Chapter 14: Social Encounters

In the Cepheus Engine, an encounter is defined as an unexpected or casual meeting with someone or something. A large part of the Referee's job is the administration of encounters. Through encounters, the Referee presents information, opportunities and conflicts for the players to interact with, which is the core of any gaming session.

There are a number of different types of social encounters: routine, legal, patron, random, rumor and scenario. The Encounter Types Overview table offers suggestions on the frequency of various encounters, and the chance associated with the occurrence of such an encounter.

Encounter Tables: This chapter provides a number of encounter tables to serve as inspiration for the Referee. The Referee is encouraged to create tables more in line with their Cepheus Engine universe or with the specific adventure they are running.

Table: Encounter Types Overview
Encounter Type Frequency Chance
Routine As needed As needed
Scenario As needed As needed
Legal Daily Law Level or less on 2D6
Random Daily 8+ on 2D6
Patron Weekly 9+ on 2D6
Rumor Weekly 7+ on 2D6

Routine Encounters

Routine encounters involve meeting normal people while doing normal activities, such as interviewing potential crew members in a starport diner or buying new ammunition from the clerk in a gun shop. Such scenes are rarely important in and of themselves. From a roleplaying perspective, routine encounters create a background of expected behavior that makes scenario encounters and random encounters stand out in comparison because of their unexpected content. Routine encounters help move characters logically from the time and place of one important scene to the next.

Scenario Encounters

Within the Cepheus Engine rules, an adventure is defined as a story for players to experience, comprised of a series of related scenes or encounters. These related encounters are called scenario encounters, because they serve to further the plot of the adventure toward its climax. The Referee creates scenario encounters as dictated by the story they will tell.

Random Encounters

Random encounters offer players a sense of variety in their gaming experience. These colorful encounters often include individuals pursuing goals that are unrelated to those of the adventurers themselves. From a roleplaying perspective, random encounters help create the illusion of a universe that exists outside of the adventurers' experiences, thus creating a sense of verisimilitude.

Random encounters can be determined by rolling a D66 on a table such as the Random Encounters table presented in these rules. Unique tables might be created for specific worlds or adventures. As with other social encounters, non-player character reactions may be determined randomly by the Referee or selected according to the nature of the situation.

Table: Random Encounters
D66 Encounter
11 Adventurers
12 Alien Starship Crew
13 Ambushing Brigands
14 Bandits
15 Beggars
16 Belters
21 Drunken Crew
22 Fugitives
23 Government Officials
24 Guards
25 Hunters and Guides
26 Law Enforcers on Patrol
31 Local Performers
32 Maintenance Robots
33 Merchants
34 Military Personnel on Leave
35 Noble with Retinue
36 Peasants
41 Political Dissident
42 Potential Patron
43 Public Demonstration
44 Religious Pilgrims
45 Reporters
46 Researchers
51 Riotous Mob
52 Security Troops
53 Servant Robots
54 Soldiers on Patrol
55 Street Vendors
56 Technicians
61 Thugs
62 Tourists
63 Traders
64 Vigilantes
65 Workers
66 Referee's Choice

Legal encounters involve interactions with local planetary law enforcement. Some worlds have stricter laws than others. This is represented by the world's Law Level value. The higher the Law Level, the more likely that offworld visitors will be harassed by local law enforcement. When the Referee determines that a legal encounter happens, a local police officer will stop the adventurers and require identification. Further complications are at the Referee's discretion.

Patron Encounters

A patron is a non-player character that gives financial or other support to a person, organization, cause, or activity. Referees often use patrons as a tool to attempt to engage player characters in adventures. Patron encounters represent the beginning of an open-ended adventure idea, aka the hook. The patron provides the mission that serves as the basis for an adventure, as well as the reward for successfully completing it.

Adventurers frequently seek out patrons as a source of employment. Less frequently, a patron may seek out the adventurers, based on their reputation. The Referee may roll a D66 on the Patron Encounters table or create one independently. Unique Patron Encounter tables might be created for specific worlds or adventures.

Table: Patron Encounters
D66 Potential Patron
11 Agent
12 Athlete
13 Barbarian
14 Belter
15 Broker
16 Bureaucrat
21 Celebrity
22 Colonist
23 Con Artist
24 Corporate Executive
25 Courier
26 Diplomat
31 Drifter
32 Educator
33 Entertainer
34 Financier
35 Fugitive
36 Hijacker
41 Hunter
42 Marine
43 Mercenary
44 Merchant
45 Navy
46 Noble
51 Physician
52 Pirate
53 Politician
54 Rogue
55 Scientist
56 Scout
61 Smuggler
62 System Defense Officer
63 Technician
64 Terrorist
65 Tourist
66 Referee's Choice

Format for Patron Encounters

Some Referees prefer to "wing it," and consider little more than a patron's name and the mission at hand. However, for those seeking a more detailed way of creating reusable patron encounters, the Cepheus Engine rules offers a fairly comprehensive format for recording patron encounters. This format identifies five specific elements for a given patron. These are:

  • The patron's name and role. Names can be changed if the patron encounter is reused.
  • The skills and resources required to complete the mission
  • The suggested reward for the mission
  • The mission as described to the characters
  • What's really going on. Several possible variants are presented – either pick or roll for which is the real situation. This is the key element that allows reusability.

Here is an example of a patron encounter captured in this format:

Bruce Ayala, Interplanetary Playboy

  • Required: Investigate, Streetwise; No special equipment required.
  • Reward: Cr500 a day, plus expenses; minimum of two weeks.
Players' Information

Word on the street is that the famous holovid star and interplanetary playboy Bruce Ayala is cruising the local bar scene. That night, Bruce Ayala, along with his entourage of publicists and models, staggers into the same locale as the party and buys a round for every offworlder. Over the course of the evening, he continually hounds the party for details of their exploits, always comparing their adventures to roles he's portrayed. Late into the evening, Ayala corners one of the party members and offers the crew a job, if it can be handled with discretion. He provides contact information, and arranges a meeting to discuss terms, if they are interested.

Referee's Information

When Bruce Ayala achieved system-wide fame as a holovid star, he admits that it went right to his head, and it cost him the love of a wonderful young woman by the name of Martha McKernan. He's kept tabs on Martha over the years through private investigators and the like, one of whom has reported that she's gone missing a few days ago. Ayala wants to hire the party to discretely investigate Martha's disappearance, locate the young woman and rescue her from whatever situation she might be in. He's concerned that his current media distributor, Penultimate Productions, have pulled something, as he has been secretly planning to sign a new contract with a competitor, System Media Studios. That represents a great loss for Penultimate Productions, and Ayala feels that they are not above coercion to insure the holovid star continues to bring them money. In all of the options presented below, further development is left to the discretion of the Referee.

  1. All is as it appears. Bruce Ayala is correct; Penultimate Productions has discovered their star's clandestine plans. Slowly moving away from the verge of bankruptcy, the media distributor owes their recovery to Bruce Ayala's success in the box office. Worried that the star's departure could cost them everything, the executive producers have hired thugs to kidnap Martha McKernan and use her to force him to extend his current contract.
  2. Sadly, Bruce Ayala is incorrect. His own agent, Cornelius Brass, has a gambling problem, a huge gambling problem. He's fallen in so much debt to the local crime syndicate that they've started threatening his life and the lives of his family, and the man has become desperate. Brass has arranged for the kidnapping of Martha McKernan, hoping to ransom her to enough Credits to pay off his debt and tuck away a tidy bankroll so he can continue his gambling habit.
  3. Bruce Ayala has been less than truthful. He's been stalking the innocent Martha McKernan for years, using his fame and fortune to attempt to force her into marrying him. In an act of desperation, Martha has gone on the run, trying to make her way out of the star system undetected in an effort to find safety from Ayala's overwhelming attentions.
  4. System Media Studios has kidnapped Martha McKernan as a form of leverage to use on Bruce Ayala in the event he changes his mind and backs out of the secret negotiations. They believe he is unaware of her disappearance, and only intend to reveal her status as a prisoner should he start entertaining the thought of extending his current contract with Penultimate Productions.
  5. Martha McKernan has watched Bruce Ayala's meteoric rise to success with envy and jealousy. She feels scorned by the holovid star, and every image of Bruce Ayala with some starlet has pushed her further into the depths of hatred and loathing. Martha has arranged her own "kidnapping", so that she can demand a costly ransom from Bruce. Any extended contact with Martha will reveal that she is not completely sane, and will likely go to extreme lengths to harm and humiliate Bruce Ayala.
  6. Martha McKernan is actually on vacation, hiking deep in a wilderness preserve to get away from civilization for a few weeks. Edmund Sang, a private investigator employed by Bruce Ayala, has reported her missing simply to get more money from Mr. Ayala to "locate" her. When the party shows up and begins investigating, he realizes that he might get caught and so desperately attempts to redirect them, to avoid having his deception discovered. Sang's efforts to create a false trail points to the local crime syndicate, who do not take kindly to the party investigating their illicit activities looking for a girl they've never heard of.


Rumors are best thought of as encounters with information rather than with people or events. Rumors often fill one of two different roles: they plant the seed for a potential new adventure, or they provide background information that makes the universe seem larger than just the character's experiences. Rumors can take many forms, including, but not limited to, graffiti on the walls, newspaper or online articles, overheard conversations, secret notes, and televised broadcasts.

Because rumors are encounters with information, the player character has no patron should they decide to pursue the rumor itself. If the matter doesn't pan out, the player character has no one to blame but himself. However, given the promise of potential reward, enterprising characters are likely to attempt to exploit the information they've uncovered.

Random encounters are often determined by rolling a D66 on a table such as the Random Rumor Content table presented in these rules. As with other encounter types, unique tables might be created for specific worlds or adventures.

Table: Random Rumor Content
D66 Encounter
11 Background information
12 Background information
13 Broad background information
14 Broad background information
15 Broad background information
16 Completely false information
21 General location data
22 General location data
23 General location data
24 Helpful data
25 Important fact
26 Information leading to trap
31 Library data reference
32 Library data reference (general information)
33 Library data reference (general information)
34 Major fact
35 Major fact
36 Minor fact
41 Minor fact
42 Misleading background data
43 Misleading background data
44 Misleading background information
45 Misleading background information
46 Misleading background information
51 Misleading clue
52 Obvious clue
53 Partial (potentially misleading) fact
54 Reliable recommendation to action
55 Specific background data
56 Specific background data
61 Specific location data
62 Specific location data
63 Terminology
64 Veiled clue
65 Veiled clue
66 Referee's Choice

Influencing Attitudes

The Referee determines the starting attitude of any character the characters encounter during the game. The characters can then try to influence the character's attitude using Social Standing and various interaction skills, such as Liaison and Carousing. The Attitude Descriptions table describes the effects of character attitudes.

Table: Attitude Descriptions
Attitude Means Possible Actions
Hostile Will take risks to oppose you Attack, interfere, berate, flee
Unfriendly Wishes you ill Mislead, gossip, avoid, watch suspiciously, insult
Indifferent Doesn't care either way Socially acceptable interaction
Friendly Wishes you well Chat, advise, offer limited help, advocate
Helpful Will take risks to aid you Protect, back up, heal, aid, support

Characters can attempt to improve another's attitude, using a Difficult (-2) Social Standing-based check using the appropriate skill, usually Liaison. With a success, the character's attitude is improved by one step; with an exceptional success, the attitude improves by two steps. Note that a particularly bad influence check can actually make a character's attitude worse. On an exceptional failure, the character's attitude shifts one step more Hostile. In general, a character can attempt to influence another character only once in any given scene.

Players get to choose their characters' attitudes, and so interaction skills cannot force a player-character to behave in a specific way. Typically, the only way a player character can be forced into a particular behavior is through the use of psionics or some other external force.