Its finally the Christmas and New Year holidays having finished work until after the new year and taken some time off to rest, I’m finally back into the mindset for writing again. I’d like to thank everyone who has sent good wishes and been patient with me whilst I got my head sorted out. I’ve read about other people hitting such mental blocks and was surprised when it hit me. Like everyone says, please take time out and look after yourself if you happen to find yourself in the same position as I’ve been these for the past few months.
There has been quite a bit happening in the Cepheus Engine and Traveller RPG world which I’m going to be catching up with; however to (re)-start the reviews I’m going to delve into a biggie – the Hostile Rules by Zozer Games.
This has been a long-expected release since the original Hostile Setting book was first published back in 2017 and updated in September 2021. For those that aren’t familiar with the background to Hostile, take a look at my original article which can be found here. I’ll be taking a look at the updated setting book in a future blog post.
The Hostile Rues are available from Drivethru RPG for $17.99 as a PDF, containing 239 pages and is authored by Paul Elliott. The download includes a colour and monochrome print-friendly version. If you prefer, you can also pick up a print-on-demand hardback version from Lulu.com for just over $43 (£32.25) or softback in either colour or white backgrounds for just under $23 (£16.97).
The Hostile Setting book has previously relied on a separate rules set in order to play the game; you could have used the Cepheus Engine SRD or one of Stellagama Publishings Cepheus Light flavours, or the ‘2D6 Retro Rules’ which were provided as part of the download package. With the release of the Hostile Rules set, Zozer Games aim to provide a ‘complete’ package with the updated Setting book so that you have a complete environment with which to explore its ‘universe’. The first thing that strikes me about the book is the new gorgeous artwork cover by Ian Stead, who I know (through updates on Twitter) has been heavily involved with the layout and helping to pull the book together. The publication is divided into twelve main sections with the legal stuff and index at the back. The headings include:
1 Incoming Message
2 Game System
5 Personal Combat
6 Space Travel
7 Starship Combat
8 World Data
11 Managing Your Crew
12 Game Resources
Taking a more detailed look at each section in turn:-
1 Incoming Message (Pages 7 to 16)
To set the scene, the rulebook provides an introduction to the Hostile universe with the sorts of characters and things you would get up to in a game, along with the obligatory ‘what is a RPG’ section. The rulebook does include some material from the supplements and the Hostile Setting book, which have been released over the past few years for completeness. This would be unavoidable as the Setting book was released first when usually, RPG rules are published first and settings afterwards. It is worth noting that though originally completely separate and unrelated, over the past few years other books published by Zozer Games have now come under the Hostile timeline; Outpost Mars, set in 2030, Orbital 2100 which I wrote about in an article in the Cepheus Journal Issue #008, and Zaibatsu, which is set at the same time as Hostile but based on Earth looking at a high-tech Japan and the Cyberpunk corporate wars. A further list of the current list of Hostile books and supplements is provided plus some game terminology. I have also published a list of Hostile publications, which can be found at this link.
2 Game System (Pages 17 to 21)
How you achieve things is typically resolved using a task resolution roll, either as a characteristic, skill, attack or perception roll. Depending on the difficulty and skill of the character, the roll on 2D6 is modified and compared against a target result for success. Along with this description, a page describes the various units of time used.
3 Characters (Pages 22 to 64)
Page 22 starts with a description with what type of crew the players will play in the game, so that they all have relevant roles to function as a crew. For example, a Roughneck Crew; a group of experienced miners and oil-drillers might hire themselves out as troubleshooters; these crews may include roughnecks and technicians, perhaps a spacer or colonist and maybe even a corporate exec as a manager. Careers: Roughneck, Technician, Commercial Spacer, Colonist, Ranger, Scientist. The ‘Characteristics’ section details how to create a character using the Cepheus Engine-based statistics (CE), skills and careers. A set of steps helps anyone unfamiliar with the character creation process, but anyone familiar with CE or Traveller will pick up the specifics of Hostile pretty quickly. Both random and design-based creation processes are listed. There are a number of careers to choose from (15 to be precise) ranging from Android, Corporate Exec, Commercial Spacer, Marine and Survey Scout to name a few. Again, the format style follows the same as other 2D6 SF-based RPGs with Rank and Automatic Skills, Career, Mustering out, Skills table and Mishaps. A total of 38 skills with descriptions are provided. To round off the chapter, some examples of typical wages and costs of items and services in 2250 are presented.
4 Hazards (Pages 65 to 87)
Space is tough. This section looks at the sorts of things that can potentially incarcerate or kill you. What is interesting is that its not just the physical environment, but how your character is affected mentally. Stress and Panic checks are covered so how a character reacts to an overwhelming situation can be measured. All sorts of environmental challenges are covered, including examples such as acid, falling, fire, disease, atmospheres, radiation, pressure loss, underwater… the list goes on, so whatever situation your characters are found in, there is some guidance for the referee how to play the situation out.
5 Combat (Pages 88 to 114)
A complete combat system is provided in Hostile, which pretty much covers many of the types of actions that might occur during a ‘close encounter’ and also rules for the effects of getting hit (injury and recovery) and vehicle combat rules. It should be noted that there aren’t any major weapon or equipment lists, you’ll need the Setting book for these.
6 Space Travel (Pages 115 to 136)
In difference to other Cepheus Engine games, Humans (and animals) are turned insane if awake during a hyperspace jump so the crew and passengers are routinely put into cryogenic sleep for the duration of the flight. The crew is awake only during the destination approach phase. Starships typically bring in raw materials from the off-world colonies to Earth, pretty much like in the film Alien and the bulk carrier Nostromo. There is quite a lot of information presented here, its very much the nuts and bolts of how operating spacecraft works such as loading and unloading, comms and engineering and even recommendations to take time off. Of course, an important part of the game is the bonus; crews aren’t usually paid a monthly salary which is why it is so important after a successful mission. However, player characters may also have other careers so a variety of renumeration packages are discussed on page 132.
7 Starship Combat (Pages 137 to 149)
Generally, the spacelanes in Hostile are pretty peaceful and they are patrolled by national navies, however there is always the potential for conflict so rules are provided here. Hostile spacecraft are big and if relations between opposing parties break down, there is a range of kit that you can fling at each other. This ranges from the smallest weapon (Pulse or Beam Lasers) to some of the larger more common weaponry including Particle Beam guns, Railguns and Missile Launchers. Each member of the crew has a function to perform whilst a combat action is taking place. For example, an Engineers Actions includes such things as Damage Control, Repairing Robots, Overcharging Weapons or Redlining the Engines which of course require some sort of difficulty roll.
8 World Data (Pages 150 to 171)
Hostile follows the standard format of Cepheus Engine and Traveller for world data, with plenty of information describing what each stat means and the variety of worlds out there. There aren’t any specific worlds detailed here, the Setting book would be more appropriate to look at.
9 Trading (Pages 172 to 176)
This is a pretty small section, looking at what trade the players can do on the side of the larger corporate jobs. How to buy and sell is covered, along with dealing with salvage.
10 Encounters (Pages 177 to 202)
To help the referee populate the adventure with encounters (or even to just ‘brighten up’ a journey), there are a copious number of tables to randomly generate an encounter. Using a mixture of D6 / 2D6 / D66 rolls you can generate Space Encounters, Starport Encounters, Colonies, Patrons and things that might happen whilst travelling across a planet. It wouldn’t be Hostile without some sort of way to create exotic or alien animals. This section gives you the tools to build a creature that might or might not be hostile to the characters; these follow the usual CE / Traveller format with Grazers, Hunters, Pouncer types, size, weapons, armour, reactions etc. Exomorphs – or alien horrors are discussed with a number of ideas how the exomorph can present themselves (not with Powerpoint, before you ask). If the referee wishes to create an exomorph, the guidance is for them to select what values they see fit, but keep it reasonable and believable. There are however, no tables with pre-generated creatures to refer to, so some preparation would be required by the referee if they are to be used in a game.
11 Managing your Crew (Pages 203 to 230)
The final section rounds up and pulls together all the previous rules and guidance. The author discusses how crews work together in Hostile, playing styles, how to run the game by defining a structure of events and tasks to accomplish. Page 208 looks at scenario creation with setting up key elements to make for a successful adventure, using an actual movie as the basis for an example. Aspects of improvisation (and improvisational preparation) are looked at and the various tools available such as floor plans, character sheets and how to recycle game material. There are a lot of useful tips here and the along with a couple of pages looking at campaigns, several blank forms, character sheets, hex grids and quick reference tables.
The remainder of the book with the obligatory legal statement and useful index.
In some ways, the Hostile Rules don’t offer anything ‘new’ in that the game system is immediately familiar and a limited amount of material has been re-used, which has been published elsewhere as the game has evolved. However, having a Hostile Setting but no rule book has personally, always felt a bit ‘odd’ and there has always been a certain amount of work required whatever version of the generic Cepheus Engine rules you wanted to use. Having a set of rules really does compliment the Hostile Setting book and related publications, especially as there is now quite a bit of material available for your games.
There are some obvious comparisons to draw with the Alien Roleplaying Game by Free League Publishing, especially as Paul Elliott did contribute to the game. Though I haven’t been able to take a detailed look at the Alien RPG, from what I understand though the game is incredibly well produced and is ‘authentic’ to the Alien films and setting, I have heard it can get a bit ‘predictable’ as many of the games eventually end up encountering the obvious xenomorph. This results in some sort of predictable event (lots of people die) and can get a bit repetitive. However I should qualify this statement in that it is only what I have read from other people who have played the game and I do acknowledge this may not be an entirely fair statement. So where does Hostile try and avoid this pitfall? The game is heavily orientated towards building a background where players try to earn their keep in an unfriendly and oppressive environment, where it doesn’t need some sort of exotic creature to kill you or provide a central focus for the game. Sometimes in (other) SFRPG games I do have the impression that ‘routine’ actions such as a spacewalk, repair of some bit of equipment or flying a spacecraft are often overlooked in order to make the game play ‘better’ in reaching significant points in the adventure. Hostile creates an environment where just about *everything* is trying to kill you in the depths or space – worlds, the ship you’re on, the corporation you’re working for (as long as you meet your quota targets of course) or anything else the setting can throw at you. I think this makes for a more challenging and ultimately richer and immersive game experience, where the balance of the game isn’t necessarily orientated to you dying a horrible death by something with ‘acid for blood’. The artwork and reformatted layout across both the Rules and Settings books by Ian Stead and Paul Elliott really make for some high quality and consistent-looking books.
Overall, I think the updated Hostile Setting and new Rule book make for one of the best Cepheus Engine / 2D6 settings available and I would highly recommend you take a look at it. The Rules book makes for a fantastic addition to your gaming library and Paul Elliott, Ian Stead and the team involved should be commended in producing such an excellent publication. This is a definite purchase for me and I would like to thank Paul Elliott for kindly sending me a copy of the Hostile Rules to review.
Finally, this will be the last blog post this year, thank you to all my visitors and support from the publishers who have kindly provided copies of their new releases for me to review in the past year. I would like to wish you all a very happy (+safe) New Year and I’ll be back soon with some new features and reviews in 2022!