Pointcrawls and Tight-Packed Sandboxes

I have been prepping and running a sandbox open table of Whitehack 3e. (I will write my thoughts on Whitehack one day in a post.) The characters usually begin the session in a base camp, and they choose where to venture. A classic experience, nothing special. But I have chosen a small map of 3×4 hexes of 12 miles. Why? Nowadays, I do not have so much time to prep an extensive hex crawl experience due to my new schedule. So, I wanted to maximise the result of my time of preparation. I do not have the willingness and time to prepare a 12×12 — or even bigger map — and populate it with interesting things. I would like to spend my spare time playing rather than designing stuff. Indeed, the question was: “How can I make an interesting sandbox campaign given a hectic schedule outside gaming?” The answer to this question led me to think that perhaps is not the size that makes things better or more interesting, but the density.

The stereotype of a sandbox is a huge hexcrawl map filled with dozens of hexes waiting to be discovered. But every time I tried to do so — like my longest campaign of OSE —, the result was not satisfactory. A lot of choices were not meaningful or interesting, and they looked the same. I had the same experience while running with White Box FMAG with Rob Conley’s module’s Blackmarsh. What was the problem? Indeed, I have defined the “The Elder Scrolls Daggerfall feeling”.

The Elder Scrolls II Daggerfall world map.

Daggerfall has the most extensive and large world map of The Elder Scrolls franchise: 09,331 square kilometres, 15.00 towns, and 750.000 NPCs — according to Wikipedia. However, many criticised the fact that all the towns look the same, and nothing happens on the journey between them. Plenty of nothing. Does nothing give interesting choices to the players? No. After a while, the players use fast travel and skip the wilderness. Players go only where their interests lie. It was a waste of time and energy building a so extensive and realistic empty box.

Consider instead one of my all-time favourites, Dark Souls: The whole game takes place in Lordran: a city with its surroundings and its subterranean areas; e.g Blight Town, the Catacombs, Anor Londo, and so on. Dark Souls’ Lordran is not big, but detailed and dense: there are a lot of secrets, NPCs, monsters, strange architectures, and places linked to each other. It is a pleasure to explore, and there is no area put there just to fill something: every piece goes in the place they need to be. There are no areas of the game that give you the feeling of “Ok, this is here just to fill something”. The same goes for Ultima Underworld: Stygian Abyss: the Abyss is a dense place full of creatures with their distinctive culture and ecologies. There are plenty of things and factions to interact with, although the map is not that huge. I was aiming to apply the principles of Dark Souls and Ultima Underworld when designing a sandbox: small areas but full of events, creatures, and ancient places.

I have gotten the idea of tight-packed sandboxes when I gave my availability to bring an open table to a monthly event. I knew that I wouldn’t have had the time during my week to make extensive prepping. So, I began to search “low-prep sandbox campaign” in the OSR blogosphere. I have found Just Three Hexes by Chicagowiza’s Games. The procedure is simple but effective: describe the setting in three sentences; prepare three hexes, one of which must include a camp base/fortress/town for rumours, hirelings, and shops; describe the three hexes with no more than three sentences as well. Three is the magic number. Whenever you need more stuff, expand and add hexes and places, that’s it. You have a bottom-up procedure where you build a core of adventure adding things only when (and where) you need them. From that moment, I became a huge fan of tight-packed sandboxes. And I have developed my recipe for mini-sandboxes on the foundation of that article. The only difference is that I prefer point crawls over hex crawl maps in the style of Electric Bastionland.

The point is that it is better a tiny map full of events and characters. In my case, I have chosen a more abstract approach as a point crawl. It is more than enough for months of campaigning. I would dare to say even years but maybe is too much. You need only the following checklist:

  • The Setting’s Description. Describe in 3-5 sentences the history of the adventuring area. What happened? Any particular feature, like the settlers hate magic? Are there woods haunted by monsters? Why?
  • A Base Camp or Town Describe in 3-5 sentences a camp base or a town in which the adventurers trade, rest, and collect rumours.
  • A Main Dungeon The key area that the adventurers will explore. A dungeon of 2-3 levels of depth. Develop it in detail.
  • Minor Dungeons 2-3 smaller dungeons scattered around the map. The recommended size is between 5 and 10 rooms. It should be completed around a couple of sessions.
  • Three Factions Describe three factions with three sentences each.
  • A Hostile Settlement A settlement of hostile humanoids or creatures. E.g. A tribe of giants, an expedition of religious fanatics. The band of adventurers should have issues while dealing with them in their own territory.
  • Ecounter Tables with a “Lore” An encounter table containing both creatures and events telling something about the world.
  • Points of Interest Points of interest that are not a location. For each intersection of lines in the pointcrawl, insert a point of interest. Describe each one with no more than a 1-2 sentences.

An Example for Cairn: Forest of the Frost Elves

I will show you how I have used this method to create an open table of Cairn.

I have drawn 4-5 geometric shapes intersecting each other. Each intersection is a location or point of interest. Use draw.io o whatever software you prefer or even pen and paper.

I needed something to justify the fact that there are ancient ruins in a dangerous forest. As well, I have to justify why the previous owners have either disappeared or fallen asleep. I want to try the monsters in the Cairn booklet, for examples frost elves and root goblins, but I like the idea of intelligent spiders as well. So, I need a background to make sense of the different treasures and items scattered around the map. And I have thought about a war between the frost elves lords and the giant spiders which have left only ruins after the conflict.

The Setting’s Description

The Frost Elves lords once ruled this small land. But a war against the giant intelligent spiders has wiped them out. What remains are a few ghosts, ruins, and the shadow of the princess deep in the forest.

A Base Camp or Town

As a base camp, I aim for the same feeling as Dark Souls’ Firelink Shrine: a decadent place inhabited by weird people. That is why I have decided to use as a central hub a shrine of some sort.

The Shrine of the Goddess of Hunting Rahvann The Frost Elves used to worship the lady of hunting Rahvann; they built the shrine in her honour at the centre of the forest. The shrine has become the base camp for adventurers, traders looking for relics, and bands of scavengers. The last maiden of Rahvann lives in the chapel at the top of the tower.

As I said, Frost Elves once were the lords of these woods. So, let the main dungeon be inspired by them! I like the idea of woods, cold, and some fairy tale horror. I require a place that transmits such mood. A palace made of frozen roots with evil and a naive monstrous princess will do the job.

Main Dungeon

Root Castle of the Frost Elves A series of frozen roots entwine to shape a castle. It is very cold here, and the monstrous daughter of the king still roams these rooms bringing a candle. In her madness, she is still looking for her lost father, trying to bring him back to the throne of ice and black wood.

Minor Dungeons

  • Caves of the Spider King: The intelligent giant spiders have been living inside these caves, protecting the legacy and the treasure of their king, generation after generation. The giant spiders worship the rotten corpse of their king in the temple below.
  • Infested Wizard Tower An archaeologist wizard used to live here to carry on his research on the frost elves. After a failed experiment, some slimes were born and killed the wizard, spreading through the building. The relics and the knowledge collected by the man are still in the tower.
  • Gardens of the Elven Lords The frost elves’ nobles used to contribute with their wealth to a pleasant magical garden full of statues, fountains, and mausoleums. The gardens contain flora with miraculous properties of long-forgotten ages now extinct. Of course, the ancient lords have left some guardians to protect the gardens.

If you like, you can leave one node so that you can place a pre-made dungeon or adventure. In my case, I would place Barrow of the Elf King by Nate Treme’s High Paranormal Society.

Three Factions

  • The Solitude Lancers An order of knights devoted to push back the winter from any land. They have arranged an expedition in these woods to purge any trace of the frost elves’ sorceries. They are well trained in the use of spears, and their banner is a silver lance entwined with a dragon on a black background.
  • The Frozen Wind Monks Worshippers of the frost elves and prophets of doom. They hunt down travellers and sacrifice them to the ghosts of the frost elves. Their goal is bringing back the frost elves to cast an eternal winter on these lands, seeking eternal peace.
  • Wacnall’s Svirneblins Wacnall the Amethyst Watcher is an old svirneblin warlord; his body is rottening due to an illness. He is leading a small company of greedy deep gnomes to pillage the gems of the frost elves. He hopes to afford a cure for the rot from a witch living in the woods.

I was imagining three factions in the area that would interact with the players. I like the idea to tie a couple of them to the theme of frost elves and winter. While regarding the third faction, I try to build it around the goals and needs of a single influential NPC; in this case, the needs of a dying deep gnome warlord. From these three factions with divergent aims, many interesting situations and choices could arise for the players.

A Hostile Settlement

One can imagine that Wacnall’s army has built some sort of basecamp for their operations. I imagine a fort built within a cave below a huge oak.

Svirneblins’ Fortress below the Oak Wacnall and his band of deep gnomes have established a small fort below a giant oak. The Svirneblins have taken the crystals from the Decrepit Crystal Fort to build a reinforced entrance. The ill warlord collects here all the treasure that will pay for the cures of the witch, and he will imprison and torture anyone to obtain information.

Encounter Tables

A 2d6 table is enough. I try to give examples of how to relate encounters and the history of the area. They must tell something about the world in an implicit way. I put even animals or creatures that make sense to be here, but they are independent of the factions or dungeons.

2d6EncounterRandom Activity
2The Severed Dragon1-2 Vomiting white leaves and black bile while laid on a side.
3-4 Howling and cursing the Frost Elf King for the pain.
5-6 Shaping frozen crystals in the forest using its breath.
31d4 Frost Elves1-2 Freezing water and flowers with their magic and seeing them die.
3-4 Carving wood or painting en plein air.
5-6 Singing a song to celebrate their fallen comrades.
41d3 Elven Draugrs1-2 Raising from a crystal tomb.
3-4 Guarding an ancient frost elven relic.
5-6 Hunting down some giant spiders.
51d4 Ghosts of the Frost Elves1-2 Sculpting the stone to remember their past lives.
3-4 Freezing the surroundings and draining life from the plants.
5-6 Fighting some giant spiders.
61d10 Insectoid Pixies1-2 They are coming out from their cocoons.
3-4 They are building a nest.
5-6 Torturing or lying to a traveller.
72d6 Wolves1-2 Fighting one each other.
3-4 Hunting a prey.
5-6 Howling to a statue of Rahvann.
81d12+1 Svirneblins1-2 Pillaging a ruin in search for gold.
3-4 Mining the place/Cutting the woods.
5-6 Escorting an armoured cart full of treasure.
91d8+1 Giant Spiders1-2 Wrapping unlucky travellers and stealing their goods.
3-4 Trasporting their eggs.
5-6 Sticking the banner of their king among the trees.
101d8 Frozen Wind Monks1-2 Sacrificing someone to the Frost Elves.
3-4 Hunting down new victims for their rites.
5-6 Chanting around a fire about the winter and the eternal peace.
111d6+2 Solitude Lancers1-2 Fighting creatures of the forest.
3-4 Burning down something related to the frost elves.
5-6 Camping and resting.
12The Witch of the Forest1-2 Performing a sacrifice.
3-4 Teaching to one of her apprentices.
5-6 Accepting offers from the travellers for a blessing.

Points of Interest

Here we need only a couple of sentences for each entry:

  • Lake of the Wyrm Down deep below the frozen lake lives a wyrm warden. An elven dolmen explains the story of the creature and treasure it protects.
  • The Toads’ Bog Here lives more or less peaceful tribe of goblins. The tribe breeds in the bog giant toads to employ them as mounts.
  • Dolmen of the Treaty A huge carved dolmen of twenty metres tells the story of the war between frost elves and giant spiders.
  • The Silk Wood A road covered by spider webs in which merchants and adventurers alike end trapped and eaten.
  • The Decrepit Crystal Fort The ruins of an ancient frost elven fort made of crystal shards and stone. Most of the structure has been crumbling for centuries.
  • Shrine of the Winter Witch A small shrine dedicated to a witch practicing rituals for the arrival of winter. Blue flowers surround a ruined statue encircled by a a stone ring.
  • Gallows of the Deserters The frost elves who deserter the army have been transmuted into ghouls and hanged for the eternity on hundred of trees.
  • The Haunted Walls The ruins of the wall that protected the Root Castle. Nowadays, the ghosts of frost elves and giant spiders alike haunt these grounds, living again and again one the last battles of the war.
  • The White Tree A giant tree sprouting leaves with a shade between white and gold. Skulls emerge from the trunk of the tree and a well springs from its roots.
  • The Iron Watchguard’s Throne A strange woman wearing an iron armor sits on a throne made of wood and silver birches on the top of the hill. The armor is full of spikes, and the helm depicts an elven face with multiple blades rising from the top.

At this point, you should have something like this:

Develop just the key dungeons maps and help yourself out using random tables. Perhaps, develop a few relics and trinkets to convey more chunks of implicit setting, but it is not a priority. Focus on developing what you need, when you need, according to the player’s interests and choices in a reactive way.

Subsector Tanith for Cepheus Engine

I know, it has been a while since I posted here. As an excuse, I had been busy with the transition to a new career. Meanwhile, besides playing some Whitehack 3e, I got more and more into Traveller and Cepheus Engine. I have received the invitation to introduce new players to RPGs with a game that shouldn’t necessarily be either D&D or fantasy. Plus, the game should be cheap and accessible. Therefore, I proposed Cepheus Engine: after all, its PDF is free on DrivethruRPG! Originally, I conceived this subsector to play with Classic Traveller of 1977 according to Kubasik’s Traveller-Out-of-the-Box in my own sci-fi universe. So, I ended up developing the concept I had in mind for this small campaign of CE (around 15-30 sessions). The aim was to have a full space opera sandbox experience with low-prep. To do that, I have applied the step-by-step advice of Bat in the Attic for a sandbox in Traveller MGt1. I have created the planets randomly; then I put them in the subsector editor of the Cepheus Journal website to export them as a map. This is the result:

Some background on Tanith

I will keep the setting’s info as minimal as possible. I do not want to overload the players with too many things to remember. However, I would like to supply a believable background for them to interact with. As I said, it will be my custom universe, I won’t play in the Third Imperium milieu. Although, I would like to include this sort of political entity. I am in love with the idea of a vast interstellar empire, like the Talidan empire of Homeworld‘s RTS franchise. But I like as well the concept of megacorporations, like the Wayland-Yutani in Alien. So, I took these two seeds and mixed them together. But one single faction is not enough to make things interesting, so I have introduced two other ideas to the recipe: a nomad fleet like the Higaarans in Homeworld or the Flotilla in Mass Effect; and an alliance of space pirates that raid and conquer planets like in the novel Space Viking by H. Beam Piper.

  • Humankind spreaded from Earth among the stars thanks to the Jump Drive technology called Cherenkov drives. (I have stolen the name from the space drives of the spaceships in Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers novel.) At the certain point of history, an Empire has united all the human race under the same banner.
  • The Empire has encounter for the first time an alien species with the same technology level and the same thirst of conquer. It was natural a war on the border. I imagine the Imperial army exactly like Starship Troopers’ mobile infantry: a small elite force with battle suits supported by secondary divisions with different tasks.
  • The setting complies with the basic assumption of Traveller and Cepheus Engine: there is no FTL. For example, the news of the war with the aliens have arrived with 28 years of delay: information travel from the central sectors to the peripheral frontier at the speed of the fastest vehicles available.
  • A consortium of corporations called Companies for Colonial Organization (CCO) has the monopoly for terraforming and colonisation of new sectors. Basically, it is the biggest and most influential economical conglomerate of the Empire. The CCO is so powerful that possesses its own private military fleet besides their commercial vessels. It has received from the Imperial court the permission to exploit this frontier subsector called Tanith. The CCO have colonised the planet Asurus (0810), building the wealthy finacial center New Tahiti and an extremely advanced orbital elevator. The mercenary group Gladius Battalion manages the backbone of their defense and security across Tanith.
  • An alliance of space pirates known as the Space Vikings has reached the subsector. They reclaim Tanith for themselves. They have settled in the planet of Phaxalara (0301). They have built a spaceport and begun raiding the other planets of the subsector. Most of them are outcasts, disertors of Imperial Navy, and members of fallen noble houses of the Empire.
  • The Empire has risen from a war between planets of the same federation centuries before. At the time, thousands of people have escaped the war on hundreds of generational ships across the galaxy, following a mysterious religious prophecy. The procephys’s name is the Path of Kajak. Now, the Path of Kajak has led the Nomad Fleet to Tanith. They have conquered Volnion (0602): a system of asteroids full of resources. They established a base and occupied some of the nearby systems before the arrival of CCO and the Space Vikings. Their objectives are unknown.
  • There is a rush between CCO, Nomad Fleet, and Space Vikings for the colonisation of Tanith.

The Universal World Profiles

I have arranged all the generated UWP in a table. Afterwards, I have been developing each code in a planet description using Zozer Games’ The Universal World Profile supplement as reference. I will post some of them in the future.

PlanetName Loc. UPP Code B Notes Z PBG Al
Xenides 0102 E355731-4 Lt Ni 631 Na
Kaleria 0107 C443264-7 Lo 911 Na
CEUSIS 0108 B8868A5-7 Ga Ri 111 Cc
Choleshan 0201 C123769-A S Ic In A 300 Vk
Undarth 0202 E447545-2 Lo Ni Ag 422 Na
Zoponides 0204 E83A5A9-9 Wa Ni A 701 Na
Tetreliv 0205 C545699-7 Na A 530 Na
LERON 0206 C567954-E Ht 244 Cc
Aphov 0207 C346665-8 Ni 312 Na
Bolnars 0210 E549466-6 Ni 200 Na
PHAXALARA 0301 A335900-F P In Ht A 121 Vk
Iunerth 0302 D200899-6 In Va 110 Na
SOCURY 0304 B8A0974-C N Ht A 201 Cc
Cexepra 0401 C490340-A S De A 304 Cc
Occyria 0403 XA90478-0 Lo De 222 Na
Utov 0405 C665350-5 Lo A 800 Na
THOTRADUS 0407 B968643-D S Ht 555 Nf
Zahuwei 0409 C342210-A S Lo A 200 Nf
Lypso XB5 0410 C3789A9-9 S Ag Hi A 455 Cc
KAWANA 0504 B750674-9 De Ni 710 Na
LAVIS 0506 B7B3478-A S Fl Ni 523 Cc
Libburn 0507 C421633-6 S Na 153 Na
SUCRONE 0508 B721141-F S Lo Po Ht 333 Cc
Vorth 0510 C9AA254-A Fl Lo A 402 Nf
Olea 0601 CA5A100-C S Fl Lo Wa Ht A 600 Nf
VOLNION 0602 B000AA9-C Ht In Hi As A 171 Nf
Hatragua 0604 C512221-5 S Lo 333 Na
Brao 935 0606 C675653-6 Lt 111 Na
AGLAIA 0607 A878430-B Ga Wa Ht A 500 Cc
Taras 0609 CAC7576-8 Lt 122 Na
MERAK 0702 A448898-G Ht Hi In 344 Vk
Taleet 0704 X867000-0 Ba Lo R 042 Na
YEMEHIRI 0706 B888400-8 Ga A 151 Na
Ealara 0805 E316669-7 Ic Mr Ni 422 Na
Xenkov 0806 C400102-4 S Lo Va R 971 Na
Tathora 0809 C888221-8 Ga 600 Cc
ASURUS 0810 A864415-F A Cp Ht Ga 500 Cc

Na = Not Aligned Cc = Companies for Colonial Organisation Nf = Nomad Fleet Vk = Space Vikings

Rediscovering Sci-Fi Old-School Gaming: Classic Traveller and Cepheus Engine.

Ok, here my two cents regarding old-school gaming and science-fiction RPGs. Take it as a letter of love about my new crush on Traveller by Marc Miller and the Cepheus Engine of Jason Kemp.

I will divide in two parts the post: firstly, why I think Traveller hadn’t the impact it should have deserved on the OSR gaming scene; secondly, what I like so much about it and its spin-off Cepheus Engine.

Old-School but not OSR.

Now, there are for sure sci-fi OSR games: Mothership, Stars Without Numbers (SWN), and Into the Black are great examples. However, I didn’t see so much attention about the universe of Traveller. The first space opera tabletop RPG released in 1977 that has arrived to its 5th edition and the 2nd licensed version published by Moongose Publishing. Traveller embodies the quintessential open-ended sandbox that the OSR movement makes central in its consideration of what a campaign should accomplished: random generation, exploration of a hex map, complex multi-dimensional interaction with the world (i.e. thinking outside the character sheet), episodic random situations as the backbone of the fiction, and players’ agency and freedom as core of the experience. Traveller — at least the LBB and Moongose 1st Ed — would satisfy all the criteria outlined in the Principia Apocrypha for OSR gaming. But I haven’t seen so much influence of Traveller on the scene, besides SWN , of course. Why?

I think there is a reasonable explanation. (I thank the discussions I had with my fellas zeruhur and reisham78 plus the thoughts of DismasterFrane). Traveller hadn’t a huge influence on the OSR because there was a continuity in its editorial history — although, it is not a straight line and Traveller spans across multiple editions co-existing with one another. The fans of the game didn’t face the following scenario: it’s the end of 2000’s, there is the disappointment with the direction of RPG industry and the design choices made by WotC about the D&D 4e. Some people want to go back to the roots of the hobby, but the earlier rule-sets weren’t available. So, these folks exploited the OGL to make up retro-clones while listening to the experiences of who was there at the roots of the hobby. Afterwards they have arrived neoclones: they aimed to improve the design rather than reproducing faithfully the rules of the original game. And now we have the NSR, the New School Revolution: detaching from D&D rules while being faithful to the principles of old school gaming (examples are Into the Odd, Knave e Cairn). Meanwhile, Traveller had some continuity. There have been plenty of editions: MegaTraveller, Traveller New Era, Marc Miller’s Traveller (T4), Traveller20, Traveller GURPS, Traveller Hero, Moongose 1st and 2nd Edition, and Traveller 5. (About T5, I’ll write a review one day). (I’d add to the list Cepheus Engine as well: after the change of licence with Moongose Traveller’s 2nd edition, Jason Kemp has exploited the OGL to offer Moongose 1e Traveller with the serial number filed off). However, Marc Miller and his publishing house Far Future Enterprises made the effort to make available in one way of the other all the material either PDFs, CD-Roms or reprints. So, there wasn’t the urgency to recover that style of play: who was interested could access already the flavour of the game that they may have preferred. And there is a small but super-active community of home made materials, third-party publishers, and fanzines. No need for neither a renaissance nor a recovery of the “old-ways”. That’s it: the reason is just historical and accidental, but Traveller is a full blown Principia Apocrypha’s game.

The lack of influence on the actual design has kinda disappointed me: I haven’t seen enough people drawing from the principles and the design choices of Miller. For instance, I haven’t seen any spin-off of Traveller’s Character generation system in the OSR in which the character could die. Likewise, I haven’t’ noticed many implementation of Traveller’s sandboxing tools, besides Into the Black, Stars Without Number or the latest Worlds Without Number. But I think that these games have missed something. They do not feel offering the same freeform experience of the 2d6 sci-fi rules — although they take inspiration from Traveller. The taste is not the same! There are many lessons to draw from the design of Traveller — as Kubasik has stressed in his analysis of the 3 LLB.

What makes Traveller awesome?

Classic Traveller art by William H.Keith Jr.

The game changer for me has been the series of posts by Christopher Kubasik on his blog: Traveller Out-of-the-Box. It has shown me why Traveller was special in its own way. Kubasik identifies the core features of Traveller implied in the Classic version of 1977:

  • Rules-light and toolkit approach: the booklets are a framework to be customised and expanded according to the referee’s needs.
  • Quasi-random character generation. It simulates in a streamlined and elegant way the unpredictability of life. And the rules tie the careers to the setting, becoming tools for worldbuilding.
  • Improvised gaming. Characters can go and do anything within the sub-sector.
  • Customisable starships according to the characters’ needs and goals.
  • A sandbox approach relying on random generation and filling the blanks.
  • What makes a character interesting happens outside the character sheet.
  • Skills in Traveller are akin to the skills of the Thief in D&D: they are feats to overcome specific challenges rather than general tools to handle any situation. They do not substitute the skill of the player in analysing a scenario and coming up with out-of-the-box solutions.

Again, Classic Traveller instead of giving you a recipe, it grants you the possibilities to design and share your space opera campaign.

Classic Traveller or Cepheus Engine?

Now, Mongoose’s Traveller 2e is the most popular choice out there. It seems a fine game, But I think you lose the original experience of Traveller described above. I deeply appreciate Classic Traveller, but I would recommend instead Cepheus Engine. My humble suggestion is taking Cepheus Engine and playing it following the advice of Kubasik on CT.

Cepheus Engine is free and released by Jason Kemp: it is literally the OGL Moongose 1e Traveller detached from the Third Imperium mileau. It takes an excellent and streamlined edition of Traveller quite close to the original CT and makes it setting agnostic. I love the definition that Paul Elliot has given:

Based on an incredibly popular 2D6 science fiction game developed in the late-1970s, through the 80s and 90s, Cepheus Engine uses Open Content sources to build a free access SF game of unparalleled utility and playability. This is due to the act that much of the material published over the past 35 years can still be used with Cepheus Engine. And new settings, vehicles, worlds and scenarios are being published in print and as PDFs every week. Cepheus Engine is the key to the door linking science fiction roleplaying adventures of the past with those of the future.

The game was skilfully created from Open Content material by Jason Kemp of Samardan Press. True to the Open Content mission, he has released the game for free. That is three decades of science fiction, perfected by a generation of roleplayers, available to you without charge. That is astounding. And simply because it is free, does not mean that it is ‘worthless’. The rules within are honed and tested, crafted and complete.


Thanks to the proliferation of Cepheus Engine, we have tons of third-party publishers releasing material for any sort of science-fiction flavour, including sci-fi horror like Alien or cyberpunk. Otherwise you can simply play with the SRD rules: they have everything you need to create your campaign setting and generating worlds, species, and habitats. In the same fashion, it is available the Vehicle Design Guide to create or customise your own planetary vehicles (e.g. cars, landers, and helicopters)– free as well! I love Classic Traveller. ( I own the pendrive from Marc Miller with all the Classic material and the FASA modules.) Nevertheless, I would advise to download and play Cepheus, simply for the fact that is FREE. No paywall or something and the experience is quite similar. Moreover, there is an editable version of the SRD if you want to use it as foundation for your game. If you are looking for a setting to play in, I strongly recommend to check out Zozer Games and Independence Games. But nothing forbids you to play the original Traveller modules with Cepheus. Indeed, I’ve been playing with Zeruhur a campaign of Cepheus playing the set of modules The Legend of the Sky Raiders by FASA. The experience is great, we are having fun.

Riassunto per il Vecchio Carnevale Bloghereccio: Mercenari

The article you’re about to read is in Italian, since it’s part of the Vecchio Carnevale Blogghereccio initiative of the Italian OSR scene. There will be no translation of this post (at least, not on my part). This time is my turn to host the monthly theme! I swear, I will be back with articles in English soon.

Scusate, il ritardo, ma è stato un mese piuttosto impegnativo. Però, ritorniamo con il riassunto del mese di Settembre del Vecchio Carnevale Bloghereccio ospitato dal presente Deeper Into the Dungeon. Cosa avranno pubblicato questa volta gli avventurieri dell’OSR italiano?

  • L’Antro di Sephil il Rosso ci presenta una compagnia mercenaria pronta da giocare nelle vostre campagne: I Saccheggiatori.
  • Se invece volete generare al tavolo la vostra compagnia di ventura, Antiche Rovine fa al caso vostro: ecco qui il Generatore di Compagnie Mercenarie.
  • È interessante quando i personaggi incontrano creature o PNG che a loro modo interagiscono con il gruppo. Barakiel ci offe uno strumento per caratterizzare al meglio gli incontri casuali con unita mercenarie: il Generatore Casuale di Compiti Mercenari.
  • Dietro lo Schermo ci fornisce invece tre compagnie mercenarie già pronte; ad accompagnarle, alcune riflessioni su come utilizzare i mercenari come elemento di world building nelle vostre campagne. Raccomando quindi con piacere Spade a noleggio, braccio incluso.
  • Dada Dan Akiko ha la brillante idea di proporre in salsa OSR dei personaggi tipici di manga come Berserk: i mostri come mercenari nelle guerre fra umani. Date un’occhiata dunque a Mercenari Mostruosi,
  • Ovviamente, ogni compagnia di mercenari che si rispetti ha un condottiero a guidarli in battaglia. Ecco che The Bard Frog ci offre uno strumento eccezionale: Capitani di Ventura Origini ed obiettivi per le vostre avventure, una serie di tabelle casuali per caratterizzare questi leader.

Per il mese di Settembre è tutto. I contributi mi sono piaciuti molto e sono stato onorato di aver potuto ospitare un mese del Vecchio Carnevale Bloghereccio.

Vecchio Carnevale Bloghereccio – Settembre 2021: Mercenari

The article you’re about to read is in Italian, since it’s part of the Vecchio Carnevale Blogghereccio initiative of the Italian OSR scene. There will be no translation of this post (at least, not on my part). This time is my turn to host the monthly theme! I swear, I will be back with articles in English soon.


Questo mese, dopo aver partecipato quasi dagli inizi all’iniziativa del Vecchio Carnevale Bloghereccio, ho il piacere di ospitarne un tema mensile: i Mercenari! Lo scorso mese è stato “Draghi” ospitato da Lorenzo sul suo blog Dietro lo Schermo.

Fin dai tempi più, finché c’è stata guerra, ci sono state persone che ne hanno fatto una professione. Non si trattava di semplici nobili che combattevano per la gloria ed il potere, cittadini o popolani coscritti senza esperienza: bensì, gente che ha fornito le proprie forze e le proprie abilità strategiche al miglior offerente al di là di qualunque fazione o ideologia.

Sia la storia reale che la fiction sono piene di esempi interessantissimi di condottieri e compagnie di ventura. Basti pensare al medioevo ed al rinascimento: sono esistiti personaggi del calibro di John Hawkwood della Compagnia Bianca oppure alle Bande Nere di Ludovico di Giovanni de’ Medici. Ugualmente, la letteratura ha molti esempi da offrire, come il romanzo per ragazzi Efrem Soldato di Ventura di Mino Milani o la Compagnia Libera nell’Ivanhoe di Walter Scott. Ma è soprattutto il fantasy ad offrire parecchie declinazioni in merito! Per esempio, il dark fantasy oscuro e crudo della Compagnia Nera di Glen Cook: serie in cui il chirurgo dell’accampamento raccoglie le cronache di questa unità mercenaria amorale al servizio degli oppressori. Di nota è la leggendaria Squadra dei Falchi della saga dell’Epoca d’Oro di Berserk di Kentaro Miura: Griffith ed il suo esercito rappresentano la quintessenza degli uomini che combattono liberi e fieri le proprie battaglie per conquistarsi il loro posto nel mondo. Per non parlare degli Immacolati o della selva di furfanti che rimpolpano le fila degli eserciti di Westeros nel Trono di Spade di G.R.R. Martin. Oltre al fantasy medievale e alla fiction storica, non dimentichiamoci neppure della fantascienza: un paio di esempi sono le vicissitudini dei mercenari nelle guerre coloniali di un lontano futuro di Hammer’s Slammers di David Drake o le compagnie nell’universo di Mass Effect come il Sole Blu o gli Eclipse.

La mia scelta del mese è stata motivata dal fatto che i mercenari sono un tema sottovalutato nell’OSR e nei giochi di ruolo. Possono offrire interessantissimi incontri casuali, ispirare hack della classe del Guerriero oppure fungere da meccanica e risorsa nel domain building. Può essere sviluppato in moltissimi modi, in molte ambientazioni e con un sapore sempre diverso. Però purtroppo, non ho visto in giro molto materiale a riguardo; ancora meno ne ho visto in Italiano. Per tale ragione, ho scelto il tema Mercenari e spero di porre rimedio alla situazione con il vostro aiuto!

Cosa fare per partecipare?

Come Partecipare, illustrato in breve, non è difficile:

  1. Innanzitutto, leggetevi di cosa stiamo parlando e come funziona, spiegato qui.Poi, se non ce l’avete già, apritevi un blog (Google è vostro amico, ci sono diverse piattaforme gratuite che possono ospitarlo: Blogger, GitHub Pages, WordPress.com…).
  2. Sbizzarritevi a scrivere quello che volete sui mercenari: leggete qualche libro di storia o riguardate/rigiocate le vostre serie preferite, dopodiché sguinzagliate la vostra immaginazione!
  3. Nel vostro contributo linkate questo stesso post per far girare l’iniziativa, e far capire di che si sta parlando.
  4. Una volta pubblicato, fornitemi il link (potete usare i commenti qui sotto, altrimenti potete contattarmi direttamente in diversi modi).
  5. Poco dopo la fine di Settembre, provvederò a postare la raccolta di tutti i contributi. La scadenza è il 30 Settembre 2021.


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Ovviamente se volete partecipare al Carnevale ma non alla zine siete comunque i benvenuti!