Wednesday, March 6, 2024

What's New in the Second Edition of The Sword of Cepheus?

The Second Edition of The Sword of Cepheus refines and redefines the game, upgrading it for greater usability and playability by a wide variety of players with varying playstyles. Among the changes, you may find:

  • All-new A5 layout for maximum portability and readability.
  • The well-loved art of the first edition supplemented with new high-quality artwork.
  • Mechanics are now 100% compatible with the bestselling Cepheus Deluxe: Enhanced Edition sci-fi rules. Add sorcerers and mythical monsters to your Cepheus Deluxe interstellar campaign! Add lasers and grav vehicles to your The Sword of Cepheus game!
  • Both random and non-random character generation mechanics - your group can now choose whether it likes to trust its fate to the dice, or design the characters your players want.
  • Brand-new sorcery rules. No more "shaded magic" and corruption; more frequent mishaps and mutations replace the old Corruption mechanic. No more weak spells! All sorcery is powerful and dangerous - as it should be in a sword & sorcery tale!
  • No more digit-string "UPPs"; more readable NPC and monster stats.
  • Much less "standard fantasy" elements among spells, monsters, and magical artifacts. More original and genre-appropriate content.
  • Depending on stretch goals being met, non-human species and careers, expanded equipment, and superscience rules!

Layout samples:

Coming to Kickstarter late March 2024!

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Classic Traveller: Back to Empty-Hex Jumps


Yesterday, I discussed the question of empty-hex (deep-space) jumps in Classic Traveller. This (re-)opened a wide discussion of this subject on numerous Traveller groups on Discord, Facebook, and even in this blog's comments, and has led me to further thinking of this subject.

I no longer have a problem with empty-hexagon jumps. Why so? Because economics and logistics solve this problem. Technically, you can have a Jump-1 ship, 60%-80% of which tonnage is fuel, walk all over the map. However, the question is usually not only where the ship can go, but rather what the ship can actually do at its destination. With high fuel tankage, this means bringing less cargo, passengers, troops, or fighters to the target system.

Consider, for example, a 5,000-ton TL15 Supercarrier. You can have it cross a 4-parsec mini-rift with sufficient fuel (whether 4-Jump-1, 2-Jump-2, or 1-Jump-4). However, 40% of its tonnage is fuel. When facing a shorter-range Supercarrier, with, say, 20% fuel tonnage, the shorter-range ship will have 1,000 more tons of fighters - which means, in Book 2 terms, 100 (!!!) more 10-ton Book 2 fighters (note that Book 2 does not require additional hangarage tonnage). In a standard fight, this will place it at a major disadvantage. A Jump-2 5,000-ton TL15 Corporate Megafreighter will carry 1,000 more profit-generating cargo than a Jump-4 one, not counting additional drive tonnage if it is designed to cross that distance at once.

This is why most ships, including military ships, will rarely carry more fuel than required for Jump-2, or, at an extremely, Jump-3. Chokepoints still matter! Bypassing them would usually occur during a surprise attack, when the enemy is unprepared, or unable to be prepared, to defend rear systems. Against a prepared enemy, such an attack will be far less effective, due to the aforementioned logistics. Most ships will look for a Jump-2, or at most Jump-3, route, and refuel along the way rather than waste precious fighter/troop/cargo/passenger space on fuel.

For a surprise attack, a shipyard will remove the ships' extra fighters and install fuel tanks instead, but, again, this will put the ships at a major disadvantage if the enemy gets wind of such preparations and meets them with shorter-range ships at the target system. Another use of empty-hex jumps is in "Black War" acts of terror, which will be rare in non-total interstellar wars as they destroy the prizes of such wars (i.e., worlds and resources); these would only occur only in wars of extermination and desperation.

So, back to empty-hex jumps...

Friday, January 26, 2024

Classic Traveller: The Empty-Hex Jump Dilemma


During research for my Box-Centric Classic Traveller blog post, the question arose: can Box-Centric Classic Traveller jump into, and from, empty map hexes? That means jumping into deep space, where no major gravity well exists, and jumping from it to another major gravity well.

This subject was, if I recall correctly, hotly debated in the past, together with Jump Torpedoes and the nature of Traveller Maneuver Drives. I vaguely recall reading about it in Traveller Mailing List (TML) archives from the mid-1990s, which I read in the early 2000s - a few years after the action.

The Book 2 rules as written do not explicitly forbid or allow empty hex jumps, and thus a purist Proto-Traveller approach will permit them. Such jumps, alongside dismountable "drop tanks" (see JTAS #3) for carrying fuel externally, potentially for empty-hex jumps by ships otherwise limited to a single jump.

Such jumps are later explicitly permitted, given additional fuel tankage, in A5: Trillion Credits Squadron, which (on p.13), states that:

"The typical use for collapsible tanks is to allow a short-jump ship to cross a gap in two or more jumps. For example, to cross between two worlds located four parsecs apart, jump-4 drives are needed. With collapsible tanks, a ship with jump-2 could negotiate the distance in two sequential jumps, the first to deep space half way across, where the collapsible tanks provide the fuel for the second jump."

But even with these options, and despite JTAS #3 stating that Drop Tanks can serve for commercial purposes, I suspect that most commercial traffic will avoid empty-hex jumps for safety reasons. If anything fails while in deep space, there is no possibility of rescue, other than entering low berths (if available) and setting the Maneuver Drive to relativistic travel to the nearest star system - a matter of years. And that assumes a working Maneuver Drive.

Thus, I envision the two alternatives, namely no-empty-hex-jumps and empty-hex jumps, as follows:

1) Ships may jump into, and from, empty map hexagons, with the entailed risks. This leads to an age-of-sail "maritime" feel to the setting: you can either stick to the shore, for added safety (travel between actual stars), or brave the high seas to travel theoretically unrestricted (travel through deep, empty space). Or an Alien(s) feel, where you can travel anywhere but at a slow pace, with the risk of jumping into dangerous places (e.g., jumping into an "empty" hex containing a rogue planet or brown dwarf where nasty things lurk. There are no "hard" chokepoints, as a military fleet can go anywhere given sufficient fuel. Space is "flatter", though Mains still matter for commercial traffic due to the aforementioned safety concerns. It is also beneficial for lower-tech pocket empires, who are not restricted to "mains" with their bigger ships, even though their available drives only grant them Jump-1.

2) Ships may not jump into, or from, empty map hexagons. This means that you need a solar-scale gravity well on both sides of a jump. This gives space a "topography", leading to "arms" as in 2300AD. This also creates "hard" chokepoints, granting certain world a strategic importance far above and beyond local conditions. Finally, such a rule favors higher-tech empires, who can manufacture big Jump-2-capable ships, while confining lower-tech empires to Mains and Clusters.

My heart goes to the second option, as it creates a "topography" of space, lending extra "texture" to worldbuilding...

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Box-Centric: an Approach to Proto-Traveller

I have written in the past about Proto-Traveller: a way to play Classic Traveller focusing on its older roots, namely the first three booklets released in a black book in 1977. A common rule of a thumb for it is "First Four Books, First Four Supplements, First Four Adventures", including Book 4: Mercenary and even S3: The Spinward Marches in this definition. This, I am told (told by Traveller veterans, as I was only born in 1982 and encountered Traveller in 1999), approximates the "feel" of Classic Traveller around the late 1970's and the early 1980's, notwithstanding the release of Book 5: High Guard in 1979.

However, I propose a somewhat different approach to Proto-Traveller: Box-Centric Traveller. Inspired by Tales to Astound's highly recommended Traveller: Out of the Box series of blog posts, this focuses on the first three books, included in the original 1977 boxed set, admiring the sound design of that original edition.

However, As opposed to "Strict Proto-Traveller", in which one uses these three books exclusively, Box-Centric Traveller permits material from later books, provided that it does not contradict the 3 Books, and provided that this later material is carefully chosen to preserve the original spirit. This means, for example, that one should be extremely careful when using material from Book 4: Mercenary, but should not ban it outright, especially as the rules for hand grenades are first presented in it, and as some weapons in that book would be conductive specifically to military-themed Proto-Traveller games. On the other hand, the Advanced Character Generation System is definitely out, especially due to the vast number of skills it grants characters, and big guns such as VRF Gauss Guns and FGMPs are carefully considered or even relegated to "McGuffin" status.

This also means being careful with S4: Citizens of the Imperium. While its rules on archery are invaluable, and while some of its careers are beneficial to a Proto-Traveller game, other careers are problematic, include narrow Book 4/Book 5 skills, or grant starships too easily and without enough strings attached. Everything outside the Three Little Books, as you see, is considered on a case-by case basis, to avoid breaking the spirit of the first three books.

For example, one may want clear rules for shipyard capacity (i.e., how many ships the shipyard can build at once). It is always possible, of course, to make them on the spot, but A5: Trillion Credits Squadron already has rules for it. Does that mean that other A5 rules, such as using High Guard ship designs, must be included as well? Of course not! But Box-Centric worldbuilding will greatly benefit from such rules.

The key here is treating the Original Box as the core rules, and avoiding contradicting it or its spirit, rather than adhering to specific publications. This means, inter alia, a small-ship universe using Book 2's drive TLs and no empty-hex jumps; a weaker interstellar government rather than the all-powerful Imperium of later Traveller publications; a focus on high adventure on player character scale; using Book 3 world distribution, with high-tech, high-population, Starport A worlds being rare; and keeping modifiers to the 2d6 curve limited to avoid overloading it.

This is my proposal for one way to play Proto-Traveller.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Swords against the Machine!

Art by deanz; purchased through Adobe Stock

I was thinking of an OSR-fantasy setting. I have toyed with such ideas in the past, but this came to me with much greater clarity lately.

The ingredients are:

Aliens. Most likely of the classic "Gray" type. With saucers and abductions and everything. But gone for centuries.

Jungles. Potentially the tropical region of an extrasolar planet. I want this setting to be lush. And warm. And humid. And teeming with life - some of it quite hostile.

Empire. Decadent. Inspired by Rome at its worst excesses.

Barbarians. Most likely in the jungles. Mostly/partially human. Default PCs will be barbarians raiding Imperial lands. Opulent palaces instead of dungeons!

Technology. Deteriorating, as it was left behind when the aliens left/were driven away centuries ago and humans cannot fully repair it. Current common tech is Dark Ages and more advanced medieval tech, with remnants of ultratech, mostly as treasure.

Dinosaurs/other giant reptiles ands/or giant insects.

Tokay (Lizardkin). Arboreal gecko-like humanoids. Can climb; maybe shed their tail.

Otherwise - relatively anthropocentric. The Empire is human, and so are most Barbarians. Some Barbarians are Tokay, though - about 10%? Anyhow, no elves, halflings, gnomes, or dwarves

Sorcery - potentially, D&D-style "Vancian" magic, potentially, The Sword of Cepheus magic. Not necessarily D&D magic items all the way, though.

Core Setting Concept

Reverse D&D!

In one common campaign archetype of D&D, the PCs are Civilized Men raiding dungeons in the Wilderness, bringing treasures back to Civilization, and bringing Civilization to the Wilderness.

In this setting, the PCs are (by default) Barbarians from the Wilderness raiding the decadent palaces of rotting Civilization, bring treasure back to their tribe in the Wilderness, and, eventually, getting a chance to sack the cities of Civilized opulence - and lord over their ruins!

Setting History in 6 Eras

Eons ago, the Aboleths lorded over this world as gods. They ruled over the Tokay natives and built giant cyclopean cities in the deeper equatorial jungles and under the lakes and seas.

Then came the Grays. They deposed the Aboleths, causing many Tokay to flee into the jungles, away from anyone's control. The Grays established their main colony, now known as the City of Eternity, and several smaller sub-colonies. They brought with them human and Mantid abductees, as well as stranger beasts, as experimental subjects and slaves.

The Grays' interstellar empire declined with time. As it crumbled, humans on this world rebelled and overthrew their Gray masters; the few surviving Grays fled to distant stars, leaving the world alone. The rebellion's leaders became aristocrats ruling over a Republic, stretching from the City of Eternity to distant sub-colonies. Young and with an insatiable appetite for war, the Republic conquered many of the scattered human "Barbarian" tribes (originating from escapees from the old Gray colonies) and Tokay tribes.

With size came corruption. The once robust Republic eventually became a den of societal and moral rot, with its aristocratic Senators constantly plotting against each other. Its economy faltered; the toiling masses grew restless. Then, Aressarus Komeus, a Republic general, seized power and declared himself Emperor, and brought order and renewed prosperity under the Imperial iron grip. He ruled with grandeur and cruelty for centuries, dreaming of an eternity for his regime.

As the Grays' old machines sustaining the Empire slowly broke down with time and with insufficient technical knowledge among the local humans, general technology declined as well. Eventually, to feed the Empire and maintain its opulence, vast armies of slaves had to toil in its fields and manufactories. While millions suffered under the Imperial yoke, the Emperor and his nobles lived in utter decadence. The Empire began to crumble as well.

The Empire is dying. Its slaves are restless; its aristocrats are selfish, haughty, and more concerned about backstabbing each other than protecting the Empire as a whole. Its legionnaires are now little more than thugs led by power-hungry generals eyeing the Imperial Throne. It is now time for Barbarians to throw off the Imperial yoke once and for all. Endless treasures await in the palaces of rotten nobles and in other edifices of decadent opulence.

Maps coming next!

The Sword of Cepheus 2nd Edition in the works!

Our artist, Maximilian Schmuecker, who made the Cepheus Deluxe: Enhanced Edition cover, is hard at work on the cover of the second edition of The Sword of Cepheus (SoC2).
In addition to a cool sword & planet cover, SoC2 will feature an improved sorcery system, new magic items and monsters, a better layout, and greater faithfulness to the sword & sorcery source material.

It will also be 100% compatible with Cepheus Deluxe. Perfect for including sorcery and monsters in your sci-fi game, or crashing your starship crew on a sci-fantasy world!

Initial sketches:

Monday, January 8, 2024

Solar Winds

Cepheus Quantum has evolved! I have developed a new lightweight ruleset inspired by Cepheus Quantum, but streamlined and rounded up with various new features and options. The result, Solar Winds, grew into its own ruleset. It shares some mechanics with the old Cepheus Quantum but is significantly different.

Get it HERE!