Sunday, December 8, 2019

Cepheus Light - Actual Play Comments and Comparing to Traveller

Our group was down a whopping 50% Saturday night so we decided it was once again time for an alternate game night. We picked Cepheus Light, on the premise that:

Half of us knew Traveller well enough to figure it out;
And the half that didn't would find it easy to pick up. Both assumptions were true.

In fact, knowing Traveller (MGT editions for most; back to CT for me) helped shine a light on why Cepeheus Light is both quick and easy and also where some differences lie. Here's what we noticed:

Character Generation - it's quicker because it drops lots of little stuff from the framework of more conventional MG Traveller (such as life events) and bundles a lot of stuff as alternate/optional rules. That said, we were quick to adopt most of the optional rules (including dumping iron man as a default, adding zero rank skills back in, etc.) since those are additions to the game which make it a tighter, more satisfying experience.

Other observations: the professions included covered most bases nicely. It was weird that the agent profession did not have stealth on the skill list. Most survival and re-enlistment rolls seemed weighted toward the easy end.

Cepheus Light includes a short experience mechanic which is atypical of Traveller but it does work well for a Light system like this, as you don't need to worry about training downtimes...just track XP. CL also wins out when it comes to equipment and augments; the game provides plenty of equipment and the cybernetic augment rules were quickly abused by the players. I designed at least one NPC for the game with psionics, too. The psionic rules are simple and get the job done.

All told, the vets to Traveller generated multiple characters in an hour, and the new players (and a lapsed player) caught on in 30 minutes or so. Cepheus Light as a quick pick-up-and-play system stands firm. When I compare it to Classic Traveller, I still think it could have been made even tighter without much loss of fidelity, though.

Actual play worked pretty much exactly like it does for either edition of MGT or the full Cepheus system; in fact I had to double check and confirm if some things I was using (such as assumption about applying effect) were actually in Cepheus Light or not. As a rule of thumb, if the rule added non-required probably wasn't in Cepheus or was an optional rule.

So, in the scenario we played which involved an extraction team landing on a colony world with extremely strict laws to aid a spy in escaping with valued information the game played out fine. The rules reduce the skill system ever so slightly by combining some skills, but these were nominal changes at best; the characters designed felt robust enough for gaming and the combat mechanics had the essence of what was needed for a good shootout.

I included some nonhumans from what the book did offer....odd that we had reptiloids but they were more like "standard lizard dudes" and not the "disguised as the president" types, considering greys are one of the other species on offer. In the scenario, when the reptiloid was defeated they had to pull of his rubber mask which he used to walk disguised among men.

I noticed the vehicle and starship rules were sufficiently slender that using them during play to work up quick vehicles was not out of the question. The starship statblocks were very easy to reference and I felt comfortable at the idea of running a starship combat if needed, though we never got around to that. the end, it's indisputable that Cepheus makes for an excellent quick night of gaming, can subsitute for a full Traveller experience almost without effort, and is good for pick-up-and-play nights, especially if you roll some pregens first. My main question, though, was whether using Cepheus Light was a better choice than one of my other options, including the full Cepheus Engine, Traveller 2nd edition from Mongoose, or Classic Traveller, which I have in the digest size FFE reprint with a Vargr on the cover. it?

For me, I think there's probably something to be said for the more nuanced mechanical approach of Classic Traveller, and as much as I like the lighter mechanical elements, I feel like the detail you can get out of CT is just a bit more interesting, even if it means you have more fiddly mechanics to deal with, or a rules set which is a  bit more piecemeal and all over the place.

But...Mongoose's 2nd edition Traveller is a really hard package to beat. It has a solid evolution of the game, and there are clearly lots of influential details from MGT2 floating around in the optional rules sections for Cepheus Light. I can't even say it loses on portability; you can get an almost as portable version of the three books for MGT2 from the box set edition of the core rules, and which include rules missing from CL such as creatures and more details on aliens.

Still....if you want to play something that feels a lot like Classic Traveller as you might remember it (if not in reality) and you like a slimmer design approach, CL is a good fit. Will I use it again? I just might. But for my next serious campaign in Traveller I still think the MGT2 edition is my preferred resource.

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