I have said before that 2017 was the year of the wargame for me as I rediscovered by wargaming roots. But that is not to say I have forgotten the roleplaying game part of my gaming expereince. In 2017, I still managed to get some make a few RPG purchases and get in a few plays.
Gypsy Knights Games continues to support their awesome The Clement Sectorsetting. In addition to their great Wendy’s Naval-series which lays out the fleet of various subsectors, this year also focused on pirates and uplifts or alterants. All three introduce true grey-areas into the setting morality and can be used to play anything from a campy to dark setting. I like this; GKG has given me many tools to make the setting I want.
In early December, Zozer Games released their new rules/setting called Hostile for Cepheus Engine. This “Gritty Sci-Fi RPG” draws heavily from popular franchises like Alienor movies like Outland. The setting is right in my wheelhouse and it certainly deserves its own deeper dive in the near future (no pun intended).
I know my RPG tastes are not mainstream; I am not a Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition fan nor have I dug deeper into the Star Wars Roleplaying Game. In 2017, as wargames and family boardgames grew in popularity in the RockyMountainNavy house, something else in my gaming world had to give. I have given up a lot of RPG experiences, but by keeping to a simple rules system with wonderful setting support I still find a way to keep my RPG gaming going.
If you look back on my blog, you will see that up until this year I had a heavy focus on roleplaying games, especially science-fiction RPGs. This year I have turned hard into boardgames with a mix of tabletop family games and wargames landing on the table. RPGs have definitely fallen off to the side.
I recently took a look at DriveThruRPGs Black Friday to Cyber Monday Sale and made a few purchases, but at the same time I asked myself why I lost my RPG mojo. Last year I really tried to like Star Trek Adventures from Modiphius Entertainment. I participated in part of the Living Playtest and offered (few, very few) comments. In the end, instead of liking Star Trek Adventures, I was turned off to RPGs and only now am (sorta) giving them a chance again.
This is the Star Trek Adventures Borg Cube Collector’s Edition Box Set. To me, this is not an RPG.
I cannot fully explain why I have such a visceral reaction to this offering. I understand that I don’t need the extra maps, and dice, and miniatures, and tokens, and other baubles to play an RPG. I know that all you need to play is a simple set of rules and imagination. I know because that is what I did with Classic Traveller for many years.
I think when I saw Star Trek Adventures I saw the continuation of a trend towards bigger RPG rulebooks and more IP-related gaming. To a point I had bought into that market with Serenityand Battlestar Galactica and Traveller 5 and Mindjammer and Atomic Robo and Fireflyand Star Wars Roleplaying Gamefinding cherished places on my shelf.
I rejected them…and walked away from the RPG hobby for a bit.
I am slowly finding my way back, thanks to small publishers like Gypsy Knights Games and Zozer Games and Stellagama Publishing. For a while that’s where I think I am going to stay for RPGs, on the smaller side of the spectrum with publishers who offer material that stimulate my creativity in a more rules-lite, non-restrictive campaign setting.
I have found my RPG mojo…it never left and it is actually little changed from the late 1970’s. It just doesn’t need a large box and multiple rulebooks and maps and tokens and minis and hardcover expansions. It needs nothing more than the PWYW Cepheus Engine and a setting like The Clement Sector. What I need is like what Zozer Games is offering; the very simple 1970s 2d6 Retro Rules. With these simple tools I can make grand adventures; I don’t need a huge Kickstarter box or endless hardcovers or miniatures or tokens to do have fun.
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.
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.
The setting of TSAO is a logical outgrowth of 20th century UFO conspiracies:
Set in 2260 AD – two years after the Terrans took Keid and forced the Reticulan Empire to capitulate the book introduces the player characters to the immediate aftermath of the Terran victory in the Terran Liberation War against the mighty Reticulan Empire and its many thralls. For their part, the upstart Terrans, bolstered by their victory against their old masters, now move to become a power to be reckoned with in interstellar affairs. Against this background of espionage, maneuvering, and saber-rattling, and on the new interstellar frontiers, the player characters can forge a destiny of heroes or villains of the new United Terran Republic. (DriveThruRPG)
TSAO is delivered in a 209 page pdf (also now available in a POD option). This meaty setting is explained over six chapters and two appendixes.
Chapter 1 – The United Terran Republic provides much of the history and setting background. Included is not just a recap of events to date, but also many groups or factions or agencies that the player characters (PCs) could interact with. Psionics has a role in this setting. Given the assumed Tech Level (TL) of 11-12 (with some military at 13), TSAO (like Omer Golan-Joel’s earlier Outer Veil setting) is a high-tech but small-ship universe.
Chapter 2 – Aliens describes the humans neighbors, opponents, and allies(?). In the space of just a few pages many races are fully described and (again) are rich with adventure seeds and story hooks for development.
Chapter 3 – Characters and Careers is a great example of how to take the basic character generation system in Cepheus Engine and stretch it to showcase it’s full potential. PCs can be the default Humans or select from several alien races. Careers are taken from 13 civilian careers in Cephesus Engine or an from the 20 new ones in TSAO, including seven (7) alien “careers.”
Chapter 4 – Starships showcases alien saucers and Terra’s ships along with a few other alien constructs. Art is provided by the ever-dependable Ian Stead and others. Make sure to look at the 300-ton Terran Shaka-class Light Military Transport (and especially the Decommissioned Shaka-class Transport) for a not-to-subtle nod to Serenityand the Firefly-class.
Chapter 5 – Terran Borderlands is combination gazetteer and Referee’s Information. The worlds of Known Space is detailed, along with many story hooks and adventure seeds. The usual World Generation process from Cephesus Engine is expanded upon here with an Expanded Universal World Profile that adds a bit more detail but also a whole many more ideas that PCs or Referees can grab onto.
Chapter 6 – Patrons describes 12 Patrons that might engage the PCs. The chapter is not only a grouping of ready-made adventures, but also provides insight into the setting as viewed by the authors.
Appendix A – Terran News Agency Dispatches, February 2260 is a call back to the Traveller News Service snippets that were a staple of Classic Travellerand its successors. Again, these short news items can be the start of yet more adventures!
Appendix B – Sources of Inspiration, Literary and Otherwise is TSAO‘s Appendix N. I always look over these lists to see what inspirations the authors took and to see what I may want to add to my reading/viewing.
The last part of TSAO is an index. This is one of the best indexes I have ever seen in a book. However…the pdf is not cross-linked. This highlights some of my pet peeves with so many pdf products; page numbering and no linking. TSAO is paginated like most books, with page 1 being the interior title page. Unfortunately, this is “page 3” of the pdf, meaning if using your pdf page search you will always be three pages off from your target! The publisher could of avoided (or lessened the impact) of this issue if the Table of Contents (or even that great Index?) was linked.
Production quality is very good. Compared to Stellagama’s previous The Space PatrolI can see definite improvement. Get the linking and page numbering issues nailed and I will likely have nothing to complain about….
The authors call TSAO the first in the Visions of Empire (VoE) space opera settings. If TSAO is any indication, the VoE series will be settings rich in background using (and stretching) the Cepheus Engine rules to their finest.
Two of my three favorite Traveller RPG, uhh…”2d6 Classic Sci-Fi RPG”, companies published new items recently that I acquired.
The first is Far Horizonfrom Zozer Games. The cover calls it Far Horizon: A TL9 Exploration Ship for the Cepheus Enginewhereas the front matter states Far Horizon: A Near Future Mission and Spacecraft for Cepheus Engine. Both titles are correct, although the second one is more accurate. This title is designed to go with the Zozer’s Alternate Traveller Universe (ATU) setting of Orbital: 2100 although everything is included here to play this adventure with just the basic Cepheus Engine rules if needed. Inside one finds not only background into the mission but also a complete description of the DRV Far Horizon, a nuclear-thermal rocket for exploring deep space. Included also are rules for TL9 Vacc Suits. The adventure itself is a race-against-time investigation into the unknown.
Parts of Far Horizon have been available previously. The ship itself is a free download at DriveThruRPG. The rules on vacuum suit construction were in a previous product, Vacc Suit, which is no longer available no-thanks to the Mongoose Publishing Community Content Agreement. So it is refreshing to see this packaging bringing back good near-future, hard-ish sci-fi adventure! Adding to the quality, the product is nicely illustrated by Ian Stead and others.
If one has looked at Orbital: 2100 but are not sure about making the jump into this ATU, Far Horizon is a great way to try out the setting.
The second product I got was Ships of the Clement Sector 17: Atlas-class Freighter from Gypsy Knights Games. This is the second of what I call “expanded” ship books from GKG. The 50-page product includes excellent narratives to set the mood, awesome ship art by Ian Stead (again), and just enough adventure seeds to whet a GM’s appetite. Indeed, this larger format allows for more of each giving both players and GMs more to think about and more potential for adventure. If you are a fan of The Expanse, you may find a similar vibe to that universe and some of the stories and background presented here. Though many might look at an 800 dT freighter as “not sexy enough to be my ship,” the reality is it takes ships like the Atlas to ply the shipping lanes of the Clement Sector and ekk out a living. This book helps your players do just that. Another must-buy from GKG!
Make sure you read both parts of Alegis Downport’s comments on the Rucker since he had a very intimate hand in the creation of the ship. There is nothing more I can add except to heartily endorse all the kudos he gives to Gypsy Knights Games for bringing Ships of the Clement Sector 16: Rucker Class Merchantto market. SotCS 16 continues a great line of useful products from Gypsy Knights Games that are at home in any TravellerRPG setting. Thanks to Alegis Downport, users of the ship now have even more thought-seeds for adventure.
My praise for The Space Patrol is a bit more reserved. The Zhodani Base named The Space Patroltheir “Best ATU Setting” for 2016. As much as I like Zho, I must respectfully disagree. Although I find The Space Patrol a very interesting career and a welcome addition to any setting, I feel that Orbital: 2100(Zozer Games) is a much better example of how to take the original Traveller 2d6 sci-fi system (as detailed in Cepheus Engine) and use it to make an exciting Alternate Traveller Universe. I also feel that The Space Patrolsuffers from some poor formatting decisions (like more-that-a-few tables that cross pages) that make it feel a bit too DTP-like in an era where small publishers (like Gypsy Knights Games) push out very high quality products. But don’t get me wrong – The Space Patrol is a great addition to any Traveller/2d6 Sci-Fi/Cepheus Engine setting and should be in everyones collection. I just wouldn’t have given it the coveted ATU Setting of the Year.