Review: Mercenary Breed

Intrigued by Mystical Throne Entertainment’s Faith & Demons: The Rising, which I liked, I acquired another of their products; Mercenary Breed, a space opera mini-setting – in a galaxy far, far away, corporations hire mercenaries to do their dirty work. (That’s you, that is.) It’s intended to tie in with content provided via the pay-for-view version of Savage Insider magazine. The expanded edition, which is what I got, is a 138 page PDF file.

CONTENTS

Introduction (5 pages)

This covers what a mini-setting is (basically, a bare-bones, thumbnail sketch of a setting rather than the full Monty); the setting itself; mercenary forces; and space travel. Things you need to know about the setting: The Gemini are the local version of humans; there is an Alliance which governs much of the galaxy; being a mercenary is a respected career, which young sophonts aspire to; planets are 4-8 weeks travel time apart.

The vague ambiguity of the setting is deliberate; the designer’s intent is that each group should design its own worlds, races, corporations and what-have-you as a joint creative exercise. The author encourages an approach I’ve only recently come to accept; let the players have whatever characters they want, and build the rest of the game around that. This is all laudable, but I fear it takes more time and energy than I and my group have. (And if we do, we’ll likely wind up with a party of robot Viking thieves.) The only suggested limitation is that all races should be sufficiently humanoid to use human tools, weapons etc., to avoid investing effort in creating rules for the stranger races.

Character Creation (5 pages)

This is a short section, partly because it follows the standard Savage Worlds core rules, and partly because races are pulled out into a separate section, of which more anon. The main difference from vanilla SW is that mercenaries requisition their equipment from their corporation, and so don’t need to spend their starting cash on it.

Two new skills are introduced; Hacking covers advanced computer use (basic queries are subsumed in Investigation), and Navigating covers finding your way in unfamiliar territory, whether dirtside or in space. There are nine new archetypes for use as "instant" characters; I’m pleased to see this, as I think it’s a good way of achieving several ends – giving new players a fast-play yet balanced character, giving the GM a source of stock Wild Card NPCs, and showing both what kind of characters and adventures the setting is geared towards.

Equipment (9 pages)

Here we start to diverge from plain vanilla SW. Before each mission, the mercs visit the armoury and tool up. The basic load is three weapons, two explosive devices, one set of armour, 4 reloads of ammo, and whatever mundane devices are needed.

So why do you need money? Illegal and exotic items can’t be seen to be owned by the corporation, so you have to buy those yourself. Also, if your employer doesn’t have a facility on the planet they send you to, you have to pay for your own upkeep and claim expenses later.

What kind of weapons etc. can you have? Well, your character has an extra attribute called Renown. The higher that is, the more exciting the stuff the armourer will let you have, and the better the quarters and rations you get. You gain Renown by succeeding at missions; the tougher they are, the more Renown you get for completing them.

My first niggle with the book comes here; standard of living (based on Renown) will be introduced in later releases (presumably, of Savage Insider). There are quite a few plugs for Savage Insider, and by the end of the book I felt it had been over-advertised. (Apparently the expanded edition is better than the original in this regard, and also has maps for the included adventures.)

The chapter concludes with several pages of equipment lists, as you might expect in an equipment section. However, you just get the stats – I might or might not know what an electrothermal rifle is, but the setting won’t tell me.

Races (24 pages)

This has a rules for random race creation based on drawing three cards from a standard deck, and four ready-made races.

In the card draw method, the suit of each card gives a general tag for the race ("Reptile", perhaps) while the card value gives a racial edge or hindrance. Once the draw is complete, you need to balance the race if necessary. (Or not; it’s your race, after all.)

Of the four premade races, Gemini are the human analogues, and the baseline against which other races are measured; then there are the high-tech, fragile, pacifist Festoon; the L’Nel, aggressive, ophidian space nomads; and Primas, essentially anthropoid apes.

Each of the four races is described in some detail, with sections on their history, government, military, attitudes to space travel and other races, current affairs, and (except for Gemini) a racial template.

Home Worlds (11 pages)

This presents a card-draw method of creating planets; it’s intended to create homeworlds for PCs if the player lacks inspiration, but could easily work for any other planet required.

Two worlds are then detailed; Coursian, the Gemini homeworld, and Lak’husa, the Festoon homeworld. Each has sections on its environment, population, and culture.

Corporations (11 pages)

Here’s another card-draw random generator, this time for corporations; and two example megacorps: Genesis Holdings (specialising in jewelry) and Militant Marines (armour and weapons manufacturing). There’s a page or so of description on each.

Adversaries (17 pages)

The bestiary and NPCs. We have several stock opponents for each of four races; Gemini (humans), Krixtu (your basic primitive, hostile aliens), P’Tarian (violent bug swarms), and Reldon (steampunk constructs).

This is followed by a card-draw random creature generator.

I didn’t notice any stock NPCs for Festoon, L’Nel or Primas, which was a bit surprising. Maybe I just missed them.

Mission Generator (3 pages)

As you might expect by now, this is done by drawing four cards – to be fair, that is common SW practice.

Savage Tales (40 pages)

There are three savage tales in this section: Infestation, Mining Rights, and Stolen Jewels.

The book closes with an index and a couple of pages of adverts.

FORMAT

This is clearly designed to be an ebook, which is fine by me as I mostly read things on some kind of electronic device rather than in hard copy these days; and as a side effect, it’s printer-friendly as well. There are few illustrations, and most of those black and white rather than colour.

CONCLUSIONS

For a while now, I’ve been looking for a Savage Worlds science fiction setting that enthuses me the way that the Beasts & Barbarians fantasy setting does. Sadly, this is not it, at least not for me. I didn’t feel I got enough advice, guidance or usable content for the money, which surprised me given my experience with Faith & Demons. YMMV

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5.

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