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“As long as there have been wars, there have been mercenaries. Whether for money, patriotism or just the love of adventure they came; the Lafayettes and Von Steubens, the Mickey Marcuses and Mike Hoares. Rallying to foreign flags to lead, fight and die. These are the twilight soldiers.”

MERC is an interesting odd-ball of a game from the classic FGU era of games. The game focuses on mercenary military actions (usually very small squad actions, like the A-team) in theatres worldwide (although the example setting in the game and in the campaign supplement released later was Rhodesia / Zimbabwe). It was the first game I saw that used a clear “scope” template for hit locations where you roll for variation and then determine where the shot hit based on moving the scope as indicated. This turned up later in one of the first additions to the Warhammer 40,000 game, and more recently in the Aces and Eights RPG.

One of the interesting elements in the game design is that all weapons deal the same damage – weapon damage is determined by the hit location & severity table and isn’t adjusted based on the firearm in question. This is similar to the old Top Secret RPG from TSR, and even reminiscent of classic D&D where all weapons did 1d6 damage.

Like most RPGs of the era, character creation is a long series of random die rolls and a few key choices. The very first section is not ability scores, however, but physical appearance – with tables for age, height, hair color, eye color, complexion, voice and handedness. The baseline is that the characters in Merc had some prior military service experience, so age is 3d6+20 – making for older characters than most military RPGs. For our Merc, this comes out as 27.

I decide that I’m going to go with a classic mercenary concept for the era, a South African military officer looking for work internationally. I’ll call him Henrik Volker, a very Germanic nme that gets the white african feel across. The tables give him average height, red hair, blue eyes, fair complexion, an average voice and he’s ambidextrous (nice bonus).

Ability scores are rated from 11 to 66 (2d6 read as percentiles). The stats are Strength, Agility, Intelligence, Knowledge, Intuition and Military Service. We get a smart, strong man of average agility but with excellent intuition who served in the Special Forces. Then I have to pick his specialties – his primary and secondary skill sets effectively. He’s got the Strength for Heavy Weapons, but not the Knowledge (even to have it as a secondary specialty). The problem is that the specific benefits of the various specialties are not listed with them, but instead are buried in tables throughout the book… For instance the Detection test table tells you there are bonuses for Recon or Camouflage experts… I grab Camouflage Expert as his Primary and Grenadier as his secondary. According to the sample character the Grenadier as secondary gives him +1 to hit with grenades, but there’s no sign of that rule in the grenades section of the rules, nor in the description of the specialty…

Anyways, we’re back to the physical description again, now determining the character’s frame (based on nationality and a d66 roll). Henrik gets a medium build, and therefore an “above average” carrying capacity when combined with his high Strength. He weighs in at 170 lbs and can carry 125 lbs of gear.

We then determine his major “Tests” – Stress, Dexterity and Command. Stress tests are made whenever the commanding character fails a command test, or when the character is outside of command range and gets into trouble. Dexterity tests are uses to avoid abstacles, dodge traps, climb walls and so on. Command tests are made to keep your troops from having to make stress tests. Henrik handles Stress quite well (51), isn’t that agile (41) but will make a great commander (61).

Name: Henrik Volker
Nationality: South African
Age: 27
Height: 5’9″
Weight: 170 lbs
Frame: Medium
Load: 125 lbs
Hair: Red
Eyes: Blue
Complexion: Fair
Voice: Average
Favored Hand: Ambidextrous

Strength: 54 (Strong, +5 Test modifier)
Agility: 23 (Average)
Intelligence: 46 (Smart, +10 Test modifier)
Knowledge: 43 (General Knowledge, +5 Test modifier)
Intuition: 61 (Primordial, +5 Test modifier)
Military Service: 56 (Special Services, +20 Test modifier)

Primary Specialty: Camouflage Expert
Secondary Specialty: Grenadier

Stress Test: 51
Dexterity Test: 41
Command Test: 61