Traditionally, Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer for the RockyMountainNavy family. That is until we moved to the East Coast. Now school for the RMN Boys goes until mid-June. However, I still want to use this occasion to look back on my geek hobby year-to-date.
According to my BGG profile, I played 10 games in January, four in February, four more in March, none in April, and only two in May. For a year that I wanted to play more I certainly have dropped off! Summer may change as I have several new games inbound. Arriving tomorrow is Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal – The Pacific 1942 (Academy Games, 2016). I also may be getting closer to my Kickstarter delivery of Squadron Strike: Traveller(Ad Astra Games, ??) which after many delays (unwarranted and unacceptable in my opinion) finally opened the BackerKit this week. I also pledged for Worthington Publishing’s Mars Wars – but it cancelled. This month I pledged to support Compass Games’ new Richard Borg title Command & Colors: Tricorne – The American Revolution. To be honest, I am buying this title as much for myself as for the RMN Boys – which is both a blessing and a curse. I am certainly blessed in that I have boys who love gaming, but cursed in that they are not a hard grognard like their old man. The titles also reflect a change in my gaming interests as I struggle with the closure of many FLGS and the movement of my purchasing online or (shudder) to Kickstarter. I also have several games on P500 at GMT Games and hope to see that production schedule move forward this year.
I started off at Christmas with a good collection of books that I am whittling down at a much slower pace than I wish. This is not because I have ignored them; on the contrary, I am probably reading more than I did last year – just not reading off my list! Science fiction books have taken up much of my reading time. I have found myself lost in rereading the Charles E. Gannon’s Caine Riordan series from Baen Books. I also turned to Kickstarter again for content, this time in the form of Cirsova 2017 (Issues 5&6) and its short stories.
I didn’t get time to build much but the RMN boys got many kits completed. We even found a YouTube channel that we love, Andy’s Hobby Headquarters. He not only shows great models, but the boys are studying his techniques for better building.
I also have to do the Dad-thing and boast a bit about my youngest RMN Boy. This past quarter he was studying World War II and had a project to complete. The project supposed the student had found items in the attic from grandparents accumulated during World War II. The student had to put together a scrapbook of a newspaper article relating a battle (writing assignment), a letter from a soldier/sailor to home describing another battle (writing assignment), a letter from home describing the home front (writing assignment), a letter from the mayor to a local boys club thanking them for supporting the war effort (another writing assignment), notes from Grandmother about key personalities (short biographies), and a propaganda poster (art assignment). We had fun doing this project as together the youngest RMN boy and I prowled my shelves for sources, watched movies and documentaries online, and even pulled out a few games to better visualize the battles. A very proud moment for this father as the New Media and my book and game collection came together to teach a young man history.
Using a closed 5-ton chassis (3 Hull, 3 Structure), Armor 25, the Heavy Plasma Hover Tank is a main battle tank. It has the Hostile Environmental Protections System. It carries a Fusion power plant, Code K, and a hover propulsion system, Code K, giving it a top speed of 150kph, a cruising speed of 112 kph, and an Agility DM of +1. Three kiloliters of hydrogen support the power plant for 1 week of use. This vehicle is equipped with the Advanced Vehicle Control System, Class II Laser Comms (LOS or 50 km), Basic Military Sensors (-2), and a Model 2 computer. There is a Basic Cockpit for the Driver and a Standard Seat for the Gunner/Tank Commander. The vehicle has one weapon points. A large, heavy turret carries a TL-12 Rapid Fire Plasma Gun. Cargo capacity is 7 spaces. The chassis is armored with Superdense (x5). It also mounts an Explosive Belt. The vehicle costs 690.12 KCr and takes 1,125 hours or 47 days to build.
Superdense (Armor x5)
Fuel Capacity = 1 Week
Class II Laser
Laser LOS/Very Distant (50 km)
Comms DM 0, Very Distant (50 km)
Turret (Large Heavy)
Rapid Pulse Plasma Cannon – TL-12
ROF 1/6, 12d6 Dmg
Total time to create this design was about 30 minutes. This is still a lot more time that a GM wants to take to create a vehicle at the table, but fine for a prep session. The design is not a Slammer’s blower tank – it doesn’t have a powergun nor the armor to match. But it was a good exercise of the CEVDS and an encouraging start to designing vehicles for Cepheus Engine RPG adventuring.
All Terrain Vehicle (ATV): Also known as the ATV, the All Terrain Vehicle is a wheeled or tracked vehicle designed to provide high-quality transportation on the terrestrial surfaces of any number of worlds. It can traverse all but the most forbidding (difficult) terrain and is fully amphibious (capable of water operations).
ATV’s commonly have the following features:
The ATV masses 10 tons, and can carry a payload of six tons, including the driver and seven passengers.
Cruising speed depends on the terrain being traveled: roads can allow up to 100 kph, while cross-country will rarely exceed 60 kph, and broken ground will keep speeds to 20 kph and under. Tracked ATVs are somewhat slower that wheeled versions, but are more reliable in difficult terrain.
An ATV may be powered by a battery charged from a ship’s power plant, or it may contain a small fusion pack requiring water or hydrogen for fuel.
The vehicle’s pressurized interior allows up to eight passengers living quarters with reasonable comfort for long periods of time.
The major drawbacks of ATVs are refuelling requirements (depending on the specific model), slowness in some types of terrain, and the bulk of the vehicle itself
While amphibious, most ATV’s have very poor water performance. Unless intended for short trips, a dedicated watercraft is recommended. And in rough seas or under inclement weather conditions, on large bodies of water, an ATV can be a very dangerous vehicle to be in. Some more advanced ATV’s have better water performance, but most have extremely poor water performance.
In 1984, the year Red Dawn came out, I was just entering my senior year of high school. As a wargamer, I had read many books and played many games about the Cold War. Red Dawn fit right into my world of 1984.
Amongst the many books about the Cold War I had read, General Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War: August 1985 stands out in my memory. I read this one over and over again because I wanted to learn how the Cold War in Europe would go hot! The other book that I remember well is War Day and the Journey Onward (Whitley Streiber & James Kunetka). War Day tells the story of America after the mushroom clouds. It came out the year after the movie The Day Afterwhich I had watched in fascination (and with a bit of fear). I kept asking myself, what would I do?
In 1983 and 1984 I also got several wargames that shaped how I viewed the Cold War. Most importantly, I got a copy of Harpoon II. H2 was my first game in the Harpoon-series of modern naval combat and is a system I still enjoy today. This was how the Cold War at Sea was going to be fought! At this same time, I started collecting (and playing) Assault-Tactical Combat in Europe: 1985 which taught me modern combined arms combat. At the operational-level of war, NATO: The Next War in Europe landed on my gaming table. I also played more than a few games of Firefight (the 1984 TSR version) and even built up a collection of Supremacy (nukes and lasersats!).
Red Dawnreleased in August, 1984. This would of been just before my senior year started. I seem to remember going to see it in the first week of release. It really hit close to home because it took place in Colorado – where I was living. I saw so many of my friends in the movie it became very real in my mind.
All my Cold War mania culminated at Thanksgiving with the release of the Twilight: 2000 roleplaying game from Game Designer’s Workshop. This game, by the designer’s of my beloved Traveller RPG, put the players as members of a US military unit cut off in Europe after the Cold War Goes Hot. This RPG mixed role-playing and the military together in one package. It also allowed me to use the knowledge I had gained from books and wargames and bring it to life. Eventually, T2Kwould go so far as to link to wargames like Harpoon 3for naval combat, Last Battle: Twilight – 2000 for ground combat, and even Air Superiority for the air war.
In many ways, Powers Boothe’s character in Red Dawn, Lt Col Andrew ‘Andy’ Tanner, was the T2Kcharacter I always wanted to play. For some reason, I drew great character inspiration from this scene:
Col. Andy Tanner: [using a crude diorama, the Wolverines prepare for an assault on the Calumet Drive-In, which is now a Russo-Cuban “Re-education Camp”] All right. Four planes. Cuban bunker, Russian bunker. munitions dump, troop tents. Four machine gun bunkers. Back here by the drive-in screen are your political prisoners. We’ll cause a diversion over here… cut holes in the wire here, fire on all these machine gun positions. The B-Group comes across this area in a flanking maneuver… and when you reach this bunker, you lay down grazing fire on this defilade. I think that’s pretty simple. Anybody got any questions so far? Aardvark: What’s a “flank?” Toni: What’s a “defilade?” Robert: What’s “grazing fire?” Col. Andy Tanner: [out loud, to himself] I need a drink.
I don’t usually buy adventures, but I absolutely love The Clement Sectorsetting for the Cepheus Engine/Traveller RPG. The Slide is an adventure that John Watts has apparently run at conventions. From the publisher’s blurb:
The race is on!
The Slide is a pirate route leading from the Winston Subsector of Clement Sector to the Peel Subsector of Ariel Sector. The route runs through the wild untamed subsectors along the trailing edge of the colonized subsectors. It is a dangerous proposition for the best of ships and crews.
Ever so often though, the pirates hold a race: The Slide Run. Who can not only beat the odds of The Slide but also the other racers? It’s a no holds barred free for all where the only rule is that whoever gets to the end first is the winner! The other crews will use subterfuge, speed, and violence to beat you!
Can you do it? Are you brave enough to attempt The Slide?
The Slide comes with instructions on how to run the race, detailed information on the systems along the route, your twelve opponents, your ship, and nine pre-generated characters. Everything you need to take your players on a grand adventure!
Start your drives. The race is about to begin.
The Slideis a meaty 103 page book that roughly divided into three parts. The first section is nine pre-generated characters and their pirate ship. Useful for conventions or one-shots, this section should not to be skipped by any Cepheus Engine GM. This is because the character descriptions are among the best I have seen in an adventure in a very long time. Each character is flawed, but not in how they were “generated,” but in how they are “human.” Every character – even the uplift – has flaws that make great adventuring hooks. Indeed, the descriptions really make the characters “come alive.”
The race is detailed in just a few pages. It only takes a few pages because there are not many details as much is left up to the GM – and the race has few rules! Twelve rivals are also provided. Each rival ship names the captain, the ship type, an occasional special ability, and a general approach (or tactic) the rival will use in the race. GMs again can find inspiration here as any rival can be dropped into adventures as a ready-made baddie (or ally?) with motives and their approach/response to conflict. Also added here are a few new thematic rules like Drinking or Taunting – always useful is a real Clement Sector adventure! Another section titled “Dirty Tricks” adds Missile Mines and rules for Sabotage.
The bulk of the book is actually composed of a gazetteer of worlds the race could move through. Many of these worlds have not been detailed in other products having been purposely left to the GM’s imagination. The Slideexemplifies how a GM can take an undetailed hex on the starmap and bring it to life.
The Slide is much more than just an adventure to run for a large group. In many ways this is a great GM sourcebook; it gives examples of characters that are not always heroes, rivals with short backstories and motivations, new rules tailored to the theme of the adventure, and examples of detailing locations. It also showcases a less heroic vision of the future. The Slide (and Skull and Crossbones) brings another vision of the future to the gaming table; a future that I believe is closer to the real roots of the Traveller RPG where an uncaring universe practically forces one to skip ship payments, take jobs of dubious (illegal?) character, and keep flying in the black just one step ahead of the (nearly inexistent) law.
Atticus is my first Moon Toad Publishing (MTP) Ship Files book. I am a fan of Ian Stead (@biomassart on Twitter) and greatly enjoy his work for Gypsy Knight Games and their Alternate Traveller Universe/Cepheus Engine Setting Ships of the Clement Sector. I had seen several other MTP products but it was not until very recently that I made the connection between MTP and Ian.
Atticus is a 100 dTon fast (Jump-2 / 6G acceleration) multi-use vessel – a perfect ship for a small group adventure in a small-ship universe setting. But what really sets the Atticus apart from the usual slew of Traveller/Cepheus Engine ships is the fact it is a tail-sitter! This makes Atticus a design closer to hard scifi than the usual “airplane in space” found in so much space opera. It also harkens back to classic Traveller RPG designs such as Broadsword or Azhanti High Lightningwhere the decks were stacked. In some ways I have to wonder if Atticus is Ian Stead’s version of Rochinante from the TV series The Expanse. Regardless, Atticus is an interesting design that can be dropped into any Cepheus Engine adventure from space opera to hard scifi.
The Ship Filesbook is a 24-page full color pdf. The file book starts with an in-universe description of the Atticus that right up front addresses the unusual configuration. This part is not to be skipped for there are many little details that a referee (or player) could use as adventure seeds. Statistics using Cepheus Engine are provided, as well as many line and color drawings and deck plans. Actually, there are two variants presented; the standard and a non-jump version. An example crew is also provided; three instead of the usual four members because, “it is currently one person down, the crewman having left over an argument about pay” (p. 16) Speak about an adventure seed!
MTP Ship Files books also include a two-page Spacecraft Record sheet. This sheet lays out the ship statistics in a much easier to understand manner than the simple table usually presented in Cepheus Engine.
Ship Files: Atticusis not without its flaws. Page numbering is laid out as in a book but the pdf file is sequential meaning page “2” of the pdf shows “1” at the bottom. This makes the table of contents one page off from the search function. The first Spacecraft Record sheet shows the class name as “Polixenes” which I take was a previous Ship Files product. Neither of these flaws are egregious nor in any way degrade the overall superior quality of the product. This product is also a real steal at $3.99 on DriveThruRPG.
SOLO is based on the “fortune in the middle” approach to gaming. As Paul explains it:
Here, some decision making is made, but with very little description of how the player actually achieves his goal. The dice are rolled and the results retro-actively interpreted. [p. 6]
In explaining how to get to the “fortune in the middle,” SOLO breaks down the rules into six broad sections; Character Generation, SOLO Campaign Rules, and four different campaign styles (Travellers, Star Traders, Naval Officers, and Survey Scouts). As an added bonus, the Naval Officers campaign also has simplified “All-in One Space Combat” rules.
The Player Characters chapter is on one level a rehash of the character generation rules in the Cepheus Engine System Reference Document, but at another level so much more. The expanded explanations in SOLO do so much more to bring Cepheus Engine closer to a narrative-style of game. For instance, look at how the CE Reference Document explains Endurance:
Endurance (END): A character’s ability to sustain damage, stamina and determination. [CERD p. 23]
Compare this to SOLO:
Endurance – Toughness and stamina. Endurance also indicates a pain threshold. Does this indicate a character with a past filled with hard knocks and hard living? Low endurance may mean a pampered lifestyle, a low tolerance of stress, pain and discomfort. [p. 10]
SOLO gets much closer to creating characters in the style that Marc Miller in Traveller 4 (T4) referred to as the Detailed Role-Players – characters with strong motivations and rich backgrounds. With just a few extra words and a bit more thought, SOLO guides the players into making much deeper characters. This is partially achieved by focusing on what the die roll is during character creation and not just if it was a pass/fail:
Once a career has been chosen and the rolling of dice begins, we must take note of how much the role for Survival, Commission, Promotion and Re-Enlistment were made by – or failed by. Think of what it means to make or fail a roll by a wide margin. [p. 12]
This same approach applies to Skill and Mustering Out. I especially enjoyed Paul’s comment in Mustering Out where he recommended reducing cash bonus benefits for, “This ensures that none of the player characters in the group are too affluent – too affluent to take risks.” [p. 13].
The next chapter, Character Reactions, starts the core of the SOLO rules. Character Reactions introduces a new rules mechanic for “In-Game Reactions.” In-Game Reactions is a roll to avoid a bad reaction – a measure of how well the team held their nerve. It is a variable target number based on the crew relationship; the examples used range from the squabbling crew of Prometheus (more prone to bad reactions) to Star Trek (less prone).
“The heart of SOLO is The Plan” [p. 22]. The Plan lays out the scene resolution mechanic. This again is a new game mechanic because SOLO resolves scenes and not tasks. Through the use of a single die roll, The Plan resolves “how it all went” [p. 22]. Using a simple three-step process, the player decides the Plan difficulty, danger and resolution. From here the die roll leads to Bad Consequences or Good Consequences. This in turn leads the player to Explanations – what happened.
To help, Paul recommends Write It Down in an unstructured diary [p. 28]. Most importantly, this must include NPCs: Contacts & Enemies. If you haven’t caught on yet, SOLO is heavy on relationships – relationships between characters and relationships between the party and NPCs. These relationships in turn lead to Storylines where the player “tries to make sense of random events by hanging on them an interconnected plot” [p. 33].
These random events are driven by Random Rolls, the next chapter. There are Random Tables for:
Tell Me, D6
Law Level Checks
The Tell Me, D6 is nothing revolutionary and shows a range of reactions for either a person or situation. The other tables are wonderful because they often use a variety of d6 rolls, from 2d6 (2-12) or 3d6 (3-18) or d66 (36 potential outcomes). These tables can be dropped into most any campaign, solo or not, and are a reminder that tables don’t just have to be 2d6! The Law Level Checks table and accompanying explanation is also good GM advice on when and how to play with Law Levels, a rule that has been in Traveller since the first Little Black Books in 1977 but one I rarely used until more recently.
With the core SOLO rules explained, Paul now introduces the first of four campaigns – Travellers. This is the default campaign and classic Traveller:
…a mixed group of traveling PCs, veterans of the military services and other walks of life. The might have a small starship with which they move from world to world, or they may travel on commercial starships. Criminals, hunters, fortune hunters, noblemen (and their countiers), miners, chancers and bounty hunters, all fall int this category. [p. 53]
Each campaign uses a Checklist of events. Paul also recommends starting this campaign In Media Res, and has a “Starting Situation” table to help. The campaign also has tailored events tables. Once again all of these are great fodder for any GM to drop into their campaign. The heart of the Travellers campaign is the Patron Encounter though here event that is expanded upon by also encountering Enemies, Cargoes, or Colourful Locals.
The second campaign is Star Traders. This campaign is actually where Paul started as it is based on his earlier publication, Star Trader. The Star Trader campaign is where:
With a ship in hand, the player characters can start making money by shipping people and cargoes. Often this means they are free traders, plying the routes the big carriers have ignored. Free traders can get into plenty of sticky situations, can earn extra money from infrequent adventures and sometimes operate on both sides of the law. [p. 7]
SOLO ties to avoid the “fantasy stocks and shares” gaming trope and make this campaign adventure. Once again, it is relationships that will drive events. The campaign checklist is not only a great guide for solo play, but useful guidance for any free trader campaign game.
Whereas the Travellers and Star Traders campaigns are classically Traveller, the next campaign, Naval Officers, is much different. “The PCs are the crew of a naval warship, patrolling the subsector, battling pirates and smugglers and defending the region from other interstellar navies” [p. 7}. Because this campaign is not “classic,” different character generation rules are called for and provided. Additional rules are what I call “Naval Intelligence,” added planetary codes for pirates or general threat levels giving an expectation of action. The “Star System Encounters” section also flushes out the system and provides more adventure hooks. “Investigating the Sensor Returns” calls for the use of playing cards with the different suits representing a different type of contact. More encounter tables are consulted, and more adventure created.
The Naval Officers campaign also introduces All-In One Space Combat rules. This rules variant uses a streamlined combat resolution mechanic built around a ship’s Combat Rating. Use of this variant avoids the need to play the starship combat subgame as detailed in the CE Reference Document. I don’t know how many more times I will say something like this, but the All-In One Space Combat Rules should be in every GMs kitbag for use during play.
The last campaign is Survey Scouts:
Exploration and adventure go hand in hand. In this campaign, the player characters are the crew of a survey ship – far from help or assistance, members of the scout service exploring new planets and sometimes making contact with alien races. [p. 7]
There is no greater science fiction theme than the exploration of uncharted space; many novels, movies and TV series have gone down this route. For SOLO gamers space exploration provides an almost perfect solitaire-play set-up; a ship, a crew and a subsector of unknown space to fly around without the need for NPCs, meddling governments or regulations. [p. 102]
This campaign style is heavily hinted at in the later generations of Classic Traveller. I prefer to call this campaign style “Alien Traveller” with a very definite nod to the Alien franchise, although Paul points out that is just one of several genre campaigns possible. Like Naval Officers, Survey Scouts needs modified character generation rules. In Survey Scouts, new rules also cover planetary surveys and “Survey Points.” In yet another useful section for any GM, Survey Scouts draws heavily from another of Paul’s products, The Universal World Profile to add many useful details to planets.
I should point out that after the SOLO rules are introduced and in every campaign an Example of Play is provided. The Naval Officers and Survey Scouts campaigns also use evocative fiction to help showcase their subsystems. Sprinkled throughout the book are many references to stories, books, TV shows, and movies that bring home the point just how versatile the Cepheus Engine system can be.
Recommendation: MUST BUY
SOLO is more than just a campaign system for solitaire play. By using solo play as an example, Paul has actually shown a way to make the encounters-style of adventure work in a wide variety of campaigns. SOLO should be in every Cepheus Engine/Classic Traveller RPG GM’s kitbag. It is astonishing to think about just how much “game” is included within these 153 pages. At $9.99 this is a real bargain for the many hours of play one can get solo or with their regular adventures.
SOLO: Solo RPG Campaigns for the Cepheus Engine; by Paul Elliott, Zozer Games, 2017.
Cepheus Engine System Reference Document: A Classic Era Science Fiction 2D6-Based Open Gaming System; by Jason “Flynn” Kemp, Samardan Press, 2016.