Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Traveller Tuesday: Cepheus Engine Vehicle Design System

Short version: If you play Mongoose Traveller, get this book.
My use of Traveller setting and dress falls under
fair use guidelines for both Mongoose and Far Future Enterprises.
Longer version: Mongoose cannot make a good vehicle book to save its life. The first version of the 1e Vehicle Books (split into Civilian and Military volumes) was a complicated mess involving cubic meters, mass per cubic meter, mass multipliers, and percentage of base volume. It was in fact so bad that the publisher had to re-work the design mechanics and issue it as a new version.

This combined version was all right in that it was merely an awkward if workable kludge instead of a tedious exercise in mathematics, using conceptual "spaces" -- the vehicular equivalent of using dtonnage to design a spacecraft -- instead of absolute volume. While a good idea in theory, the execution was terrible because each vehicle had a fixed number of spaces based on chassis type. For example, a light grav vehicle (like an air/raft) could have no more than 10 spaces; any more than that and it was forced into the heavy grav category, which increased its cost and decreased its performance. What's more, those spaces added up very quickly. I could never make the kind of vehicle I actually wanted; I just had to find a design I could accept.

I never tried the Mongoose 2e Vehicle Book, because I refuse to pay $30 for a PDF, and so should you. In fact, all of the 2e PDFs are overpriced.

But then there's the Cepheus Engine Vehicle Design System, and it is good. So very, very good.
Why is it so good?
  • It's based on the Open Game License Mongoose 1e game, not the terrible 2e version.
  • It's less stingy with spaces: you get 12 per dton of vehicle. 
  • It doesn't pigeonhole craft into categories. Instead, you just choose how large you want your vehicle to be using a handy chart that says "chassis code [whatever] displaces this many dtons, has this many spaces, and has a base cost of that much."
  • It tries to make vehicle design as close to starship design as possible. For example: performance is based on a familiar matrix of chassis and engine code. 
  • It's only five dollars. Actually, that's not quite true; it's "pay what you want", but the average price was $4.61 last I checked, so I rounded it up to $5, which is essentially my threshold for an impulse buy. Based on what I see here, I got my money's worth and then some; in fact, I was so happy I went and bought the Cepheus Engine core rules as well. 
This isn't to say it's perfect. The layout isn't what I'd call optimal, as charts aren't ordered in an intuitive way and the order in which material appears doesn't match the sample checklist at the beginning. But it's five dollars, and more than that, the vehicles you can design with it are better than the ones from the 1e book. 

As an example, here is a grav speeder done using the 1e Vehicle Handbook, and here is the same speeder using Cepheus Engine. Performance is nearly identical (the Cepheus version is actually slightly better), it only cost half as much, and -- this part is the critical bit -- I was able to design a craft I liked without tearing my hair out. 
Buy good games and good rules, not overpriced crap. The Cepheus Engine isn't crap. Buy it.

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