Gaming During the Lockdown

Little did I know (well, any of us I suppose) when I wrote my last blog post how the world would have turned out in a matter of weeks, with the Coronavirus pandemic. With all non-essential travel restricted here in the UK and most people having to work from home (including myself and my wife), many people including RPG players are spending much more time at home. Thankfully, with the aid of services such as Roll20 or other video-sharing systems, people are still managing to get together across the internet. Many publishers to their credit, have cut the prices of their products so that people can pick up additional gaming material for the weeks and quite possibly months ahead.

So I have tried to compile a bit of a list of the recent releases along with some notable discounts, for a couple of my favourite RPG systems – Cepheus Engine and Tunnels and Trolls. I’ve also added a few interesting extras if you don’t fancy gaming, hopefully there will be something for you whether you are gaming as a group, solo dungeoneering or just need a distraction.

Taken whilst out on a walk at Croome Court with friends last year. Entrance to a cavern or dungeon perhaps?

Cepheus Engine

Stellagama Publishing have got a 50% discount on nearly all their products in PDF format at Drivethru RPG, which includes:

Sword of Cepheus (down from $9.99 to $5.00) – SoC is a complete set of fantasy rules based on the Cepheus Engine 2D6 SRD. It reminds me of the Tunnels and Trolls rules set and I’m looking forward to reviewing this very soon.

Cepheus Light (down from $5.00 to $2.50) – Cepheus Light is a cut-down set of core rules based on the Cepheus Engine SRD, for 2D6 SF games. This is my go-to set of sci-fi gaming rules and concentrates on the main mechanics of running a game, without getting bogged down with too many rules. A review of Cepheus Light is here.

Cepheus Light: Traits (down from $1.00 to $0.50) – Cepheus Light: Traits provides an expansion of the Cepheus Light rules which helps to build more detail into the background for your character. Review is available here.

Liberty Ship (down from $5.00 to $2.00) – recently reviewed on this blog, this is a complete transport starship with lots of deck plans, suitable for a group of players to use for trading.

The Space Patrol (down from $11.99 to $5.99) – This was reviewed quite a while ago – another excellent product from Stellagama.

Independence Games have just released Tim’s Guide to the Ground Forces of Hub Subsector available for $9.99 as a PDF. Though much of Independence Games recent output has been towards building the Earth Sector background, they are still releasing content and material for the Clement Sector. This is first in the series of looks at the ground forces (army, wet navy and air force) as well as the organisation that backs such forces up, for worlds in the Hub subsector.

Tech Update 2350 is also out ($5.99); this is set in the Earth sector and reveals what technological changes have occurred in the years since the conduit collapse.

Independence Games are also preparing for release the ‘Earth Subsector Sourcebook’, which will be out on the 2nd of April.

Zozer Games have also been busy with a number of releases recently, including a series of supplements for Cepheus Engine:

Modern War ($16.99, PDF); this opens up squad-level combat warfare which can be used for any period in the past thirty-or-so-years. This is an interesting product in that there is a lot of equipment and gear that could be utilised for lower-tech-level 2D6 sci-fi / Traveller RPG games; reminds me of a generic ‘Twilight 2000’ rules set.

Baltic War ($4.70, PDF) A campaign background for Modern War depicting a Russian invasion of the Baltic States and NATOs fight back.

Modern War Gun Conversion (free, PDF) A supplement for Modern War that allows players to convert 20th century firearms into game stats for Cepheus Engine.

Roughnecks for Hostile ($6.99, PDF) Hostile is Zozer Games setting inspired by the film worlds such as ‘Alien’, ‘Outland’ and ‘Total Recall’. Roughnecks takes a specific look at the exploration miners and prospectors who are looking to make their fortune from mining asteroids. Includes rules for prospecting which are also suitable for solo play.

Free League Publishing

Talking of Alien, the ‘official’ RPG (endorsed by the Wayland-Yutani Corp of course) from Free League Publishing which is down by 50% for a limited time from $24.99 to $12.49.

Grand Scheme Publishing

The Call of Cataclysm‘ is the first adventure for the ‘King of Dungeons’ RPG; PDF available for $5.00.

Flying Buffalo / Tunnels and Trolls

Flying Buffalo has had success with a number of Kickstarters in the past few years with updates to old solo / GM dungeons and brand new products.

T&T Solo Design Guidelines: HOW TO WRITE A SOLO ($3.99, PDF) This is a collection of notes that were originally written by Mike Stackpole and thought lost, until re-discovery years later by Steve Crompton. Compiled with additional material, this is a useful tool for anyone thinking of writing a solo adventure.

Elven Lords Deluxe Edition (down from $18.00 to $5.99) A solo adventure now double in size compared to the original 1990 edition, this is a solo adventure set in Gull – also known as the ‘City of Terrors’ written by Mike Stackpole.

Trollstone Caverns: Lair of the Silver Serpent (down from $8.95 to $3.99). Lair of the Silver Serpent is a GM adventure for first level characters, ideal for a party starting out on their first adventure.

Dark Temple ($13.95 down to $4.25) A pretty big solo adventure, packing out at 64 pages – should keep you going for a while!

Alice in Weirdworld (launch price down from $16.95 to $4.25) This is a brand new solo adventure only released this week, another large book at 68 pages.

Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes ‘combined edition’ is down from $20.95 to $7.95. The combined edition includes everything from the original 1983 edition, the 1986 edition and an additional 20 pages of material.

Free Reads and Listening Material

The latest issue of Freelance Traveller magazine (March / April 2020) is now available to download.

One of the great pillars of British comics, 2000AD have made a number of their publications available for free to download if you sign up for their newsletter. It includes a link to a free copy of one the Judge Dredd files (no.5). Sign up to the newsletter via this link. There are some cracking reads available so this is well worth signing up for!

If you’re looking for something to listen to, Dirk the Dice over at ‘the Grognard Files‘ has a look at MERP (Middle Earth Role-Playing) with one of my favourite fantasy artists Liz Danforth; she has an extensive background in producing many pieces of fantasy and sci-fi artwork including Much for the Flying Buffalo RPG Tunnels and Trolls. Though I haven’t had chance to listen to the episode yet, if it is anything like Dirk’s previous podcasts, I’m sure it will be and extremely interesting and entertaining feature. This is the first part, part 2 has just been published. In the meantime I would like to extend my best wishes for a speedy recovery as Liz has been tested positive having the Corona virus, get well soon Liz!

Gaming for Free

If now is not the best time to be spending cash on gaming material (especially as some people have been laid off or been put on furlough), some of the publishers above have released free products which provide some fantastic source material and game mechanics to develop your own games.

Classic Traveller / Cepheus Engine

Zozer Games have released two complete backgrounds for Classic Traveller, which could also be used with Cepheus Engine with a little modification.

Kosmos 68 – this book is set in a future where the Soviet bloc became the most successful space-faring nation and eventually developed faster-than-light propulsion, eventually colonising the stars.

Outworld Authority – The Outworld Authority is a complete setting based around the principles of using a minimal number of rule books, namely the Classic Traveller ‘Little Black Books’ 1, 2 and 3 only.

Cepheus Engine

You can pick up a copy of Cepheus ‘Faster than Light’ for free on Drivethru RPG; this is set of the Cepheus Light rules reduced down to an even ‘lighter’ set of core mechanics. Cepheus Faster than Light was featured in this blog post.

Applying their shrinking ray once more, Stellagama have published ‘Cepheus Quantum’ – a two-page set of rules for 2D6 SF RPG gaming. Ideal for a quick start evenings play.

Tunnels Trolls

Aaaannndd finally, if you want to try out Tunnels and Trolls for free, you can pick up a copy of the rules with a mini solo Goblin Lake. An ideal way to get into fantasy gaming with an easy to use rules set.

Wherever possible, if you are able to – purchasing products from RPG publishers will help keep giving people an income; we have to look after each other.

I hope that you may find this list useful and perhaps in a small way, helps to alleviate a little bit of stress in what is a very anxious time for everyone. Keep safe folks, stay at home, wash your hands and if you have to go out, practice social distancing – it could save someone’s life.

*Edit* – it seems that I have completely missed this blogs birthday on the 28th of March, being nine years old! Kinda slipped my mind with everything else going on… will have to do something special for the 10th birthday next year…! 🎂

Posted in Adventures, Cepheus Engine, Classic Traveller, Clement Sector, Earth Sector, Freelance Traveller, Independence Games, Role Playing Games, Stellagama Publishing, Tunnels and Trolls, Uncategorized, Zozer Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Laserburn Scenarios Part 1 – Tarim Towers Heist

I’ve written about Laserburn, the Tabletop Games (TTG) miniatures skirmish gaming rules several times on this blog in some form or another. Though I’ve owned the rules and a couple of the supplements for a good many years (well, since the mid-eighties) the scenarios mentioned in the original rules have remained elusive and there is very little information available on the internet about them. Occasionally copies would come up on eBay, but so rarely you’d have better luck getting a win on the national lottery.

However, one day in December 2019 my luck changed and an email alert popped up for something to do with Laserburn, on sale on eBay. I quickly checked the link out and couldn’t believe that it was the holy grail of the Laserburn scenarios; all four published scenarios plus a copy of the original rules. Bets of all it had a ‘buy it now’ price whilst wasn’t too outrageous. 90 minutes after the listing went live, I’d placed the order and secured the listing.

A few days later a large envelope appeared in the post and there they were, the Laserburn scenarios that I’d for so long tried to track down. So what did I get exactly?

Tarim Towers Heist

Assault on Bunker 17

Sewerville Shootout

Sea Prison Siege

All are in excellent condition condition considering their age, which includes the extra copy of the rules and reference cards. As I’d also managed to pick up a copy of the solo adventure ‘Scavenger’ some months beforehand, I’m going to put together a series of features on these scenarios to help fill in gaps on the background of these products, the first of which is:

Tarim Towers Heist

Originally written by Richard Edwards, it features a large yellow card cover and back along with a players guide and referees guide in A5 format. The card cover (in A4 size) and back feature layout maps of three levels of the building where the heist is taking place, including the ground, roof and apartment. The players guide describes the set up to the game:

You’ve got yourself into a situation where you owe an inordinately large amount of cash to one of the bigwigs of the megacities local crime syndicate. As you don’t have the means to pay him back, you will have to perform a little ‘job’ for him instead. This will involve kidnapping a drug dealer from a luxury condo and deliver them, preferably alive, to the syndicate bigwig by getting to the roof of the condo. Specialised (illegal) kit is used to disrupt communications in and out of the building and help aid the heist.

You have the choice of using your own characters, or you can use the pre-generated characters (where there are four provided). You get the usual Laserburn stats (Weapon Skill, Combat Skill, Initiative, Skills) and what equipment you have available. In addition, there are game stats for six henchmen of the crime syndicate who will be going along to make sure that you do the job as asked… or else! Compared to the stats of the pre-gen characters, these are ‘Elite’ status characters so you don’t want to get on the wrong side of them! In addition to what weaponry each character has on them, there are also upto 20 grenades (non-destructive) available (such as gas, smoke or concussion). Tactics are basically locate the target, get to the roof and don’t stick around!

The referee’s set up is provided from the eight-page booklet; though there are only three layout plans provided, the apartment level is used repeatedly after the referee determines the number of floors on a roll of D6+2 plus 10. The defenders are listed in turn, which comprises of four high-level veteran / elite status opponents and two groups of four guards, armed in various ways.

The next set of instructions for the referee detail what the players can find when moving through the building. Vidphones and terminals can be accessed by someone with Computer skill (which is described in the book as an additional skill). Doors (which are the iris valve type) can be breached in a variety of ways, some of which are more subtle than others. Lifts which are indicated by the circular tubes at each corner of the building, are transparent armourplate so even if you use them instead of the stairs, it will take an opponent number of hits to penetrate. As the players work their way through the apartments they will have to deal with the occupants; however apartments also mean opportunities to steal valuables and the chance to try and make a profit out the whole venture. Morally, this is extremely dubious but this is the world of Laserburn after all; you get a couple of tables with the tenant types and contents (jewellery, furs, paintings, credit cards etc) so the players will have to work out a way to get this lot past the occupants and guards. There are actually three people with the same initials as the target the players need to kidnap and the referees guide provides some guidance where these may be found.

Laserburn has always been big on equipment, especially weapons and Tarim Towers Heist doesn’t disappoint. One and a half pages of kit is listed (including ladders…!) with a full paragraph description for each item. The last couple of pages include a (repeat) map of the building layout and a table of what happens afterwards, with a number of points awarded to the players according to the number of results they are able to achieve.

The scenario is dated November 1981, which makes it (at time of writing), just over 38 years old. Illustrations are credited to Tony Yates and are all in the same style as the rest of the Laserburn books, though there is one illustration credited to ‘G. G. Dixon’ and this captures the styles of Tony Yates perfectly. Don’t expect huge amounts of backstory or lavish illustrations; Laserburn is about action, equipment and players diving into the scenario and causing as much mayhem as possible, for which Tarim Towers Heist delivers. Would the players achieve their objective? I think they have a reasonable chance, depending on how the referee deploys their forces which are limited in number but the tower occupants may have something to say about that! The players had better achieve their objective, otherwise Big Mac Holden is going to be coming after them…

Posted in Laserburn, scenario | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

See How They Run Review

‘See How They Run’ is a scenario published by March Harrier Publishing and authored by Timothy Collinson. This is the first time I’ve reviewed a product from March Harrier Publishing and I’m grateful for being given the opportunity to review this adventure. It is available as a PDF from Drivethru RPG for $6.99 and is 49 pages long, presented with the Classic Traveller style black and colour cover. The scenario is designed for Mongoose Traveller 2nd edition with 4-6 players taking the part of Zhodani’s with psionic abilities and therefore it is strongly advised to have to hand Alien Module 4: Zhodani for reference.

The book is a loosely-connected follow on from the first part ‘Three Blind Mice’ but can be played as a stand-alone adventure. I would like to note that though ‘Three Blind Mice’ is currently unavailable to download (due to the original publishers 13mann losing their Traveller license) but Timothy has recently obtained permission to republish under the TAS license and update it to the 2nd edition rules. It is hoped that this can released this summer.

See How They Run is set in the Third Imperium, located in the District 268 sector. The book starts with an introduction and overview of the adventure, with a useful flow chart of how the key acts of the adventure link together. Page 5 presents the pre-generated characters with MGT2 stats and background. Its useful to note that each character has ‘Goals for the Mission’ listed; I like the addition of these in addition to the characters usual background as I think it helps to provide some ‘structure’ to how the player should ‘behave’ as a Zhodani character. The referee has some discretion on ‘personalising’ the characters so a small skills package is provided to divide up amongst the party.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Zhodani, they are a race of humans that have built their own star-spanning empire (the Zhodani Consulate) to rival the Third Imperium. The Zhodani’s are psionically gifted and their entire culture is based around this ability. Their society has a rigid structure based on psionics and to a degree how privacy of thought is respected by people who have psionic abilities. Considered as rivals to the Third Imperium, several wars and skirmishes have been fought between the Zhodani and the Imperium.

The adventure starts (Act 1) at Querion where the PCs are the crew of a Zdebr-class 200 ton trader equipped with some cargo and background on how you have arrived at this point. Act 1 involves refuelling the trader and encounters on and around Dawnworld, a garden planet which unusually has no population. Next steps involve choosing a destination within a Jump-2 and how the players may wish to make use of their cargo to make some cash.

Act 2 helps to give the players a flavour of what life is like in District 268 and to this effect you have several scenes which can be played in any order without detrement to the overall adventure. There are five scenes / situations which not only make use of the players psionic abilities, but also their ability to deal with situations where psionics are merely treated with caution through to outright hostility. This is where the strength in the book starts to show through and by getting the players to think as a Zhodani, it will help to challenge them in the way that they would react to the varying situations presented in Act 2.

Act 3 builds on Act 2’s scenes with a (potential) starship combat encounter, delivery of the featured cargo (from Act 2) and an interesting situation which will test the players moral’s and reactions.

Overall you have eleven individual scenes which are loosely interlinked in just under thirty pages for the players to ‘live’ as a Zhodani in District 268. Pages 31 and 32 contain some library data (in the same style as the Classic Traveller LBB’s) containing useful facts about the events, worlds, creatures and locations that the players will encounter along the way. Page 33 describes 14 potential passenger NPCs who could join the players whilst hopping between worlds. UPP’s and a paragraph-length background are provided so the referee has something to go on if they join the ship. The next four pages list quite a bit of useful information to help bring some ‘colour’ to the adventure with a couple of additional (potential) PCs / NPCs, brokers to trade with, Zhodani names / words, names of bars and nightclubs including the deliciously-named ‘Black Diamond’, described as ‘really, the worst of the worst, filthy. In every sense.’ Sounds like my kind of place…! The remaining couple of pages in this section list events (bureaucracy, sick person, someone hitching a ride etc), locations and adverts for people wanting services, selling goods, exhibitions or hotel listings.

The appendices add some useful tools for the referee; a page with the player character details at a glance, a couple of pages listing who has who skill and level, some route information from the Zhodani Consulate and two sections which I think are a very useful tools; ‘Acceptance’ figures for the worlds of District 268, where each world has a number associated with how well received a Zhodani can expect to be. This is explained in Traveller5 and adds an extension to the UPP and can also be found at www.travellermap.com. The second ‘tool’ is a couple of pages describing how to roleplay a Zhodani, providing a brief overview of the Zhodani race, their culture and how their government operates.The book is rounded off with three pages of conversion tips for playing the game using the Cepheus Engine rules set, which I think is a very useful addition and extends the books usefulness.

On the initial read, ‘See How They Run’ looked like a set of routine encounters for the players to work their way through in District 268. However what makes this adventure stand out for me is the amount of supporting material which has been included to help the referee run the game with the players playing Zhodani characters. I feel the author has gone to great lengths to try and make sure that the players ‘get in the mind’ of a Zhodani (no pun intended) and react in the way that such a character would, instead of them backing out to the default of an Imperial character making a bit of cash in a free trader. Though the acts and scenes are reasonably self-contained, there is a running link between them but they can be run by the referee with a degree of flexibility. The difficulty level is pitched at novices or those players who have some experience with Traveller and fancy a diversion from their usual exploration of the Third Imperium. The text is well laid out and I didn’t notice any mistakes or typos. There are a number of monochrome and colour illustrations through the book, including a few from Ian Stead who readers will know from reading this blog, has contributed numerous pieces of artwork to a wide number of publishers.

If I was to look for a criticism, I think it would have been useful to include a pronunication guide for the player characters names (eg. ‘Chenchapriepr’) to help the players to get started as I struggled to say some of them! More than likely though I can see these names getting shortened very quickly! Perhaps to make the book more self-contained and especially as there is so much supporting material about the Zhodani, it might have been useful to include a set of deck plans for the ship, but then again if you’ve got Alien Module 4 this is a non-issue. I found the more I read ‘See How They Run’ the more I liked it and enjoyed reading each encounter and how they link together. See How They Run is an interesting, thought-provoking adventure that I think will provide an excellent diversion from a group’s usual adventures in the Third Imperium – definitely worth checking out! I would like to thank Timothy Collinson for getting touch with me and providing a copy of the adventure for me to review.

Posted in Adventures, Cepheus Engine, Mongoose Traveller, Mongoose Traveller Second Edition | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Liberty Ship Review

Liberty Ship is a supplement published by Stellagama Publishing and is compatible with the Cepheus Engine 2D6 SFRPG rules. Authored by Omer Golan-Joel and Richard Hazlewood, it is available from Drivethru RPG for $3.99, currently reduced from its normal price of $5.00 and contains 27 pages in PDF format. The Liberty Ship is a 1000 ton freighter which over its time in service, has produced a number of variants. Though the book is suitable for any Cepheus Engine game the authors have provided a complete background for the ship, based around Stellagama’s own books ‘These Stars Are Ours’ (TSAO) to help give the ship more character. It should be noted that the supplement is written with the main Cepheus Engine rules set in mind, however it can be used with the Cepheus Light rules set with only one or two minor modifications.

The first four pages comprise of a really nice-looking colour rendering of the Liberty Ship on the cover, contents, compatibility statement and conventions used. The next couple of pages set the scene with a brief overview of the TSAO ‘universe’ and general background how the Liberty Ship came into being. Page 8 details some variant starship rules to do with low berths and how these are prepared according to different Tech Levels, plus some notes on Ship Maintenance and Steerage Passage. Following a repeat of the cover image on page 9, the Liberty Ships statistics are described in detail. For your money, you get a number of variants; the base ‘Model /A – Freighter’ which is covered over two pages – the first includes the ship description and game statistics, the second the ship layout and deck plans. The Liberty Ship is a rectangular ‘block’ with a control centre on top slightly offset to the centre rear. Its a functional design which lends itself to a variety of uses. The deck plans are clearly laid out in monochrome with red lettering which shows up well when reading. Even when the deck plans are zoomed (eg. On a tablet device), there is no loss of quality or breakup of the text. Something struck me about the design of the Liberty Ship when I first saw it, there is a not-too-dissimilar likeness to the ‘U.S.S. Saratoga’, fleet carrier spacecraft from the ‘90’s series ‘Space: Above and Beyond’. Schematics can be viewed by clicking on this link.

I’m not sure if the likeness of the Liberty Ship is intentional or inspired from the U.S.S. Saratoga, but I couldn’t help making the link when I first saw the design.

The next few pages cover the following variants: ‘Model /B – Troop Ship’, ‘Model /C – Cicek Run’ (named after a particular supply route between Terra and Cicek space. An additional Model /C (modification) type is described, the ‘Frontier Merchant’. Showing how flexible the ship design is, is another Model /C variant, the ‘Pirate Base’. Some Liberty Ships have been converted for use as a base of operations by pirates, deploying the TL11 Berserker-class Light Fighter (game stats provided). Looking at the deck plans, a total of eight of these can be accommodated in two deck hangars. It does look like a squeeze to fit these into the decks, as their hulls go right up to the sides of the bulkheads. How practical this would be for the purposes of maintenance access I’m not sure, as well as retrieval from space. They certainly don’t access the carrier in the same way as the Colonial Vipers in Battlestar Galactica!

The Liberty Ship is an ex-warship and hence if you want to buy one, then you’ll have to purchase second-hand as the production lines are no longer active. However there are some caveats; you’ll need to roll on a D66 table to see if the ship has a ‘quirk’; one of those unusual things that you won’t see in another Liberty Ship. These are little things that give the ship character, everything from being ‘haunted’, all the lights go out when entering jump space, odd smell which can never be fixed or computer glitches which make it harder to navigate.

To round off the book, you are presented with ‘The Gilded Claw’, a modified Model /C which saw distinction on the Cicek Run. Now owned by a Cicek entrepreneur, it plys the spaceways looking for trade and adventure. These six pages describing The Gilded Claw cover the ship itself, deck plans and crew history and game stats.

In addition to the main PDF, you are also provided with six separate PNG image files of the deck plans which are in a higher resolution than the versions in the main book, which are ideal for printing. Zooming into the images reveals these are pretty high resolution images so I think they would look great even at A3 size with little or no discernable loss of quality.

Liberty Ship is a nicely put together package of ship variants which is presented in a high-quality, useful format. Though there is only the one colour illustration (the cover) which is reused in the book, there are a small number of line art illustrations, mainly to show what the main protagonists look like in TSAO. The book is well laid-out, my only criticism is the Liberty Ship variant page description and game stats pages appear to be slightly cramped with an amount of unused white space on the bottom half of the page. However the reason is to look consistent when compared to other tables further along in the book, as these pages use the same size text and fill a complete page.

There is a lot of content in the book and with the way that the ship’s background has been developed from the TSAO universe, the Liberty Ship doesn’t just feel like a book with simply game stats and some deck plans. Definitely worth picking up, especially at the currently reduced price its even more of a bargain! I’d like to thank Omer Golan-Joel for kindly sending me a copy of Liberty Ship to review.

Posted in Cepheus Engine, Stellagama Publishing | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Palindrome Day and Hot Zone Review

As today is the 2nd of February 2020 (02/02/2020) I wanted to mark ‘Palindrome Day’ with a mention of it as its an event that wont happen again for a good few years (at least in our lifetimes). For those that don’t know what a palindrome is, its a word, phrase or sequence that can be read forwards as well as backwards. So whether you use European, US or ISO date formats, it can be read either way:

So to mark this significant day (though there is no connection between todays date and the review whatsoever), I’ve got a short review of ‘Hot Zone’ which is published by Zozer Games. I picked up the print book version from Lulu.com last year but never got opportunity to read or review it properly until now. I came across it first on Lulu.com (priced at the moment at $6.64) and from the purchase, got the PDF for free by sending proof or purchase to the author, Paul Elliott. However you can also pick up a copy from Drivethru RPG for $1.99.

The book is 27 pages in length and though its set in Zozer Games’s ‘Hostile’ ATU universe, it could fit in with a little bit of rework to any Cepheus Engine compatible game rules or background. The scenario theme is a recovery mission; the players are the crew of a 400 ton towing vessel who have been tasked to jump to the Gliese 9028 system to recover important data from an unmanned exploration probe which has crashed on one of the planets in the system (LS809). The probe’s hard drive needs to be extracted as it contains valuable navigation data from the systems it has recently travelled to. This isn’t as easy as it sounds as LS809 is a pretty barren, dusty and mountainous world with surface temperatures of 40 degrees plus. I’m not going to go into too much detail regarding the scenario as I don’t want to spoil the outcome, however I’ll detail as much about the book’s layout and content as I can.

The book is structured with the first seven pages with an overall summary of the scenario for the referee and description of the Gliese 9028 system. You get some background info about the crashed probe and an illustration of the players ship, the USCS Outlander though there are no game stats for the spacecraft. The book has plenty of monochrome and colour illustrations with a nice layout that makes the book attractive to read but doesn’t impact on the speed of loading of each page on a tablet device.

The author has structured the mission details in such as way that the players need to complete certain tasks in a certain order before they can advance. These tasks are entirely logical and part of what they would need to do anyway arriving at the planet. Upon arrival, the players will have a number of hazards to overcome whilst exploring LS809 and trying to locate the probe. You have some rules and guidance for the players in how to traverse the planet so they’ll have to plan and work hard to reach their objective.

The key problem to the players completing their mission has an interesting twist and will pose them a challenge to overcome. Once they have obtained the data, the referee can introduce an additional factor which could extend the game; however this is entirely optional.

The scenario and the writing style is nicely structured and there is plenty of detail on the things that the players have to deal with, interspersed with illustrations. I can see this scenario being completed in an evenings play (two at most if the extended secrion is used) with say four to five players.

The print book version has a colour cover and back and is monochrome throughout the book, printed in an A4-ish size.

Hot Zone is a bargain at $1.99 for the PDF and is worth looking at the print book version as well; definitely recommended for your next 2D6 SFRPG game.

Posted in Adventures, Cepheus Engine, Zozer Games | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Earth Sector Review

Earth Sector by Independence Games (IG) is a milestone in the (former Gypsy Knights Games – GKG) release schedule. It marks a substantial expansion of the Clement Sector universe and the prospect of a huge number of new releases from Independence Games.

Before I start the review, I would like to mention that the old Gypsy Knights Games name is no more, the website now having being replaced with a new link:

https://independencerpgs.com

…and a new Twitter handle: @IndependenceGa6

The new website now renders much better on a mobile phone and existing GKG titles will eventually be re-labelled under the IG name.

Earth Sector is available from Drivethru RPG for $19.99 as a PDF or $29.99 for a softcover book. If you want to go premium, $54.99 secures you the hardcover colour book and both print books also get you a copy of the PDF. The book comprises of 302 pages, authored by Independence Games owner John Watts and contributing artists (amongst others) Ian Stead, Jennifer Leonard and Bradley Warnes.

Earth Sector should be considered an extension of the Clement Sector books, so you will need the rules books from Clement Sector (such as Clement Sector: The Rules), though you could use the generic Cepheus Engine 2D6 SFRPG rules or Cepheus Light from Stellagama Publishing with a little adaptation.

First of all, a (future) history lesson for those that aren’t familiar with the Clement Sector background and where Earth fits in. The Clement Sector is a group of worlds located on the other side of the galaxy settled by humans set in the 24th century. The Clement Sector was accessed via a worm hole ‘conduit’ and allowed the human race to expand and colonise several sectors of space. Unfortunately the conduit collapsed in 2331, trapping the humans located in the Clement Sector and any further link with Earth. So far, the GKG products have concentrated on the Clement Sector with little or no mention of what has been happening on Earth. Now with the establishment of Independence Games, the focus is back on ‘this side’ of the worm hole but a few years after the collapse, being set in 2350.

The most substantial difference between the worlds of the Clement Sector (CS) and the settled worlds in Earth Sector (ES) are that CS worlds are essentially independent and have their own politics, defence, government and ways of life. ES worlds are controlled by the nations of Earth and are generally linked or grouped together in roughly the same sector of space.

With this in mind, its time to look at the Earth Sector book itself.

With a short introduction on pages 2 and 3, the real ‘meat’ of the book starts on page 12, with a detailed look at the spacefaring nations of Earth who have colonised worlds in the sectors and sub-sectors surrounding Earth. The qualification for the term ‘spacefaring nation’ in the book is for a country on Earth to have colonised worlds in or outside the solar system or have some sort of notable space presence. The description for each nation is broken down by Leader, Primary Starport, Solar Colonies, Extrasolar Colonies and Major Cities along with an illustration of the nations flag.

The background text looks into the major events that affected that country from about 2040 onwards through the present day. Much of the discussion is centred around how the country developed economically and the colonies that is has managed to establish right up to the ‘present day’ of 2350.

This is quite an extensive section and a huge amount of thought has gone into developing what is a few hundreds years worth of source material for a large number (18 are described) of nations.

Page 40 looks at how the Earth Sector and component star systems are made up and their respective locations. On page 44 you are presented with a sector level map (4 by 4 sub-sectors) showing the worlds settled by each of the Earth nations and their relationship to each other. The map is well presented and colourful, but I did notice that when I zoomed in to read the name of each hex / world, the font couldn’t be rendered properly and the lettering looked indistinct.

However this is largely corrected by the higher resolution maps which form each alternate page from P.44 onwards. Each sub-sector has a page listing the worlds therein with Hex Location, Name, UWP, Trade classification, PBG, Allegiance and Sun spectral type. There are on average four prominent worlds which have a notable description underneath. My personal favourite is Durga 0510 ‘Arthurs World’; ruled by an eccentric man who styles himself as ‘King Arthur’. Feels like a world worthy of a scenario or two…

Page 76 describes the differences between generating Earth Sector characters based on the original Clement Sector rules. It should be noted that Clement Sector indigenous ‘aliens’ are not available to play in the Earth Sector. To put it plainly, the following pages are a list of tables (numbered 1 to 3) which list what origin subsector, planet of origin and background skills according to what your planet of origin is. Ending on page 97, this could be quite a ‘dry’ section to work through but there are plenty of colour illustrations to break up the table layout which makes the reading a bit more pleasant. Page 98 expands on the character development with table 4: primary languages which is presented in the same style as tables 1 to 3. Each planet of origin has its primary languages listed against it. There are a few new skills listed on page 109; page 110 breaks down your characters background generation into ‘Youth’, ‘Teenage Years’ and ‘College Years’. These ‘phases’ are really designed to give your character a lot more background and add notable events to their life, which could influence what happens in their later life.

Now your character has left school and is of an age where they are ready to start their career; what choices do you have? In the Earth Sector book, you are presented with 14 careers which have been modified for use within the Earth Sector; you are given a choice of; Belter, Celebrity, Colonist, Diplomatic Service, Explorer, Free Trader, Medic, National Ground Forces (soldier), National Navy (space, rather than wet), Pirate, Prisoner, Sports (you are an athlete or coach of some description), Spy or Vagabond. Each career has listed how to progress in the career, benefits, skills and training, mishaps and events in the same style as the Cepheus Engine books.

The Clement Sector background doesn’t just rely on non-Terran ‘aliens’ to build its background but also has ‘uplifts’. For those that are not already familiar with CS uplifts, these are animals native to Earth which have been biologically engineered to give them increased brain capacities and capabilities more in line with what humans can do, eg. Walk upright, manipulate tools, make use of languages and make sentient decisions. Again, reference is made back to the Clement Sector Core Setting books, but you are presented with a number of uplifts which are specific to the Earth Sector. A few notable uplifts I’d like to mention; Cats – do they really need uplifting? Have you seen the cat videos on YouTube? Dogs – uplifted Boxers, German Shepherds and Siberian Huskies are all very well, but an uplifted Greyhound… now that *would* be a creature that would be difficult to catch…! I’ve tried catching my three-year-old Greyhound and she can *shift*! The following pages have tables which list the various types of events (depending on age) which would have affected the uplift. Don’t forget these are characters (if you wish to play one) that would have been subject to prejudice and segregation as in some communities, uplifts are considered a ‘lower class’ of life form. To reflect this you have the ‘Uplift Slave Career’ path included in the text. I should note that in the careers mentioned above, many have ‘assignments’ which are specialisations within that career path.

Aliens do ‘exist’ in the Earth Sector, as described on page 224. Its an interesting approach in that you aren’t presented with alien races that become immediate technologically-equal opponents to the human race. You are presented with two races which are TL3 and TL1 societies. They don’t pose a threat to humans and you do have a number of tables and background material with which to generate characters from those races. It has been mentioned however that in spacer legends ruins and evidence has been found on outlying worlds of long-gone alien races… so who is to say that something might turn up in the future…

Page 240 moves on from the career-based aspect of the Earth Sector to the available technologies in a 24th century Earth Sector. There are a few changes compared to the Clement Sector, in that with Earth reaching TL13 in 2345 (and being only the world to do so so far), a number of options become a reality, such as cloning an entire body. Holograms become almost impossible to distinguish from a ‘real’ person. Zimm drives get an upgrade in that TL13 allows for ships as large as 7500 tons and for smaller ships to have greater stability.

Page 243 looks at the mechanics of ‘Travel and Operations’, specifically ‘Currency’ and how money changes hands through space. Its interesting to note that many nations still use their own currency though the ‘universal’ Credit is available to use. Following this, you are presented with fuel management calculations and how to feed your ship’s Zimm drive; the next couple of pages detail how a Zimm drive and Zimmspace works along with how a pilot would need to navigate it successfully. Rounding off this section are short discussions on how ‘Time’ is managed on worlds, ‘Trade and the Captains Guild’ and ‘Vessel Registration and Inspections’.

Page 250 looks at ‘Interstellar Relations’ how each nation perceives and deals with another. There are over thirty pages of tables and though you might be able to work out what some of the stats are, I would recommend that you obtain a copy of ‘Balancing Act: Interstellar Relations in the Clement Sector’ to get the full use of these as there are quite a few references made to codes from ‘Balancing Act’. The table include lists of the nations relationship with each other and the solar / extra solar colonies.

The book rounds off from page 288 onwards with a description of six significant corporations and organisations, followed by four pages on ‘Adventures and Campaigns’, ‘Common Themes’ (the types of games typically run and what the underlying theme would be) and finally ‘Rumours and Truths’ which looks into what is known (or not known) about alien races and the conduit collapse.

My immediate reaction when I first started to read Earth Sector was to compare it to the original GDW ‘2300’ OTU as there are some similarities to the timeline and Earths nations expanding out into space. This is where the similarities end, as if anything Earth Sector’s nations are even more divided; there isn’t a technologically advanced alien race (the Kafers) which has shown itself to unify the human race against (excepting the rumours from the Chinese operating in Ubuntu Sector…) No particular nation seems to have established an empire on Earth and expanded into space (2300’s French Empire), though the United States and China are probably the closest you get to this in Earth Sector. Despite the significant cost, many nations have struck out into space on their own and established colonies on extra-solar worlds. Though there have been natural disasters which have affected many countries and small localised nuclear exchanges, there is no World War III. Earth Sector feels that it bucks the trend a little where many comparable SFRPG’s have backgrounds where many of Earth’s nations have collaborated and joined together to explore space.

The Earth Sector book feels very much like a ‘nuts and bolts toolbox’ book where it isn’t a complete sourcebook on its own but fills in specific aspects of the Earth Sector background, draws on the core Clement Sector mechanics (which you will still need) and starts to set things up for running games. There is plenty of gorgeous colour artwork throughout the book which makes the text layout easy and pleasant to read. As Independence Games release more material for Earth Sector, this will ‘ground’ the background more and make it feel more complete. I don’t see this Earth Sector book as something that immediately enables you to start running complete Earth Sector games, but it provides the essential ‘infrastructure’ to set out who the protagonists are, what has happened this side of the conduit following the collapse and help to provide the referee as to what has happened this side of the conduit collapse and advancing a few years on. There are a few interesting nuggets which elude to something ‘greater’ going on (eg. a report of what someone saw at the moment of the collapse, evidence of long-gone aliens on distant worlds) which may be developed further by Independence Games. If you intend to run Earth Sector games, this will be an essential purchase; a referee won’t necessarily feel that they can utilise the book straight away, but as I mentioned as more source material is released by Independence Games it will sit on top of this ‘infrastructure’ book and the referee will refer to it more and more. The first of these is ‘Tech Update 2350’, which is out now on DTRPG. Covering the changes in technology since the conduit collapse twenty years ago, this will be another essential purchase for those that wish to run Earth Sector games. I will have a review of this posted soon!

I’d like to thank John Watts of Independence Games for kindly sending me a copy of Earth Sector to review.

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2019 in Review

Its New Year 2020 and its time for a review of what was happening on the ‘Downport in 2019. It didn’t work out as I’d originally planned this time last year, as I was aiming to increase the number of visitors to the blog to over the 11,800 that had visited back in 2017. Family matters have had to take a priority so the blog hasn’t been updated as often as I would have liked, but with my wife getting some treatment and support I’m starting 2020 with a bit more optimism and hopefully a chance to catch up on a bit of writing.

So a bit of analysis of the popular articles on the blog:-

There were 8079 page views, from 3872 visitors, plus 44 likes and 33 comments. This worked out at 673 visitors per month (down from last years 990). However the drop in visitor numbers can be explained by the lesser number of number of articles which were posted, which totalled 15; 2018’s total was 32, so my output fell by over half. The closure of Google+ I think hit the number of linked visits initially, but things seemed to have picked up again now that the discussion groups have been established on the social media network MeWe.

Top 10 Most Popular Posts

The most popular posts of 2019 were:

1. Cepheus Engine Fantasy Traveller Part 1 – Basic Character Generation

2. Cepheus Light Three-Format Review

3. Laserburn Memories

4. New Cepheus Engine Releases

5. The Fantasy Traveller

6. Cepheus Engine Fantasy Traveller Part 1 – Character Classes

7. Zozer Games Solo Review Part 1

8. Cepheus Light – Traits Review

9. Dirtside Review

10. Cepheus Quantum Review and Publisher Updates

The remainder of the stats are made up of reviews of Gypsy Knights / Stellagama / Zozer Games / Moon Toad Publishing reviews; Laserburn articles also continued to be featured strongly, which was nice to see so much love for the old TTG game.

Analysis

So what do I make of this? Cepheus Engine and its various backgrounds (Clement Sector / These Stars Are Ours / Hostile) seems to have really taken off, I guess in some way influenced by the various rules sets (Cepheus Light, Pocket edition etc) released by Stellagama Publishing. Laserburn has proved to be a consistently popular read (as it was last year) which still surprises me how this still pops up in the stats. As I’ve sourced some Laserburn Scenarios this will hopefully keep up the articles popularity. Last year ‘The Fantasy Traveller’ was the top post, which has been overtaken by its ‘modern’ equivalent for Cepheus Engine; this bodes well for the upcoming release of Stellagama Publishing’s ‘Sword of Cepheus’, a set of fantasy rules based around the CE SRD.

Focus for the Coming Year

The reviews will still form the bulk of the articles in the coming year, but with family matters taking priority I’m not going to set targets like I usually do as the best laid plans and all that… so I think I’m just going to highlight areas that I would like to write for outside the reviews that usually get posted:

Another CE ‘Fantasy Traveller’ article.

Some Laserburn stuff based around the scenarios I’ve recently purchased.

A bit more work on my ongoing writing project.

Something for Classic Traveller.

…anything else is a bonus.

So to finish; I want to express my appreciation all the support and messages that people send in via the blog and Twitter (@AlegisDownport), thank you to all my visitors for reading my musings and to my friends that support this blog by kindly sending me products to review, they help keep me sane and a ‘safe’ diversion from when real-life gets a bit heavy. Thank you all and I hope 2020 proves to be a safe, healthy and happy one for you.

Unfortunately we lost my Vargr crewmate Millie back in April, so we went to the local Greyhound Trust rehoming centre and adopted Luna. She is pictured here stood in front of the Kelpies in Falkirk, when we went on holiday to Scotland in October. Luna is already proving to be an excellent member of the ships crew and will be joining us on many more adventures.

Cheers, Steve

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