Category Archives: Random musings

A Look at the Cepheus Engine

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My current series of Traveller-related posts would not be complete without having a look at the Cepheus Engine SRD. Many people have called “Traveller with the serial numbers filed off” and from what I’ve seen this is pretty close to the truth. The Cepheus Engine was obviously born out of necessity. But let’s start at the beginning.

Mongoose, Traveller and the OGL
When Mongoose got the license to produce a new edition of the venerable scifi RPG Traveller they did something unexpected: they released the game under WotC’s Open Game License. There was also a Traveller Logo License, which allowed third party publishers to claim compatibility to Mongoose’s Traveller system. I guess Mongoose went that route in the hopes that many publishers would jump onto the bandwagon and produce settings for Traveller, which would all need their core rulebooks.

Then earlier this year, they released a new edition of Traveller and nixed the Traveller Logo License. This means that you can still use the OGL, but you can’t claim compatibility anymore. If you ever read something like “compatible with the 2d6 SF OGL game”, then it means it is probably compatible to MgT 1st Edition.
As you can imagine a lot of small publishers who have created Traveller supplements were not happy about this change.

Continue reading A Look at the Cepheus Engine

Some Thoughts on Mongoose Traveller

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In one of my recent posts I was looking into the various Traveller editions out there. But there were two editions which I left out completely: Mongoose Traveller (or MgT for short) and Traveller 5th Edition or T5. I don’t own T5 yet, and since it’s a beast of 600+ pages, I’ll probably not get it for quite some time. Reading through the older editions of Traveller will keep me busy for the foreseeable future.

CT – refined!
Mongoose Traveller came out in 2008 and is basically a modern version of CT. While it retains a lot of the charm of the original game, it definitely offers a more refined gaming experience. More recently Mongoose released an updated core rulebook, which further improves the game mechanics, and has an updated aesthetic. While the 1st Edition of MgT looked a lot like the original black books, MgT 2nd Edition is more akin to other contemporary roleplaying game books and features full-color artwork.

Third-party support
MgT 1st Edition had a very good third party support, with several publishers releasing material for it. This was made possible by the OGL under which MgT has been released. Mongoose Publishing also used their version of the Traveller rules to power games like 2300 AD and the Judge Dredd RPG. Unfortunately they then decided to change the licensing model for 2nd Edition. You can still release stuff under the OGL but then you can’t claim compatibility to Traveller anymore. The only way to release products for MgT 2E while claiming compatibility is by using DriveThruRPG and Mongoose’s  Travellers’ Aid Society program. The drawback is that both Mongoose and OneBookShelf (the company running DTRPG) get a big cut of the profits and others in the program may use your stuff freely. This was a huge kick in the face to publishers like Gypsy Knight Games. While it might work well for fans making a few bucks off their homebrew material, it’s not a viable solution for most publishers – which is a shame. If I am not mistaken, this also lead to the release of the OGL-powered Cepheus Engine which is basically a Traveller rulebook with the numbers filed off.

Bad editing, high prices
Mongoose products also often have the problem that they are poorly edited. Their 1st Edition Traveller game also came in different printings which can easily be distinguished by the artwork used. For some reason you get the new printing when you buy a PDF from DTRPG, but the old printing when you order a POD copy. This can be terribly frustrating. A couple of the MgT 1st Edition products I bought also turned out to be very bad quality. Some even looked as if their layout has be done in Microsoft Word. This is totally unacceptable nowadays. Back in the day (I don’t know if it’s still the case) Mongoose website claimed they were part of the Bits & Mortar initiative, which should mean that if you buy a book of a participating publisher in a brick & mortar store, you also get the PDF for free. For some reason this was never the case for any Mongoose Publishing product I bought (with the exception of the PDF version of the MgT 1st Edition rules, but I had to bug them for quite some time, before they sent me a copy). I really want to like Mongoose but this has always left a bad taste in my mouth.

A step forward, two steps back
From what I’ve seen so far (I only own the core rules) MgT 2nd Edition is a great product and a huge improvement over 1st Edition BUT (and this is a huge BUT) there are no ship construction rules in the core rulebook anymore, the third-party support for 2nd Edition is much smaller (if at all … I haven’t checked in a while), and it forces me to rebuy almost everything. What definitely rubs me the wrong way is that I feel the 1st Edition core rulebook was a more complete product than the 2nd Edition core rules. Cutting the ship construction rules from the core to sell more copies of High Guard might be economically sound, but it just doesn’t feel right.

Conclusion
There are a lot of things I have to criticize when it comes to MgT (regardless of edition) BUT most of them are not related to the actual rules. Rules-wise MgT is definitly a soild choice especially if you are looking a system which is still supported. Because of the whole kerfuffle with third party publishers and the higher price of the 2nd edition, you’re probably better off picking up MgT 1st edition.

Fixing XXVc

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First things first: XXVc is not necessarily a broken system. I am sure there are GMs and players who are perfectly fine with the system. But for me and my group it doesn’t really work that well.

I also have to admit that I was in a pretty bad mood in the last few days. My old friend the black dog (aka depression) came for a visit and definitely overstayed its welcome. After a good night’s sleep things look already way better and I am more open to find solutions instead of throwing everything out.

I also want to thank everyone who posted their comments, advice, and ideas on Google+, Facebook, and here on the blog. Your comments really helped to put things into a perspective and gave me a shove into the proper direction. I want to send out special thanks to Joseph Wolf who basically came up with the solution I might be using.

So, here’s what I want to do:

  • Out with the skill system
    Undoubtedly XXVc skill system has its issues. Several people have recommended replacing it by Peryton’s system for attribute checks and knacks.

    This system is actually pretty close to what D&D 4e and 5e used (when I am not mistaken). To make a successful check your roll plus an ability score modifier plus your level divided by three must be equal or higher than a difficulty number set by the GM. Knacks are skills you have some talent for. When you have a knack for something, you use your whole level as modifier, not just one third.

    You also don’t write down all possible skills, but only the ones you have a knack in. That is simple, should work well enough and is easily implemented. Instead of using XXVc’s skill list I will probably resort to more broad categories. The Rocketjock will probably get a knack for Piloting, the Medic a knack for Medicine etc.

  • Action points
    The game’s lethality is an issue. Not only does it frustrate my group, it also doesn’t fit the game’s theme. Action points could alleviate this problem. Each player character starts the game with a number of action points they can use to make re-rolls, avoid damage, max out damage, etc.

  • Faster Healing
    Healing in XXVc is a big issue. Joseph recommended borrowing a rule from Barbarians of Lemuria which let’s the characters heal half of the HP lost in the last combat when resting. I will also have to come up with new healing abilities compatible with the Peryton skill system.

    OR I could grant the Medic class a kind of “spell-like ability” which allows them to heal without making any kind of roll. On 1st level they start with Cure Light Wounds and on higher levels they get access to better healing abilities. The Medicine knack can then be used for things like First Aid, Diagnosis, Medicine-related knowledge checks, etc.

  • Adding more technological gadgets
    There are a lot of things missing from the game. As I wrote in my last post, there should be magnetic boots which help with failed “Maneuver in Zero-G” checks, some kind of “healing potion”, and other technological wonders which help to make the game more futuristic and which make things easier for everyone at the game table. I also want to implement some kind of artifact equipment (like special weapons and armor) to spice things up a bit. In the coming weeks I will then add more stuff as needed. If the players think they need it, and if I think it fits the setting, I’ll add it in.

This sounds like a lot of work, but actually it shouldn’t be that bad. I’ll present these fixes to my players tonight. I am really glad that I was able to wrestle down the dreaded black dog, come up with some possible solutions for my problems (with your help) and move things forward instead of giving up! Thanks again!