What I Did Wrong at Planet Mercenary.

So I’ve shifted the goal of my 12M12S endeavor and instead, I’m going to be running a weekly not-D&D game at the shop. My first foray is in running a game I’ve been wanting to give a good solid run to for a while, Planet Mercenary. I love a lot of the things this game does, but it seems every week, I’m knocking out a new tool or table for myself that should be in the book (or a lot easier to find in the book!)

Of course, it’s not always the game designer’s fault I’m having trouble. It’s more often mine. And thus I being you a new season of What I Did Wrong at D&D The RPG Showcase. Planet Mercenary.

First, Advertise Better. Been a problem before, way back in the day. But last session was for a solo player, my brother Zaac, an Ex-Marine and fellow Schlock enthusiast. I had a few others on the hook, but no one showed. This is par the course for my showcase game, but I think having it weekly will get more people to show. It’s just something we have to keep in mind as we go forward.

Second, A longer list of jobs. I decided the best way to prepare for PM was to have a short list of jobs and employers. It was too short of a list and didn’t have enough small jobs. To be fair, I was planning on having a bigger group that could do more things, but there is always the potential for a small night, or even a night when the party divides up for that sweet sweet cash. I should also have in my notes thoughts on how do a thing with a lot of people and just a single person. Toss some thought cycles before the game.

Third, Establish Starting Kit. I don’t know exactly how much supply my brother started with. I gave him a number and told him to buy stuff. He may not have decreased the number? I’m not really sure, except I think he ended up with more stuff than he should have. I like the direction his story has, though, of starting from nothing and building up to a ship, doing odd jobs. I think it could definitely go places, most noticeably, I can use the ship’s maiden voyage as the end of the story and move on to another game. (or not, as my players bid me.) But as other players come into the game, I need to decide how much supply they’re bringing to the table. MIght need to design a table with a graded success. Maybe an Economics or contract roll?

Fourth, Single Player is Tough in PM. Single player RPGs require a different mindset no matter the system. An encounter with a hand full of goblins in D&D is a cakewalk for 5 players, but potentially deadly for 1. There is a bit of freedom with the Grunt Team, but without fellow players to riff off of, there wasn’t anything that stood out for me to award RiPP. The game becomes a back and forth between player and GC. (The session is also a lot more work with less payoff. I can’t change scenes or anything to give me a second to answer. My quality goes down and neither I nor my player are off camera.

Fifth. Painting the Scene. Probably my number one weakness in RPGs right now is not doing a great job of describing the world and setting. I don’t think I laid anything down about it and I should endeavor to write a bit up before the game tonight.

Sixth. Non-Fire Team Grunts. I think these guys are the root cause for my troubles. It let my brother do things his way instead of my way. (okay, blah blah blah railroad whatever. But his way of doing the mission was to have 20 NPCs stand watch, instead of having to do it with 4.) I would have been more eager to forbid their use if there were more players. I think I am going to have to just shut it down. It’s an abstraction that I have to come to terms with.

Seventh. Convoy is a bad word. Okay, as I mentioned at the start, my brother was a marine. Went overseas, where he was taught extremely specific ways to do things. Primarily, convoys. This mission should have been described as more of “Escorting a shipment” or even “Delivery Security.” But I accidentally used the word “Convoy” and he stopped asking me questions. Instead, he drew up a list of minimum requirements, sketched their formation and lines of observation and a lot of things and he wouldn’t do anything except this plan that the military has perfected on and off fields of actual battle. And, for that, he needed

Eighth, Two Guntrucks. He was looking for cheap tanks. I sold him Armored Cars. I should have said no, that he couldn’t afford it. I should have said he couldn’t staff it. I should have said a lot of things, but now he owens two “guntrucks.” Whatever those are. (Spoiler, their stats look really really close to an armored car…)

Ninth, Too bright for Foreshadows. With his guntrucks filled with non-existent personnel, we prepared the conoy. In which he had one conversation with the NPCs who’s job he went from supporting to basically replacing. If I had more people there for me to switch around viewpoints, I could have dropped subtle clues. Like, at all. Instead, the betrayal was sudden. And futile.

Tenth, The Shove. I play a lot of D&D. So when I encounter something like pushing people out of a vehicle, I know exactly how to do it. (Strength Saving throw for the pushee, or opposed athletic checks.) in PM, I wasn’t sure how to do it. I had to look it up now. And its this single paragraph in one of the 3 places you can learn about skill use. And its not amazing helpful. What numbers do foes use for skill check, anyway? So how can I set a good TN? Rough times. But I know how opposed checks work now, so I can make it work. Also, if I had time to think, I would have stacked the deck a little. Would have taken foreshadowing. Basically, if I ever write up this job for a PM adventure source, I have some notes to make this part of it much better.

Eleventh, Aiding Another. Or rather, aided by the fireteam. I have an article I need to do a bunch of work on, about the most important questions to ask of a system before trying to play it. But the question here is: “Can I assist?” or “Can my Fire Team Assist?” and what does that look like in terms of numerical advantage. My brother was letting the Fire Team’s static numbers be kind of a base number for what he would try to do. Basically, for non-combat skills, if he wasn’t specifically trained in it, he used his fire team’s bonus instead. Now, I like the idea of that rule, because it kind of patches an issue with PM coming from D&D 5e, where I’m super eager to ask players for a generic cover-all stat like Dexterity or Charisma and we can work off of that without actually having to figure out what skill we are actually using. But, ATM, this isn’t a rule in the game. I’m not really sure as to how to assist. The fire team, afaik, is supposed to be a meat shield, not a second character. Although, in the comic, they do cover their commander’s errors…
I think I’ll let it slide, after I iterate that it doesn’t stack in training. And if I ever have 2 players (someone just cancelled on me for the game tonight D: ) I’ll probably have the assisting role first with a easy or medium TN, and if they succeed, the actual skilled player gets an extra special use of speciality. A circumstance speciality, of a kind.

Twelfth, Speak First initiative. This has proved annoying for me. I find I’m hesitant to write down my forces and make sure they all get an attack. I’ll try it again once more, but if it keeps being a hassle for me, I’ll pass on it until I’m better at this game. I never thought about the cognitive load it puts on the DM in a large battle. A player has to keep track of his one and a half characters. The DM has to track EVERYTHING. At least, as far as I can tell. There might be tricks to keep it more sane. Maybe if I had markers for each player and hid them after people acted? Kind of like D&D tents on the DM screen style. I’d need a DM screen. Dang it.

Thirteenth, Letting players dictate my tactics. This is a small thing. I wasn’t super prepared for the guntrucks. I still need to nail down the appropriate preparation. But I determined the swoop riders had single hand weapons and on that, my brother declared that they couldn’t harm the trucks. And, instead of demonstrating just how WRONG that is in this game, I let it slide. I’m not super ashamed of this, as my brother prefers to avoid combat in RPGs when he can and I wasn’t trying to satiate the bloodlust of other players. In the future, tho, there will be a reckoning. I’ve thought up a bunch of ways I can fix that in the future. Whatever, it was a simple first mission. (Plasma grenades and one handed weapons with AV capabilities are totally a thing tho. And would make great loot)

Fourteenth, Reputation. I’m not sold on the book’s use of reputation yet. Part of it is that we’re coming from an odd angle of building a merc company from scratch, as opposed to saying “We’ve totally been mercs for a bit. All the building was backstory” I think one number for reputation is too abstract. Merc companies should be judged on how well known they are, and they should also have a good/evil slider. Did I just ask for Alignment? Frick, I did. But it needs something like that. My brother’s company should be getting negatives on things as he’s a new company with no resources, but AFAICT, the book wants me to start him with +0 as unknown. I don’t know. It probably won’t matter over much.

Right. I have a game to prepare for. If you’re in Colorado Springs and have time on Tuesday nights, hit me up.

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