The Anderson & Felix Guide to Naval Architecture, 3rd Edition (hereafter referred to a A&F) is a 252-page, full color pdf. Author John Watts describes it as thus:
This updated third edition of Anderson and Felix Guide to Naval Architecture has been written for use within the Clement Sector setting. Clement Sector is a small ship setting, with restrictions on the size of starships bought about by the Zimm drive, the setting’s only means of FTL interstellar travel. Further, Clement Sector has an overall maximum technology level of 12 though some technology, notably computers are higher.
Even with these restrictions, the Anderson and Felix Guide to Naval Architecture can be used in any setting with the referee or designer simply substituting back element of those settings requirements or for that matter, any type of alternative setting-based guidelines wished. There is plenty of information in A&F to interest any referee or designer, including the pre-gravitic module, which allows for more detailed designs. I do hope you enjoy the book.
A&F, “Authors Note,” p. 20
John brings up a great point here; though these books might be sold under The Clement Sector setting label, A&F, like so many Independence Games products, is really “universal” in that you can use the rules beyond the house setting.
A&F is arranged in seven “Modules.” Several are familiar, some are setting specific, and others not what one might expect to see.
Module 1 of A&F is the Clement Sector version of Spacecraft Design. To many Traveller RPG or Cepheus Engine veterans this module should be very familiar. Just note that because the Clement Sector is a small-ship setting that Adventure-class ships top out at 1,800 displacement Tons (dT) and Capital Ships are no larger than 20,000 dT.
Module 2 of A&F should likewise be familiar as it is for Small Ship Craft (less than 100 dTons). There is also a provision to make “Drones” which is not just a remote control craft, but an autonomous vehicle.
Module 4 of A&F is “Zimm Drive Alternatives.” While you might be tempted to this this is where you will find the “standard” Jump Drive of Traveller RPG you should be (delightfully) surprised to find “alternate” drive technologies like the Alcubierre Drive instead.
Module 5 of A&F is Advanced Space Combat. These are the rules for capital ship combat in the Clement Sector. Again, nothing really new here (hello High Guard) but the setting specific adjustments of technology can be inspiration of how to “fit” the classic Traveller RPG approach to technology levels into your personal campaign design.
Module 6 of A&F provides six sample spacecraft. All of these have appeared in previous Clement Sector products but all here are brought up to third edition standards. Which is to say if you have the “outdated” versions you can still play with them as the changes are not necessarily major.
Module 7 of A&F is one I don’t recall seeing before. “Module 7 – A Primer of Creating Deck Plans” provides guidelines and tips for drawing your own deck plans. For myself, I’ve been drawing deckplans for almost 40 years so I thought I didn’t need this module. However, after reading it I see lots of ways I can step up my personal deckplan game and make them more interesting without necessarily more work.
As much as I love A&F, it is not without a few (minor) issues. Personally, I like a complete table of contents but really wish the pages were hyperlinked. Also, the ToC might be a good place to use two-column the print as the single column format is 20(!) pages long. The index is double-column, but again not linked. I know; small quibbles and, after all, in the pdf you just use the search function anyway, eh?
“Second Star to the Right, Straight on ’til Morning”
The Anderson & Felix Guide to Naval Architecture is the “round-out” book for the Clement Sector Third Edition core rule book. Taken together, players, referees, or designers now have everything (and I mean everything) they might desire to make their own adventures in the Clement Sector—or any small ship ATU setting of their choice.
I should also mention that purchasers of the first or second edition of A&F were given a coupon for a substantially discounted copy. If you were a previous buyer and can’t find you coupon LOOK HARD because the price is well worth it!
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.”
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.
Breaking Down the Breakaway Manual
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):
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
Nuclear Waste – At first I was like, “huh?” but after reading I better understand why this essential story element gets the attention it does
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)
Supplementary Craft – Much more here than I remembered; give me the Hawk Mk IX for the win!
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?
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 Awewe also find other “careers” like the United Nations Coastguard using Eagle Transporters.
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.
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 Hostilea 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.
Characters/Technology – Star 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.
Characters – The 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.
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)
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.
Some might say that a 675-page product scarcely qualifies as “consolidation.” Here is how Mr. Watts explains his intent:
This volume exists so that all the pertinent information concerning the Clement Sector could be found in one volume and would save newcomers to the system from having to purchase multiple books to have an understanding of the setting. Therefore, the first change from the second edition of Clement Sector is that this book contains the entirety of The Clement Sector Core Setting Book, Clement Sector: The Rules, and Ensemble Cast. The advanced space combat rules from Clement Sector: The Rules are now found in Anderson and Felix Guide to Naval Architecture.
Clement Sector v3, p. 657 “Changes”
John goes on to explain how Clement Sector v3 brings in key elements of no less than eight (8!) other major Clement Sector products. With so much consolidated under one cover, has the Clement Sector actually become too bloated?
I contend the answer is a resounding NO! Mechanically speaking, Clement Sector v3 remains wedded to the Cepheus Engine rules system with just a few changes. John states the “major change” in this edition is the “change from the Characteristic of Social or Social Standing to Charisma” because, “I have always felt that Social Standing really had no place in Clement Sector” (p. 657).
Let’s take a look at that major change. I refer you to page 140 of Clement Sector v3 and “Charisma (CHA)” where the rule—in its entirety—reads, “Charisma shows how well the character can influence, charm, or inspire other people.”
That’s it. That’s John Watts’ “major change” to the game mechanisms in this ATU setting.
Alright, alright. The Clement Sector ATU is an unabashedly different “small-ship ATU” with a different FTL handwave, that being the “Zimm Drive” versus the classic Jump Drive. In terms of Third Edition rules there are a few other changes that Mr. Watts makes. Like adding the skill “Draw.” Or removing the “Steward” skill and replacing it with “Chef” and “Etiquette.” Or removing the “Zero-G” skill and folding it into “Survival (Freefall).” Or how “Vacc Suit ” and “Battle Suit” are now covered under an umbrella “Suit” skill. Importantly, none of these changes lose the space opera focus of Clement Sector.
Sure, in some places I think Clement Sector v3 goes a bit overboard. Like in character generation where you have the choice of not only generating your own character, but also information on parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. In some ways Clement Sector v3 takes the random Traveller/Cepheus Engine life path character generation process to an extreme in an extensive “Character Origins” section that covers over 30 pages. But I note that much of the extra “fluff” is optional; a character is playable without it.
Personally, my OneBookShelf library has over 30 Clement Sector products in it. To be honest, finding what I wanted to use as a Referee was becoming a bit of a chore, in part because one can search within only a single product but not across the product line. By consolidating so much material in one product, I now have that “one stop reference” I can use to build and adventure with.
Good on you, Mr. Watts, for recognizing that the expanse of your product line may be a bit much and for bringing so much of it together under one cover.
If you have not played around in the Clement Sector ATU here is your chance. Take it! At $24.99 it is not the cheapest, but it is far more affordable than buying a $30 core rulebook “update” and then having to add a $29.99 setting book like some other publishers do…
Sorry, John, but The Clement Sector now has some real competition!
I like the HOSTILE Rulebook for four reasons:
The gritty setting
The familiar, yet different Task Resolution system
Highly thematic character generation
Stress, Panic, and Hazards.
What really makes the HOSTILE Rulebook attractive to me is its simplicity. Some might look at a 239-page rule book and say, “That ain’t simple!” Yet, it is. Part of the simplicity is familiarity; I don’t think there are actually any new rules in the book, and what its there is not complex, but they are assembled and tweaked in simple ways that are highly thematic and reinforce the gritty sci-fi setting.
The HOSTILE setting is straight out of science fiction movies of the late-1970s and early-1980s. This is Alien, Outland, and Bladerunner all wrapped up into one. Here is how author Paul Elliott introduces it to us:
The future is not as optimistic and rosy as many SF writers had us believe. Space exploration is difficult, hard and dangerous and the thriving interstellar society made up of hundreds of populated planets never materialized. Instead space is the preserve of the big corporations that focus on extracting minerals, oil and other raw materials from the extra-solar planets and moons to be shipped back to Earth in order to support the vast population there.
Space is not a place for tourists or fortune-hunters; it is a hostile and brutal frontier, where blue collar men and women work hard, rely on nobody but themselves, risk death every day and face the Unknown. And out here the Unknown is real – it is horrific; there are rumors of the disturbing effects of hyperspace, of ancient horrors entombed on icy moons, and of monsters – killer aliens, perfectly evolved to survive the hostile wastes of space – at any cost.
There is also lots of HOSTILE-related gaming material to chose from. The two “core” books are the HOSTILE Rulebook and The HOSTILE Setting Book. The setting is also linked to other Zozer Games settings, such as Outpost Mars, Orbital 2100, and Zaibatsu (the HOSTILE-adjacent cyberpunk setting). There are also many other supplements available to help you tailor the game the way you want.
Getting the Job Done
The basic Task Resolution system in the HOSTILE Rulebook is covered in a short four pages. That’s a little under 2% of the rule book. Looking back in Classic Traveller, there really was only one Task Roll, that of 2d6 against a target of 8+. In the HOSTILE Rulebook there are four different Rolls specified. The first time I looked at this list I asked myself, “Why do we need more than one?” Once I looked at each of them it all makes sense:
Attack Roll: This is the standard 2d6 against a target of 8+ where a combat skill is the main modifier; other modifiers are found in the combat rules
Characteristic Roll: A Characteristic Roll is 2d6 against a target of 6+; Die Modifiers (DMs) are your Characteristic Modifier and Difficulty can range from -2 (Difficult) to +2 (Routine)
Perception Roll: Basically a chance to notice something (or set initiative in combat); 2d6 against 8+ using your Intelligence (INT) characteristic modifier and the Recon skill
Skill Roll: The other “classic” skill roll of 2d6 against a target of 8+ with skill level as a DM.
The HOSTILE Rulebook uses difficulty modifiers to the basic roll. Difficulty ranges from Routine (+2) to Formidable (-6). The degree to which the roll fails or succeeds is the Effect which can be used as a narrative prompt or a DM in other situations. All in all, Task Resolution in the HOSTILE Rulebook is nothing extraordinary but it is a nice repackaging of the basic Cepheus Engine rules in a complete, very compact presentation.
Who Are YOU?
The HOSTILE Rulebook is built around different crew types that occupy this hostile universe. You can be a Colony Work Crew or the Corporate Investigative Team or even a Freelance Mining (Roughneck) Crew. You might be a Commercial Starship Crew or a Resource Exploration Crew. Finally, one can alway be a Marine Corps Squad or Private Military Contractors. The HOSTILE Rulebook has 15 different careers. Most use a very standard Classic Traveller/Cepheus Engine-style career progression but one, Androids, is a special, separately detailed career. You can also role play a “Prole;” short-lived genetically created laborers.
While character creation in the HOSTILE Rulebook will be familiar to most Classic Traveller or Cepheus Engine veterans, there are a few twists that add “flavor” from the setting. You cannot die in character generation but you can suffer a mishap. You can also add “Final Details” like some notable physical feature or item, a Psych Evaluation (of course, we ALL are crazy, eh?), and a random seed for why you left Earth. You can also randomly pick what unofficial badge or patch you wear, like “What’s My Bonus Situation?”
Of course, you can always use an alternate point-buy character generation system, but why would you?
One section of the HOSTILE Rulebook that I really like is in the Skills chapter and called, “What Those Skill Levels Actually Mean.” Here, Mr. Elliott gives us some “setting names” for different skill levels. Like a civilian with Technician – Electronics-2 has an “Electronic Maintenance Certificate.” Or a Space Command officer with Comms-1 and Computer-1 is an “Electronic Warfare Officer.”
I really like how monthly salaries in the HOSTILE Rulebook are a base salary plus a multiplier based on rank. For example, a Non-Commissioned Marine rank 2 (Corporal) makes $1000 plus $500×2 or $2,000 a month.
Like so much before, none of these rules in the HOSTILE Rulebook are really new or highly innovative. They are, however, highly thematic and enhance the play experience of the characters in the setting.
…”it’s a hostile universe.”
Stress is an integral component of the HOSTILE setting, so much so it actually makes up a fifth Roll. When certain stressful events occur, like, say, the character catches fire, a Stress Roll must be made. This is a simple Average difficulty roll using the Intelligence Characteristic Modifier. Success means all continues as normal, but failure is a temporary -1 to Intelligence (Overstress) and a stun for one round. As more Overstress is accumulated, the character will become less rational, less focused, and more likely to get into trouble. That is because Stress can lead to Panic where the character might lose control of their sanity.
The balance of the hazards in the HOSTILE Rulebook are, again, nothing that hasn’t been seen somewhere before. However, this collection of hazards works well to build the theme of the setting.
Acid – Rules not only for exposure but also fumes and immersion
Hiking – Never really thought of this as a hazard but when you factor in encumbrance and water…
Falling – Gravity can suck
Fire – More dangerous than one might think
Diseases – Hmm…no COVID-19 so I guess the future figures it out (can’t wait)
Poisons – Nothing good here either
Suffocation – Important for a space setting
Hostile Atmospheres – Get used to these rules
Temperature – Water and food are just as important as clothing
Radiation – Often overlooked in space opera settings
Pressure Loss – Ramius was ahead of his time when he told Ryan, “Most things in here don’t react well to bullets”
Zero Gravity – Losing control is a Stress Roll.
Hunger & Fatigue – Eat, drink, and sleep
Climbing – What goes up…
Weather – Mother Nature gets a vote
The Hostile Rulebook also has rules for survival in Desert or Arctic environments.
The Best of the Rest
The balance of the rules in the HOSTILE Rulebook are, yet again, nothing really new under the sun. Combat uses that Perception Roll to help determine initiative and Melee combat always goes before Aimed or Area Fire. Space travel uses a hyperdrive. Of note, the rules for spaceship construction are NOT in the HOSTILE Rulebook; those appear in The HOSTILE Setting Book, although the rules for starship combat are in this book. Combat in space uses an Advantage system vice Initiative.
As befitting the HOSTILE setting, world creation goes a bit beyond the basic approaches and adds some more details. All those little extra details are important in determining the hazards one might will encounter on many worlds.
As much as I like being the Referee and creating an adventure, more recently I have embraced liberal use of random encounter tables. In the HOSTILE Rulebook, “…random encounters help create the illusion of a universe that exists outside of the adventurers’ own experience, thus creating a sense of verisimilitude” (p. 177). These rules also feed into animals and…exomorphs.
The HOSTILE Rulebook has two faces; outwardly it is a highly thematic, gritty sci-fi setting. On the inside the rules are in many ways “recycled” from prior products. Most importantly, the two faces work together to create a very interesting setting that novice or experienced Traveller or Cepheus Engine players can enjoy.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.”
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.
“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.
It took a few extra days but my hardcopy of the Compass Games catalog arrived. Several games are given “provisional” (my term) delivery dates which, alas, all are in 2022 (one actually doesn’t have even a provisional date—which is kinda worrisome). We’ll see how that works out! Now to mark the catalog up with already have, on order, and like to haves.
74 major Titles in catalog
6x Titles of Interest (3 available now)
I really need to be careful and not get too carried away with ordering from Compass right away. I already owe Mrs. RMN (aka “Family Accountant”) an explanation of why GMT Games and Canvas Temple Publishing are charging within days of each other. I also won a local auction for Sekigahara (GMT Games, 2011) that I’m picking up this weekend—only a week after Tapestry (Stonemaier Games, 2019) arrived…
With Labor Day weekend just around the corner (at least for us ‘Mericans) it is officially the end of the summer season. This traditionally means back to school, back to work after summer laziness, and in the RockyMountainNavy household a return to tabletop gaming.
RockyMountainNavy Jr. is a high school senior this year. After being sidelined in online learning last year he is anxious to get back to school in-person and (more importantly) back to regularly seeing friends. He also has a driver’s license now which also means he has, perhaps inevitably, discovered that girls like coffee dates, ice cream, and movies. I have a sneaky suspicion that, given the choice between a family game night and, uh, “social engagements,” he will chose the later.
The summer vacation season is coming to a close. Aside from vacation, I was already back to work 5-days a week. I suspect I will be just as busy between now and the Thanksgiving holiday. RockyMountainNavy T, my middle boy, is also gainfully employed (i.e full time—or more) as an Electrician’s Apprentice and his company which specializes in HVAC controllers (a COVID-era Upgrade of ChoiceTM for many buildings) has more work than staff. For both of us this means the occasional lite games in the evenings may become even more occasional.
The return to school and work also usually means a return to Family Game Nights. Given the, uh, “distractions” in RMN Jr’s life I am not sure I can totally count on him to be there for game nights. That said, there is a chance that we might have a multi-family game night at times with maybe as many as six-players. More likely, RMN T and myself will have Father vs. Son Game Nights…on weekends. One of the new-to-me games sitting on my shelf of shame that makes a good candidate for play is Space Empires 4X by designer Jim Krohn from GMT Games (2017 Third Printing).
As always, wargames will be the core of my gaming time. Production and shipping delays mean that I will have time to work off my shelf of shame and get games to the table. I have plenty of Game of the Week titles waiting for me:
I am very interested in using Commands & Colors: Samurai, Strike of the Eagle, and even Space Empires 4X as possible games that RMN T and myself can play head-to-head on those Father vs. Son Game Nights.
There is also a possibility that new titles will trickle in although I am very unsure as to any timelines. I am positive that my uncertainty is nothing compared to the uncertainty that publishers have over the same issue. This past week, Gene from GMT Games dropped his monthly update that shows many of my titles are stuck. As Gene puts it:
Supply Chain and Shipping Slowdown. We haven’t made much progress from last month on the “P500 games shipping to us from the printer” front. Our printers are in the process of printing and boxing some of the 21 new products that are currently being printed. But the same global supply chain and shipping issues that are hampering businesses worldwide are hitting us, too. We THINK at this point that we will see three games shipped to us this month (to arrive in late September), but we can’t tell you dates with any certainty at this point.
I guess this means I need to look at small, independent retailers to fill out existing-but-unowned titles in both my boardgame and wargame collections.
Traveller/Cepheus Engine Role Playing Game
This past week I also had a small, friendly interaction on Twitter with John Watts of Independence Games that served as a good reminder that the RMN Boys also asked for a return to some sort of RPG adventuring. I picked up a new ship book from Independence Games, the Brightwater-class Personal Yacht, that is yet another good adventure seed ship design. The real question is where do I fit an RPG campaign into the schedule?
“High Tech Clothing” takes the everyday mundane and shows one how to make it a useful part of the game setting.
“Making Hell” is another excellent example of how to “read the dice” in the world generation sub-game.
“Jump Setting” explains that handwavium science in terms meant to enhance the player’s (and Referee’s) interaction with the setting.
“Fighting Undead” is useful for incorporating sci-fi beings fantasy monsters.
“Exotic Chemicals” is a bit more scientific than some may desire but there are some great ideas in here for adventurers.
“Abstract Wealth Rules” is another alternative means of tracking money; maybe a bit too abstract for some but quite useful for settings that want to emphasize play effect over finite tracking of resources.
“The Hidden Temple” is a nice adventure map for a 2d6 dungeon adventure – or a hidden room on a lower-tech world.
“Epsilon Indi” is another ready-made world that can be dropped into an adventure.
“The Sche” is a race of aquatic beings that may look something like shrimp but are so much more.
“British Cold War Tanks” is an example of Cepheus Engine in a modern setting. Needs more exploration from me.
“Old School Rethink” is a new column and it should be the first article in this issue as it really captures the power of the Cepheus Engine. As author Paul Drye explains:
One of the basic premises of the OSR movement is to reproduce the free wheeling feel of early roleplaying and running counter to that are many decisions that were made in those early days which have become set in stone. Players and referees don’t think to challenge them because they’ve been “just the way it’s done” for decades and in doing so miss an opportunity for some fun.
What Paul Drye explains is actually the real reason I love Cepheus Engine; it gives me control over my setting without burdensome IP rights or canonical influences.