#RPGThursday – Why HOSTILE is my new #TravellerRPG cheer (HOSTILE Rulebook by Paul Elliott from www.paulelliottbooks/zozergames)

It may be hard to imagine, but the Traveller roleplaying game was originally a “setting-less” set of rules. Sure, there were hints of the Third Imperium, but at its heart the Classic Traveller rules were sans setting. In much the same way the Cepheus Engine rules, or “Renaissance Traveller” as I call them, are also setting-less. Fortunately for us, more than a few indie RPG publishers have stepped in to create settings. Amongst my favorites are The Clement Sector by John Watt at Independence Games (formerly Gypsy Knights Games) and Orbital 2100 by Paul Elliott at Zozer Games. Another of Paul’s settings I tried in 2017 was HOSTILE. In 2021, Zozer released a new, revised edition of the rules in the HOSTILE Rulebook.

Sorry, John, but The Clement Sector now has some real competition!

I like the HOSTILE Rulebook for four reasons:

  1. The gritty setting
  2. The familiar, yet different Task Resolution system
  3. Highly thematic character generation
  4. Stress, Panic, and Hazards.

What really makes the HOSTILE Rulebook attractive to me is its simplicity. Some might look at a 239-page rule book and say, “That ain’t simple!” Yet, it is. Part of the simplicity is familiarity; I don’t think there are actually any new rules in the book, and what its there is not complex, but they are assembled and tweaked in simple ways that are highly thematic and reinforce the gritty sci-fi setting.

Gritty Sci-Fi

The HOSTILE setting is straight out of science fiction movies of the late-1970s and early-1980s. This is Alien, Outland, and Bladerunner all wrapped up into one. Here is how author Paul Elliott introduces it to us:

The future is not as optimistic and rosy as many SF writers had us believe. Space exploration is difficult, hard and dangerous and the thriving interstellar society made up of hundreds of populated planets never materialized. Instead space is the preserve of the big corporations that focus on extracting minerals, oil and other raw materials from the extra-solar planets and moons to be shipped back to Earth in order to support the vast population there.

Space is not a place for tourists or fortune-hunters; it is a hostile and brutal frontier, where blue collar men and women work hard, rely on nobody but themselves, risk death every day and face the Unknown. And out here the Unknown is real – it is horrific; there are rumors of the disturbing effects of hyperspace, of ancient horrors entombed on icy moons, and of monsters – killer aliens, perfectly evolved to survive the hostile wastes of space – at any cost.

HOSTILE Rulebook, p.7

HOSTILE is not the space western Firefly Roleplaying Game, nor is it the politically charged machinations of The Expanse Roleplaying Game. As Paul says, ‘Think of it as Alaska-in-Space, with the crews of the star freighters playing the role of the Ice Road Trucker…” While HOSTILE is not the dark, deadly horror of ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game, “there is always a kink that makes life tough, whether it’s the biosphere, the seasons, the radiation, the atmosphere, or one of a score of other deadly effects.”

There is also lots of HOSTILE-related gaming material to chose from. The two “core” books are the HOSTILE Rulebook and The HOSTILE Setting Book. The setting is also linked to other Zozer Games settings, such as Outpost Mars, Orbital 2100, and Zaibatsu (the HOSTILE-adjacent cyberpunk setting). There are also many other supplements available to help you tailor the game the way you want.

Getting the Job Done

The basic Task Resolution system in the HOSTILE Rulebook is covered in a short four pages. That’s a little under 2% of the rule book. Looking back in Classic Traveller, there really was only one Task Roll, that of 2d6 against a target of 8+. In the HOSTILE Rulebook there are four different Rolls specified. The first time I looked at this list I asked myself, “Why do we need more than one?” Once I looked at each of them it all makes sense:

  • Attack Roll: This is the standard 2d6 against a target of 8+ where a combat skill is the main modifier; other modifiers are found in the combat rules
  • Characteristic Roll: A Characteristic Roll is 2d6 against a target of 6+; Die Modifiers (DMs) are your Characteristic Modifier and Difficulty can range from -2 (Difficult) to +2 (Routine)
  • Perception Roll: Basically a chance to notice something (or set initiative in combat); 2d6 against 8+ using your Intelligence (INT) characteristic modifier and the Recon skill
  • Skill Roll: The other “classic” skill roll of 2d6 against a target of 8+ with skill level as a DM.

The HOSTILE Rulebook uses difficulty modifiers to the basic roll. Difficulty ranges from Routine (+2) to Formidable (-6). The degree to which the roll fails or succeeds is the Effect which can be used as a narrative prompt or a DM in other situations. All in all, Task Resolution in the HOSTILE Rulebook is nothing extraordinary but it is a nice repackaging of the basic Cepheus Engine rules in a complete, very compact presentation.

Who Are YOU?

The HOSTILE Rulebook is built around different crew types that occupy this hostile universe. You can be a Colony Work Crew or the Corporate Investigative Team or even a Freelance Mining (Roughneck) Crew. You might be a Commercial Starship Crew or a Resource Exploration Crew. Finally, one can alway be a Marine Corps Squad or Private Military Contractors. The HOSTILE Rulebook has 15 different careers. Most use a very standard Classic Traveller/Cepheus Engine-style career progression but one, Androids, is a special, separately detailed career. You can also role play a “Prole;” short-lived genetically created laborers.

While character creation in the HOSTILE Rulebook will be familiar to most Classic Traveller or Cepheus Engine veterans, there are a few twists that add “flavor” from the setting. You cannot die in character generation but you can suffer a mishap. You can also add “Final Details” like some notable physical feature or item, a Psych Evaluation (of course, we ALL are crazy, eh?), and a random seed for why you left Earth. You can also randomly pick what unofficial badge or patch you wear, like “What’s My Bonus Situation?”

Of course, you can always use an alternate point-buy character generation system, but why would you?

One section of the HOSTILE Rulebook that I really like is in the Skills chapter and called, “What Those Skill Levels Actually Mean.” Here, Mr. Elliott gives us some “setting names” for different skill levels. Like a civilian with Technician – Electronics-2 has an “Electronic Maintenance Certificate.” Or a Space Command officer with Comms-1 and Computer-1 is an “Electronic Warfare Officer.”

I really like how monthly salaries in the HOSTILE Rulebook are a base salary plus a multiplier based on rank. For example, a Non-Commissioned Marine rank 2 (Corporal) makes $1000 plus $500×2 or $2,000 a month.

Like so much before, none of these rules in the HOSTILE Rulebook are really new or highly innovative. They are, however, highly thematic and enhance the play experience of the characters in the setting.

…”it’s a hostile universe.”

Stress is an integral component of the HOSTILE setting, so much so it actually makes up a fifth Roll. When certain stressful events occur, like, say, the character catches fire, a Stress Roll must be made. This is a simple Average difficulty roll using the Intelligence Characteristic Modifier. Success means all continues as normal, but failure is a temporary -1 to Intelligence (Overstress) and a stun for one round. As more Overstress is accumulated, the character will become less rational, less focused, and more likely to get into trouble. That is because Stress can lead to Panic where the character might lose control of their sanity.

The balance of the hazards in the HOSTILE Rulebook are, again, nothing that hasn’t been seen somewhere before. However, this collection of hazards works well to build the theme of the setting.

  • Acid – Rules not only for exposure but also fumes and immersion
  • Hiking – Never really thought of this as a hazard but when you factor in encumbrance and water…
  • Falling – Gravity can suck
  • Fire – More dangerous than one might think
  • Diseases – Hmm…no COVID-19 so I guess the future figures it out (can’t wait)
  • Poisons – Nothing good here either
  • Suffocation – Important for a space setting
  • Hostile Atmospheres – Get used to these rules
  • Temperature – Water and food are just as important as clothing
  • Radiation – Often overlooked in space opera settings
  • Pressure Loss – Ramius was ahead of his time when he told Ryan, “Most things in here don’t react well to bullets”
  • Zero Gravity – Losing control is a Stress Roll.
  • Hunger & Fatigue – Eat, drink, and sleep
  • Climbing – What goes up…
  • Weather – Mother Nature gets a vote

The Hostile Rulebook also has rules for survival in Desert or Arctic environments.

The Best of the Rest

The balance of the rules in the HOSTILE Rulebook are, yet again, nothing really new under the sun. Combat uses that Perception Roll to help determine initiative and Melee combat always goes before Aimed or Area Fire. Space travel uses a hyperdrive. Of note, the rules for spaceship construction are NOT in the HOSTILE Rulebook; those appear in The HOSTILE Setting Book, although the rules for starship combat are in this book. Combat in space uses an Advantage system vice Initiative.

As befitting the HOSTILE setting, world creation goes a bit beyond the basic approaches and adds some more details. All those little extra details are important in determining the hazards one might will encounter on many worlds.

HOSTILE Encounters

As much as I like being the Referee and creating an adventure, more recently I have embraced liberal use of random encounter tables. In the HOSTILE Rulebook, “…random encounters help create the illusion of a universe that exists outside of the adventurers’ own experience, thus creating a sense of verisimilitude” (p. 177). These rules also feed into animals and…exomorphs.

Friendly HOSTILE

The HOSTILE Rulebook has two faces; outwardly it is a highly thematic, gritty sci-fi setting. On the inside the rules are in many ways “recycled” from prior products. Most importantly, the two faces work together to create a very interesting setting that novice or experienced Traveller or Cepheus Engine players can enjoy.

#RPGThursday – Exploring the Traveller Explorer’s Edition from @MongoosePub #TravellerRPG

“Traveller for just $1!”

With an offer like that how could I not try this new Traveller role playing game core rule book? Here is the Mongoose Publishing ad copy:

Traveller is the science fiction roleplaying game of the far future. The Traveller Explorers’ Edition is an introduction to the game for newcomers that provides all of the tools you need to create adventures or even an entire campaign. Create bold scouts and intrepid scientists who travel into the unknown aboard their trusty Type-S Scout/Courier, a rugged exploration ship perfect for the job.

Dock your ship at advanced starports, visit strange worlds, encounter alien beings and animals, and take on the challenges that the galaxy sets before you.

The Explorer’s Edition provides all core game rules for Traveller, plus a universe creation system that allows referees to create new star systems on the fly for their players to visit and explore…

The universe awaits. Welcome to Traveller!

Traveller Explorer’s Edition

First challenge – making sure I get that dang apostrophe in the right place because Mongoose uses it both before and after the ‘s’.

I duly paid my single dollar and, after waiting for a day for the purchase to hit my Mongoose account (why not right away? I know…shoulda used my DriveThruRPG account…Sigh) I downloaded the 74-page, full color pdf.

The “Introduction” of the Traveller Explorer’s Edition sets out the modest goals of this book. To quote, “The Traveller Explorer’s Edition is designed to introduce new players to the game using just one of its many genres; the exploration campaign.”

Hold onto that thought…

Opening the Traveller Explorer’s Edition, the cover art is pretty much what I expect from Mongoose these days. To my eye I can see a Type-S Scout there but the perspective seems screwy.

Most people don’t pay any attention to the legal print on the contents page, but I have my reasons. I note that this game contains no Open Game Content. This has long been a problem I have with Mongoose Traveller; they play legal games. The “core rules” for Traveller are taken from the Traveller System Reference Document, which is covered by the Open Game License (OGL), yes? For the longest time I “understood” that the core rules are covered by the OGL but “setting” specific items (like the Third Imperium setting) are Product Identity. When Mongoose Publishing declares all their product is not subject to the OGL it means they can make legal claims on anything YOU make using their product.

This game product contains no Open Game Content. No portion of this work may be reproduced in any form without written permission.

Traveller Explorer’s Edition

The next page in the pdf is a full color “setting” image. Here I see (somewhat more) recognizable Type-S Scout ships.

The text is a quote from Carl Sagan spoken in Cosmos. As for a call to adventure…well, nothing has ever really come close to the original, “This is the Free Trader Beowulf, calling anyone…Mayday, Mayday…” I mean, I see what they are trying to do here here (“bold scouts and intrepid scientists”) but I’m just really not convinced this Carl Sagan quote delivers the message they want.

“This is the Free Trader Beowulf, calling anyone…Mayday, Mayday…we are under attack…main drive is gone…turret number one not responding…Mayday…losing cabin pressure fast…calling anyone…please help…This is the Free Trader Beowulf…Mayday…”

Traveller box cover, 1977

The next several chapters of Traveller Explorer’s Edition are “Traveller Creation,” “Skills and Tasks,” “Combat,” and “Encounters and Danger.” These are the core game rules:

  • There are two career fields available; Scholar and Scout.
  • Experienced Traveller players will note there is no chance of death in character generation.
  • Skill checks are bog-standard Mongoose Traveller with 2d=8+ for success or rolled against a Task Difficulty.
  • I note that the “Boom & Bane” game mechanism where you throw 3d6 and take the two best/worst from 2nd Edition is not here.
  • The skill list is also pretty standard, though a few Third Imperium setting examples creep in.
  • Combat is the same, as is the encounters and dangers section.

The “Equipment” chapter in Traveller Explore’s Edition goes out of its way to ensure you understand this is “The Core Collection.” What this practically means is that the equipment list is a cut-down version. This same “Core Collection” approach is used in “Space Combat” when it comes to ship armaments. That same philosophy delivers a single ship type in the book—a Type-S Scout/Courier.

“Spacecraft Operations” in Traveller Explorer’s Edition is again very, uh, standard for those familiar with the rules. Likewise, “World and Universe Creation” is (again) the standard star mapping and basic world creation system long used by Traveller. The star map uses the “standard” 1/2 chance of a world in any given subsector hex.

Let’s look again at the “intent” behind this Traveller Explorer’s Edition:

Create bold scouts and intrepid scientists who travel into the unknown aboard their trusty Type-S Scout/Courier, a rugged exploration ship perfect for the job.

Dock your ship at advanced starports, visit strange worlds, encounter alien beings and animals, and take on the challenges that the galaxy sets before you.

Ad copy

The Traveller Explorer’s Edition certainly meets the first part of the intent. Create scouts and scientists? CHECK! Travel aboard a Type-S Scout/Courier? CHECK! It’s the second part that becomes problematic:

  • “Dock you ship at advanced starports” – I guess so, but that’s not what I imagine as the edges of known space.
  • “Visit strange worlds” – The basic Universal World Profile can be a start but a Referee needs a good imagination; no help is found here.
  • “Encounter alien beings and animals” – Referee gonna have to totally make up aliens cause ain’t nothing in the book about ’em; at least some basic animal traits are defined in “Encounters and Dangers.”
  • “Take on the challenges the galaxy sets before you” – This needs a good Referee but this Explorer’s Edition has no help for Referees.

So just what is an “exploration campaign.” Let’s go back to Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition and see how they describe it in the “Introduction – Campaign Ideas”:

The Explorer Campaign: In a game of this type the player characters go beyond the borders of known space, looking for objects, planets, and civilizations of value or curiosity. The characters will have to be highly self-sufficient to survive away from known space for long stretches. For inspiration look no further than the original series of Star Trek.

Traveller Pocket Rulebook, p. 2

That’s a better explanation, though I still bristle at using high-tech, utopian Star Trek as inspiration for a Traveller campaign. Maybe it’s a personal preference but I always saw Traveller as having an element of desperate survival more like Firefly than the cleanliness of Star Trek.

Given that Traveller Explorer’s Edition is designed to be a simplified version of the game suitable as an introduction, perhaps the campaign should be simple too? I like the defintion of an exploration campaign that Paul Elliott gave in SOLO: Solo RPG Campaigns for the Cepheus Engine (Zozer Games, 2017):

Campaign: 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.

SOLO, p. 7

SOLO goes on to deliver a game system that can be used to create a Survey Scouts campaign. A similar campaign game system is missing in the Traveller Explorer’s Edition. This certainly is an introduction to the rules, but it is far short of being an introduction to a campaign—or even a one-off session for that matter.

The Traveller Explorer’s Edition can be used as an introduction for new players; think of it as something more akin to an extended player hand out. The core rules are there and the players can experiment with creating their own character. The book delivers basic familiarity with equipment and combat and space operations and even the rough outlines of worlds. But the Traveller Explorer’s Edition does not deliver a campaign, or even the basic seeds of a campaign.

Not bad for a single dollar…but not really great either.

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2021 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. The author is not affiliated with either Mongoose Publishing or Far Future Enterprises, and makes no claim to or challenge to any trademarks held by either entity.

SOLO Campaigns for #CepheusEngine and #TravellerRPG

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.


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.


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]


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.



#Orbital2100 RPG – Hard Sci-Fi RPG for The Expanse?

Orbital 2100: A Solar System Setting Using the Cepheus Game Engine by Paul Elliott at Zozer Games is the “second edition” of Orbital but now based on the Open Game Content Cepheus Engine System Reference Document vice the Mongoose Traveller first edition rules. Coming in at 239-pages, Orbital 2100 provides a more hard sci-fi setting within our Solar System around the year 2100. According to the publisher’s blurb:

Orbital is a science fiction setting for Traveller with a fairly realistic (TL 9) feel that is set within our own solar system. The Earth is locked in a Cold War with the people of Luna. Both face off, 400,000 km apart, threatening mutual annihilation whilst they compete to colonise the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Older colonies such as Mars and Mercury are independent and caught up in this struggle for solar system supremacy. Spacecraft use nuclear thermal rockets and create gravity by spinning pods or centrifuges, this is spaceflight as envisaged today!

What I think Mr. Elliott really means to say, to avoid legal troubles, is that Orbital is a science fiction setting for the Cepheus Engine. Orbital 2100 attempts to update the original material that used the Mongoose Traveller first edition rules. No longer a legal option, to avoid intruding on Mongoose Traveller’s second edition Closed Gaming Content and Product Identity, Orbital 2100 is based on the Cepheus Engine.

With Cepheus Engine providing the game rules, Orbital 2100 focuses on the setting. The first three chapters; The Situation, The Cold War, and Organisations provide a great deal of background and sets the stage for player adventure.

Character Creation follows the Cepheus Engine which allows this small section to focus on the differences in chargen from Cepheus. For instance, a new definition of Social Standing is introduced as well as new Background Skills. At this point, players “select a campaign” of which there are five. Depending on the campaign selected, different careers are recommended. There are no new career paths presented in Orbital 2100; rather, equivalent careers are mapped to Cepheus Engine careers. Other changes include a slightly modified Skills Cascade list, unique Military & Spacer Ranks, and modified Mustering Out process. The later is an interesting wrinkle to long-time Traveller RPG players because Orbital 2100 does not use the “traditional” end chargen and start adventuring. Instead:

In a typical game, characters must muster out before the game begins. In Orbital, it is more likely that characters will still be in employment within their chosen career. Player’s may finish character generation at any desired point and have their characters join the game, although an aging crisis or some events may also indicate a character has left the character generation process and begun the game. Orbital 2100, p. 35

Being set in 2100, the governing tech is generally TL 9 (with TL 11 in computing and electronics). There is no anti-gravity or jump drive. Trips are limited to inside the solar system using Nuclear Thermal Rockets and spin habitats. The next chapter, Spacecraft Design, introduces three classes of spacecraft that follow these setting restrictions. Deep Space Vehicles (DSV) are analogous to “starships”(100 tons or larger)  in Cepheus whereas Orbital Vehicles are this settings “small craft” (under 100 tons). The added vehicle class is Launch Vehicles (100 tons or less using regular chemical rockets. (Orbital 2100, p. 37). Although Cepheus Engine provides rules for building up to 5000 tons, the Orbital 2100 limit is 2000 tons (p. 60). Orbital 2100 does introduce an alternative drive, the TL 10 Fusion Drive (or Nuclear Pulse Fusion Drive – NPF p. 61). This vastly more efficient drive can make ships more akin to those seen in the TV series The Expanse.

Operating Spacecraft generally follows the Cepheus Engine rules with the greatest exception being travel time within the Solar System. Without getting too scientific, Orbital 2100 uses an orbital racetrack for travel between the inner planets and easy tables to assist in computation of travel times (p. 71). Fuel is also treated much differently, being defined in terms of “Burns” (p. 73) Bottom Line – The Expanse “Flip and Burn” is rare in Orbital 2100. Maintenance is also treated differently, as well as trade revenue. Setting-specific Encounter tables and updated Space Combat rules also are found here (remember – Trajectory is King! – p. 77).

The next chapter, Hardware, properly focuses first on Space Suits. Rovers, Orbital 2100’s version of vehicles, area also here but no rules for their design/construction are presented (nor are they found in Cepheus Engine). Computers are also redefined, and a section of Orbital and Launch Vehicles given. These Launch Vehicles go beyond chemical rockets by adding items like a Mass Driver Catapult or other alternate launch systems. Background and stats for common DSVs are also presented, as well as modular space stations.

Orbital Society is more setting background looking at Law Enforcement, Art, Colonies and the like, background on life aboard a DSV, various Treaties and Regulations and the Earth Orbit Network. There are many adventure seeds buried within these pages!

Working in Space is the Orbital 2100 version of the Environments & Hazards section of Cepheus Engine. The most interesting part to me was “Ways to Die in Space.” There are also rules for Astroid Mining found here as well as a basic outline of how to set up an outpost.

Worlds breaks from the Cepheus Engine design system and instead presents the planets and moons of the Solar System in UWP format. The real gems are found in  the extensive flavor text. Again, lots of great adventure seeds are found here.

Running Orbital is in effect the Referee’s section. I found this section a bit weak. It starts out with four different campaign types, seemingly ignoring the fifth one found in the character generation “select a campaign” at the beginning of the book. This chapter also introduces Secret Agendas and Status, character concepts that I strongly believe should be included in the character generation chapter and not buried here (p. 218-221). The section ends with a look at Aliens (again, nice adventure seeds).

Resources is the Orbital 2100 version of Appendix N; the inspirations for the setting. Good movie or reading list material here, although I can’t believe Paul didn’t mention  Atomic Rockets or the Encyclopedia Astronautica!

Overall, this is a good setting. I have always liked playing in a grittier, harder sci-fi setting like Orbital. I really appreciate the changes Mr. Elliott makes from the Cepheus Engine basic rules. If I have a criticism, it is that I wish Zozer Games had taken the opportunity to relook at the layout of the book and move some items around (especially Secret Agendas and Status) to make these distinguishing character features more prominent and not bury them near the end of the product.

If one is looking for a 2d6-based science fiction setting that can be adapted for The Expanse, Orbital 2100 is a very close fit. To avoid legal entanglements Mr. Elliott is obviously very careful with references to The Expanse with only three mentions in the entire book (one of which is The Expanse entry in Resources). The Expanse has its own spacecraft technology and combat vision, best shown in the episode “CQB”, but a moderately resourceful referee can probably make the adjustments necessary to capture an Expanse-like narrative. At the very least the Orbital 2100 spacecraft design sequence can make DSV’s with NPF in a tail-sitter configuration, and Mag Boots are found on p. 86!

Orbital 2100: A Solar System Setting for the Cepheus Engine Game. Copyright (c) 2016 Samardan Press, Author Jason “Flynn” Kemp.

Cepheus Engine: A Classic Era Science Fiction 2D6-Based Open Gaming System. Copyright (c) 2016 Samardan Press.

“The Traveller game in all forms is owned by Far Future Enterprises. Copyright 1977-2015 Far Future Enterprises.”