Game Day: Battlestar Galactica: The Flight of the Cerberus

The new Battlestar Galactica RPG was a long time coming, and for a while, it seemed as legendary (and as likely to be found) as Earth is in the television series. But Margaret Weis Productions was selling the game at GenCon, and the general public should be able to get their hands on it by September.

Today’s Game Day will see me putting the copy I picked up at the convention to good use as I get behind the screen to run a playtest. I was able to play the game at GenCon, and greatly enjoyed it. Our ground-pounding adventure saw a bunch of Colonial Marines and their Viper pilot captain fighting Centurions, liberating a number of prisoners, and eventually breaking for orbit aboard a stolen transport. The game played fast and furious at GenCon, and its Plot Point mechanic — which allows players to modify their dice rolls and even bid for minor changes to the story — proved itself an excellent tool for encouraging role-playing and dramatic play.

I’m looking forward to seeing what my group makes of it. Almost all of our players will be there, and the majority of them are solid d20 people. Battlestar Galactica uses the same Cortex game engine that MWP used in their earlier Serenity role-playing game, and I’m not sure what d20 folks will make of the system.

To help matters along, I’ve created a rules cheat sheet that summarizes Plot Points, skill checks, attacks, and damage and shared it with the group via Google Docs, and I’ll have copies on hand for the game. Most of the character sheet is self explanatory, but I’ve created supplemental sheets containing rules for assets and hinderances (two traits in the game that come into play as bonuses and penalties) as well as brief character backgrounds.

And because this is frakking Battlestar Galactica, I finally get to use my soundtracks! I’ve picked tracks from my Season 1 and Season 2 soundtracks, along with a few tracks from 300, to accompany each scene in the game. It’s something I’ve wanted to do with a game for a while (I’ll be doing something similar with my upcoming Mutants & Masterminds adventures) and I can’t wait to see how it works out.

As with my earlier Star Wars: Saga Edition playtest, I’ll be posting my adventure notes online. This first installment includes the background on the “mini series” I’ll be running tonight: it explains the history of Cerberus and sets up its quest to find the Gates of Hell.

Flight of the Cerberus

The Cerberus is an ancient warhorse whose keel was laid down 150 years — maybe more — before Unification and the first Cylon War. Built by the Leonids in the waning days of their military power, the ship was one of six experimental Hellion-class heavy cruisers. Each ship was built around a gigantic, three-barreled railgun capable of firing projectiles at significant percentages of the speed of light. The energy unleashed when such projectiles hit their target was awe-inspiring, and the Cerberus broke the backs of two basestars, and crippled a third, during the First Cylon War.

Accelerating the projectiles to such near-impossible speeds required a tremendous amount of power, which in turn required huge reserves of tyllium. This drawback, and the cost of maintaining such stockpiles, led the Twelve Colonies to decide that conventional arms and nuclear weapons were more cost effective.

Most of Cerberus‘ kin fell within two decades of their commissioning, but Hell’s Guard Dog survived on, operated by a half-dozen different factions over a century of service. His name changed with every navy he served in, yet some how its true name was never forgotten. Whatever the fleet might have called him, the ship was always as Cerberus.

The ship’s legend grew during the First Cylon War, when its guns proved so deadly to the Cylon rebels, and its compartmentalized systems — created to withstand the powerful electric surges generated by its guns — allowed it to resist cy-inflitration. It’s said those systems inspired a good deal of the technology that went into the Cylon-fighting battlestars, and its a well-known fleet legend that the three-headed wolf was never once overrun by the Cylons, either by viruses or their toaster minions. The ship was decommissioned after the war, as the battlestars finally outshone him, and consigned to a fleet graveyard outside of Sagittaron.

His story did not end there.

A ship with a history as long as his — more than 150 years of active service — gains a reputation and respect among its former crews. Life was hard on the Cerberus, impossible some days, but it built character and formed bonds that nothing, not war, not even death, could break.

The Dogs of Cerberus formed to preserve the old hulk, and during the 40 years its decommissioning its former crew would travel to it, helping with odd-ball repairs, bringing new equipment, and providing a stream of parts and fuel to keep the old boy alive, if only just barely.

And then the Cylons attacked again.

The battlestar groups, the pride of the fleet, were vaporized in an instant. The 12 Colonies were nuked to a new Stone Age. Humanity was all but destroyed. A few rallied to Galactica, the sole surviving battlestar, and fled for deep space. Even fewer remembered ancient Cerberus, slumbering at the very edge of the system. And somehow, some way, they found their way to him.

After three years of catch-as-catch-can maintenance, the Cerberus was barely operational when its crew returned. Fortunately, the ship’s devoted weren’t alone in their pilgrimage. They brought with them a small halo of deep space ships, whatever they were traveling on (or in some cases, commanding) at the time. Most of these ships were incapable of faster-than-light travel, but represented the crucial hardware and brainpower the survivors needed to get Cerberus operational again.

Thankfully, Galactica and her ragtag fleet attracted the bulk of the Cylons attention in the Twelve Colonies. By the time a basestar was finally sent to investigate the Sagittaron boneyard, the Cerberus and her burnished halo were able to jump out.

At the time they jumped merely to escape. But after weeks on the run, the technical crew of the Cerberus made a startling discovery. The ship, or at least its components, weren’t just ancient, they were near-legendary. Parts of the core dated back to the initial migration to the Twelve Colonies by the Lords of Kobol.

It remembered things. Things like the Gates of Hell, a prison colony that Phobos, one of sons of Ares, had been banished to during the migration. Thousands of followers had gone with this son in to exile. It may be crazy to try and find the descendants of a man whom even the Lords of Kobol could fear and hate … but if Phobos was that powerful, his people just might have the tools and weapons needed to strike back at the Cylons.

The Headwaters of the Styx

The Cerberus has been on the jump for weeks, fighting waves of Cylon fighters, troublesome equipment and sheer exhaustion. Time and again, the key to Cerberus‘ victory has been their elite operations squadron, the Hellfire Aces. The Aces are comprised of five Vipers, two Raptors, and a contingent of Marines. All told they number 24 men and women and they are renowned in the fleet as the ultimate risk takers, the ones who put everything on the line to save everyone else.

A week ago, the ship’s brain trust discovered the secret of Phobos and uncovered the first clue to finding the exiles: the Headwaters of the Styx. The Headwaters are located on an icy world in a remote corner of space lightyears away from the Twelve Colonies. The planet orbits a binary star system comprised of a decaying red giant and the black hole that is slowly devouring it. It’s a frigid place, covered in a miles-thick crust of black ice broken by abyssal canyons and punctured by giant mountains of ice. Still volcanically active, the planet generates just enough heat to melt ice and generate terribly cold — but breathable — oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere.

The Headwaters of the Styx is located within a cathedral located in the depths one of the planet’s canyons. The Hellfire Aces must find the cathedral and retrieve its secrets before the Cylons inevitably arrive in-system.

Want to know how it all worked out? Read my playtest notes

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