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  • Writer's pictureFrancois DesRochers

The Bazaar #61: Bestiary Field Notes (CS Grunt Section)


GENERAL


Everyone’s favorite dog to kick, CS soldiers are the stereotypical “red shirts” for most Rifts games. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve used them as cut-out targets for my PCs as well. You can always play them ‘dumb’ by reinforcing the trope that they are uneducated drones. If this is your jam and how you want to keep playing them, then by all means, your table plays your rules. One has to remember that most of these soldiers are future generations of what was NEMA soldiers, which are by extension, RPG clones of military soldiers from the USA/NATO. There is so much more to the CS Grunt than most GM’s bother to use, or at least the option to make them much more than walking targets.


Note: Because of the multiple options available and copious supporting information behind it, this article is longer than the norm.


Disclaimer: The vast majority of CS Grunts are not looking to throw their life away, despite the propaganda they’ve been fed. Faced with a demonic or monstrous threat that won’t consider capture or surrender, the CS Grunt will likely fight to the death, but may just as likely turn tail and run away. After losing up to 50% of their squad, the remainder likely have an equal chance to continue fighting (out of desperation or conviction), alternatively offer surrender and/or retreat to run away. This is often the staple background trope used to justify playing them. Against humans or humanoid opponents, don’t expect them to “fight to die” simply because the PCs picked a fight.


DISCUSSION


References. A few links to other articles that apply.


  • Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad (FM 3-21.8). There is a lot of information here that I do not expect a non-practitioner to understand. Skimming the topic headings may provide a GM or Player with some additional background and some tips on how to employ an Infantry Section with some semblance to what NATO doctrine would indicate. Since the CS has been largely supported as a continuation of NEMA, which was based on 21st century US doctrine, the reference holds up. Most of the Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) could be equally well applied to a mercenary group, or even the Player Characters. Any reference from a NATO country (e.g. Canada, UK, Australia) would give the reader an idea of how we do business. This certainly isn’t meant to make you a tradecraft specialist, but there is a lot of information that a GM could employ as background material for adventure and TTRPG campaign designing. Key parts are likely Chapters 3 (Tactical Movement), Chapter 7 (Offensive Operations), Chapter 8 (Defensive Operations), Chapter 9 (Patrols and Patrolling), and some of the Appendices.


Characteristics. By definition, CS soldiers are human. I could go into depth about what that means, but there really isn’t all that much to say when describing other humans. Roughly six feet tall at adulthood, the only other characteristic of note is the general lack of any super-powerful or defining characteristic. Without augmentation and equipment, they lack any special strength, and are limited to Hit Points and S.D.C. For this, they make up for it by employing tactics, and reliance on technological advantages to try and even the playing field. As indicated in Heroes of Humanity, CS squads use their numbers and collaborative, supporting fires to assist other tactical groups to achieve the mission. While the individual CS Grunt has no great redeeming threats, the collective group presents a much greater challenge.



Environment and Encounter Range. Garrisoned in and around the borders of all CS states, as part of an expeditionary force, or long-range patrols supporting a CS Military Specialist. This makes them a pretty feasible encounter across most of North America.

  • Garrison Troops. Found throughout the Coalition States (duh), most CS soldiers would be stationed in a military compound or a base. Typically, these are protecting strategic assets (e.g. research facility, production factory), a hub for institutional or operational support (e.g. logistics, sustainment, prison), or a training institution. As such, they’re mostly dealing with the grind of everyday security detail, flavored with whatever down-time activities they might be allowed. This makes reaction of garrison security reliant on the morale and discipline of the non-commissioned core. Solid NCOs make for a tough nut for the PCs to crack, while slack or overly strict NCOs make reactions and willingness to risk their lives to protect the garrison a distant third (themselves first, squad mates second). As for defense of the locale, soldiers will have their assigned tasks, the perimeter bristling with weapons on interlocking arcs of fire, likely mine fields, and hard defensive points/bunkers with heavy weapons always at the ready. Defenders will also employ a variety of vehicle, power armor and robots (dependent on availability) to handle incursions and target larger threats. They also likely have copious supplies to handle a siege, something the officers and senior NCOs can stretch through rationing. Unless a small Forward Operating Base (FOB), this should be a very tough nut for PCs to crack and get away alive.

  • Expeditionary Forces. The most likely encounter with PCs, these are the soldiers sent out into the field as part of a combat patrol, supporting the leading edge of a battalion or up to an Army Group. Because of the threat to their well-being could be hiding behind any rock or tree, they are more wary and prepared to deal with anyone or anything that they come across. Unless sent out on a long-range reconnaissance patrol, you should always assume that a group of CS soldiers is part of a larger group with which they maintain radio contact. Other elements will not be too far to render support, particularly SAMAS and Sky Cycle patrols. If  the squad is part of a larger operational advance, you can expect several vehicle platforms are on active standby, if not in the direct vicinity, very close by (e.g. Spider Skull Walkers, UAR-1 Enforcers, SAMAS patrols); this may be particularly relevant in the vicinity of active operations zones (e.g. Tolkeen/Xiticix regions, Magic Zone, Pecos Empire). If the smaller squad is not dealt with in quick order, the GM can apply some added pressure by suddenly presenting reinforcements. Suddenly an ambush by the PCs becomes a running battle.

  • Reconnaissance Patrol. Typically, a smaller squad; the CS Recce Squad is more concerned with “sneaking and peaking” than combat. There is a fair chance that this squad is also not your baseline CS soldier, but a crew of seasoned specialists (e.g. CS Scout, Commando, Juicers, Strike Force Cyborgs, Dog Boys). Since active combat might jeopardize the mission, these soldiers are more concerned with breaking clean and slipping away. If composed of CS Grunts, they are likely accompanying a Military Specialist and may be slightly more inclined to fight. For the most part though, these kinds of squads run and hide because they have something more important to accomplish. This could be used to generate some tension with the Players. They know something is out there, just not where; are they tracking the PCs or heading elsewhere?


Attributes. As the typical CS soldier (a.k.a. “Grunt”) is invariably a human, the statistics are generally normalized around an average of 10 to 12 across all Attributes. This means that in a typical section, you might have a couple of them with higher P.S., P.P., or P.E., all of which would be reinforced through O.C.C. Skills from the Physical category, and a few likely common ones (e.g. wrestling, boxing, athletics). There is very little that stands out in terms of Attributes; they are one of the few O.C.C.s that have no identified Attribute requirements.


SPECIAL ABILITIES AND POWERS


Technological Weaponry. The CS soldier is not anything that presents with cool and powerful abilities. They are just a collective of soldiers, relying on each other and their gear. They have advanced weaponry, body armour, and communications equipment that keeps them in touch. There may be a few odd ball psionics, certainly never any magic. This makes them relatively predictable, which is one reason they are “easy targets.”

  • C-12 Laser Rifle. Until about 105 P.A., the standard issue for a CS Grunt. Capable of 2D6 or 4D6 M.D. up to 2000 feet (610 m), with an E-clip that handled 20 shots; it also had an S.D.C. option. Combined with the W.P., this CS Grunt can benefit from upwards to +3 to Strike, higher still with Aimed shots.

  • C-27 Heavy Plasma Cannon. A heavy support weapon that accomplished 6D6 M.D. at 1600 feet (488 m). E-Cannister charged for 10 shots. Combined with the W.P., this CS Grunt can benefit from upwards to +3 to Strike.

  • Hand Grenades. Grunts have 2 fragmentation grenades, capable of inflicting 4D6 M.D.

  • CP-40 Laser Rifle. The new standard issue weapon, with two M.D. settings, and two S.D.C. settings. Provides a lot more versatility.

  • CP-50 “Dragonfire.” Second-generation over/under heavy weapon with laser and grenade launcher; the latter fires grenades up to 1200 feet (365 m).

  • Vibro-Weapons. A close-combat blade does1D6 M.D.; sabre does 2D4 M.D.


Body Armour. Not so much a special power, but the advent of M.D.C. body armour provides a CS Grunt at least a modicum of safety from enemy fire. Old Style “Dead Boy” armour provides 50 M.D.C. (Main Body), enough to absorb three to five hits from small arms fire. Newer CA-4 “Dead Boy” Armour can withstand much more (100 M.D.C.). By taking advantage of cover, tactical movement and firing, and a little luck, the CS Grunt can hopefully live long enough to lay down enough firepower to win the fight. This is typically the same element that most Player Characters without serious bionic augmentation, magical devices/spells or natural abilities will rely upon.


Tactics. There is a lot here that is simplified from the Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad (FM 3-21.8). As a very short precis, it should give you some idea of the way most CS squads “should” be played in order to avoid the “Red Shirt” or “Stormtrooper” tropes they often are forced into.

  • Use of Terrain. As indicated in RUE (p 360), hitting targets behind cover require a Called Shot, which requires two attacks/actions per melee (with no additional bonus); Aimed Call Shots needing three attacks/actions. Shooting a moving target also incurs a -1 to Strike. Infantry tactics relies on movement and cover to protect soldiers and hamper enemy fire. If completely behind cover, there is no shot possible. Combined with elements from the following points, the CS Grunts can make a pretty substantial advance against the PC’s positions to threaten them and make the combat encounter much more compelling.

  • Initial Contact Squad Movements. An infantry squad under contact will first try to find cover and attempt to win the fire fight –accomplished by forcing the enemy to hide behind cover. Go figure, if they are forced to duck in behind cover, they are not shooting back as effectively. Once fire superiority is accomplished (thismight no happen for two melees or more), any time an enemy combatant “pops” their head back up, the Grunt likely has Initiative and first shot. This leads to fire and movement. Moving in pairs, one Grunt uses an action/attack (or two) to approach by running forward approximately 10 feet (3m), their partner firing a shot to keep the enemy pinned. This repeats until they close in to reduce or eliminate any cover they may have, and either overpower the enemy through sheer firepower and/or grenades, or close combat.

  • Squad “Hasty” Attack. When a squad (6-10 Grunts) comes under fire, they will most likely spread out into a line to get the most barrels pointed at the enemy. Winning the fire fight then allows the squad to formulate a plan. Either leveraging the previous points to advance straight up to the PCs, they can alternatively break off up to half the Grunts to use cover to approach the enemy (Assault Group). The remainder stay in place as a Fire Base, laying down covering fire, keeping the targets pinned with heavy weapons and copious firepower (C-27s, C-50s) Players should bear in mind that Fire Base attacks are “directed” at them. They need to rationalize whether they elect to fire a shot/spell, and possibly suffer return fire now that they are exposed. When the Assault Group moves into position, they attack from the flank, hopefully negating cover and rolling up the enemy targets.

  • Force Ratio. CS Grunts are not mindless zombies. They understand that unless they have overwhelming force, a direct assault is tantamount to suicide. Their combat doctrine strives to accomplish a 3:1 ratio for an attack, so against a group of 3 to 4 PCs, this necessitates a full squad (~10 soldiers). This would allow a 4-Grunt Fire Base, allowing the other 6 to form the Assault Group and flank the PCs. A squad of CS soldiers numbering less than this is likely a long-range reconnaissance patrol more concerned with “sneaking and peaking,” and will immediately try to disengage and run away.


TACTICAL EXAMPLE


Disclaimer: I understand that as a current, active practitioner, I am in a much different position from most GMs. I can develop and expand my CS antagonists with years of experience, to give my Players a really difficult time of it. The aim, of course, is not to overwhelm and kill off my PCs, but to provide that immersive experience they will enjoy.


CS Squad Formations. For the most part, I’d likely limit my encounters to a Squad-sized enemy. Typically, I’ll roll a d6+4 for squad morale; once they lose that number of soldiers, they break and run. This would be one of the following:

  • Short Range Recon. All bearing CA-4 Dead Boy Armour (100 MDC). 4 Grunts with C-12 or CP-40 rifles, 2 Grunts with C-27 or CP-50 rifles, 1 Military Specialist with CP-40, and a Technical Officer with a C-12 and comms gear. This will be the heavier hitters the PCs have to face, maximizing Infantry squad tactics. The Military Specialist and 4 Grunts with C-12s/C-40s form the basis of the Assault Group and try to wrap around the PCs.

  • Dog Pack Recon. All bearing Dog Pack Riot Armour (50 MDC). 4 Light Dog Boys with C-18 pistols, 2 Dog Boys with C-12 rifle, 1 Large Dog Boy with C-27 rifle, and 1 Psi-Stalker with C-12 rifle. All armed with vibro-weapons, this squad really wants to charge into combat with the PCs.

  • Light Mechanized Squad. Take the Short Range Recon squad and replace 2 Grunts with C-12 or CP-40 rifles with 2 Grunts piloting SAMAS suits. The Grunts will engage the PCs and when they are down half or more, will call in the SAMAS for reinforcements.


Meeting Engagement. For the most part, these squads will either find the PCs (or be found) as part of a planned encounter.

  • Advantage: Player Characters. When found by the PCs, typically they lay an ambush and kill one or two right off the back; the remaining Grunts are fighting an uphill battle. I also typically shave some from the break point before they run away.

  • Advantage: CS Squad. If PCs are the target, I typically allow this to be a fair, straight up fight that the PCs can gain Initiative and push through. Launching a proper ambush would be a bad play experience and very likely lead to a TPK. But if the PCs are part of a convoy other targets are available, I disperse the targeting to fit the encounter (e.g. some on guards, some on drivers, some to try disable target vehicles). This allows the PCs the chance to recover and launch a counterattack.

  • No Advantage. If they are meeting in the wild without other targets, I’ll start The CS Squad at a distance and make them approach, letting the PCs’ results dictate how far I can push things. If the dice or decisions go against them, I'll lean on the PCs getting captured; if the PCs are swatting through, a pair of SAMAS or Sky Cycle reinforcements come at the tail end, giving the PCs a decision point to continue fighting or slip away. The SAMAS or Sky Cycles will only chase the PCs so far before going back to secure their wounded.


CONCLUSION


Some Players and GMs are going to look at this and go, “Nah, not for me.” That’s fair. The aim is to give the GM options for changing up what might be a boring “shoot ‘em up” encounter into something more interesting. If you’re ever looking to make the PCs, most or all of which are high tier in capability or lethality, a full-blown CS Squad ambush will make them sweat.


Most Player Characters are on the higher end of capability. Typically, they are packing some very strong Attributes, an O.C.C. that provides several playable options to deal with kinetic and role-playing opportunities, and possibly even several special abilities (e.g. superpowers, psionics, spells, technology). Given this dynamic, the CS Grunt is a pitiable target in a straight up fight with most Player Characters, even if you went one Grunt per PC. But what a standard “infantry” soldier does not accomplish alone, they start proving themselves as part of a greater whole. Leveraging technology and tactics, teamwork, and a sense of belonging to the tactical group, this all combines, pushing them to do more than the sum of their parts. Can a small group of CS Grunt cause a Total Party Kill (TPK)? Not typically, but played with some tactics, leveraging ground and a minor appreciation for squad tactics, and things can get compelling, and difficult. We’re not trying to kill the Players, but we can certainly make it more of a challenge.


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