The life of the mercenary is one many find intriguing. Whether it be in television shows such as "The A-Team" or computer games such as "Soldier of Fortune," these warriors-for-hire have long been present in various entertainment mediums. It should come as no suprise, then, that they would make their way into role-playing games such as GDW's Merc:2000.
Merc:2000 (M:2K) is an alternate setting for the Twilight:2000 (T:2K) roleplaying game. Rather than trying to survive in the hellish aftermath of World War Three, the players in M:2K are soldiers of fortune in a world similar to (but in some ways very different from) our own. There has been no nulcear war, but the world has been plagued by economic collapse, numerous brushfire wars, and the balance of power shifting from national governments to global corporations and criminal cartels. Standing armies have been diminished, and in many cases mercenaries have stepped in to take their places.
The book shares several traits of other T:2K products. It is well-organized and written in a straightforward, easily readable style. The black-and-white illustrations are sparse but of good quality, and many descriptions of equipment and all vehicles are accompanied by drawings that help players and referees visualize the game world.
As in Twilight:2000, Merc:2000 begins with a brief overview of the game followed by a detailed chronology describing the decade leading up to the current year. Far from being a series of events carelessly slapped together, the chronology is believable. Though some of what was supposed to take place in the previous decade seems a bit far-fetched (a war between Poland and Germany?), Wiseman accurately predicted several events that actually happened in the 1990's (such as the conflict in Yugoslavia).
Next is a short section on character creation, which is only slightly different from charatcer creation in T:2K. The key differences are the roles played by contacts, how characters can use these contacts to acquire equipment, and how much money and equipment the characters begin the game with. In regards to how much starting money the characters possess, it is stated that the amount varies depending on the careers the character has had. The book does not, however, explain how exactly to determine these amounts. This is a flaw, but one that can be worked around. Also, an additional career (counterterrorist) is provided for use in the character creation process. In addition, the character creation section includes my favorite part of the book: a list of mercenary terms and expressions. These add flavor and realism to the game besides making it easier to describe missions (I personally liked the "chocolate chip suit" nickname for the desert Battle Dress Utility).
. Descriptions and statistics for new equipment and vehicles take up the next thirty pages, or about a quarter of the book. Though such a percentage may seem high, it is typical for a game system that at times seems to put more emphasis on the PC?s equipment than on the PCs themselves. The equipment information is quite welcome, as it covers items such as suppressors, nonlethal weaponry, and specialized electronics that are very useful to mercenaries but not covered in the original Twilight:2000 rulebook. The vehicle section contains data on a variety of APCs, light tanks, and off-road vehicles that could be used or (more likely) encountered by mercs during their operations. All these items, along with equipment from the original game, are present in an exhaustive price list at the end of the M:2K book that eliminates the need to page through multiple volumes in order to find what one is searching for.
The Referee section comes afterward. It contains information on how to construct a mission along with descriptions of the ways in which mercenaries can be paid, and how their renown and lifestyles affect the type of patrons that seek them out. Also, the end of the Referee portion of the book contains several sample NPCs the characters may work with or against (such as "Company Man" and "Enthusiastic Newbie").
"Patrons" and "The World of 2000," the next two parts of the book, are very helpful in establishing the game's setting and mood. The first of these two parts discusses the types of organizations that may hire the characters and the activities these groups engage in. The latter illustrates the global situation of 2000 and how changes such as worldwide economic problems and diminished power of nation-states have increased the demand for mercenaries. It includes a comprehensive region-by-region listing of the world's trouble spots and brushfire wars, along with the role (if any) mercenaries play in the conflicts.
"Time, Travel, and Encounters" details the differences in how these work in M:2K as opposed to T:2K. Random encounters, which are important in T:2K, are all but absent from M:2K, though this section provides ideas on how they can be part of a mission. More valuable, though, are the numerous maps for generic locations included in these pages.
This section is followed by "Combat Rules" and "The Opposition." The first of the two discusses (you guessed it) combat; specifically, situations such as parachute landings, silent movement, noise, weather, and quick kills. The new rules are simple but helpful, and could easily be incorporated into T:2K. "The Opposition" gives basic information on the structures and TOEs for organizations ranging from US-style rifle squads to criminal cartel forces. This information is quite useful to referees trying to determine just how many guards are at that factory or how many heavy weapons are in that enemy infantry platoon, saving them plenty of time and trouble.
Next is a section containing a number of ready-to-play sample scenarios and two short campaigns, all of which are accompanied by detailed, well-drawn maps. The scenarios include such diverse missions as industrial espionage in a high-rise building, rescuing DEA agents in South America, and clearing gangs out of an urban neighborhood. These are useful not simply because they are pre-made, but also because they serves as guides to help referees design their own scenarios. The campaigns, taking place in Barbados and Nigeria, are good examples of how referees can link several missions together to form an extended storyline.
In summary, Merc:2000 is a high-quality product with a substantial amount of useful information. The product adds an exciting new setting to the Twilight:2000 line of games; one that is more relevant today that the original game's post-apocalyptic setting. The information in this book can be useful for not just T:2K players and referrees, but also those who play modern-day mercenary games using other systems.Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)