Planet Mercenary: Running a game in Alpha

So I received a month ago a demo copy of the Planet Mercenary rules as part of my Kickstarter rewards. I’ve been champing at the bit to play and FINALLY got a chance to last weekend. As the game is in alpha or something, I took a lot of notes as to issues I encountered, most of which I’m sure will be rectified by having an actually copy of the manual at the table. (I had a expurgated printout of the pdf, so not only were my loose pages all mixed up, I didn’t even have all of the rules of an unfinished game manual. That part did not go well and I had to make up a lot of stuff with my RPG Guru-ness as we went. But it was a blast, my players had fun and that’s what counts, right?

The scenario I ran is a modified version of a D&D dungeon I’ve run before. In fact, by now, I’ve run it 3 times, in 3 different RPG systems and it’s fast becoming my go-to adventure for trying new things. Very adaptable. I won’t spill details, as who knows, I could be running it for you some day! But with a quick creation of a alien race, and a handwave of technology to keep my player who knew the world from cheating, the scenario went pretty well.

I did have to do a lot of dancing through the rules. As I mentioned, I did not have a good reference. So there were a lot of small things that would work better when I can refer to them. Flipping through the rules I have, let’s see what I did wrong!

RiPPs. I made a few mistakes with these. I don’t recall if I started the players with any. And I know I had players with more than 5. This was one of the pages I didn’t have with me and hadn’t reviewed, so we didn’t spend them right. Once per roll, you can use a RiPP to reroll all the dice, accepting the new roll. That one sentence resolves most of my questions on the subject, which came up a few times.

Skills. Most of my issue here will be resolved with the book, when we get to have a listing of what all the skills do and when you use ‘tactics’ for example. I’m not sure how that will go down. I can see from the rules that if you’re not trained in a skill, you’re rolling with a +0, no matter how many related skills you have. I’m not sure I like that and may home rule something where you get a bonus to any social skill for each social skill you have, and so on. I’ll have to play it both ways, to be sure, but as it stands, when players create characters, I can see certain skills being super valuable and others not. Inspire, Research, and Negotiate came up a LOT, almost more than the combat skills. I’m also curious how Stealth checks are supposed to work, and if the fire team would need to make them, following the player. I ended up saying no, that they effectively were the player because rolling twice was getting boring, but I’m curious on what the official ruling will be.

Also, I didn’t use the Mayhem deck for all the skill checks in the beginning, as I thought they were more combat oriented. Apparently, this was wrong and I should have applied it. I’ll have to do that. I’m also not sure if the Player or Game Chief is supposed to read the card. There’s flot later in the demo rules that say GC can save Mayhemm for later, but I’m not sure if that’s supposed to be secret until then. I dunno. I was making do with a printed list of cards and a regular deck of 52. Having the real thing will help.

Fire Teams. There was a bit of confusion at first, and, well, throughout about Fire Teams. It makes sense, as they’re unique to PM afaik. We felt it a bit unrealistic that one player’s fire time had to be ordered to fire every round, instead of casually participating in a fire fight. We were also confused by how fire teams attack in combat. If they have a Combat skill, why does it seem like they do automatic damage when concentrating fire? Do enemies attack fire teams? Can you order your FT to attack the enemy in general or does it have to be a specific target? I think if the players had a chance to read the section on FT options, it may have worked smoother, but we ended up having to ad lib a lot of how they worked and changed midway. I’m still not sure what’s right for them.

There’s also the question of other grunts. We dispatched a grunt to do a stakeout on the enemy. No idea how that should work. We also stationed a selection of grunts to guard a door, then they later followed us. I think you can have grunts in the battle with you, but they don’t attack unless part of your team? so the only benefit is RP and Ablative Meat??

A player also had the idea of building a drone to scout the area. Commiting myself to Terra Incognito, I said “Sure!” Then I made it expensive. So they burgled a Radio Shack (or Sci-fi Equivalent.) Then he rolled high on his building check. So I let him send in a pair of AI drones, with a +0 rating to skills, into the building to scout. I think it should have been treated kind of like a fire team with an AI, but I didn’t commit to that. I let him use it as a fairly autonomous drone puppet and it went well enough. But it was very far from what was in the rules, so I have no idea how it will integrate with the book once we get it. I hope there is a section on sending out scouts.

Money (or Resources, I suppose). I had a little issue with this. At the start, it was a little weird to say “He’ll pay 2, maybe 3 Resource on completion.” but it was more natural by the end. I was hampered a bit by not having item tables and the like. I let the players get some stun grenades, which I have no idea how they were supposed to work. I think I ended up doing it 3 different ways. I also had to make up a price for them. Very deep waters I was treading there. No firm footing. They also bribed a pizza guy and I don’t know how that should have worked. Maybe a point of requisition? My players did end up getting paid thrice though, so that was nice of them. (One of my players reads the comic, so knew you can sometimes drain a company’s accounts via an unattended terminal.)

Combat. In addition to the Fire Teams and the stun grenades, combat was not as smooth as I’d like. The party split into two rooms and had combat at the same time, so that was tricky to try and apply the Speak First Rule. I ended up falling into a psuedo-initative. I also think i ran the enemy horribly, as I think they may have had the chance to do two actions. Honestly, enemy actions confused me a lot and I’ll have to bone up on that hardcore when I have the book (Have I mentioned I want the book yet??)

We also had a case of a surprise and an ambush in the party’s favor. I don’t see any rules about Stealth or suprise attacks or anything, other than the FT Qualities.

Finally for combat, I have no idea on the ranges of weapons. I know the game has no hard numbers, but it would have been nice to have a rough idea as to when a pistol is effective. I am really jonesing for a large list of equipment, modifiers, etc. Experience will help too, I’m sure.

Helpful Addons. I’d love a good solid Company Stats sheet, that the GC normally keeps, with Resources, Requisitons, AI, Reputation, number and names of grunts, etc. I had a player keeping track, but with the premade sheets, everyone had the same starting numbers and they weren’t synced, so I don’t know how things worked. If there’s not such a sheet included, I’ll have to make one.

You know, when the book comes out.

2 thoughts on “Planet Mercenary: Running a game in Alpha”

  1. This is great feedback! Thank you very much. We’re definitely going to be taking this back and making sure we address some of this issues if they are not already addressed (a lot are!)

    Thanks for taking the time to write this up.

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