#TravellerRPG Tuesday – My B’rron Subsector using #CepheusEngineDeluxe #ttrpg

After looking back at my Little Black Book Traveller ’77 tabletop roleplaying game—which doesn’t have a default setting—I set out to make my own subsector for adventure. I decided to use Cepheus Engine Deluxe for my core rules because it is the updated version of Traveller and closest to the 1977 version. Besides, many of the subsector generators online use algorithms that just weren’t there in 1977!

Spiritual successor to Traveller

For those not familiar with the Universal World Profile (UWP) below this is how you decode it:

  • World Name / hex / UWP / Bases / Trade Tags / Notes
  • UWP A123456-T
    • A= Starport
    • 1= World Diameter (Earth = 8)
    • 2= Atmosphere (Standard = 6)
    • 3= Hydrographics (% water covered)
    • 4= Population (order of magnitude)
    • 5= Government
    • 6= Law Level
    • T= Tech Level (TL)

You will see below that all my world names are generic tags. When I’m worldbuilding the names of worlds are one of the last things I do…if I get around to it. More often than not the tag suffices. One mark of a great adventure is when your players are leaving the planet and ask, “So, what was that place that nearly killed us?”

Setting Assumptions

Jump Drive

In the B’rron Subsector Jump-3 is the longest jump drive possible. To build Jump-1 drives takes TL9, Jump-2 is TL11, and Jump-3 is TL13. In combination with the starport rules for ship construction (only A-class starports can construct starships; B-class can construct system ships, and C-class can only do small craft) this means not every polity will actually be able to build starships. As you will see, building Jump-3 ships is actually limited to only two planets throughout the entire subsector.

Polities

I assumed that the B’rron Subsector was settled long ago and allegiances were established amongst worlds one parsec (1 hex) distant from each other. This created six major political entities.

Major Astrography

Here is the B’rron Subsector. [Subsector map generated using https://campaignwiki.org/traveller/edit…with hand drawn embellishments!] The subsector map shows three loose groupings. The Coreward Cluster with the two worlds of the Stra’zer Arm, the Bradii Reach, and Amiltin Reformation. The Central Worlds consist of the Dun’i’gan Federation, Dr’ke Arm, and Quinto Expanse. There are also four “independent” worlds without allegiances though one, a high population and high technology world ruled by a religious dictatorship, lies at the rimward edge of the subsector.

B’rron Subsector

Coreward Cluster

Stra’zer Arm (Green border)
  • SA-1 / 0101 / D665735-1 /Research Base / Agricultural, Garden, Low Tech, Rich
  • SA-2 / 0201 / B522A78-7 / Scout Base / Water World

Late in the design process I decided that the Sta’zer Arm is an alien empire. I haven’t defined the alien…yet. The worlds within B’rron Subsector appear rather poor. Why SA-1 is not a Red Zone is unknown. The jump-3 trade route between SA-1 and the Bradii capital is a very recent development and drawing interest as it is the only known jump-3 trade or communications route in the whole subsector.

Ship Construction – 0201 TL7 System Ships

Amiltin Reformation (Blue border)
  • AR-1 / 0104 /E9A7552-7 / Non-Water Fluid Ocean, Non-Industrial / Gas Giant
  • AR-2 / 0203 / X9A0348-7 / Research Base / Desert, Low Pop / Gas Giant / RED ZONE
  • AR-C / 0303 / B796ADA-A / Naval Base / High Pop, Industrial / Capital
  • AR-4 / 0403 / E635554-9 / Non-Industrial
  • AR-5 / 0503 / C443778-8 / Scout Base / Non-Industrial / Balkanized

Led by the religious dictatorship on AR-C, at TL10 the Amiltin Reformation has the technology but not the shipyards to build starships. There are rumors of a secret research project on AR-2 (Red Zone, and nobody believes there is only an X-Starport or that the tech level is 7).

The balkanized AR-5 has become a planet of intrigue. Lying two parsecs from both the Amiltin Reformation and Bradii Reach capitals, the planet nominally owes its allegiance to Amiltin. However, several groups on the planet openly advocate alignment with the impersonal bureaucracy of the Bradii Reach, which has the Amiltin religious dictatorship on edge.

Ship Construction – 0303 TL10 System Ships

Bradii Reach (Orange border)
  • BR-C / 0401 / A72AA98-F / Naval Base / High Pop, High Tech, Industrial, Water World / Gas Giant / Capital
  • BR-2 / 0501 / E454677-7 / Agricultural, Garden
  • BR-3 / 0601 / D595886-5 / Low Tech / Gas Giant / RED ZONE
  • BR-4 / 0701 / AAA59AA-D / Naval Base / Non-Water Fluid Oceans, High Pop, High Tech / Charismatic Dictator
  • BR-5 / 0801 / C31478A-8 / Scout Base / Ice-Capped

With the highest tech level planet in the subsector (BR-C TL15), Bradii Reach should easily dominate. The shipyards in BR-C and BR-4 are the only yards in the entire subsector capable of building Jump-2 or Jump-3 starships.

The charismatic dictatorship on BR-4, just a step behind in technology (TL13), believes they are the rightful leader of the Reach and is willing to fight for that recognition if necessary. This tends to keep the capital focused inward instead of outward, much to the relief of the Amiltin Reformation.

Ship Construction – 0401 TL15 Jump-3 Starships / 0701 TL13 Jump-3 Starships

Central Worlds

In the last few generations, more and more politicians talk about a Central Worlds Confederation.

Dun’i’gan Federation (Yellow border)
  • DF-1 / 0305 / X110400-6 / Scout Base / Non-Industrial
  • DF-2 / 0405 / X787446-3 / Garden, Low Tech, Non-Industrial / Gas Giant
  • DF-3 / 0406 / B466998-B / Naval Base / High Pop, High Tech 
  • DF-4 / 0505 / E596551-5 / Agricultural, Low Tech, Non-Industrial
  • DF-5 / 0506 / C537751-7
  • DF-C / 0507 / C996ACA-C / Naval Base / High Pop, High Tech, Industrial / Gas Giant/ Capital

By some measures, DF-3, with the B-Starport, could very well be the Federation capital. Maybe in a few generations, but for now the higher-tech DF-C—connected via communications route to the Quinto Expanse and Dr’ke Arm—remains the capital.

Like AR-5, planet DF-1 is another planet of intrigue. A member of the Federation, it lies two parsecs from the Amiltin Reformation capital and two parsecs from the high population and high technology DF-3. Amiltin sees it as a potential pathway into the Central Worlds while the Federation sees it as a defensive bulwark to prevent the spread of the Reformation.

The Dun’i’gan Federation is lukewarm to the idea of a Confederation. As they are dependent on others to build starships they fear they would be seen as the junior-most partner in any grouping.

Ship Construction – 0406 TL11 System Ships

Quinto Expanse (Red border)
  • QE-C / 0509 / A7648C9-9 / Naval Base / Agricultural, Garden / Gas Giant / Capital
  • QE-2 / 0608 / B4668C8-6 / Agricultural, Garden / Gas Giant
  • QE-3 / 0709 / D676477-8 / Low Pop

The Quinto Expanse is fiercely independent, but is at risk of being overwhelmed by the higher tech Dun’igan Federation and Dr’ke Arm. QE-2, with trade route connections to two other polities, is often referred to as “Kasablanka”—a reference with an origin lost in time.

The Quinto Expanse has mixed feelings about a confederation. As a relatively small empire they feel a bit threatened by the Dr’ke Arm, yet they also seek allies as they fear the “rise of the Heresy.”

Ship Construction – 0509 TL9 Jump-1 Starships

Dr’ke Arm (Black border)
  • DA-1 / 0803 / X492357-5 / Scout Base / Low Pop, Low Tech / Gas Giant
  • DA-2 / 0704 / X241463-0 / Low Pop, Low Tech, Non-Industrial / Captive Government of 0706
  • DA-3 / 0705 / D380200-5 / Desert, Low Pop, Low Tech, Poor
  • DA-4 / 0706 / A373CCA-9 / High Pop, Industrial / Gas Giant
  • DA-C / 0707 / B47AAA7-C / Naval Base / High Pop, Industrial / Gas Giant / Capital
  • DA-6 / 0807 / D000553-A / Naval Base / Asteroid, Vacuum

Te Dr’ke Arm has two faces; the rimward worlds are relatively high tech and populous but the coreward worlds are extremely poor. The Scout base in 0803 serves as a forward outpost against the Bradii Reach. DA-2 is an early colony set up by DA-4.

The Dr’ke Arm is the greatest proponent for confederation, mostly because they see themselves as the natural leader.

Ship Construction – 0706 TL9 Jump-1 Starships / 0707 TL12 System Ships

“Independent” Worlds
  • “Pirate” / 0107 / C200600-7 / Pirate Base / Non-Agricultural, Non-Industrial, Vacuum
  • “Corp” / 0109 / E100510-7 / Corporate / Vacuum
  • “Heresy” / 0210 / A565DDA-A / Naval Base? / High Pop, High Tech / Religious Dictatorship
  • “Castaway” / 0309 / X410100-3 / Low Tech

The planet in 0107 is a known pirate stronghold.

Corp is known as a corporately controlled world, though where the corporation comes from is unknown. Some think the corporation and pirates are aligned…

“The Heresy” is the nickname given to an unknown religious dictatorship. Ship Construction – TL10 Jump-1 Starships.

No, not that Heresy…

The few people living on Castaway are not some primitive race, but the crew of a ship lost that “went native” and refuse to leave. There are rumors that this may actually be an elite special forces team from the Quinto Expanse sent to man a secret listening post to defend against The Heresy and pirates. Who knows?

Adventure Seeds

The “intrigue” worlds at the crossroads of multiple polities are good locations for adventures. If the players want to trade, these are also good locations to work from. There is always great opportunity to get involved in the political or military machinations between various factions. There is also the rimward/spinward threats that seem very distant but…

Hmm…I wonder if a mercenary striker could find employment? Looks like Traveller Volume 4 – Mercenary is up next!

Traveller Book 4 Mercenary

Feature image courtesy rpgknights.com

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#SciFiFriday – Rediscovering @GerryAndersonTV Space: 1999 and thoughts of #TravellerRPG, #CepheusEngine, & other #TTRPG systems

This past Christmas, I gifted myself the new Moonbase Alpha: Technical Operations Manual (Post Breakaway Revised Edition) by Chris Thompson and Andrew Clements with illustrations by Chris Thompson. This nice coffee table book is published by Anderson Entertainment and is an “in-universe” book based on the 1970’s TV series Space: 1999.

I was but a wee lad, a bit less than 10 years old when Space: 1999 burst onto my TV screen (and it was a small screen, still black & white). Space: 1999 was cool—cool spaceships (Eagles forever!), cool uniforms, and cool science (not that it all made sense to young me). I took in the first season and remember being absolutely frightened out of my skin at the episode “Dragon’s Domain.”

Fan created trailer for “Dragon’s Domain”

I also remember being so confused at the second season of Space: 1999 with shapeshifting aliens and…well, better to forget that season.

So I did. Ever since then Space: 1999—Season 1 at least—continued to exist somewhere in my headspace. It helped that I had a few Space: 1999 toys like a die-cast Eagle and several models. In more recent years I “rediscovered” Space: 1999 and added UFO to the lore as well as the graphic novels. The RockyMountainNavy Boys helped me find new plastic models and kept my memories alive.

UFO Intro

Breaking Down the Breakaway Manual

It’s bigger on the inside (whoops, wrong British TV show…)

Moonbase Alpha: Technical Operations Manual is a 272-page book formatted in a 9.5″x12″ hardcover. The cover illustration is a faintly lined Eagle Transporter that I wish was a bit easier to see. Inside, the Manual is organized into seven major sections (chapters):

  1. History and External Layout – I finally have a good description of of what my MPC Moonbase Alpha plastic model kit depicts
  2. Internal Layout – Covered in 73 pages (~25% of the Manual) this is a great mix of set photos and illustrations; many details I never noticed in the series
  3. Nuclear Waste – At first I was like, “huh?” but after reading I better understand why this essential story element gets the attention it does
  4. The Eagle Transporter – In many ways I love the Eagle Transporter over Star Wars vehicles and this chapter reminds me why (it also gives me details to help me paint up my other MPC model of the Eagle Transporter)
  5. Supplementary Craft – Much more here than I remembered; give me the Hawk Mk IX for the win!
  6. Uniforms & Equipment – What good sci-fi fan of the 1970’s didn’t have a jacket that looked a bit like one from Moonbase Alpha?
  7. Current Command Roster – Only later did I learn about how the production company, ITV, used international stars; I always though that Moonbase Alpha was simply “international” much like Star Trek was.

There are also two major Addendums covering “Alien Technology” and “Emergency Evacuation Operation Exodus.” Buried within individual chapters are other addendum boxes of relevant subjects.

[Warning – Spoilers Ahead] Sometime in the past decade I became aware of the connection between the TV universe of UFO and Space: 1999. I was really excited to see some connections in the Technical Operations Manual. What I appreciate the most about the connections is the secrecy; there are little references to UFO in the Manual like “the Straker Doctrine” but as a whole UFO is treated as, well, a secret. There are other nods too but I’ll leave those for you to discover on your own.

Generally speaking, my personal experience with “in-universe” background books based on pop culture intellectual property (IP) is mixed. In order to enjoy many IP-based productions I have to really, and I mean really, suspend my disbelief. Books like Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Warfare (Jason Fry, Ballantine Books, 2012), which as a military veteran and wargamer I should have wholeheartedly embraced instead helped me realize that I am a science fiction fan that hems more towards “gritty” or “hard” sci-fi rather than “space fantasy” like Star Wars. All of which is a round-about way of saying the Moonbase Alpha: Technical Operations Manual is much more “believable”—and enjoyable—than I expected.

Roleplaying Space: 1999

As I also play science fiction roleplaying games (RPG), “in-universe” books like this Technical Operations Manual serve as a great source of gaming inspiration. I have played the Traveller RPG (Marc Miller, Game Designers’ Workshop, 1977) since 1979 and science fiction RPGs are definitely my thing. As I look across my science fiction RPG collection, there are several different game systems that are candidates for use in a Space: 1999 RPG. Generally speaking, I look at each set of rules from the perspective of character generation, technology, and narrative support (story generation) when looking at how they might be used to create a Space: 1999 game.

Characters – When creating a character, most systems I am familiar with use careers. Moonbase Alpha is staffed by departments which might be a good starting point. The Manual tell us the different compartments are Command, Main Mission, Services, Flight, Technical, Medical, Science, and Security (pp 209-210). We also can see in the series the Space Commission (Politician?). If we expand our “canon” to include the 2012 Archaia Entertainment graphic novel Space 1999: Aftershock and Awe we also find other “careers” like the United Nations Coastguard using Eagle Transporters.

Courtesy goodreads.com

Technology – Space: 1999 is a near (alternate) future heavily grounded in technology we would recognize as our own. The major handwaves I see are nuclear fusion rocket engines, artificial gravity, and a hyper-light drive.

Narrative Support (Story Generation) – Although Space: 1999 the TV series was of the “adventure of the week” kind, different episodes covered many different genres and adventure types. A Space: 1999 RPG needs to be able to handle a wide range of story lines, from military to exploration to horror and more.

Cepheus Engine (Samardan Press, Zozer Games, Stellagama Publishing, 2016+)

The easiest approach to making a Space: 1999 setting might be to go to a near-cousin setting. Orbital 2100 by Paul Elliott from Zozer Games is a sublight, near future setting using the Cepheus Engine rules. Of course, Cepheus Engine itself comes in a few flavors (“Standard,” Light, and Quantum) but using the latest Cepheus Deluxe version as a starting point seems like a good place to jump from. Cepheus Deluxe has the advantage of being the rules set I am most familiar with, seeing how it traces it’s lineage all the way back to my first role roleplaying game, Traveller by Marc Milller from Game Designers’ Workshop (1977) which I first found in 1979.

Characters – No single rules set has the right combination of careers to represent Moonbase Alpha staff, but by synthesizing careers from Cepheus Deluxe, The Clement Sector Third Edition, and Hostile a fairly representative collection of careers and skill could be assembled.

Technology – Using Cepheus Deluxe, the “average” Tech Level (TL) is 8 to 9. To create the spacecraft of Space: 1999 will likely be a kludge of Cepheus Deluxe and Orbital: 2100 rules for sublight craft.

Narrative Support (Story Generation)Cepheus Deluxe does not focus on a single genre of science fiction so it should be flexible enough to cover a diverse set of adventures.

Star Trek The Roleplaying Game (FASA, 1983)

Going way back in my collection, I have the first edition FASA Star Trek Roleplaying Game (FASA, 1983). Seeing how the characters in Star Trek are all academy grads (or at least Starfleet personnel) the similarities to the Space Commission Moonbase Alpha arrangements jump out.

Characters/TechnologyStar Trek assumes the characters are in the service after attending the academy and served prior terms to gain experience and rank. The various Departments in Star Trek map directly to Moonbase Alpha Departments though the skills will be different because of the different technology assumptions.

Narrative Support (Story Generation) – Like Space: 1999, episodes of Star Trek (The Original Series) were episodic. The game system is capable of handling most any genre, but is highly dependent on Game Master preparations.

The Babylon Project (Chameleon Eclectic, 1997)

Long forgotten, The Babylon Project (Chameleon Eclectic, 1997) is in many ways similar to Space: 1999. Overtly, both focus on characters on a “station” or “base.”

CharactersThe Babylon Project uses a concept-driven character generation system. Using the roster in the Manual, it’s possible to map most any character in terms of the Attributes/Skill/Characteristics which can be a good example of how to make a Moonbase Alpha character.

Technology/Narrative Support (Story Generation) – Technology takes a backseat in The Babylon Project. Instead, story comes to the front. Much like Babylon 5 was one of the first TV series to do a story arc, The Babylon Project gives advice on how to do the same for your adventures.

FATE Core (Evil Hat Publishing, 2013)

Another rules set that is a candidate for Space: 1999 is FATE Core from Evil Hat Productions (2013). FATE Core claims the game, “works best with any premise where the characters are proactive, capable people leading dramatic lives” (emphasis in original). Character generation in FATE Core is not a lifepath or point buy system, but rather “concept” driven which I find a bit harder to imagine. The core mechanic, using FATE dice, is also more suited to “pulp” gaming than gritty or hard sci-fi. Technology is what you make of it.

GENESYS (Fantasy Flight Games, 2017)

A more recent game system that might be useful is Genesys: Core Rulebook from Fantasy Flight Games (2017). Genesys powers FFG’s Star Wars Roleplaying Games series.

Characters – Character generation is a form of point-buy built around archetypes. The generic career list would have to be tailored, but there are many examples in the various Star Wars Roleplaying Game books to draw inspiration from.

Technology – Technology is again what you make of it. Unlike Cepheus Deluxe which tends to portray technology in “harder” sci-fi terms, in Genesys technology is there to aid the narrative.

Narrative Support (Story Generation)Genesys is a highly narrative game system that again is suitable for many different genres of play.

The Expanse Roleplaying Game (Green Ronin Publishing, 2019)

With some work, Green Ronin’s The Expanse Roleplaying Game (2019) may also be adapted.

Characters – The Professions list of The Expanse Roleplaying Game is not that far removed from Space: 1999.

Technology – Technology-wise the two settings are not all that far apart.

Narrative Support (Story Generation)Green Ronin’s Adventure Game Engine (AGE) system uses a three different encounter types—Action, Exploration, and Social—for games that in some ways is very suitable for a Space: 1999 setting.

CORTEX Prime (Fandom Tabletop, 2021)

Another “generic” system that may prove useful is the CORTEX: Game Handbook (Fandom Tabletop, 2021). CORTEX comes in several flavors and different versions have powered the Serenity Role Playing Game (2005), Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game (2007), Smallville Roleplaying Game (2010), Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game (2012), and Firefly Role-Playing Game (2014). The CORTEX Prime System described in the CORTEX: Game Handbook is highly modular and tailorable to genre and setting.

Characters – CORTEX Prime characters come with three Distinctions (Background, Personality, Role) and then a “Power Set.” Looking across the options, I feel a Power Set combining the Classic Attributes (Agility, Alertness, Intelligence, Strength, Vitality, Willpower) with “Roles” based on Department assignments may be a good starting point.

Technology – There are plenty of examples of how to define a piece of technology in the other CORTEX rule books.

Narrative Support (Story Generation) – The different flavors of CORTEX can support different genres of adventure; CORTEX Prime attempts to synthesize those different play types under one rules set.

Which one should I work on first?


RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

RockyMountainNavy’s 2021 Role Playing Game of the Year – or – Hostile Cepheus Deluxe Alien Traveller Explorer’s in Clement Sector

This year I dabbled a bit into role playing games (RPGs). As my forthcoming accidentally already posted 2021 “By the Numbers” post shows, I acquired 20 RPG items in all the year. Six (6) of those were core rule books, but only five (5) of those were from the past year (with four of those published in the last two months of the year!). Thus, the candidates for RockyMountainNavy’s 2021 RPG of the Year are:

…and the winner is…

This one was very hard to decide. ALIEN got lots of attention this year but it just really isn’t my thing. Mongoose’s Traveller: Explorer’s Edition is more a player aid than a core book. Which leaves the Cepheus Engine (CE) games.

Cepheus Deluxe is the latest, well refined version of the CE rules. Clement Sector is an excellent space opera setting and the new Third Edition brings so much of the material together it literally has become a one-stop guide to the entire setting. The HOSTILE Rulebook is another one-stop guide but focused on a gritty sci-fi setting.

Gotta decide…

HOSTILE Rulebook

To be honest, in terms of rules there is nothing really “new” in the HOSTILE Rulebook. One could make the argument that it really is the ALIEN setting with the serial numbers (and much of the horror) filed off. What I like about the HOSTILE Rulebook is how the simple was repackaged into a very thematic setting.

HOSTILE Rulebook from Zozer Games (2021 Revised Edition)

Feature image courtesy https://conceptships.blogspot.com/2017/05/spaceship-art-by-rodrigo-galdino.html

#SundaySummary – Turkey Day 2021 with @ADragoons @hexsides @hollandspiele @HuzzahHobbies #CepheusEngine #TravellerRPG @USNIBooks @compassgamesllc @Toadkillerdog @gmtgames

Happy Thanksgiving!

The week was a bit slow in Casa RockyMountainNavy. This is the first holiday we celebrated in our “new” nuclear family configuration since Eldest RMN Boy is in Tech School for the U.S. Air Farce. It also follows three months with the Mother-in-Law in town and a simultaneous major health challenge for Mrs. RMN (not COVID…but while the vaccine might of protected it appears it brought on other health issues). So we have much to be thankful for. For my part, much of the Christmas shopping is also complete, at least as the major presents for each RMN Boy and especially Mrs. RMN go.

Wargaming

I took some down time this week to work on a First Impressions piece on The Battle of the Bulge (Avalon Hill, 1965). If I get the photos together you’ll see that later this week. I also was inspired by D-Day at Omaha Beach from Decision Games (Fourth Printing, 2020) to look at wargame maps and data. I need to work up some photos and run it by Brant at Armchair Dragoons to see if it meets his standards. Finally, I owe designer Brad Smith a deep apology since I volunteered to playtest Warsaw Pact Air Commander (coming in the future from Hollandspiele) but am very delinquent in sending him anything. I made an effort this week to change that.

Boardgaming

Huzzah Hobbies, my FLGS, had a 50% off sale this weekend. I didn’t make it up there but the RMN Boys did and sent me a photo of the shelves and asked for suggestions. We’ll see if anything shows up under the tree this Christmas.

Role Playing Games

I messed around a bit with Cepheus Deluxe, the latest version of Cepheus Engine from Stellagama Publishing and the modern take on the Traveller RPG.

Books

A long-forgotten backorder from Naval Institute Press arrived this week. Fighting the Fleet: Operational Art and Modern Fleet Combat argues that naval concepts are often diluted or lost when too much jointness is introduced. It also talks about the use of Operations Research, which I see as adjacent to wargaming. I need to finish this book and then use it to consider wargames like John Gorkowski’s South China Sea and Indian Ocean Region from Compass Games as well as the naval modules for any of Mitchell Land’s Next War series from GMT Games.

Cepheus Deluxe (Stellagama Publishing, 2021) – The new heroic #TravellerRPG

Cepheus Deluxe is the latest iteration of the Cepheus Engine roleplaying game rules for 2d6 science fiction adventures. These new rules are the latest refinement of a game system that traces its heritage back to Marc Miller’s Classic Traveller RPG from Game Designers’ Workshop in 1977. Cepheus Deluxe increases player agency in generation of larger-than-life characters and delivers more cinematic action but by doing so moves the Cepheus Engine away from play evocative of “ordinary” adventurers and closer to heroic science fiction characters and action taken from today’s pop culture.


Traveller, by Marc Miller and published by Game Designers’ Workshop in the late 1970s, was my first roleplaying game (RPG). I have played Traveller continuously since 1979—over 40 years. Through those years I played several different versions of Traveller, and missed many others too. In the mid-2000s, Mongoose Publishing licensed Traveller and published Mongoose Traveller, 1st Edition using an Open Game License (OGL). However, when Mongoose released a second edition in the mid-2010s, the license rules changed, and (in my opinion) not for the betterment of the Traveller community. Fortunately, there were enterprising publishers, led by Jason “Flynn” Kemp at Samardan Press who took the Traveller System Reference Document (SRD) and OGL and released a “generic” version of the rules called Cepheus Engine. The Cepheus Engine rules are the Traveller RPG rules sans the Third Imperium setting which both Mongoose Publishing and Far Future Enterprises (Marc Miller) designate as IP. The latest version of the Cepheus Engine rules are known as Cepheus Deluxe. written by a team led by Omer Golan-Joel from Stellagama Publishing.

Old is New or New is Old?

Cepheus Deluxe is simultaneously a spiritual successor to the original Traveller RPG (now commonly known as Classic Traveller) as well as a distinctly different game. The major differences (evolution?) in the rules systems are related to the core mechanic, character generation (chargen), and more cinematic combat. Some of the “new” rules were seen in previous versions of Traveller, such as Mongoose Traveller 1st and 2nd Editions, as well as earlier or variant versions of Cepheus Engine. However, their assembly in Cepheus Engine delivers a more “heroic” game.

Core Mechanic – 2d6…plus

The Classic Traveller core mechanic—roll 2d6 8+ for success—generally remains in Cepheus Deluxe but with more modifiers and task difficulty. Whereas in Classic Traveller the only die modifier (DM) to a skill check was from skill levels, in Cepheus Deluxe you have DMs for characteristics and skill levels. along with a host of other environmental and situational modifiers. These extra modifiers appeared in various Traveller and Cepheus Engine versions before now.

The major new addition to character generation in Cepheus Deluxe that heavily influences task throws is Traits. “Traits are unique features of competent and driven characters…each character typically has one Trait…” (p. 41). When using a Trait, players use Advantage, which means one rolls 3d6 and chooses the best two when making a task roll.

Although it is an optional rule, if used Hero Points can dramatically shift the style of play in Cepheus Deluxe. This rule is expressly designed to enable play of “larger-than-life science fiction heroes” (p. 12). Players start each session with 2 Hero Points and share a common pool of points equal to the number of players present. Each time a task throw results in an Effect (difference of roll and target number) of +6 or greater, the individual Hero Pool increases by 1. Each time a task throw has an Effect of -6 or greater, the group Hero Pool increases by 1. Hero Points are used to:

  • Reroll a single die throw
  • Force the Referee to reroll a non-player character die roll
  • Reroll a throw on Trauma Surgery.

It’s MY Character

One of the greatest features (not a bug) of Classic Traveller has always been character generation (chargen). In Classic Traveller, chargen is quite literally a game with lots of wristage; throw to generate stats, throw to enter careers, throw for skill during a term, throw for promotion, throw for survival, throw to reenlist, and throw when mustering out. Cepheus Deluxe attempts to keep the core lifepath development system of Traveller but updates it by giving the players a bit more agency while calling on less wristage. During chargen in Cepheus Deluxe players will:

  • Roll for characteristics but assign them as desired (long an optional rule)
  • Choose a Homeworld and associated skills (adopted from previous versions)
  • Select a career; no enlistment rolls
  • Pick your own skills during a term; no rolling on tables
    • Optionally, one can roll 1d6 for the number of years in a term vice using the “standard” 4-year
  • Promotions automatically occur in certain terms (subject to modification by Career Events)
  • During a term, one rolls on a Life Events Table and, if necessary, the Injury Table
  • Roll for aging effects at end of Term 4 (tied to terms, not a specific age)
  • Roll for Mustering Out Benefits, but a roll can be exchanged for a promotion
  • Select one Trait for every two terms served (rounded up)

Chargen in Cepheus Deluxe includes optional rules for switching careers. There is another optional rule called “Iron Man!” where one treats any injury as player death—a call-back to Classic Traveller and its famous “you can die in character generation.”

Another major change in Cepheus Deluxe during chargen is the calculation of two new character stats: Stamina and Lifeblood. These stats are used in combat. Stamina, representing “toughness,” is the sum of the player character’s (PC) Endurance characteristic plus Athletics skill. Lifeblood, or “resistance to injury,” is equal to twice their Stamina.

Action for Heroes

Classic Traveller, indeed most version of Traveller or Cepheus Engine, can be very deadly for player characters—after all, the combat system was developed with wargame designer Frank Chadwick! To illustrate both the similarities and differences let’s look at a combat situation. From Classic Traveller we will use the sample character Captain Jamison from pages 24-25 aboard his Type A merchant. Little does he know, pirate captain “Mad Jackie” Botrel from the combat example in Cepheus Deluxe page 93 has snuck aboard and is trying to take over his ship!

Early RPGs were just skirmish wargames, right? (Courtesy @licensedtodill)

Both Jamison and Jackie are waiting to go thru a door when it opens and both see one another. While both are surprised neither has “surprise” by the rules. Since Classic Traveller does not use Initiative rules like those found in Cepheus Deluxe, we will invoke the Cepheus Deluxe optional rule for Simultaneous Combat. As both characters are already at short range Jamison’s “move” is to draw his cutlass followed by an attack. At the same time, Jackie will charge and use her internal cyberblade to attack. So begins this Melee Combat:

  • Jamison must roll an 8+ to hit and has a DM+1 from his Cutlass-1 skill, a DM-2 for the Synthsilk (Mesh?) armor that Jackie is wearing, and a further DM+2 for short range making his roll 2d6+1.
  • Jackie charges into close range and must roll Melee Combat/STR 8+ with a DM+2 from the charge. Her strength of 6 grants no modifiers but her Melee Combat-3 skill gives her a DM+3. Usually armor reduces hits but since Jamison uses an older rules set without armor protection detailed, we invoke the optional rule Armor as a Penalty to Hit and give Jackie a further DM-1 for the Cloth Armor Jamison is wearing. Total DM is +5. Because she is using her Internal Cybernetic Blade, she can invoke her Signature Weapon Trait and roll 3d6 and use the best two die.
  • Jamison rolls a 7 which after DM is an 8—hit!
  • Jackie rolls 3-4-4 of which she uses 4-4 (8) and DM+5 for a modified roll of 13; hit with Effect +5.
  • Jamison’s cutlass is 2d6+4 damage; average rolls give it 11 wound points.
  • Jackie’s Internal Blade is 2d6; average 7 points plus the Effect+5 for 12 wound points.
  • The wounds to Jamison are randomly determined to hit his Endurance (9) first. This reduces his Endurance to 0 with three remaining points spread against Strength (-1) and Dexterity (-2);Jamison falls unconscious.
  • The 11 wound points against Jackie are reduced by 8 from her Synthsilk Armor. The remaining 3 points are applied to her Stamina (Endurance + Athletics = 8) which leaves her standing with “a mere flesh wound.”

Of note, in Cepheus Deluxe, once Stamina is exhausted wounds are then applied to Lifeblood (Stamina x2). Game effects from the loss of Lifeblood include:

  • When Lifeblood > half rating the PC has a Minor Wound and a DM-1 to all actions
  • When Lifeblood < half rating the PC has a Serious Wound with a DM-2 to all actions and must roll to remain conscious
  • When Lifeblood reaches zero the PC is Mortally Wounded and will die within an our unless they undergo Trauma Surgery.

Using the assumption that a character has average physical characteristics of 7, and assuming they have at least Combat and Athletics skills of 1 (“Employable”), in Cepheus Deluxe it likely takes something on the order of three or four hits—or more when wearing armor—to incapacitate a PC. While one certainly doesn’t want to hang around in a sustained firefight in Cepheus Deluxe, the combat potential of a PC is reduced at a cinematically slower pace than many previous versions of Traveller or Cepheus Engine (and certainly much slower than Classic Traveller).

“Holding Out for a Hero”

In Classic Traveller and so many later versions of Traveller and Cepheus Engine, character generation delivered what I call “everyday” characters using a somewhat random system. While one may start chargen with a basic character concept, the system sometimes (often times?) delivered a far different result. For myself, I enjoyed taking these “everyday” characters and trying to build a story and adventures around them. The increased player agency in Cepheus Deluxe challenges my basic assumptions at the start of chargen. The increased player agency in chargen from Cepheus Deluxe empowers players to take a character concept and flesh it out. While there is still some randomness and uncertainty it is limited and can challenge, but not derail, the making of a character. The ability to select your own skills and then acquire Traits with their powerful Advantage roll makes characters in Cepheus Engine more heroic than everyday. In some roleplaying games it is a conceit going into the game that players are “heroes” or extraordinary PCs. This was certainly not the conceit in Classic Traveller, but it is more popular in other systems. For example, The Expanse Roleplaying Game (Green Ronin, 2019) in “Character Creation, Step 2: Abilities” explicitly defines characters as “extraordinary” as compared to non-adventurous ordinary people:

AGE System characters are defined by nine abilities. They’re scored on a numeric scale from -2 (quite poor) to 4 (truly outstanding). A score of 1 is considered average for Player Characters and other extraordinary people. 0 is average for everyday individuals, the sort of folks who avoid having adventures.

The Expanse Roleplaying Game, p. 25

The core mechanic in Cepheus Deluxe, building upon character generation and taken in combination with more cinematic action and the optional Hero Points rules, certainly enables play of “larger-than-life science fiction heroes.” I am very likely in the minority here, but my preferred style of RPG play is decidedly “ordinary” vice “extraordinary.” Looking back over various rule sets in my collection I often enjoy taking an ordinary character and throwing them into extraordinary adventures:

  • Classic Traveller (GDW, 1977): “Everyday” characters usually living on the edge.
  • Behind Enemy Lines (FASA, 1982): Everyday GI Joe in combat.
  • Star Trek (FASA, 1982): While Star Fleet officers are highly trained, they often needed plenty of luck too.
  • James Bond 007 (Victory Games, 1983): Anybody can be spy, but a 00 has the best gadgets.
  • Paranoia (West End Games, 1984): Six decidedly average (if not slightly abnormal) clones were never enough.
  • Twilight: 2000 (GDW, 1984): In how many games can one stat themselves out?
  • Traveller: 2300 aka 2300 AD (GDW, 1986): Hard sci-fi Traveller in an unforgiving universe.
  • Battlestar Galactica (Margaret Weiss, 2007): Humans on the run from frakking Cylons!
  • Mongoose Traveller (Mongoose Publishing, 2008): Classic Traveller with an OGL
  • Serenity/Firefly (Margaret Weiss 2008/2014): “Find a crew, find a job, keep flying.”
  • Diaspora (Fate 3.0) (VSCA Publishing, 2009): Traveller using FATE 3.0 rules
  • Star Wars Roleplaying: Edge of the Empire (Fantasy Flight Games, 2013): “May the Force be with you”…but on low power.
  • Star Wars Roleplaying: Age of Rebellion (Fantasy Flight Games, 2014): Think Rogue One.
  • Cepheus Engine/The Clement Sector (Gypsy Knights Games (now Independence Games), 2014): Small-ship Classic Traveller alternate universe.
  • Cepheus Engine/Orbital 2100 (Zozer Games, 2016): Hard sublight sci-fi.
  • Cepheus Engine/Hostile (Zozer Games, 2017): “In space nobody can hear you scream.”
  • I hear there is a Cowboy Bebop RPG in development; looking forward to Cowboys just trying to catch a bounty to buy birthday presents for their kids and not be hungry for noodles like Spike.

In many ways I should not be surprised by the Cepheus Deluxe authors moving the rules towards a more heroic version of science fiction roleplaying. Thanks to corporate overlords like Marvel, superheroes seem everywhere. If you look at the RPG systems I enjoy, you will notice that most of those games are not superhero or high magic or space fantasy. My sources of inspiration for science fiction roleplaying overlap to some degree with those listed in Cepheus Deluxe, with a notable difference being my lack interest from computer games.

Does all this mean I dislike Cepheus Deluxe? Hardly. Rules like Hero Points are optional, and as you can see with the example above there is a high degree of backwards compatibility baked into the system. There are more than a few rules, like chases in combat or the entire Social Encounter chapter that are vey nice. More likely than not, I’ll probably use a character generation system tailored to a setting I prefer to play in like The Clement Sector or Orbital 2100 or Hostile but use the rules for Cepheus Deluxe in adventure play.

At the end of the day, I will certainly try to play Cepheus Deluxe. I am not sure I will add Hero Points. I feel that the RockyMountainNavy Boys would like the more heroic play. For myself…I just want ordinary PCs in extraordinary adventures. I’ll hold out for my heroes!


Postscript: There is one further discussion I feel need be mentiones and that is the inevitable comparisons of Cepheus Deluxe to Mongoose Traveller 2nd Ed. Yes, the two game systems are very similar, dare I say almost identical. The similarities are not only in the rules but in the layout of the rule books and even similar artwork. I see two major differences: price and licensing. For price one just cannot beat Cepheus Deluxe which at $9.99 for pdf and $16.99 for pdf+ B&W softcover is a real bargain. Mongoose Traveller will set you back $30 for the pdf alone, the most recent version which is an update to the 2nd Edition rules (although called an “update” Mongoose wants you to buy a whole new rulebook). Secondly, there is the licensing issues I alluded to before. Suffice it to say the Cepheus Engine community is open and very welcoming, whereas the MgT community must live with a publishing overlord that takes seizes individual IP just because you might happen to play in “their” sandbox.


Feature image courtesy Ian Stead

#SundaySummary – Missed Charlie but going from Bulge to D-Day with a deluxe serving of #CepheusEngine (@ADragoons @HBuchanan2 #wargame #ConSim #boardgame #TravellerRPG)

For the few wargamers out there that care, the 2020 Charles S. Roberts Awards (aka “The Charlies”) were awarded this week. The link is to the website that is yet to be updated; the awards announcement was via Dan Picaldi’s No Enemies Here YouTube Channel. It’s no secret that I am not impressed with the Charlies even in a year when I was nominated in a category. I’d wish all “better luck next year” but with the award process so unknown I honestly don’t care if there is a next year. For more reactions make sure you check out Brant and the gang over at the Mentioned in Dispatches podcast from Armchair Dragoons.

Wargames

New Arrival: Battle of the Bulge (Avalon Hill, 1965). Picked up through a local auction for $5. Box is in poor condition (every corner blown) but the contents are generally good.

On the Table: D-Day at Omaha Beach (Decision Games 4th Edition, 2019). Working my way through this solitaire system that at first looks a bit formidable but once you get it to the table and step through a few rounds it makes easy sense.

ConSim

Harold Buchanan hosted SDHistCon 2021 over this holiday weekend. I was unable to attend any of the events as I had family commitments or work. I’ll have to check out the various recordings later. For those same reasons I missed out on Historicon too. [Late edit…this weekend was the Compass Games Expo too.]

Boardgames

Office-al” Game: Iron Curtain (Ultra Pro/Jolly Roger Games, 2017). Not necessarily a solo game but having to walk away between hands helps one to forget what is there making “two-handed solitaire” doable. Small game also got some big attention from office mates.

Roleplaying Games

New Arrival: Cepheus Deluxe by Omer Golan Joel and team at Stellagama Publishing. Omer’s latest version of Cepheus Engine looks to take the Classic Traveller RPG into the 21st century with updated mechanics and more player agency while retaining the essence of the 2d6 Original Science Fiction RPG rules.