#RPGThursday – A Fifth of 21 Plots Comes Forth

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Courtesy RPGGeek

A Fifth of 21 Plots, Gypsy Knights Games, 2017.

A Fifth of 21 Plots is the latest entry of patron encounters for Gypsy Knight Games’ The Clement Sector setting using the Cepheus Engine RPG system. Provided within are 21 encounters each in the classic Traveller RPG patron encounter format which gives a short introduction and a 1d6 table for random variation.

Before The Clement Sector, I had not bought any patron encounter books since the Classic Traveller RPG Supplement 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 Plots is 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!

#TechTuesday – Boxer ATV for #TravellerRPG or #CepheusEngine

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Courtesy @biomassart

One of the first vehicles in the Classic Traveller RPG is the ATV, or All Terrain Vehicle. As the TravellerRPG Wiki relates:

 

 

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.

Already today we have this:

Looks like the ATV is already here! Now to work up stats using the Cepheus Engine Vehicle Design System.

#RPGThursday – Sliding into The Slide

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Courtesy RPGGeek

The Slide: A Clement Sector Adventure, by John Watts, Gypsy Knights Games, 2017

I don’t usually buy adventures, but I absolutely love The Clement Sector setting 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 Slide is 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 Slide exemplifies how a GM can take an undetailed hex on the starmap and bring it to life.

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Courtesy Gypsy Knight Games

The Slide takes advantage of a previous Gypsy Knights Games product, Skull and Crossbones: Piracy in the Clement Sector, as well as more-that-a-few Ships of the Clement Sector books. Admittedly, this can be challenging if you don’t own all the products. Fortunately, none of these products are prohibitively expensive and well worth the investment.

Recommendation: BUY for the GM!

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.

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

 

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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!

 

SOLO Campaigns for #CepheusEngine and #TravellerRPG

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Courtesy RPGGeek

Paul Elliott of Zozer Games has done the Cepheus Engine/Traveller RPG community a great service with the publication of SOLO: Solo RPG Campaigns for the Cepheus Engine. Although marketed as rules for solo play, the reality is this book offers a very useful campaign structure driven by the Classic Traveller encounter-style of adventuring.

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.

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RPGGeek

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
  • NPC Reactions
  • Colourful Locals
  • Starport Encounters
  • Ship Encounters
  • Ship Types
  • Ship Reactions
  • 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.

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RPGGeek

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]

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RPGGeek

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.

 

 

#TravellerRPG False Starter

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Courtesy Mongoose Publishing

I have been watching the minor kerfuffle surrounding the launch of the new Mongoose Traveller Starter Set. I don’t hide the fact I dislike Mongoose and the direction they took with Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition (MgT2E), especially the onerous third-party publishing rules chains they imposed.

The Traveller Starter Set is marketed as the easy way to start playing in the MgT2E universe. For $39.99 one gets three pdf “books,” a blank sector map and six pre-generated character cards. Mind you, that’s $40 for downloadable content only. So what does that $40 really buy?

Book 1 and Book 2 are apparently repackaging of the MgT2E Core Rulebook which I, like many other potential purchasers of the Starter Set, already own. Book 3 is a new adventure. The blank sector map is advertised as “giant.” And don’t forget those six pregenerated characters, four of which one can see in the free full-size preview!

Given that I paid $20 for the Core Rulebook beta, then an additional $9.99 for the final version (total of $29.99 invested), and that a blank subsector map is free to download, and that four of the six pregens are publicly facing, I guess Mongoose expects me to happily pony up another $40 for the Book 3 adventure, a sector map to print on a large-format printer I don’t have, and the last two pregens.

Indeed, after the Starter Set went live on April 21, the question was asked in the DTRPG comments if the adventure would be sold separately. The publisher responded on April 22, “We have no plans to, but I’ll look into it!” At the same time, prospective customers were asking on the Mongoose Forums what advantage there was to buying the new Starter Set. The question was asked April 23 and as of April 28 when I write this post it remains unanswered.

On April 28, the Book 3 adventure miraculously appeared on DriveThruRPG as a separate product. So for a “bargain” price of $14.99 one can get the adventure, the poster size map, and the pregens. (Actually it is not totally clear what is included because as I write this the DTRPG listing cuts off mid sentence and the full-size preview is not working.)

I am so glad I have turned my back on Mongoose and MgT2E. The Cepheus Engine System is being widely supported with new rules and settings. Indeed, my early analysis (which will be in a later post) of SOLO: Solo RPG Campaigns for the Cepheus Engine (Zozer Games) shows it to be (IMNSHO) one of the best of the supporting products out there. Oh, to be (a bit) fair, MgT2E is not a total loss; it did introduce the Boon/Bane mechanic which has grown on me over time. So for $29.99 I got a new mechanic to add to my Traveller RPG. Don’t forget too that to get the starship rules I also must buy a separate book for another $29.99, or an ironmongery/equipment book for $29.99 more; and if I want vehicles its a real bargain at another $29.99. Now I can replace my Core Rulebook with the Starter Set (adventure included) for $39.99 or go cheap and get the adventure only for half the usual price at $14.99.

Let me think about this for a moment…uh…NOPE!

</rant>

#RPGThursday – Not Encountering Traveller5

Tales to Astound has a long-running series on Traveller: Out of the Box. If you are a true Classic Traveller RPG fan and have not seen that site – FULL STOP! Go read it now then come back (or maybe not – his site is admittedly much better than mine).

Courtesy FFE.com

As much as I love Classic Traveller (or CT), I have stated before that the latest Marc Miller version of Traveller, Traveller5 (or T5) is also one of my guilty pleasures. I really like the “makers” in the system and how they all work together for world building. I also must admit that many of the critics of T5 are correct; the game is hard to play. I keep asking myself why.

 

To me, the Core Mechanic (nD6 < Characteristic + Skill +/- Mods) stands up well. Character Generation is no more difficult than any other version of Traveller. Combat (except Melee) works well and there are all those Makers! So why is it difficult?

One moment of clarity in my Traveller RPG journey came late last year when I revisited Marc Miller’s Traveller (or T4). In the introduction, Mr. Miller lays out his viewpoint of three different Traveller RPG players:

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

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Courtesy thealexandrian.net

As I look at myself critically, I see that when I play CT I am a Casual Player. However, there are times when I really like to explore the System Engineer I go to T5. Interestingly, if I am trying to be a Detailed Role-Player I don’t usually use a Traveller system, instead I gravitate towards a more Narrative-style RPG in Diaspora or Mindjammer (FATE Core 2nd Edition, not the horrible Mindjammer Traveller) or Firefly or Star Wars: Edge of the Empire.

I think another major reason player uses are so different between CT and T5 is because T5 lacks CT-like encounter rules. “Encounters” in this case are not fights but “situations” that lead to adventure. Real CT is actually built on encounters. In T5 there is a nod to this style (the Adventures chapter) but it lacks the Encounter Tables found in CT thru T4. Instead the focus in on EPIC Adventures (EPIC meaning Easy, Playable, Interactive,  Checklist).

I don’t like it.

Without encounters T5 loses a great amount of the “Traveller charm” that I love and enjoy playing. I certainly use T5 to build but not play. Maybe this is because at heart I rebel these days against a setting that I see as hamstringing my play. I realize I appear to be talking out of both sides of my mouth; I seemingly dislike settings but at the same time enjoy CT or Cepheus Engine settings like The Clement Sector or Orbital: 2100 or These Stars are Ours! Each of these settings use the encounter mechanic from CT. Certainly one can make an EPIC Adventure within the setting but its not my preference. CT (and these days CE) support my preferred encounter style of play.


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

Traveller5: Science Fiction Adventures in the Far Future, v5.09; Copyright ©2015 Far Future Enterprises.

“Traveller, Basic Traveller, Starter Traveller, Classic Traveller, MegaTraveller, Traveller: The New Era, Traveller4, Traveller5, Traveller8, The Spinward Marches, The Edge of the Empire, EPIC, The Galaxiad, and Journal of the Traveller’s Aid Society are trademarks of Far Future Enterprises.”