Here’s a quick run-down on how Planet Mercenary plays.
Stats, Skills, and Succeed-or-Fail
Each skill check, attack roll, or success/failure roll in the game is rolled on three six-sided dice, one of which is a different color than the others. The sum of these dice is added to the relevant player character stat, and then compared to the target number. If you’ve got a Pistol skill of 3 and you roll 9 on those three dice, you’ll be hitting a Defense 12 target with pistol rounds. Roll an 8, however, and you miss.
Cards and Complications
If the odd-colored die is the highest of the three dice you roll, something special happens. The GM draws a card from the top of the deck, and uses the text of that card to further inform the result of your roll. A hit may become a PTSD-inducing splatter. Your weapon may become unusable for a turn. There are lots of possibilities here, and that goes for simple skill-checks, too. Your attempt to hack the keypad on an airlock may be so successful that all the airlocks open. Your failure to negotiate a good price on theater tickets may result in weapons being drawn.
There’s an “I” in “Role Play Points”
There are actually TWO “i”s the way we spell it, because we wanted to say “RiPP” a lot. Your GM may choose to reward good role play with a RiPP—a single point that you can spend later to re-roll dice, deflect a card you don’t like, or even have one of the grunts take a bullet for you.
Earning RiPPs means committing. Like good improvisational theater, good role play means never saying “that’s not what happened.” Say “yes.” Own it. This is the path that leads to great comedy, as well as some genuinely emotional moments in the game, and the RiPPs are there to encourage you. If you fail, fail with style. If you die, find something besides “rosebud” to utter.
You can also be awarded a RiPP if the GM decides that a card needs to be deflected, in which case everyone gets a RiPP. No player can have more than five of these stockpiled at any given time, and during a single game session there should be at least three or four opportunities to earn one.
Every skill check is an opportunity to spend a RiPP, but you’re on a budget.
Learning to Love the Ablative Meat
If the bullet with your name on it is going to carve your headstone, you may choose to spend a RiPP to have one of the grunts take that bullet for you. Grunts are a company resource, like food, ammo, and armor (they’re actually a lot like armor) but they get more expensive as you use them in this way.
When you spend a RiPP on ablative meat, the GM will hand you a blank index card. You will name the grunt, assign him or her a race and a role in the company, and then write three things about them. Then, after you’ve spent a moment getting to know this person, the GM collects the card and flips a coin. Heads, and the grunt lives and gains 10 skill points for use when they become a PC (see below). Tails, and the grunt dies. The GM will tear the card in half before your teary eyes.
Here’s the twist: Once you have some named grunts in the company, you can have them play ablative meat again. And again. Each time they survive, they get more skill points. If they die, however, they’re gone forever. And at some point in the future if your character dies, you can immediately jump into the shoes of a bulletproof grunt, and give voice to the person who kept trying to save you, but eventually failed.
For a more detailed write-up go HERE
Don’t Roll For Initiative
We took a cue from Tracy Hickman’s XDM: X-Treme Dungeon Mastery, and did away with initiative rolls altogether. When combat erupts, the first person to say what they’re doing will do that thing, and will do it before anyone else acts. If nobody speaks up, the enemy will have caught you flat-footed even though you saw them coming.
It takes a while for a group to learn this, but once they do, combat becomes amazingly fluid. Players learn how to quickly work together. Some groups learn it more slowly than others, and those groups may discover that they’re playing their second wave of battlefield-promoted grunts by their third play session.
It’s entirely possible to develop, outfit, and train up a character who survives all your game sessions, but this is not something that will accidentally happen. If you’re going to live that long, you’re going to earn it. You’re also really going to enjoy it.