Cepheus Atom Review

Cepheus Atom is a set of role-playing rules based on the Cepheus Engine rule set, suitable for creating and playing games set in a post-apocalyptic world. It is published by Stellagama Publishing and is available from Drivethru RPG for $2.99 for the PDF or for $5.99 for the PDF and soft cover book. It contains a total of 51 pages. Authored by Omer Golan-Joel, the book is very much a ‘nuts and bolts’ rules set without a formal background setting, here you are a given the tools to create your setting and develop your own adventure.

The book is structured into the following main headings:

Basic Rules and Characters

Common Equipment

Combat

Exploration

Contamination and Mutations

Encounters and Monsters

Relics

Basic Rules and Characters

As mentioned, the rules are based on Cepheus Engine, or more precisely, Cepheus Quantum; so instead of the usual six 2D6 attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Education and Social Standing) you have a rules-light approach where you roll dice for Endurance (toughness) and Lifeblood (resisting injury) and distribute 5 points between the six available skills.

There is an optional rule for creating mutated characters, so you can roll for some sort of attribute at the start of character generation.

Common Equipment

Cash as a form of currency in a post-apocalyptic world is pretty redundant so Cepheus Atom addresses this by employing ‘Trade Units’. One TU is the equivilient to enough food and water for one day – this I would note is one of the most valuable commodities around in this sort of environment. You are presented with tables detailing the typical types of items that you might need to survive in your devastated world; Armour; Common and Heavy Weapons, General Equipment and Vehicles. Much of what is listed is of the hand-to-hand type or improvised; advanced equipment isn’t generally available or can only be found in ancient ruins.

Combat

The next four pages cover personal and vehicle combat, which is then followed by…

Exploration

Getting around your blasted, damaged world is not going to be easy and you are advised how to do this, such as how far you can travel according to the terrain type, forced marching and what happens if you get lost. A post-apocalyptic world will no doubt (if you watch some of films mentioned below) will have some pretty freaky weather, this is covered on the unusual weather table. Just hope you don’t roll a six or you might end up glowing green…! Finally the author looks at what characters should do if they wish to set up camp, urban scavenging and foraging, contaminated zones and other hazards, underground movement and use of light.

Contamination and Mutations

This is where things really start to get hostile for the characters; depending on whether you are human, near-human or a mutant, the effects of contamination, poison or other diseases will be different. Several tables on the following pages describe the various types of mutation that you can pick up – its good to see that these are balanced with both beneficial and detrimental mutations (eg. Fast healing, thick hide verses minute size or bleeder).

Encounters and Monsters

To provide that ‘fodder’ for random encounters or creatures for the players to deal with, the referee is provided with some tools to put these together. The ‘monster format’ is detailed, how they could react in encounters and special attacks. The next six pages list a number of random tables according to the terrain type. There is quite an eclectic mix; everything from Morlocks, Neddlemen, Koboloids, Robots, Ettercaps (whatever one of those is) and ‘the Glowing One’ to mention a few!

It wouldn’t be an apocalypse without killer robots of some description; you get three pages with background on how players can make use of robots, repair them, types enountered and how they react.

Relics

Rounding off the book is the final section on relics, or artifacts left by the previous civilisation. The main place for trading in these (if you can find them) is bartertown. You can typically find a number of these and the referee will randomly generate these when the players turn up. The remaining four pages list a number of tables for randomly generating different types of items, such as gizmos (small stuff such as astronaut pens, gas masks, citizenship cards), medicines (antibiotics, stims), armour (rad suit, power armour, riot shield) or weapons (pulse rifle, handgun, sonic rifle).

Though there isn’t a list of inspirations, I got thinking about the movies that could give a referee some ideas for setting up games set in the world of Cepheus Atom.

Therefore, for your enjoyment and delectation, here is a small list of post-apocalyptic films for inspiration, that could fit ideally into Cepheus Atom games:

Damnation Alley (1977)

The Mad Max series (1979 – 1985 and 2015)

The Quiet Earth (1985 – what an ending!)

Escape from New York (1981)

Akira (1988)

A Boy and his Dog (1975)

The Day After (1983)

Threads (1984)

The Thing (1982)

The Omega Man (1971)

I am Legend (2007)

28 Days Later (2002)

A more comprehensive list can be found at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_apocalyptic_films

Much background material can also be found for this sort of game in the ‘B’ movies from the 1950’s and 60’s, so you won’t be short of ideas for setting up games.

Artwork is provided by Hannah Saunders and public domain sources; illustrations include a number of mutant creatures, many of which have extra limbs or spiky bits. Cepheus Atom is ideally suited for single nights play or a short series of linked adventures. Its flexible enough to to suit a variety of apocalypses (!) depending on what you are into and is written in such a way that it promotes ‘fun’ and not too serious games. It is suitable for inserting as a world the players could travel (or crash land!) to and the referee has an instant set of tools with which to pull together a game. Cepheus Atom is highly recommended and I feel represents exceptional value. I would like to thank Omer Golan-Joel for kindly sending me a copy to review.

About AlegisDownport

Musings on the Traveller RPG world, technology, astronomy and digital art.
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