Review: Outcast

In a Nutshell: Setting for Cepheus Engine (*cough* Traveller *cough*). 94-page PDF by the World Building Consortium, AKA Baggage Books; $4.99 on DriveThruRPG at time of writing.

There have been a lot of Travellerish indie products coming out since the Cepheus Engine was released, and as a long-time Stargate fan, this one caught my eye.


Introduction: A quick overview of the setting. The premise is that 500 years before the campaign starts, an advanced alien species exiled the few surviving humans to a barren world they had no interest in occupying. Fortunately, this world is connected to a network of portals leading to a myriad other planets. Unfortunately, the good ones are all taken.

Vatan: This is the planet where most humans reside, with a Traveller – sorry, Cepheus Engine – profile of EAA1634-5. It’s a lifeless, barren dump, and consequently the million or so humans left live underground in a complex of caverns. This section describes the planet; the human settlements with their government; the derelict settlements occupied by the last lot of refugees the aliens dumped here, now long dead; and provides both player and referee maps of the planet and one of the cities. The player’s planetary map is largely blank, as most of the planet is unexplored.

The Network: An arrangement of portals – teleporters with interstellar range – which provide instantaneous transport to millions of worlds throughout the Local Group of galaxies. Unusually, in this setting the portal network has been built piecemeal over millions of years by many different species. This section explains how to use the portals, different kinds of portals that might be found, and the Via Vastha, a small chain of human-run hostels at major network nodes.

Since the network is so vast, most travellers rely on “runs”; chains of nodes which lead from a single starting point to a single destination. This is a clever idea, which allows the referee to begin with a small section of the universe, and build on it later as necessary by introducing side branches; in this way it merges the Traveller concept of a star map allowing players to plan their travels, giving them agency, with the Savage Worlds Sci-Fi Companion concept of no star map, giving the GM complete freedom to add or delete worlds as he sees fit. An example run is provided later, in the Anvini Run section.

Near Vatan, human explorers have marked portals with symbols giving clues as to what’s on the other side, and a selection of these is provided for the GM to tantalise players with.

While the more advanced races have FTL starships, humans are rarely allowed to ride on them and never allowed to own them. This is not much of a handicap, as there are so many worlds connected by portals.

Technology: This relies on the Cepheus Engine tech levels which will be familiar to any Traveller player. Human survivors generally operate at TL 3 (early industrial) but have the knowledge up to TL 6; they know how to make internal combustion engines, but don’t do so, because they have no fuel, and live in a sealed environment with a limited air supply. Odd items acquired from exploration or more advanced races range up to TL 16. There’s an interesting section on setting-specific gear, largely things you could make with TL 3 tools and TL 6 knowledge – so for example you can have a vacc suit, but somebody has to make it entirely by hand.

Characters: This begins by explaining the culture of the human survivors, which began as a mixture of South Asian and Chinese lifestyles reconstructed from memory by traumatised survivors of Earth and its Mars colony. It then explains “classes” – really, jobs your character might specialise in – before working through additions and changes to the basic Cepheus Engine rules; Social Standing, some skills, and material benefits are different.

Alien Species: Races in the setting are divided into three groups.

  • Imperial Races are highly advanced and prone to displacing other races from their homeworlds; there is one of these per life-supporting environment type, and they tend to displace life-forms which are damaging their own biospheres. Five examples of these are provided, with a sidebar noting another environment type which should have its own Imperial Race, but apparently doesn’t.
  • Outcast Races, the ones who get displaced; these include humans. Five examples of these are provided, including the Agents, malformed humanoids grown from human DNA as liaisons between Imperials and humans.
  • Vestal Races; uncontacted or newly contacted races who haven’t been displaced yet, usually because they are too primitive to cause any ecological damage. No examples of these are provided, but there are said to be hundreds of them.

Random Worlds: The world generation rules have been modified from the core Cepheus/Traveller approach, in two main ways; first, a number of tables are based on 3d6 rather than 2d6, and second, the characteristics generated are different. World size is about habitable volume rather than diameter; other characteristics are atmosphere, gravity, temperature, radiation, lighting conditions, inhabitants (close to population level in the core rules, but a little different), resources, connectivity (how many portal connections it has, and how far apart they are).

Since one can generate a world which is more hospitable than Vatan, any such planet has something wrong with it, or humans would have moved there; only two options are provided, but it’s not hard to come up with more.

The Anvini Run: Here’s an example run, nine intermediate nodes leading to a trading nexus called Port Null, and an eleventh node which is a dead end. The nodes are described two or three to a page, and give both examples and places to visit if you just want to jump in and play.

Other Adventures: About 20 example adventure seeds falling into what the author considers the main categories for the setting; missions to Earth to retrieve museum pieces, documents, seeds and whatnot; looking for resources at other nodes, or exploiting ones that have already been found; pure exploration; treasure hunting; colonisation; criminal investigations. You can probably get an evening session out of each of these, which would make a short campaign possible using nothing but this book and the Cepheus Engine itself.

The Local Group: A map of the Local Group of galaxies, and short descriptions of nine or so of them. This is an appendix that I don’t think would see much use in play.

…and we conclude with the obligatory Open Game License.


Colour cover, single-column black text on white with occasional greyscale illustrations; simple, effective, gets the job done without hogging your device memory.


Actually, I can see myself using this at some point; I wouldn’t use Cepheus Engine personally, but this book should work with any 2d6-based version of Traveller and would be very easy to Savage.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5.

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