This year I dabbled a bit into role playing games (RPGs). As my forthcoming accidentally already posted 2021 “By the Numbers” post shows, I acquired 20 RPG items in all the year. Six (6) of those were core rule books, but only five (5) of those were from the past year (with four of those published in the last two months of the year!). Thus, the candidates for RockyMountainNavy’s 2021 RPG of the Year are:
This one was very hard to decide. ALIEN got lots of attention this year but it just really isn’t my thing. Mongoose’s Traveller: Explorer’s Edition is more a player aid than a core book. Which leaves the Cepheus Engine (CE) games.
Cepheus Deluxe is the latest, well refined version of the CE rules. Clement Sector is an excellent space opera setting and the new Third Edition brings so much of the material together it literally has become a one-stop guide to the entire setting. The HOSTILE Rulebook is another one-stop guide but focused on a gritty sci-fi setting.
To be honest, in terms of rules there is nothing really “new” in the HOSTILE Rulebook. One could make the argument that it really is the ALIEN setting with the serial numbers (and much of the horror) filed off. What I like about the HOSTILE Rulebook is how the simple was repackaged into a very thematic setting.
Sorry, John, but The Clement Sector now has some real competition!
I like the HOSTILE Rulebook for four reasons:
The gritty setting
The familiar, yet different Task Resolution system
Highly thematic character generation
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It took a few extra days but my hardcopy of the Compass Games catalog arrived. Several games are given “provisional” (my term) delivery dates which, alas, all are in 2022 (one actually doesn’t have even a provisional date—which is kinda worrisome). We’ll see how that works out! Now to mark the catalog up with already have, on order, and like to haves.
74 major Titles in catalog
6x Titles of Interest (3 available now)
I really need to be careful and not get too carried away with ordering from Compass right away. I already owe Mrs. RMN (aka “Family Accountant”) an explanation of why GMT Games and Canvas Temple Publishing are charging within days of each other. I also won a local auction for Sekigahara (GMT Games, 2011) that I’m picking up this weekend—only a week after Tapestry (Stonemaier Games, 2019) arrived…
It’s been a while since I picked up any new Traveller RPG materials. With summer in full swing I decided to rectify that situation and picked up four ship books from Independence Games. These ships all are part of their The Clement Sector/Earth Sector settings where the former is a personal favorite of mine. As I noted before, The Clement Sector is a “small ship” universe. Thanks to the limitations of the Zimm Drive (The Clement Sector version of the Jump Drive), ships over 2,500-dTons risk bad things using their Zimm Drive. In The Clement Sector, the TL10-12 Zimm Drives effectively cap ships at 4,999-dTons. That said, these latest books show a creep towards larger designs. Which really means I need to go back and reread Tech Update: 2350 and refresh myself on larger ships in Earth Sector.
(Update –Earth Sector has rules for TL13 Zimm Drives that boosts ship sizes.)
The Copeline-class merchant vessel is quickly becoming the most popular ship in Earth Sector! Created in 2348 by Corolys Shipbuilding Company, the ship has overtaken such venerable designs as the Rucker and Atlas among merchants in Earth Sector.
The Copeline is a 300-tonne ship with modules which can be switched out to make the ship into a freighter, a passenger liner, a scout, or a combination of all of those! This versatility has made it the chosen ship for independent operators and small shipping corporations.
Introduced into service in 2330, the Opportunity-class was Corolys Shipbuilding Company’s entry into the light trader market. The designers of the ship focused on high thrust in-system drive and maximizing the cargo space in the smallest starship hull size available.
The Opportunity is a 100-tonne light trader which is found throughout Earth Sector. This book contains all seven variants of the ship including the Maximus-class (with greater cargo capacity), the Dispatch-class (which is used as a fast courier), and the Star Reach-class (which has enough fuel for two transits).
Designed to provide heavy support for independent cruiser squadrons, act as cruiser squadron flagships, to undertake escort duties and to engage in commerce raiding, the Lion-class battlecruisers of the Royal Navy are recognized as being the most modern capital ships in service with any national navy.
Taking advantage of TL13 innovations in Earth Sector, the 5000 tonne Lion-class battlecruiser is massive and armed to the teeth. This large ship stands ready to defend the British colonies and take the battle to those who would threaten their holdings.
Ad copy, Lion-class Battlecruiser
This book draws features several new weapons systems; specifically, “the British Space Systems Type 15 Voidswarm Capital Ship Torpedo and the British Space Systems Type 21 Voidlance Capital Ship Torpedo”.
The latest book published just this week is Atlanta-class Carrier.
One of the largest ships in Earth Sector, the Atlanta-class carrier is the main capital ship of the Southern Alliance Navy. The Atlanta-class carriers are often the centerpiece of a strike group and stand ready to launch their fighters.
The Atlanta-class carrier is a 3800 tonne vessel which is heavily armed and armored. The Atlanta also carries 50 F-40B Tomcat fighters and 15 B-44A Archangel strike craft. In short, the Atlanta is prepared for action.
Ad copy, Atlanta-class Carrier
This book also has rules for small craft weapons such as missiles, rapid fire railguns, lasers, and particle beams.
As you can tell, there is a wide variety of ships here. From a very nice “adventuring” 100-dTon ship to a 300-dTon merchant for trading there are many story possibilities. The larger military ships are very suitable as backdrops to adventure.
Speaking of adventure, I also took the opportunity to pick up a couple of free adventure modules from Zozer Games set in their HOSTILE universe. For HOSTILE, think Aliens meets Blade Runner meets Outland. HOSTILE is more of a gritty, hard sci-fi setting. These HOSTILE Situation Reports are free one-page RPG NPCs or adventures seeds that can be added to your game.
Ghost Ship– “A mayday signal draws the PCs to a lonely gas giant, and a starship in an extremely low, atmosphere-grazing orbit. There’s no response … can the crew be saved? Are they even still alive?”
Snakehead – “Meet Baosheng, a veteran Snakehead operating in the Off-World colonies. His syndicate specialises in techno-crime and the theft of shuttle craft. He has a job you might like … it’s just a pity you’re a deniable asset and he is posing as a legit businessman. What could go wrong?”
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).
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 Sectordefines 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)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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 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.
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?)
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….
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.
The SOLOrules 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 Lightmakes easy and simple to use.
This is a bonus posting in my series of 2018 “of the Year” posts. This one covers role-playing game (RPG) items. The regular posts cover boardgames, wargames, game expansions, and the last is my Game of the Year. Candidate RPG items are taken from those published and which I acquired in 2018.
My candidates for the RockyMountainNavy RPG Item of the Year in 2018 are:
At one point this year I backed a Kickstarter for a RPG setting that seemed right up my alley. It featured “tense space fighter combat, swaggering pilots, and interplanetary adventure!” However, after reading the preview version I dropped my pledge in disgust because I wanted a GAME, not a political statement. It was part of a trend I see in many parts of the RPG industry and it turns me off. Now, I’m not naive, nor do I desire to avoid the “issues” but I deal with them enough elsewhere and I just don’t want them in my RPG. I want to play RPGs for a bit of escapism, not political activism. It was yet another nail in the coffin of my RPG enthusiasm.
Omer Golan-Joel and Josh Peters have reignited my interest in RPGs. To use some Traveller 5 definitions, I tend to be a Casual Player (travel, explore, interact, negotiate, combat, etc.) with a heavy dose of world building and System Engineer (explore the universe in detail) thrown in. With Cepheus Light I can get back to making adventures for myself and the RockyMountainNavy Boys. Indeed, using Cepheus LightI may just try to make my own RPG setting based on the wargame Talon from GMT Games.
Feature image from tedlindsey.com. Go look at their work; it’s excellent!
I have said before that 2017 was the year of the wargame for me as I rediscovered by wargaming roots. But that is not to say I have forgotten the roleplaying game part of my gaming expereince. In 2017, I still managed to get some make a few RPG purchases and get in a few plays.
Gypsy Knights Games continues to support their awesome The Clement Sectorsetting. In addition to their great Wendy’s Naval-series which lays out the fleet of various subsectors, this year also focused on pirates and uplifts or alterants. All three introduce true grey-areas into the setting morality and can be used to play anything from a campy to dark setting. I like this; GKG has given me many tools to make the setting I want.
In early December, Zozer Games released their new rules/setting called Hostile for Cepheus Engine. This “Gritty Sci-Fi RPG” draws heavily from popular franchises like Alienor movies like Outland. The setting is right in my wheelhouse and it certainly deserves its own deeper dive in the near future (no pun intended).
I know my RPG tastes are not mainstream; I am not a Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition fan nor have I dug deeper into the Star Wars Roleplaying Game. In 2017, as wargames and family boardgames grew in popularity in the RockyMountainNavy house, something else in my gaming world had to give. I have given up a lot of RPG experiences, but by keeping to a simple rules system with wonderful setting support I still find a way to keep my RPG gaming going.
If you look back on my blog, you will see that up until this year I had a heavy focus on roleplaying games, especially science-fiction RPGs. This year I have turned hard into boardgames with a mix of tabletop family games and wargames landing on the table. RPGs have definitely fallen off to the side.
I recently took a look at DriveThruRPGs Black Friday to Cyber Monday Sale and made a few purchases, but at the same time I asked myself why I lost my RPG mojo. Last year I really tried to like Star Trek Adventures from Modiphius Entertainment. I participated in part of the Living Playtest and offered (few, very few) comments. In the end, instead of liking Star Trek Adventures, I was turned off to RPGs and only now am (sorta) giving them a chance again.
This is the Star Trek Adventures Borg Cube Collector’s Edition Box Set. To me, this is not an RPG.
I cannot fully explain why I have such a visceral reaction to this offering. I understand that I don’t need the extra maps, and dice, and miniatures, and tokens, and other baubles to play an RPG. I know that all you need to play is a simple set of rules and imagination. I know because that is what I did with Classic Traveller for many years.
I think when I saw Star Trek Adventures I saw the continuation of a trend towards bigger RPG rulebooks and more IP-related gaming. To a point I had bought into that market with Serenityand Battlestar Galactica and Traveller 5 and Mindjammer and Atomic Robo and Fireflyand Star Wars Roleplaying Gamefinding cherished places on my shelf.
I rejected them…and walked away from the RPG hobby for a bit.
I am slowly finding my way back, thanks to small publishers like Gypsy Knights Games and Zozer Games and Stellagama Publishing. For a while that’s where I think I am going to stay for RPGs, on the smaller side of the spectrum with publishers who offer material that stimulate my creativity in a more rules-lite, non-restrictive campaign setting.
I have found my RPG mojo…it never left and it is actually little changed from the late 1970’s. It just doesn’t need a large box and multiple rulebooks and maps and tokens and minis and hardcover expansions. It needs nothing more than the PWYW Cepheus Engine and a setting like The Clement Sector. What I need is like what Zozer Games is offering; the very simple 1970s 2d6 Retro Rules. With these simple tools I can make grand adventures; I don’t need a huge Kickstarter box or endless hardcovers or miniatures or tokens to do have fun.