A Review of the Role Playing Game Supplement Cepheus Engine System Reference Document

Cepheus Engine System Reference Document by Jason Kamp is a role playing game supplement published by Samardan Press. The supplement is a core rule system for a science fiction game, stated as being ‘inspired by the original three books of the oldest 2D6-based science fiction roleplaying game’ – Traveller, in other words, but that is a trademark and certainly cannot be used. It has been created using Open Game Content available for the Traveller game and is therefore also covered by the Open Game License. Provided certain requirements are fulfilled, other material can be published under the Cepheus Engine Compatibility-Statement License, which allows other publishers to state that supplements are compatible with this.

This is a pay what you want PDF that is available from RPGNow. The supplement is also available as Cepheus Engine SRD, Modifiable Version, which is a Microsoft Word version of the supplement. The supplement which cannot be modified is the version reviewed. This is a 208 page PDF, with one page being the colour front cover, one page the front matter, nine pages the Table of Contents and three pages are legal, the Cepheus Engine Compatibility-Statement License and the Open Game License.

Cepheus Engine System Reference DocumentIntroduction has an introduction to role playing, a fairly standard type that anyone familiar with role playing will recognise. It also covers the basics of the Cepheus Engine system, which is a 2d6 system, and how it works for resolving matters which require dice rolls. There is a brief overview of characters, characteristics, skills, game play and the pseudo-hexadecimal system used in a number of places for displaying stats.

Book One: Characters starts with Chapter 1: Character Creation. This is essentially a mini-game, as players run through their character’s employment history prior to actual game play, a process which can be fatal or debilitating. Skills obtained from background and employment are covered, and final benefits. This also lists the Universal Persona Profile, a brief six or seven digit notation used to describe characters.

Chapter 2: Skills describes all the skills, both combat and non-combat, used in the system, as well as how new skills can be gained during play.

Chapter 3: Psionics covers psionics, the different areas and skills within them, psionic technology, which either enhances skills or prevents them from being used, and society’s reaction to psionics, which ranges from completely against through to completely embraced.

Chapter 4: Equipment starts with the different technology levels that can be seen in the game. The different types of equipment are then covered, which includes armour, explosives, weapons, robots, tools and vehicles. The equipment is of different tech levels and will not be found everywhere. Most of the descriptions are quite generic; for example, submachine gun is covered, not different types of them.

Chapter 5: Personal Combat deals with the mechanics of combat using personal weapons and small vehicles.

Book Two: Starships and Interstellar Travel starts with Chapter 6: Off-World Travel. This chapter has details on interplanetary and interstellar travel as well as running a starship, how much this costs and how to generate revenue. There is information on a variety of related subjects, including the law.

Chapter 7: Trade and Commerce has rules for engaging in trade.

Chapter 8: Ship Design and Construction covers the various components that go into a starship, including weapons, and their cost and space, as well as the cost of the spacecraft hulls themselves. This includes small craft design.

Chapter 9: Common Vessels has details for various different ship types, including small craft.

Chapter 10: Space Combat covers combat in space, naturally enough. This combat is not miniature or token based, instead it is stated as being more cinematic in nature, to allow for roleplaying on the part of the players.

Book Three: Referees starts with Chapter 11: Environments and Hazards. This has a number of different hazards that character can encounter, from acid to vacuum to weather, and their effects. Carrying capacity is also included in this section; not really a hazard.

Chapter 12: Worlds introduces and explains the Universal World Profile, or UWP, a fairly simple, if perhaps a little cryptic to start with (just like Traveller’s UWP) method of summing up important points about a world in a single line of codes. The basics of star mapping, which uses a hex map, random world generation and communications and trade routes are in this chapter.

Chapter 13: Planetary Wilderness Encounters has a number of tables which are used to generate animals that can be encountered, together with encounter tables. There are mentions of non-animal encounters, for places where such are not suitable, but the chapter doesn’t go into much detail.

Chapter 14: Social Encounters deals with encounters with NPCs. There are different types, such as routine, scenario and random. Patrons, who will hire characters to perform tasks, and encounters with the law are also covered, as well as rumours.

Chapter 15: Starship Encounters is encounters in space, which may or may not be ships. Outside of heavily travelled areas, such as near planets, encounters are most likely not with ships, and there are a few other types provided. There are also various tables for determining random ship encounters.

Chapter 16: Refereeing the Game is a quite brief chapter for the Referee, or the GameMaster in other parlance. This covers concepts such as having fun is the most important element, how preparation can help with improvised play and various solo activities that can be done.

Chapter 17: Adventures is the final chapter. Also quite brief, this covers the EPIC Adventure System, adventures in five acts and three-dimensional play, the last being ensuring that even in a campaign with an overarching plot, make sure not everything is connected.

Cepheus Engine System Reference Document in Review

The PDF is very well bookmarked, with the major and minor sections covered. The Table of Contents is both thorough and hyperlinked (although oddly not bookmarked itself). Navigation is as a result well above average. The text maintains a simple, two column plain format and no errors were spotted. The appearance of the supplement is plain, with the only illustration, or graphic of any type, being the front cover; this is a system reference document so this isn’t unexpected.

This is a pretty complete game in a book. Yes, there could possibly be more content on running the game and creating adventures, but this type of content is essentially system-agnostic and setting-generic and plenty of it is available from other sources, so this is not a big problem.

This may not be pure Traveller, but it’s pretty close to the Classic version of the system and a lot of material published for Traveller looks like it will work with this system. Anyone familiar with the classic version should not have a problem learning this one. Notably, it also allows publishers to create materials that is essentially compatible with Traveller without having to be concerned about the Traveller IP; actual Traveller compatibility license rules have changed at times but the Cepheus Engine compatibility license is irrevocable (except for contraindicated use) and the entire book is open content anyway. All told, this is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to run a Traveller-based game.

The Cepheus Engine System Reference Document is probably the easiest and cheapest way to get started in Traveller, especially classic, and it can be found by clicking here.


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