I got my copy of Tiny Planet Mercenary in the mail today, and took some time to look through it.
The TinyD6 RPG system is a minimalist RPG system that has been set into many different settings. My first exposure was Tiny Dungeon. Tiny Planet Mercenary (hereafter TPM) is based on the Tiny Frontiers, the TinyD6 system tweaked for a space-based game. TPM is the 5th book of the system that I’ve added to my collection. (And looking at their website, I see some other titles that I might have to snag).
If you didn’t go the link and read it from the source, the system is simple. At its most basic, roll 2d6, if either is a 5 or 6, you succeed. There are things you can do to increase your chances, and there are times when your odds of success get worse. Character creation is simple, and the game is easy to teach.
Way back when, I was excited for the bigger, original Planet Mercenary (Hereafter BPM). I love Schlock, I love RPGs, what’s not to love? And reading through BPM, I though it would be great. But after a few sessions, it just wasn’t working for me. It’s been too long since I shelved the game, so I can’t say exactly what all the things were, but the crunch wasn’t working right for me. I wanted something leaner, something a lot easier to teach to those players who never do the homework, no matter how many PDFs I send. There were a handful of rules that were proving a pain at the table, and when the story drew to a close, we went back to the familiar comfy sofa of D&D.
With TPM, though, I see a lot of the crunch has been softened, and its less likely to hurt my gums. This metaphor got weird. Let’s move on.
Tiny Planet Mercenary
This book is the intersection between BPM and Tiny Frontiers. There are a lot of sections that are copied from either, and the intersections are rewritten to make things work, with mechanics leaning towards the TinyD6 system when push comes to shove. There is a lot that I like with these simplifications.
In no particular order:
- Fire Teams are simpler. They are such an integral part of the game, it pained me when I tried to explain how to assemble a team to new players. Now, they have 1 trait, and a check box for if they have a probie or not. There’s no longer a leadership skill to determine if your troops listen to you or how long they obey. They just do their thing and playing up disobedience falls to the GC, if they feel that would enhance the story. Not that it says that in this book. We just get simpler rules that reduce the headache of Fire teams.
- Combat is Simpler. With a different base mechanic, combat has been tweaked. Its easier to see when you hit, and the Cinematic Ammo rules mean no worrying about counting ammo during the fight. Also, they get rid of Speak First, Act First, which I had trouble getting my players used to. I’m sure it worked for some tables, but it felt weird as the GC knowing when to attack players. I would hate to try and run Speak First over a Voice chat. Different rules for weapons and damage simplify all that process as well.
- Skills are replaced with Traits. I’ve always been leery of Point Buy Skill Systems like BPM had. When I was playing, my players would boost the three skills that showed up the most as high as they could, then hope for success anywhere else. Now, with the TinyD6 System, its a lot simpler. You wanna play a medic? Pick up the Medical Savant trait. Want to be the Ship’s Engineer? There’s a trait for that. Traits increase your roll from 2d6 to 3d6, which is a big jump in odds. (From 55.56% to 70.37%, if looking for a 5 or 6) This is a lot easier than dealing with skill points and the related math.
- The Ship board combat rules have changed. The spaceship section is probably going to be the biggest difference, as it was taken from Tiny Frontiers. No mention of AI, no mention of annie plants or Teraporting. Which I’m honestly fine with. At the table, I’m not trying to be a purist, running perfect Schlockverse games. I’m trying to get my players to act like space mercenaries with slightly comedic results. Adding in some of the missing pieces should be easy enough. I’ll need to run a few space battles to grok the system, but it looks good. It doesn’t feel like a fight from Schlock, but I think it’ll feel like a fight in Star Trek.
- Character creation is simpler. You’d think, reading the page of details of each sophont, that you were about to get into a lot of crunchy mechanics about how much they weigh, how far they can move, and things like that. But no, at the end, there is one number for starting HP, and a special racial trait. We mentioned skills being gone already, which means you select your starting traits, buy some guns, and you’re good to go.
- Different Mayhem deck. I looked at my new PDF of the Mayhem Deck, and they look easier to use and explain for new players. Which is nice. There is also less rolling of 3d6, meaning its more obvious when Mayhem is likely.
- Monsters are simpler. TinyD6 make me salivate when I run anything else. They are one number, and then maybe a trait. SOOO simple, in comparison to the complicated statblocks of other games. I mean, you can run a big, complicated creature, but if your mercs unexpectedly bust into an office building to recover that file in a not-subtle ways, I can easily say “all of those are Fodder, the security guards are Medium threat, but the Security Guard boss, when he arrives, is a High Threat, with a nasty gun.” And it took longer for me to type all of that then it would have been to think of it, then start implementing it.
Those are the biggest changes I can see to the game. There’s plenty of things that stay the same. RiPPs are identical, There’s sections for being a good player, and a full 100 pages of Schlockverse lore right at your fingertips.
Man, I suck at reviews, because I don’t want to say negative things about a game I want to like, but there is as Massey once put it, “shrapnel.” Some places where it feels like sections were copied/pasted over, and a paragraph of rules text got accidentally cut. (Or left in. Uniocs have a Queltro trait) And the section on gear only lists the Planet Mercenary guns. This sort of thing happens in games, though. And in a way, this works out okay. We can turn to Tiny Frontiers and BPM for some of the missing pieces.
It’s possible that things have been fixed in master copies already, and that future versions will be fine. I think TPM is 98% able to stand on its own. But having the other books will enrich your experience. There are margins with plenty of space in my copy, and the paper is great for jotting down notes. A bit of practice being a GC, and filling your margins with notes when you need should do fine. And the whole table could enjoy a secondary sheet with some common items that you might want to buy taken from both the parent games.
As an aside, it looks like one point of ‘Resource cost’ in TPM is the same as a Galcred in Tiny Frontiers, and a Supply in BPM. And as a reminder, 5 Supply is equal to 1 Resource, if you want to buy something big, like a spaceship.
I’m excited by getting this. I’m probably going to use it for some of my slots for Free RPG Day. It takes the bits of BPM that I was having problems with, and replaces them with a system I wish I had more excuses to run. I wish I had more nights free, so I could spin up a game and give everything a good shakedown.