Was challenged on Twitter to name my Top 3 Tabletop Role Playing Games. Here was my response:
Top 3 #TTRPG 1. Classic Traveller/ Cepheus Engine. My original RPG in 1979, favorite since. 2. James Bond 007 RPG. Awesome match of mechanics to theme. 3. #StarWars Edge of the Empire. Connected my boys to #TTRPG.
Each of these titles is starkly different from the other. One is old/new, one very old school, and the third a modern narrative system. How did I arrive at this list?
Starting in 2004 and continuing through the mid 20-teens, I focused my hobby hours more heavily into RPGs than wargaming and boardgaming. In part this was because I was in the military and on the move with most of my gaming collection stored away. The electronic revolution in RPGs was just starting so instead of buying physical books I could get a whole library on my computer! I also had younger kids who were not ready to game yet. In those years, I dabbled in a lot of RPG systems, especially newer ones such as CORTEX Classic (Serenity Role Playing Game, Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game) that evolved into CORTEX Plus (Smallville Roleplaying Game, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game, and Firefly Roleplaying Game). I dug deeply into FATE with great games like the encyclopedic Starblazer Adventures or Diaspora. There were many other games too. Looking back, I had become a “mechanics nut” and explored different RPG systems to study their mechanics, or how they modeled the world. I didn’t really play many of these games as much as I studied them.
In 2013 my gaming took an unexpected turn. That year, Fantasy Flight Games acquired the Star Wars license and produced their excellent Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Core Rulebook. The RockyMountainNavy Boys were now older and I had done a good job of indoctrinating them into the Cult of Star Wars. So we started playing together. This was a major change for me since I now started playing games instead of mostly studying them.
So that is how I arrived at my Top 3. The first is a classic of my youth, updated and recreated into the modern day. The second is a design I admire. The third is loved because it connects me to my Boys.
If you follow me, then I am sure you are getting tired of my constant #TravellerRPG praise. Sorry, but I just like the game that much!
Sure, there are other rules-lite or “microRPG” or folding-style games that do a lot in a little area, but to me the simple three Little Black Books of the original (now Classic) Traveller are what I think of in a ‘lite’ RPG. Many people apparently don’t realize (or have forgotten) that Traveller was not a setting but a simple core mechanic within a (short) flexible ruleset within which basic setting materials were provided. Like many other RPGs of that era, it was expected (demanded?) that game masters would develop their own universe to adventure in. [For the best discussion of this, see Tales to Astound, TRAVELLER: Out of the Box to the Third Imperium].
Remember the original Traveller RPG? The original three Little Black Books (LBB)? Jason “Flynn” Kemp of Samardan Press does, and thanks to his heroic efforts we have”A Classic Era Science Fiction 2D6-Based Open Gaming System” in the Cepheus Engine: System Reference Document.
The original three LBB were first published in 1977. If one looks carefully at the books, you will discover these are three LBB of rules; there was no specified setting. The Traveller RPG over the years has contained numerous settings, most revolving around the Third Imperium. Indeed, it seems these days one can almost not say “Traveller” without also saying “Third Imperium.” Even the latest version of Traveller from Far Future Enterprises, Traveller5, admits things changed:
Classic Traveller (CT). The original edition of Traveller published by GDW Game Designer’s Workshop 1977 and revised in 1981. The intention was a generic science-fiction system, but it quickly concentrated on the Third Imperium as a setting supported with adventures and supplements. –Traveller5 Core Rules v5.09, pdf p.4
It is with a degree of sadness that I have watched the legal wrangling this past summer regarding how Mongoose Publishing, creators of the new Mongoose Traveller second edition, have chosen a narrow-use license for their work. Of greatest impact, the second edition is not Open Game Content, and any users desiring commercial use of the Mongoose Traveller second edition must abide by the new Community Content Agreement. Given the new CCA grants broad rights to others to use an IP (like an alternate setting) this condition was unacceptable to publishers.
At first this made me very sad. As much as I love the Third Imperium, these days I am excited playing around in some alternate settings. My three favorite are Outer Veil by Spica Publishing, Orbital 2100 by Zozer Games, and The Clement Sector by Gypsy Knights Games.
Enter Jason “Flynn” Kemp of Samardan Press. Mr. Flynn obviously remembers when Traveller was a generic system. Using the Open Game License Traveller System Reference Documents he created Cepheus Engine. Cepheus is just what the subtitle says; a 2D6-Based Open Gaming System. The book is rules only; there is no setting. What Mr. Flynn has given the Traveller RPG community is a truly generic set of rules to play with. He even encourages it!
Publishing Your Own Materials
As you can see at the beginning of this System Reference Document, all of the text in this document is designated as Open Gaming Content, except for titles of products published by Samardan Press, and the trademarks “Cepheus Engine” and “Samardan Press.”
This means you can copy whatever parts of Cepheus Engine you want, add your own content, change the content around, and publish the result. Note that you will have to comply with the Open Gaming License, as reproduced at the end of this document. If you don’t mention any of the trademark elements, you don’t need to do anything else.
However, you can use the “Cepheus Engine” trademark, under certain circumstances, to indicate compatibility with this rules system. You have to follow the requirements of the Cepheus Engine Compatability-Statement License (CSL), but if you do, you can state that your published material “is compatible with the rules of Cepheus Engine” or, “with the Cepheus Engine rules” or, “with the Cepheus Engine game.” – Cepheus Engine SRD, Legal, p. 205
Cepheus Engine is a 208 page book broken down into 19 chapters. Starting with an introduction and the obligatory “What is Roleplaying?” it goes on to in a way mimic the original three LBBs. [Each LBB was 48 digest-size pages, for a total of 147 pages of content – guess we have a bit of rules bloat here!]
Book One: Characters includes Character Creation, Skills, Psionics, Equipment, and Personal Combat.The Core Mechanic at heart is a simple roll 2D6 > 8+ for success. Book Two: Starships and Interstellar Travel includes Off-World travel, Trade and Commerce, Ship Design and Construction, Common Vessels, and Space Combat. I note that the ship design and construction and space combat are focused on what long-time Traveller players call Adventure Class Ships, defined in Traveller5 as “built using standard hulls between 100 tons and 2400 ton displacement” (T5, p. 274), though in Cepheus Engine one can build a hull as large as 5000 tons. Many of the larger Battle Class Ships construction and combat rules (which Mongoose called “Capital Ships” in their first edition and are available in the High Guard OGL SRD) are not covered by Cepheus Engine. Book Three: Referees covers Environments and Hazards, Worlds, Planetary Wilderness Encounters, Social Encounters, Starship Encounters, Refereeing the Game, and Adventures.
Compared to the Mongoose first edition rules, this rulebook arrangement is eminently more intuitive to use. To long-time Traveller players, there is not much “new under the hood” but that’s the way it should be. This is a familiar rule book, not setting specific (occasionally rules modifying) material. With this book, third-party publishers can bring their setting to you, which is exactly what Zozer Games and Gypsy Knights Games are doing. More about their great products in future posts!
“Cepheus Engine System Reference Document, Copyright (c) 2016 Samardan Press; Author Jason “Flynn” Kemp.”
“The Traveller game in all forms is owned by Far Future Enterprises. Copyright 1977-2015 Far Future Enterprises.”