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!

Friday, November 24, 2023

Coming Soon: Faster Than Light: Nomad!


I have been working on a brand new science fiction role-playing ruleset, named Faster Than Light: Nomad. It is, in a way, an evolution of my existing Quantum Engine rules, but many of its mechanics are radically different. The goal is to develop a sleek but comprehensive sci-fi ruleset, which will be an in-house Stellagama Publishing title, and which will have its own Reference available for all to use under a Creative Commons license.

It is expected to be released in Q1 2024.

To give you a taste of the new rules, here is an excerpt of the core game mechanic:

"In dangerous situations, where failure carries dire consequences and where luck plays a major role, throw 2d6: throw two six-sided dice and add the results together, and add the relevant skill level as a modifier. If the total equals or exceeds 8, you succeed. Otherwise, you fail.

Skill notation: "Throw Skill" means throw two dice, add them together and add the relevant skill, and if the total equals or exceeds 8, you succeed.

An unmodified, “natural” result of 12 constitutes a critical success.

Note that - as noted above - intrepid interstellar adventurers are competent. If your character has no points in a skill, treat it as “Skill 0”, and simply roll 2d6 on its checks, without any modifiers. There is no need to note this on your character sheet or monster description: when a skill is absent, simply assume that it is at 0.

Advantage and Disadvantage Dice

Various circumstances affect the skill roll. In cases where these circumstances are significant, these rules apply Advantage Dice (+1D) and Disadvantage Dice (-1D). When making a skill roll with Advantage and/or Disadvantage Dice, sum up all Advantage Dice and subtract all Disadvantage dice from the sum. If the result is positive, roll 2d6 + skill and an additional number of dice equal to that sum, and choose the highest two dice. If the result is zero, simply roll 2d6 + skill. If the result is negative, roll 2d6 + skill and an additional number of dice equal to the sum, and choose the lowest two dice.

The same applies to the Personnel Damage roll; throw 2d6 without any modifier and check the Personnel Damage table. Apply Advantage and Disadvantage dice as given by weapons and armor.

We note Advantage and Disadvantage Dice as (+1D) and (-1D), respectively. Multiple dice are noted in the same way, for example “+2D” or “-3D”."


Highlights if the FTL: Nomad ruleset include:

(Note that the following are subject to change based on playtester feedback)
  • Streamlined 2d6 core mechanic with "dice pool" components, as described above. Instead of rolling 2d6 with a series of modifiers as in the old Quantum Engine rules, you roll a bunch of dice, and choose the lowest or highest two, then add them together and add the skill modifier.
  • Fast but deeply customizable character generation. Distribute 5 points among 7 skills (3 points max in any single skill), choose an Archetype, choose a Talent, and roll for starting cash. That's it. But this means that a wide range of combinations are possible!
  • Straightforward psionic rules using a simple skill roll rather than "psi points". If you fail that roll, you can't use the same power again until the next day. 36 powers included.
  • Streamlined combat, with only 4 "range bands"; a "FRENZY!" mechanic for multiple attacks if you "drop" an enemy; and "hit point"-less wounding damage for strong grittiness and minimal book-keeping.
  • Tech Ages rather than numerical "Tech Levels" as in Traveller/Cepheus. Your ship was made in the Early Interstellar Age, not "TL12".
  • Varied equipment, including a detailed collection cybernetics, low-tech and high-tech weapons and armor, pharmaceuticals, and, of course, many Galactic Age and Cosmic Age (i.e., ultra-tech) gadgets!
  • A long list of vehicles and streamlined vehicle combat, using the "chase" mechanic inspired by the Quantum Engine and our old Cepheus titles.
  • Robot design rules!
  • New "harder science" spacecraft design rules. These are an advanced version of the rocket rules first published in Solar Sagas. Build your rockets - which involves design and mass trade-offs - then travel to the stars with it!
  • Streamlined world generation, focused on things players are likely to encounter, in both game-mechanic and descriptive manners.
  • Detailed starship, social, and xenofauna encounter rules!
  • Reference document released under a Creative Commons license, available for download in an editable file for anyone who purchases FTL: Nomad!

Sunday, November 12, 2023

[Variant OTU] Broken Cradle - Draft Virus-less 1140 Solomani Rim Map

Following my overall setting concept for Broken Cradle, my Virus-less 1140 Imperial OTU setting for Classic/Mega Traveller, I have firmly decided to use the Solomani Rim, with all its complex politics and ample useable canonical inspiration, to run my game(s) in this setting. Therefore, I have started reading GURPS Traveller: Rim of Fire, an excellent canonical source for this setting despite being set in a Rebellion-less milieu. I have also started converting a map of the Solomani Rim rendered by The Traveller Map to this setting.

The first task is deciding on the various Hard Times zones, which affect how each world regressed - in most cases - due to over two decades of warfare and political-economic collapse.

The following map is a rough draft. It still has the 1105 Golden Era starport and base data, but shows where the various zones are present. Later maps - probably on the subsector or two-subsector level - will show post-Hard Times data.

The gray area represents the Outland: areas abandoned by the shrinking polities, with worlds left to their own devices, without significant warfare. The red area is the Wilds - areas affected by warfare, which spread like disease across Known Space, often with worse damage. The blue area shows the Frontier areas, where damage was more limited, and some semblance of government remains. Finally, green areas are Safe zones, where order prevails and war destruction is minimal.

Subsectors marked with an asterisks were notable warzones in the Rebellion and/or the subsequent Solomani Civil War. Areas marked with a large "X" were major battlefields, typically in the Solomani Civil War.

Note that the main polity in this sector is the Solar Commonwealth, a successor-state of the Solomani Reformists. Off the map, and slightly on it, is the much larger True Solomani Confederation - led by the Hardliner Solomani. While appearing small on this map, they control a large Frontier, as well as a Safe zone, around Home/Aldebaran. The enjoy great industrial might compared to the Solar Commonwealth, but suffer from greater political instability.

Tentative starting setting are the Dingir and Albadawi subsectors, including both Frontier and Wilds areas, as well as the totalitarian True Solomani Confederation being merely a few jumps away... A perfect area for adventuring!

Legal Disclaimer: The Traveller game in all forms is owned by Far Future Enterprises. Copyright 1977 - 2023 Far Future Enterprises. Traveller is a registered trademark of Far Future Enterprises. Far Future permits web sites and fanzines for this game, provided it contains this notice, that Far Future is notified, and subject to a withdrawal of permission on 90 days notice. The contents of this site are for personal, non-commercial use only. Any use of Far Future Enterprises' copyrighted material or trademarks anywhere on this web site and its files should not be viewed as a challenge to those copyrights or trademarks. In addition, any program/articles/file on this site cannot be republished or distributed without the consent of the author who contributed it.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

[Variant OTU] Broken Cradle - Virus-less Traveller Universe Variant

For some time - for almost two decades, in fact - ever since I first read the Official Traveller Universe background in full in Traveller: New Era: 1248 - I have been wondering about various routes the Official Traveller Universe might have taken. In short, I have a love/hate relationship with the Virus, the Empress Wave, and the New Era. On one hand, many Traveller: New Era books are of superb writing, though the T:NE rules are less to my liking. On the other hand, the uniform almost-gray-goo destruction of Imperial space and neighboring polities was less appealing to me than the more "textured" and nuanced MegaTraveller: Hard Times setting (a book I adore).

Thus, I have set forth to write a setting for future Traveller gaming - be that solo or with a proper group - based on my speculations on how the Traveller setting would have evolved in absence of wholesale Viral cyber-destruction. I have named the setting, focusing on the Solomani Rim Sector - for which I can find ample pre-Rebellion canon inspiration - Broken Cradle, in honor of the interstellar Cradle of Humanity now beset by interstellar war and later civil warfare.

Disclaimer: Broken Cradle is not canon. I repeat: it is not canon in any way. It is set in the Official Traveller Universe (OTU), though in a variant thereof. Specifically, I use Classic Traveller rules and a MegaTraveller (or, more accurately, post-MegaTraveller) setting. However, this should not be seen as a challenge to Traveller canon, but rather it is my humble attempt at taking a road not taken by canon.

So, on to the setting's recent history - this time, the Virus-less Midnight 1130 map. The timeline has advanced 5 years from the latest (1125 Imperial) map in Hard Times, so Wilds have expanded and Frontiers and Safe areas have contracted. This is prior to the Solomani Civil War and the Aslan invasion of Solomani space, both of which will alter the map further.

The question begging itself, of course, is why am I beating a horse which is dead for the past 30 years? After all, Official Traveller has taken its course from the Rebellion to the New Era to the (now semi-canonical) 1248 to the Galaxiad from the early 1990's on. But the joy of alternate fictional history and twisting the lore-laden OTU to my tastes was too tempting, let alone the beauty of the late-1980's Hard Times sourcebook. So, onward on my Quixotic quest to chart a variant OTU!

And now, to the "present" (1140 Imperial):

While the Vilani, Margaret's Imperium, Dulinor's "official" Imperium (Core), and Ilelish/Verge show recovery, the frontier areas in Ley, Gushmege,  and Glimmerdrift Reaches collapsed. The Solomani are locked in a civil war between the Reformists, centered on Terra/Sol, now calling themselves the Solar Commonwealth, and the Hardliners, centered on Home/Aldebaran, who now call themselves the True Solomani Confederation. The Aslan have then seized upon this weakness of their Solomani neighbors to invade former Confederation space en-masse.

I had to make the tough choice, in the absence of an all-destroying Virus, between Dulinor dying trying to retake the Iridium Throne, thus allowing for Lucan to become a Cyber-Emperor as was done in canon (both in the original plan and in actual canon), and Dulinor taking the Iridium Throne and reigning over the smoking ruins of the Imperium he so desired to reform. Dulinor's karma won the argument in the end: his destiny was one of a Pyrrhic victory and of a tragic fate as the emperor of ruins.

I am drawing some inspirations from Charles Gannon's excellent proposals for a MegaTraveller sequel, which were at least partially rejected in favor of Traveller: New Era in the early 1990's, but am not adhering to them.

More to come.

Legal Disclaimer: The Traveller game in all forms is owned by Far Future Enterprises. Copyright 1977 - 2014 Far Future Enterprises. Traveller is a registered trademark of Far Future Enterprises. Far Future permits web sites and fanzines for this game, provided it contains this notice, that Far Future is notified, and subject to a withdrawal of permission on 90 days notice. The contents of this site are for personal, non-commercial use only. Any use of Far Future Enterprises' copyrighted material or trademarks anywhere on this web site and its files should not be viewed as a challenge to those copyrights or trademarks. In addition, any program/articles/file on this site cannot be republished or distributed without the consent of the author who contributed it.