#TravellerRPG Tuesday – Adventuring the LBB Way in Traveller (Game Designers’ Workshop, 1977) #ttrpg

Believe it or not, there is a segment of Dungeon’s & Dragons roleplaying game players who proclaim that if you don’t follow the rules exactly as written then you are playing the game wrong. As much as I disagree with that position, I decided to go back to my tabletop roleplaying game roots and review the “Little Black Books” in my Traveller boxed set to see what is different and maybe play around with those rules a bit to see how they stand up after four decades. Along the way, I also (re?)discovered a gritty edge of Little Black Book Traveller.

No Third in ’77

Traveller, like every other RPG, has its own version of edition wars. Whether you like Classic Traveller or MegaTraveller or Traveller: New Era or Traveller 4 or Mongoose Traveller (1st and 2nd Editions) or Traveller 5 or HERO Traveller or GURPS Traveller, it’s all Traveller at heart. My three Little Black Books for Traveller are the 1977 edition. This means it truly is settingless—there is no Third Imperium between these covers. If I am tracking publication dates correctly, the Third Imperium didn’t appear until Book 4 Mercenary in 1978.

Here is how the “setting” for Traveller 1977 is introduced:

Traveller covers a unique facet of future society: the concept that expanding technology will enable man to reach the stars, and to populate the worlds which orbit them. Nonetheless, communication will be reduced to the level of the 18th Century, reduced to the speed of transportation. The result will be a large (bordering ultimately on the infinite) universe, ripe for bold adventurer’s travels. Using this three book set, players are capable of playing single scenarios or entire campaigns set in virtually any science fiction theme.

Traveller, Volume 1, p. 1

To me, the Third Imperium setting in Traveller is the definitive space opera tabletop roleplaying game setting. That said, I have always liked making my own space opera setting. For me, the lack of a defined setting in Traveller ’77 is actually quite refreshing, especially in today’s hyper-commercialized world where IP is the thing. Traveller ’77 is a relatively simple framework for adventure; the buy in requires only a few concessions (most notable, that communication at the speed of transportation). Beyond that is really is up to the imagination of the referee and players!

A subgenre of speculative fiction or science fiction that emphasizes space travel, romantic adventure, and larger-than-life characters often set against vast exotic settings. Used initially as a derogatory term.

“Space Opera,” Wordnik

Let’s step though the three Little Black Books and see what we find…

Book 1 Characters and Combat

PLAYING THE GAME (p. 2) – “Traveller may be played in any of three basic configurations: solitaire, scenario, or campaign.”

  • The Solitaire Game: “Solitaire is ideal for the player who is alone due to situation or geography.”
  • The Scenario: “Generally, a scenario is a one-time affair, and ends when the evening of play is over or the goal is achieved…Strangely enough, players generally become reluctant to dismiss an experienced character without good cause, and usually want to continue their “lives” in further adventures.”
  • The Campaign: “The referee should generate the basic facts of his universe before play begins…Traveller is primarily written with a view to a continuing campaign, and these books primarily deal with that end.”

Here is where my two primary modes of Traveller play, solitaire and campaign, come from. As much as I have played within the Third Imperium or other modern Alternate Traveller Universes like The Clement Sector from Independence Games or HOSTILE from Zozer Games I often find myself coming back to a single subsector for adventure—like I did at the very beginning.

DIE ROLL CONVENTIONS (p. 2 ) – “Routinely in the course of Traveller, dice must be thrown to determine an effectively random or unpredictable course of action. These dice throws may be made by players for their characters, or by the referee for the effects of nature, non-players, or unseen forces. Rolls by the referee may be kept secret or partially concealed depending on their effects. In situations where the players would not actually know the results of the roll, or would not know the exact roll made, the referee would make the dice roll.”

Ahh…the old argument of roll-in-the-open or roll-behind-the-screen. Also “players-roll” or “referee-rolls.” Thinking back, most of my early games were all rolls by the referee with players consulting their character sheet to add die modifiers. Later, we added “shared” rolls where players would roll one die and the referee secretly rolls a second and then narrates the result. This gave players some insight into the potential result (“Hmm…I think I need a 8+ for this to work, and I have a Skill Level DM of +2. I rolled a 3….odds are 2 in 3 that the other die is 3 or better for success but there is a 1 in 3 chance it’s not. Referee said it looks good but…”). To influence their luck, players would often bring their own dice and offer them up to the referee after appropriate blessings or incantations.

INITIAL CHARACTER GENERATION (p. 4) – “Obviously, it is possible for a player to generate a character with seemingly unsatisfactory values; nevertheless, each player should use his character as generated. The experience procedures and acquired skills table offer a genuine opportunity to enhance values, given only time and luck. Should a player consider his character to be so poor as to be beyond help, he should consider joining the accident-prone Scout Corps, with a subconscious view to suicide.”

I don’t think middle school me really understood that last part, but the first has driven so much of my RPG life. Generating a character in Traveller taught me to take what I had and try to make the best of it. There is no real min-maxing characters in Traveller. As I moved on to other RPG systems over the years, I always struggle with developing a character concept because I usually take the hand dealt, not the one tailored to me.

Survival (p. 5) – “Each term of service involves some danger; during the term, a character must successfully throw his service’s survival number to avoid death in the line of duty…Failure to successfully achieve the survival throw results in death; a new character must be generated.”

The character death rule has been in my Traveller since the beginning. To this day I look at other versions that avoid death and shake my head in disbelief for THIS IS Traveller.

OK…this is NOT Traveller but…

Skills and Training (p. 6) – I’ve always been amazed at how few skills a Traveller ’77 characters has. Two skills for first term and one for each subsequent. One skill for a commission and one skill each promotion. A character going out to five terms (early retirement) might have only 10 levels of skills.

AGING (p. 7) – “If, as a result of aging or combat, a characteristic is reduced to zero, the character is considered to be ill or wounded. A basic saving throw of 8+ applies (and may be modified by the expertise of attending medical personnel). If the character survives, his recovery is made immediately (under slow drug, which speeds up his body chemistry). The character ages (one die equals the number of months in added age) immediately, but also returns to play fully recovered. The characteristic which was reduced to zero automatically becomes one. This process occurs for each time (and for each characteristic) a characteristic is reduced to zero. In the event that medical care is not available, the character is incapacitated for the number of months indicated by the die roll.”

Another rule I don’t remember, likely because it is different from the Wounding and Death rules found on page 30 in COMBAT RESOLUTION:

When any one characteristic is reduced to zero by wounds, the character is rendered unconscious. When all three characteristics are reduced to zero, the character is dead…

Unconscious characters (with one characteristic reduced to zero) recover conciseness after 10 minutes, with all characteristics temporarily place at a value halfway between full strength and the wounded level…and remains so until recovered…Return to full strength requires medical attention, or three days of rest.

Unconscious characters (with two characteristics reduced to zero) are considered severely wounded, and recover consciousness after three hours. Their characteristics remain at the wounded level (or one, whichever is higher). Recovery is dependent on medical attention (recuperation without medical attention is not possible).

Wounding and Death, pp. 30-31

I remember the combat wounding/death rules but the one under aging seems more appropriate for out-of-combat situations, like basic illnesses or even falling.

THE UNIVERSAL PERSONALITY PROFILE (p. 8) – “…expresses the basic characteristics in a specific sequence, using hexadecimal (base 16) notation.”

How many of you can read the UPP, or USP (Universal Ship Profile) or UWP (Universal World Profile)? It’s amazing how much adventure can be inspired by just a string of alphanumeric text…

A NOTE ON GENDER AND RACE (p. 8) – “Nowhere in these rules is a specific requirement established that any character (player or non-player) be of a specific gender or race. Any character is potentially of any race or of either sex.”

There, no political theatrics or culture war needed. Been doing it since 1977.

Basic Skills / General Description / Specific Game Effects (p. 13 onward) – A close look at the Specific Game Effects give lots of rules for referee’s to use. They also show how flexible the game mechanisms are, mostly because they are few and leave much up to the imagination of the referee and players.

Computer (p. 17) – “Nonetheless, there is always the possibility that such a program will have a fatal error and not function when actually used in space combat (referee throw secretly 7 exactly for fatal error to be written in) or that such a program will have a negative DM when used (referee throw secretly 5- for a negative DM. Half chance that DM will be -1 or -2). Expertise will serve as a DM affecting program quality, +1 per level of expertise. Flaws generally remain hidden.”

While I remember the rules for writing a program, I had forgotten about the fatal flaw rules. Based on experience with MicroSoft over the years, I’m not sure that limiting a fatal flaw to a roll of exactly 7 is limited enough…

One “WOPR” of a programming error…

Ship’s Boat (pp. 17-18) – Often overlooked, there is a quick-resolution alternate ship combat system in the Specific Game Effects here. It is much more “narrative” than the set-piece combat sequence in Book 2.

Pilot (p. 19) – I often forget that while Ship’s Boat is useful for piloting small craft, a Pilot can also fly small craft, albeit at a -1 skill level.

Skills and the Referee (p. 20) – “It is impossible for any table of information to cover all aspects of every potential situation, and the above listing is by no means complete in its coverage of the effects of skills. This is where the referee becomes an important part of the game process. The above listing of skills and game effects must necessarily be taken as a guide, and followed, altered, or ignored as the actual situation dictates.

In some game situations, actual die roll results must be concealed from the players, at times allowing them to misconstrue the reasons for their success or failure. In other situations, the referee may feel it necessary to create his own throws and DMs to govern action, and may or may not make such information available to the players.”

“In order to be consistent (and a consistent universe makes the game both fun and interesting), the referee has a responsibility to record the throws and DMs he creates, and to note (perhaps by penciling in) any thrown he alters from those given in these books.”

THIS. IS. TRAVELLER. A game is a shared narrative created by the players and referee. The referee is charged with keeping the universe consistent.

COMBAT / MOVEMENT (p. 29) – “Because the effects of range are so important, and because the ranges between specific characters can vary greatly, it is suggested that the complex combats be mapped out on a line grid…Ordinary lined paper serves this purpose quite well.”

Another reason Classic Traveller was so easy for middle-schoolers—all we needed was a few note cards, looseleaf paper, pen/pencil and a d6.

MORALE (p. 33) – “A party of adventurers (players or non-players) which sustains casualties in an encounter will ultimately break or rout if it does not achieve victory.”

We always used this rule for NPC parties but for the players their Morale was up to them. Since combat in Traveller is actually quite deadly, my players tended to be careful when bullets were flying about.

Laser Carbine / Laser Rifle (pp 36-37) – These weapons were backpack-powered. In the post-Star Wars movie era this was laughable.

Book 2 Starships

Interstellar Travel (p. 1) – “Commercial starships usually make two trips per month, spending one week in travel time and one week for transit to the jump point, landing and take-off and time in port. In port, five or six days are allowed for the acquisition of cargo and passengers, and for crew recreation.”

This is the classic Traveller adventure timeline; one week jump followed by one week in system. It is also interesting to note how often in my adventures the one week in jump was “handwaved” away because nothing ever happens in jump, eh?

Hijacking (p. 3) – “The referee should roll three dice, with a result of 18 exactly indicating one or more passengers is making the attempt.”

Hmm…we never played this event in-jump but wouldn’t that be interesting?

Skipping (p. 3) – “A repossession attempt will occur under the following conditions: On each world landing, throw 12+ to avoid such an attempt, apply a DM of +1 per 5 hexes distance from the ship’s home planet, to a maximum of +9. If the ship has called on the same world twice in the last two months, apply a DM of -2.”

Wow, throw 12+ to AVOID repossession—means you need to get 30-35 parsecs (hexes) or something like two subsectors away to statistically avoid repossession. I can’t recall a time we ever played a repossession attempt which is very surprising given Repo Man was a popular movie in my gaming group…

Don’t ask, just watch

STARSHIP PURCHASE (p. 5) – Ahh, the starship mortgage. Here I was learning about buying a house while in middle school.

Mail (p. 8) – “Throw 9+ for a private message to be awaiting transmittal, and then determine randomly which crew member is approached to carry it. Serving as a carrier for private messages also serves as an introduction to the recipient as a dependable, trustworthy person.”

This is one of the several “encounters” that randomly can build an adventure.

Starship Construction (p. 9+) – I have arguably created more starships for Traveller over the years than characters. This simple sequence is still a favorite.

NON-STARSHIPS (p. 17) – “A non-starship…can support its passengers for up to 30 days in space. Beyond that time, air, food, and water begin to run out…At the end of 30 days, throw 9+ each day to prevent the recycling machinery from breaking down. If it does fail, it must be repaired on the same day (throw 9+ to repair; DM +1 per level of mechanical expertise, once per day) or the air is exhausted and the passengers will suffocate.”

I can’t ever recall seeing this rule before (even after 40 years). I double checked and there is no comparable rule for starships though you have to pay for Life Support.

Starship Combat (p. 22+) – A vector movement combat system. Another example of how Classic Traveller skews more towards hard sci-fi than space opera.

DATA CARD EXAMPLE (p. 24) – Another 3×5 notecard!

PLANETARY TEMPLATES (p. 26) – I still have mine created 40 years ago.

DETECTION (p. 33) – “Planetary masses and stars will completely conceal a ship from detection.”

When we all saw this in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan we looked at each other and said, “of course.”

Decompression (p. 34) – “Hull hits result in explosive decompression if pressure has not already been lowered. Explosive decompression kills all persons in that section unless a vacc suit is available and put on immediately. Throw 9+ to put on an available vacc suit; DM + level of vacc suit expertise, and DM + dexterity of the individual.”

Here is a rule worthy of The Expanse that I had totally forgotten. The + dexterity modifier is maybe a bit much; later rules would use the Characteristic Modifier which was not in Classic Traveller.

Abandon Ship (p. 35) – “individuals in vacc suits who are not picked up may attempt to land on a planet. The following notes apply…”

Say what?! I absolutely don’t remember this rule at all. Here are rules for vacc suit endurance, movement, foamed ablation reentry, oh my!

STARSHIP ENCOUNTERS (p. 36) – “When a ship enters a star system, there is a chance that any one of a variety of ships will be encountered…Roll two dice; apply a DM based on the starport of the primary world of the system (A +6, B +4, C +2, D +1, E -2, X -4).”

Another “standard” encounter. I do like the comment on how a “Patrol” might simply be a pirate looking to shakedown your crew…

Experience (p. 40) – One of the common criticisms of Traveller is that there is no character progression system. Granted, this is not an XP approach, but it is still part of the game.

Book 3 Worlds and Adventures

3. Route Determination (p. 2) – “The worlds of a subsector are connected by the charted space lanes, which marks the regular routes travelled by commercial starships. While it is possible for starships to travel without regard to the lanes charted, individuals who do not own or control starships are generally restricted to commercial travel on ships which ply routes which are mapped.”

To me, this always meant if you wanted to go “off the grid” (a phrase yet to be invented when I first played) you needed your own ship or a charter…which was costly. Often the adventure reward (payment) was enough to motivate characters to do so…

ROUTINE ENCOUNTERS (p. 19) – “Adventurers meet ordinary people in the course of ordinary activity…Personal reactions are rarely of importance…and the process usually continues without trouble.”

RANDOM ENCOUNTERS (p. 19) – “Adventurers…also have random encounters with an unpredictable variety of individuals or groups…which may complement, supplement, oppose, or irrelevant to, the goals of the adventurers themselves…Usually, a random encounter point with humans will occur once per day.”

PATRONS (p. 20) – “One specific, recurring goal for adventurers is to find a patron who will assist them in the pursuit of fortune and power…In a single week, a band of adventurers may elect to devote their time to encountering a patron.”

While I have always seen Traveller as a form of space opera, the “routine” of life is actually far more gritty. Life in the Traveller universe—whatever your setting—is tough. You can die in character generation. Combat is deadly. The environment is hazardous. You never have enough money. You always have to be on the hustle to your next “score.” This is reflected in encounters. Routine encounters rarely are harmful, but “random” encounters—which can occur daily—can help, hinder, or simply distract you. Patron encounters are very important in an ongoing campaign as they can lead to future adventure.

I’ll just note here that later versions of Traveller make Patron Encounters a weekly event. In early Traveller rules if the adventurers wanted a Patron Encounter they had to be pro-active.

NOBILITY (p. 22) – “The title emperor/empress is used by the ruler of an empire of several worlds”

This may be the closest we get to the Third Imperium in Traveller ’77.

Animal Encounters (p. 24+) – For a game all about space, I didn’t understand the extensive animal encounters section for many years. Only later did I get into “alien exploration” adventures, and finally realized that these rules are how you create alien creatures, not just “animals.”

ANIMAL DEFINITIONS (pp. 30-31) – Hidden here are rules for planetary hazards like a storm or precipices.

Psionics (p. 33) – “The powers of the mind are incredible, and some day the study of these powers will enable every individual to use them as a active part of his life. At the time which Traveller occurs, however, universal psionic training does not exist; accurate information and quality training are available only through branches of the Psionics Institute, which is wholly devoted to the study of mental powers. Unfortunately, some prejudice exists, and the Institute maintains an extremely low profile.”

Seeing how I started Traveller in 1979, or post-Star Wars, this version of psionics clashed with The Force seen in the movies. Not that it really mattered because we all wanted to be more Solo and less Luke! The result was that a few players in my group tried psionics, but mostly it was ignored. Forty years later, and with a better understanding how books like Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination influenced early Traveller, psionics often finds its way into adventures.

“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.”

Han Solo (Harrison Ford)

(End Notes) (p. 44) – “Traveller is necessarily a framework, describing the barest of essentials for an infinite universe…care must be taken that the referee does not simply lay fortunes in the path of the players, but the situation is not primarily an adversary relationship. The referee simply administers rules in situations where the players themselves have incomplete understanding of the universe. The results should reflect a consistent reality.”

“Barest of essentials” which in the case of Traveller ’77 means no default setting. Referee and players working together to create a consistent reality.

Looking through Traveller ’77 that “consistent reality” is a bit more gritty sci-fi than I remember. Maybe exposure to 40 years of the highly space opera Third Imperium has softened Traveller.

The three Little Black Books of Traveller ’77 are rightfully a design triumph. Three 44-page books—132 pages in total—deliver a deep, flexible framework for consistent adventures. How many other RPGs do that?

This is the Traveller I started with. This is the Traveller I have always loved.

RIP Andrew…

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

2022 RPG CharGen Challenge – RPG roots with Traveller (Game Designers’ Workshop, 1977) #RPGThursday #TravellerRPG

Christmas 1979. While searching for presents I stumbled across a small store tucked away in the upper level of a now long-gone mall in the suburbs of Denver. The store—Fascination Corner. This little corner of heaven quickly became not only my fascination but my obsession. First it was wargaming, but then I found a small black box. My first RPG. My first RPG love. To this day my true RPG love.

How I love the simplicity of character generation in Classic Traveller. Quick and easy. Sure, most of the characters will be military veterans and combat will very likely be a way of life in their future, but what did we really expect from a wargame company when it made an RPG?

Do you know how to read the Universal Player Profile? The UPP was read using hexidecimal code from left-to-right; Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Education, Social Status. A factor of 7 was dead-average, 0 often meant dead and 15 was the top of the scale. Skill levels rarely exceeded 4.


Cyris Ozcar

  • UPP 9776B9
  • Age: 34
  • Retired Army Lt Colonel
  • Skills: Air/Raft-1, Blade Cbt (Cutlass)-3, Fwd Obs-1, Gun Cbt (Auto Pistol)-1, Tactics-2

Ozcar (original UPP 887499) might not of seemed the brightest guy around but he worked hard (low INT, High EDU). Due to his good DEXTERITY and EDUCATION he successfully joined the Army (DM+3). He survived his first term and was both commissioned and promoted (Rank 2). In his first term he built up his strength (STR +1) and learned how to handle a Cutlass (Blade Cbt-1) and Tactics (-2).

Reenlisting for a second term, Ozcar survived and was again promoted. He learned how to fly an Air/Raft (Air/Raft-1) and more Cutlass skills (Blade Cbt (Cutlass)-2. In his third term he was promoted again (Rank 4) and finally became proficient with a firearm (Gun Cbt (Auto Pistol)-1) and how to act as a Forward Observer (Fwd Obs-1).

Ozcar’s fourth term was a bit of a disappointment. He failed to promote and found time only to refine his Cutlass skills (Blade Cbt (Cutlass)-3). He also found he had lost a step (Aging, Dexterity -1). Deciding to Muster Out, he now faces the universe with 25,000 Credits to his name and a final bit of some education (+2 INT, +2 EDU).

Looking around, Lt. Colonel Ozcar seeks employment with a mid-tech mercenary unit where he figures his Tactics skills can be beneficial.


Feature image courtesy of https://www.pinterest.com/pin/237846424043702509/

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

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

#RPG Thursday – #TravellerRPG in Foundation

Geeks on Twitter have commented that the new Apple TV series Foundation has more than a bit of a Traveller Role Playing Gamevibe to it.

I have to say I heartily agree, especially with the “most Traveller thing.” Which is funny in a way because if you ask me to point to what Traveller looks like I’m probably going to show you this—the Little Black Books of 1977-1980.

The (Classic) Traveller Little Black Books

Thumbing through the books I challenge you to find artwork. There is a single black and white drawing of a persons head on page 25 of Book 1 and nothing in Book 2 or Book 3. Even the box back only has a single, somewhat abstract, image of a soldier firing a weapon. The next picture is that of a “Mercenary Striker” in the front of Book 4 Mercenary. Even Book 5 High Guard has no images. Those iconic Traveller ships like the Free Trader (which I swear I saw in Foundation Season 1 Episode 1) don’t appear until Supplement 7 Traders and Gunboats in 1980.

For a while it looked like Traveller was going to be a Star Wars knockoff. Look at the box art for the 1981 wargame Invasion: Earth with what looks something like an Imperial Star Destroyer on the cover. Fortunately, Traveller never became a Star Wars or Star Trek RPG, both of which have their own distinctive and iconic visions.

Since the 1980’s, and especially with the rise of the internet, there has been moreTraveller RPG artwork. Much of it revolves around starships. In the early 1980’s it was black & white artwork in the pages of new supplements or adventures or the pages of The Journal of the Travellers’ Aide Society or Challenge magazine. Marc Miller’s Traveller (Traveller 4) used Chris Foss artwork with little success.

Another ship that looks like one found in Foundation?

The computer graphics artwork of Andrew Boulton, though primitive compared to today’s computer graphics, was “right” in the vibe it communicated.So sad he left us so early…

The modern work of Ian Stead has graced the pages of many Traveller products in recent years and more than a few feel he has captured the vibe of Traveller the best since those early days. But, like so much of that early art, it is almost exclusively focused on the ships.

Marc Miller himself has two more recent visions of Traveller. The first is expressed in Traveller 5 which is sparsely illustrated using mostly recycled artwork from previous editions. Then there is his book, Agent of the Imperium, which has no illustrations at all and cover art that is…questionable.

It’s in your head…

Such is the power of the Traveller RPG— the game creates in many minds a vast, sweeping vision with relatively sparse artwork. What I’m hearing is that Traveller RPG created, in many minds, the vision of a vast empire spanning from a long dynastic center to a very unsettled frontier. This despite a majority of artwork that is of ships—not imperial palaces or emperors or harsh frontiers.

What’s most incredible is that very “in-your-head” vision is being “found” onscreen in the Foundation TV series. Take note that starships are NOT a prominent feature of the first three episodes of Foundation; they appear but are very much “background” whereas Traveller RPG tends to put starships in front. Traveller RPG delivers a vision of an entire universe without the need for lots of artwork because it stimulates the mind. That many seem to find Traveller in Foundation is in reality incredible praise for the Marc Miller and his vision expressed in plain text over 40 years ago..

#Wargame Wednesday – Rolling Hot like a Tanklord in different Hammer’s Slammers games featuring #TravellerRPG and Game Designers’ Workshop, Metagaming, @mayfairgames, @MongoosePub, & www.hammers-slammers.com – all for @TheGascon

Thank Gascon

This Wargame Wednesday entry is courtesy of @TheGascon who sent me down this rabbit hole from Twitter by simply asking me which Hammer’s Slammers rules I prefer. In my typical way, the answer is not simple and to understand my thinking we need to look at several decades of wargaming history. Come along as I dig into a bit of my gaming past (and present) to show you my Hammer’s Slammers wargaming evolution from the early 1980’s to today.

Incoming—@TheGascon turns the BlogZ Hot

Rolling Hot

When I think of Hammer’s Slammers stories and wargames, the final battle in the novel Rolling Hot immediately comes to mind. Here, a severely understrength Task Force Ranson consisting at this point of a single hovertank and a handful of combat cars faces a (slightly) understrength local armored battalion. To me, a Hammer’s Slammers wargame needs to be able to recreate this battle—not necessarily the exact outcome but definitely the situation. Here is that situation as laid out so dramatically in the book:

Blue Three’s sensors had greater range and precision by an order of magnitude than those crammed into the combat cars, but the cars could process the data passed to them by the larger vehicle. The sidebar on Ranson’s multi-function display listed call signs, isolated in cross-talk overheard by the superb electronics of the tank pretending to be in Kawana while it waited on Chin Peng Rise north of the tiny hamlet.

There were twenty-five individual call signs. The AI broke them down as three companies consisting of three platoons—but no more than four tanks in any platoon (five would have been full strength). Some platoons were postulated from a single call sign.

Not all the Yokel tanks would indulge in the loose chatter that laid them out for Task Force Ranson like a roast for the carving; but most of them would, most of them were surely identified. The red cross-hatching that overlay the relief map in the main field of the display was the AI’s best estimate thus far of the the armored battalion’s disposition.

Blue Three was the frame of the trap and the bait within it; but the five combat cars of the west and east elements were the spring-loaded jaws that would snap the rat’s neck.

And this rat, Yokel or Consie, was lying. It was clear that the leading elements of First of the 4th were already deploying onto the southern slope of Sugar Knob, half a kilometer from the store and shanties of Kawana rather than ten kays their commander claimed.

In the next few seconds, the commander of the armored battalion would decide whether he wanted to meet allied mercenaries—or light the fuse that would certainly detonate in a battle more destructive than any citizen of Prosperity could imagine. He was being tested….

The two sharp green beads of Lieutenant Cooter’s element settled into position.

She heard a whisper in the southern sky. Incoming.

Rolling Hot, Chapter 12

Now let’s look back on the history of my Hammer’s Slammers wargames, or at least those titles I use to play out Hammer’s Slammers battles, and see how they did.


Rolling Hot, (c) 1986 by David Drake

Rolling Hot

“But Loyal to His Own”

I discovered David Drakes Hammer’s Slammers paperback book not long after it was published, likely around 1980 or the year after it entered print. This was around the same time I discovered the (now) Classic Traveller role playing game from Game Designers’ Workshop. In early 1980 I found the three Little Black Books in my first FLGS, Fascination Corner, in south Denver. I’m not sure which came first, Classic Traveller Book 4: Mercenary or Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers, but the two books are forever linked in my mind.

From a wargaming perspective, Mercenary is an interesting collection of rules. There are actually three rules for combat resolution given in the book: The Traveller Combat System taken from LBB Book 1: Characters and Combat, the Abstract System which is just like the name says, and a Free-Form System which is undefined. As much as I seem to remember differently the truth is that looking back at the Tech Level advancements in Mercenary they don’t even discuss hovertanks. At Tech Level 9 military vehicles transition from track-laying/wheeled to grav—ground effect is never discussed. Back then I passed on buying Striker, a set of 15mm miniatures rules, that also had the Classic Traveller vehicle design system. If I had Striker I “think” I would have tried to design the Regiment. Regardless, the lack of Striker meant I used the Abstract System in Mercenary but never truly had a force specifically-built based on the Slammers’ universe.

The closest I came to a wargame with hovertanks in these early days actual was Steve Jackson’s Ogre/G.E.V. microgames from Metagaming. I say “close” because, like Mercenary, Hammer’s Slammers was inspiration for play but not closely simulated on the tabletop. Another set of Metagaming titles, Helltank and Helltank Destroyer, actually came a bit closer but, like Ogre/G.E.V., were just not quite Hammer-like to be honestly called a Hammer’s Slammers wargame.


Classic Traveller Role Playing Game (i.e. “The Little Black Books”), (c) 1977 Game Designers’ Workshop

The Little Black Books of Classic Traveller

Book 4: Mercenary, (c) 1978 Game Designers’ Workshop

Striker, designed by Frank Chadwick, (c) 1981 Game Designers’ Workshop

Ogre, designed by Steve Jackson, (c) 1977 Metagaming

G.E.V., designed by Steve Jackson, (c) 1978 Metagaming

Helltank, designed by Phillip S. Kosnett, (c) 1981 Metagaming

Helltank Destroyer, designed by Phillip S. Kosnett, (c) 1982 Metagaming


“Supertanks”

The first “proper” Hammer’s Slammers wargame I owned was the namesake Hammer’s Slammers from Mayfair Games published in 1984. I am sure I got this one not long after it was published. Described by some as “PanzerBlitz in Spaaaace” this simple wargame with it’s interlocking modular map and asymmetric array of forces gives one a taste of the Hammer’s Slammers universe. Looking back on the game nearly 40 years later I still see a great simple wargame that, when played by savvy players and with attention to scenario design, is not always a walkover for The Regiment like some BoardGameGeek comments imply. Although published before Rolling Hot, this Hammer’s Slammers wargame can be used to recreate the signature battle if one is wiling to design the light tanks of the First of the 4th.


Hammers Slammer’s, designed by Jim Griffin, H. N. Voss, Neil Zimmerer, (c) 1984 Mayfair Games

Mayfair Games Hammer’s SlammersPanzerBlitz in Spaaaace?

“Night March”

For a while it looked like my Hammer’s Slammers wargaming was going dark. In the 1990’s I was getting my military career started and science-fiction games fell to the wayside as I focused more on “modern” simulations. That said, three games did enter my collection that I (longingly) yearned to use for a Hammer’s Slammers game. Although Striker II by Frank Chadwick entered my collection, once again I lacked the Traveller: The New Era vehicle design system book so I could not design Regiment vehicles.

It was during this same period that two other rule sets entered my collection, both from Ground Zero Games in the U.K. Dirtside II and Stargrunt II, designed by Jon Tuffley and others, challenged my thinking about what wargame rules could be. Up until this point in my wargaming life, Frank Chadwick and Game Designers’ Workshop defined miniatures gaming for me. In particular, I viewed Frank’s Command Decision (World War II) and Combined Arms (Modern) rules, which Striker II was built upon, as the pinnacle of miniatures rules. I respected (prided?) the “realism” in the rules and how these games were almost hex & counter wargames on a miniatures tabletop. On the other hand, Dirtside II and Stargrunt II challenged my viewpoint by giving me a set of miniatures rules that were easy to learn and used “design for effect” instead of “realism.” I also had never thought to use anything other than a d6, d10, or d100 in a wargame. Now, instead of looking up which exact weapon was used on a table in the back of a book, I was rolling a d4, d8, or maybe even a d12 Quality Die for units. It totally changed my thinking as to what a set of wargame rules could be. The vehicle design rules in Dirtside II also gave me a chance to design a hovertank, something I had not been able to do up to this point with other rule sets. In particular Dirtside II, with its vehicle design system, made recreating the Rolling Hot battle quite easy.


Striker II, designed by Frank Chadwick, (c) 1993 Game Designers’ Workshop

Dirtside II, designed by Jon Tuffley & Mike Elliot, (c) 1993 Ground Zero Games

Dirtside II from Ground Zero Games

Stargrunt II, designed by Jon Tuffley, Mike Elliot, and Steve Bease, (c) 1996 Ground Zero Games


“Hangman”

The early 2000’s was a bad time for my wargaming hobby. Many issues conspired against me and the result was a lack of personal emphasis on wargaming. Instead, I leaned more into role playing games since, generally speaking, it took less space (and money) to buy a book than to buy a wagame. During this time, I rediscovered my passion for Traveller RPG with Mongoose Traveller (MgT). I loved MgT (at least the first edition) because it was basically an updated take on Classic Traveller. Starting with the core rules in 2008, the MgT line immediately added Book 1: Mercenary. Then there was a very exciting development….

In 2009, Mongoose Publishing printed a sourcebook for MgT titled Hammer’s Slammers. The book showed much promise as it was written with the support of David Drake himself. This book, featuring extensive background, showed me just how disconnected I had become from the Slammers universe and helped reenergize my interest in the series. As a wargame, however, the Mongoose Publishing Hammer’s Slammers was grossly lacking.

A decade ago I wrote on this blog my thoughts of the MgT Hammer’s Slammers. Alas, the years have not changed my thinking:

The Verdict: Let’s be clear about a bias first; I love the Hammer’s Slammers series of books and stories. More than anything else David Drake has defined for me what I think of when I hear the term “military science-fiction.”

This book is a true labor of love and worth the price for the background alone. Finally, in one place you have the entire history of the Slammers together; all the people and places, event and equipment. But how does it translate as an RPG?

Unfortunately, I feel that Mongoose fails to live up to the expectations here. Especially the boast on the back cover that claims, “With all vehicles created using the Traveller Vehicle Creation System, this book is guaranteed to be fully compatible with every other Traveller book, allowing you to mix and match supplements as you desire!”

So in no particular order, here are some thoughts on the book:

– What is up with the cover soldier? The outfit is nothing like I imagine a Hammer’s Slammers trooper to be like; blinking lights and the like and doesn’t even match the armor depicted on page 120 which is that used by the Slammers

– A “Mercenary Roster” is provided on page 21 comparing notable mercenary units; each is assigned a rating but ratings are never explained (ahh, on page 180 when making a Mercenary Contract the quality of a unit is used for a DM; quality similar to but not shown the same way as the ratings on page 21)

– Joining the Slammers can be direct or through The Connections Rule from the Core Book; you can also join the Slammers after finishing a military career as per the Core Rulebook or other supplement

– Who did the maps?  They are HORRIBLE—gridded squares with cartoonish graphics don’t fit this high tech military setting; easily the worst part of the book

– The characters are great but again the kit doesn’t match what is provided elsewhere

– Errors abound when cross-referencing items; is the Protection for Light Ceramic Combat Shell (or is is called Clamshell, Light) 10 or 12?

– Tank Powerguns are really powerful; like they should be in this setting

– It is impossible to make any of the supertanks using the Vehicle Creation System found in Supplement 6: Military Vehicles; so much for “guaranteed to be fully compatible”

– Vehicle Combat introduces new range and hit systems; one should backfit this to the Core Rules

In sum, Hammer’s Slammers provides great background but it is not seamless in its integration with existing Traveller books and supplements. Putting them together can be done in places (character generation) but not in others (vehicle creation).

“Got Your Powergun?” Feb 11, 2011

From a wargaming perspective, the combat system in MgT Hammer’s Slammers built upon the core combat rules in MgT. That is, they retained the focus on “vehicles as characters” and a very tactical (skirmish?) level of combat. One could conceivably roleplay a member of the Regiment but to fight took much more effort and much interpolation in the rules. At the end of the day, MgT was a near-total failure as a rules set for Hammer’s Slammers-style combat. From the perspective of Rolling Hot, MgT Hammer’s Slammers could certainly recreate the personalities but, even though all the equipment was there, recreating the battle in a playable manner was near-impossible.


Book 1: Mercenary, (c) 2008 Mongoose Publishing

Hammer’s Slammers, (c) 2009 Mongoose Publishing

Mongoose Traveller Hammer’s Slammers

“The Tank Lords”

At nearly the same time Mongoose Publishing was giving us Hammer’s Slammers for Mongoose Traveller, another British publisher was also working with David Drake to give us a set of miniatures wargame rules very tightly focused on the Hammerverse. The Hammer’s Slammers Handbook, written by John Lambshead & John Treadaway, provided background, vehicle design and technical specifications, as well as, “an easy play gaming system.” The many shared graphics between the Handbook and MgT Hammer’s Slammers shows how closely linked the two products are. Which makes me wonder—why didn’t Mongoose use the Handbook and its combat system like GDW did with Frank Chadwick’s Striker 30 years earlier?

In 2010, John Treadaway and John Lambshead published the ultimate version of the Handbook. Now called Hammer’s Slammers: The Crucible, what started as a 50-page, digest-sized softcover Handbook grew into a hardcover, full-color 203 page book that proclaimed to be the “Ultimate, all-in-one rules system for tabletop gaming plus technical specifications, vehicle designs, timeline & background materials for the Slammers Universe.”

Like Dirtside II/Stargrunt II published two decades earlier, both the Handbook and The Crucible are tabletop miniatures rules that emphasize “design effect” over strict “realism.” As the introduction to the combat rules state:

These rules allow wargamers to re-fight the battles of the Slammers Armoured Regiment on a one to one scale, i.e. where one model equals one vehicle or one infantryman. Turning modern armoured warfare into a game, of necessity, involves a great deal of compromise. Thus the aim has been to recreate the spirit of the fast moving armoured engagements so brilliantly described by David Drake and so emphasis here is put on command and training rather than technology. Also, a simple ‘clean’ game system is employed so that the game flows quickly; infantry warfare in particular is abstracted. The rules focus on recreating an armoured skirmish game, as opposed to an infantry skirmish game with a few vehicles in support.

“Fighting with the Slammers: Introduction,” Hammer’s Slammers: The Crucible, p. 106

Finally, over twenty years after Rolling Hot was published, there is a set of wargame rules that can be used to faithfully recreate the battle situation. Resolving that battle also won’t break your sanity.


Hammer’s Slammers Handbook, (c) 2004 Pireme Publishing Ltd.

Hammer’s Slammers: The Crucible, (c) 2010 Pireme Publishing Ltd.

The Ultimate—Hammer’s Slammers: The Crucible

“Caught in the Crossfire”

Although Hammer’s Slammers: The Crucible is certainly the final word in my collection on a wargame for the Slammerverse, it did not enter my collection until very recently. In the meantime, I experimented with another set of rules. Between the time I was battling with MgT Hammer’s Slammers and now, I tried Tomorrow’s War (Second Edition) from Osprey Publishing. I had high hopes for Tomorrow’s War as it was based on the (somewhat) acclaimed Force on Force rules. Alas, Tomorrow’s War took exactly the opposite design approach from The Crucible. Unlike The Crucible which focuses on armored combat (very Slammer-like), Tomorrow’s War focuses on infantry combat first with a set of vehicular rules that feel are very “bolted on.” To be fair, all the elements of a good Hammer’s Slammers battle are in the rules, but the infantry-first focus leaves certain elements—like vehicular combat—lacking. One can recreate Rolling Hot using Tomorrow’s War but it doesn’t play out as smoothly as The Handbook or The Crucible allows.


Tomorrow’s War (Second Edition), designed by Shawn Carpenter, Robby Carpenter, (c) 2011 Osprey Publishing

Tomorrow’s War = Infantry First

“Standing Down”

At the end of the day, this Grognard is very comfortable stating that Hammer’s Slammers: The Crucible really is the “ultimate” set of wargame rules. I like the rules enough that I am looking to invest in a line of 6mm miniatures to use for tabletop battles. Better yet, if @TheGascon makes a Tabletop Simulator (TTS) module for The Crucible, it may be enough for me to overstress my old laptop and play online….



Hammer’s Slammers works referenced:

  • “But Loyal to His Own” (c) 1975 by David Drake. Originally published in Galaxy, November 1974
  • “Supertanks” (c) 1979 by David Drake. Originally published in Hammer’s Slammers
  • “Night March” (c) 1997 by David Drake. Originally published in The Tank Lords
  • “Hangman” (c) 1979 by David Drake. Originally published in Hammer’s Slammers
  • “The Tank Lords” (c) 1986 by David Drake. Originally published in Far Frontiers, Vol. 6
  • “Caught in the Crossfire” (c) 1978 by David Drake, Originally published in Chrysalis 2
  • “Standing Down” (c) 1979 by David Drake. Originally published in Hammer’s Slammers

#RPG Rulings – Understanding Gravity in #TheExpanse Using #CepheusEngine #TravellerRPG

Season 5 of The Expanse TV series is streaming now, which means its that time of the TV season that I look once again at how I can take the hard-ish science fiction of James S.A. Corey and depict it in a roleplaying game campaign. This time I am focused on one foundational aspect of the setting that I took for granted before – gravity.

Getting Down with Gravity in The Expanse

Gravity in The Expanse is kept fairly realistic. The sources of gravity are what we expect from our current understanding of physics. Gravity is created by mass (planets, moons, planetoids, asteroids), spin habitats, or along the thrust vector of ships. Gravity is also a vital part of the cultures in The Expanse. From Belters who are tall and lanky from growing up in low-g but weak in normal gravity to Martian Marines who train at 1-g to be ready to fight on Earth, gravity is an important descriptor (discriminator?) between different factions. Gravity also has important impacts to space travel and combat; look no further than the need for “the juice” to withstand high-g acceleration or maneuvers or how it acts to limit human activities if one’s body is subjected to high-g stress for long durations (not to mention the catastrophic consequences of decelerating too quickly, yuck).

Courtesy pintrest.com

Rules of Gravity

I don’t presently own The Expanse Roleplaying Game from Green Ronin so I do not know the details of how they handle gravity in that setting. However, I am a long-time Traveller RPG player. These days I enjoy the modern incarnation of the Original 2d6 Science Fiction Roleplaying Game by using the Cepheus Engine rules set.

For my exploration of of gravity and The Expanse, I focused on five RPG rule sets or settings:

I really appreciate how all these various rule sets can work together to create an internally consistent, plausible setting. Although I use all these different rules sets and settings for reference, I will describe my rules interpretations primarily in Cepheus Engine terms for ease of integration across the various rules incarnations. My goal here is not to “science the sh*t” out of gravity in my RPG campaign, but to lean on a reasonable set of rules to provide good setting “flavor.”

Characters and Gravity

Characters in Cepheus Engine are described using three physical characteristics; Strength, Dexterity, and Endurance. The usual character generation method is to roll 2d6 for each characteristic. Each characteristic can range from 1 to 15 with 7 being a human average. Interestingly, when creating the physical characteristics of a character, there is no adjustment in the rules based on a low-gravity homeworld. Instead, an (assumed) low gravity homeworld grants certain default skills. Specifically, a homeworld with a Trade Code of “Asteroid” or “Vacuum” earn the Zero-G-0 skill (CESRD, p. 26)

The CESRD also has rules for alien species that are not specifically intended for human characters but I note them here as they may prove useful:

  • Notable (Characteristic): Some species are notably dexterous, intelligent, tough or strong. Characters from such races have a positive Dice Modifier when rolling for that characteristic (+2 unless otherwise specified), and their racial maximum for that characteristic is increased by the same amount. (CESRD, p. 44)
  • Weak (Characteristic): The opposite of Notable (Characteristic), some species are weaker, less resilient or less well educated than others. Characters from such races have a negative Dice Modifier when rolling for that characteristic (-2 unless otherwise specified), and their racial maximum for that characteristic is decreased by the same amount. (CESRD, p. 45)

The Clement Sector setting supplement Tree of Life: Altrants in Clement Sector defines an altrant as, “groups of humans which, from birth, have been altered thanks to advanced genetic manipulation, to have abilities different than a baseline human. These changes were most often made to allow humans to be able to perform tasks and live in environments which would be difficult or impossible for baseline humans.” If one ignores the “genetic manipulation” and instead views the change as “naturally evolved” then two Body Alterations found in this supplement may be useful:

  • Muscle Increase Package: Often referred to as the “Hercules” alteration, this procedure alters the body to make it as strong as it can possibly be. This alteration is the equivalent of years of strength training and will give the body the appearance of a successful bodybuilder. Taking this alteration gives the character +3 to their STR and -3 to their DEX immediately after the full alteration time period has passed. (Tree of Life, p. 45)
  • Vestibular System (Improved): This alteration improves the sensory system which provides the user with their sense of balance, spacial orientation, and balance. This gives the character a +2 DM to any physical task performed in gravity of less than 0.50 standard. However, the character will suffer a -2 DM to any physical task attempted in gravity of more than 1.25 standard (Tree of Life, p. 49)
Courtesy geekwire.com

The CESRD is also limited in what affect gravity has on characters. The skill “Zero-G” provides some guidance for actions in zero-gravity environments:

Zero G: The Character is acclimated to working and living in micro-gravity environments and freefall. The character is trained and familiar with the use of weapons and combat in such environments. In addition, the individual has been trained in the wearing, care, and maintenance of all types of Vacuum Suits and Combat Armor commonly used in these conditions.

CESRD, p. 57

[As an aside, looking back over the history of Traveller, the Zero-G skill, seemingly so foundational to a science fiction setting, has evolved in interesting ways. In Classic Traveller Little Black Book 1: Characters and Combat, one finds the skill Vacc Suit but not Zero-G. The CESRD has Zero-G but not Vacc Suit. T5 has both Vacc Suit (which it names as a Default Skill that all characters start with) AND Zero-G.]

Rules for “High and Low Gravity Worlds” are found in Chapter 12: Worlds of the CESRD:

High and Low Gravity Worlds: Worlds where the gravity is 0.75 or less are low-gravity worlds….Humans tend to find life on low-gravity worlds to be initially pleasant, but regular exercise regimes and medicinal supplements are required to prevent bone and muscle degradation. Those who spent too long on low-gravity worlds cannot tolerate higher gravities. Characters on low-gravity worlds suffer a -1 DM to all skill checks until they acclimatize, a process which takes 1D6 weeks. Characters with Zero-G skill at level 0 or better acclimatize instantly.

High-gravity worlds have a gravity 1.25 times or more than of Earth….Humans find high-gravity worlds unpleasant. Especially high-gravity worlds require the use of pressured or powered suits to support the human frame. Characters on high-gravity worlds suffer a -1 DM to all skill checks until they acclimatize, a process that takes 1D6 weeks.

CESRD, p. 168

Going back deep into the Classic Traveller lore, Module 2: Beltstrike includes rules for activities in zero and low gravity. Basically put, anytime the characters attempted to move or otherwise act in zero-g they had to make a saving throw of 10+ (on 2d6), applying modifiers as found on the Zero-G Activities Chart:

Classic Traveller Module 2: Beltstrike, p. 11

The more recent Orbital 2100 also provides rules for activities in zero-g environment. The task roll in Orbital 2100 is the spiritual successor of Beltstrike but greatly simplified:

Every crewman on DSV [Deep Space Vehicle] or orbital vehicle will have Zero-G skill-0 as standard. Higher levels of the skill are indicative of much greater experience of working in zero gravity. A crucial task, whether it is aligning and antenna or an EVA, shooting someone with a revolver or trying to shut an airlock door quickly to prevent an intruder forcing their way in, requires a skill check. For regular activities, skip the rolls entirely.

Avoid Losing Control in Zero-Gravity: Zero-G, Dexterity, Instant, Average (+0)

Apply the following DMs: Using a tool to repair/construct -2, Firing a gun -3, striking with tool, weapon, fist etc., or pushing/pulling -4, using a handhold +2

Losing control means that the task has failed until control reestablished, the character is tumbling! Roll again to regain control, but this time there are no DM’s, either positive or negative, except for those derived from Zero-G skill and Dexterity characteristic.

Orbital 2100 v3, p. 125

Before we get into making a character for The Expanse, let’s also consider what the spacecraft in book and TV series show us.

Ships and Gravity

The Expanse Canon

Way back in October 2016 and February 2017 I did two posts on how I viewed the depiction of spacecraft in The Expanse in Cepheus Engine-terms. To recap, there are three basic forms of Maneuvering Drive (M-Drive) shown in The Expanse; the “Teakettle,” the fusion torch, and the Epstein Drive:

Flying teakettle was naval slang for flying on the maneuvering thrusters that used superheated steam for reaction mass. The Knight‘s fusion torch would be dangerous to use this close to the Canterbury and wasteful on such a short trip. Torches were pre-Epstein fusion drives and far less efficient.

Leviathan Wakes, Chapter 3

By doing some backwards math I worked out that the “Teakettle” tops out at 2-G acceleration. Based on the upper limits of the instruments in Solomon Epstein’s ship, the fusion torch appears to have a limit of 7-G acceleration. In the novella The Drive, Epstein’s new drive pushes him at something like 12-Gs and in Season One of The Expanse the Rochinante pushes upwards of 17-G acceleration. As fast and exciting a high-speed run is, the mundane reality of travel in The Expanse is that ships usually plod along at a much slower cruising rate. Judging from the book Leviathan Wakes and the novella The Drive it appears that “cruising speed” is somewhere around 0.3-G acceleration. This ‘minimal acceleration provides just enough g-force to avoid the penalties of zero-g activities. This low-G acceleration is also important to note because it plays into the design of the ships.

Courtesy Syfy.com

Ship Gravity Using Cepheus Engine

One of the major “handwavium” technologies in Classic Traveller and now Cepheus Engine is that with the advent of the gravity-based maneuver drives you also get artificial gravity, known in the Traveller setting as “Compensators”:

  • Compensators. Integral to Maneuver Drives, Gravitic Drives, and Lifters is an inertial compensation component which counteracts the effects on acceleration on occupants of the ship. (T5 v5.10, Book 2: Starships, “How Maneuver Works,” p. 101)

In The Expanse there is no artificial gravity device for spacecraft so we need to find some rules to help us depict what happens with too much, or too little, gravity and what design decisions can be made to compensate.

Gel-y Juice

In The Expanse, there are two technologies for dealing with the crushing force of high-g acceleration. The first is acceleration gel; “Thirty minutes later, the engines kicked on, pressing him into the acceleration gel at a joint-crushing high-g burn for thirteen days, with one-g breaks for biological function every four hours.” (Leviathan Wakes, Chapter 46)

The second acceleration compensating technology is “The Juice:”

Going on the juice was pilot-speak for a high-g burn that would knock an unmedicated human unconscious. The juice was a cocktail of drugs the pilot’s chair would inject into him to keep him conscious, alert, and hopefully stroke-free when his body weighed five hundred kilos. Holden had used the juice on multiple occasions in the navy, and coming down afterward was unpleasant. 

Leviathan Wakes, Chapter 5

Standing Up In Space

The design of ships in The Expanse is also driven by the lack of an artificial gravity device. Fortunately, the setting of Orbital 2100 is in our near future and leans heavily into pre-gravitic spacecraft design similar to The Expanse and therefore can be used as a guide:

The biggest difference in space technology is the absence of anti-gravity….Not only are the drives different but the lack of on-board gravity means the crew must operate in zero-G throughout the mission. The only way to mitigate this is the installation of spin habitats, or rotating sections of the spacecraft, that ‘simulate’ gravity.

Orbital 2100, Chapter 5: Spacecraft Design, p. 37

For The Clement Sector setting, ship design is found in the Anderson & Felix Guide to Naval Architecture. Included in A&F is a module for designing Pre-Gravitic Drive Spacecraft. Here we actually get rules for continuous micro-gravity exposure as well as alternate methods of producing artificial gravity, both of which are also featured in The Expanse:

For every four week period of continuous micro gravity exposure there will be a one point strength and endurance characteristic loss that will require 1d6 weeks of recover in a one standard gravity environment.

The two main methods of producing artificial gravity are:

Thrust

Producing “rear is down” gravity

A ship under acceleration will produce thrust gravity. In this instance the ship’s internal layout will need to be perpendicular to the axis of the ship or ninety degrees to the line of flight.

Centrifugal Rotation

Producing “out is down” gravity

For any type of method using centrifugal rotation to produce gravity, the internal layout must be aligned so that decks face inward towards the center of the rotation arc.

Anderson & Felix Guide to Naval Architecture, “Artificial Gravity,” p. 106
Courtesy syfy.com

Expanse-ive Characters

Having looked at many rules of Traveller and Cepheus Engine, how do I think characters from The Expanse could be portrayed?

Building a Better Belter

For Belter characters, at character generation I give each the Weak (Strength) and Weak (Endurance) trait from the CESRD alien species listing. I also give Belters the Vestibular System (Improved) alteration found in The Clement Sector supplement Tree of Life. Note that Belters grow up with the Zero-G skill so they instantly acclimatize when moving between different gravity world unless they cannot exercise or medicinal supplements are not available. To simulate the absence of such I ruled that they suffer loss of strength and endurance the same as if they were exposed to micro gravity for long periods.

I’ll point out here that the Belter career in the CESRD is perfectly adequate for generating a Belter character. However, if you have access to the Cepheus Engine supplement Uranium Fever: Asteroid Mining Rules for the Cepheus Engine from Stellagama Publishing (2018) the Independent Belter, Company Belter, and Planetary Miner careers are well worth the small cost of the product.

For Mars – Hu-ah!

I tend to generate and play Martian characters pretty much as a standard human. Being born, raised or living on Mars for any extended length of time automatically earns the Zero-G skill. Martian Marines, of course, are generated using the CESRD Marine career although I also draw upon materials found in The Clement Sector, in particular the sourcebook Hub Federation Ground Forces.

Acceleration

There are no specific rules in Cepheus Engine or Orbital 2100 for acceleration effects on characters. Looking at “Falling and Gravity “in CESRD (p. 164), we see that on a 1g world, a character suffers 1d6 damage per 2m of fall. The rules further specify that for higher g worlds, multiple the 1d6 by the planet’s gravity number. The Epstein Drive accelerates at 11-G which we can compute as 11d6 damage. The question is the time period in which this damage takes place. Falling is assumed to be instantaneous, but declaring 11d6 damage per combat round (every 6 seconds) does not seem to fit the events of The Drive. This seems excessive because an average character in Orbital 2100 (7 Strength/7 Dexterity/ 7 Endurance) only has 21 damage points until death. The “average” damage from 11d6 is 44, meaning an average character is dead twice over!

Perhaps we should assume the 11d6 damage takes place every space combat round  (1,000 seconds/16.6 minutes) instead? This better reflects the painful, but non-instantaneous death like Solomon Epstein experiences in The Drive. It still seems like an excessive amount of damage guaranteeing a quick character death.

Looking around for a solution, and not finding one in the rules, I suggest a “house rule” that acceleration couches (built with that acceleration gel) absorb some of the damaging g forces. In This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury, acceleration couches in the Mercury spacecraft were designed to absorb 9G (assumed to be the maximum G at reentry). If we use couches to absorb, say, 10 of 11G, the character will have only 1g of damage (1d6) per space combat round. This means an average human may  last as long as six space combat rounds, or about 100 minutes, before succumbing to the strangling G forces. We could also say that prolonged exposure to high-g, defined as more than 1-G acceleration but less than the 9-G acceleration gel couch rating, will subtract one from the strength and endurance characteristic every 16 space combat rounds (around 4 hours) unless there is a four-round (1 hour) break in acceleration at 1-G or less. This fits with the time period in Leviathan Wakes when talking about acceleration gel.

These Boots Are Made For Walking

One important piece of equipment is The Expanse is Magnetic Boots. Characters with the Zero-G skill automatically can use Mag Boots; other need 1d6 hours to acclimatize. (I’m so tempted here to say that, based on canonical events in the TV series, female characters get an automatic -2 DM on the time roll, but that would be gender biased, eh?)

“Now you just walk around like you’re in pumps.”

Working In Space

When the player characters are in low-G or micro-G environments, I makes sure to use the Orbital 2100 working in space task check unless they are wearing Mag Boots (count as a handhold for the +2 DM) or the ship is moving with at least 0.3-G acceleration. I also enforce the A&F prolonged micro-gravity exposure rule.

Rochinante, Meet Broadsword and Azhanti High Lightning

Ships in The Expanse are built using what I call a “tower-ship” or “tail-sitter” design where the decks are arranged like floors in a building perpendicular to the axis of thrust. Classic Traveller and Cepheus Engine don’t have many designs to reference, but I will point out that the Azhanti High Lightning-class of cruisers (Classic Traveller Game 3 – Azhanti High Lightning) or the Broadsword Mercenary Cruiser (Classic Traveller Adventure 7: Broadsword) are built using a tower-ship/tail sitter design like the Rochinante. If you want to see a Cepheus Engine ship design that uses the tower-ship configuration I recommend you get Ship Files: Atticus Class Freelancer from Moon Toad Publishing (2017). This 100dTon ship is a tail-sitter not that much smaller than the Rochinante….

Courtesy Moon Toad Publishing

#Wargame Wednesday – Getting slammed by Mongoose Traveller’s Hammer’s Slammers vehicle combat for #CepheusEngine #TravellerRPG

Having gone on something of a Traveller RPG kick of sorts, I recently dug into the vehicle combat rules for the game. Doing so brought back some good memories, as well as some bad ones.

Combatting Traveller

When it comes to the Traveller RPG, combat historically was divided into two formats; personal and large-scale. For starships, the “personal” scale is what is known as “Adventure Class Ships (ACS).” ACS ship combat was first spelled out in Book 2: Starships (GDW, 1977). Larger ships, called “Battle Class Ships (BCS)” were detailed in Book 5: High Guard (GDW, 1977, 1980). Likewise, for ground combat, the personal scale was found in Book 1: Characters and Combat (GDW, 1977) and the corresponding ‘mass combat’ rules were in Book 4: Mercenary (GDW, 1978) written by one Mr. Frank Chadwick. However, for ground combat the publisher of Traveller, Game Designers’ Workshop, took it a step further. They published a set of 15mm miniatures rules by Mr. Chadwick called Striker (GDW, 1981). I was unable to buy Striker back in the day, but I did have a small Judges Guild game expansion, Lazer Tank, that whetted my appetite for more.

Striker from GDW

Mr. Chadwick also designed the planetary invasion game Invasion: Earth (GDW, 1981) that I lusted over but didn’t actually own until this year. Suffice it to say that when I thought of combat in the Traveller RPG setting, I viewed it though a Frank Chadwick set of lenses.

Striker II (GDW, 1994)

Over the years I was able to acquire Striker II (GDW, 1994), part of the Traveller: The New Era edition of Traveller. Striker II was also designed by Frank Chadwick and part of his GDW ‘house’ series that used the same basic miniatures rules for World War I in Over the Top (GDW, 1990), World War II in Command Decision (GDW, 1986+), and the modern era in Combined Arms (GDW, 1988+). It also didn’t hurt that Traveller-adjacent RPG games like Twilight: 2000 (GDW, 1986) used another Frank Chadwick design for their ‘mass combat’ rules, in this case a combination wargame/roleplaying game supplement called Last Battle: Twilight 2000 (GDW, 1989).*

Last Battle: Twilight 2000 (GDW)

Somewhere after Striker II, the vehicle combat rules for Traveller changed and Mr. Chadwick was forgotten. I first noticed this when I picked up the Mongoose Traveller edition of Book 1: Mercenary (Mongoose Publishing, 2008) and found a very abstract set of rules. Suffice it to say I found the “Battle System – Large Scale Conflict in Traveller” not to my liking. Further, it was obviously written by people that had NO IDEA about weapons. It was actually comical; in the first edition the furthest the heaviest support weapon (in this case a Tech Level 15 Meson Accelerator) could shoot was 1.5….kilometers. There were many reasons I came to dislike Mongoose Traveller, but as a wargamer this pathetic approach was a major reason for me to disengage from their product line.

It was actually comical; in the first edition the furthest the heaviest support weapon (in this case a Tech Level 15 Meson Accelerator) could shoot was 1.5….kilometers.

I fought. I resisted. This was the time I was finally, after all those years waiting, to get my hand on a copy of Striker. I vowed never to use the Mongoose Traveller, non-Chadwick approach. That is, until the 2009 release of Mongoose Traveller Hammer’s Slammers (Mongoose Publishing, 2009). I love David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers series of stories. I mean, this obviously was a real sci-fi combat game with Mr. Drake writing the Forward. I was sure that this was going to make Mongoose Traveller ‘mass combat’ awesome!

Mongoose Traveller Hammer’s Slammers (2009)

Defanged by a Mongoose

I was severely disappointed in the Mongoose Traveller Hammer’s Slammers. Oh, I enjoy having the history and characters and equipment of Hammer’s Slammers translated into game terms. Combat was another matter, with two approaches used in the book, neither of which resonated with me.

“Chapter 9: Vehicle Combat” was an extension of the Mongoose Traveller personal combat rules. It introduced a new scale, “Vehicle Scale” into the game. This scale was supposed to be a bridge between the personal and starship scales. Vehicle combat also continued the “vehicle as a character” approach to game rules. Every turn, the player characters (PCs) or non-player characters (NPCs) got actions. The most important action was Attack which is a Skill Check. Let me show you an example of how it works:

Lieutenant Danny Pritchard with Gunner-Turrets 2 skill fires the 20cm Powergun of his M2A1 supertank against the side of a TR6BKU-1 Black Skorpion turretless tank killer. The range is 2km making this a Long Range shot (+0 DM). Pritchard’s tank is moving but less than half-speed (-1 DM) as he shoots. He rolls 10 on 2d6, modified to 11 (+2 Skill, -1 Moving) which is more than the 8+ required for a hit. The 20cm powergun rolls 20d6+20 Super Destructive damage. Super Destructive means the first 20 points of the target’s armor is obliterated; in this case the 132 points of side armor is reduced to 102. The 20cm powergun then scores 82 points of damage – which the 102 points of armor stops. The Black Skorpion has escaped destruction, this turn.

The Black Skorpion fires back (assume an average crew with Gunner 2). At Long Range the 22cm coilgun has a -1 DM. The 2d6 To Hit roll is 7, modified to 8 with the total +1 DM – barely a hit! The 22cm coilgun scores 14d6 MegaAP damage. The damage total rolled is 49. The MegaAP means that the coilgun ignores armor points equal to 4x the number of dice rolled – in this case 14×4 or 56 points of armor. However, the front of the M2A1 is a whopping 175 points.

Laughing, Pritchard halts his hovertank and lines up another shot. Hit on the side again, the Black Skorpion loses another 20 points of armor, leaving it with 82. The Slammer’s powergun scores 92 damage, of which 10 penetrate and convert to 3x Single hits. Rolling for hit location yields Weapon (1st Hit = No Effect) – Sensors (First Hit = -1 to all future sensor checks) – Hull (31 remaining).

In the example above I hope you can see that Pritchard’s tank is proof against the deadly “tank killer.” It’s also going to take another hit, or two or three more, to finally destroy the Black Skorpion. It all seems very undramatic. I even tried to recreate the epic final battle from Rolling Hot where Task Force Ransom takes on 35 Consie light tanks. I couldn’t. That’s because the major problem with the vehicle combat in Mongoose Traveller Hammer’s Slammers is that it doesn’t get the attack vs armor right.

It all seems very undramatic.

“Chapter 10: Conflict,” starts off by saying, “The aim of the rules is not to precisely simulate a conflict but to give the Referee a framework for designing adventures.” There is certainly enough in this chapter to create battle situations, but the section “Resolving the War” seems to me like it is an adjudication system for, well, resolving the war! Except this time the resolution is highly impersonal with leaders and factions and DMs for successful missions. This is a campaign game system not a combat resolution model.

Cepheus Engine Rebirth?

After the debacle of Mongoose Traveller Hammer’s Slammers I went in search of other rule sets for use in my Traveller campaigns. I experimented with both Dirtside II (1993) and Stargrunt II (1996) from Ground Zero Games. I tried Tomorrow’s War (Second Edition) from Osprey Publishing (2011). I really like Dirtside II as it has a vehicle design system like in Striker but it just feels a bit off when in play.

Tomorrow’s War (Ambush Alley/Osprey Publishing)

Following the legal wars over Mongoose Traveller, I fully embraced the Cepheus Engine edition of Traveller. I especially enjoy The Clement Sector setting from John Watts at Independence Games. So far, Cepheus Engine has not published a mass combat set of rules, instead preferring to stay focused on the personal or vehicle combat scale of conflict. Further, no Cepheus Engine publisher has released a set of mass combat or “Battle Scale” rules like those found in the Classic Traveller Book 4: Mercenary or Mongoose Traveller Book 1: Mercenary.

What do I want? I want a good, clean set of large scale combat rules that use skills and vehicles created in Cepheus Engine. I want an updated Chadwick; maybe a relook at Striker with modern publishing sensibilities and approaches to game mechanics. Sure, some will say, “It’s an RPG, focus on the CHARACTERS!” Well, if you pay attention to what Mr. Chadwick told us in Striker several decades ago it will:

One important aspect in which Striker differs from previous miniatures rules is the role assigned to the player. In most games, a player simultaneously plays the role of every member of a military unit; no orders need to be given, and every man performs as the player likes. In Striker, realistic limitations have been put on the abilities of officers to command their units. Giving orders to subordinates is a time-consuming process; commanders will find it advisable to devise a simple plan and to give most orders in pre-battle briefings. Changes to this plan in the heat of action will be difficult except through on the spot leadership.

Striker: Rule Book 1 – Basic Rules, Introduction, p. 4

*To be clear, Last Battle: Twilight 2000 was designed by Tim Ryan but used Frank Chadwick’s First Battle system.

My #TravellerRPG #Wargame – Using @IndependenceGa6 The Clement Sector setting in High Guard

Ever heard of Eurisko? If you played the (now Classic) Traveller RPG back in the early 1980’s, and especially if you played with capital ships or fleets in Book 5: High Guard or Adventure 5: Trillion Credit Squadron, then you probably heard of it. Eurisko is a representational language written in the Lisp Programming Language that learns through heuristics. Think of it as an early form of AI. Eurisko was used to design the 1981 winner of the Traveller Trillion Credit Squadron National Tournament at the Origins Game Fair that year. In 1982 Eurisko won again. Threatened with the end of the tournament if he entered again, Dr. Lenet withdrew Eurisko from further competition.

I bring up this history because the Eurisko incident often colors many peoples perceptions of High Guard. Since High Guard could be ‘gamed’ by a computer, many decry it as ‘broken’ and not a worthy version of a fleet battle game for the Traveller universe. I disagree. I enjoy High Guard and the companion Adventure 5: Trillion Credit Squadron. Sure, it’s a highly abstracted view of space combat in the Traveller universe, but that very abstraction is what makes it attractive.

The Traveller Itch

Having not picked up a Traveller book in a while, I recently had an itch to dive back into the rules. One awesome aspect of the Traveller series that I really enjoy is all the mini-games possible. From Character Generation (yes, I’ve died in CharGen), to world-building, to building ships, the rules of Traveller, and now the modern successor Cepheus Engine, allow you to create a wide diversity of elements in a system that ensures it all works together.

The Clement Sector: Core Setting Book from Independence Games

One setting for Traveller I really enjoy is The Clement Sector from Independence Games. The Clement Sector is a ‘small ship universe’ where the limits of the “Zimm Drive” keep ships, at least those that are jump capable, under 5,000 Tons. With the Wendy’s Guide series of sourcebooks that detail out entire fleets, I wondered if The Clement Sector and High Guard could mix. So I experimented.

Anderson & Felix, Meet High Guard

Ships in The Clement Sector are constructed using the Anderson & Felix Guide to Naval Architecture. If you are a Traveller RPG historian, you will know that A&F is basically the modern day version of Book 2: Starships updated for Cepheus Engine. This means that A&F is not closely coupled to High Guard like the original Book 2: Starships or Adventure 5: Trillion Credit Squadron were. For my experiment this meant that in some places a little “interpretation” is needed to convert ships from the A&F stats to High Guard which uses the original Universal Ship Profile (USP). The USP was a series of numbers that takes much the details of a ship design and renders it into a single line alpha-numeric characters.

Powerplants, Energy Points, and Agility

In the original High Guard, ships were built with Powerplants that in turn produced Energy Points. As Book 5 stated, “Energy points are used for four purposes: powering weapons, shields, for maneuver drives (for agility), and for computers.” The key factor for High Guard was that ‘Agility’ rating derived by taking energy points not used for computers or weapons or shields and plugging them into the formula A=E/0.01M (where E= Unused Energy Points and M= Mass of the Ship).

Agility is one of the most abstracted elements of the High Guard design in a design that is full of abstractions. Book 5 defines it as follows:

Agility is the ability of a ship to make violent maneuvers and take evasive action while engaging hostile targets. A ship’s agility rating may never exceed its maneuver drive rating.

Book 5: High Guard (2nd Edition 1980), p. 28

It’s clear that Agility is distinctly different that a ship’s maneuver rating. Seeing how it is based on “excess power” it (at least to me) symbolizes how much more you can throw your ship around beyond the usual M-Drive abilities.

Which is the heart of the problem. You see, in A&F the energy requirements in a ship design are actually more simplified than in High Guard. The concept of Energy Points is simply not used in A&F. Unlike High Guard, in A&F computers and turret weapons (presumably this includes barbettes too) are “Unlimited by Power” per the Capital Ship Armament Table on A&F p. 29. This same table specifies how many Bay Weapons per 1000 tons can be carried (based on the Power Plant Rating) as well as if a Spinal Weapon or how many Screens are allowed.

Without a direct translation between High Guard Energy Points and the Armament Power Table in A&F it is impossible to derive an Agility rating. So I asked myself, “How is Agility used in combat, and what would the difference be if it was not used?”

When resolving combat in High Guard, one nice part of the design is that there are actually very few modifiers to worry about (or remember). When making the initial To Hit roll, there really are only three modifiers:

  • + relative computer size
  • – target agility rating
  • + target size modifier

I was worried that, with this few modifiers to start with, simply removing the “- target agility rating” risked skewing the result. Wanting to preserve the intent of the design, I fell back on a lazy solution; change the modifier to “Minus Firers M-Drive Rating/Target M-Drive Rating (rounded down) IF RESULT IS POSITIVE – any NEGATIVE result becomes Target Agility= 0”.

For instance, say a Rattlesnake Attack Craft with M-Drive=5 from Ships of The Clement Sector 7 has jumped a Rucker-class Merchant from Ships of the Clement Sector 16 converted into the System Security/Escort Armament variant with M-Drive=2. When the Rattlesnake attacks the relative drive rating (5:2) computes to a factor of 2, giving the Rattlesnake a -2 DM on its To Hit rolls (better relative “agility”). On the other hand, when the Rucker shoots at the Rattlesnake the relative rating is 2:5 giving a result of -2 which becomes 0 DM modifier.

Armor

The second area that needed interpretation was armor. In Cepheus Engine ship combat, the armor rating directly reduces the number of hits. So when a ship is attacked with a salvo of three Basic Missiles (Damage = 1d6 each) launched by a Triple Turret, if the target ship has Armor = 8 then the first eight hits are offset. When designing a ship using A&F, the default armor for higher Tech Levels is Crystaliron which can be added to ships in increments of 5% of the ships tonnage. The maximum armor factor is the Tech Level of the design or 12, whichever is less.

In High Guard, the type of armor is unspecified. Given the rather large armor factors in A&F designs, I wondered it I was over-armoring the designs. A close look at the High Guard Hull Armor formula gave me my solution. The Hull Armor formula tells the designer the percentage of the ship required for that armor factor. At TL 11 (standard in The Clement Sector) the formula is 3+3a where a is the desired armor factor. Using a little backwards math I quickly discovered that the Armor Factor given in a A&F design was using too much space, but if I used the number of “layers”– those 5% elements- the number worked. So a Moltke-class cruiser (Ships of the Clement Sector 3) which is listed as “Crystaliron x2 / 8 points” when converted to High Guard has Armor=2. Unlike Cepheus Engine where armor directly reduces the number of hits, in High Guard armor is a +DM when rolling on the Ship Damage tables. Using this backwards derived formula, armor in The Clement Sector ranges from +1 to +4; a much more reasonable range of modifiers than the +4 to +16(!) using the A&F factors.

Torpedoes

Torpedoes are described in A&F as, “…true ship killers…heavy 2.5dT anti-ship missiles….” In A&F missiles inflict damage from 1d6 (Basic Missile) to 3d6 + Crew Hit (Nuclear Missiles). Comparatively, a Basic Torpedo will inflict 4d6 hits, a Nuclear Torpedo causes 6d6 hits, and the heaviest Bomb Pumped Torpedo scores 7d6 damage.

Assuming the High Guard missiles are nuclear, I was able to come up with approximated damage for each USP factor. I then reworked the table using the higher damage potential of the Torpedo. In the end it worked out that I could use the existing High Guard Turret Weapons table and, using the missile column, simply add +1 USP factor to get the Torpedo USP.

Rail Guns

Rail Guns were another weapon found in A&F but not in High Guard. Using the same approach as I did for Torpedoes, I basically figured out that the 50-ton Rail Gun Bay had nearly the same hitting power of a 50-ton Missile Bay, so I used the same USP factor. The primary difference is in combat; the Short range of the Rail Gun earned it a restriction of being unable to fire when at Long Range in High Guard. At Short Range, the Rail Gun earned a +2 DM To Hit but used the Attacking Meson Gun vs Configuration table. This generally means that, absent those other To Hit modifiers, a Rail Gun battery needs to roll an 8+ on 2d6 to hit a Needle/Wedge configuration, or a 6+ to hit a Standard configuration, or an 11+ to hit a Dispersed configuration ship. Sort makes sense, right?

Missile Stocks

In High Guard the number of missiles one had aboard a ship was not a consideration. I always found this interesting given that combat in High Guard usually depicted larger, longer fleet engagements. The ship descriptions in the Ships of the Clement Sector includes the number of missiles on hand. Usually it is a mix of Basic, Nuclear, and Smart Missiles. As any logistics planner will tell you, you can’t face the enemy with an empty quiver of bows! I toyed around with the idea of breaking the load out into the number of turns each missile type could be fired (assuming one round of firing in a turn) but ultimately decided that breaking it out by missile is just too granular for the High Guard system of abstractions. Instead I took the number of missiles available and divided it by how many can be fired in one ‘volley’. This is the number of ‘volleys’ the ship gets before the stores are depleted. Probably only useful in a campaign game or as a special rule like an SDB on patrol too long facing a pirate with a near-depleted stores of missile– make every shot count!

Into Battle?

So, now that I’ve done my homework, will I actually play a game of High Guard in The Clement Sector? Maybe. Like I said before, The Clement Sector is a ‘small ship universe’ meaning space battles are usually smaller affairs with few ships. High Guard is better at resolving larger fleet battles with larger combatants. In the The Hub Federation Ground Forces sourcebook, Appendix 1, some details of the “Battle of Beol” are provided. There may be enough there to make a fleet battle scenario.

Now that I think of it, the Battle of Beol also includes a ground campaign. Maybe I need to look at a Striker (GDW, 1980) campaign next?

Hmmm….


Feature image courtesy roleplayrescue.com

RPG Thursday – Soaring into battle with #TravellerRPG

“What’s that?”

Strom turned his attention from his mapping instruments and looked over at the panels that Ga’de, his co-pilot and fellow Scout, was now studying intently. The optical array had picked up something and flashed an alert. Whatever it was, it was unidentified for the moment.

“It’s small and cool,” Ga’de reported. “Maybe 5 dTons in size. Why is it in a retrograde orbit?”

“Yeah,” Strom thought out loud. “It’s coming straight at us.”

Ga’de glanced away from his instruments and over at Strom. His brow was furrowed. “They’re attacking?”

Strom was thinking out loud. “Since we got here, the western continent has not liked our presence. They’re the most vocal about the ‘danger’ of ‘outer space aliens’. They’ve made announcements that they are willing to fight to keep us out.”

Ga’de harrumphed. “What imbeciles. They just can’t accept that they’re not alone in the universe and somebody else made it to the stars before them. We offer them technology and they reject us because we threaten their ”culture’. Why can’t they see that we offer them the future?”

Inwardly, Strom agreed but talking about it was not the solution right now. “Can we get any sort of ID on it?” he asked.

Ga’de turned back at his instruments. “Hard to tell, optics seem to show something winged. Do they have manned small craft?”

Courtesy astronautic.com

On a small screen next to his station Strom consulted the few files they had on the planet so far. In a previous expedition they had raided what passed for a library on this planet and acquired an “Encyclopedia” but it was a physical paper document. It had taken a while to scan it into the computer and the cross-references were poor. Imagine that; a planet so backwards they didn’t even have the SmartNet yet!

“Yes, they are working on a crewed launch capability using capsules. But the only thing shown here is crude ballistic missiles, nothing more than TL5 at the best. Wings…that’s different,” Strom trailed off.

“Do we maneuver?” There was a nervous edge in Ga’de’s voice.

Strom considered. “We’re higher tech. And we have to finish this mapping mission. Besides, we can’t let them think they can push us around.” He paused for just a moment. “No. We maintain course.”

Optics continued tracking the black winged object. A bit nervous now, Strom nudged the thrusters a bit to slightly change their vector; a few moments later the black winged object adjusted too.

“That’s not right,” Strom thought. “It means it’s guided…by a hu-man?

The range was closing rapidly. The approach looked like it was going to be close.

Somewhat belatedly, Strom stirred into action. “Ga’de, get to the turret, fast.”

Ga’de got up and raced from the control cabin. The winged craft kept closing.

Strom watched his panel as the turret indicator light came on. His heart sank when Gade made his first call.

“Damn systems rebooting! Something about an urgent update!”

Strom strapped himself in as he started throwing switches. “Strap in, we’re gonna burn!”

Time seemed to slow to a crawl. Strom saw on the optics the winged beast release a smaller object that flared briefly and accelerated quickly towards his saucer. He saw out of the corner of his eye a warning from the radiation detector. He heard Ga’de cursing the Gods in the turret.

These Stars Are Ours, Stellagama Publishing, 2017

He reoriented the ship and punched the M-Drive. As Strom was slammed back in his chair by the acceleration he thought about his mission. The Quorum had sent them here to expand the frontiers of their small empire. Surely, this lesser-developed planet, just at the cusp of spaceflight, would welcome them. After all, they were a highly compatible species as secretive missions before had shown. Some of the specimens captured were still alive and helping the Quorum even now. Sure, some had resisted, but they were the exception, right?

The small missile flared again but brightly this time. It changed course to intercept Strom’s saucer. Before he could manuever again the small object exploded with a blinding flash of light. As the expanding atomic fireball rapidly washed over his saucer, Strom thought that, surely, their superior technology would save them. Surely….



Deep inside a bunker buried under a mountain, the General watched intently as the stream of information from SIDS, the Space Intruder Detection System, reported the nuclear detonation in orbit above. The Eastern Pact would be upset by the large EMP event above their continent, but setting them back while destroying the alien intruders was but a small price to pay for saving the planet.

The General watches (Courtesy Wargames)

The General glanced to his right at the two ‘Agents’ dressed in identical black suits. They kinda looked like that a-hole J. Edgar’s men, but something was not quite right. The older one had never smiled. The younger one kinda fidgeted until the older one glared at him then he too stood by emotionless. They didn’t even laugh at his spark plug joke. Shaking his head ever so slightly, the General swore under his breath that he would never understand why they wore sunglasses this deep inside the mountain.

Sighing, the General spoke up, “Control, take us to DEFCON 5. Ops, make sure all reports are are captured for Project Blue Book. Comms, get me a channel.”

“Ground Control to Major Tom….”

Courtesy collectorsweekly.com

This mini Traveller RPG adventure was inspired by a tweet by @pilliarscreatio showing a Boeing Dyna-Soar hot-staging into orbit.

Key materials referenced include:

#Coronapocalypse #RPG – A different #TravellerRPG future with @IndependenceGa6 #TheClementSector Earth sourcebooks

IN THE PAST FEW WEEKS, I PLAYED SEVERAL Traveller RPG-related wargames. Invasion: Earth (GDW, 1982) and Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra Games, 2018) are based on the Third Imperium setting. However, my modern “preferred” setting for my Traveller RPG is The Clement Sector from Independence Games (formerly Gypsy Knights Games) using their modified version of the Cepheus Engine ruleset.

A major reason I like The Clement Sector is that it is in the future, but not so far in the future (like the 56th Century of the Third Imperium) that I cannot relate. Here is how Independence Games describes the core setting:

In 2210, scientists discovered a wormhole allowing travel to the opposite side of the Milky Way galaxy.  Once across, exploration teams discovered worlds far more suited to human habitation than those in star systems nearer to Earth.  Were they terraformed by some unknown race?  Are they just a coincidence in the vast diversity of the universe?

Over the ensuing years humans left Earth and began to colonize these worlds.  Nation-backed colonies.  Corporate colonies.  People who simply no longer felt compelled to remain on Earth.  The best and brightest.

In 2331, the unthinkable happened.  The wormhole collapsed leaving those in Clement Sector cut off from Earth.  Now these new worlds and new civilizations must stand on their own.

The year is 2342.  Adventure awaits!

Originally, The Clement Sector focused in ‘the other side’ of the wormhole and the regions that grew up around there. I really like the setting because it has everything one may prefer; a subsector that is very Space Opera, another that is Space Western. I also absolutely enjoy how Independence Games makes their sourcebooks; a combination of wide topics with ‘seeds’ of adventure thrown in. They paint the broad strokes of the setting but leave plenty of space for you, the GM or players, to fill in. In an era when so many folks play IP-derived settings then complain of being ‘constrained’ by canon, The Clement Sector is a refreshing dose of freedom. Which is why I approached a few of the most recent releases with a bit of trepidation.

Earth Sector: A Clement Sector Setting

Earth_Sector_Cover_540xI actually talked about this sourcebook back in February 2020 and was not so keen on it then. Truth be told it has grown on me in the short time since. Earth Sector: A Clement Sector Setting focuses on the Earth Sector but AFTER the Conduit Collapse. I was concerned about this ‘alternate-future’ look and although there is certainly a good deal of ‘history’ in the product I am very pleased on the post-Collapse focus. Indeed, that is what saves the entire product for me – it is as much more of a look forward into the ‘future’ than a tie to the ‘past.’

A major reason Earth Sector has grown on me is another one of those Traveller games-within-games. As the ad copy for Earth Sector states:

Using the relationship matrix developed in Balancing Act: Interstellar Relations in Clement Sector, Earth Sector contains detailed reports on which nation is doing well, how much they are raking in from their colonies, and upon which nation they may yet declare war.

CTadv5Long ago, Classic Traveller Adventure 5: Trillion Credit Squadron included rules for determining budgets for a world. The idea was players could design and build fleets and fight with them. Over the years, this world budget concept has often cropped up in the game. Independence Games added their take on the concept with Balancing Act: Interstellar Relations in the Clement Sector:

It also includes a game within a game called “The Balancing Act”. This game will allow you to take on the role of a head of state in Clement Sector and go up against other leaders as you attempt to push your world ahead of your competition. These rules can easily be used in other settings and games where one might wish to become a leader of a world.

What I really like about Balancing Act is that it is not solely focused on the military (although that certainly makes up a large part of the ‘balance’). Although most RPGs are inherently very personal and focused on a individuals in a small group, as a GM I can use Balancing Act to ‘world-build’ the setting.

Subsector Sourcebook: Earth

EarthSectorFrontPromoCover_1024x1024@2xComplementing Earth Sector is Subsector Sourcebook: Earth. This product looks beyond the Earth and to the whole subsector. Again, the post-Collapse focus is what makes this product; there is enough history to broadly explain how the various locales came to be and how they are dealing with the post-Collapse situation. In addition to all the ‘details’ about the planets, this subsector book also includes the Balancing Act data meaning it is ready-set for GMs and players to start their own world-building adventure game.

Which brings me to the last new product this week…

Tim’s Guide to the Ground Forces of the Hub Subsector

Tims_Hub_Cover_Final_1024x1024@2x.pngIndependence Games already publishes their Wendy’s Guides for space navies in The Clement Sector. Tim’s Guide to the Ground Forces of the Hub Sector takes that same concept an applies it to non-space forces (ground, aerospace, naval) and organizations. Unlike the other products I talked about above, this first Tim’s Guide goes back to ‘other side’ of The Clement Sector and focuses on the Hub Subsector.

Like the Wendy’s Guides before, each planet has their non-space forces laid out. Planetary factors related to The Balancing Act are also included. As I so often say about Independence Games’ products, the depth of detail is just right. For example, one entry may tell you that the planet has a Tank Company equipped with FA-40 tanks, but they don’t tell you the details on that tank. It might be in one of the vehicle guides or, better yet, you can use the Cepheus Engine Vehicle Design System to build your own. [I guess it is just a matter of time until Independence Games publishes their own The Clement Sector-tailored vehicle design system too.]

The other part of this book that I appreciate is the fully detailed “Hub Federation’s Yorck-class Battlecruiser, a seafaring vessel capable of engaging forces both on the oceans and in close orbit.” The Traveller grognard in me wants to take this ship and place in a Harpoon 4 (Admiralty Trilogy Games) naval miniatures wargame scenario and see how it goes.

So there you have it; three new The Clement Sector books for YOUR game. That’s probably the most under appreciated part of Independence Games. Unlike so many other settings, The Clement Sector empowers the players and GM. There is lots of material to chose from, and many adventures to be created.