“I know it’s only rock’n’roll, but I like it, like it, yes I do.” – The Rolling Stones
TLDR: It’s Traveller, Jim, but not as we know it. I’ve been looking forward to this for some time, it did not disappoint, and it is likely to show up at my table sometime in the future. 227 page PDF from Stellagama Publishing, $10ish from DriveThruRPG.
In talking about this game, I’m going to assume a certain level of familiarity with Traveller, and look mainly at how it differs from other editions.
Character generation in Cepheus Deluxe still uses the Traveller lifepath approach where the character cycles through terms of service to acquire skills, rank and mustering out benefits, but there are some major changes.
- Characteristics are not diced in order using 2d6. Instead, the player allocates an array of scores to the character’s attributes as he sees fit, the array being 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. That’s a total of 45 points, not far from the 42 you’d get as an average outcome from the 2d6 method.
- Rank is accrued at a steady, predictable rate rather than depending on dice rolls; the PC is promoted once in each even-numbered term of service. You can no longer die in chargen, but you do still suffer from aging.
- Skill acquisition is also steady and predictable; one level 1 skill from the PC’s homeworld, one level 1 in a service skill from initial training, two levels per term from the first three terms and one per term thereafter, and finally one from a group package designed to ensure that the character has at least one skill useful for the campaign envisaged. I’m not sure that is necessary given that all skill levels are chosen from tables rather than being randomly allocated.
- New for Stellagama, but familiar in Mongoose Traveller, are the random career and life events, which are really good for building up PC backstory and occasionally provide an extra skill level. As a GM, the events which appeal to me are the ones which link the PC to NPCs; contacts, enemies, current and former romantic relationships, and so on; these are ripe with story potential.
- Each character has one Trait per two terms, rounded up. These are chosen from a list of 90 or so, and are this game’s equivalent of feats, edges or advantages. Arguably Classic Traveller had a few ‘traits’, chiefly membership of the TAS and access to a scoutship or free trader; the expanded list includes items such as Merchant, which allows you to roll 3d6 when haggling or indulging in speculative trade, and use the best two as your result.
There are a number of other changes and options I have glossed over for the sake of brevity. Although I don’t have those products, this looks like Stellagama has incorporated their Cepheus Light supplements for Traits and point-buy character generation into the core rules.
The point of diminishing returns occurs at the end of term 3, as it always did, though for different reasons. This process looks like it will produce PCs with average or better characteristics, 9-10 expertise levels, and about 8-10 skills at expertise level 0. That means they are roughly on a par with PCs from the expanded generation systems in Classic Traveller’s Book 4, Mercenary, and Book 5, High Guard, rather than the original Book 1 system, but without all the extra dice rolls and with considerably more control over the outcome.
This will be familiar to anyone who has played previous editions of Traveller or Cepheus Engine.
The most interesting thing here is the options, which allow you to revert almost completely to Book 1 if you’re so minded; you can replace armour-as-damage-reduction with armour-as-hit-modifiers, and bring back simultaneous combat. I find the second of those very tempting, and the first not so much.
Characteristics and “hit points” are much more loosely coupled than in CT. How much damage a PC can take depends solely on Endurance and Athletics skill, and wounds do not temporarily reduce characteristics.
The thing that stood out for me in the Psionics chapter is the extended range of powers, including Alter Self (essentially a disguise spell), Empathic Healing (which lets you heal another character), and Zombie (which lets you use a corpse as a puppet). Psionics are now more capable than before, and optionally have higher Psionic Strength too.
Construction has shifted from the Book 2 and Cepheus Light approach of fixed drive tonnage by drive letter towards the Book 5 method of drive tonnage as a percentage of ship tonnage, depending on drive rating. Standard hull sizes now go up to 10,000 tons, and some bigger weapons are added to the list for them to use. The biggest change, though, is the elimination of power plant fuel – fusion power plants now include a year’s worth of fuel, and are only topped up at annual overhauls. This doesn’t have a huge effect on big ships, but it makes the 100-400 tonners the PCs are likely to use much more attractive for speculative trade – a 100 ton scout now has 24 tons of cargo hold.
Jumps in Cepheus Deluxe must start and end in a hex with a star system; no more sneaky secret fuel dumps in deep space. The game effect of this is that you can’t misjump into an empty hex and die alone, there is always some sort of star system wherever you emerge.
Space combat is highly abstract, with each ship rolling for ‘position’ and only being able to attack vessels with lower positions. Position thus subsumes range, manoeuvring, and other factors. (I should mention that vehicle combat uses something similar.)
Like Mongoose, Cepheus Deluxe allows for profile ratings above 12, except for population, hydrographics and (uniquely, I think) law level, which are capped at 10. The cap on law level means that there is always some chance of evading a law enforcement encounter, which I hold to be a Good Thing.
Also like Mongoose, CD modifies the roll for starport type by population level. This has two main effects; first, good starports are only found on highly populated worlds, and second, there are fewer A and B class starports, but more types D-X.
Trade and Smuggling
This section is expanded considerably, with ‘cargo tags’ and complications with the deal which can turn any trading transaction into an adventure seed.
A new rule which interests me is that cargo purchase and sale prices are modified both for traffic and travel rating; a class A starport in a green travel zone has lower prices due to the higher number of merchants, while a class X red zone can be very profitable, if you survive.
My main complaint about Cepheus Light was the lack of planetary encounters – it only had space encounters, using a unique table where what you meet depended on dice rolls, starport types, and the level of tension in the subsector. Cepheus Deluxe has revised space encounters (where, unusually, starport type has no direct impact on the outcome), plus pages of social encounter tables (starport, bazaar, high society, commoners, criminals, patrons) and rules for animal encounters which look a lot like the original and familiar ones from CT Book 2. NPCs, and especially patrons, have further tables which can be used to determine what they are like and how they will treat the PCs.
I’d expected this to be a second edition of Cepheus Light, but it is more like a new game entirely, which I suppose explains the new title. Omer Joel and the Stellagama crew have drawn on several previous incarnations of Traveller and the Cepheus Engine to give us a game which feels a lot like Classic Traveller, updated to modern sensibilities. The overall theme is one of increased control, both for the player and the GM.
I like to think that if I had followed the other path I sometimes talk about, in a parallel universe where I stuck to Classic Traveller for 40 years, my house rules would have brought me to a place something like this. As I read through Cepheus Deluxe, I find myself wondering why I put the effort into converting Traveller for Savage Worlds rather than using this new game as written.
Fear not; experience teaches that changing the rules halfway through a campaign is a really bad idea, but there is a distinct possibility that at some point I will switch over to Cepheus Deluxe. I rate it very highly and recommend it to the House.