Sunday, July 19, 2020

Classic Traveller: Mercenary

Schlock Mercenary is nearing the end of its 20-year run (with no missed daily updates, which is damned impressive).  Threads are coming together and I decided to read through a bunch of the archives to remind myself who was where why, and it all got me thinking about Traveller, specifically the Mercenary supplement.

I've always been a little disappointed with Mongoose's Mercenary supplement, but I was reminded of my project of reading through the Classic Traveller core and how parts of it compared favorably to some of Mongoose's material, and decided to give Classic Traveller Book 4: Mercenary a read too.

CT Merc is 60 pages to MGT's 110.

I always thought MGT Merc's mercenary-specific careers were sort of dumb.  I am pleased with their absence in CT.

I rolled up a couple of characters with Mercenary's character generation rules.  Of the three, one failed to reenlist after his first term (spent almost entirely in garrison) with few skills and no rank (but great stats!  such a waste), one died of snake-eyes on a survival roll during an internal security assignment, and the last rolled Commando School, a bunch of combat assignments, got covered in medals and skills, and made E9, but because he never rolled Officer Candidate School he was still Rank 0 as far as mustering out benefit rolls were concerned.  I think the mercenary chargen rules are more likely to generate characters who are high-skill but poor than the core rules, where promotions are both the source of half of your skill rolls and half of your benefit rolls in an "optimum" career (except scouts, which probably end up closer to mercs in terms of "high skill but poor").

Getting the survival and promotion bonuses is nice, but getting the bonuses for Special Assignments is massive if you want to rack up skills or actually get officer rank (ordinarily you only have a 1-in-36 chance of getting each of OCS and commando school per year, which means that in a 4-5 term career you will probably see only one or the other, but with the special assignments bonus from high int/edu that probably goes up to 1-in-18 for commando and 1-in-18 for OCS, which means you will probably roll both in expectation).

Chargen is somewhat more tedious than base, especially if you don't have special assignment bonuses.  I didn't roll any marines, but for army, you will roll garrison assignments about half the time (for infantry, anyway), with automatic survival but no chance for skills.  Armor and artillery arms are more likely to roll a Training assignment with automatic survival and a decent chance of skills, but because there's no vehicle combat system some of those skills seem like they'd be sort of hard to use / hand-wavy.  The support arm, which has access to some nice skills like Medic and Computer, is even more likely to roll garrison assignments.  This is part of why commando training is so important - it allows you to transfer to the commando arm, which has a good skill list and only a 1-in-6 chance of being stuck in garrison, so you get more assignments where you can get skills (but this also means that you have to make four survival rolls per four-year term, so it's high-risk high-reward).

Some inconsistencies - rolling for assignment each year on page 4 says that you may add +1 to the roll if you have 8 Int, but under the General Assignments table on page 6 it says 8 Edu instead.

A Mercenator script, like the old ACKS Henchinator, could be pretty fun for spewing out dudes for PC mercenary companies to hire.

I think it's neat that they have rules about what goes on an NPC's "resume" that players would get to see.  But generating piles of NPCs is sooo slow and then sometimes they die right as they were getting good.  I also like that there are salaries and shares for characters of various ranks, which supports both PCs hiring on with NPC units (there are rules for this too - again, senior enlisted gets kind of shafted) and PC units hiring NPC help.

There are a couple of sample tickets, but a system for generating random tickets (as MGT's Merc has) is absent.  I always felt like Mongoose Merc's ticket generation was just a bit too much and the results weren't quite coherent enough.  But having some lighter weight stuff for generating tickets might be nice, striking a middle ground.

Mongoose Merc is much more...  accountanty about maintenance costs for equipment.

Instruction is a very funny skill - Instruction 1 seems to be useful only for training raw recruits, and higher levels of Instruction are still only useful if you have another high skill (which you might not), but the rules are very cautious about it.  I'm not even sure it would be wildly unreasonably to permit a character with Instruction n to teach Instruction n-1 to other player characters; most parties will be lucky to have a character with Instruction 2 at all (although I suppose that if one is automating the production of new mercenaries, that might change).

I'm a little confused about "group hits by automatic fire" - is this supposed to apply to HE rounds fired from light rifles like the ACR, or is it intended for LAG (anti-materiel), grenades, and artillery?  Because combining multiple attacks from automatic fire with group hits from automatic fire with group hits from HE bullets sounds like a lot of stuff to resolve for a single attack by a regular rifleman.

Fiddled a bit with the abstract battle system.  No choices, very amenable to automation.  Doesn't link up as nicely to the rest of the book as I'd like - a force's efficiency seems pretty important and like it should be determinable statistically (for a high-detail company), with the option to roll it randomly for low-detail enemy forces?  The only other mentions of efficiency are about having too many direct reports, and in the efficiency of field artillery crews, but there's nothing numeric.

More odd inconsistencies with the weapons, where probability of jamming a machine gun doesn't depend on heavy weapons skill, but probability of jamming a gauss machine gun does.

Since armor is no longer DR and there aren't rules for firing on vehicles (unless they were in core and I've forgotten), a lot of these heavier weapon damage listings seem kind of superfluous (instead of listing them as "lol u ded").  I do like that meson artillery is just "all targets in area destroyed".

RAM grenade launchers only have a 3-round magazine and no autofire mode.  Sorry again Alex.

Unclear what happens to hand grenades that you miss the to-hit roll with.

I think the biggest thing this book needs is vehicle combat, but that's probably because my expectations for space mercenaries were set by Hammer's SlammersOmer to the rescue.


  1. The Striker supplement handled it much better. Of course, three books to one. Don't think it had ticket generation, but we always came up with a scenario - even if it was the Tractor Factory from Squad Leader, but with Power Armor and guass rifles.

    1. Ahh, thanks Rod; Striker does look promising.

  2. Because computers and printers weren't as common 40 years ago when CT was big, they released and entire book of nothing but Book 4 characters, "Veterans", as Supplement 13.