Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Look Back at Fantasy Games Unlimited's MERC

Since our session this week didn’t happen due to school and illness, the other night I went through the box of FGU’s MERC I’d bought recently. Like many of us, I’ve been rebuilding my old long lost collection and was happy to be able to get the actual box and rules along with original accessories. These include two six sided dice, the usual PC sheet, a transparent sheet of plastic with a marksman’s scope imprinted on it, and a paper with an illustration of a generic human form to be used as a target.

MERC came out in 1981, and I think I must have gotten it that year or the next. At twelve years old, I was just becoming aware of politics. At the time, and until about ‘85, I was big fan of the The Gipper. It’s probably even safe to say that I was a full-on Reaganaut for a while. MERC’s appearance on the RPG scene should have come as no surprise - there was no shortage of gamers hepped up on anti-USSR rhetoric. MERC, “A Modern Game of Counter Insurgency” was perfectly placed to fulfill the fantasies of those wishing to support either the Contras in Nicaragua or the anti-Soviet Afghan resistance. In retrospect, it’s probably what the founders of Blackwater were playing back in the day.

Character attributes are: Strength, Agility, Intelligence, Knowledge, Intuition, and Prior Military Service, and are rolled with 2d6, generating numbers like 1-4, 3-2, 5-6, 6-3, etc. Somewhat strangely, height, hair and eye color, voice quality, handedness, and complexion (“…the factor for sunburns etc.”) are also rolled for using 3d6. Combat consists of a 2d6 roll for H2H, or a 3d6 for Small Arms, with a variety of attacker / defender modifiers and base to hit numbers. The plastic transparency is laid over the human target illustration for use with sniping, and dice results are cross referenced on the cross hairs to find the actual hit or miss location. Assassination anyone?

The included sample adventure takes place in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Here are some excerpts from the opening text: “…by 1975, only two nations could still boast of a White Power control…and both were under attack. …The situation was opportune to Communist interests. Soon terrorists appeared…armed with Soviet weapons. …In an attempt to stabilize the situation, the White government decided to hire white mercenaries to train and lead loyal troops (both white and black). Hundreds of white soldiers of fortune answered the call.” Guess what side you’re on!

I played this as GM a few times. Looking back now, it’s fascinating to see the game in the context of the political events unfolding at the time we were playing it. I was a newspaper junkie as a kid and especially interested in foreign affairs. In the end though, the game failed to hold our interest for more than just a few plays, and for the most part we went back to our beloved D&D.


christian said...

I love FGU games. I used to read the ads in Dragon and beg my parents to let me buy things like Psi World and Villains and Vigilantes.

Timeshadows said...

I played a degenerate Pict/Celt/Roman-descendant (who did not speak a lick of any known language) in that scenario. He, 'The Celt', used home-made napalm and other non-traditional methods to achieve the stated goals.
--I played him as scummy as I was able all in the hopes of illustrating how horrific the assignment actually was, as my fellow players were acting justified in their characters roles.

My most spoken quote from that session: "Are you talking to me or my character?"

By the end of the night, the other players looked ill, and the GM was smiling, getting what I was 'saying'.

Ah, good times...

Roger G-S said...

The more things change, the more they stay the same...

ze bulette said...

Thanks for the comments -
@Christian: I think the only other FGU games I played were Aftermath! and Bunnies & Burrows. I was esp. interested in Bushido, but never got a chance.
@TS: I would have expected nothing less! Well done.
@R the GS: Indeed so.

Telecanter said...

Interesting post, thanks. The political connections of roleplaying games would be interesting to look into deeper. I bought the 1986 Price of Freedom long after it was published, from a craft store. It was basically a game to let you play the movie Red Dawn; the USSR has taken over the US. I remember the scenario the game gives for how the takeover happened was ridiculously convoluted and unlikely.

Anonymous said...

interesting. i picked up the base rules and the supplements for very little about a month ago at a game convention. never had played it, but it looks like an interesting read. i'll have to get to reading after reading your synopsis. thanks.

Doc Savage said...

How are the mechanics? Sounds awesome. Especially with all the soldier-of-fortuning going on these days.

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