Paul Elliott of Zozer Games has done the Cepheus Engine/Traveller RPG community a great service with the publication of SOLO: Solo RPG Campaigns for the Cepheus Engine. Although marketed as rules for solo play, the reality is this book offers a very useful campaign structure driven by the Classic Traveller encounter-style of adventuring.
SOLO is based on the “fortune in the middle” approach to gaming. As Paul explains it:
Here, some decision making is made, but with very little description of how the player actually achieves his goal. The dice are rolled and the results retro-actively interpreted. [p. 6]
In explaining how to get to the “fortune in the middle,” SOLO breaks down the rules into six broad sections; Character Generation, SOLO Campaign Rules, and four different campaign styles (Travellers, Star Traders, Naval Officers, and Survey Scouts). As an added bonus, the Naval Officers campaign also has simplified “All-in One Space Combat” rules.
The Player Characters chapter is on one level a rehash of the character generation rules in the Cepheus Engine System Reference Document, but at another level so much more. The expanded explanations in SOLO do so much more to bring Cepheus Engine closer to a narrative-style of game. For instance, look at how the CE Reference Document explains Endurance:
Endurance (END): A character’s ability to sustain damage, stamina and determination. [CERD p. 23]
Compare this to SOLO:
Endurance – Toughness and stamina. Endurance also indicates a pain threshold. Does this indicate a character with a past filled with hard knocks and hard living? Low endurance may mean a pampered lifestyle, a low tolerance of stress, pain and discomfort. [p. 10]
SOLO gets much closer to creating characters in the style that Marc Miller in Traveller 4 (T4) referred to as the Detailed Role-Players – characters with strong motivations and rich backgrounds. With just a few extra words and a bit more thought, SOLO guides the players into making much deeper characters. This is partially achieved by focusing on what the die roll is during character creation and not just if it was a pass/fail:
Once a career has been chosen and the rolling of dice begins, we must take note of how much the role for Survival, Commission, Promotion and Re-Enlistment were made by – or failed by. Think of what it means to make or fail a roll by a wide margin. [p. 12]
This same approach applies to Skill and Mustering Out. I especially enjoyed Paul’s comment in Mustering Out where he recommended reducing cash bonus benefits for, “This ensures that none of the player characters in the group are too affluent – too affluent to take risks.” [p. 13].
The next chapter, Character Reactions, starts the core of the SOLO rules. Character Reactions introduces a new rules mechanic for “In-Game Reactions.” In-Game Reactions is a roll to avoid a bad reaction – a measure of how well the team held their nerve. It is a variable target number based on the crew relationship; the examples used range from the squabbling crew of Prometheus (more prone to bad reactions) to Star Trek (less prone).
“The heart of SOLO is The Plan” [p. 22]. The Plan lays out the scene resolution mechanic. This again is a new game mechanic because SOLO resolves scenes and not tasks. Through the use of a single die roll, The Plan resolves “how it all went” [p. 22]. Using a simple three-step process, the player decides the Plan difficulty, danger and resolution. From here the die roll leads to Bad Consequences or Good Consequences. This in turn leads the player to Explanations – what happened.
To help, Paul recommends Write It Down in an unstructured diary [p. 28]. Most importantly, this must include NPCs: Contacts & Enemies. If you haven’t caught on yet, SOLO is heavy on relationships – relationships between characters and relationships between the party and NPCs. These relationships in turn lead to Storylines where the player “tries to make sense of random events by hanging on them an interconnected plot” [p. 33].
These random events are driven by Random Rolls, the next chapter. There are Random Tables for:
- Tell Me, D6
- NPC Reactions
- Colourful Locals
- Starport Encounters
- Ship Encounters
- Ship Types
- Ship Reactions
- Law Level Checks
The Tell Me, D6 is nothing revolutionary and shows a range of reactions for either a person or situation. The other tables are wonderful because they often use a variety of d6 rolls, from 2d6 (2-12) or 3d6 (3-18) or d66 (36 potential outcomes). These tables can be dropped into most any campaign, solo or not, and are a reminder that tables don’t just have to be 2d6! The Law Level Checks table and accompanying explanation is also good GM advice on when and how to play with Law Levels, a rule that has been in Traveller since the first Little Black Books in 1977 but one I rarely used until more recently.
With the core SOLO rules explained, Paul now introduces the first of four campaigns – Travellers. This is the default campaign and classic Traveller:
…a mixed group of traveling PCs, veterans of the military services and other walks of life. The might have a small starship with which they move from world to world, or they may travel on commercial starships. Criminals, hunters, fortune hunters, noblemen (and their countiers), miners, chancers and bounty hunters, all fall int this category. [p. 53]
Each campaign uses a Checklist of events. Paul also recommends starting this campaign In Media Res, and has a “Starting Situation” table to help. The campaign also has tailored events tables. Once again all of these are great fodder for any GM to drop into their campaign. The heart of the Travellers campaign is the Patron Encounter though here event that is expanded upon by also encountering Enemies, Cargoes, or Colourful Locals.
The second campaign is Star Traders. This campaign is actually where Paul started as it is based on his earlier publication, Star Trader. The Star Trader campaign is where:
With a ship in hand, the player characters can start making money by shipping people and cargoes. Often this means they are free traders, plying the routes the big carriers have ignored. Free traders can get into plenty of sticky situations, can earn extra money from infrequent adventures and sometimes operate on both sides of the law. [p. 7]
SOLO ties to avoid the “fantasy stocks and shares” gaming trope and make this campaign adventure. Once again, it is relationships that will drive events. The campaign checklist is not only a great guide for solo play, but useful guidance for any free trader campaign game.
Whereas the Travellers and Star Traders campaigns are classically Traveller, the next campaign, Naval Officers, is much different. “The PCs are the crew of a naval warship, patrolling the subsector, battling pirates and smugglers and defending the region from other interstellar navies” [p. 7}. Because this campaign is not “classic,” different character generation rules are called for and provided. Additional rules are what I call “Naval Intelligence,” added planetary codes for pirates or general threat levels giving an expectation of action. The “Star System Encounters” section also flushes out the system and provides more adventure hooks. “Investigating the Sensor Returns” calls for the use of playing cards with the different suits representing a different type of contact. More encounter tables are consulted, and more adventure created.
The Naval Officers campaign also introduces All-In One Space Combat rules. This rules variant uses a streamlined combat resolution mechanic built around a ship’s Combat Rating. Use of this variant avoids the need to play the starship combat subgame as detailed in the CE Reference Document. I don’t know how many more times I will say something like this, but the All-In One Space Combat Rules should be in every GMs kitbag for use during play.
The last campaign is Survey Scouts:
Exploration and adventure go hand in hand. In this campaign, the player characters are the crew of a survey ship – far from help or assistance, members of the scout service exploring new planets and sometimes making contact with alien races. [p. 7]
There is no greater science fiction theme than the exploration of uncharted space; many novels, movies and TV series have gone down this route. For SOLO gamers space exploration provides an almost perfect solitaire-play set-up; a ship, a crew and a subsector of unknown space to fly around without the need for NPCs, meddling governments or regulations. [p. 102]
This campaign style is heavily hinted at in the later generations of Classic Traveller. I prefer to call this campaign style “Alien Traveller” with a very definite nod to the Alien franchise, although Paul points out that is just one of several genre campaigns possible. Like Naval Officers, Survey Scouts needs modified character generation rules. In Survey Scouts, new rules also cover planetary surveys and “Survey Points.” In yet another useful section for any GM, Survey Scouts draws heavily from another of Paul’s products, The Universal World Profile to add many useful details to planets.
I should point out that after the SOLO rules are introduced and in every campaign an Example of Play is provided. The Naval Officers and Survey Scouts campaigns also use evocative fiction to help showcase their subsystems. Sprinkled throughout the book are many references to stories, books, TV shows, and movies that bring home the point just how versatile the Cepheus Engine system can be.
Recommendation: MUST BUY
SOLO is more than just a campaign system for solitaire play. By using solo play as an example, Paul has actually shown a way to make the encounters-style of adventure work in a wide variety of campaigns. SOLO should be in every Cepheus Engine/Classic Traveller RPG GM’s kitbag. It is astonishing to think about just how much “game” is included within these 153 pages. At $9.99 this is a real bargain for the many hours of play one can get solo or with their regular adventures.
SOLO: Solo RPG Campaigns for the Cepheus Engine; by Paul Elliott, Zozer Games, 2017.
Cepheus Engine System Reference Document: A Classic Era Science Fiction 2D6-Based Open Gaming System; by Jason “Flynn” Kemp, Samardan Press, 2016.