All posts by Chuck

I've been a gamer, a geek and nerd for about 30 years. Any questions?

The Sword of Cepheus

Sword of Cepheus

Let me start this off with a very brief overview of The Cepheus Engine. It’s basically old-school Traveler. Ability scores and task resolution are on 2d6. The whole system uses only d6’s. There are no classes like the World’s Most Popular RPG. Characters have careers that give them skills and material benefits during character creation. And yes, you can die in character generation but many GM’s house rule around that.
The Sword of Cepheus is the Cepheus Engine take on Sword & Sorcery and with very little tweaking you could use it for Sword & Sandal or even Sword & Planet. The game is presented without a setting but it does explain it’s three “pillars”: Gritty Heroic, Dark Sorcery, and Open World. In other words, you’re average PC is better than mooks but they still need to be careful. Magic will screw you up. And go out there and get into trouble.
Character generation and game mechanics follow pretty much the same formula as you see from the original source systems. Roll your stats then pick a career and so on. Since it’s been literally decades since I messed with Traveler, it took me a while to digest it but a good read through got me back into the swing of things. The best thing about the character generation/career steps is that also gives a character a bit a background or at least some bullets points for the player and the GM to work with. Now I’ll probably rename some skills just to fit my own sense of style but that’s not really a big deal. There’s also Traits to define a character further. Think of these like Feats but without that silly Feat chain effect in 3rd Edition.
Let’s get the meat of what makes this a Sword & Sorcery games. Magic and Monsters. First up. Magic. Magic is divided into three colors (White, Gray, and Black) and six Circles. The color is pretty obvious. Casting Black Magic causes Corruption. Misusing Gray Magic also causes Corruption. Get enough Corruption and bad things happen to your character. Also, magic is magic. There is no Cleric, Magic-User or Druid spell list. Any distinctions are based on how the character is played, their career, and choices. Circles are a bit like spell levels. The Circle denotes the spell’s relative power and difficulty to cast. This isn’t Vancian Magic. There isn’t a specific number of spells per day or memorizing. If the character knows a spell then they know it. Most of the spells will be at least familiar to experienced gamers but most of the direct damage, combat-type spells are gone. Why? Well, it takes 10 minutes to cast a spell. With each round taking six seconds, that means it would take 100 rounds of concentrating on a spell to cast it combat. Not going to happen. But there’s a way around that. Spell Foci. Think of these sort of like the equivalent of D&D scrolls or wands (but they don’t have to be those objects). There are one-use and rechargeable foci. A foci is for specific spell and basically let’s the spell caster have that spell cocked and locked (to use an old military term). There’s an optional rule to allow for rushed casting at a penalty for a more magical campaign. Like I said, there isn’t a limited number casting per day. The character just keeps casting and eventually a bad die roll is going to happen and the consequences are pretty bad. Yes, the character can die, or go into a coma for 1d6 years. So there’s a steep price for magic. Another thing to note is that even a beginning character has access to the most powerful spells. They might not be able to cast them effectively but they may know them. Another thing I like are the healing spells. They don’t give a character x amount of HP. Instead they give natural healing for a specified period of time. The lowest circle healing spell (Respite) gives a day’s worth of natural healing but that doesn’t help for Major Wounds. Or to put roughly into D&D terms, a bunch of Cure Light Wounds spells won’t help you if you’ve had the crap beaten out of you.
For monsters, the book has pretty much the standard array of monsters that you would expect. The stat blocks are pretty easy to ready except for the UPP. This is something from Traveler. It’s a string numbers and letters designating an NPC/PC/Monster’s ability scores. So an average human would have 777777. Stats above 9 are designated with a letter like with hexadecimal. So a character with a UPP of C77777 would have a STR 12 and 7 in the rest of their scores. The order and the attributes aren’t that difficult, they almost mirror d20 based games. The thing is if I have a monster with Strength of “F” that means a a Strength of 15. Now what is the damage mod on that? Well that’s in the beginning of the book. If you’re used to it then it isn’t a problem but if you aren’t there will be some page flipping.
Of course, the book is rounded out with weapons, armor, equipment, magic items, mounts, and vehicles along with chase and naval rules.
Overall, I’m glad I picked it up. I will say that game really needs a GM screen since there are lots of modifiers and tables spread throughout the book. This is another option if you want to run a more Conan/Kull type game rather than Tolkien. I can see bringing a lot of inspirational from existing OSR resources especially things that tend more towards the weird fantasy. It’s also worth noting that Human is the only option in the core book but never fear there is an inexpensive non-humans supplement and that’s pretty good too.
What am I going to do with this? I dunno. I like it. I want to run it. And screams for it’s own setting. Ah. Now that’s something to think about.
You can grab the Sword of Cepheus over at DrivethruRPG.

Playing It Wrong: Cepheus Engine

It’s Episode 19 and I know missed last week. Like most of you I was focused on current events. But you aren’t here to talk about that. Let’s escape for a few minutes to the world of Elf Games.
In this episode, I talk about the Cepheus Engine (old-school Traveler) and mostly about the Sword of Cepheus. It’s a pretty darned good Sword & Sorcery RPG. A more detailed review is forth coming here on the blog. Plus there’s a good chance you’ll more about some of the games running off these rules. I’ve already done a little review on Zaibatsu.

Oh and I joined up with Buy Me A Coffee.
Buy Me A Coffee

Patreon Update: Tax Time

In case you haven’t heard, Patreon will start charging sales tax to patrons. This all depends on where the patron lives and what sort of benefits are being offered under an individual Patreon campaign. Patreon doesn’t really have much choice in the matter, it’s all determined by the local tax codes of where a patron lives. Also, what is considered taxable is determined by where the patron lives.
It’s up to the creators to do their best and guess the value of any benefits to patrons. Patreon has admitted that there will take the risk of something is supposed to be taxed and creator doesn’t set their advanced tax settings correctly. That part is a good thing. But here’s the part that starts to really bug me. In some places, apparently, early access to a podcast is taxable. If a creator gives away PDF, well, that’s still taxable for some mystery amount. And god only knows what else. At least from what has been said so far, “general support” and shout-outs still aren’t taxed.
I know there a few very successful Patreons that are almost like a private little store front. They’re shipping out T-Shirts and god only knows what else. These items are easy to put a value on. I feel there’s no way that I can fairly put some sort of arbitrary value on a podcast episode or even a little one-page PDF. My goal with Patreon was never to “make” money. Not even beer and pizza money. The goal is still to just make enough to pay for the web hosting of the blog and who knows, maybe a new microphone for the podcast.
So with that, I’m going to be redoing the Patreon in a manner that isn’t going to cause Patrons to be needlessly (IHMO) taxed on what I provide. I’m going to reassess the goals and the tiers. Since I’m basically using it as a tip jar, I’m also exploring other options such as KoFi and Buy Me A Coffee. Like I said before, I’m not out to make a bunch of money but giving potential Patrons other options is a good thing. And I’m going to look at the Patreons that I personally back and see what I might get taxed on.
Thanks and let’s back to rolling some dice.

The Cult of Mordiggian

Mordiggian is old and omnipotent as death. He was worshipped in former continents, before the lifting of Zothique from out the sea. Through him, we are saved from corruption and the worm. Even as the people of other places devote their dead to the consuming flame, so we of Zul-Bha-Sair deliver ours to the god. Awful is the fane, a place of terror and obscure shadow untrod by the sun, into which the dead are borne by his priests and are laid on a vast table of stone to await his coming from the nether vault in which he dwells. No living men, other than the priests, have ever beheld him; and the faces of the priests are hidden behind masks of silver, and even their hands are shrouded, that men may not gaze on them that have seen Mordiggian.-The Charnel God by Clark Ashton Smith

My own take on the Charnel God for my campaign world.

Mordiggian’s temples are scattered throughout Zoong. Some are tolerated like in Ularax whiles are hidden in shadow. Ghouls and other eaters of the dead view Mordiggian as the God of the Eternal Harvest. More civilized (and living folks) barely tolerate Mordiggian as a God of Funerary rites. He is not the God of the Dead nor does have anything to do with pass of the soul or spirit into the Afterlife but what happens to the mortal remains. In these areas, the Cult does have a mortal high priest who acts as the public face of the Cult.
Clerics of Mordiggian have a special rapport with low level undead. With a (D)estroy result on a Turn Undead attempt, the cleric may opt to change the attitude of undead to “Friendly”. How the GM determines what a “Friendly” reaction from a horde of zombies, well, that’s up to the GM.

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Playing It Wrong: Roll Initiative!

This episode I talk about initiative and high some interesting methods I’ve seen over the years in such games as TWERPS, The Hero System, Shadowrun, and Savage Worlds. Find out where I stole my house rule from. And finally back to reading from the Tomes of Ancient Forbidden Knowledge. This time Druid Spells from Eldritch Wizardry, Supplement III.
You can listen to the Episode right here or subscribe on most podcasting platforms.

Thanks for listening.