d20 Modern: Mercenary Manual
Metal Gear Solid. Rambo. Rambo II. That other movie with the guy who fought in that one place that one time. At least one of these should flash through your mind when you think of the popular culture conception of a "mercenary." If you've ever wanted to run a mercenary campaign, The Modern: Mercenary Manual from Ronin Arts contains a plethora of rules that will have you parachuting behind enemy lines, negotiating mercenary contracts with morally bankrupt dictatorships, and, most importantly, shooting stuff. A lot. With guns.
Metal Gear Solid. Rambo. Rambo II. That other movie with the guy who fought in that one place that one time. At least one of these should flash through your mind when you think of the popular culture conception of a "mercenary". If you've ever wanted to run a mercenary campaign, the Modern: Mercenary Manual from Ronin Arts contains a plethora of rules that will have you parachuting behind enemy lines, negotiating mercenary contracts with morally bankrupt dictatorships, and, most importantly, shooting stuff. A lot. With guns.
SNAKE: This is Snake. Colonel, can you hear me? COLONEL: Loud and clear, Snake. What's the situation? SNAKE: It looks as if Ronin Arts is about to release a new book, a rule book completely about how to run a d20 modern mercenary campaign. COLONEL: Bad news? SNAKE: Definitely. With the rules listed here, anyone with the prerequisite d20 Modern book could become a mercenary. COLONEL: Or at least be able to simulate it. Find out what you can about the book, the strengths and weaknesses, and report back as soon- SNAKE: Wait, someone's coming- (static) COLONEL: Snake? SNAAAAAAAAAAAAKE!!!
Chapter by Chapter Overview
1. History of Mercenaries
A short five pages, this section presents a history of mercenaries, past, present and future. The timeline included does a very good job of highlighting key moments in mercenary history and would prove to be an invaluable resource to GMs wishing to run a more accurate historical mercenary campaign.
Most of the time I find timelines in role-playing books to be overdone, crammed full of events that either have no bearing on players or would be inaccessible to them as in-game knowledge. I was glad that the timeline in the Modern: Mercenary Manual stayed short and relevant, supplying only information that would prove of interest to a mercenary characters tracking news developments.
2. Mercenary Characters
Rather than forcing you to start as a level one mercenary, the Modern: Mercenary Manual supplies easy-to-use tables that allow players to roll high level mercenaries as if they had been taking on missions since level one. The interesting part of this is that the missions taken are randomly determined, and as a result players could potentially receive battle scars, archenemies, demotions, promotions, or special training. I like the idea of a player getting dealt cards he or she did not expect and then having to play with them.
The Medals section of this chapter is a bit vague. The concept of medals is that extraordinary heroics will earn players bonuses and likely get them promoted, but I don't like how the prerequisites are listed in qualitative terms, such as "gallantry in combat." I sense that argument between a GM and her players could easily develop.
"That was SO gallantry in combat!", "He was unarmed!", "SO? My character thought he was! And I planted a gun on him so my CO would think I'm a lot more courageous than I am.", "That's cheap.", "But it works. Gimme medal. Gimme promotion."
The chapter then closes out with a schedule of average duties and routines in an average day of a mercenary, just for accuracy's sake.
3. Mercenary Companies
"But I want to start my own mercenary company!" whines one of your players. This chapter lets them deal with the nitty-gritty of recruiting, budget, and charisma modifiers. Overall, I found that this book does a very good job of not letting GMs have to make a "leap of faith" to determine what happens next. There are rules and d100 tables covering everything from making up a contract with a third world country to the types of room and board benefits your mercenary outfit will receive. Not a terribly interesting chapter, but necessary to make sure that there are some standards.
Advanced classes that build upon the basic classes offered in d20 Modern. The classes are fairly balanced, as in most rule books. Seriously, when was the last time someone published a severely unfair and ridiculously exploitable class? I miss those days. These advanced classes (such as the Legionnaire) are best suited to campaigns set in specific historical settings or areas.
You never know when you might lose a big toe and have to take a -2 penalty to certain skill checks.
This chapter runs through all of the skills listed in the d20 Modern system, but provides difficulty challenges with a mercenary/military bent to them. For example, the bluff modifier can be used to communicate encoded messages in your speech to other party members, such as "kill" or "yes." The DC's listed will give game masters a good idea as to the difficulty of certain tasks.
This chapter has a number of feats that deal with improving one's weapon or skill proficiencies. None of the feats listed seems terribly exciting, though there's probably a way to twink them in combination with classes that I'm just not seeing. In the long run, the feats listed will prove most useful to parties that specialize (the driver takes all the driving feats, the leader takes all the charisma feats, the demolitions expert takes all the explosives feat, etc.).
Of all the chapters in the book, this one is the least interesting, but probably the most useful. This chapter describes what happens to mercenary companies and individual mercenaries who break the rules. In essence, it provides a way for the game master to restrain players via fines, demotion, unpleasant duties, trials, imprisonment and even execution. It will probably be necessary; mercenaries already take lives in exchange for money, so without these barriers little will stop your players from becoming villains who shoot at civilians for fun.
For the truly uncreative or the GM who must create a game in five minutes or less, we introduce the table-rific chapter that is contracts. Different pieces of the contract are put together, resulting in a hodge podge of an adventure with random amounts of funding and control. Once again, I prefer to make my own adventures. This chapter also includes a body part insurance chart, which I personally never leave home without. You never know when you might lose a big toe and have to take a -2 penalty to certain skill checks.
The only spell that truly interested me was the ammo explosion spell. Just the thought of guns exploding in the hands of shocked enemy combatants gives me giggles that no decent person should ever have. This spell levels the playing field between gun and melee combatants, and there's no reason why it shouldn't have been thought of and included in the d20 Modern Manual. The only other spell that makes the d20 rogue in my heart smile is the pillage perception spell, which allows players to search and ransack with greater ease. The rest of the spells listed mostly deal with inspiring or demotivating troops, and are subsequently boring.
- Pros: Rules cover everything you need for a mercenary company, story vignettes between chapters are interesting enough to be the subject for books in themselves, organization makes rules easy to locate, rules are flexible enough to be used in the sword-slinging past, the gun-toting present, or the laser-blasting future.
- Cons: Reading all of the rules in one sitting will cause severe brain damage, artwork consists of random photographs of soldiers looking macho inserting into random spaces.
- Overall: Decent, workhorse rulebook for those running d20 Modern mercenary characters.