Vehicle Design Guide Review

The Vehicle Design Guide is published by Moon Toad Publishing and is available from DriveThru RPG as a PDF for $19.43 or as a softcover book for $27.38 (which includes a copy of the PDF). The guide is compatible with the Cepheus Engine 2D6 SFRPG rules. Have you ever needed to build an ATV for your adventures or a squadron of armed flyers for your players to escape from? Now is your opportunity with the Vehicle Design Guide (which I’ll refer to as the VDG from now on) which seeks to address a bit of a gap in the market (at least where construction is concerned) for the Cepheus Engine rule set.

Authored by Michael Johnson, with significant contribution from Paul Elliott and Ian Stead (who also provided the illustrations), the book is pretty weighty figuratively speaking, coming in at 178 pages, plus several blank forms which are available to download separately. (Edit 26/10/19) I would like to add the following comments thanks to Michael (MichaelSTee) over at the Citizens of the Imperium (COTI) discussion forums:

The Vehicle Design Guide (VDG) is based to some degree on the system written by Colin Dunn (mostly), and published in Mongoose’s Supplement 5-6 Vehicle Handbook, in 2012. As I understand it, Colin was instrumental in getting Matt of Mongoose to release an SRD of the document.

Thanks Michael for the additional piece of information! John Watts from Gypsy Knights Games also commented over on COTI that all Clement Sector vehicles are built now using this toolkit. The original Cepheus Engine Vehicle Design is available from DTRPG (for those who are interested in comparing it).

I must admit I was a little daunted when I first skimmed through the book, in that it describes *a lot* of vehicles and modes of transport and the options available to customise them. The range stretches from TL1 horse and cart right the way through to TL15 anti-grav transports. Within these constraints, the guide aims to provide the available technology that is appropriate for the tech level; for example internal combustion engines upto TL7, more exotic power sources for TL8 upwards.

Page 10 starts with the steps to design the vehicle, which is broken down into seven distinct steps:-

1 – Chassis Selection

2 – Chassis Modifications

3 – Universal Modifications

4 – Add Armour

5 – Add Weapon Mounts and Weapons

6 – Add Modifications

7 – Creating a Vehicle Record

The book introduces an additional concept known as ‘spaces’ as a method to measure the capacity used for various functions. It is the amount of usable volume for every customisable component, weapon, electronics and optional feature. It splits away from the parts of the ship that are part of the chassis, such as control areas, engine and fuel and are not part of the total customisable spaces for the chassis type. The next couple of pages illustrate what a Vehicle Record Sheet looks like completed and an explanation for each heading. Pages 14 to 22 cover new vehicle rules and refinements which are reflected throughout the rest of the book. Its quite an eclectic mix; there are mentions of everything from wagons and rickshaws to propeller driven aircraft and sensors, stealth and electronic warfare systems!

The Chassis Selection (Step 1) starts with human or animal powered vehicles, with a format that is reflected throughout the book; a description and tables listing the performance by tech level and its construction, listing the number of spaces taken, cost, structure and hull points, agility, TL and shipping size. Depending on what the method of transport is, you also get tables and rules with any specific modifiers needed. The level of detail in this section is huge; different types of motorcycle, types of wheels (such as tracks, half-tracks, off-road capability, towing limits), trains, hovercraft, light and heavy ground vehicles, grav vehicles such as air/rafts, grav cycles and cars, helicopters, mechwarrior-style ‘walkers’, ships, airships, aircraft and ‘exotic’ designs such as Ornithopters and one of my all-time favourite vehicles, the Ekranoplan (which if you’re not familiar what one is, uses ground-effect to ‘skim’ over a body of water).

Page 60 includes a sub-section on the design of massive vehicles such as battleships, aircraft carriers, ground crawlers used for mining or huge walking vehicles.

Page 63 starts to refine the the chassis with ‘Universal Modifications’ where you can for example, increase or decrease agility, speed or physical structure changes (which affect the hull and structure ratings). Everything costs Cr so the listed modifications include whatever percentage / absolute cost it is to add or take away the modification.

Armour is looked at starting on Page 67; want to add enough armour plate to stop a World War II-era Tiger tank? You could, but the side-effect is that the speed reduction per step will probably render the vehicle inoperable…!

Page 72 covers Weapon Mounts and Weapons. Gearheads will appreciate the tables listing projectile and energy weapons that are as diverse as naval cannons, field artillery, Electromagnetic Gauss Guns, Laser Cannons, Fusion Cannons, Flamethrowers and Ballista’s. The section usefully looks at not just the weapon, but the projectile and its effect. There are sonic electronic ball-breakers (ok, perhaps not!), ok just about any type of lump of lead or shot that you can fire through a long pointy tube.

Modifications starting on page 86 starts with types of passive defences such as exotic high-TL Meson Screens or Gravitic Deflectors (aka ‘Defence Shields’ as they are more commonly known in some sci-fi circles) but also physical armour such as steel plate that you might see on a battlefield tank. Active defences include missiles, anti-missile laser systems, chaff, flares and decoys. A vehicle has to protect its occupants so you are presented with various types of life support systems such as airlocks, hostile and corrosive environment protection. Electronics and computers include a nice touch ‘Quantum Entanglement Communicators’, using technology which is only just being discovered. By the time TL12 comes around, these encrypted communications devices will become readily available. Its nice to see the author including cutting-edge technology mentioned in the media now, which could become the norm in the near future. The section also includes accommodation modifications, internal and external components, equipment and tools.

Section 8 – Vehicle Maintenance in a couple of pages, describes what maintenance programme is required in order to keep your vehicle in fully working order.

Section 9 – Vehicle Combat System offers an alternative combat system that encompasses all the stats and functions that are included in the book.

The final section (10) contains 55 pages of example vehicles, which cover just about something from every major type of transport mentioned in the book. I don’t know if it was deliberate or an oversight, but some of the illustration spaces were blank (eg. The exoskeleton powerlifter and the rock crawler) which seemed a bit odd when all the other vehicle pages had an illustration.

The final few pages include blank Vehicle Design Records which are also available to download separately as part of the purchase from DTRPG.

The layout across the book is reasonably well-balanced and every bit of white space is used, if not for text then a line art or 3D illustration is used. Because there is so much information, a few pages felt slightly cramped in order to try and fit everything on the page and probably could have benefitted with a slight increase in page count to make things not as ‘squashed’ together.

I feel as though I’ve only scratched the surface of the VDG as the author has tried to cover every conceivable mode of transport and option that can be bolted onto it, in an reasonably easy-to-use process to construct a customised vehicle. I must make a special mention for the 3D monochrome illustrations by Ian Stead, there are some really nice images of futuristic missile launchers, MBT’s (Main Battle Tanks) and exploration rovers – more please!

The ‘spaces’ concept takes a bit getting used to and can be quite alien to someone who is used to the usual Traveller dTon method to measure capacity. If I was to suggest some improvements to the book, I would have liked to see some sort of flow chart to explain the design sequence a bit more clearly, along with some page references to help you find the steps a bit more easily and get up to speed a bit more quickly. However there are a number of completed vehicle records so it is possible to ‘reverse engineer’ these and check that you are following the steps correctly. The design sequence isn’t massively complicated, but the book is so hugely comprehensive and contains such a massive amount of detail, I’m all for making these sorts of processes easier to get started with.

Does the VDG achieve its aims to be the ‘go-to’ book for Cepheus Engine vehicle design? I think mostly; for the amount of content and for the number of vehicles from just about every tech level you could think of, it hits top marks. For me, the design sequence process needs a little bit of additional clarity and refinement so that it doesn’t get swamped amongst all the other content. Once you get your head around the additional rules and used to the design sequence, I reckon this is valuable resource which you can utilise for any number of games. Though its one of the more pricer Cepheus Engine books, I think its definitely worth a look if you want to make a commitment to building your own vehicles; the sheer amount of content and additional rules make this a resource that you would return to when setting up a game. You’ll most definitely ‘get a lot of mileage’ from this product! (Groan) Finally I would like to thank Ian Stead for kindly sending me a copy of the Vehicle Design Guide to review.

About AlegisDownport

Musings on the Traveller RPG world, technology, astronomy and digital art.
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4 Responses to Vehicle Design Guide Review

  1. Craig Oliver says:

    Thanks for the overview. While still on the fence as I don’t get to play enough Traveller, I do have a game starting in a couple of months and depending on the gear-head level may get this. My few other Moon Toad purchases have always been excellent.

    • No problem, glad you enjoyed the review; in some ways I don’t feel as though I’ve done the book enough justice even with a 1500 word review, as there is so much content in it. Definitely worth checking out of you think this will fit in your game.

  2. So, is this a source book or a rules book? Or is it pricy because it tries to do both? I used to be a Traveller “ System Engineer” who wanted to build everything. These days I am more a “user” who is fine using pre-made source material incorporated into my own adventure.

    • Good question; I would consider it more of a source book with a limited number of additional rules or changes in order to let you build your own vehicles. Its a ‘tool kit’ with lots of components to construct stuff, with a substantial number of pre-generated vehicles to utilise, across a range of tech-levels. I would say its more expensive than other CE books due to the substantial amount of source material (and probably the research that went into it) in the book.

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