#RPGThursday – A Fifth of 21 Plots Comes Forth

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Courtesy RPGGeek

A Fifth of 21 Plots, Gypsy Knights Games, 2017.

A Fifth of 21 Plots is the latest entry of patron encounters for Gypsy Knight Games’ The Clement Sector setting using the Cepheus Engine RPG system. Provided within are 21 encounters each in the classic Traveller RPG patron encounter format which gives a short introduction and a 1d6 table for random variation.

Before The Clement Sector, I had not bought any patron encounter books since the Classic Traveller RPG Supplement 06: 76 Patrons. I have to admit I have now bought nearly all the Gypsy Knight Games 21 Series because it is so inspirational. Shamefully, I don’t often use a patron encounter in my gaming (unless it is a real pick-up game) but instead use the encounter background and variations as inspiration for detailing an adventure.

This may change thanks to the index for the 21 Series of plots that is provided in this product. The index is cross-referenced according to location, themes, organizations, corporations, and objects within the plots (A Fifth of 21 Plots, p. 26). I don’t necessarily see this as a tool the GM will use at the table, but it should be very useful for gaming prep and will probably result in my incorporation of more of the 21 Series plots into my adventuring.

A Fifth of 21 Plots is a very functional product; there are only three pieces of “poser” art included. The bulk the content is the 21 Plots (each on a separate page) and the index which takes up the second half of the 45-page product. My only gripe is the same one I have for many pdf books – the page numbering and pdf are not synchronized meaning the last page of the pdf (p. 45) is labeled p. 44 in the product (the cover – usually unnumbered – counts as a pdf page). This a very minor gripe – the content is excellent with great plot seeds and good writing.

RMN Verdict – BUY for the index and enjoy the adventures!

SOLO Campaigns for #CepheusEngine and #TravellerRPG

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Courtesy RPGGeek

Paul Elliott of Zozer Games has done the Cepheus Engine/Traveller RPG community a great service with the publication of SOLO: Solo RPG Campaigns for the Cepheus Engine. Although marketed as rules for solo play, the reality is this book offers a very useful campaign structure driven by the Classic Traveller encounter-style of adventuring.

SOLO is based on the “fortune in the middle” approach to gaming. As Paul explains it:

Here, some decision making is made, but with very little description of how the player actually achieves his goal. The dice are rolled and the results retro-actively interpreted. [p. 6]

In explaining how to get to the “fortune in the middle,” SOLO breaks down the rules into six broad sections; Character Generation, SOLO Campaign Rules, and four different campaign styles (Travellers, Star Traders, Naval Officers, and Survey Scouts). As an added bonus, the Naval Officers campaign also has simplified “All-in One Space Combat” rules.

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The Player Characters chapter is on one level a rehash of the character generation rules in the Cepheus Engine System Reference Document, but at another level so much more. The expanded explanations in SOLO do so much more to bring Cepheus Engine closer to a narrative-style of game. For instance, look at how the CE Reference Document explains Endurance:

Endurance (END): A character’s ability to sustain damage, stamina and determination. [CERD p. 23]

Compare this to SOLO:

Endurance – Toughness and stamina. Endurance also indicates a pain threshold. Does this indicate a character with a past filled with hard knocks and hard living? Low endurance may mean a pampered lifestyle, a low tolerance of stress, pain and discomfort. [p. 10]

SOLO gets much closer to creating characters in the style that Marc Miller in Traveller 4 (T4) referred to as the Detailed Role-Players – characters with strong motivations and rich backgrounds. With just a few extra words and a bit more thought, SOLO guides the players into making much deeper characters. This is partially achieved by focusing on what the die roll is during character creation and not just if it was a pass/fail:

Once a career has been chosen and the rolling of dice begins, we must take note of how much the role for Survival, Commission, Promotion and Re-Enlistment were made by – or failed by. Think of what it means to make or fail a roll by a wide margin. [p. 12]

This same approach applies to Skill and Mustering Out. I especially enjoyed Paul’s comment in Mustering Out where he recommended reducing cash bonus benefits for,  “This ensures that none of the player characters in the group are too affluent – too affluent to take risks.” [p. 13].

The next chapter, Character Reactions, starts the core of the SOLO rules. Character Reactions introduces a new rules mechanic for “In-Game Reactions.” In-Game Reactions is a roll to avoid a bad reaction – a measure of how well the team held their nerve. It is a variable target number based on the crew relationship; the examples used range from the squabbling crew of Prometheus (more prone to bad reactions) to Star Trek (less prone).

“The heart of SOLO is The Plan” [p. 22].  The Plan lays out the scene resolution mechanic. This again is a new game mechanic because SOLO resolves scenes and not tasks. Through the use of a single die roll, The Plan resolves “how it all went” [p. 22]. Using a simple three-step process, the player decides the Plan difficulty, danger and resolution. From here the die roll leads to Bad Consequences or Good Consequences. This in turn leads the player to Explanations – what happened.

To help, Paul recommends Write It Down in an unstructured diary [p. 28]. Most importantly, this must include NPCs: Contacts & Enemies. If you haven’t caught on yet, SOLO is heavy on relationships – relationships between characters and relationships between the party and NPCs. These relationships in turn lead to Storylines where the player “tries to make sense of random events by hanging on them an interconnected plot” [p. 33].

These random events are driven by Random Rolls, the next chapter. There are Random Tables for:

  • Tell Me, D6
  • NPC Reactions
  • Colourful Locals
  • Starport Encounters
  • Ship Encounters
  • Ship Types
  • Ship Reactions
  • Law Level Checks

The Tell Me, D6 is nothing revolutionary and shows a range of reactions for either a person or situation. The other tables are wonderful because they often use a variety of d6 rolls, from 2d6 (2-12) or 3d6 (3-18) or d66 (36 potential outcomes). These tables can be dropped into most any campaign, solo or not, and are a reminder that tables don’t just have to be 2d6! The Law Level Checks table and accompanying explanation is also good GM advice on when and how to play with Law Levels, a rule that has been in Traveller since the first Little Black Books in 1977 but one I rarely used until more recently.

With the core SOLO rules explained, Paul now introduces the first of four campaigns – Travellers. This is the default campaign and classic Traveller:

…a mixed group of traveling PCs, veterans of the military services and other walks of life. The might have a small starship with which they move from world to world, or they may travel on commercial starships. Criminals, hunters, fortune hunters, noblemen (and their countiers), miners, chancers and bounty hunters, all fall int this category. [p. 53]

Each campaign uses a Checklist of events. Paul also recommends starting this campaign In Media Res, and has a “Starting Situation” table to help. The campaign also has tailored  events tables. Once again all of these are great fodder for any GM to drop into their campaign. The heart of the Travellers campaign is the Patron Encounter though here event that is expanded upon by also encountering Enemies, Cargoes, or Colourful Locals.

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The second campaign is Star Traders. This campaign is actually where Paul started as it is based on his earlier publication, Star Trader. The Star Trader campaign is where:

With a ship in hand, the player characters can start making money by shipping people and cargoes. Often this means they are free traders, plying the routes the big carriers have ignored. Free traders can get into plenty of sticky situations, can earn extra money from infrequent adventures and sometimes operate on both sides of the law. [p. 7]

SOLO ties to avoid the “fantasy stocks and shares” gaming trope and make this campaign adventure. Once again, it is relationships that will drive events. The campaign checklist is not only a great guide for solo play, but useful guidance for any free trader campaign game.

Whereas the Travellers and Star Traders campaigns are classically Traveller, the next campaign, Naval Officers, is much different. “The PCs are the crew of a naval warship, patrolling the subsector, battling pirates and smugglers and defending the region from other interstellar navies” [p. 7}. Because this campaign is not “classic,” different character generation rules are called for and provided. Additional rules are what I call “Naval Intelligence,” added planetary codes for pirates or general threat levels giving an expectation of action. The “Star System Encounters” section also flushes out the system and provides more adventure hooks. “Investigating the Sensor Returns” calls for the use of playing cards with the different suits representing a different type of contact. More encounter tables are consulted, and more adventure created.

The Naval Officers campaign also introduces All-In One Space Combat rules. This rules variant uses a streamlined combat resolution mechanic built around a ship’s Combat Rating. Use of this variant avoids the need to play the starship combat subgame as detailed in the CE Reference Document. I don’t know how many more times I will say something like this, but the All-In One Space Combat Rules should be in every GMs kitbag for use during play.

The last campaign is Survey Scouts:

Exploration and adventure go hand in hand. In this campaign, the player characters are the crew of a survey ship – far from help or assistance, members of the scout service exploring new planets and sometimes making contact with alien races. [p. 7]

There is no greater science fiction theme than the exploration of uncharted space; many novels, movies and TV series have gone down this route. For SOLO gamers space exploration provides an almost perfect solitaire-play set-up; a ship, a crew and a subsector of unknown space to fly around without the need for NPCs, meddling governments or regulations. [p. 102]

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This campaign style is heavily hinted at in the later generations of Classic Traveller. I prefer to call this campaign style “Alien Traveller” with a very definite nod to the Alien franchise, although Paul points out that is just one of several genre campaigns possible. Like Naval Officers, Survey Scouts needs modified character generation rules. In Survey Scouts, new rules also cover planetary surveys and “Survey Points.” In yet another useful section for any GM, Survey Scouts draws heavily from another of Paul’s products, The Universal World Profile to add many useful details to planets.

I should point out that after the SOLO rules are introduced and in every campaign an Example of Play is provided. The Naval Officers and Survey Scouts campaigns also use evocative fiction to help showcase their subsystems. Sprinkled throughout the book are many references to stories, books, TV shows, and movies that bring home the point just how versatile the Cepheus Engine system can be.

Recommendation: MUST BUY

SOLO is more than just a campaign system for solitaire play. By using solo play as an example, Paul has actually shown a way to make the encounters-style of adventure work in a wide variety of campaigns. SOLO should be in every Cepheus Engine/Classic Traveller RPG GM’s kitbag. It is astonishing to think about just how much “game” is included within these 153 pages. At $9.99 this is a real bargain for the many hours of play one can get solo or with their regular adventures.


SOLO: Solo RPG Campaigns for the Cepheus Engine; by Paul Elliott, Zozer Games, 2017.

Cepheus Engine System Reference Document: A Classic Era Science Fiction 2D6-Based Open Gaming System; by Jason “Flynn” Kemp, Samardan Press, 2016.

 

 

#RPGThursday – Not Encountering Traveller5

Tales to Astound has a long-running series on Traveller: Out of the Box. If you are a true Classic Traveller RPG fan and have not seen that site – FULL STOP! Go read it now then come back (or maybe not – his site is admittedly much better than mine).

Courtesy FFE.com

As much as I love Classic Traveller (or CT), I have stated before that the latest Marc Miller version of Traveller, Traveller5 (or T5) is also one of my guilty pleasures. I really like the “makers” in the system and how they all work together for world building. I also must admit that many of the critics of T5 are correct; the game is hard to play. I keep asking myself why.

 

To me, the Core Mechanic (nD6 < Characteristic + Skill +/- Mods) stands up well. Character Generation is no more difficult than any other version of Traveller. Combat (except Melee) works well and there are all those Makers! So why is it difficult?

One moment of clarity in my Traveller RPG journey came late last year when I revisited Marc Miller’s Traveller (or T4). In the introduction, Mr. Miller lays out his viewpoint of three different Traveller RPG players:

Casual Players: Anybody can play Traveller. The concepts are intuitive: travel, exploration, interaction, negotiation, combat, and all kinds of action. Individuals can role-play diverse characters or they can play themselves. Casual players can be so casual that they know nothing about the game system at all.

Detailed Role-Players: Traveller provides dedicated gamers the opportunity to role-play complex characters with strong motivations and intricate backgrounds. The Traveller system can be as informal or rich as the participants want.

System Engineers: The Traveller system presents referees the materials necessary to explore [the] Traveller universe in detail. Aspects such as starship design, world generation, vehicle descriptions, trade and commerce, animal generation, and encounters, are designed to meet two specific goals; as a prod to the imagination, and for creating custom equipment or information. – p. 8

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Courtesy thealexandrian.net

As I look at myself critically, I see that when I play CT I am a Casual Player. However, there are times when I really like to explore the System Engineer I go to T5. Interestingly, if I am trying to be a Detailed Role-Player I don’t usually use a Traveller system, instead I gravitate towards a more Narrative-style RPG in Diaspora or Mindjammer (FATE Core 2nd Edition, not the horrible Mindjammer Traveller) or Firefly or Star Wars: Edge of the Empire.

I think another major reason player uses are so different between CT and T5 is because T5 lacks CT-like encounter rules. “Encounters” in this case are not fights but “situations” that lead to adventure. Real CT is actually built on encounters. In T5 there is a nod to this style (the Adventures chapter) but it lacks the Encounter Tables found in CT thru T4. Instead the focus in on EPIC Adventures (EPIC meaning Easy, Playable, Interactive,  Checklist).

I don’t like it.

Without encounters T5 loses a great amount of the “Traveller charm” that I love and enjoy playing. I certainly use T5 to build but not play. Maybe this is because at heart I rebel these days against a setting that I see as hamstringing my play. I realize I appear to be talking out of both sides of my mouth; I seemingly dislike settings but at the same time enjoy CT or Cepheus Engine settings like The Clement Sector or Orbital: 2100 or These Stars are Ours! Each of these settings use the encounter mechanic from CT. Certainly one can make an EPIC Adventure within the setting but its not my preference. CT (and these days CE) support my preferred encounter style of play.


Marc Miller’s Traveller, Copyright ©1996 by Imperium Games, Inc. Traveller is a registered trademark of Far Future Enterprises. Used under license by Imperium Games, Inc. 

Traveller5: Science Fiction Adventures in the Far Future, v5.09; Copyright ©2015 Far Future Enterprises.

“Traveller, Basic Traveller, Starter Traveller, Classic Traveller, MegaTraveller, Traveller: The New Era, Traveller4, Traveller5, Traveller8, The Spinward Marches, The Edge of the Empire, EPIC, The Galaxiad, and Journal of the Traveller’s Aid Society are trademarks of Far Future Enterprises.”

Encountering #TravellerRPG using #CepheusEngine

Hattip to Tales to Astound for inspiration here.

Tales to Astound has a very interesting series on using the Classic Traveller RPG system. One item that caught my attention a few weeks back was Encounters. TTA rightly points out that in Classic Traveller, “Encounters are there to create situations, which lead to adventures.”

This describes my common GM style to a tee. I usually am a low-prep GM, depending on the situation as it develops to help create the adventure. Sure, I often have a meta plot that is working behind the scenes, but the Travellers often find themselves intersecting the meta plot, not necessarily driving it. It is through encounters that this intersection happens.

Looking at the new 2d6 Cepheus Engine System Reference Document, I decided to dig into the rules and find out where the encounters were. At the same time, I looked at other “events” that rely on time. Boy, was I in for a surprise for all I found. There are some hourly, many daily, a few weekly, and even monthly and annual events. Putting all these together actually helps to establish a “routine” to life that can assist the GM in creating those encounter situations that lead to adventure.

Here are the many I found:

  • Pension (Yearly) p. 31
  • Explorer’s Society (Every 2 months) p. 32
  • Ship Inspections (Upon Arrival) p. 49
  • Gain Skills (Weeks?) p. 57
  • Drug Effects (Days/Weeks/Months) p. 71
  • Fatigue (Hours) p. 97
  • Natural Healing (Daily) p. 98
  • Medical Care (Daily) p. 98
  • Passage (Weekly or By Jump) p. 106
  • Skim Fuel (Hours) p. 107
  • Salaries (Monthly) p. 108
  • Life Support (Monthly) p. 109
  • Port Fees (Weekly/Daily) p. 109
  • Routine Maintenance (Monthly) p. 109
  • Law Enforcement Encounters (by event) p. 113
  • Find Supplier (Days) p. 115
  • Resist Disease (Hours/Days/Weeks) p. 163+
  • Radiation Effects (Hours/Days/Weeks) p. 165
  • Starvation/Dehydration (Hours/Days) p. 169
  • Animal Encounters (multiple encounters Daily) p. 184
  • Social Encounters (As Needed/Daily/Weekly) p. 186+
    • Legal (Daily)
    • Random (Daily)
    • Patron (Weekly)
    • Rumor (Weekly)
  • Starship Encounters (Enter/Leave System) p. 192
  • Adventure Checklist – Weekly Event (Weekly) p. 202

Encounters are really where “situation meets adventure” happens, but the other temporal events can also create situations for adventure:

  • “What do you mean you can’t pay my salary this month?”
  • “I have radiation poisoning and may only have weeks to live.”
  • “Last time we skimmed fuel we got jumped by pirates!”

All of these events happen at set time intervals and can be points the GM uses to create a situation that leads to adventure.

I am working up a GM play aid that captures all these temporal events and encounters. I intend to keep it handy for use as the game clock ticks by. I want to use this same approach to events in time and encounters not only in Classic Traveller/Cepheus Engine games but to apply the same concept to all my RPG adventures, especially Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars Roleplaying Game.


Cepheus Engine System Reference Document – A Classic Era Science Fiction 2D6-Based Open Gaming System, By Jason “Flynn” Kemp. Copyright (c) 2016 Samardan Press.