I’ve been looking forward to reviewing Sword Of Cepheus for a while and I’ve been sorting out my blog post plans for the next few months, so it feels good to get my teeth into putting a post together for this. I’ve been following the project closely as it has some parallels to my ‘Fantasy Traveller’ articles for both converting the Classic Traveller and Cepheus Engine SFRPG rules sets to a low-tech fantasy world background. There has been quite a bit of interest over the years in using the Classic Traveller and latterly Cepheus Engine rule sets for fantasy gaming, noted by how popular the subject has been on the ‘Citizens of the Imperium’ forum and by the number of views of my own ‘Fantasy Traveller’ blog posts for Classic Traveller and more recently ‘Cepheus Engine Fantasy Traveller‘. So it seems inevitable that with Cepheus Engine being a direct ‘decendant’ of Classic Traveller, that there should be some attempt to formalise the rules and publish them. Finally, this attempt has come in the form of the ‘Sword of Cepheus’ (SoC), released by Stellagama Publishing. The team over at Stellagama have developed the CE rules set over the past couple of years with releases such as ‘Cepheus Light’, ‘Cepheus Quantum’ and ‘Cepheus Faster than Light’, all have which have enabled players and referees continue to play in a more updated manner but still using the principles of 2D6 SFRPG rules.
At the beginning of the year, I was lucky enough to have access to an alpha-release version of SoC and provided a little bit of playtesting and proofreading feedback to the writers, Omer Golan-Joel, Richard Hazlewood and Josh Peters and I recall being impressed with the draft. It immediately brought back memories of my first read of my favourite set of fantasy gaming rules, ‘Tunnels and Trolls’ and I will probably draw a number of comparisons later in this review.
So what do you get for your money? SoC is available from DriveThru RPG for $9.99 and is currently only available in PDF format. I am aware that a print version is currently under development, but this has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The book is 131 pages long and sports an attractive piece of artwork featuring a dragon breathing fire onto a single adventurer, fighting back with some sort of protection spell. The books table of contents has active links to the various sections, which of course is always very useful in a PDF. Sword of Cepheus does not include a ‘background’ or ‘world’ and should be considered as purely a system with which to create your own adventures and environment. After a short introduction and description on die-rolling conventions (SoC uses the basic rules from CE employing 2D6 as the basic game mechanic), the book starts with the ‘Skills’ section.
The writers have took the SFRPG CE skills and applied a degree of analysis on what would work on a low-tech world, making changes where a skill is specifically orientated to the use of technology higher than TL1 or 2. You are presented with 27 skills, each with a short description and a note as to what has had to be changed in order to make the skill ‘fit’ within the rules. Skill advancement is discussed with the use of experience points to move up skill levels; there are a couple of suggestions listed how to do this, but the total number of skill levels can’t exceed the total of your INT and EDU.
This starts on page 10 with a description of the six main characteristics and various ways to roll your characters stats, depending on how heroic you want them to be. Now that you have your characters stats, you can start to fill in some blanks on what modifiers such as their social standing and characteristic DMs. Now its time to build your characters background (starting at age 14) and range of skills. The career process is basically the same as the ‘standard’ CE rules in progression, what skills are gained and mustering out.
You have a choice of careers, which include:
I think the range of careers is reasonable and balanced, is varied enough to be distinct from your usual original fantasy RPG ™ but you can find equivilent roles from the list above.
Following the ‘Life Events’ tables, you get to choose from the list of mustering out benefits, if you qualify for them of course; there is quite a range listed, depending on what career you chose and how far you progressed in your chosen career. I guess ‘Sailor’ is the equivalent of ‘Scout’ in the SF version of CE as if you are lucky enough, you can qualify for a small ship – galley or sailing of course! Also included are injury and aging tables. To help explain the whole thing, page 29 and 30 take you through three examples of someone rolling up three different characters. Rounding off the chargen process you have a choice of ‘Traits’ which is something that Stellagama introduced into the Cepheus Light: Traits supplement. Traits are gained depending on the number of terms they successfully complete and having the required pre-requisite. You get to choose from a list of 44 traits which include things such as Immunity to particular toxins and pathogens, or Combat Readiness which gives you a DM+1 to initiative throws. There are some very useful traits to gain here so its worth trying to complete as many terms as possible to qualify.
This starts on page 37, with a note on tech levels in that as an equivilient, SoC should be treated as TL0 or 1. Gold coins (of course) are the main unit of currency with equivilents listed for copper, silver, electrum and platinum. A rule that I applaud is the lack of any encumbrance rules; I’ve never used these and from what I have seen, many other RPG’ers hate these as well. Instead a character may carry a number of majors ‘items’ equal to their STR with no penalty. Increased loads introduce DM-1 to physical activities and a move restriction, but thats it. In my opinion, if you wish to use it this is a nice simple way of managing carrying your loot out of the dungeon. After a look at typical daily and monthly living expenses, you start with the lists of adventuring equipment on page 39. Each of the 32 items listed has an associated cost and short paragraph-long description. You get the same for personal armour which is listed with its Protection value (think similar to cloth, ablat, mesh etc in CE) though I should note that only complete sets are listed, rather than the granularity of individual parts such as greaves, gauntlets or helmets.
The next couple of pages list the different types of vehicles and mounts; quite a comprehensive list here, everything from horses, canoes, galleys, elephants and the four ton Edmontosaurus! Twenty-two weapons (non-missile) are described on page 43 in the same format with their damage rating, with the following page listing ranged / missile weapons (5). A suggestion that I had during the playtesting phase was to increase the number and variety of weapons and add a bit more granularity to the damage rating, eg. Instead of a sword inflicting 2D damage, include variants that inflict 2D+1 or 2D+3 damage like the Tunnels and Trolls 5th edition rulebook? Though my suggestion wasn’t included, there is always the chance of a supplement… To be on the positive side however there is enough kit listed to satisfy most people and the quantity presented is equivilent to a lot of RPGs. To finish off the weapons lists, you have a short section on artillery pieces such as Ballistas or Catapults.
For me, an intesresting inclusion is Hirelings, Mercenaries, Retainers and Specialists. I think its useful for the writers to have broken these down and include rules in how players can manage them, what their rates of pay are and what sort of return players should expect. Just to note, though the first three are obvious as to what they do, the term ‘Specialists’ is used here usually for non-combatants such as engineers or alchemists commissioned by the players.
Page 48 looks at the practicalities getting around and about your fantasy world; Reactions based around a ‘light-touch’ look at alignment. You aren’t forced down selecting what alignment your character is, but just how individuals react to each other based on say their motivation. The section discusses aspects of movement in different environments, rations, dungeoneering, disease and poison, being (literally) all at sea and making use of fire.
The final section I’m going to look at in this first part of the review is Page 54 – Combat. In some way, combat is the reverse of the usual CE rules in that hand-to-hand combat is presented first and ranged (misssile) combat is discussed second. Combat is basically the same as CE in that you have to hit on 8+ on 2D6, applying various die modifers before you check your final result. This procedure is presented in a nice clear way with a couple of pages detailing examples of combat.
Page 60 looks at ‘Chase and Vehicle Combat’ which isn’t just limited to mounted skirmishes, but goes as far as looking at Naval Combat between ships. Again the section is bolstered with plenty of examples.
I’m going to finish with the first part of the review for the moment, in the next part I’m going to look at Sorcery and the magic system, monsters and treasure.
*Edit July 2020* The second part of the review is now available to view via this link.