#RPGThursday – Ship Files: Atticus Class Freelancer (Moon Toad Publishing, 2017)


Courtesy RPGGeek

Ship Files: Atticus Class Freelancer, Written by Ian Stead, All Artwork and Layout Ian Stead, Compatible with the 2d6 SCIFI OGL and The Cepheus Engine SRD, Copyright © 2017 Moon Toad Publishing.

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 Lightning where 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 Files book 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.

I was very pleased to see that Ian took advantage of several Cepheus Engine products beyond the basic System Reference Document in creating this ship. Ian used the spectacular Anderson and Felix Guide to Naval Architecture (2E) published by Gypsy Knight Games as well as the recently released Cepheus Engine Vehicle Design System. I am very glad to see third-party publishers taking advantage of each other’s products; it builds community and gives us customers a better product!

Ship Files: Atticus is 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.

Recommendation: MUST BUY!


#TheExpanse Ships in #TravellerRPG

Watching “Home” (The Expanse, Season 2, Episode 5) with the Rocinante at high-g burns got me back to thinking about the ships of The Expanse and how they could be portrayed in tabletop RPGs. I previously looked at the Epstein Drive and how it might be translated into game terms for use in Traveller RPG or Cepheus Engine or Orbital 2100.

**WARNING – Minor Spoilers Ahead**

Courtesy SyFy

Going all the way back to the first book in the series, Leviathan Wakes, the small shuttle Knight gives us some insight into the technology of The Expanse:

It wasn’t long before Alex called down, “Okay, Boss. It’ll be about a four-hour trip flying’ teakettle. Total mass use at about thirty percent, but we’ve got a full tank. Total mission time: eleven hours.”

“Copy that. Thanks, Alex,” Holden said.

Flying teakettle was naval slang for flying on the maneuvering thrusters that used superheated steam for reaction mass. The Knight‘s fusion torch would be dangerous to use this close to the Canterbury and wasteful on such a short trip. Torches were pre-Epstein fusion drives and far less efficient. (Leviathan Wakes, Chapter 3)

From the book we know that the trip covers 50,000km. Working with classic space travel time equations, we can compute the Knight is traveling at about 1.0368 m/s or just over .1G acceleration.

Later in Chapter 5 we see the Knight running flat-out at 2G acceleration. At this speed the same 50,000 km trip should take only 53 minutes, which is a bit shorter than the approximately 70 minutes obliquily stated in the book. At this point it is unclear if the 2G speed is the upper limit of the teakettle or the fusion torch at low power.

The Knight does eventually clearly light it’s torch:

“Roger that, XO. Bleeding-g burn-and-flip laid in. Angled approach course so our torch won’t burn a hole in the Cant. Time to rock and roll?” Alex replied. (Leviathan Wakes, Chapter 5)

Courtesy NBC Universal

Here we have to interpolate the fusion torch acceleration based on Holden and his apparent weight. When lighting the torch Holden weighs 500 kilos. Assuming he is an average 75 kg to begin with, this works out to almost 7G. Interestingly, from the novella The Drive we know that 7G is the instrument limit on Solomon Epstein’s ship that he installed his new drive on, indicating that the fusion torch may have an upper limit of 7G.

In summary, we can say the shuttle Knight has maneuvering thrusters (teakettle) that operate efficiently at .1G. The shuttle also has a fusion drive (torch) that can accelerate it at up to 7G.

The Knight‘s torch drive could deliver a lot of thrust, but at the cost of a prodigious rule-burn rate. But if they could save the Cant, it wouldn’t matter. (Leviathan Wakes, Chapter 5)

The missiles that are fired at the Canterbury are also very impressive:

As if in answer, six new objects appeared on his radar, glowing yellow icons appearing and immediately shifting to orange as the system marked their acceleration. On the Canterbury, Becca yelled out, “Fast movers! We have six new high-speed contacts on a collision course!”

“Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick, did that ship just fire a spread of torpedoes at us?” McDowell said. “They’re trying to slap us down?”

“Yes, sir,” Becca said.

“Time to contact.”

“Just under eight minutes, sir,” she replied. (Leviathan Wakes, Chapter 5)

For these six missiles to cover 200,000km in 8 minutes means their acceleration has to be around 150G!

In Leviathan Wakes, Chapter 51, Holden tries to remember how fast the Roci can go:

He tried to remember the Roci‘s maximum theoretical acceleration. Alex had already flown it at twelve g briefly when they’d left the Donnager. The actual limit was one of those trivial numbers, a way to brag about something your ship would never really do. Fifteen g, was it? Twenty? (Leviathan Wakes, Chapter 51)

Courtesy solotalkmedia.com

In the episode “Home” if I caught the screen correctly it looks like the Roci was accelerating just over 17g. This again is in line with the book; and way faster than the 6g of Classic Traveller or Cepheus Engine and far ahead of the technology in Orbital 2100 where the alternative Nuclear Pulse Fusion Drive tops out at 1.2g! Compared to the Traveller RPG or Cepheus Engine universe, the ships and weapons of The Expanse are way faster and likely far more deadly too.

As late to the game as I am, I look forward to reading more of The Expanse series and seeing what further ship secrets are hidden within.

PS: The math for figuring time and acceleration is actually easy, but to help there is an EXCELLENT site at http://www.transhuman.talktalk.net/iw/TravTime.htm that does the math for you!




#RPGThursday – “These are the voyages….” Star Trek Adventures Starship Shakedown

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.

Mangledduk (Photobucket)
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.

Captain86 (DeviantArt)
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.

Star Trek Adventures – Alpha Shakedown Cruise Starship Operations v1.1, ™ and ©2016

Star Trek Adventures – Alpha Shakedown Cruise v1.36, ™ and © 2016

Ships of the Clement Sector – Gypsy Knights Games

In honor of TravellerCon, Gypsy Knights Games is having a sale on their Traveller RPG line. I like GKG’s Clement Sector setting so I took advantage of the sale and brought my Ships of the Clement Sector (SOC) collection up to date.

GKG’s Clement Sector setting is a small-ship universe. The largest ships in this collection are the 2,500 dT Moltke-class cruiser and the 2,540 dT (fully loaded) Vulcan-class Attack Boat Tender. At the other end of the displacement spectrum one finds the 10 dT Work Pods (SOC 4) and System Defense Boats (SOC 9). Although I bought it prior to the sale, I would be negligent not to mention the excellent Historical Ships of the Clement Sector 1: Trent-class Destroyer which is a pre-gravtic design with spin habitats and nuclear propulsion.

In terms of production values, the SOC series is blessed by great ship artwork. The people poses are, well, acceptable. But a ship book is about the ships, and the graphics and background stories are well done and go a long way towards making the setting and ships interesting.

As part of the playtest of Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition (now in Public Beta testing) I see the new rules will change how spacecraft are handled in the game. The biggest difference looks to be power production and consumption. Although I see GKG putting up a good public front, I also read/hear a bit of anger in between the lines at the changes that are coming. I am fully with GKG on this matter; their awesome The Anderson & Felix Guide to Naval Architecture is what Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition needed to consolidate all the ship construction rules spread out over so many books and supplements. To have Mongoose literally “change the rules of the game” after all the great work GKG has recently done is tough on a business.

So do GKG a favor and send them some well deserved money. With the SOC series they have earned it!

Starship Construction in Mongoose Traveller

ONE aspect of the Classic Traveller RPG that I love is the ship construction rules. Not only can you build a ship for roleplaying adventure but one could even build fleets of ships. The Classic Traveller adventure Trillion Credit Squadron lets players design and build whole fleets.

In keeping with Traveller technology rules, different tech levels (TL) limit what one can build. I have been searching the Mongoose Traveller (MgT) rules for rules that limit the size of ships by TL. Thanks to a discussion over on the Mongoose Traveller Forum, I finally found it. Alas, the limits are not EXPLICITLY laid out and putting it all together is not easy and requires cross-referencing not only several rules but looking across several books too.

The MgT Core Rulebook (CRB) is useful for creation of Adventure-class ships (ACS); i.e. those used by a band of adventurers. ACS are ships from 100-2,999 tons. The CRB has examples of small craft (craft under 100 tons) but no design sequence. The Spacecraft Design chapter allows creation of starships and spacecraft ranging from TL7 to TL15. Within this system, there is no limit to ship size based on TL. However, since all ships need a computer and the Model 1 is not available until TL7 (CRB p. 108) it effectively means that a spacecraft cannot be built before that TL.

MgT Book 2: High Guard (HG) expands on the ship design sequences in the CRB and introduces Capital Ship (over 3,000 tons) and Small Craft design sequences. In typical form for Mongoose Publishing, one must also make sure they have the latest errata to correct the published book. The errata in this case is key because it clarifies the Computer Table on pg. 65 which gives us our ship size construction limits.

The Computer Table on p. 65 includes the columns “Ship Size Minimum” and “Jump Maximum.” The errata clarifies that the designer is to “select the core computer based on the size of the ship or jump requirements, whichever is higher.” Looking strictly at the ship size portion gives us our ship size limits by TL (Read TL; Computer Core Model; MAXIMUM ship size that can be built using this model):

  • TL 9; Core/3; 3,000-5,000 tons
  • TL10; Core/4; 5,001-10,000 tons
  • TL11; Core/5; 10,001-50,000 tons
  • TL12; Core/6; 50,001-100,000 tons
  • TL13; Core/7; 100,001 tons and up

Later computer models add jump capability and computing power but do not affect the size of a ship that can be built. So if one wants to build a 75,000 ton cruiser, one must use AT LEAST a Core/6 computer which is not available until TL12.

Note that ships of 100-2,999 tons can be built at any TL from 7-15; the primary limitation comes from what computer model can be installed. For ships larger than 3,000 tons, the computer Core model limits your size. Restated another way, TL limits the maximum size of ships greater than 3,000 tons that can be built:

  • TL7-8 up to 2,999 tons (use Computer Model 1)
  • TL9 up to 5,000 tons (use computer Core/3)
  • TL10 up to 10,000 tons (use computer Core/4)
  • TL11 up to 50,000 tons use computer Core/5)
  • TL12 up to 100,000 tons (use computer Core/6)
  • TL13-15 any hull over 100,001 tons (use computer Core/7 or greater)

For example, my perennial favorite developing planet, Arden (Arden/0201 Vilis/Spinward Marches) is a TL8 planet on the verge of TL9. What can Arden build indigenously without external assistance? Taking together all the technology limits one gets:

TL 8 Spacecraft Design Limitations

  • Hull Size: Up to 2,999 tons (cost 80%; 1 Hull/90 tons) (HG p. 65, 52, errata)
  • Armor: Titanium Steel (TL7) (HG p. 41)
  • Maneuver Drive max 5G (6G at TL-1) (HG p. 53)
  • No Jump Drive (Jump-1 at TL-1) (HG p. 53)
  • Powerplant – Fusion: 125% tonnage (HG p. 53, 63)
  • Computer – Model 1 (CRB p. 108)
  • Standard Sensors (CRB p. 108)
  • Weapons – Single or Double Turrets (CRB p. 111)
  • Turret Weapons – Pulse Laser, Particle Beam, Missile (HE/Nuclear/Smart/Shockwave/Ortillery), Sandcaster (CRB p. 111, HG p. 48, 50)
  • Weapons – Particle Barbettes (HG p. 50)
  • Weapons – 50-ton Bays (Missile Bank, Particle Beam, Torpedoes [Basic/Nuclear/Ortillery]) (CRB p. 112, HG p. 48)
  • Weapons – 100-ton Bays (Missile, Particle Beam) (HG p. 48)
  • Weapons – Spinal Particle A (HG p. 66) [Note that this spinal mount requires 5,000 tons whereas the TL limited ship size is 2,999 tons; obviously a planetary or station-mount only at TL8]
  • Options limited by TL – Compact Bridge, Aerofins, Docking Clamp, Grappling Arm, Solar Panels, Briefing Room, Standard Hanger, Library (HG p. 47)