Was challenged on Twitter to name my Top 3 Tabletop Role Playing Games. Here was my response:
Top 3 #TTRPG 1. Classic Traveller/ Cepheus Engine. My original RPG in 1979, favorite since. 2. James Bond 007 RPG. Awesome match of mechanics to theme. 3. #StarWars Edge of the Empire. Connected my boys to #TTRPG.
Each of these titles is starkly different from the other. One is old/new, one very old school, and the third a modern narrative system. How did I arrive at this list?
Starting in 2004 and continuing through the mid 20-teens, I focused my hobby hours more heavily into RPGs than wargaming and boardgaming. In part this was because I was in the military and on the move with most of my gaming collection stored away. The electronic revolution in RPGs was just starting so instead of buying physical books I could get a whole library on my computer! I also had younger kids who were not ready to game yet. In those years, I dabbled in a lot of RPG systems, especially newer ones such as CORTEX Classic (Serenity Role Playing Game, Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game) that evolved into CORTEX Plus (Smallville Roleplaying Game, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game, and Firefly Roleplaying Game). I dug deeply into FATE with great games like the encyclopedic Starblazer Adventures or Diaspora. There were many other games too. Looking back, I had become a “mechanics nut” and explored different RPG systems to study their mechanics, or how they modeled the world. I didn’t really play many of these games as much as I studied them.
In 2013 my gaming took an unexpected turn. That year, Fantasy Flight Games acquired the Star Wars license and produced their excellent Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Core Rulebook. The RockyMountainNavy Boys were now older and I had done a good job of indoctrinating them into the Cult of Star Wars. So we started playing together. This was a major change for me since I now started playing games instead of mostly studying them.
So that is how I arrived at my Top 3. The first is a classic of my youth, updated and recreated into the modern day. The second is a design I admire. The third is loved because it connects me to my Boys.
Before The Clement Sector, I had not bought any patron encounter books since the Classic Traveller RPGSupplement 06: 76 Patrons. I have to admit I have now bought nearly all the Gypsy Knight Games 21 Series because it is so inspirational. Shamefully, I don’t often use a patron encounter in my gaming (unless it is a real pick-up game) but instead use the encounter background and variations as inspiration for detailing an adventure.
This may change thanks to the index for the 21 Series of plots that is provided in this product. The index is cross-referenced according to location, themes, organizations, corporations, and objects within the plots (A Fifth of 21 Plots, p. 26). I don’t necessarily see this as a tool the GM will use at the table, but it should be very useful for gaming prep and will probably result in my incorporation of more of the 21 Series plots into my adventuring.
A Fifth of 21 Plotsis a very functional product; there are only three pieces of “poser” art included. The bulk the content is the 21 Plots (each on a separate page) and the index which takes up the second half of the 45-page product. My only gripe is the same one I have for many pdf books – the page numbering and pdf are not synchronized meaning the last page of the pdf (p. 45) is labeled p. 44 in the product (the cover – usually unnumbered – counts as a pdf page). This a very minor gripe – the content is excellent with great plot seeds and good writing.
RMN Verdict – BUY for the index and enjoy the adventures!
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.
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.
Wendy’s 2delivers 76 pages of content divided into four broad parts. There is a short intro, fleet listings, a System Navy Career path, and a new ship – the Alfred Thayer Mahan-class Heavy Destroyer.
The short intro (2 pages plus the obligatory subsector map) provides in-universe text explaining what Wendy’sis along with a few paragraphs explaining the major players in the Cascadia subsector. Within these few paragraphs there are numerous adventure seeds and story hooks presented.
With the fleet listings each system has it’s naval forces described. These entries can be as short as a half-page with just a few paragraphs and the fleet list. Larger fleets have expanded entries that add details such as uniforms, fleet organization, and a table of Hull and Command Classifications.
The last table is very helpful for filling in details of the fleet since describes the ships of the fleet in broad detail. Some of the fleets in the Cascadia Subsector use ships found in the Ships of the Clement Sector series but for the most part the fleets in Cascadia use designs not detailed to date. Those who want to design the rest of the fleet – here are the bare-bones!
The System Navy Career Path is similar to, but not identical with, a career path previously available in Career Companion. That book is no longer available because it was published in support of Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition, and – no thanks to Mongoose – is no longer legally for sale under their onerous licensing rules. It is nice to see the career path updated and brought forward into the Cepheus Engine version of the Clement Sector.
The last 20 pages of Wendy’s 2is dedicated to details of the Cascadian Navy’s 1800-dT Heavy Destroyer, the Alfred Thayer Mahan-class.Provided are design background and deck-by-deck description and plans. Artwork for Mahan and elsewhere is provided by the ever-dependable Ian Stead with contributions by Michael Johnson and Bradley Warnes.
Buy or Not?
If your Clement Sector adventure leans towards more naval affairs then this is a definite BUY. Even if that is not your thing you should still seriously consider buying this book as it helps with ship encounters and pirates and the like. Since Wendy’s 2 is focused on the naval forces, it should be used in conjunction with Subsector Sourcebook 1: Cascadia (2nd Edition) which provides background for the entire subsector. I personally like that GKG has given me a peek into their setting but has left much of the definition up to me. There are a few details here, but it really is the skeleton to hang adventures on or to go off and be that System Engineer-style Traveller player.
As I looked through this book I was touched to find the CNS Loren Wiseman in the Cascadian Navy listings. For those who may not know, Loren K. Wiseman was one of the original authors of Traveller who passed away February 15 this year. As Jeff Zeitlin wrote in Freelance Traveller #80 (Mar/Apr 2017), “He was undoubtably one of Traveller’s larger-than-life figures, and he will be missed.” Naming a ship after Loren is a small honor for a great man in the history of the Traveller RPG and it shows me the deep respect GKG has for the forefathers of Traveller.
A Note on Links – You may notice that I linked several products to the OpenGamingStore. This is not because I don’t like DriveThruRPG – I have been a customer there for over a decade – but John at the OpenGamingStore takes only 20% versus the 30-35% at DTRPG. This may seem like a very small amount but it could be a big difference to small publishers over time. The OpenGamingStore catalog is not as deep as DTRPG, and it takes John a few days longer to get new items added (I think he is a one-man operation), but he takes a bit less and passes on a bit more. That’s worth my support – I hope it can be worthy of yours too.
At first I was confused by all those fancy dice with their crazy symbols. Now I see this system as one of the best matches of narrative gameplay and setting. I don’t see any other way to play a cinematic science fiction adventure. The nearly-identical Age of Rebellion and Force and Destiny round out the trilogy of adventure just like the original trilogy of movies did. Although low on my list, I am the GM in a campaign for the RockyMountainNavy Boys using this system.
I always thought I would not enjoy transhumanism settings in my sci-fi RPG adventuring. At least, that was until I found the FATE Core-driven Mindjammer. Another exploration into narrative-driven RPG systems. (Avoid the Mongoose Traveller version.)
More a guilty pleasure than a game I play. Many people deride the rules but this is my go-to version of Traveller when I want to do some hardcore setting creation. Actually, as long as one avoids Melee Combat the rules hold up surprisingly well. It’s a shame this one gets so much bad press, the game is actually very good – its the bad reputation the first rulebook got that I think makes people stay away.
Driven by the Cortex Plus system, this is another game that shows my tilt towards more narrative-driven games. The setting is also in keeping with the Original Traveller Universe (and not all that far from Edge of the Empire either). The production quality of the books are so shiny!
Strictly rules, this slimmed down version of FATE Core is the best rules set I have found to introduce new players to narrative RPG gaming. Some people accuse this game of being too simple; I disagree and say it is the ultimate “rules-lite” system.
Atomic Robo is a fine example of what happens when authors and game designers are of the same mind. The rulebook is one of the best I have ever seen, effortlessly taking source content and marrying it to game system and examples. The Brainstorming Rules are absolutely essential to ANY narrative-driven game played.
Going old-school here, but James Bond 007 has stood the test of time. The Chase rules, where one bids for initiative is very cinematic. I now recognize that this was the first RPG I played that had a Game Economy in the form of Hero Points. There is also the best-ever Example of Play which puts iconic scenes from the movie Goldfinger opposite game play.
Cepheus Engine is the modern 2d6 Sci-Fi RPG system that is the natural evolution of Classic Traveller. Except this one uses the Open Game License and not Mongoose Traveller’s much more restrictive legal obstacles to third-party publishing. Though a youngster, there are several great settings that take advantage of they rules including the awesome The Clement Sector, Orbital 2100, and the brand-new These Stars are Ours!
Diaspora uses the older FATE 3.0engine, and could probably use an update to FATE Core. But the designer’s don’t have to be in a rush because Diaspora is a great game as-is. Occasionally called the Traveller version of FATE, I love it for many of the same reasons I love Traveller; it is a sci-fi adventure RPG with moderate rules overhead. The Space Combat rules are a unique take on vector-combat using range bands (and should be retrofitted to Classic Traveller).
It was 1979 that I first discovered roleplaying games, and my gateway game was the three Little Black Books of Traveller. Who can ever forget the simple text on the box cover:
“This is Free Trader Beowulf, calling anyone…Mayday, Mayday…we are under attack…main drive is gone…turret number one not responding…Mayday…losing cabin pressure fast…calling anyone…please help…This is Free Trader Beowulf…Mayday….”
Now known as Classic Traveller, the rules are still a model of “complex simplicity.” Complex in that all the tools for making your own adventure are there (there is no default setting or Third Imperium in the original LBBs) and simple in terms of rules. Maybe a bit too simple, as shown by the modern rules version in Cepheus Engine. It really doesn’t matter to me what today’s version is called, Classic Traveller will always be the one dearest to my heart.
The latest version of the Star Trek Adventures RPG Living Playtest from Modiphius includes Alpha Shakedown Cruise – Starship Operations v1.1. This is the first glimpse into the rules for starships in STA. Given the very prominent role starships have in the Star Trek universe these rules will likely be a major part of any adventure.
Going through the rules, several parts jump right out at me:
STA uses the “Ships as Characters” approach; i.e. ships are described much like characters
In keeping with canon sources, Power is a vital starship commodity that is limited but can also be used in support of actions
Crew support gives the PCs a version of an “on-call” NPC that can be used to Assist, as an Advantage, or as an Alternate PC; this is a great GM tool
Starship Combat has several very loose definitons (like ranges); does this empower a more narrative approach?
Crew Roles are an attempt to ensure that all the PCs have a role to play (i.e “share the narrative”) in starship combat
Power can be used in combat to create Momentum but at the risk of a Complication
The Attack Task may require three (3) die rolls
Inflicting Damage may require up to three (3) die rolls.
Without starship construction design rules it is hard to see how scaling will work. The lack of the rules also make some of the ship designs appear suspect. For instance, my beloved Constitution-class cruiser (for the 23rd Century missions) has a Power of 7 and Independent Phaser Power which means the phasers can’t use ship’s power for firing (and cannot be boosted with extra Power either). A 24th Century Galaxy-class starship has a Power rating of 6 although the phasers can use power, cause more damage, and have several additional attributes that the Constitution-class phasers don’t have. At first glance this seems counterintuitive; surely the Galaxy-class has far more power than an old Connie, right?
The number of rolls in combat also concerns me. When making an attack, the ship can Assist (just like a character) which is a separate die roll. Then the PC makes the Attack die roll and if successful then the System Hit table is consulted. That’s already 2-3 die rolls. THEN, to inflict damage, Challenge Dice [CD] are rolled with a possibility that another [CD] roll from Soak is needed and, if necessary, yet another [CD] roll if there was a Crew Breech hit.
The ship Assist condition is concerning, and actually reveals a deeper potential conflict from the “ship as a character” approach. The Assist Rule on p. 14 of the v1.36 states:
In combat or other situations with pressure, assisting a Task is considered to take up a character’s turn.
So, does the ship get a Turn like a character or not? This gets to a deeper question; is the ship really just a character or a tool? Reading the v1.1 Shakedown Cruise rules, it seems that the designer has firmly concluded that ships are characters and not tools. The problem is that the ruleset needs to reflect this clearly with how and when the ship acts as a character and when (or if?) it is simply used as a tool.
Playtest Example – Lexington vs. Klingon D7
To try out the rules, I ran a small scenario. The Federation starship Lexington (the 23rd Century Constitution-class from The Original Series) is investigating a colony that suddenly stopped sending messages.
As Lexington drops out of warp, Captain Moore Directs, “Science Officer, make a sensor sweep.” This lets Captain Moore Assist on the task using his Command skill. Captain Moore’s roll is a Success. Mr. Shelor, the Science Officer, attempts the Sensor Sweep. First we have to roll the Starship Assist, which ends up as a Complication (interference?) which increases the Difficulty of the Sensor Sweep to 2. Mr. Shelor (finally) makes his task roll, rolling 2d20 and getting a Success and another Complication. Given the Assist from the Captain, the Sensor Sweep (barely) detects a Klingon D7 at Long Range (2 Zones), but the GM notes the Complication makes it a poor quality sensor lock which will add +1 Difficulty to any other sensor or combat operation for the rest of this turn.
The Klingon D7 gets their first of three actions this turn. The GM spends one Threat in place of Power and Warps the ship two zones, or into Close Range (0 Zones).
At a glance from the Captain, Lt. Niemec, the Communications Officer, Opens Hailing Frequencies. Maybe the Klingons just want to talk! Once again the ship can Assist, and rolls a 1 on 1d20 adding two Successes. Lt Niemec’s task roll of 2d20 gives her two more Successes which translates into Success with three Momentum. The channel to the Klingons is open. Lt Niemec decides to immediately spend one Momentum to Obtain Information. Stating the channel is open but the Klingons are apparently unaware, the question asked is, “Are the Klingons going to shoot?” The GM truthfully answers, “Yes.” With two Momentum left, Lt. Niemec could Keep the Initiative and pass the action to the Navigator for a Tactical event (i.e. firing) but knowing the Federation would never fire first, instead adds the two remaining Momentum to the Momentum Pool. The GM rewards Lt. Niemec with a point of Determination as she has upheld the values of the Federation in the face of a sure threat.
The Klingon D7 acts as expected and Fires Weapon. The D7 fires their Disruptor Cannon. Given the range (Close) the Difficulty is 2 (actually it is Difficulty 1 but since this is the second action by the D7 this turn the Difficulty is at +1). The Klingon Weapons Officer gets lucky and scores two Successes getting a Hit. Rolling on the System Hit table, the damaged system is the Lexington’s engines. Disruptor Cannons roll 7 Challenge Dice [CD] for Damage and thanks to their Vicious quality each Effect is an extra point of damage. The [CD] roll is 3, 4, 5, 6, 6, 6, 6 (wow!) for 5 Damage and 5 Effect or a total of 10 Damage! The Lexington’s Soak value of 3 reduces this to 7 Damage. This reduces the Shields from 10 to three and causes a Breech against the Lexington’s communications systems, adding +1 Difficulty to all future tasks involving that system.
Having been fired upon, Lt. Cmndr. Varg at Navigation makes a Tactical action and fires the Lexington’s Phaser Array. This is usually a Difficulty 1 task but remember the bad sensor sweep makes this Difficulty 2. Once again the ship can Assist and gets a Success. Lt. Cmndr. Varg decides to use one Momentum from the Momentum Pool and rolls 3d20, getting Success with Momentum (two Momentum counting the extra Success from the ship). Since the Lexington’s Phaser Array is Versatile, two extra Momentum are added from the Success for a total of four Momentum. The System Hit is Structure. As Lt. Cmndr. Varg prepares to roll the 6 [CD] for damage, he declares that he will use one Momentum point to make the hit a Penetrating hit which will ignore two Soak. The [CD] are 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 6 for 4 Damage with two Effect. This is a horrible roll, so Varg spends another Momentum to reroll the two 3’s and the 4. The new [CD] roll is 1, 2, 5, 5, 6, 6 for 7 Damage with four Effect. A single Soak reduces this to six Damage against the shields (from 9 to 3) and a Breech against the D7 Structure. The Breech reduces shields to 0, life support is failing and the ship is crippled.
The D7 crew immediately tries to repair the Structure. This would usually be a Difficulty 1 task because of the single Breech, but given this is the third action this turn it is attempted at +2 Difficulty. The GM spends a Threat to add an extra d20, but the task attempt fails. The GM immediately spends his last two Threat for another action and announces the D7 self destructs.
As the Lexington spends the next few hours rebuilding the damaged communications system, questions remain. Why were the Klingons here? What were they doing? What was so important they would die for?
As you can hopefully see, there is much “roll-playing” and not so much “role-playing” in the above example. It continues to appear that the rules of STA favor mechanics over narrative play.