One Post RPG: Space Mercs

Okay, it’s a little late, but here’s a one-post rpg.  It incorporates some ideas I’ve been thinking about for a while now, as well as some of the equipment abstraction rules I laid out last week.

Space Mercs (click to download a pdf version)

The players are space mercs, soldiers-for-hire who take the dirtiest jobs the galaxy has to offer.  ‘Asset retrieval,’ ‘inventory liquidation,’ ‘early retirement,’ ‘hostile takeovers,’ ‘aggressive negotiations,’ or any other euphemism for corporate espionage and black ops you’d care to use…they’ll get the job done if the price is right.

Core Mechanic

Whenever you attempt something where there’s a chance of consequential failure, the GM will ask you to make a test.  Simply roll 1d20 and add the relevant ability score (decided by the GM).  If the result is 10 or better, you succeed.  If the GM thinks the task is particularly difficult, you’ll need to roll a 20 or better to succeed.  A d20 roll of 20 (natural 20) always succeeds; a natural roll of 1 always fails.  That’s it.

Standard test = 10+ to succeed

Difficult test = 20+ to succeed

Creating Your Space Merc

Your character has three abilities:

Dexterity (DEX) – If you want to be handy with a blaster, or dodge laser bolts, take a high DEX score.

Strength (STR) – If you want to be handy with a laser axe, carry more gadgets or deflect hits, take a high STR score.

Tech (TEC) – If you want to be good with gadgets, repairing machinery or bypassing security systems, take a high TEC score.

Choose one to be your primary ability; this ability has a score of 3.  Select another to be your secondary ability; it has a score of 1; the last is your tertiary ability and has a score of 0.  You have one optional point to place in any ability of your choice.

Species – While humans are most common, there’s a lot of intelligent alien species in the galaxy.  Most of them are basically humanoid, with similar needs, desires and weaknesses.  You can also be a cyborg or a self-aware droika as well.  Whatever cool things your species can do should be factored into their ability scores (i.e. if your species is supposed to be really strong and tough, you should give your character a high STR score).

Armor – Decide whether your merc wears light armor or heavy armor:

  • Light Armor = Use DEX for defense
  • Heavy Armor = Use STR for defense

Supply Points (SP) – The game simply assumes you start with a full set of standard gear:  various blasters, a combat vibro-shiv, body armor, medkit, tools, communicators, etc.  The rest is covered by abstract Supply Points.  Every PC starts with 10 SP at the beginning of each mission (which is the most anyone can usually carry).  Players are free to trade or redistribute SPs between combats.

  • After each battle, use your medkit to heal hits you’ve taken, 1 SP per hit healed
  • During battle, spend 1 SP to get an extra ranged attack
  • Many gadgets require the expenditure of SP to use
  • Spend an SP to pull out a piece of normal equipment, like a rope or nightvision goggles

Gadgets – These are special pieces of equipment which have to be purchased separately.  You probably won’t start with any.  You can carry a maximum number of gadgets equal to your STR score, in addition to all your standard equipment and supply points.  As a starting point, gadgets should cost 1,000-2,000 Galactic Credits (GC) each.  Here are a few examples:

  • Adrenal Injector – Spend 1 SP to gain a +1 bonus on all STR and DEX tests for the duration of the battle
  • Attrition Shield Generator – You gain temporary HtK equal to your TEC score; hits are taken from these first, and cannot be healed
  • BFG-9 Gatling Blaster – Each SP spent in a round gives an extra ranged attack; spend as many as you like!
  • Deflector Shield Generator – Use your TEC for defense rolls, instead of your DEX or STR
  • Demolition Pack – Spend 1 SP to produce a demolition charge, good for sabotage or breaching barriers
  • Grenade Satchel – Spend 1 SP to throw a grenade up to 6 spaces away; area attack with a radius of 3 spaces
  • MD-5 Rucksack – You start with 5 additional SP; you can only carry one MD rucksack at a time
  • Medstim Bag – Spend 1 SP to heal 1 hit on you or an ally during combat
  • P-290 Plasminator – Ranged; spend 1 SP to attack; defense rolls against this weapon are difficult tests
  • Quantum-Plasma Katana – A melee weapon that attacks with TEC instead of STR; defense rolls against this weapon are difficult tests
  • VOX-9 Rocket Launcher – Spend 2 SP to fire a rocket; area attack with a 4 space radius, inflicts 2 hits
  • Rocket Pack – Spend 1 SP to add your TEC score to your movement points for one combat round; you fly through the air, vertically or horizontally, paying only 1 movement point to enter any space; you may fly over enemy occupied spaces
  • Stealth Field Generator – Spend 1 SP to activate; you are effectively invisible until you attack or shut down the stealth field
  • Trauma Bag – An incapacitated character will automatically stabilize if placed promptly into the trauma bag; consumed after use


Combat is fought in a series of rounds, each of which is only a few seconds long.

Initiative – Roll 1d20 for each side in a fight; the side with the highest result acts first.  This establishes the turn sequence for the rest of the battle.

Actions – Each character may move and act (or act and move).  An action consists of making an attack, taking a second move, using a gadget, etc.

Movement – Most characters have 6 movement points per combat round.  Entering a space (i.e. a hex or square) costs 1 point of movement; entering a space of difficult terrain costs 2 points of movement.  A space can be 1-meter or 5-feet, grid or hexes, whichever works best for you.  You may move through friendly occupied spaces, but not through enemy occupied spaces.  Movement ends immediately upon moving adjacent to an enemy occupied space.  Movement must end in an empty space.

Attacking – Make a standard test to attack.  Use STR for melee attacks and DEX for ranged attacks.  Attacks are considered difficult if the target has good cover, is at long range or enjoys a similar benefit (like concealment or invisibility).

Unload – Characters attacking with blasters may spend 1 Supply Point to unload their weapons on the enemy, getting a second ranged attack that combat round.

Defense – If the attack hits, the target gets a defense roll.  PCs use DEX or STR, depending on the type of armor worn.  NPCs use their Threat Level.  If the defense roll succeeds, no damage is taken.  Some types of attacks or special weapons may require a difficult defense test.

Damage – If the defense roll fails, the target takes 1 hit.  NPCs and monsters take Hits-to-Kill (HtK) equal to their Threat Level.  Upon taking 3 hits, a PC is incapacitated and may die.  After the battle make a standard STR test to see if they survive long enough to reach a proper medical facility.

Healing – Between battles mercs may spend SP to heal hits (1 SP per hit).  During battles, a merc with the medstim bag may spend SP to heal hits.  Mercs heal completely between missions.

Area Attacks – Don’t bother rolling for area attacks (like grenades); simply have everyone in the affected area make a defense roll to avoid taking hits.

Hazards – Make an appropriate ability test, as determined by the GM, to negate or mitigate the effects of hazards, such as traps, poison, disease, radiation, mind control, unnatural fear and similar threats.


Space mercs are all about getting paid.  You use that pay to buy gadgets and, more importantly, to pay for specialized training that increases your abilities.  The cost to increase an ability score by 1 point is (current ability score +1) x 1,000 GC.  For example, increasing STR from 3 to 4 would cost you 4,000 GC.  To increase it later from 4 to 5 would cost another 5,000 GC.

However, your tertiary ability score can never exceed your secondary ability score, and your secondary ability score can never exceed your primary ability score.


Space mercs fight all manner of opponents in their line of work, from space mafia thugs to renegade combat droikas to weird alien monsters.  All enemies are measured in terms of Threat Level (TL), ranging from 0 (for typical civilian bystanders) to 10 (for the baddest of the bad-assed).

TL does two things:  1) it’s the number of Hits-to-Kill the enemy can take and 2) it is the modifier added to all die rolls.  Threat Level 7-10 enemies will be very tough and probably require special weapons to defeat.  TL 0 creatures take 1 HtK.

Assume most enemies have 6 movement points per combat round, though you can vary it a bit if you like.  Some may have gadgets, or gadget-like abilities (but they don’t use Supply Points).

The vast majority of guards, goons, thugs, alien bugs and other opponents should be TL 1.  Though very weak, they’re usually deployed in large numbers to compensate.  Only the toughest war droikas and xeno-beasts should be above TL 6 or 7.

Sample Scenario – Starwind’s Bounty

The Begratis Corporation lost contact with their freighter, Starwind, 24 hours ago over the jungle moon of Tongra-9.  They have a rough fix on its last known position.  The PCs are contracted to go to those coordinates, find the Starwind and recover the ship.  If the ship has crashed, they are to do their best to retrieve a shipment of experimental combat stims before scavengers or rival corporate interests find it.  The mercs are not told what the Starwind is doing on a backwater like Tongra-9, but it’s probably nothing legal.

The contract pays 2,000 GC for successful recovery of the Starwind in good condition, plus an additional 2,000 GC for recovery of the stims (this is total, not per person).  Expenses are also covered, 100 GC per SP spent.  Transportation to and from Tongra-9 is provided.

The PCs will be dropped in the jungle a few clicks from the Starwind’s last known coordinate.  The jungle is hot, humid and filled with strange purple plants.  While there are annoying buzzing xeno-insects, which constantly sting the PCs and then drop dead, the rest of the jungle is eerily silent.

Arriving at the coordinates, the PCs find that the Starwind has crashed.  They won’t be getting that 2,000 GC payment for recovery, but Begratis will offer a 500 GC ‘finder’s fee’ as a consolation.  The crash has cleared out a portion of the jungle; wreckage is strewn all over.

The bulk of the ship’s hull is still intact, including the cargo hold where the stim crates are located.  Entering the ship is easy enough; the interior is trashed (difficult terrain).  If the PCs make a thorough search, they’ll find the partially eaten bodies of the crew’s remains, along with evidence of animal habitation.

A pack of xeno-primates have taken up residence in the Starwind’s wreckage.  One of the pack found the stims and took a few.  Finding the stims gave it an overwhelming advantage over its rivals, it took several more and is now the pack’s alpha.  The stims transformed the normally meek and placid primate into a raging monster (TL 5; 8 movement points and pays only 1 to enter difficult terrain).  When the PCs find the cargo hold, it immediately bellows a challenge and attacks the team.  Its mighty roar summons more TL 0 primates from the rest of the ship to help it (2 per team member).  They are melee fighters.

Upon defeating the alpha, the remaining primates will flee.  The team can then collect the remaining stims and call for extraction.  If anyone thinks to recover the alpha’s corpse, Begratis will pay a 500 GC bonus for it (for additional testing and research).


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