Cepheus Character Creation, Ship Design, World Creation, and Trading

~1500 words, ~8 min reading time

So, I’ve started playing around with playing Cepheus solo.

A few notes before I get into the main topics for this post.

(1) There are several different versions of Cepheus out there. I’m playing using the Cepheus Engine System Reference document. The different versions have various differences. (Example: Cepheus Light adds cybernetics, and changes some of the available careers and the simplifies the character creation process.)

(2) Cepheus SRD has some ideas for how to “play” Cepheus doing GM prep. (Create a character, try personal and space combat, design various encounters, make a star system, design a ship, etc.) These seem like a pretty good way to learn the system. So, I’m trying to integrate these step-wise into my solo game. It will make for kind of a strange “story”, but seems like a good way to learn the system.

Character Creation

Cepheus character creation in Cepheus is almost a game in itself. First you roll for stats (roll 2d6 for each of 6 stats). You then pick a homeworld, and the traits of the homeworld give you a couple more stats. (From a water world? Then you have a basic level of watercraft knowledge.)

The next step is to pick a career. Your character starts at age 18 and can serve up to 7 “terms” in careers (each term is 4 years long). When you pick a career you have to roll a relevant stat to qualify for it. If you succeed, good job! You found a job! If you fail… that’s less good. You either get drafted (once in your life) or you end up as a drifter for a few years.

Next, you roll for “survival” on a stat – usually a different stat than the qualification stat. This has two interpretations if you fail: either your character dies (yes, you can die during character creation), or you get kicked out of that career. Your choice. (Note: getting kicked out of the career typically entails some negative consequence – an injury that lowers a physical stat, loss of retirement benefits, a medical or legal debt you have to pay.)

Next, you roll for advancement and skills. Each term in a career gives you a couple of skill points in a couple of randomly chosen skills that are related to the career. (You choose which of 3 lists to roll on, but the dice choose which item on that list you get.)

Finally, you roll for reenlistment. If you don’t reenlist, then you retire, get some retirement benefits, and have to pick a new career in the next term.

Age up you character 4 years, check to see if you suffer negative effects from aging if you’re over the age of 34 (seems about right…), and either reenlist in your old career or roll to join a new one.

The character creation process is interesting because it establishes your character’s backstory. My character (Zeke) tried to become a scientist, but failed to qualify because he’s not that smart. So, he was drafted by the marines. He served 2 terms before he was honorably discharged after a long legal battle which left him with retirement benefits, but a 10,000 credit debt to pay. The next 4 terms of his life, he was a drifter – trying to get into other careers, but failing. He was in prison a bit. Finally, he managed to get a job as a Belter – mining in the asteroid belt – but didn’t survive even one term in that job before he was imprisoned again.

So, from Zeke’s stats and character creation, I could tell that Zeke wasn’t particularly powerful or heroic. He was actually kind of pathetic, I decided.

I had already decided that the game was going to be an Earth-like planet having just developed jump drive technology so that interstellar travel was possible. Zeke is being sent as a solo pilot on this trip. So, why would his home send him on this trip? I decided the ship was highly experimental – built on the cheap in many ways – and the planet didn’t want to risk a particularly valuable person on what they suspected might be a one-way trip. (After all, they had only identified one star system within jump range, and had no idea if there was civilization there, or if there was a way to get fuel and come home.)

Starship Creation

In Cepheus, there are a handful of common starships with reasonable designs, but I wanted to make my own. This involved picking a hull size and design (100 ton, streamlined – just big enough to travel interstellar, but handles well in atmo), maneuver, jump drive, and power plant (all the weakest available), computer system and programs (simple, but could handle jumps for Zeke), crew and passenger quarters (1 stateroom for Zeke to live in), weapons (none), and any other features (none), plus calculating remaining cargo space (about 60 tons).

The process here was pretty straightforward, though I wonder if I may have missed something…

World Creation

Zeke jumped to a nearby system, which I created using the world creation rules.

World creation as written involves rolling on tables and adding modifiers to determine how big the planet is, what the atmosphere is like (if there is any), what the water coverage is, the human/intelligent alien population, type of government, intrusiveness of law enforcement, technology level, quality of starport and other bases, commonly found and commonly demanded goods, and other traits of the star system (presence of asteroid belts, and, very importantly, gas giants – which can be “scooped” for fuel).

This is kind of a fun process, and the results of the creation process provide lots of inspiration for stories, if I were to do that. (“Oh, this planet has an autocratic religious regime that is super strict. They have a reasonable space port, but the local tech level is pretty low – so any tech they have must come from somewhere else. Interesting!”)

But, if you don’t want to do this Cepheus Journal has a good random subsector generator that will generate an 8 x 10 star map with about 40 star systems. If you don’t want to handle this process manually, this is a good way to kick-start your campaign.

Trading

One of the big things I wanted to try was the business part of the game. You can buy and sell various commodities between systems, carry freight, or carry passengers. I decided to do speculative trading, as it seemed reasonable that the planet would load up the ship with materials that were common at home in hopes they could sell them to get whatever money is being used on other planets.

I was attracted to this because I think I like the idea that you see with, for example, Han Solo in Star Wars, the crew of the Bebop or the Serenity that spacefarers, ultimately, have to make ends meet. I made things simple by having Zeke do everything himself – but he still has a ship mortgage that costs him over 100,000 credits a month, regular maintenance that costs about 2,000 credits a month, and life support supplies (rations, for example) that cost another 2,000 credits a month. The trading system allows me to see if it’s plausible in this universe for Zeke to actually get by.

The answer so far seems to be yes. You have to roll to find someone to buy from, and then roll to find out what goods they’re selling and what their prices are. (Rolls are modified based on local traits – so, for example, high tech goods are cheap on planets with high tech levels, but expensive on planets with low tech levels.) Then, you can buy whichever goods make sense for you in whatever quantities you want, up to as much as is available.

When you sell the process is similar, except you don’t check for goods. You’re the one with the goods. You just check the local prices and decide what and how much to sell.

The pricing system is interesting. All goods have a base price, but the roll modifies it. There’s also a broker system, but I can’t get it to make sense. It says that you pay a certain percentage to the broker whether you buy/sell or not. The problem is it’s not clear what you’re paying a percentage OF if you’re not buying or selling anything. Do I need to pay the broker 5% of the value of the entire inventory that the seller has, even if I buy none of it? That feels like a bit much. Or is it a fixed fee based on the value of a single ton? That’s a possible read of the rule (since it literally says “% of the price”), but runs against it being called “commission”, which normally is a percentage of the total value of sale, not a percentage of the price of a single unit.

Anyway, so far, Zeke has had no trouble paying the bills. I’m going to keep running this as an exploration/trading game for a bit before I add in combat/patron encounters/etc.

As I get more familiar with the system, I think I’ll try to turn it into a more RPG-like experience by using the One-Page Solo Engine as a GM Emulator (similar to Mythic GM Emulator) to generate some stories. But I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done so far even if (or is it “because”?) it is mostly a trading game the way I’m playing it.

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