablative Meat Rule for other games? I have a habit of looting the best rules I like from games and building them into other games. Two of my favorites to pilfer are the Story Manipulation rules from the Serenity RPG, Stunts from Exalted 2e. I could see Ablative Meat-Shields becoming another favorite, at least for campaigns where it’s appropriate.

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