#RPGThursday Retrospective – Marc Miller’s Traveller (Imperium Games, Inc., 1996)

The 1990’s was a very dark time of my RPG history. I only bought three games in the entire decade, all of them science fiction-based. Prime Directive 1st Edition was the first and Marc Miller’s Traveller 4th Edition (T4) the second. Later I added The Babylon Project.

I had been a longtime Traveller player using the (now) Classic Traveller (CT) system from the late 1970’s and 1980’s. I had stopped buying RPGs in 1986, and missed out on MegaTraveller (MT) in 1987 and Traveller: The New Era (TNE) in 1992. As such, I missed just how much Traveller changed, with each edition not only using a different core mechanic but also covering a different milieu.

In the first section, The History of Traveller, Kenneth E. Whitman Jr. (now the infamous Ken Whitman) relates the five goals Marc Miller has for this new, 20th anniversary edition:

  1. A return to the similar structure of Classic Traveller while allowing for multiple levels of complexity depending on the needs and interests of individual players and referees.

  2. The production of a game design that encourages and promotes the fun of playing an enjoyable, exciting background.

  3. The opening of multiple eras or milieus to facilitate playing the Traveller science-fiction game system throughout the span of history, from 300,000 BC to 5,000 years in the future.

  4. Remaining consistent with previous editions in regards to historical events and game system results. Previous history as provided in any edition of Traveller stays largely the same in this edition, with certain details clarified or re-stated for consistency.

  5. Explicitly stating a standard of quality that promotes wholesome adventure and eliminates sexually-flavored art or content, unacceptable or vulgar language, and gratuitous, unnecessary violence. – p. 5

I don’t remember ever reading #5 before, and looking back in the mid-1990’s I apparently was blissfully unaware of whatever controversy this relates to.

The next section of T4, The Foundations of the Traveller Universe, lays out the themes of the setting background. I find it interesting that three types of players are addressed:

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

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

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

I think most outsiders commonly see Traveller RPG players as only System Engineers!

After the obligatory “what is roleplaying” section, the book moves to character generation. In T4, there is virtually no difference in the character generation process from the CT-era. In keeping with goal #1, there are only 10 careers presented (an 11th, Psionisist, appears later).

Skills presents a very familiar list of skills and skill cascades along with Default (Level-0) Skills. I think this was the first time I recognized Level-0 skills in playing Traveller, and welcomed the addition of skills inherently simple enough to attempt without any formal training.

The heart of T4 was the next section, Tasks. Here I ran into problems. When reading through the brand-new T4 back then, I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t find the rule for “roll 2d6>8 for success.” That was because T4 uses a different task resolution system, one that involved four separate elements:

  • A target number – typically a skill matched with a primary attribute.
  • A dice code appropriate to the innate difficulty of the task.
  • The possibility of one or more difficulty modifiers, reflecting factors influencing the event, such as bonuses for helpful equipment or penalties for troublesome conditions.
  • Finally, the result, whether a success or failure, and the possible spectacular result. (p. 49)

The Target Number is really quite simple; add Primary Attribute plus Skill. For success, the player had to roll this number OR LESS. The Dice Code assigned difficulty and then gave the appropriate dice pool to be rolled. This was confusing because some difficulties, like Staggering, called for 3.5D. What was a .5D? Unfortunately the definition of a half-die was not in Tasks, but all the way back on p. 13 under Definition of Terms for Die or Dice. Difficulty Modifiers were often for equipment or environment and usually associated with an item or condition specified in the book. The modifiers change the Target Number. I also was confused at Uncertain Tasks which called for the Referee to roll dice for the players! Finally, the Result was usually a binary Pass/Fail condition, although Spectacular Results hinted at extraordinary outcomes. The rules specified the referee would decide the extent of the result, with player input welcome but not required. This was in keeping with the low player agency approach Traveller has always had.

In theory (and play), the T4 Task System is very easy. Making an Admin check to see if your paperwork passes? Lets see, Skill -1 plus Education 7 is a Target Number of 8. Referee says its an average (2D) check with no other modifiers. Roll 2D  for a 7 – Success!

Ground Combat uses the same basic approach except that range determines difficulty. Shooting a target at Short Range is a Difficult (2.5D) task. Depending upon the weapon, one might get a bonus if it is capable of shooting at longer ranges. Damage is given in whole die increments, with armor negating dies of damage.

Equipment, Surface Vehicles, Spacecraft, Space Travel, Psionics, World Generation, and Encounters all would of been familiar to CT players with two exceptions. Spacecraft used a new ship design sequence, called the Quick Ship Design Sequence (QSDS). Much like the old CT Book 2, this is a very modularized, building block, seemingly assembly-line ship design sequence focused on simplicity. These days I understand it was a radical change from the exceedingly complex and detailed Fire, Fusion, & Steel of TNE. The second change was in Space Combat. The ship-to-ship combat game focused on Adventure-class ships and was a mix of CT Book 2 and CT Book 5 High Guard. Again, this was a great step down from detailed TNE ship combat systems like Brilliant Lances or Battle Rider.

Section 14: Referee’s Introduction, actually includes rules for Skill Improvement, Learning, and Improving Characteristics. Coming once again from my CT background, these were dramatic changes that shocked me (as welcome as they were). There is also the obligatory Running Adventures and Campaigns which I too often skip. The next section, Trade and Commerce, is very near the familiar trade system of CT.

T4 includes two sample adventures. I didn’t pay much attention to these, instead focusing on the map for the Core Subsector in Milieu 0. I also closely read the updated Library Data.

What I Though of It Then – When I first read T4 I was lost. So much was the same as CT yet the core mechanic was totally different. That difference was enough to lose me. In those days, I was a concrete learner when it came to RPG mechanics. I was closed minded to nearly anything other than 2d6. Part of this was sci-fi elitism; I didn’t play d20 D&D because 2D6 sci-fi was far superior! At the same time, T4 was not different enough from CT to make me want to dig much deeper. I was also very comfortable with the Golden Era of the Third Imperium setting – I didn’t feel the need to explore Milieu 0 or any other alternative setting. Thus, T4 was put on the shelf and remained untouched.

What I Think of It Now – Over the years, T4 got a reputation of being a “hot mess.” Often times, this criticism revolves around poor editing of books or rules that seemingly contradict themselves. The criticism is justified at times; when reviewing the core book for this retrospective I found numerous cross-referencing errors, especially in the combat examples. Production values of the books were suspect. The layout is very unimaginative and many people feel the use of Chris Foss’ color art was not appropriate for the Traveller setting. T4 is seen as a useless edition and not worthy of even being talked about.

These days I take a more charitable view. In looking at the five goals set out in the book, I think T4 actually succeeds. This was probably a disappointment to those System Engineer players who seemingly want more detail. Part of why I love Traveller is that the world-building system is internally consistent and generally works together across a broad spectrum of equipment and information. I see T4 as aimed at the more Casual Player with a nod towards Detailed Role-Players. This iteration of Traveller steps back from the System Engineer dominance of TNE and it shows through the simplification of the rules. I also happen to be a fan of Chris Foss, and absolutely love his spaceships.

As much as T4 tried to embrace Casual Players, and entice Detailed Role-Players, the system ultimately suffers from a lack of narrative control and dampened player agency. The referee is clearly in charge in T4, like he has been since Classic Traveller. This lack of narrative access, combined with a reduction in System Engineer game subsystems, is what I think really doomed T4. It is very interesting to look at the 2008 release of Mongoose Traveller (MgT) and see just how much T4 and MgT are alike. Of course, MgT uses the classic 2d6 mechanic – maybe that made all the difference.

From an RPG-perspective, I give Marc Miller’s Traveller 4th Edition Totally Subjective Game Rating (Scale of 1-5):

  • System Crunch = 2 (Highly simplified mechanics)
  • Simulationist = 3 (Consistent world-building game systems)
  • Narrativism = 2 (Few concessions to narrative play; low player agency)

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

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

#RPGThursday Retrospective – Prime Directive 1st Edition (Task Force Games, 1993)

In terms of my RPG history, I now refer to the the time between Traveller:2000 and Prime Directive (1st Ed) as my “RPG Interregnum.” Although there were seven years between he publishing dates of the two products, the reality is that I didn’t buy PD1 earlier than the 1994-5 timeframe (and possibly even later) after an interval of at least eight years. PD1, along with Traveller 4 (T4) and The Babylon Project were to be my only 1990’s RPG purchases.

Prime Directive (1st Edition) was the first official RPG for the Star Fleet Universe (SFU). The SFU is not “true Star Trek” and instead focused around Task Force Games’ flagship Star Fleet Battles. This meant the SFU was much more militaristic than the “official” Star Trek setting. PD1 reflected this difference, but at the same time tried to bridge it with, IMHO, only limited success.

PD1 starts off with a short story. For those familiar with the SFB support zine, Captain’s Log, the style is familiar. The story itself is a hostage rescue mission and, honestly, is a bit cheesy in dialogue.

The rules start off with an introduction to the SFU, important background material and probably very confusing to mainstream Trekkies that came in looking for Kirk and the Enterprise.

Character generation is an 11-step process that starts out with selection of race and recording initial characteristics. Each character is then assigned to a Service Division and gains associated “basic” skills. To this point, I was comfortable because chargen was very Classic Traveller (CT)-like. The next steps reflect the military aspects of the setting, with Seniority and Professional/Heroic Reputation being determined. I found it interesting that the designers worried about the impact of Seniority and ranks, to the point they added a sidebar note:


Prime Directive is a Role-Playing Game set in a military situation, and as such, the concepts of rank and chain of command are important to establish the “feel” of the Star Fleet setting. However, something to remember is that YOU ARE PLAYING THIS GAME TO HAVE FUN! After a hard week of class or at the office, the last thing that someone wants during a game session is to be ordered around by his “Superior Officer”. The point of rank and chain of command is to structure the relationships and responsibilities of characters, not to give one player the right to control every  situation, responding to every argument with the stock phrase, “Hey, who has the highest Seniority Rating, anyway?” No player character will every bring another player character up on charges of insubordination. (Of course, mouthing off to superior Non-Player Characters, like the Briefing Officer or the Ship’s Captain, is another matter entirely.) – p. 25

At this point, the PCs are very “stock” and not very different from one another save for some Service Division skills. The players can now breathe life into their characters by purchasing skills. Once complete, the final step is to derive characteristics. To assist in understanding, a comprehensive example is provided.

The next section is the core mechanic discussion. A basic Skill Task in PD1 requires the player to roll a number of d6 equal to the average of their Skill + Characteristic. A natural roll of 6 is rerolled with the reroll -1 ADDED to the original 6. (I think this was the first time I ran into the concept of “exploding” die rolls.) Each die roll is compared to a series of “Tricodes” for the skill attempted, which in turn give a Success Level (SL). To assist in understanding, the following (not so short) example is given:

For example: Peltier is tracking renegades across a wilderness hillside. His tricode for Tracking is, after all mods, a 3/5/9. Peltier rolls 5 dice and gets the following numbers: 1, 2, 3, 6, 11. [My note – that last roll is only possible with an exploding die] His roll of 1 and 2 do not meet the tricode for Minimal Success, and if they had been the best he rolled, then he would of Botched the task, probably with disastrous results. His roll of 3, however, DOES meet the tricode for Minimal Success, so he escapes the horrors of Botching. If this had been the best Peltier had rolled, then he would know that the renegades HAD been by that spot, but he would have no idea how long ago it had been nor any idea of the direction in which they had continued. But, his roll of 6 meets the tricode for Moderate Success, so he finds out even more. If these had been his best rolls, then Peltier would know that the renegades passed this way within the last hour and they were headed up the slope. However, Peltier is an expert tracker, and so it comes as no surprise that even in these difficult circumstances he manages to completely succeed in this task. His roll of 11 is well over the tricode of 9 that he needs for Complete success. With this level, he also learns that only TWO of the renegades passed by here, and that one of them is slightly wounded. Knowing this, he can follow the pair up the hill or back to track to (hopefully) find the spot where the group broke up and start to trail the others. – p. 39

The next section, Actions and Initiative, goes hand-in-hand with the core mechanic. PD1 asks players to determine a Level of Action, which is a test that results in a SL determining WHAT the player can do. Once the LoA has been determined, player determine Initiative, or the WHEN of the action. Finally, players and the GM must figure out the “Time in Combat” (TIC) or “Time out of Combat” (TOC) which tells them HOW LONG the action took.

At this point, PD1 tries to be more dramatic. With a COMPLETE success for the Level of Action test, the players can make a Complex Action.  As defined by the rules, a complex action allows for more dramatic choices:

A Complex Action is just that, a complex series of actions that can be considered as several linked simple actions. A Complex Action is anything that can reasonably be summed up in a simple phrase like: “I run up to the Klingon and kick the disruptor out of his hand.” or “I activate the (already armed and sequenced) self-destruct module and run to the transporter pad.” or “I grab a new power pack from the satchel and slap it into my phaser as I turn to face the buckling door.” The pro forma limit is ‘I do something’ and then ‘I do something else’ (usually while someone else stands by, astonished that you could get away with all that before they could react). These two actions do NOT necessarily have to be directly related, as do those in Simple action, although they could be if you wished.

A Complex Action lets you grab the Ambassador’s daughter and swing from the chandelier, sweeping just beyond the reach of the Orion Pirates below, to the safety of the balcony beyond or make two attacks on an opponent before he can react at all! All in all, Complex Actions let you get away with murder, completely baffling those poor slobs who are slogging along at Minimal or Simple LoAs. – p. 42

Actions and Initiative ends with another important sidebar:

IMPORTANT NOTE TO BOTH THE GM AND PLAYERS: The spirit of the Action and Initiative rules in Prime Directive are not meant to be a meticulously detailed series of minutely considered “war game moves”. Rather, the designers hope that the players (and the GMs) will paint their actions with a wider, more colorful brush. Instead of thinking: “Hmm, could an Olympic athlete REALLY do all that in four seconds,” you should think “Have my favorite SF/Adventure movies ever had someone doing this?” – p. 45

Skill are very combat-focused, as expected in this very militaristic setting.  I find it interesting that Leadership skills include what is these days are commonly called “social combat” and that Discipline-related skills is where the psionic skills are collected. Overall, there are 11 Skill areas with 85 skills!

The combat section is complicated; so complicated that it actually has two examples and an alternative combat system over 27 pages. Part of the combat section bloat is that it also includes weapons (commonly found in other RPGs in an equipment or ironmongry section). At its heart, combat is broken down into four steps: Time, Position, Attack, and Defend. The first combat example, 5.2, is presented in a highly narrative manner with little reference to actual die rolls. The second example, 5.27, is presented as an Advanced Combat Example which replays the first example but with all the die rolls included. Finally, and most interesting to me, is rule 5.28 SIMPLIFIED COMBAT SYSTEM:

The combat system in Prime Directive is often both intense and complex. There are a great many things which the players can do, and the rules must account for all of these. Veteran players of RPGs will easily adapt to the system, while new players may find it hard to deal with all at once.

To make the entire game more accessible to new players, we have included a simplified system for combat. The entire rulebook is written for the more intense Veterans Combat System (a term you will not find anywhere in the rules except on this page). The ‘Simplified Combat System’ or SCS is contained entirely on this one page of the rules, and the designers have chosen not to clutter the game with hundreds of references (one in virtually every rule) defining how that rule would work if the Simplified Combat System was in force. It will be obvious, in each case, what to do. – p 93

Buried within the SCS is one of the few narrative play elements found in this entire rules set. Simplification #6: HEROIC DAMAGE SURVIVAL, allows the players to spend one point of Heroic Reputation to reduce the damage in a Lethal attack to one point less than it takes to kill them outright. So intense is combat that Healing gets it own section.

Advancement and Awards is another interesting section, where players are evaluated and reviewed. Buried within this section is one other narrative element which allows character to use a Heroic Reputation feat to convert an ordinary result into an Extraordinary Success. I also like the section on Wheedling for points.

The rules finish off with an Equipment sections more racial backgrounds and NPCs, and two adventures. There is also a SFB scenario that (amazingly) can be linked to an RPG session:

(SD1.47) LINK TO PRIME DIRECTIVE: Do not use the SFB boarding party system. Simply transport the Prime Team (SD1.49) to the derelict using transporters and conduct actions inside the derelict as per the Prime Directive game system. Each “action” in Prime Directive consumes two impulse(s) in Star Fleet Battles. This scenario cannot be played without Prime Directive. – p. 172

For the even more masochistic, a variant rule was given:

(SD1.62) Have the Prime Team play their battle in a separate room, with the Game Master advising each group when it can proceed to the next action/impulse (keeping the two groups at the same time-point, with the Prime Team moving first in each case). Because of the jamming, there is no communication between the two groups except notification that the “beacon” has been activated. – p. 172

What I Thought of It Then – Given I was a huge SFB player, I really wanted to play Prime Directive in the SFU. However, I remember finding character generation to be a real chore, and the limited scope of play (the military setting with characters in Star Fleet) seemed to reduce adventure options. Most importantly, I couldn’t wrap my head around the whole task resolution system of nD6 versus a Tricode. Finally, I totally missed the Simplified Combat System and instead tried to make sense out of the Veteran Combat System, even as I struggled with the core mechanic or how Levels of Action, Initiative, and Time interacted.

What I Think of It Now – These days I pay a lot more attention to the core mechanic and actually study them. Today I see, and understand, the PD1 task resolution system. I can see how the designers tried to make die rolls determine a Success Level. I now understand how Level of Action is the WHAT can be done, Initiative is WHEN the action happens, and Time is HOW LONG the action takes. With this understanding, I can better grasp the Veterans Combat System. At the same time, I now see (and prefer) the alternative Simplified Combat System.

That said, the Tricode approach is a hot mess. Each skill has a unique tricode demanding it be noted or easily referenced. This in turn demands a detailed character sheet clearly noting Characteristics and Skills and nD6 to roll and Tricodes. The GM needs easy access to the many Tricodes and numerous modifiers and…well, I think you get the point.

These days I also prefer to have more narrative elements in my RPG, and in that way PD1 is weak. While Level of Action determines WHAT can be done the player influence is subject to the whims of  die rolls (i.e. less player agency). Indeed, there are only a few areas where player agency is given any attention, and those usually revolve around a very limited use of the Heroic Reputation points. Heroic Reputation could of been PD1‘s game currency, but the designers don’t take the concept to the natural limits of that thought.

From an RPG-perspective, I give Prime Directive (1st Edition) Totally Subjective Game Rating (Scale of 1-5):

  • System Crunch = 4 (Crunchy, especially for combat)
  • Simulationist = 3 (Wants to be dramatic, but rules don’t often support)
  • Narrativism = 2 (Few rules support narrative play)

Prime Directive (1st Edition), Copyright (c) 1993, Task Force Games.

#ClementSector : The Rules #RPG

Clement Sector: The Rules – An Alternate Cepheus Engine Universe; Watts, Johnson, and Kemp; Gypsy Knights Games, 2016. PDF $14.99 (accessed 22 Oct 2016)

Clement Sector: The Rules (CSTR) is Gypsy Knights Games rules set for playing in their Clement Sector setting. CSTR is an Open Game License (OGL)-based set of rules deriving from Jason “Flynn” Kemp’s Samardan Press Cepheus Engine System Reference Document. CSTR gives referees and players a complete Cepheus Engine-based rules set tailored for the unique aspects of the Clement Sector Setting.

CSTR is a 217-page product loosely organized in a similar fashion to the Cepheus Engine System Reference Document.  The first section, The Basics, introduces the now-familiar 2D6 classic sci-fi task resolution system of roll 2D6>8. In a difference from Cepheus Engine, CSTR defines a natural roll of 12 as an “Exceptional Success” and a natural role of 2 as an “Exceptional Failure.” This can be a bit confusing because at the same time the usual Cepheus Engine “Effect” definitions of “Exceptional Success” and “Exceptional Failure” are also retained.

Character generation is laid out in the next section with an extensive 26-step checklist. In another break from strictly following Cepheus Engine, characteristics are generated by rolling 3d6 and keeping the best two die. Chargen in CSTR is of the expanded kind found in Mercenary or High Guard of the older Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition. The result is a more robust character with more skills than a comparable one generated using solely Cepheus Engine. Setting-tailored details are also here, such as Aging (Clement Sector postulates extended human lifespans) and a tailored skill list and cascade. To assist in understanding chargen, an extensive (5+page) example is given. What is NOT provided in CSTR are the career tables. For Clement Sector careers, CSTR calls for the use of a second product, the Clement Sector Core Setting Book Second Edition.

The Equipment section includes robots and other vehicles. These can be a bit harder to understand because nowhere in CSTR nor Cepheus Engine is vehicle construction defined or otherwise given. The OGL Traveller Vehicle Handbook SRD does exist (being released in 2008 along with the base Traveller SRD) but Cepheus Engine and CSTR avoid going into that area. The lack of fully defined vehicle rules does not make the game unplayable, but does limit the expandability of this section.

Personal Combat is very extensive. As envisioned by the setting designers, personal and vehicle combat is a major aspect of the Clement Sector setting and as a result the combat rules are fully fleshed out.

Space Travel in earlier generations of rules would be known as Spacecraft Operations; here the unique FTL drive of the setting, the Zimm Drive, is explained. There is a very nice rule included for Characters and the Law which adds detail for characters encountering law enforcement as well as arrest and sentencing. Trade and Commerce is relatively unchanged from Cepheus Engine and focuses on speculative trading, another core component of the Clement Sector setting.

Space Combat is another extensive section. Technically composed of three major rules sections, the first (basic) Space Combat is the CSTR version of Classic Traveller Adventure-class ship combat with its focus on characters. The second section, Advanced Space Combat, is the CSTR version of Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition High Guard for Capital ships. The third section is an Appendix that adds setting-specific rules unique to the Clement Sector, most importantly a Railgun Spinal Mount.

Like character generation, the Space Travel and Space Combat is notable for what once again is NOT included in CSTR. For ship construction (small craft, Adventure-class, and Capital ships) CSTR directs you to the Clement Sector book The Anderson & Felix Guide to Naval Architecture Second Edition.

Environments and Hazards is a very straight-forward port of Cepheus Engine. Worlds provides the rules for generating the Universal World Profile (UWP) but, given that much of the Clement Sector setting is already defined, CSTR directs readers to the Subsector-series of books (like Subsector Sourcebook 1: Cascadia 2nd Edition). Planetary Encounters are detailed, though Patron Encounters CSTR recommends the 21 Plots-series of books (starting off with 21 Plots 2nd Edition). Similar, Starship Encounters has very generic ship descriptions, but for more details it is recommended to look at the Ships of the Clement Sector-series (like Ships of the Clement Sector 13: Strikemaster Class Brig). CSTR concludes with Refereeing the Game.

Art throughout CSTR appears to have been taken from previous Clement Sector publications. Especially notable is the ship art by Ian Stead. Character art is what I term “CGI poser” and fortunately avoids being too cartoonish; instead it seems to communicate the setting as envisioned by the authors in a fairly effective manner.

Although CSTR has an long Table of Contents, it lacks an Index. The pdf version is also not bookmarked, making someone like myself dependent on my tablet reader search function. I also wish that Skill or Task definitions were consistently called out. For instance, matching velocity and boarding a hostile ship (a highly likely event in the Pirate-infested Clement Sector) is communicated in the rules as follows:

If the enemy ship is still moving, then the prospective boarders must match the target’s velocity and dock with it (a Difficult (-2) Pilot task), …. (p. 106)

This could alternatively be formatted – and more easily recognized – using the Task Description Format (p. 43) as something like:

Match Velocities and Dock with Hostile Ship. Pilot, Dexterity, 1d6 minutes, Difficult (-2).

I found it interesting that at least one setting-specific alteration to Cepheus Engine was not included in CSTR. Given Clement Sector has no nobility structure, the Social characteristic is used to reflect wealth and class. Tailored rules are found in the Clement Sector Core Setting Book on p. 195. Whereas setting-distinctive rules like Aging and the Zimm Drive were included in CSTR (as well as the Core Setting Book), the equally setting-distinctive SOC and Wealth rules were not included. Was this a simple oversight or clever marketing plan?

Clement Sector: The Rules accomplishes what it sets out to do; provide a setting-tailored version of Cepheus Engine to maximize play in the Clement Sector setting. Unfortunately, it is not a “one-stop” collection, needing to be expanded by the Clement Sector Core Setting Book for character generation and the Anderson & Felix Guide to Naval Architecture for ship construction. To help referees and players, Gypsy Knight Games offers a Core Bundle of pdf’s for $38.37 on drivethrurpg.com which includes the three necessary books along with the Introduction to the Clement Sector (also available as a free separate download and a great intro overview of the Clement Sector setting – well worth the look!). This is a very good deal compared to Mongoose Traveller Second Edition. To get the equivalent in rules material in Mongoose Traveller Second Edition one needs to buy the Core Rulebook (pdf $29.99) and High Guard (pdf $29.99). But this still leaves you without any “setting.” To get something similar to the Clement Sector Core Setting Book one might have to invest in a sourcebook for the Spinward Marches – once it becomes available.

Can one play in Clement Sector without CSTR? You certainly could use the Cepheus Engine System Reference Document or the soon-to-be out-of-print Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition rules in place of CSTR. The disadvantage to that approach is that one loses out on the collection of setting-tailored rules CSTR provides; instead you would have to constantly be making home-brew adjustments to fit rules to setting. To me, it is far easier to get the items in the Clement Sector Core Bundle and start adventuring!


Clement Sector: The Rules; Copyright (c) 2016 Gypsy Knights Games.

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

“The Traveller game in all forms is owned by Far Future Enterprises. Copyright 1977-2016 Far Future Enterprises.”

#RPGThursday #Orbital2100 RPG #CepheusEngine Chargen

Using Orbital 2100: A Solar System Setting of the Cepheus Engine I ran thru a character generation example. As I talked about in a previous post, Orbital 2100 makes only minor changes to the standard Cepheus Engine character generation process.

Meet Vanov Page, idealistic young man born aboard LSC-1 Mattias Vanderveen in Earth orbit at L4.

STR 4 (DM-1) / DEX 9 (+1) / END 4 (DM-1) / INT 9 (DM+1) / EDU 3 (DM-1) / SOC 6

Background skills are as in Cepheus Engine (3+ EDU DM). However, one must be taken from the Orbital 2100 Background Skill table (p. 31). Vanov, coming from an Orbital Colony, gains Mechanics 0, as well as Computer 0.

Choosing a Mining and Colony Survival campaign, Vanov becomes a Surface Operator. The equivalent Cepheus Engine career is Colonist.

First Term: Survives. As Rank 0 gains Survival 1. Does not commission nor advance. Service Skills gained are Mechanics 0 (already possessed), Gun Combat 0, Animals 0, Electronics 0, Survival 0, and Vehicle 0. After an eventless first term, Vanov reenlists.

Second Term: Survives. This time Vanov commissions as an Officer (Rank 1 – District Leader) and gains the skill Jack-of-all-Trades! After gaining an additional service skill in Vehicles, he now has Vehicle (Ground ) 1. Vanov also successfully advanced this term (Rank 2 – District Delegate) and picks up Gun Combat, making his skill Gun Combat (Slug) 1. Riding high on his success, Vanov reenlists again.

Third Term: Survival roll is END 6+, and thanks to Vanov’s DM-1 he FAILS. Rolling on the Injury Table, we find Vanov was severely injured which reduces one physical characteristic by 1D6. Rolling a 5 (super ouch!) Vanov reduces his END from 9 to 4 with a new DM -1. Per Cepheus Engine, Vanov must now leave the service after an abbreviated term (2 years) and will get no benefit roll this term.

Mustering Out: Vanov gets two benefits rolls. He takes one on the Orbital 2100 Universal Benefits Table (p. 35) and gets +1 SOC. His cash benefit is 4,000Cr. Per the Orbital 2100 rules, this is reduced to 10% of the Cepheus value, or  400Cr.

At this point I review Cepheus Engine and look at the rules for Medical Care (p. 29). Restoration of a lost characteristic is 5,000Cr per point. Raising DEX to 6 (2 points) would cost 10,000Cr and void the DM -1. Rolling on the Table: Medical Bills (p. 30) results in “the company” covering 50% of the cost, but this leaves Vanov having to cover the other 5,000Cr. I figure this is a good character aspect; Vanov is in debt and therefore more likely to be “asked” to do provide “interesting” tidbits of information.

Vanov Page, Age 28, ex-Colonial District Delegate (Medically Retired, now available as a Contract Advisor). 400Cr.

STR 4 (DM-1) / DEX 6 / END 4 (DM -1) / INT 9 (DM +1) / EDU 3 (DM -1) / SOC 7

Animals 0, Computer 0, Electronics 0, Gun Combat (Slug) 1, Jack-of-all-Trades 1, Mechanics 1, Survival 1, Vehicle (Ground) 1.

Vanov Page was born in an Orbital Colony above Earth. Although the habitat has some gravity, Vanov is generally frail but very agile in the lower gravity. Raised not to look down but out to the other planets, Vanov decides to become a Surface Operator supporting mines and colonies. His first few years are taken by hard study where he learns the basics of his career. After a few years, Vanov begins to make his mark and quickly rises in rank to District Delegate. But then a great accident befalls him, and he is severely injured. At the depths of his physical misery, Vanov is approached by an old friend who offers to help pay for part of his medical bills in exchange for certain “favors” in the future. Grasping at the slim chance presented to him, Vanov agrees.

Medically retired from colonial government matters, Vanov Page hires himself out as a advisor for small start-up colonial and mining ventures. Vanov is secretly in debt to Tharsis Heavy Industry for “only” 5,000Cr – or so he thinks. He needs to pass along a few real “gems” of information if he ever is to get free of his obligation. The last time Vanov passed on info about a new outpost setting up, Tharsis was able to use the inside information to underbid their competitors and win the contract. Vanov then realized that Tharis planned on using “less-than-optimal” equipment and some of the staff sent were a bit iffy. Vanov wonders if his restored health is worth the risks he is taking….

#RPGThursday Retrospective – Traveller: 2300 – 1st Ed (GDW, 1986)

Traveller! In the year 2300AD! Who wants to play an early milieu Traveller campaign? I certainly did, and that is why I bought Traveller: 2300 in 1986.

Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that Traveller: 2300 was neither the Traveller rules nor the Traveller setting (I was not the only disappointed person, by 1988 the setting was renamed simply 2300 AD). But as I opened the box and read the Player’s Manual I became intrigued. This was a Hard Sci-Fi setting, with a timeline and background derived from the earlier Twilight: 2000. In 1986, I was in a bit of an anti-space opera mood (actually, anti-space fantasy as Star Wars was rapidly devolving into). Traveller: 2300 felt realistic, especially with the Near Stars Map and List showing all the stars within 50 light-years of Earth (in three dimensions!).

What I Thought of It Back Then – I loved the setting, and we did try to play a few times, but I remember the sessions bogging down because we just couldn’t figure out how to do things. I didn’t know it at the time, but Traveller: 2300 was an attempt by GDW to further their “house” system that had started in Twilight: 2000. In doing so, GDW attempted to define a Task System for the game. Starting on page 4 of the Referee’s Manual, GDW laid out their Task Resolution system. It was all summarized in one page (p. 9) of the manual.

And I was lost.

The biggest problem is a severe lack of examples of play. This was not the first game I experienced with Difficulty Levels (see Paranoia or James Bond) but in their efforts to define tasks they ended up making it too complicated. The scariest part was “Step 6. Referee records task description.” References to notebooks or file cards or even computer files seemed (at the time) to be taking this RPG-thing to extremes. The game didn’t feel playable out-of-the-box.

What I Think of It Today – Even today I have to step through the Checklist for Task Resolution carefully. It’s all there, but not all on the one-page Task Resolution helper. Graphically, the system would be better served by flowcharts…and an Example of Play!

From an RPG-perspective, I give Traveller: 2300 Totally Subjective Game Rating (Scale of 1-5):

  • System Crunch = 3 (Early Task Resolution System attempt that is unclear)
  • Simulationist = 4 (Attempt at Hard Sci-Fi)
  • Narrativism = 2 (Uses task difficulty and mishaps)

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

#WargameWednesday “The Great Pacific War”

The Great Pacific War 1940-1944 by Don Baumgartner (Self Published, ISBN 9781493580569); Middletown, DE; Printed 15 May 2016.

As a long-time fan of the Admiralty Trilogy series of naval wargames, I religiously read The Naval SITREP. Issue #50 (April 2016) included a small half-page review of The Great Pacific War 1940-1944. Though not very well marketed as such, this is definitely an alternate history book. For a naval wargamer, it can be a sourcebook for scenarios or campaign inspiration.

The major historical point of departure is the death of Hitler during the Munich Crisis of 1939. Upon his death, the path towards war in Europe halts, allowing the author to explore a “what if” situation where the British Empire and Japan instead clash in the Far East. The story of these titanic naval battles are laid out in the book and each battle can easily be converted into a tactical scenario and gamed out.

Style-wise, the book could use a good editor and I encourage the author to get help laying the book out properly. Font selection should be reviewed because in my copy, all the 10’s digits are rendered as the letter “I” meaning we get “I4” guns. The maps could also use some work for they lack consistency in appearance or even orientation. Finally, tables and photos could use layout help.

Alternate history is hard. It is very easy to take historical reality, file off some serial numbers, rearrange letters, and say you have an alternate history (I’m looking at you, Mr. Turtledove. Naming the tank commander Morrel instead of Rommel? Really!) The problem in this book is that not enough changes. The author takes historical battles, moves them to to a different location (though often not that far from the original) and drops in a different set of combatants. Without needing to look too close between the lines, one can find the battles of Coral Sea, Midway, and night actions around The Slot off Guadalcanal. The result are battles not unlike what historically happened, but with the British generally substituted for the Americans.

It is easy to find a copy of Royal Navy Strategy in the Far East 1919-1939: Preparing for War Against Japan by Andrew Field (I used my public library privileges to search online databases and get my copy). Field lays out how the British thought they were going to fight, not how the Americans and Japanese eventually duked it out. There is enough difference between Field and Baumgartner that I (reluctantly) have to say that The Great Pacific War missed a golden opportunity. The British view of naval airpower was different than the US or Japan (for instance, see Geoffrey Till, “Adopting the aircraft carrier: The British, American, and Japanese case studies” in Military Innovation in the Interwar Period). Exploring those differences are what I find really intriguing and the stuff that makes for interesting games. Unfortunately, Baumgartner’s  The Great Pacific War does not delve down into this form of “what if.”

Is The Great Pacific War worth purchasing? For a serious naval wargamer its probably worth it, if for no other reason than scenario inspiration. The background and orders of battle would make good material for a convention game. But if one really wants to explore the “what if” of the British and Japanese fighting it out at sea, it may be better to look elsewhere.

#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.”