#RPGThursday – SOLO (Zozer Games, 2017) & Cepheus Light (Stellagama Publishing, 2018)

“Jerks.”

Vase had said it under his breathe, but it came through Rand’s earpiece clearly. “Yes, jerks,” he thought. This was supposed to be a friendly meeting. Now he and Tercel were trying to ease their way out of the dive bar before anyone noticed that their “friend” was bleeding from a small dart wound in the forehead. Rand had heard the sharp whistle of the dart pass his ear at the same time the small hole opened. Fortunately, the contact had already passed the small package over to Tercel. Now they just had to get back to the ship. And off planet. And past the space patrol.

And it was only Tooday.

pic3458792_mdTaking my intrepid Cepheus Light adventures, I opened up SOLO: Solo RPG Campaigns for the Cepheus Engine (Zozer Games, 2017) to try to get my adventure going. SOLO starts in Media Res and the random roll set up the situation as above. It was a good, if somewhat predictable, “trope-ish” start to the campaign.

The SOLO rules also give some focus to character relationships. I had already started to explore these aspects, with the differences in “opinion” between Rand and Tercel. Now I have a few more relationships and motivations to play off of. Like, why does Rand owe that Crime Lord so much? Hmm….

To support the campaign, I need a subsector map. Using the rules in Cepheus Light, I rolled up a random subsector with 36 worlds. I am now in the process of fleshing out the Universal World Profile (UWP) for all those planets. There is at least one computer app out there that could do this for me automatically but there is something special about rolling the dice, watching the profile fill out, and starting to imagine what it means. One of the first planets I rolled up was a Captive Government, which immediately got me wondering, “captive to who?” Another planet? A corporation?  I don’t know, and probably won’t have a better idea until I get the planets within a Jump-2 radius determined. Already the ideas have started to grow….

This is the magic of the Traveller RPG universe; magic that Cepheus Light makes easy and simple to use.

Feature image courtesy spreadshirt.com

May 2017 – My Geek Hobby Year-to-Date

Traditionally, Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer for the RockyMountainNavy family. That is until we moved to the East Coast. Now school for the RMN Boys goes until mid-June. However, I still want to use this occasion to look back on my geek hobby year-to-date.

Wargaming

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Courtesy BGG.com

According to my BGG profile, I played 10 games in January, four in February, four more in March, none in April, and only two in May. For a year that I wanted to play more I certainly have dropped off! Summer may change as I have several new games inbound. Arriving tomorrow is Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal – The Pacific 1942 (Academy Games, 2016). I also may be getting closer to my Kickstarter delivery of Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra Games, ??) which after many delays (unwarranted and unacceptable in my opinion) finally opened the BackerKit this week. I also pledged for Worthington Publishing’s Mars Wars – but it cancelled. This month I pledged to support Compass Games’ new Richard Borg title Command & Colors: Tricorne – The American Revolution. To be honest, I am buying this title as much for myself as for the RMN Boys – which is both a blessing and a curse. I am certainly blessed in that I have boys who love gaming, but cursed in that they are not a hard grognard like their old man. The titles also reflect a change in my gaming interests as I struggle with the closure of many FLGS and the movement of my purchasing online or (shudder) to Kickstarter. I also have several games on P500 at GMT Games and hope to see that production schedule move forward this year.

Role Playing Games

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Courtesy RPGGeek

Whereas my grognard-fu has been weakening, my RPG play has been one of steady growth. Mostly this has revolved around the Cepheus Engine RPG system and products from Gypsy Knights Games and their The Clement Sector setting or products from Samardan Press, Zozer Games (especially their SOLO supplement), and Moon Toad Publishing. I have to tip my hat to these third party publishers which are doing so much to breathe life into my RPG adventures. For this summer, I also have a Star Wars: Edge of the Empire (Fantasy Flight Games) campaign at-the-ready. Here too I have dipped deeper into Kickstarter and pledged support to Cam Banks’, Magic Vacuum Studio’s Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Modular Roleplaying Game.

Books

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Courtesy Amazon.com

I started off at Christmas with a good collection of books that I am whittling down at a much slower pace than I wish. This is not because I have ignored them; on the contrary, I am probably reading more than I did last year – just not reading off my list! Science fiction books have taken up much of my reading time. I have found myself lost in rereading the Charles E. Gannon’s Caine Riordan series from Baen Books. I also turned to Kickstarter again for content, this time in the form of Cirsova 2017 (Issues 5&6) and its short stories.

Plastic Models

I didn’t get time to build much but the RMN boys got many kits completed. We even found a YouTube channel that we love, Andy’s Hobby Headquarters. He not only shows great models, but the boys are studying his techniques for better building.

Education Support

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Courtesy goodreads.com

I also have to do the Dad-thing and boast a bit about my youngest RMN Boy. This past quarter he was studying World War II and had a project to complete. The project supposed the student had found items in the attic from grandparents accumulated during World War II. The student had to put together a scrapbook of a newspaper article relating a battle (writing assignment), a letter from a soldier/sailor to home describing another battle (writing assignment), a letter from home describing the home front (writing assignment), a letter from the mayor to a local boys club thanking them for supporting the war effort (another writing assignment), notes from Grandmother about key personalities (short biographies), and a propaganda poster (art assignment). We had fun doing this project as together the youngest RMN boy and I prowled my shelves for sources, watched movies and documentaries online, and even pulled out a few games to better visualize the battles. A very proud moment for this father as the New Media and my book and game collection came together to teach a young man history.


Feature image courtesy 365barrington.com

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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RPGGeek

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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RPGGeek

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.

 

 

#TravellerRPG False Starter

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Courtesy Mongoose Publishing

I have been watching the minor kerfuffle surrounding the launch of the new Mongoose Traveller Starter Set. I don’t hide the fact I dislike Mongoose and the direction they took with Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition (MgT2E), especially the onerous third-party publishing rules chains they imposed.

The Traveller Starter Set is marketed as the easy way to start playing in the MgT2E universe. For $39.99 one gets three pdf “books,” a blank sector map and six pre-generated character cards. Mind you, that’s $40 for downloadable content only. So what does that $40 really buy?

Book 1 and Book 2 are apparently repackaging of the MgT2E Core Rulebook which I, like many other potential purchasers of the Starter Set, already own. Book 3 is a new adventure. The blank sector map is advertised as “giant.” And don’t forget those six pregenerated characters, four of which one can see in the free full-size preview!

Given that I paid $20 for the Core Rulebook beta, then an additional $9.99 for the final version (total of $29.99 invested), and that a blank subsector map is free to download, and that four of the six pregens are publicly facing, I guess Mongoose expects me to happily pony up another $40 for the Book 3 adventure, a sector map to print on a large-format printer I don’t have, and the last two pregens.

Indeed, after the Starter Set went live on April 21, the question was asked in the DTRPG comments if the adventure would be sold separately. The publisher responded on April 22, “We have no plans to, but I’ll look into it!” At the same time, prospective customers were asking on the Mongoose Forums what advantage there was to buying the new Starter Set. The question was asked April 23 and as of April 28 when I write this post it remains unanswered.

On April 28, the Book 3 adventure miraculously appeared on DriveThruRPG as a separate product. So for a “bargain” price of $14.99 one can get the adventure, the poster size map, and the pregens. (Actually it is not totally clear what is included because as I write this the DTRPG listing cuts off mid sentence and the full-size preview is not working.)

I am so glad I have turned my back on Mongoose and MgT2E. The Cepheus Engine System is being widely supported with new rules and settings. Indeed, my early analysis (which will be in a later post) of SOLO: Solo RPG Campaigns for the Cepheus Engine (Zozer Games) shows it to be (IMNSHO) one of the best of the supporting products out there. Oh, to be (a bit) fair, MgT2E is not a total loss; it did introduce the Boon/Bane mechanic which has grown on me over time. So for $29.99 I got a new mechanic to add to my Traveller RPG. Don’t forget too that to get the starship rules I also must buy a separate book for another $29.99, or an ironmongery/equipment book for $29.99 more; and if I want vehicles its a real bargain at another $29.99. Now I can replace my Core Rulebook with the Starter Set (adventure included) for $39.99 or go cheap and get the adventure only for half the usual price at $14.99.

Let me think about this for a moment…uh…NOPE!

</rant>