For my 199th blog post I’m going to look at the second part of my review of the Sword of Cepheus (SoC) 2D6 RPG rules. Continuing from where I left off in part 1 of my review, the next section is Sorcery starting on page 66.
Sorcery in SoC is quite different to many other fantasy RPGs; it is dangerous and if it goes wrong, can have catastrophic consequences for the caster at the very least. This isn’t a set of rules where your wizard brings a different set of weapons to the party, but rather they tap into the dark arts and try to utilise a little of that exotic power.
Sorcery at its basic level, involves a success roll depending on what circle (level) the spell comes from. There are six circles of difficulty, broken down into three ‘shades’ of magic. These shades comprise of white magic, grey magic and black magic. White magic are spells which are considered wholesome or beneficial in their nature. Grey magic may or may not (depending on what the spell does) corrupt the sorcerer. Black magic always corrupts.
Using grey or black magic which corrupts the sorcerer, eventually has some sort of cumulative and detrimental effect on the wielder once they gain enough points. These effects are rolled for on the corruption weaknesses D66 table; possible effects range from a mutation, a stat change, rotting skin, dogs bark at you or some other not-very-nice physical attribute. If you gain a mutation, then this is rolled for separately on its own D66 table. Mutations range from additional limbs, socially-offensive stench, horns, prehensile tail; those familiar with the Games Workshop book ‘Realm of Chaos’ will recognise many of these.
As spells take a great deal of time to learn and cast, sorcerers wouldn’t be much use in a fast-moving combat situation. To get around this, they use magical tools to improve their chances of successfully casting a spell such as talismans. There are also ‘foci’ which allow a spell caster to prepare a spell ahead of time and then cast it in one round. Page 74 contains a full spell table list of what is available, broken down by what circle and type (white, grey or black). The range of spells is pretty ‘standard’ across what you would expect to see in a spell book (there are 108 to choose from), so there aren’t any nasty surprises or omissions for when your sorcerer wants to ‘tool up’. There are an average of six spells per page with a description of its level/type, range and duration. The paragraph of text describes how to use it, its effects and games stats (damage etc). Usefully, you’re given an example of sorcery and magic in use.
Page 93 describes what monsters can be found in the SoC ‘world’. Players of Classic or Mongoose Traveller will recognise many of the terms used to describe them, such as ‘chasers’, ‘pouncers’, ‘grazers’ or ‘hunters’. SoC monsters have similar game characteristics to humans, but instead of EDU or SOC, they have ‘Instinct’ (INS) and ‘Pack’ (PAC) attributes. INS is the monstrous equivalent of EDU, which is used for tasks such as sensing prey. A higher PAC number means the larger the group that the creature it can be associated with. You’re given an example of how to read a set of monster attributes; this was immediately familiar to me as the format is laid out in a similar format to The Other Game ™ so new players shouldn’t take too long to get used to this.
The monster guide (or manual, if you prefer) lists a total of 96 monsters; the range is pretty varied, from Giant Ants to Black Puddings; from Dragons to Mammoths; from Skeletons to Zombies. Demons have their own table and specific descriptions and there are a number of dinosaurs if you fancy tackling a Pteranodon or something with sharper teeth. I should note that your ‘traditional’ FRPG humanoid creatures such as goblins, orcs or trolls aren’t listed, but you do get vampires, skeletons, basilisks, shadows, lich, lizardfolk and elementals, to name a few of the ‘old guard’ so there are plenty to challenge your players and give you a good set of examples with which to develop your own.
It wouldn’t be an FRPG without a treasure section; something that motivates most players in games is what gold or magic items they can obtain, in order to make them a better opponent or tougher to kill by that hulking great silver dragon guarding its glittering horde. Page 117 looks into this by describing researching new spells, identifying and creating magical items. A favourite section of mine in the Tunnels and Trolls 5th edition rule book was the treasure generator and SoC offers a set of very similar treasure generator tables. However, SoC takes the items a step further with additional D66/D12 tables for different types of potions, rings, scrolls, rods staves and wands, enchanted swords and armour and miscellaneous magical items. Appendix A on page 127 begins to round off the book with a list of inspirational media such as video games, books and TV / cinema and finally with Appendix B the legal stuff.
I mentioned in part 1 how many aspects of SoC reminded me of Tunnels and Trolls 5th edition; I’d like to coin the phrase ‘different familiarity’ to try and put some context to this. What I mean is that it had a familiar feel to the rules in both mechanics and layout, similar to Tunnels and Trolls or The Other Game ™ (R) (c). By the same merit, because it was based on the SF RPG Cepheus Engine rules (with Classic Traveller as its great grandparent), the basic 2D6 / careers / combat etc system allowed me to jump straight into the rules. However there is enough ‘difference’ to make the game interesting to read and to make you feel that you are learning a new game system. For example, I do like the magic system; it offers something a bit ‘exotic’ in the risks involved in manipulating magic, at the same time retaining a certain amount of closeness with the range of available spells. Magic-users don’t just become another member of the party with a different set of weapons to wield at the right time. They have to think about the risks involved in using magic and prepare beforehand. This approach may be a bit different to what some players are used to, but it does create a number of interesting situations and potential gaming scenarios.
The book is clearly laid out and since its launch, there have been a number of updates and corrections to remove any typos (delivered through account updates), not that there were all that many anyway. Artwork is provided by a number of artists and stock images all in monochrome, of which there are enough of to break up the text at appropriate points. The system doesn’t give you any pre-generated world background or environment to tap into; this is purely a system for you to utilise in whatever world or background you want.
Sword of Cepheus is currently priced at $7.49 through the DTRPG ‘Christmas in July’ promotion (normally $9.99) for a PDF. At time of writing, a print book is not currently available, delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is the future for Sword of Cepheus and should you invest in it? One supplement has already been released; ‘Non-Humans for Sword of Cepheus’ fills in the gap by describing the ‘common’ fantasy races such as Dwarves, Elves, Goblins and Trolls (priced at $1.99, $1.49 for a limited time). There is also a free character sheet available to download, also from DTRPG. To me, the rules set is already pretty self-contained, though there is always room for supplements for pre-generated worlds and backgrounds, NPCs, dungeons and adventures or more spells. Though its early days, I think if Stellagama Publishing can add some more supplements to the SoC line, I think it will have a bright future as an easy to pick up set of fantasy gaming rules that offers enough ‘difference’ to make you want to go back and use the rules again and again. As it is, the SoC rules book is a thoroughly enjoyable book and I highly recommend purchasing it if you are looking for a new set of fantasy role-playing game rules with an old-school closeness to how it reads and works. I would like to thank Omer Golan-Joel for kindly sending me a copy of Sword of Cepheus to review.
In other news, the latest Freelance Traveller Magazine has been released (July / August 2020) and can be downloaded from here.
Independence Games are preparing the release of ‘Wendy’s Guide to the Fleets of Earth Sector, Volume 1’ which will be available from the IG webstore or Drivethru RPG on the 22nd of July. *Edit 24th July* this is available now from this link.
For my next blog post, which happens to be my 200th and to sort of ‘celebrate’, I am working on some changes that I hope will make use of this site a bit easier as a resource. Watch this space!