Wednesday, January 25, 2017

TSAO teaser: 600-ton Reticulan Abductor

This is the shape of things to come for These Stars are Ours (TSAO), the upcoming new space-opera setting for the Cepheus Engine and 2d6 Sci-Fi OGL games from Stellagama Publishing. Here is the 600-ton Reticulan Abductor!

Little grey aliens from Zeta 2 Reticuli coming to take you at night!

Deck plan and render by Ian Stead.

Monday, January 23, 2017

TSAO teaser: 300-ton Terran Shaka-class Light Military Transport

This is the shape of things to come for These Stars are Ours (TSAO), an upcoming new space-opera setting for the Cepheus Engine and 2d6 Sci-Fi OGL games from Stellagama Publishing. Here is the 300-ton Terran Shaka-class Light Military Transport.

After the War, the Terran Navy decommissioned and sold off many of its ships, as part of the general mobilization of the Terran fleets. The Shaka-class Transport was decommissioned in large numbers and sold as a light freighter or merchant ship – of course after being stripped of most of its military-grade equipment. While unarmed, it is quite easy to rearm, and it remains as rugged and reliable as ever – and thus is a favorite ship of merchants and explorers prowling the frontier.

Deck plan and render by Ian Stead.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Space Patrol - Best ATU Product of 2016!

We at Stellagama Publishing are proud to announce that our flagship product for 2016, The Space Patrol, has won the Best Alternative Traveller Universe (ATU) Product Award as part of the ZHODANI BASE AWARDS 2016!

The Space Patrol is also ON SALE with 30% off its price as part of Stellagama Publishing's Holidays Sale until January 6th, 2017.

Get it HERE while on discount! 

Monday, December 26, 2016

I am not ashamed anymore.

I have found out that one of the most important things you should work on when coping with mental health issues is on combatting your feeling of shame and guilt. Society tends to stigmatize such issues and cause the suffering person to feel shame.

I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to very nasty things which happened to me in my childhood. I am no longer ashamed of this condition. I did nothing wrong - wrong things were done to me by others. I am not guilty of anything. I have nothing to feel shame about. I survive, I function almost normally - this is something I should be proud of, given my past.

I no longer feel shame for having PTSD. I don't give a damn about any negative idea other people will have about it.

Some people might unfriend me on Facebook - I don't give a damn. I prefer friends with a capacity for compassion.

Prejudiced people might point and say "look at the madman" - I don't give a damn. They can wallow in their ignorance as long as they please.

Some potential employers might be discouraged to hire me - I don't give a damn. There are other people in the world with human hearts with whom I can work.

I am who I am. I have no shame in that. My suffering and my struggle to live on despite it is nothing to be ashamed of.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Once again on Classic Traveller skills

Vacc Suit-2 skill in action
The question arises many times - what do Classic Traveller skills represent? How competent is my character? If he only has Vacc Suit-2 (for example) and no other skill, is he useful in gameplay?

I have written about this in the past, but I think that this warrants further discussion.

The first thing to remember is that Traveller characters are competent. Skill-1 is employable - you are good enough with it to get a paying job using this skill. Skill-3 is a professional - typically enough to get you a license in one of the Professions, such as being a Medical Doctor or a licensed Engineer. In ordinary situations, they do their jobs competently. Under CT rules, for example, First Aid and even Surgery for Severe Wounds do not require a roll - you got the paramedic (First Aid) or the surgeon (Surgery), you get results. They only need to roll dice when there is a significant chance of failure even for a professional, and when failure will have dire consequences. For example, if a doctor character would try to perform the above-mentioned surgery in some colonial hellhole when only the local TL-3 tools are available, and not in the default TL8+ Medlab.

Again- Skill-1 is enough to work at an actual, skilled job. Most people, both in real life and in Traveller, do not have too many such employable skills. Most of the things you do rarely go over Skill-1. As a typical person living in a modern, industrialized country, you probably have Ground Car-0 and Steward-0 if you know how to drive and cook/entertain guests, respectively. However, unless you have specific training, these would not be enough to work as a professional driver or a steward (or chef), respectively.

For example, I, the writer of this post, am a highly skilled and experienced Hebrew-English-Hebrew translator, as well as a skilled writer and game designer. I deal quite a lot with official documents. I can cook a decent meal and know my way around a car. I also have a good education and a Master's Degree in Geography. In Traveller terms, I will probably be:

Omer, UPP 4759C7 Other, 4 terms, age 34, Linguistics-2, Art-1*, Admin-1, Ground Car-0.

Enough to earn a decent living while holding a quasi-professional job. Am I an adventurer? No. An adventurer will typically have different skills, for example, Gun Combat or Pilot or Vacc Suit instead of one or more of my skills. The number of skills, however, is quite typical. Someone with a good military career will usually have one or two additional skills. Of course, there are the rare elite soldiers who enjoy a meteoric rise through the ranks - the maximum is ten skill points at age 34, DOUBLE what a typical civilian like myself has. These are the officers with stellar careers who reach the rank of Commander or Lieutenant Colonel by the age of 34 - unlikely in real life even for a successful officer, and unlikely in Traveller as well. These people are exceptional, but most Traveller characters are not - this is a game about ordinary people doing wildly extraordinary things and going on hair-raising interstellar adventures.

Skills are a Big Deal in Classic Traveller. Pilot-1 alone can land you in a 6KCr/month job - very well-paying for a 22-years-old character. Medic-3 alone is enough for being a licensed physician, and with DEX 8+ you are actually a surgeon! Most people - even sci-fi heroes - will not have too many skills. The game mechanics also reflect this - on a 2d6 curve, DM +3 is a Big Deal, and skews things very far in your favor. Add to that Characteristics DMs, and a talented, skilled professional can be a highly successful expert.

But what about all the other adventuring stuff? you ask, If my character only has Vacc Suit-2 and Computer-1, what about combat skills? Driving a vehicle? Well, my friends, for this you have the Skill-0 rules. For starters, all Traveller adventures have Skill-0 in all common small arms. With a good gun at good range, especially with good Characteristics, they'll make very decent combatants even with Skill-0. With Vacc Suit-1, you can wear Combat Armor, and with Vacc Suit-2, you can wear a Battledress! As a Referee, I'd also assume Vacc Suit-0 and a Skill-0 in one Vehicle skill for the typical character. Most "passive" knowledge skills are subsumed in the EDU Characteristic. Finally, this is Old School - your character can do a whole load of "adventuring" stuff without having a specific skill listed on their character sheet.

An interesting sci-fi example comes from the Alien(s) movies. Ellen Ripley from was not a soldier and didn't really have good combat skills. At most, she has the usual Traveller Skill-0 in common weapons. In Alien, she killed the xenomorph without using a weapon by using her Pilot and Vacc Suit skills. In Aliens, she does shoot guns and throw grenades (Skill-0, right?) but her real kickass moment is when she uses her excellent Vacc Suit skill to slay the xenomorph queen with the industrial/loading equivalent of a Battledress.

Her Classic Traveller stats would probably look similar to this:

Ellen Ripley, UPP 67C997 Merchant 4th Officer**, 3 terms, age 30, Vacc Suit-2, Pilot-1, Navigation-1, Admin-1.

Another sci-fi example is Commander Shepard of Mass Effect fame. Canonically she*** is 29 years old at the beginning of Mass Effect, but to keep with Traveller character generation rules, I'd make her 34 years old - the earliest age you can reach the rank of Commander in the Navy. She is an N7 - an elite special forces soldier of the System Alliance Navy/Marines. In Traveller terms, she got Commissioned and Promoted on her first term and Promoted on each subsequent term. She is the poster-girl of the best you can achieve in the Navy in a stellar (so to speak) Naval career.

Her Classic Traveller stats would probably look similar to this - assuming the Infiltrator class I always play in Mass Effect 1:

Shepard, UPP 7CA875 Navy Commander, 4 terms, age 34, Rifle-3, Autopistol-2, Admin-1, Computer-1, Vacc Suit-1, Electronics-1, Forward Obs-1****.


On a final note, the above also explains why it is difficult to learn new skills in Classic Traveller. Learning a new employable trade - not to mention a full-blown profession - at a later stage of life is difficult. Possible, but difficult. Certainly, you can learn a new profession - Skill-2 - by taking a Sabbatical - once per lifetime. You can also vastly increase your Education Characteristics by up to six points through study. You can train new weapon skills, but this takes time, dedication, and effort to become permanent. You can also train skills - it takes 8 years to increase one of your skills by one level. This all makes sense in the context I have described above.

* Additional skills from the Cepheus Engine/MGT1.
** Roughly Classic Traveller's Book 1 Merchant Service equivalent to the movie's "Warrant Officer", which is a senior non-commissioned officer.
*** FemShep FTW!
**** Actually uses this skill several times, most notably in Mass Effect 3.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Review of Ship Files: Polixenes Class Courier

Ruleset: Cepheus Engine/OGL 2d6 Sci-Fi
Author: Michael Johnson
Artist: Ian Stead
Size: 25 pages
Price: $3.99

Grade: 5 out of 5

This product is a high-quality ship book. While the background material is not as expansive as in some of the Clement Sector books, for example, this book provides a highly detailed and highly useable starship which you could easily insert into any Cepheus or Traveller campaign. The 100-ton Polixenes Class Courier is, essentially, the good ol’ Scout/Courier, but in a more elegant “airframe” form. It has two variants. The main difference between them is fuel storage, with the longer-range one capable of 2-Jump-2. I wonder why it doesn’t have Jump Drive B to provide it with Jump-4 capabilities if it already has the fuel for this (I guess that this is a TL11 design?). Each variant gets a deck-plan in the book itself, and the regular variant also gets a color deck-plan. You also get the deck-plans and ship record sheets in separate, ultra-high-res JPEG files for your own printing.

Everything gets wonderful renders, including several paint-job variants of the ship and an Air/Raft it may carry (in its regular variant, that is). This also includes full Cepheus Engine ship (and air/raft!) stats and ship record sheets.

All in all, this is an excellent book. I now wonder, will the author publish his Terran Union setting itself in a later book? It sounds interesting...

Highly recommended!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Review of Clement Sector Core Setting Book 2nd Edition

Ruleset: Cepheus Engine/OGL 2d6 Sci-Fi

Author: John Watts

Size: 272 pages

Price: $19.99

Grade: 4 out of 5

Reading through the Clement Sector book brings back fond memories. The author, John Watts, wrote a book in the spirit and general format of my old Outer Veil - my first published product. His setting is different, of course, but the overall atmosphere and product design are similar. Great minds think alike!

The Clement Sector is an independent setting for the Cepheus Engine, and by extension - for Traveller. It is set in a remote sector of the galaxy which was reachable from Earth only by means of a wormhole. The wormhole collapsed relatively recently, stranding the colonists on the far side of the galaxy. By its very nature, this sector is underdeveloped. Much of it is open frontier and a good amount of subsectors are either unsettled - some are even unexplored - or very sparsely inhabited. I like that - there is room for exploration and colonization and many, many lawless frontier worlds - perfect for adventuring.

I must say that love the setting’s grand vision and overall atmosphere - a wide-open frontier inhabited by people cut off from Earth and forced to fend for themselves. 

However, the main weakness of the Clement Sector Core Book also lies in its setting. It describes sixteen subsectors - one full sector - with full star-maps and UWPs. However, it barely describes the worlds themselves. Similar to Classic Traveller’s S3: The Spinward Marches, it presents a few of them very briefly. The book does not describe most worlds and instead refers the reader to other products, costing $19.99 each. This would probably have been acceptable in the 1970’s or the early 1980’s, but when today’s gamer pays $19.99 for a setting core book, he often expects more than this. As a side note, this was one of the greatest weaknesses of my own Outer Veil, which had similar format even though I (very partially) covered for it by adding five Patrons and a short adventure.

A short introduction and 20 pages of setting history precede this expansive but rather empty astrography chapter. While it is a good read, for the most part it is of relatively little relevance to the setting itself - the politics of the 21st century United States have little effect on events set in the 23rd century on the other side of the galaxy. Sure, some of the states created by this crisis, such as Cascadia, did affect the setting, but I feel that two or three paragraphs, instead of a dozen pages, would have been sufficient for the history preceding the Clement Sector’s colonization.

The real value of this Core Book, however, lies in its massive character generation chapter. This is, in my opinion, one of the best treatments of 2d6 OGL or Cepheus Engine or Mongoose Traveller character generation. The chapter oozes color added to your character and ensures that each character will have a detailed and unique background. The chapter greatly expands on the regular character generation rules. It includes detailed tables to generate your character’s childhood and youth; a mind-boggling number of careers with d66 event tables and 2d6 mishap tables; and pre-enlistment options, again with their own event tables. There are homeworld skills tailored to the various Clement Sector colonies, but the Core Book does not describe their vast majority. However, it would be easy to replace those with homeworld skills for the planets of your own campaign. There are no known alien species in the setting (though there is some evidence of their existence), but humanity did “uplift” a number of animals, from dolphins to bears, and the book provides detailed rules for generating and playing members of these species (You can play a sentient, upright grizzly!) as well as genetically-modified humans. I must emphasize again - this chapter is amazing. You will also find it extremely easy to adapt it to any colonial sci-fi setting. The character generation chapter alone - which takes a whopping 45% of the book (!) - is well worth the $19.99 price of this product.

A few additional rules and a short discussion of technology in this setting follow the wonderful character generation section. There are quite good experience and character advancement rules and some alterations to the Cepheus Engine skill list. The technology section is relatively unremarkable except for the Zimm Drive - this setting’s Jump-2 Drive equivalent - and the Mindcomp. The former is very similar to a jump engine and could jump and distance up to two parsecs, with reduced transit time for closer destinations (e.g. 3.5 days to jump one parsec away), unlike the default Cepheus/Traveller J-Drive. The latter is a cybernetically-implanted computer, presented in a relatively interesting manner with its own unique rules and software. Oh, and there is a Handcomp which looks like a combination of the Pip Boy from Fallout and the Omnitool from Mass Effect!

The Clement Sector Core Book provides five setting-specific starships: a 300-ton Merchant, a 400-ton Yacht, a 300-ton Scout, a 800-ton Freighter, and a 1,200-ton Destroyer. The chapter does not provide TLs but all designs are seemingly TL11 and generally useable with whatever Traveller setting you prefer. All include excellent-quality deck plans and good renders. The merchant has an interesting design with a “saucer” lower deck and an engine nacelle/bridge section above and behind it (slightly reminiscent of the USS Enterprise of Star Trek fame); its lower deck does utilize its round shape for a less-orthodox radial layout. The Yacht is a traditional wedge and carries a 50-ton Cutter. The Scout is a round “flying saucer, but for some reason, its deck-plans, for the most part, fail to utilize its oval shape and instead opt for a rectangular layout surrounded by fuel. The freighter is excellent and interesting - an unstreamlined dispersed structure carrying six detachable cargo pods - a bit similar to the common freighters of Babylon 5 and Mass Effect. The destroyer is also top notch - a classical Babylon 5 or Halo elongated, unstreamlined design; it is also satisfyingly armed and armored with 8 points of armor, Meson bays, and Fusion bays - just as expected from a Traveller warship. The ship chapter concludes with a handy starship identification and size comparison diagram.

There are also handy, but mostly run-of-the-mill, starship operation rules, the highlight of which are wonderful wilderness fuelling mishap tables (applicable to almost any Traveller universe).

There is a short, 27-page setting information section at the end of the book - vastly dwarfed by the subsector charts and character generation rules. It presents seven corporations and four other organizations and only (!) four pages of setting politics. The corporate descriptions are mostly corporate history and contain a few good plot hooks. There is a Traveller's Aid Society equivalent (the Captain's Guild). The highlight of this chapter is a group called (surprise!) the Gypsy Knights who are "a group formed to travel across the colonized worlds helping those who are in need". There is also a religion/cult/terrorist organization called Solar Purity who are opposed to human presence on the Clement Sector side of the Conduit, or (in the case of moderates), preserve nature as far as possible. It reminds me of the "Reds" in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy; you can use them both as terroristic villains and as patrons hiring the PCs to protect this or that planet from human environmental destruction.

Politically, the Clement Sector is - for the most part - a collection of independent worlds. The only multi-world polity is six-world the Hub Federation. Unfortunately (from a Referee's standpoint), the Federation has an insular policy, missing the adventure opportunities presented by expansionism. The far more interesting (one-world) polity is Cascadia of the eponymous Cascadia Subsector, which has a strong interventionist and expansionist policy fuelled by a faith in "Manifest Destiny"; I would have preferred, though, that it would have had several colonies or at least vassal/client worlds for more interesting politics. There are also two new religions presented in this book - in addition to all the Terran faiths which came with humans to the Clement Sector; both present opportunities for conflict, especially the second one, Caxtonism, which is, in a nutshell, an expansionist proselyting cult.

There is a brief discussion of aliens in the Clement Sector. There are no known live aliens but the Terran colonists have found a few alien artifacts, hinting to alien life present somewhere in the universe. The big plot here is the Alien Research Network - ARN - a crackpot (or so people in the setting believe) group following various alien-related conspiracy theories. Still, the opportunities for serious xenoarchaeology are very limited in the canonical Clement Sector.

The book ends with a four-page discussion of possible campaign ideas. Most are typical Traveller ones - active military service, mercenaries, exploration, crime, trading and so on - but there are also plot hooks about working as a Gypsy Knight or trying to find the way back home despite the Conduit's collapse.

Visually, the book is very readable and well laid-out. All art - and there is plenty of art - is CGI, similar to Outer Veil. This is understandable, as color CGI is far more affordable than color hand-drawing, allowing the author to put more art into his book. The art is always relevant to the topic at hand and the book is very readable if a little ‘heavy’ on older tablets. All artwork and maps are excellently high-res.

The bottom line: An excellent character-generation book paired with a bare-bone frontier setting.

Grade: 4 out of 5