Monday, September 28, 2020

Product Review - Cepheus Atom

Cepheus Atom by Omer Golan-Joel; published by Stellagama Publishing through

I'm using my old review format from the Amber Zone reviews to discuss this game book.

C-Atom is a compact (less than 50 pages of rules!, and that's digest-sized pages) rules-light game set on Earth, after a cataclysmic war that ended the world. Nuclear weapons, poison gas, germ bombs, you name it. All the nasty stuff you can think of has happened. C-Atom is not set up for complex characterizations, and nuanced interactions with exactingly detailed NPC societies. It's a 1950's vintage Atomic Horror movie. The author calls it a “beer and pretzels” game.

Location: The game's setting implies that the whole Earth was affected by the Final War. So the PCs can begin play in their own home town if they want, or pick any place on the planet. It's terrible most everywhere, though, so expect trouble wherever you begin.

Mission: Survive! Maybe the PCs can find someplace that isn't ruined by Contamination where they can find a bit of peace and begin to rebuild the world. The rebuilding part, however, is outside the scope of the game.

Complications: There are mutants and monsters and out-of-control robots aplenty to ruin the PC's day. Even the environment is out to get you; Contamination is everywhere, and will Mutate you with enough exposure. Most of your equipment must be scrounged. Fortunately there are some high-tech goodies to be found - like Jetpacks!

Strong Points: C-Atom gets a lot done in not a lot of space. PCs and NPCs are super-fast to create, and with a familiar setting (Earth) play can get started right away. The game's objectives and story-focus is not limited – it's precise. It is trying to do just one thing, and that it does nicely. Imaginative players can throw in whatever sub-plots they may want, or concentrate on blasting that next Lobstrosity or Spidergoat before their ammo runs out.

Weak Points: Okay, a quibble. Mutations are referred to in one place as Flaws and Perks, but not in the tables that explicate what the mutations actually do. It should be consistent.

What I'd change: This setting is not my cup of coffee, but like every other RPG product I get my hands on, I pored over it looking for things I can use in Traveller (and now also Cepheus Light & Sword of Cepheus). So not to change, but to <ahem> borrow: the Mutations fit in well with my concept of Genetically Modified Humans. C-Atom presents Mutations both beneficial and baneful, and I'll use both. The Contamination idea in general is usable as a different environmental hazard to encounter. The Unusual Weather table is handy – throw a quick complication at the PCs while they're out exploring.

In My Traveller Universe: Mutations, radiation and nasty WMD's could appear anywhere in my TU.

To Sum Up: A mechanically-simple game that your game group might try for a change of pace. It is simple enough in concept and execution to spring on a party or family get together for an impromptu game that will surely bring lots of laughs. Not a game for the serious role-player, or for those who don't want to suddenly develop Laser Eyes.

Omer was kind enough to send me a complimentary copy of Cepheus Atom. 

Monday, September 21, 2020

The Perfect RPG Book?

 According to James Maleszewski, author of the blog Grognardia (far more knowledgeable and prolific than I am), there is a perfect RPG book, and it is:

The Traveller Book.

It has been my Traveller rules-of-reference since I got my copy as a gift from and old friend. Mine doesn't have the dust jacket, and I've penciled in lots of house rules, and stuck in rules/ideas printed from other sources. It is the book I turn to when I need to know the order of results on the Rumor Table or what small craft a Type-C cruiser has aboard. I admit that after 30 years, I've got so much of the rules memorized (or think I do) that I don't have to consult it except for details like table entries. I even wrote an index for it once, just for practice.

Read James' explanation here.

Image borrowed from Wayne's Books.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Military Reputations in the Corriodor

This is a panel from a G I Joe: A Real American Hero comic from back in the late 1980's. I've edited the text balloons a bit to reflect the situation in Holtzmann's Corridor. In case it's not obvious, a Raid and Hostage Rescue has just taken place. 

Now this is just a bit of silly fun on a Friday night, but it does reflect a bit of the political rivalry that exists in my Church and Empire setting. 

What could be said about the Pocket Empires or the Third Imperium & its rivals in your game?

Bonus points if you have this issue, and can tell me who these two mercenaries were actually talking about.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Fire for Effect! the Forward Observer Skill

The Forward Observer skill has long puzzled me. When I was a teenager getting into Traveller (in the 1980's) I could not get my head around what the Forward Observer skill was good for. Why did they include it? Now these many years later, I have an answer for that. It turns out that I've missed out on some exciting adventure opportunities!


The first reason that FO skill confused me is that to me this skill deals with Big Guns - mortars & howitzers; you know, artillery. Classic Traveller has next-to-nothing to say about Big Guns, at least ground-based ones. The Book 1 Gunnery skill is primarily about starship weapons. The skill text does say that “Gunnery may also be used for similar weapons mounted on ATVs or air/rafts.”

which suggests that these vehicles can have energy or projectile weapons. The Vehicles section mentions AFVs but nothing whatsoever about how to adjudicate fire from Big Guns. Starter Traveller didn't even mention AFVs.


A quick digression. Back in the day I did not conceive of the rules as a toolkit for adding my own features into a Traveller setting. I expected the publishers to do it all for me. I have since changed my outlook.

Where was I? Oh yes. Without rules to define and use Big Guns, I had no way to actually use the FO skill except in the most abstract sense. I also lacked the real world information and the sci-fi reading background to make use of the FO skill by whipping up some Big Gun rules.

I think the FO skill did not survive past the Classic edition of Traveller. If later editions still have it, please enlighten me in the comments. If you open up Book 1, it is available on the Service skills table for the Navy, and the Army. If you look in Book 4, Mercenary, FO skill appears on the Artillery and Marine MOS tables, the Staff and Shipboard skill tables. Note in Book 1 this is a skill for Navy and Army types; in Book 4, it becomes a Marine skill as well. It appears in Book 5, High Guard on the Shore Duty and Gunnery MOS tables. Book 4 also introduces the Field Artillery gunnery skill. I'll add a thought on that later.