Principles of Planet Mercenary's Design

The Planet Mercenary Kickstarter just crossed the $150,000 mark, unlocking the The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries in hardback. There's a pledge level that ships that book, and only that book, if that's what you want. 
If you've been waiting for a Seventy Maxims text, it's part of the Kickstarter now.
For those of you interested in the role playing game, however, I want to talk about some of our design principles, how we arrived at them, and what they mean for players and game chiefs. 
1) Story Comes First
This might not be immediately obvious, but this design principle grows straight out of the First Law of the Schlockiverse: "There Will Be A Punchline." We won't let complex calculations drown the story. Players should be able to very quickly see that the thing they want to do has an associated bonus or penalty, and that their success or failure will be determined just as quickly with a single throw of the dice.
2) Abstract Everything Up
Every game is a physics simulation of a sort. We can't do away with physics altogether, and we don't want to. Our goal however, is to treat the physics as abstractly as possible without violating the laws of nature.
A good example of this is your party's grunts. You may have a hundred NPCs in your employ, and in combat this company of sophonts will all be fighting with you. But we won't be rolling for them individually, because that way lies madness.
Your character's combat rolls will be handled individually, of course, but the fire team alongside you will be handled en masse, with a single roll determining how they fare during this turn. That group of six grunts will be treated, in a sense, as if they're a single character, with bonuses and penalties that stem from how you've been treating them, and how effectively you're issuing orders.
"Abstract everything up" means that you can shout "suppressing fire!" during your heroic leap. A throw of the dice will then determine whether or not your crew is covering you while you dive for the airlock controls armed only with a logic probe and a bowl of chili.
3) Failure is Fun
This principle has been the hardest to get across. Many role-players want to game the system so that they can't die, and can't even really get hurt. Many games are designed around "balanced" encounters which ensure that the party only loses a fight when that loss has been scripted.
That is not this game. You will fail. You will die. You will lose teammates and gear and reputation, and the whole time it's happening you will be enjoying it because it's going to put you in the middle of the best story you've ever told. And it's going to make the end of that story the sweetest, most awesome thing you've ever heard.
Hyperbole? Perhaps. But we built this game with that end in mind.
If your character dies, you immediately head-hop into a member of your fire team, who has just received a battlefield promotion. Will she swear vengeance upon your killers? Perhaps not. She might say "it took that jackwagon way too long to catch a bullet. I'm done taking orders. I'm giving them now." Your first character's failure to survive the cascade of hot, jacketed metal becomes your second character's opportunity to become the Heroine of the Resistance.
4) Role Play is Learning
Many role playing games have a learning curve that is built around figuring out the "builds." Once you know how to build a tank, or a healer, or a suicide ranger, the probability curves bend in your favor, and you win. All the time.
Planet Mercenary has a learning curve that wraps around the other players. The timed initiative system ("Spoke first? Goes first") may seem at first to be an invitation for the loudmouth to dominate the game. And it is. And then it is a thrown gauntlet, an open challenge for the rest of the players to take the game back, and to turn the loudmouth back into a party member.
Your game group will grow and change. You will learn to react to one another, and with practice you will become a well-oiled machine in combat. You may need the guidance of a wise Game Chief to make this transition, but when it happens you will be amazed by each other. And that? Oh, that's so much more fulfilling than having an ironclad DPS build on a sheet of paper.
5) No Backsies
Did you state an action and then realize it was dumb? The fastest way to derail a game forever is to allow phrases like "no, wait, that's not what I do" or "no, you didn't do that" to affect previous events. See those sections above on "failure is fun" and "role play is learning?" Yeah... no backsies is how that happens.
And by the same token, we're not backing down from this. Our design principles are bold ones, and they differentiate Planet Mercenary from every other game we've played. Yes, we risk losing a few players by saying this, but if what you want is to always succeed and to have exact numerical values to describe every aspect of your character's physical form, equipment, and training, Planet Mercenary is not the game you're looking for.
We think it's a lot better than the game you're looking for, and that, too, is a position from which we're not allowing ourselves any backsies.
(If we fail, it's going to make a *great* story.)

(cross-posted from the Planet Mercenary Developer's Journal)

Planet Mercenary: Just 13 Days Left

If you want in on the Planet Mercenary Role Playing Game, the Kickstarter closes just 13 days from now, on the morning of Monday, May 18th. Be warned: For the next two weeks you'll probably hear from me a lot on this front. I owe it to the fans, and to my fellow creators to do all I can to drum up as much support for this as possible.

Whether or not you role-play, The Planet Mercenary Role Playing Game will be the definitive encyclopedia for the Schlock Mercenary universe. It will painstakingly (and humorously) detail the interesting places and cool technologies I've cartoonishly rendered in the comic, and it will flesh out a few key characters of the comic, rendering them as if my comics were crude caricatures of real people. 

Of course, commissioning these pieces takes money, which is why we turned to Kickstarter. We'll be paying our artists up front, and doing our very best to treat them right. We commissioned a few pieces before the project launched in order to prove to ourselves that this would work, and we're now confident that the Planet Mercenary book is going to be a fully immersive look at this universe I've been struggling to render for fifteen years now.

Pictured to the left is Felipe de Barros' rendition of Captain Tagon. The deep-set eyes, the stiff spine, that brick-like face... it's all there. 

If you've ever wondered what an amorph would look like in real life, I have a secret: I've wondered that too. I'm excited to find out. I expect to be scared of Sergeant Schlock. He is, after all, a monster. 

As an added incentive to participate, if we raise another $18k in pledged support there will be two books produced. The second one will be Karl Tagon's personal, annotated hard-copy of the 3001CE edition of The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries. He loaned it around, and a couple of other people have written in it.

Galavant: Just Buy It Already

My oldest daughter came back from college and told me I needed to see something called "Galavant" on the television. We don't do cable in my house so I Youtubed some trailers, got hooked, and checked it out on Amazon Instant Video.

Galavant is a trope-ridden medieval fantasy comedy musical. How such a thing existed without me knowing about it without the help of my children reflects poorly on me.

If you enjoyed the musical episodes of Buffy and Community, if you sing along with Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, you should buy Season 1 of Galavant on one of the services where it's available (Amazon, Google Play, and iTunes.) I bought the HD version on Amazon and have now watched the whole thing three times through. 

I'm not a fan of the streaming model, where I pay "own the whole thing" prices, but can't actually watch unless I have a persistent connection and a DRM-ish browser window. Galavant is good enough that I'm perfectly happy to tell myself that I paid $20 to rent it. I got 176 minutes of great programming. I've spent more than that for movies half that long, and no lie, if Galavant were a theatrical release I would rank it above everything I've seen so far this year, including The Avengers. In fact, I came home from The Avengers excited to hurry up and write a review so I could watch Galavant.

Seriously, when it comes out on Blu-Ray I'll probably buy it again. 

Am I gushing? Yes. I don't do this often. 

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Before I talk movie, a plug: The Planet Mercenary RPG Kickstarter is going strong, but is a couple hundred supporters shy of the big stretch we all want. 

I'm not going to convince you to see, or not see, Age of Ultron. I'm not going to spoil anything for you either. I'm just giving you three bullets:
  • I have a new favorite movie for 2015 (as of this writing.)
  • It earned its high and low points.
  • Marvel has successfully extended their line of credit with me through their next two cinematic releases, no matter what those releases are*.
If you're planning to see The Avengers: Age of Ultron you are in for a treat. Also, be warned that there are spoilers you definitely don't want, so don't delay, and until you see the film you should steer clear of reviews, comments threads, and inconsiderate people.
Once you've seen it, and you see that both Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman worked on the score, you may wish to pick up the soundtrack which is available on Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play (it's 50 cents cheaper from Google and Amazon.) I'm listening to it as I write...
(*note: Ant Man and Captain America: Civil War. I checked. Not that it would have mattered.)
(cross-posted from

The Chainsaber, Mk V

Here, for your viewing pleasure, is a bit of Ben McSweeney's preliminary line-art from the Planet Mercenary RPG weapon section:

Here's the draft text that goes along with it: 

[REDACTED] Autocutlery Chainsaber Mark IX

Most civilizations invented power cutting tools long after they dispensed with swords in favor of firearms, and most civilizations became briefly fascinated with those cutting tools as a way to bring the sword back. And for most civilizations it ended there.
Along came [REDACTED] Autocutlery with a bad idea to make good money: they would, with actionable deliberation and insufficient testing, weaponize the chainsaw. The result was the Chainsaber line of weapons, none of which is as effective, gram for gram, as a firearm. But the grunts want to swing chainsaws at things, and the Chainsaber Mark I took off plenty of enemy limbs and friendly fingers, so the product line and most of the customers survived, and eventually we got the Chainsaber Mark IX (The Mark V is pictured above.)
The Mark IX has numerous available grips, each of which is designed to maximize the leverage of the gripping limb while putting the weapon’s center of mass in just the right place for deft swinging. It is surprisingly light, and when fitted correctly is even more surprisingly difficult to kill oneself with. Maim? Still easy.
But let’s be honest with ourselves here. The only place the Mark IX chainsaber is deployed is with companies who want to make a lot of noise and throw a lot of gore in order to take the fight out of an ostensibly stronger opponent. When this works, bully! When this doesn’t work? You get the opposite of “bully,” and while a lot of words mean that, you should pick one which also means “we got cut to pieces with our own toys.” 
Would you like more pages of delicious material like this? Back the Planet Mercenary RPG on Kickstarter, and you'll have two hundred pages of this stuff, including illustrations, maps, deck plans, and yes, rules for bringing a chainsaber to a gunfight.
Alan and I are doing an AMA over at r/fantasy on Tuesday. If you've got questions about the game by all means ask them! And since it's an AMA (Ask Me Anything) you can ask other stuff, too! 
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