Character Creation: Sophonts, Backgrounds, Commands, and More.

We’ve gotten a lot of character creation questions. I shall now endeavor to answer them.

Let’s start with some design principles. As an RPG player, and as a designer, I’m a huge fan of modular game design. There are a few reasons for this.

  • Easy to make.
  • Easy to homebrew (which is always fun).
  • Easy to expand.
  • Easy for the reader to understand.

Our character creation section is built in support of these principles. There are four steps to character creation:

  1. Select a Sophont Template
  2. Select Skills
  3. Select Background Package
  4. Select your Command Package

There are currently no restrictions or prerequisites for selection of the options that follow.

*NOTE: All of this is subject to change. Play testing is ongoing, and Howard keeps writing fluff that is just too cool to not represent in the the rule-set somewhere. We have a love-hate relationship.


Sophonts are the different classifications of species that you can play as a member of the mercenary charter will you will create.

Here are the current options.

  • Kss’thrata
  • Ob’enn
  • Human
  • Purp
  • Uniocs
  • Rillas
  • Kreely
  • Frellenti
  • Neophants
  • Vhorweds
  • Fobott’r
  • Carbosilicate Amorph
  • F’Sherl-Ganni
  • Ursumari

That’s a lot of options, and a lot of balancing. It wasn’t too bad.  Each sophont option has a slight variance to the starting health stat (which can be random, like 1d3+5, or fixed, like, say, 7) a set of static skill bonuses and penalties, and that’s it. There is fluff about each race, but the table of stats and rules is only about 50 words long for each sophont.


One of the first things players notice during Planet Mercenary character creation is that there aren’t any “attributes”. There’s no “Strength” or “Agility”. As we were play testing and designing we realized that steroids, armor, cybernetics, and more rendered most innate physical qualities statistically irrelevant. It didn’t matter how strong a human was when they could be given metal arms that made them as strong as anything. What mattered was the skill you had in knowing how to apply your massive strength.

Even more important, however, was the fact that Strength, Agility, and the other core attributes from our early drafts never got directly used beyond character generation. We realized that we were spending huge amounts of time finessing small numbers that would only be used once during the life of a character.

With that in mind, PM:RPG has no core character attributes. Everything is abstracted up into skills or abilities, and the sophont templates take care of that from the get-go.

Here are some of the skills we’ve included.

  • Physical
    • [] Athletics (Jump, Climb, Pursuit)
    • [] Dodge
    • [] Endurance (Hold Breath, Survive Poison, Hard Vacuum)
    • [] Larceny (Pick Pockets, Pick Locks)
    • [] Stealth (Hide, Tail)
  • Mental
    • [] Astrophysics (Worm Gates, Teraports, Antimatter)
    • [] Chemistry (Explosives, Biochemistry)
    • [] Computers (Hacking, AI, Security, Programming, Repair)
    • [] Drive (Hover, Wheeled, Tracked)
    • [] Economics (Local, Planetary, Sector)
    • [] Engineering (Starships, Vehicles, Architecture, Space Stations)
    • [] Experimentation (Any mental skill you have points in)
    • [] Geophysics (Planetary, Small Scale, Space Stations)
    • [] History (Species, Galactic, Political, Military)
    • [] Mechanic (Repair, Build, Jury-rig)
    • [] Medic (Surgery, First Aid)
    • [] Pilot (Navigate, Evasive Action, Slip Pursuit)
    • [] Research
    • [] Tactics (Small Scale, Naval, Large Scale)
    • [] Xenobiology (Pick a race)
  • Social
    • [] Carouse (Loosen Tongues, Fish for Information)
    • [] Deceive (Lie, Distract, Disguise, Act)
    • [] Gamble (Bluff, Read Opponent)
    • [] Investigation (Forensics, Tracking, Detect Lies)
    • [] Negotiate (Hostages, Financial, Black Market)
    • [] Perception (Taste, Sight, Touch, Smell, Hearing, Traps, Ambush)
    • [] Reputation (Particular species, organization, Intimidation)
  • Combat
    • [] Pistols (PEA, Firearm, Beam, Plasma, Nonlethal)
    • [] Explosives (IEDs, Disarming, Detecting)
    • [] Scattergun (PEA, Firearm, Beam, Plasma, Nonlethal)
    • [] Rifle (PEA, Firearm, Beam, Plasma, Nonlethal)
    • [] Melee Weapons (Wrestling, Unarmed Combat, Blades, Exotic)
    • [] Ship Weapons (Torpedoes, Cannons)
    • [] Thrown (Grenades, Spears, Axes)
    • [] Heavy Weapons (PEA, Firearm, Beam, Plasma, Ion, Nonlethal)

The words in parentheses are “specialties” that grant you an advantage on rolls made with the skill that involve that specialty. How well your character does things, as represented by the probability of beating the target number with a roll of the dice, is determined by the skills your character has, and the number of points spent in each skill. Those skills points are added to the sum of the dice, and because of the shape of the 3d6 probability curve, a couple of points in a skill can make a huge difference. When you need to beat a 12, it’s really useful to have 4 points in the relevant skill, because rolling a 9 is far easier than rolling a 13.


Backgrounds represent your character’s life history before they joined the mercenary charter. All backgrounds give bonuses to appropriately related skills.

The current backgrounds are:

  • Military [Grunt]
  • Military [Officer]
  • Espionage
  • Criminal
  • Pilot
  • Scientist
  • Medical Professional

If, for instance, you chose “Criminal,” your back-story now includes the fact that you’ve been running from the law, and breaking the law, for some time. You also get this line:

+2 Larceny, +2 Explosives or Melee, +2 Dodge.

Dodging and pocket-picking are locked in, but you have to choose between explosives or melee skills. Your first thought may be “what do I want to be able to do in this game?” The moment you decide, however, you’re answering a different question: “what kind of a criminal were you?”

Your character’s story may come to life very quickly, and there are more packages to come!

Command Packages

A command package represents your position in the hierarchy of the ship. Much like a background it comes with a set of static bonuses, and a couple of options. The packages available are:

  • Commander
  • Muntions Officer/Quartermaster
  • Engineer
  • Doctor
  • Captain (Limit 1 per Charter)
  • Legal Counsel
  • Chaplain
  • Cook

Let’s say your Criminal is also the Chaplain.  You get this line:

2 Reputation or Inspire, +2 History (Religious), +2 to any Weapon Skill, +2 to Dodge

This combo (Criminal + Chaplain) has given you a total of 4 points to Dodge. That’s a significant statistical advantage when the time comes to duck. Also, “chaplain who is a former criminal” has huge story potential. Start telling it to yourself while you pick the weapon skill to boost.

There’s one more step, but this one’s optional.

Once you have your background and your command package, you may choose  to roll on the Baggage table. If you choose to make this roll, you get [PERK REDACTED] of your choice, and you have to accept whatever the character penalty your first roll on the baggage table delivers.

So there you have it. A brief and detailed outline of a lot of character creation!

*NOTE: All of this is subject to change through playtesting, time and creative decisions. 

61 thoughts on “Character Creation: Sophonts, Backgrounds, Commands, and More.”

  1. I get why Bradicor like Vog didn’t make the cut. A multimillion year skill set would be impossible to balance. But shouldn’t that be true of Amorphs? Schlock is a special case with his memory loss during his genesis but wouldn’t the average Amorph have millennia of knowledge and experience?

    1. It’s assumed via the rules (and we explain it via sidebars) that Amorphs tend to have just recently left their home planet and are now learning and adventuring throughout the galaxy. Yes, they’re old. But when your only skills are eating other amorphs and wearing multiple eyes, there’s some pretty hefty learning to be done there.

      1. Thanks Alan. Just out of curiosity will there be rules for creating ancient NPCs/villains such as a renagade Gatekeeper or something along that line?

      2. Though in the Eating Amorphs and Wearing Multiple Eyes stakes, I think they win tentacles down.

        Also, Amorphs almost certainly make excellent gunnery crew, since they can deal with multiple visual inputs easily, and are altogether enthusiastic about firing at people.

  2. Wow I did not expect the gatekeepers to make the list.

    And I hope Ursumari are the uplifted bears. Ever since the introduction of captain Landon I knew I hoped we got to see more of him. Can someone confirm/deny this.

      1. In my defense, I get to write the rules. So I can make those sorts of demands.

        Also, Polar Bears are my favorite animal. In my personal playtest group, the CEO of Phubahr is a sadistic Ursumari who leverages his company to fund his own personal mercenary charter. The Phu-Bears (yes I did that).

        The players hate him quite a bit.

        1. I love bears in general so my first character will be an Ursumari. Though my love for dinosaurs will mean I will keep a Kss’thrata grunt around for when he dies.

          Which four races are in the picture for the stretch goal mentioned?

          1. It’s still being narrowed down. In general terms, however:
            * One human-sized alien
            * Something big
            * Something bicameral (like the Uklakk)
            *Another Terran uplift.

            We don’t want to introduce a bunch of new rules, or upset the balance of things. The Uklakk (two bodies, two brains, one consciousness) comes pretty close to doing both.

            It’s a little early to be borrowing that kind of trouble, though.

        2. I thought Landon was a reference to the whiteboard comic myself, seeing as they seem to have something of a (one sided) rivalry with Schlock.

      2. Will the entry on the Ursumari explain *why* they were uplifted? I mean, bears aren’t particularly smart; there’s about a half-dozen animals that are probably more suitable to uplifting than polar bears, that we haven’t seen yet, like ravens, octopi, chimps, dolphins, parrots, pigs, and so on and so forth.

        Did they just take human brains and stick them inside bear bodies or something? Are they basically just regular bears with hereditary blood-nannies that build SV-1 computers inside the heads of their newborns in the womb instead of biological brains?

  3. This is all brilliant, I can’t wait to get this all started.

    I had half expected the Amorphs to not make the list due to their galactic rarity, not to mention I always thought Schlock was a special case being more happy with the “hurting people and breaking things” than others.

    On the other hand it was just too cool an opportunity to pass up. I’m reminded of an old DBZ mmo I had read about (I don’t think it ever got made). They left out Saiyans as playable because the story left only two pure blooded Saiyans alive in the universe. It made sense in story but no one could play like their favorite characters.

  4. You’ve mentioned that players can create their own races, or at least that its being looked at. Could these rules be used to make a robot PC? It could be interesting to play a member of the TARnation, for example. Or what about, just as a random example, an uplifted polar bear? While I don’t need details (though I wouldn’t be upset if someone shared them), I’d just like to know if the rules are in there, and how open-ended they are.

      1. Thanks. I saw that the Ursumari were exactly what I was asking about after I typed my question and refreshed the page. Guess everybody wanted to know. Can’t imagine why…

  5. I’m a bit surprised that Gatekeepers and Psycho-bears made list. I’d have figured they’d be NPC-only.

    Still, would be interesting to see what they look like in the RPG’s art style.

      1. There are always outliers, and among a population of pathologically genocidal racists, they’ll be the ones who can rub shoulders with aliens and not fly into a frothicidal rage. They’ll be marginalized right up until the point that the rest of the population needs them to go mingle.

        1. Rather like Larry Niven’s Puppeteers.

          All xenophobic paranoid, except for a few really crazy ones who are brave enough to act as ambassadors & conduct trade for the rest.

          1. They’d probably fit right into the mercenary crowd.
            “Not only do I get paid in credits and ammo, but I also get to kill filthy xenos?! This is like Karumti Malor come early!”

  6. So now I have to decide whether I want to be a murderous koala bear or a murderous grizzly bear…

    I love you guys for giving me this dilemma.

  7. You are missing AI? AI as characters is a big part of the SM universe, but I’m not seeing them on the list.

      1. Cool, Just wanted to check. Looking over how well thought out all of what I’ve seen so far is, I’m sure that however you do them, it’s going to be awesome.

  8. I agree that the missing “AI” sophont is surprising. On the other hand, it may be a bit hard to allow when AIs are known to switch bodies when they find one better than their current one. For example, just out of nowhere… a warship…

    I’m also surprised by the absence of the “Circus” background. Not only is it an important part of SM, but it could give you skills like Acrobatics or Mechanics, Deceive or Negotiation… that would not be useless.

      1. Any chance of a Diplomat or Bureaucrat background then, out of curiosity, that gives bonuses to things like Economics, Negotiate, and Reputation?

  9. I’ve been rereading the comic a bit and, between that and your brief outline of chargen, it got me wondering: How is money represented in the game? I mean, money is pretty important to the company in the strip, players are going to want to buy all the cool guns and stuff, and Planet Mercenary is going to want to encourage people to buy cool guns in “real life” from them.

    But I didn’t see anything like “You get 5d6 credits to start with” or whatever mentioned during chargen above. It might be worth a blog post to discuss how you’re handling money in the game, given how many different ways various RPGs have found to handle it.

    1. We’ve abstracted money in much the same way we abstracted physical attributes. Your company has a rating that determines what you can afford, and what you cannot. With successful missions (or successful piracy) this rating is increased, and you can afford more and better stuff.

      The “buy equipment” step doesn’t happen until the party has gotten together and created the company charter. That phase is where they’ll get a ship, an A.I. for the ship, and will begin arming themselves and their grunts.

      It’s pretty ingenious. Alan found a way to sidestep my failure to firmly enumerate currency values in the strip while at the same time providing a consistent scale.

      1. I would imagine that galactic currency is an unending charlie foxtrot being led a runaway orchestra that’s stuck in the groove of the cannon bits of the 1812 Overture. You’d have who-knows-how-many individual currencies flying around, moving up or down seemingly at the whim of the solar wind.

        On the other hand, players (like mercenaries,) do enjoy that feeling of getting paid. How will personal wealth, as opposed to the company’s wealth, be handled? After all, mercenaries do, sometimes, become wealthy enough to actually hire mercenary companies. Or is that just a fudge factor?

  10. Also, looking down the list of sophonts has made me wonder what the in universe version of Furries are. I mean, this is a universe where, if you can afford it, you can get nanny treatments to do all kinds of things, so I find it difficult to credit that, for instance, attaching something that looks like cat ears to a human head is technically impossible.

    Now, that said, I could see it being viewed as anywhere along a range of tacky, racially insensitive, stupid, that fad those kids today really like, that fad those kids 20 years ago used to like which is being prepped for the nostalgia fest in a decade or so, weird, etc.

    Or maybe it’s more like there are some Humans who want to “Downlift” themselves and become, say, Usumari or something.

    (That last one should clearly be doable with the RED nannies and associated hardware, but the RED nannies are plot point rare. As in “if you can get access to these, it’s part of the plot and you should start running before guns are pointed in your direction.”)

    1. If I find myself 500 words short of filling a page on Earth culture and race/sophont relations, I’ll be sure to fill those 500 words explaining why furry-esque body modification isn’t done, though I only need four words:

      “It’s just like blackface.”

      If you want to play as a furry, there are actual animal uplift sophonts available. If you want to play as a human surgenetically modded to be a furry, check with your Game Chief.

      1. Its just as well, then, that I talked myself out of recreating Star Fox Team.

        Too insensitive

      2. If I may, there can be a motivation to be a “surgenetical furry”: not being satisfied with your own species.

        Being born a human and wanting to use the opportunity to have fangs and claws could be perfectly understandable. Uplifeteds are from another species. From an individual point of view, it makes no sense to let them replace you (from a Darwinian point of view neither, but since Sol has already uplifted several species, this is a moot point – and it may be understandable at a time where nannies weren’t so cheap and efficient as “now”).

        There is also the matter of adapting one’s body to special planetary conditions. Becoming a “sasquatch” could be construed as logical to colonise a planet with a rather cold environment.

        There are also spec ops which could use such an opportunity to modify their highly-trained and well-equipped professionals into highly-trained and biologically-equipped professionals : it saves on equipment, especially when you think about things like camo-fur, or even chameleon skin (it would be more effective to use nannies to change one’s skin than to provide him with a chameleon suit – which can be torn or lost – and its energy source – which could be traced, contrary to the nannyfied skin).

        On the other hand, with the uplifted and alien species, I understand that social etiquette would require that all such body modification would not make you look like another species (bat or wolf face would be allowed, but not bear face, for example). But apart from that? For me, there are many uses.

        From a game point of view, there are also some uses for :

        * character developments (former spec ops running from his outfit with his last body mods, with this sword of Damocles hanging over his head by a tiny, tiny thread since his appearance makes him easier to track down [you could make a whole groupe of such characters to force them to play a fugitive game]; illustration of the deep psychological issues of a character that wanted to become a living nightmare [probably more of a sociopath or psychopath that the average human/other species]…)

        * and story plots (a totalitarian government that systematically transforms its soldiers this way, the PCs having been hired by the rebel faction, thus allowing you to create far more dangerous opponents from an alien species that may look rather harmless [imagine on the planet Mwo-gai the effect of fighting against the elite force of Grame-Leen soldiers], or an exploration mission [with the PCs escorting the explorers] that comes into contact with an unknown species… that will later be revealed as humans/Uniocs/Ob’enn/whatever modified at the time of the settlement then having forgotten their origins)

        Of course, they are just a matter of designing an “alien species” and declaring it as a nannyfied version of another sophont species.

        1. You’re talking an awful lot of transhumanism there, friend.

          Would it be called transoriginism in a setting with a lot of different sophonts? Probably.

          All of that would certainly be plausible with Schlock Mercenary’s level of technology. You might also be interested in Eclipse Phase, if you haven’t heard of it already, since it’s very much a sci-fi RPG with transhumanism (and conspiracy and horror) as its keystone.

          1. Yes, it’s a lot of transorignism (transpecism?), but I find it quite appropriate in this universe. Whole cultures could be shaped by the use of this technology, especially military cultures. I don’t see a human military organisation snob the possibility of enhancing their soldiers (alright, their special ops soldiers) with natural weapons and such, and aliens could have even less moral/religious/historical reasons to use this technology this way. The Ob’enn, being xenophobic to the extreme, may not tolerate the practice, but many others may. And it’s even more possible with subcultures (imagine technopunks, for example).

            As for Eclipse Phase, it seems interesting, But I’m buying PM for the details on the specific universe, not the RPG part, since I can’t play anymore (lack of opportunity, a little lack of time also)…

    2. With the technologies most recently introduced in the comic strip, there is literally nothing stopping you from going full Eclipse Phase if you want to, and have the mad scientist on payroll to back it up.

      Want cat-ears and bear-claws on your human? There’s no reason it should be technically impossible, just possibly racially insensitive, as Howard mentioned..

      I would imagine that there’s also nothing except custom, convention, resource availability, and the lack of appropriate mad science stopping you from deciding to abandon meat altogether and become a killbot wrapped around a quarter-meter annie plant.

    3. I’m reminded of something in Sanguine Games’ new cyberpunk/post-cyberpunk RPG “Bleeding Edge”. In that game it’s possible to play as an “Otherkin” who thinks they shouldn’t be human or a genetically engineered “Genie”, which include “Therians” and “Moreaus” respectively. Genies tend not to like Otherkin very much for the obvious reasons, especially when they get mistaken for them.

  11. This whole thing got me thinking about the various interesting species I’ve seen over the years of SM. And I came up with a few questions.

    Back in the day, when the multi-species thing was new to the Toughs, there was a grunt (at least I assume so since they said virtually nothing) that was basically a spherical head/body with limbs jutting out in all directions. I was wondering if there were more information on that particular species, even just a name, or if it was just an idea you later scrapped and hoped no one would bring it up again (sorry).

    I’d also like to ask about the neat avianoids that were working for Pranger. They showed up at the aforementioned funeral for Tagon. Its definitely got my interest.

    And lastly I wanted to know if you’d given any thought to Cyborgs like Doyt before he had his little surgery. His bounty hunter “friends” were also hinted at having a similar setup, so I’d assume its not unheard of.

    1. Do you mean the blue one from this strip?

      April 11, 2002?

      That is an “.. unimaginatively named tetrisoid,” unless I’m very off the mark.

      That sophony does seem to show up again During the clonegate caper, so apparently he(?) was hired, but I don’t think they were ever fleshed out, given a name, or anything. Possibly they retired after the big score where Tagon paid a huge bonus.

  12. Re-reading the comic, I’ve just thought of something.


    Would making a Gav be the same as just making any other human? There are an awful lot of them out there, and especially with Diversity Engineering Institute’s new tech, you could have a well-rounded group consisting entirely of Gav.

    1. Alan and I had that talk. Playing as a Gav offers nothing stat-wise that isn’t already available to humans. It provides fun back-story stuff, and there’s plenty of room for good role play around it, just no numbers.

      1. That’s entirely reasonable, and what I would have ruled myself.

        I was thinking more along the lines that the real Darren “Gav” Bleuel might have some, well, concerns about the possibility coming up about other people playing characters based off of him, that might lead to you putting in a sidebar asking people not to play Gavs.

        Or, if not, that you might put in a sidebar mentioning specifically how playing Gav is a good way to play as someone familiar with the modern day, but offers no particular mechanical benefits or penalties.

  13. Under each of the hand-held projectile weapons, there is a listing for PEA as one of the specialties.

    What does that acronym stand for?

    1. Pulsilinear Electromagnetic Acceleration. And yes, that means that these “railgun” type weapons get called “PEA” shooters, and their projectiles get referred to as “peas.”

  14. One of the things you mention is that you want things to be easy to homebrew (which is great because homebrew is one of my favorite things to do).

    Is there a plan to release the rules/guidelines for creating homebrew (e.g. the rules/guidelines that Alan is using to create said stuff) or is it going to be like virtually every other game out there where you’ve just got to extrapolate from the published content? It might be comparatively simple to extrapolate the racial/background/etc. stuff since they’re definitely light on numbers and heavy on fluff, but I can imagine weapons/AI/etc. would get significantly more complicated and would benefit from being able to get direction from the guy who’s making the rules in the first place.

    1. Homebrew instructions will come later, after we’ve run the current character creation (and charter creation, and combat, and everything else) through the grist mill one more time. But yes, we’ll offer some tips, including helpful ranges of numbers.

  15. In the earlier comics there were lots of times that badly injured people ended up as heads in jars will this be an option for pc (and ablative meat) in game?

    1. I would expect that ending up as a head in a jar is what happens if you suffer a laz-1 life cessation event, your head is properly preserved, and is taken to a medbay which is equipped to jar your head, but not equipped to regrow your body.

      In-comic, years have passed. Enough years for Para Ventura go from being a teenaged girl with an unquenchable crush for members of a boy band to a somewhat hardened, jaded mercenary roboticist.

      Medical technology appears to have advanced significantly in that time in-comic, even before the massive leap forward that it just took. So if you wind up as a head in jar, I would expect that it’s because the only medical facilities around are (a) antiquated, or (b) not really equipped to handle massive physical trauma; for example, I would expect that, say, a dentist’s office, general practitioner’s office, a podiatrist, etc, would have a head-jar or two in a backroom for those rare times where someone stumbles in on death’s door looking for medical aid.

      Other possible reasons I can think of for this are (c) severe underfunding, or possibly (d) the medical facility in question is under the jurisdiction of a polity which is very conservative WRT medical issues, and isn’t allowed to have the full-sized healing tanks.

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