#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

October 2020 #Wargame #Boardgame #RPG #Books Month in Review

Games Played & Times Played

Note that Here to Slay included the Warriors & Druids Expansion

Games Acquired

  1. Iron Curtain: Central Europe, 1945-1989 (Standard Combat Series, MultiMan Publishing, 2020)
  2. Star Wars: Rebellion (Fantasy Flight Games, 2016)
  3. Konigsberg: The Soviet Attack on East Prussia, 1945 (Revolution Games, 2018)
  4. Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2010)
  5. Nations at War: White Star Rising (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2010)
  6. Nations at War: White Star Rising – Airborne (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2012)
  7. Nations at War: White Star Rising – Operation Cobra (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2012)
  8. Here to Slay: Warriors & Druid Expansion (Unstable Games, 2020)
  9. Moonrakers (IV Games, 2020)
  10. Cortex Prime: Game Handbook (Fandom Inc., 2020)
  11. Hell’s Paradise (A Clement Sector adventure from Independence Games, 2018)

New Preorder Games

Key Reading

Blog Activity

#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.

#RPGThursday -Finding Earth in The Clement Sector from @IndependenceGa6

What is it about the Original Traveller RPG that keeps me coming back? I mean, I don’t play in a session that often although the RockyMountainNavy Boys have repeatedly expressed an interest. This last week, Independence Games, the new name for Gypsy Knight Games, had a sale and I couldn’t resist picking up several items in their The Clement Sector collection.

I like The Clement Sector setting. It’s a small-ship universe that tops out around TL12 or 13. It’s fun to adventure around in mostly because Gypsy Knight Independence Games gives plenty of seed material but little restrictions on where you can take your adventure.

Earth_Sector_Cover_540x
Courtesy Independence Games

The first item I picked up was Earth Sector: A Clement Sector Setting. As author and publisher John Watts puts describes it:

Earth Sector is an extension of Independence Games (formerly Gypsy Knights Games) Clement Sector setting. For those familiar with the Clement Sector setting, Earth Sector is set in Earth Sector after the Conduit Collapse of 2350. Earth Sector, while it can be played without knowledge or familiarity with the Clement Sector setting, is best experienced if you are conversant with the full Clement Sector story.

It is our intention with Earth Sector to branch off from Clement Sector, much as the Conduit Collapse forced the seperate evolution of both sectors. Earth Sector will be its own setting united by the past background before 2331 and then branching off in a new direction afterward. This is the first book in that adventure, and it is our sincere hope that you enjoy where this goes.

Earth Sector is a 300 page product with lots of background. All the major nations of the Earth are detailed, along with the obligatory sector maps and data. New characters from among the various subsectors are introduced as each is unique in some way. There are also multiple career paths detailed, again tailored for this sector and time in space.

As much as I like The Clement Sector and how Independence Games generally approaches the setting, there are two parts of Earth Sector I don’t enjoy. First, like John Watts says, you need familiarity with the background of Clement Sector to fully use this book. There is no timeline in Earth Sector, for that you need to get something like Introduction to Clement Sector or the Clement Sector: Core Setting Book to see the history. Come on! A simple timeline to help orient oneself is not to much of an ask, eh? Second is the aliens in Earth Sector. This is all a matter of taste and to each their own. For my aliens I tend more towards a hard sci-fi or a Space Opera approach. In Earth Sector, the Monikarans, semiaquatic carnivores similar to Earth’s otters, beavers, or weasels, pushes too far into Space Pulp for me. In no way it this a showstopper for me; the Independence Games setting doesn’t hinge on this race so it can be ignored or something else substituted in easily.

Tech_Update_2350_Front_Cover_Promo_540x
Courtesy Independence Games

The second book I picked up was Tech Update: 2350. The cover clearly identifies this as both a Clement Sector and Earth Sector product. The book details updates to technology, on both sides of the Conduit Collapse, in the twenty years since the incident. If there is a part I really like, it is the updated Computer rules. If there was one area the designers of Original Traveller missed it was computer technology. Even Mongoose Traveller and early Clement Sector retain much of the old or outright ignore the original version. In Tech Update: 2350, Independence Games lays down a marker on new Computer rules that are a believable reworking of the original version.

Knox_Cover3_540x
Courtesy Independence Games

The third book I purchased is Knox-Class Frigate, another is a long line of ship sourcebooks from Independence Games. Like Tech Update: 2350, this book is branded for both Clement and Earth Sector. These are 1,000 dTon ships with a 4G maneuver drive and a Zimm Drive (interstellar FTL) of 2 parsec range. The ships are very heavily armed with a 2x 50 ton Meson Bays and 2x 50 ton Particle Beam Bays.

Unmerciful Frontier
Courtesy Independence Games

The last item I picked up is another ship book. Lance-Class Gunboat details an older design from the days before gravitic drives. In many ways, a Lance-class looks like Independence Games version of the Rochinante from The Expanse. The Lance is a 300 dTons boat with a Fusion Plasma Reaction Drive delivering 12 hours of 3G thrust. It is armed with a 50 ton Spinal Particle Beam Mount, a Railgun Barbette, a Triple Turret. It is a ‘tower’ design with decks perpendicular to the main thruster. I like these older boats and looking at their designs as it helps me explore the full depth of world-building the rules offer.

IMG_0508
Lance-class Gunboat from Independence Games

Plotting my #TravellerRPG renaissance (with shout outs to @GKGames, @moontoadpub, @StellagamaPub, & @TravellerNews)

ONCE AGAIN, WE PLAYED THE TRAVELLER RPG for our weekly Family Game Night. Actually, that’s not strictly true. Well, it is and isn’t:

For the adventure I literally opened 21 Plots to a random page. In this case it was 19 – Ghost Station. I had the RMN Boys make each make series of random rolls which directed me to the second plot line. Then we were off.

Like before we played with very lite rules. Once again, the entire adventure took place “in the theater of the mind” with minimal mapping and no tokens or character minis. It helped that there was a thunderstorm in the area during the session and I was able to take advantage of a few “jump scares” caused by close thunder to use in the game.

The funniest moment of the game had to be when the adventurers made entry into the darkened command center. As the doors slide aside, the first character charged in – and tripped over a body he didn’t see on the floor. Going down hard, the second through the door reacted by blindly firing into the room. Several rounds (and dangerous ricochets) later the team calmed down and discovered a very-dead mechanic on the floor of the still-darkened, and now slightly damaged, command center. Most frightening, the body was purple! Fearing an alien infestation (the station was deserted, what else could it be?), they “ensured” the body was really dead. Later, they would be asked by the Space Patrol if they had any idea how the purple-blooded Igellian (a race known for weak hearts from a low gravity planet in the next sector…info discoverable if they had bothered to use their medical skill) was shot. Shrugged shoulders was all they could offer.

We aren’t really using a true Classic Traveller Third Imperium setting but I draw upon parts of it as needed. That setting helps frame many of the in-universe limitations and norms which the RMN Boys are discovering (or we are incorporating) as we go. This was especially true as our session wrapped up and we found we still had some time. We took advantage of this extra opportunity to expand the sector map that we started before. I let each RMN Boy do the die rolling as I used the tables and recorded. We made several planets and some are very interesting:

  • An over-populated, high-tech, rich religious dictatorship in an Amber Zone (the RMN Boys immediately nicknamed this planet ‘Kool-Aid’)
  • An uninhabited planet with a deadly atmosphere and a gas giant in the system (perfect for a pirate base or a secret government research facility…maybe?)
  • A low-tech agricultural planet with a small technocracy (scientific research but why low tech?)
  • An agricultural water world (aquaculture?) with low population but sitting just next to that overcrowded, and very hungry, Amber Zone religious dictatorship.

At first the RMN Boys were not too impressed with a few planets (like the uninhabited one) but when I started musing out loud about the possibilities they got very interested, if not a bit worried.

I am really enjoying – and appreciating – the ability for so many different products to come together and be used to help create our setting. I don’t really know what to call our game except Traveller. The events of the past few weeks have taught me that Traveller is not so much a set of rules or a setting, but more an approach to the way we play an RPG. This is very much how I played Traveller back in the days of Marc Miller’s (@TravellerNews) then-GDW (and now Far Future Enterprises‘) Little Black Books. In many ways that is what I think is my Traveller Renaissance – playing a sci-fi RPG in a wide-open setting defined by us.

The original Traveller Little Black Books – mine are much more worn but no-less treasured

Feature image Gypsy Knights Games

#RPGThursday – All hail the Almighty Credit (@GKGames, 2018) #TravellerRPG #CepheusEngine #ClementSector

LAST WEEK I took a quick look at Balancing Act, a sourcebook on interstellar relations in The Clement Sector setting for Cepheus Engine (or, as I call it, CETrav). This week I look at the companion publication, Almighty Credit: Corporations in Clement Sector.

Almighty Credit provides lots of background including personalities and corporations. Through these vignettes one discovers much of the history of Clement Sector. Once again, I appreciate what Gypsy Knights gives players and GMs; much of this history is open and plants seeds for adventures. One learns a whole lot more about Clement Sector but going forward the story is YOURS!

Following the vignettes is some legal definitions of different corporations and rules for banking. You know, important ones like Obtaining an Unsecured Loan. This is followed by two new careers; Corporate Courier and Corporate Fleet.

Like Balancing Act, Almighty Credit also has a “game.” In the Almighty Credit version, you play the head of a corporation and agents. The Almighty Credit game is fully compatible with Balancing Act; they can be played together to get the classic trope of government vs corporate powers.

Last week I expressed confusion over the point of these games, mostly because I failed to understand how they can integrate into a campaign. In the past week I have thought about it more and see these games as useful “time jumps” to advance a campaign or set the stage for a new one. I am less concerned about how to integrate my characters into the games and more concerned about how they can advance a story or adventure in a direction the players and GM can enjoy. Fortunately, like so many Gypsy Knights Games products, Almighty Credit gives me the tools to make this happen.

In the end, did I really need Almighty Credit? Not really, but I am really happy I picked it up. The tremendous background gives me lots of inspiration and the “game” is a useful tool to serves as a background for an adventure or set the stage for a campaign.

#RPGThursday – Balancing Act: Interstellar Relations in the Clement Sector (@GKGames, 2019) #TravellerRPG #CepheusEngine

It has been a long while since I bought any new RPG material. In early May, John Watts of Gypsy Night Games held a sale and I took advantage of to pick up a couple The Clement Sector products I had missed out on.

Balancing Act: Interstellar Relations in the Clement Sector is a 135-page sourcebook and new game subsystem. As the publisher’s blurb puts it:

Can you relate?

This book concerns the relationships which have been established, broken, strained, and improved between the worlds of Clement Sector over the time between their establishment during the 2200s and the current situation in Clement Sector as of 2342. It will take each world, one at a time, and detail how well or how poorly each world government gets along with its neighbors.

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.

Now you can rule your own world!

The first 92 pages are the sourcebook. Here, John Watts really excels at doing what all his The Clement Sector books do best; provide hooks. There is lots of information here about all the different worlds and their relationships with one another, but at no point does it feel directive to the reader. Instead, what I find are many plot seeds ready to be explored by the players without a preset conclusion. As vast and expansive as The Clement Sector is, John Watts make sure it still if YOUR universe.

The second part of the book details the game, The Balancing Act. I have read the rules, created a few Leaders and Agents, and played with the mechanics so this is still a very preliminary reaction.

Each turn in The Balancing Act (hereafter BA) is one standard week long. Each turn is further divided into phases. Each Leader starts out with two Agents and each gets two tasks (actions) in each week.

My first reaction it that BA is…interesting. Leaders and Agents each have four Attributes but it is unclear if these are connected in a meaningful way to the Universal Personality Profile (UPP) of a character. Two of the four Attributes, Intelligence and Education, would seemingly be the same but I don’t see an explicit rules connection. If one is playing BA as a separate game it’s not needed, but if one is adding BA to a campaign the question arises. Worlds have Planetary Attributes and again the connection to the Universal World Profile (UWP) is unclear.

Projects are large-scale tasks taking multiple turns to complete. Some projects may take years (i.e hundreds of turns) to complete. This is where I feel the time scale of BA breaks down. Weekly turns is very tactical but Projects can be very strategic. Mixing the two of them together makes for some interesting (unrealistic?) situations. For instance, look a the project Upgrading a Starport from C to B (p. 111). This is a Difficult (-2) task that takes from 52-312 turns (1-6 YEARS). It costs 1bln HFCredits; spending 10 billion cuts the time in half. Let’s look at the Success/Failure spread:

  • Exceptional Success: The starport is upgraded to B-class in half of the time.
  • Success: The starport is upgraded to B-class.
  • Failure: The starport is not upgraded. The task can be attempted again in 52 turns.
  • Exceptional Failure: The starport is not upgraded. The task can be attempted again in 108 turns.

Does it seem right to “know” the result of a failure at the beginning? If I know the upgrade is an Exceptional Failure and I am going to have to wait two years to try again, I have 108 turns of different investment coming since I know it’s not worth investing in that new fleet or factories because the starport ain’t happening! Maybe the answer is to make this a hidden roll with the result only known to a GM who can then release the result when appropriate. However, the rules of BA are silent on a GM leading me to believe a GM is not used. Hmm….

Five scenarios are provided in the book with times ranging from 20 weeks to as many as the players want. Maybe BA is scaled best for scenarios of five years or less? Will have to try a scenario or two to see for myself.

As I read and experimented with BA, I found myself making inevitable comparisons to Classic Traveller Trillion Credit Squadron and Dynasty from the Mongoose Traveller collection. I’ll just say that in TCS the players are the head of the military whereas in BA they are leaders of worlds. Dynasty, being focused on generations, is a totally different timescale and approach to long-term changes. I can eventually see TCS integrating with BA (same timescale); Dynasty is best forgotten.

On balance (heh heh), The Balancing Act is a very useful sourcebook and inspiration for campaigns. I am going to reserve further opinion on BA until I experiment more with the game; I think it has potential but am unsure about parts.


Feature image Gypsy Knights Games via DriveThruRPG

#RPG Thursday – Kickstarting my thinking about #CORTEX (@sethMVDS, 2019?)

Long ago, that is, in May 2017, I pledged on Kickstarter my support to Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Modular Roleplaying Game. The estimated delivery date was April…2018. In the past year I have mostly forgotten about my pledge. In fact, I have mostly forgotten about RPGs in general as my hobby gaming has focused mostly on wargames and then family boardgames. However, the most recent update (March 2019) has stirred my imagination.

I readily admit I am not the usual RPG player. I tend to focus almost exclusively on science-fiction roleplaying and avoid fantasy like plague. I have dabbled a bit in modern RPGs and steampunk or similar settings but true sci-fi is where my heart is.

Over the years, I have also come to pay much more attention to game mechanics; in some ways mechanics wins out over settings for me. Thus, as I skimmed through the draft CORTEX PRIME GAME HANDBOOK I was reminded why I like the core mechanic used in CORTEX PRIME. For every test or contest, you assemble your dice pool and roll against the opposition pool. You choose which two dice will be your total while a third die is the effect die. Rolling a 1 is a spoiler; too many spoilers become a botch!

Like Genesys or Star Wars Roleplaying Game, winning a test or contest allows you to narrate the outcome. This narrative control is very important to me; I don’t want the GM to be the only one talking.

pic1978226_t
Courtesy RPGGeek

I have several played and studied several implementations of the Cortex System. I have seen it evolve from Cortex Classic in Serenity (2005) to Battlestar Galactica (2007) to Cortex Plus used by Smallville (2010) to Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (2012) to Firefly (2014). I have a love for each version (yes, even the soap operatic Smallville can teach aspiring GMs something). But I am ready for the next generation of CORTEX PRIME.

Deep inside, I am asking myself why I am anxious. After all, I have the very similar (and heavily narrative) Genesys, right? It was a bit of a disappointment, yes? At heart, I really enjoy the (somewhat unnarrative) Cepheus Engine RPG and especially The Clement Sector setting. Do I really expect CORTEX PRIME to be different?

Maybe. Hopefully I will find out for sure. This year.


Feature image CORTEX logo courtesy RPGGeek.com