Seventy Maxims, at Long, Long Last

Let's say, just for the sake of argument, that you're not interested in the Planet Mercenary RPG. How could I possibly tempt you into that Kickstarter? What product could be sufficiently enticing to bring you over to our project page and enter a pledge?
 
The answer? Provide something that I've been anxious, thrilled, and quiveringly-excited about for months now:
 
The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries
 
We have a pledge level for the Seventy Maxims book.
 
[UPDATE: We actually have several. Do not panic about the sold-out ones. We screwed up and broke them. http://bit.ly/70MoMEM will take you straight to the Maxims-only pledge. And now, back to the plug!]
 
This isn't just 70 pages of aphorisms. It's far too substantial for a poster. This is the hardback version of Karl Tagon's personal copy of the 3001 CE Edition of The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries.  This is an in-universe artifact.
 
To introduce you to it, here is a block of text from the introduction:
 
In 2992, in a speech to the CDF Academy graduating class, Rear Admiral M. Randall Aarikaida dismissed the book as “an irreverent, irresponsible volume of malevolent canon.” In that same speech, however, he paraphrased maxims 9, 15, 35, and 70 without attribution, unconsciously cementing its importance in the field, and launching countless dissertations which focused on the cultural ubiquity of the very thing he was dismissing.
 
This edition serves as a distillation of that scholarship. The maxims are accompanied by commentary and corollaries, paraphrased, and in many cases translated from the original, unintelligible jargon so that the modern reader might grasp the essential point. By so doing we've made this book more accessible, and more affordable because now we don't need to pay any of those scholars the ridiculous royalties they demand.
 
Barring handling them for yourself, the pages themselves are best experienced with an image:
 

 
This page is one of our early proof-of-concept versions, but it shows off the spirit of the thing. Don't worry: the paper we use will NOT have a printed weathering on it. The weathering in this image is there to evoke the fact that we'll be using a very toothy, heavy paper with a cream color to it.
 
The boxed text contains the maxims themselves. The text below that is "schlolarly commentary" which, as suggested by the excerpt above the image, is going to be all over the map.
 
The red-pen notes are from Karl Tagon, who acquired this book as an enlistee in 3044. His sergeant at the time told him he should use it as a journal of sorts, and so we'll get an unordered series of snapshots of his military career. Paging back and forth to put the notes in order will be part of the joy of having this in hard-copy.
 
The blue-pen note above is from Alexia Murtaugh, to whom Karl loaned the book. (Well, "will-have loaned." That bit of story has yet to appear online.) While the book is in Murtaugh's possession it is going to get picked up and scribbled in by a few others, including Sergeant Schlock.
 
We will leave room for you to write in it yourself, of course.
 
If this is a thing that you want, and you're not interested in the RPG, click here for the $20 pledge level that gets you just the Seventy Maxims book.
 
Note: If you pledge at the Company Commander ($75) or Commodore ($100) level, the Seventy Maxims book is included in the Extended Mag, along with the rest of the goodies.

RPG.net Chat with Alan Bahr

This coming Wednesday, May 13th, Planet Mercenary's game designer Alan Bahr will be taking questions over in the RPG.net chat. Follow Alan or me on Twitter and we'll tweet you a reminder.

I'm not sure how the chat room over on RPG.net works, but if you're already a member of the role playing cognoscenti I suspect you're already on top of this.

Speaking of Planet Mercenary (which is pretty much all I'm speaking of this week,) the Kickstarter just crossed the $200k threshold, and we have now promised an additional 16 pages in the core book. There will be four new playable races, including the Uklakk, who have two bodies and a shared, radio-networked brain. If you've ever wanted to throw down as a bicameral life form, that's going into the book now. We'll also add some weapons, some ships, and some playable locations.

Our next stretch goal puts Game Chief screens in every Extended Mag, and makes them available as add-ons for just $5.00. Beyond that? Check out the most recent update for the full reveal. The reveal includes the blue-lines for Jeff Zugale's cover for the book.

MAYHEM!

We have entered the final week of the Kickstarter for the Planet Mercenary Role Playing Game. Expect me to talk about it rather a lot. I promise to try to be interesting. 

If you haven't yet looked at the project, please click here and see what we're building! We've already hit the stretch goal that will let you acquire the COMPLETE Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries (it will ship with the game, in April of 2016), and we're about to add an additional 16 pages of content to the core book.

And now I shall try to be interesting!


The very first mechanic I dreamed up for this game was the one that involved cards. At the time I was unclear on exactly how it would work, but Alan spent eighteen months grinding on it with is alpha-test team, and out of that effort sprang the thing we now call the MAYHEM! deck.

Many of you have asked what the MAYHEM! cards will be like, and we've teased you a bit by dropping some card names on you. This, unfortunately, is not the post where we reveal the MAYHEM! deck in its full glory. This is the post where we show you our late-beta designs for the cards.


Here's the card back and the face of the card currently designated as A-11. This one falls into the category that we call "beneficial, permanent." It's generally beneficial, and its effect lasts for as long as the character does. 

Here are four more samples. Click on them to bring up larger, more readable versions.


 

Like playing cards, we've grouped the MAYHEM cards into four "suits." For now they're designated A, B, C, and D, which, while not very imaginative, is easy to keep track of.

  • A (blue): Beneficial, Permanent
  • B (green): Beneficial, Temporary
  • C (orange): Detrimental, Temporary
  • D (purple): Detrimental, Permanent

As I detailed in the D6³ permutation post, these cards will come up on about 25% of your successful die rolls. You can spend a RiPP to ignore the card, and the Game Chief can override your decision to play or not to play the card by awarding everyone a RiPP. If you've spent a RiPP to dodge the card, you're getting two RiPPs back.

An Alternate Mode of Play

This is not where we tell you that you should omit the MAYHEM! deck from your Planet Mercenary game.

This is where we tell you that if you feel so inclined, you can use the MAYHEM! deck as a regular old deck of cards, mapping A, B, C, and D, to Spades, Clubs, Hearts, and Diamonds (or mapping letters to suits in whatever manner you prefer.) There will be at least 13 cards in each category, and if there are more than 13, the additional cards can be set aside. There may also be a wild card or two whose effects are "Cosmetic, Hilarious" or some such, and these will make good Jokers.

Rolling With the Mayhem

The trick with the MAYHEM! cards is to NOT think of them as helpful or unhelpful. All of them will add to the story you are telling, and taking the bad with the good will make your story better. The flavor text on each card might help that along a bit, but ultimately it's going to fall to you to take the effect from the card and turn it into something awesome.

Consider the Duckling card (A-04). If a fire team has bonded to you, but they're heavy weapon experts, and you're usually running with a team of stealthy types, you now have a conflict. Role play that!

Player You: "Sergeant Tibbs, I need you and your team to go with Lieutenant Player Character Rosa for this operation."

Game Chief (as Tibbs): "But sir, you're our favorite. You're amazing. We TRUST you!"

Player Rosa: "Tibbs! The fanboy thing is bordering on insubordination. I need you and your big guns backing me up, because there's hamburger to be made and I don't want it made out of us."

Game Chief (as Tibbs): "Yes Ma'am. If you say so Ma'am."

Player You: "Tibbs, do me proud of over there. I want to enjoy burgers WITH friends, not OF them."

and so forth...

That piece of story conflict will allow you, Rosa, and your Game Chief to ham it up in character any time the heavy weapons fire team is in the scene. The fun you have will be worth the -1 skill check penalty Rosa's team suffers from, and the results of their slightly-more-likely failures will further color the role-play.

(Note: We do have cards that will un-bond your fire team from you, and we have a card that will anti-bond a fire team to you. They're terrified of you, and it makes them extra effective right up until you need ablative meat...)

On the subject of role play, there are a few cards whose effects are non-numeric, and some that are "neutral" in terms of benefit/detriment to the character or the party. X-01 is a good example. 

How you play this with your game group is entirely dependent up the social dynamic of that group, but note that establishing a nickname for a player character is the sort of thing that can earn RiPPs at later points. 

Does This Make You Nervous?

We've heard from a lot of people, including a few play testers, who have expressed concern about the MAYHEM! cards "screwing up their game." They're nervous. Perhaps you are too. It's possible that this anxiety stems from a fear of failure, a tingling sense of doom-around-the-next-corner.

Jeff Goins wrote: "Without conflict you don't have a story. You have a reality show."

If you're nervous, that may be because there's an actual conflict waiting for you in Planet Mercenary. And fortunately, conflict is not only the source of story, it's at the heart of humor, and trust me, you want this in there.

No Need To Proof These For Us

These are drafts that Howard bashed out across eight hours on Saturday. They'll get bashed on repeatedly by Howard, Alan, Sandra, and the late-beta wave of play testers before they end up in people's hands. Sandra just wrote about the page design process, and has included an animated GIF showing how much better the pages in the book begin to look after a few iterations.

Little things like text alignment and font consistency will be fixed long, long after we've refined the text and checked the numbers and ensured that these are the best RPG tools they can be.

Note also, 52 is a semi-arbitrary number. We picked it because it was easy to get a price-quote using it. Should we over-fund with sufficient over-fundage, additional cards might be added. Sorting them out of the deck in order to play Poker might get tedious, but a bigger deck would be worth that hassle.

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.

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