Not every survivor of the destruction of Aurora ended up allied to one of the larger factions, those with respectable planetoids of their own. Some were left to carve out homes in the remnants too small even for Shadowraiders to be built from, and sell their services to the highest bidder. Ironically, these mercenaries do more to bring the scattered tribes together than most diplomats, by acting as agents for cultural dispersion. Disaffected warriors from many worlds have joined the roving mercenary squads, and those mercs who live long enough to retire often do so on one of the larger War Planets.
The asteroidal remains of Aurora fall into two major classes. First are the rocky silicate-rich chunks from the crustal zone or upper mantle. These are often mistaken for small Rock Planet craft, and there is a movement afoot on that War Planet to try to convince the Stone Mercenaries to join them on a permanent basis. The other class of remnant is a cooled chunk of the core, either solid iron or a nickel-rich mix of metals. These metal asteroids are very strong and rugged in a fight, and tend to outnumber the Stone type by about two to one. The only reason the rocky asteroids are even used is that oxygen and silicon can be extracted from the shells during construction, reducing the need for imported materials. Metal Mercs tend to look down on the "bargain basement" Stone Mercs.
While the specific styles of asteroid craft are as varied as the mercenaries themselves, the three presented below are fairly typical of their respective types. And, aside from certain special-mission configurations, the crews tend to be similar as well. Each has an Electronic Warfare Specialist who also acts as field commander for the unit, and has status equivalent to the Heroes of the War Planets, although he lacks the offensive punch. Each also has a Close Defense Drone, armed with an energy lash, chosen because in the confined quarters of an asteroid craft it's unlikely to cause any damage to vital systems. Finally, the three-man combat crew is rounded out with some sort of ranged combat expert, either a mortar operator or a rifleman.
Mercenaries are not expected to fight the main battle except in the direst of situations...the heavy weapons of each War Planet are far better at that job. The task of the Merc has rapidly evolved into that of the valuable nuisance. The craft will land behind enemy lines (rather than use a teleporter) and split into its two components. The gun half becomes an anti-aircraft emplacement, protecting the unit from bombing and strafing, plus wreaking whatever havoc it can. Drop zones are chosen for their inaccessibility by ground for this reason. The drive section becomes an observation platform for engaging in electronic warfare, disrupting communications and sensors. The other warriors stand guard against attack, although mortar operators have been known to shell enemy positions from the observation platform as well. Once the unit's position has been compromised, they load up and leave, fighting their way to a new position if necessary.
Individual styles of the various types of unit are listed below.
The benefit of a Stone Asteroid is that it's cheap. Haul in an engine and a gun, carve out the innards to make the electronics and air you need. Heck, if you find a spent meteor missle from the Rock Planet, you don't even need to provide the engine, just some reaction mass. Once the asteroid gets shot up too much, detach the engines and gun and move into another rock.
This cheapness epitomizes the Stone Mercs. Most are armed with whatever they had when they left their previous service, so heavier personal weapons like mortars are uncommon. Those who can afford better weapons usually just buy into a better-equipped Merc team instead, although some actually prefer the life (short as it is) of a Stone Merc. The quickest way to pick a fight with a Stone Merc is to insult his ship...either he's resentful that he's on such a cheap craft and you'll hit a nerve, or he's actually proud of the thing.
The sample ship shown here has a fairly well-equipped crew for Stone Mercs. They actually have a full ECM complement (although it's a used, patched-up set), and the engines are pretty strong. However, there's no maneuvering thrusters, so all direction control is performed using the powerful gyros in the drive section. The cannon is a massdriver, hurling rocks wrapped in metal bands.
The Irons are the workhorses of the Merc forces, as the softer iron chunks are easier to work with than those alloyed with nickel and other metals. They tend to have an unfinished look to them, either because the crew can't be bothered to keep the metal polished, or because every atmospheric entry melts and mottles the surface a little more, depending on the duty the craft has seen. The equipment won't all be new, but it'll all be there, and it'll all work. Iron craft tend to have the most powerful engines of the lot, mainly because they've got the highest mass, the walls being left thicker than on Nickels and being denser than on Stones.
Iron Mercs tend to sneer at Stone Mercs and resent Nickel Mercs, the middle child syndrome, basically. They try to cultivate an aura of rugged macho, and are the most likely to get involved in real fighting rather than just the hit-and-run tactics the Mercs specialize in.
The ship shown here is very typical. Three powerful ion drives which can be fired in pairs or singly to maneuver. The weapon is actually a modified ion drive itself, designed not so much to destroy a target as push it off course into something dangerous, like a mountainside or an asteroid. It can also be used in maneuvering, although its off-center placement can make this tricky (units which prefer to use the ion blaster for maneuvers often mount it centrally).
The nickel-iron alloy craft are the strongest, lightest and most expensive ships in the Merc "fleet." Only the best units can afford to run one of these ships, and in space combat they can often hold off Shadowraiders twice their size and armament. Yet, for all this, they're still cobbled together from bits and parts scavenged or bought from various War Planets, since the Mercs don't have their own industrial base. Thus, a Nickel craft is often an elegant mismatch of bits and pieces on a highly-polished shell.
Nickel warriors are the elite, and they know it. They rarely strut and brag, since braggarts tend to die while still working the Stones, but they exude a smug superiority over even the Heroes of major War Planets. And it's not without cause, for those who survive long enough to commission a nickel-alloy ship are the usually the cream of the crop. Occasionally a bored son of a powerful warrior will buy himself a Nickel craft and try to play hard-case, but these "Nickel Plates," as they're called, tend to die quickly, along with the crews they hire, usually from the ranks of the more desperate Stone Mercs. No true Nickel warrior and very few Iron warriors will work for a Nickel Plate.
The ship to the left is fairly typical of the mix of elegance and awkwardness found in a Nickel Asteroid. The smooth, polished surface gleams in the starlight, and the elegant laser emitter purchased from the Tek Planet complements it nicely. But the Rock thrusters and Ice ion impellor drive clash rather garishly, and sometimes don't work together properly. The warriors wear polished reflective armor, contrasting with the grungy look of the Iron warriors.
While waiting for the new Tanks and Planets to arrive in stores here (distribution is really weird for War Planets), I noticed some of the post-Easter clearance sales and thought, "Hey, I could make my own moons out of those hollow plastic eggs!" Of course, I figured I'd take two hemispherical halves and join them, to avoid the egg shape. But when I found a bag of half-size eggs (about 2 inches long), I realized I could make passable egg-shaped asteroids. So, with these eggs, some really cheap and cheesy 25mm scale plastic soldiers I got for a buck at a "Everything For A Dollar"-type store a couple years ago and tossed in the trunk, a few pieces of plastic, some Lego parts, glue and paint, I proceeded to make three War Planets Asteroid Mercenary sets.
It's worth noting that plastic eggs are not necessary for making these, I could have also used some of those vending machine balls which clutter the back seat of my car (one machine at a Toys R Us had little transforming robots mixed in with MUSCLE knockoffs and Ultraman monsters), which have the benefit of a flat platform-like side already, but are harder to open.
The design plan I followed was roughly the same for all three eggs. The pointed half would have some kind of gun mounted on it with glue, while the round half would have the drive unit as well as a platform inside. I made the platforms by tracing a quarter onto a thin sheet of plastic, cutting out the circles and gluing them into place as floors. With the drive sections all designed to allow the egg to stand on them, this turned the lower half of the egg into a free-standing tower for one or two figures.
To make sure that I could easily separate the halves after painting (since I didn't want to pull off the paint while trying to open the eggs), I carved down the inside rim of the pointed half. I also had to scrape the paint off of this inside rim later on, since my base-coating was quick'n'sloppy.
I sorted through the bag of various WWII-era soldier figures for ones which could be made to look vaguely WP-ish, and settled on a trio of grenadiers, a trio of communications men, two mortar-operators (I'd have used three, except there were only two complete ones...lots of defective figures in the set) and a machinegunner. I carved off their faces so I could paint them as faceplates, and made a few other cosemetic changes here and there. The grenadiers I added short lengths of copper wire to, so now they were wielding energy whips. I broke them up into teams, with each having a whip-handler, an ECM man and a ranged-weapon specialist. To my satisfaction, all three would fit inside the floor-added egg for storage.
I got a little more baroque on this one, making the surface really lumpy with the glue gun and then using multiple shades of brown plus a black wash to give a rather good rocky appearance. The main engine is a 2x2 cylindrical Lego piece, and I made struts for it with more 1/8" plastic rod. The multiple colors on the struts are supposed to represent lights, but didn't come out quite as nice as I'd hoped. The main cannon is the only one of the three to be center-lined, and is made from a 1x1 tube piece topped by a 1x1 conical piece, painted copper with green, yellow and red accents. About the only real problem I had with this asteroid was that I didn't get the engine on quite straight, a fact which didn't become really obvious until after I'd started painting and it was too late to melt the glue off and try again. Since the original color of the egg I used was purple, I decided to use metallic purple accents on the figures. The machine gunner figure was an Australian soldier, and I carved back his hat to look more like a gladiator's helmet.
This mercenary asteroid is made from iron, so I wanted to give the impression of raw, unprocessed cold iron.
First I created the basic structure, as recounted above. Click here for a diagram of the structure used. I used a hot glue gun to attach the three "engines" to the bottom half and the Lego gun to the top half, plus the floor inside. Then I dripped glue in patterns over the surface to give a sort of lumpy and unfinished look to the asteroid. The main color for the Iron Mercenaries is "Aged Metal," with bronze and metallic green accents and a little red tossed in. I used a black wash (black paint mixed with water) on everything to dull it down and make the pieces look more like the regular War Planets toys.
Nickel was sort of the odd one out in this batch, I didn't have any real solid ideas for it, so I threw bits together (I did three asteroids simply because I found three each of the "Whip" and "ECM" figures). I decided that while Iron would be lumpy, Nickel would be smooth and polished, and look more like a spaceship than an asteroid. I made the gun from a short piece of 1/8" plastic rod, used two 1x1 conical Lego pieces for thrusters, and a Lego dish piece for the main drive. I simply painted the whole thing with several coats of silver, with copper thrusters, sky blue main drive and metallic purple weapon. I gave the figures a black wash, but not the asteroid itself. Not that the wash held on the figures too well.