Those of us who read a lot notice certain recurring trends in people’s behavior. Mercenaries, for example, tend to fall into certain predictable traps. As people who have neither the status of hero nor the respect due to loyal minions, they tend to have trouble surviving through to the end. Thus, the concerned reader has come up with guidelines designed to help the thoughtful mercenary survive his or her career.
1) When hiring other mercenaries, make sure you let them know that the money is in the bank and that you have to be alive for them to claim it. Choose a very good bank, but not one run by a dragon (They tend not to give gold back).
2) Don’t try to kill your boss. No really. Just don’t. Chances are, they really are that good and only brought you along for decoration and/or decoy purposes. Even if you succeed in your plot, you’ll still have to deal with whatever it was you came out to hunt in the first place– without the person who knows what is going on and whichever other members of your party got killed in the fight (If you’re extra-unlucky, your opponent will reanimate them and send them against you). Your chances of survival go up if you stay loyal, but don’t be the boss’s best friend.
3) Your boss has a certain level of protection that his or her best friends lack. Stay loyal, but distant.
4) Don’t bother hiring other mercenaries. They never pay attention to rule #1.
5) Your boss will double-cross you (But see rule #2).
6) Never leave an enemy alive. The person (beast, being, or concept) will spend years holding a grudge and honing his/her/its powers until it can come after you. Even if escape, your nearest and dearest won’t. Why risk spending the rest of your life a hollow, empty shell driven by regret and the memory of lost love when it is so easy to stab your defeated foe?
7) Always pick up the weapons your fallen foes left behind. Otherwise, someone will come after you carrying the ax/sword/pike. You will then die an ironic but unsatisfying death. If you don’t, someone you care about will (But see rule #8).
8) Travel light. Armor is over-rated–loincloths and metal bikinis have proven more effective, even in icy climes–and too much weaponry will slow you down to the point where your enemy will beat you to your goal (But see rule #7).
9) Your enemy will beat you to your goal no matter what you do.
10) Maybe stick to farming?
11) If you’re a farmer, mercenaries will trample all your grain, kill your spouse, and carry away any children you happen to have.
12) Skip farming. Become a smith instead.
13) The best smith will always be killed by a mercenary who doesn’t want anyone making better gear than he/she has.
14) So be the second-best smith.
As a matter of fact, staying second-best is good advice across the board. You’ll be good enough to make a living and to keep most pests away, but not so good that people will hunt you down just to prove themselves. Evil Emperors don’t want the second-best smith and very few would-be best-swordsmen have the patience to fight from the lowest rank on up in order.
PS. Good luck if the former first-best gets killed.
PPS. I was going to warn you against associating with soothsayers, but let’s face it: By the time people are making prophecies about you, you’re either the hero or the arch-villain, and that is an entirely different skillset.
I’m sure I have left a few pieces of advice that the aspiring time-and-dimension traveling mercenary might find handy. If you think of any, add them on in the comments, please.