Apr 23, 2012

The Company is Really Deadly

I got the Company by Rik Kershaw Moore today after work and I've read the first 138 pages or so, which covers everything up to Section 8: Missions, including the bulk of the rules. I'm still absorbing stuff, so this mainly discuss first impressions rather than being a deliberative piece.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I'm a fan of d100 games (aka the Basic Roleplaying System or BRP), and the Openquest system in particular. However, outside of Call of Cthulhu and the Big Golden Book (BGB) implementation of BRP, there's a dearth of modern or near-modern implementations of the system. I find the BGB implementation of d100 to be too sprawling, more of a toolkit than a game, and I don't like many of the optional subsystems it offers (in particular, its powers systems for magic, super powers, etc.; how it calculates wealth; and how it calculates starting percentages in skills). Call of Cthulhu seems OK, but I've only played it once, and that was with a pregenerated character in a single scenario. I suspect that if my wealth score had come up, or if I'd had to build the character from the ground up, I would like it less (since I'm given to understand that the BGB version is using the same basic idea).

The Company, which focuses on private military contractors, is therefore a welcome addition to the genre of modern d100 games. It reminds me a lot of Recon, one of my favourite games, especially in how deadly it can be. Guns do a lot of damage, HP is low, and while body armour will block a lot of damage, the sheer volume of fire can pulverise a character.

In particular, while reading I paid attention to the question of dodging shots. In Openquest, characters can normally only dodge melee attacks and thrown missile weapons, not bow shots. I haven't decided whether I'm going to implement a houserule for this in regular Openquest, but it's an issue that always sits in the back of my mind when I think about the system. I was extremely curious characters would remain unable to dodge shots in the Company, and it is. That means that cover is extremely important, as is dropping prone, as is getting initiative. However, the game itself seems a bit confused about this, as the example of play features a character dodging a gunshot, and there are a couple of references within the text that lead me to believe that at some point during development one could dodge gunshots. I don't know whether I prefer dodging or not dodging bullets.

The Company retains Openquest's static initiative system, where characters go in order from highest dexterity to lowest. While I have houseruled this in Openquest (to DEX + d10), I'm more inclined to keep it in the Company. It introduces an element of tactical predictability to turn order that I think helps represent the coordination a squad of highly trained mercenaries would have, reinforcing the feel of the genre. Knowing that your sniper is always going to shoot first means you can plan your tactics around the sniper shooting first and exploit that fact.

I like the use of what at the very least appears to be genuine military terminology (I don't claim to be an expert on these things), and I think the game does a great job giving a clear idea of what kinds of things PMCs do, even before the mission design chapter, through its description of operational roles and responsibilities of the various divisions of the Company itself. It does its due diligence explaining how and why they might pair up people with highly diverse skill sets and backgrounds to accomplish their contracts, and providing a plausibly flexible military structure for PCs to operate within. The overall effect of reading the sections laying out the structure of the Company and how to create characters who work for it was to fill me with a ton of ideas for missions and games.

All of the above said, there are a few problems with the game so far. It may be the result of rapidly plowing through, but I'm still not sure whether characters can fire the maximum allowable number of shots per round on their turn during initiative, or whether they fire one shot each, and then cycle back through the list of anyone remaining with available shots. I'm planning to reread this section and see if some clarity comes through that.

The editing is pretty bad, though that's fairly typical for d101 products (sorry Newt!). The Company's timeline appears to have been revised at some point, so that it's confusing about whether it's founded in 2006 or 2007. There are lots of typos, though none that have rendered any rule confusing (which is the most critical thing). There's tons of gun porno (which is good), though some of the weapons are not actually mechanically different from one another despite having price differences. Also, the Company seems a bit too morally upright for a plausible PMC, though I'm willing to suspend disbelief for the purposes of the genre. I would like to see a discussion of RoEs and war crimes, which I think would provide an interesting counterpoint and set of challenges for PCs and help paint the verisimilitude of the setting.

Major wounds have a giant table comparable to the one I created the other day for Openquest, but mostly remain insanely crippling. On the other hand, medical science has improved and characters don't straight up die at 0 HP (instead, they fall unconscious and begin to bleed out). I also haven't found any rules governing tactical nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, or biological weapons, though they may simply be later on (I don't need these for PC use so much as for the madmen they are sent to stop). Nor are there any rules I can find for weapon maintenance, though it's looking like the spot rules are all Chapter 8 or later, so they may be hidden in there.

Finally, Burundi appears to have transformed into a fictional place called Rhapta, though I haven't actually read that section yet (I peeked when I saw the name), so I don't know if it's going to drive this Central African conflict wonk nuts or not. I'd be extremely interested to run a game in which the PCs are hired by the ICC to hunt down Bosco "Terminator" Ntaganda or where the UN sends them after Kony or the AU after the SPLA, and I saw a mention of Boko Haram at one point which made my heart flutter with joy. Alas though, Mexico and Central America aren't covered. Since the cartels are the largest and best funded insurgency in the world right now (with an annual operating budget of approximately $40 billion to the Taliban's approximately $110 million) I always hope to see them get the coverage they're due.

I think the game is flexible enough that not only could I use it to run its intended genre, but also a post-apocalyptic game, and probably a cyberpunk game if one could put together some good rules for augmentation. So far, it's looking like a really exciting and interesting expansion of the Openquest system.