Combine Gamma World, Mutant Crawl Classics and Mutant Future and marry it up with very streamlined version of original Traveler, you get Cepheus Atom. That pretty much sums it up. So yep. Cepheus Atom is a gonzo post apocalyptic game. You could leave out the mutations and such go for a more Mad Max style game if you wanted to.
This is a an extremely streamlined version of the 2d6 Traveler style rules. Characters have only two stats; Endurance and Lifeblood. And there are only six skills (Combat, Knowledge, Physical, Social, Survival, and Technical). There’s no Professions or Careers and you won’t die in character generation which will take only minutes to do. Equipment runs the full spectrum of technology. Characters start with some “common” equipment which covers the usual things and includes primitive as well as “modern” equipment like guns and vehicles.
As characters adventure through the wastelands, they gain Contamination which means they mutate. The more Mutations, they more bizarre they get. And get too contaminated, they character just dies. Mutations are broken into Beneficial and Detrimental and each of those has levels of Minor, Medium and Major. There’s a pretty well rounded range of mutations from psychic powers to physical changes like thick skin or claws or just cosmetic. Some of the mutations are purposefully left vague to allow the player to come up with specifically what happens to the character.
You can’t have a gonzo post apocalyptic game without “Ancient” relics. These are the high tech (almost “magical”) gadgets that the characters can find but have no actual idea how they work. This usually ends up being some fun and occasionally disastrous moments as the characters attempt to figure out what the device is and how to use it. The list of relics in the book are pretty standard things from healing items to power armor.
Monsters have pretty straight forward stat blocks. That’s one thing that I dislike in some of the other Cepheus Engine games is the more complex stat blocks (almost like a whole character write up). Since Cepheus Atom is so streamlined, it uses the same simple format for monsters as well as adding a some special abilities. There’s a pretty standard list of weird wasteland creatures but like the Relics, a GM is only limited by their imagination because it’d be darned right easy to make new and really weird monsters.
On the downside, there isn’t much artwork in the book. I can live with that. And there isn’t any sort of character advancement system. But you could easily port something in from another Cepheus Engine game. And there isn’t a character sheet but one again that isn’t much of problem since the game is so light and it would be easy to make one but it is something that would be nice to have.
Overall, I really like the game. The streamlined design lets game masters house rule and tweak to their desire and there’s plenty of options for them to build the kind of campaign they want to. For me personally, I have about half a dozen different ideas bouncing around inside my brain pan but more on those later.
Oh, yes. Did I also mention that it’s pretty darned cheap? You can grab Cepheus Atom over at DrivethruRPG
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.
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.