Recently, we recieved the following question about the Planet Mercenary RPG. With the permission of the questioner, I’m going to be answering this in a public forum. It’s a big post, so feel free to take your time.
Hi. I love the idea of a Schlock Mercenary-verse RPG, and am scrounging up cash to kickstart it.
However, I do have some concerns. The gameplay rules summary indicated that you’d be borrowing from the XDM book and making first action in combat reliant on who pipes up first.
I do wonder if and hope that you will be implementing some alternative initiative rules than this. In my experience, many of the kind of people who play RPGs are highly introverted, and have an almost impossible time piping up decisively and swiftly, especially if it means talking over another player. This gameplay mechanic would permanently lock the “fast and alert” character archetypes away from those players, because it would tie in-character performance to an out-of-character trait. An analogy to this would be requiring a player to make an impassioned, moving speech when they wish to have their characters convince someone of something, or demonstrate their skill at marksmanship when they want to roll to have their characters take a difficult shot.
Furthermore, I exclusively GM via online, text-based mediums. Even discounting internet lag and the lag for when Roll20 updates everyone, this rule would be highly unsuitable for a text based medium, because speaking is much quicker and fluid than writing, even for those who are very swift at writing. It would lock the first action of combat into being some form of “I dive for cover,” or a copy-pasted boilerplate action like instinctively hitting the deck and laying down suppressing fire.
So, while I sort of understand the idea behind the decision, I hope there is an alternative, possibly more traditional, initiative system enshrined in the rulebook for groups which find it unsuitable to them.I, for one, prefer that player attributes – an eloquent person giving an example of an eloquent character’s speech, for instance, or a descriptive player writing a short paragraph’s description of exactly how their character eats dirt, scrambles behind a burning, fallen section of bulkhead, and opens fire, as opposed to just saying “I take cover and open fire,” – provided bonuses to the character’s roll, rather than the character’s actions being penalized by them not having those skills.
I am rather concerned with the figure of only “28 pages of rules” in the core book, but I’ll see how it goes. I tend to prefer rules-heavier games, like Eclipse Phase, or the Saga Edition of the Star Wars RPG, or Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, or Shadowrun 4/20th Anneversary, but, well… It’s a Schlock Mercenary-based RPG, something I’ve been hankering for literally for the last decade. So I’m hoping it will go very well. The ablative meat rules particularly interested me, although they also implied that character lethality could be very high by extension as well.
Wow. There is a lot there, and all of it is very good questions that any experienced RPGer would have. Let’s break it down and I’ll answer ’em.
Part of the goal of the PM:RPG is to tell a fun story, but in a new way. Because, let’s be honest, that’s the goal of any RPG. However, a lot of RPGs become a game of “who can learn the depth of the rules best”, and that can stop being fun.
So while we were designing and building PM:RPG, a big focus in the game was to avoid burn out or one player gaining an advantage for being a more hardcore gamer.
Really, the ruleset itself doesn’t have a lot of unnecessary complexity, so we found our solution in the Initiative rolls. Namely, there aren’t any.
A regular RPG goes like this.
Jane: That scumbag betrayed us. I shoot him in the head.
Derek: NO! Don’t do that.
Jane: Why not?
Jane: Oh, uh ok. Nevermind. I don’t shoot.
I mean, c’mon. How fun is that? For Jane? Or the Game Chief? Probably not very. The PM: RPG doesn’t allow take backs, changes or backsies. You say it? It’s going down. This is how the PM:RPG goes.
Jane: That scumbag betrayed us. I shoot him in the head.
Derek: No! Don’t do that.
Game Chief: Jane, roll atack. Derek, your first action is screaming no. If you RP it well, I’ll give you a RiPP.
Jane: *rolls* Uh, LOTS of damage.
Game Chief: Great! His head explodes in a fine mist of weird green goo! Android goo! (I just watched Alien).
Wow. Doesn’t that sound more fun? This form of play leads to one VERY important thing. Players learn to play the game, not the rules. They learn to work as a group, they learn to anticipate each other and respond. A few sessions later, here’s what you see.
Game Chief: The employer has clearly double crossed you.
Derek: I pull out my gun and leap to the side, because I know Jane is going to open fire and I better cover her.
Jane: *satisfied they’ll get paid twice, begins unloading her Shurikannon into all meatbaggy targets*.
It’s a pretty great feeling to watch players grow as players and a group as opposed to growing in knowing the rules.
However, as our questioner above has pointed out, at times, what we wrote won’t fit. We made some very deliberate design choices that will not work for every group or situation. So throughout the PM:RPG, you’ll find sidebars that explain alternate rules, solutions to the problem, or methods that might work better for your plans. We have 3 different initiative rules (aside from the main ones) and I can promise a few will show in the book for Game Chiefs to use if they’d rather.
A big goal of the game is growing as a group, as a team. We made rule choices to encourage that.
2) Rule Length
Our questioner is right. 28 pages of rules isn’t a lot. Let me clarify that a bit: Yes, there are 28 pages of rules. But throughout the book, there will be littered adventure hooks, places for alternate rules.
And frankly, 28, is probably a little low. As long as Howard keeps writing fluff that needs rules, the rules will keep expanding.
However, I can attest that ALL the rules regarding rolling you need to do? Those fit on two pages. The game should be fast, fun, and humorous. Not a complicated mess that requires constant rule checking.
3) Too lethal?
I posted about the Ablative Meat Shield rules previously, and some people brought up the lethal nature of the game.
The PM:RPG is certainly more lethal than many other RPGs. Your character will probably die if he’s shot more than twice in a combat (on a bad roll maybe even once).
There’s armor that protects you, and you’ve got RiPPs and Grunts for when the armor doesn’t work. Both are great, but the real focus of the game is your characters, as extensions of the main character, the Mercenary Charter. Characters (especially grunts) will die. They can retire, seriously maimed for life. You may need to make new characters throughout the campaign. You can promote your grunts if they’ve survived (for a bonus even! See the link above). The story that PM:RPG wants to tell is the story of an entire group of mercenaries. The ones who start, who retire, who die, who leave, who come back, who get promoted, and who get hired.
It might challenge some expectations, but we’re betting you’ll come to love it. We did.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. Post them here, on the Kickstarter, through the Contact Us Button, and you’ll get an answer.