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Chris Tannhauser
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Fig. 1 — When you're 14, a badass book requires a badass sticker.

Augsburg, Germany—1981.

My little brother has just escaped from prison, repurposed a grav limo for a sketchy re-entry, made landfall in a sparkling urban center, evaded police by driving through a shopping mall at Mach 2 and finally ditches the smokin' luxury ride in the suburbs where he kicks in the door of the first house he sees, shotgun in hand.

A standard home invasion/multiple-homicide ensues. Being thorough, he's on his hands and knees, dragging a screaming child out from under the bed when mom walks in.

We might as well have been worshipping Satan for the look on her face.

"If this is the way you're playing this game," she screams, "You're not playing this game anymore!"

All our books get confiscated and we spend the next week promising to never, ever play the game like that in front of her again.

And really, where is the problem? Would she have been as torqued if he had nuked the city? This was the height of the Cold War; nuclear annihilation wasn't just de rigueur—it was downright banal. How about if he plowed something large and fast into a city block? That's just fire & property damage, stuff insurance takes care of. Blowing up a bus? Yawningly impersonal. No, the problem was one of scale, of personal involvement. Pushing a button is just taking care of business; it's when the work makes you short of breath and ruins your shoes that people blanch.

The weapons provided in Book 1: Characters and Combat assume you'll get to smell your foes—things like a dagger and cudgel can certainly be used to kill people, but it takes a lot longer than anyone would like. Even more so if you don't know what you're doing. It's a busy, gritty affair that can tucker a man out and put him off his pudding for the better part of a week. This is mitigated somewhat by the meager selection of firearms, ranging from simple revolvers, shotguns and automatic rifles in the indirect delivery of kinetic energy, and man-portable lasers in the direct energy category. Even then, your best bet is the automatic rifle; at range you'll still get to smell the guy you popped with the laser.

So, the base game comes with a single non-awful** weapon.

Every other option requires wet-work or human detonation. You see, mom? It wasn't our fault—we were playing the game as best we could with what we had. I supposed we could have cleaned it up by sticking to autorifles from clock towers, but that's the kind of one-note story that really doesn't go anywhere.

The book that changed all that, the book that stamped an exponent on the ass-end of our body count was Book 4: Mercenary.

This is the book that allows you to step outside the cramped box of the pernicious trader and sometime serial killer and go pro. It is the blueprint to do like the patriotic holo says and join up, get your government to train you in the art of the group-kill, muster out, join a star-faring NGO, shoot at people from a civilization a full seven tech levels below yours and secure all their inadequately protected crap for your corporate masters. And all while mostly drunk.

There are a lot of bits to this book, only three of which matter:

An involved—and deadly—character generation system

A raft of new skills for the puissant execution of atrocity

IRONMONGERY

Character generation is so incredibly kick-ass—and dangerous—you can die while doing it. They give out medals to those who survive it. No, really. If you make it all the way through you'll have a chest full of stars and ribbons for your "buddies" to blow out an airlock after you don't make it back from that "milk-run" orbital drop on some agrarian primates who managed to trade some of their kids for an auto-constructing SAM site that, though they would never have any idea of how to build, fix or reload it, knew enough to turn it on when they saw trails of fire in the sky.

Using the character generator is like a "choose your own adventure" game in its own right—after choosing your branch you detail each four-year hitch by rolling unit assignments like raid, police action, counter-insurgency, etc. The Imperium's not going to spread itself, you know! You then roll to see if you made it back. This can throw a serious kink in rolling up a character, especially when you're eight terms in before catching a hot one, though I tend to give the player something else in exchange for not-dying, like a symbiotic blue fungus that makes their blood a funny color and that no one can know about. Or else. If you survive, you then check for medals, promotions and whether or not you were sober enough to have gained any skills. Then it's back in to re-up for the next four years.

Once you've accumulated enough know-how to make yourself useful around a plasma gun, you can muster out and let the adventure† begin!

Fig. 2 — Putting the "wreck" in erection.

But really, this book is all about the IRONMONGERY. It's where I learned the word, in all its thanaterotic glory. No longer are you limited by the exhausting workload that comes with cudgel and dagger; the future is here with glittering, labor-saving appliances like Light Assault Guns (chambering discarding sabot, high explosive, and flechette rounds), Advanced Combat Rifles, Gauss Rifles, Accelerator Rifles, 4 cm Rocket-Assisted Multipurpose Grenade Launchers, Light Machine Guns, Auto-Cannon, Very Rapid Fire Gauss Guns, Plasma Guns, Fusion Guns, Mortars, Howitzers, Mass Drivers, and Meson Accelerators.



Why drag a kid out from under a bed when you can light up his arcology from 12 klicks out? Sure, you can stab someone and roll a d6 or you can fire an I-beam out of a mass driver at 3,000 m/s and never have enough dice to figure out exactly what happens next.



Fig. 3 — Pick one—though the right answer is to shoot the butterknife out a railgun.

Yeah, I'm hard now, too.


*Read: Fuck

**Subjective to the user at range, of course.

†Generating a light-years-wide swath of dead.
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Chris Tannhauser
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Thanks! It's just comforting to know my sociopathic fantasies resonate.

*


*Did I get the smile right? It was the eyes that gave it away, wasn't it. Or was it too many teeth? I can stretch my lips back off them like everyone else but then the laughter stops.
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Calavera Despierta
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Hivegod, has anyone ever told you that your writing style is like David Foster Wallace + Duke Nukem?
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Jason Zer0
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Makes me Jones for the next Traveller campaign!
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George Rothrock
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More, please!

-grafzepp
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Eric Dodd
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Limited Access - Wellycon XI - Back 5th June 2018
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Ah, the PGMP-16, for when you really have to retire an entire pre-stellar civilization with extreme prejudice...
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Joshua Wood
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That was an awesome review that really gets to the heart of what book 4 is all about. Thank you sir. I laughed at the funny stories you told too.
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