Traveller RPG Week Day Two: Character Generation

It’s hard to believe that Classic Traveller is over thirty years old. As a rules system it was so far ahead of its time that it is still ahead of its time, now. Fitting for a science-fiction role-playing game, I guess. The ahead-of-its-timedness begins with Character Generation, which is the topic of today’s post. But you already knew that, right?

We are looking at Traveller chargen as presented in the Classic Traveller Starter Kit so that you can download the rules (for free!) and follow along. Other versions of Traveller that evolved from Classic Traveller (such as MegaTraveller and Mongoose Traveller) slightly expanded and increased the complexity, most notably by beginning the process by generating your character’s Homeworld. That’s right, Traveller Character Generation began by creating an entire feckin’ planet! You don’t get any more epic than that.

Over in Classic Traveller as presented in the Starter Kit you don’t, but it’s worth thinking a little about where your fledgling Traveller came from. A human from a high-tech high-population core world would be very different to a purple-skinned humanoid reptilian from the ice planet D’hote, for example. Traveller makes no real assumptions about your species other than saying “most folks are human”. Your character doesn’t have to be “most folks”. Make a race up (with GM’s permission, of course), and run with it.

We begin by rolling the stats in order – 2d6 each for Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Education and Social Standing. These numbers may suggest a race if you haven’t picked one already – a high-Dexterity, low-Strength Tech-Elf from a low gravity world maybe. If nothing suggests, stick with Human. Boring, but at least you’ll fit in just fine.

We begin by rolling the bones and get Str 8, Dex 4, End 5, Int 9, Edu 9, Soc 8. Just for the heck of it, let’s say he is a Woodform creature composed of a dried bark-like substance. He hearkens from a Jungle planet where plantlife has entirely replaced animals in the food chain. He is frail, flammable but unfailingly polite and surprisingly strong. Let’s call him Bramble, or Bram for short. Picture a skinny wookiee made of wood, and you’re there.

The next step is to select your Prior Service. This is roughly analogous to your Character Class, except it describes what your character has been doing up to the start of the campaign. There are six services – Navy, Marines, Army, Scout, Merchant and the catch-all Other – with a differing chance of being Enlisted into each, modified by stats. If you fail the Enlistment you’re Drafted into one of the services at random – possibly into the service you failed to enter in the first place!

Decent Intelligence and Education makes Bram a prime candidate for a job in the Navy. Enlistment is 8 or more with a +3 total modifier for his stats. He rolls a total of 11 – his enlistment is a mere formality. In his first Term he survives, fails to get a commission and reenlists easily. The Navy is eager to enlist Xenoforms but less keen to promote them, it seems.

Imagine playing D&D and wanting your character to be a Cleric but failing the Temple Entrance Exam and being press-ganged into the Thieves’ Guild instead. Traveller is like that. Character Generation is a mini-game unto itself where you walk your character through his (or her) life in four-year chunks until you reach a point you are happy to begin play. Every four years of service offers the opportunity of promotion and new skills, but with the increasing risk of old age taking its toll.

In the second Term, Bram is in the right place at the right time, and gains his Commission. He’s now Ensign Bramble, and looks like he has made the fast track – he is Promoted in his Third Term to the rank of Lieutenant. Three terms puts him at 30 years old and he is beginning to feel the wanderlust. Time to quit the Navy and enter civilian life.

There is also the very real risk of death. Traveller is legendary for being the only rules system where it is possible for your character to die during character generation though most GMs allow the character to survive and be mustered out with a rakish limp or some other heroic wound.

Lieutenant Bram has left the Naval Service with a total of 6 skills and 4 mustering out benefits. We’ll take one roll from each of the skill tables, plus another one from table 1 and 2. Bram gains +1 Int, +1 Soc, Gunnery-1, Mechanical-1, Medical-1, Vacc Suit-1 – Bram has been shunted around different Naval Departments by commanders unsure what to do with an alien made of wood. He also leaves the Service with a ceremonial Cutlass, membership in the Travellers’ Aid Society and Cr55,000. Not bad, all told.

It’s worth looking closely at three of the Services in particular. The Marines, Army and Scouts train their members in a skill as soon as they enter the service (Cutlass-1, Rifle-1 and Pilot-1 respectively) meaning just a single term in one of these these services can provide a perfectly usable fresh-faced 22 year old character right from the start, and a very lucky Scout can gain a Scout Ship of his very own whilst still barely old enough to pilot it to the nearest mall.

Navy Lieutenant Bramble, age 30, male Woodform UPP 845A99
Str 8, Dex 4, End 5, Int A, Edu 9, Soc 9
Gunnery-1, Mechanical-1, Medical-1, Vacc Suit-1
Cutlass, TAS, Cr55,000

Bram would make a great crew member on-board a small spaceship. He’s a veritably jack-of-all-trades able to serve multiple duties as the fixer-upper for both the ship and its crew. As a Woodform, perhaps he sees little distinction between the two. Both have moving parts, right?

What you don’t want is a Traveller party entirely composed of Scouts, each with their own Scout Ship. The ideal Traveller Party has access to one ship large enough to accommodate them all and a broad range of skills and prior experience. It is entirely possible to run a Traveller campaign where the characters lack a ship and rely entirely on Low, Middle and High Passages  to traverse the space lanes, but we all know they’re going end up stealing a ship of their own eventually.

Trust me. They always do.

Next: Talking of starships: Ship Generation!

UPDATE: Shinobicow at The Dump Stat and Tower of the Archmage are both trying out Traveller Character Generation for the first time! Don’t forget to drop by and say hi!

The Classic Traveller Starter Kit is currently available for free from RPGNow. It contains all you need to play Traveller including rules for character, world, sector, starship and encounter generation as well as two  complete classic adventures to kick start your own exploration among the stars. Go get it!

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6 Responses

  1. pdunwin says:

    One thing I never understood from the Mongoose rules is how you know when a character is “done.” How many skills does a character “need” to get along in the game. In a certain sense, it doesn’t matter; just play with what you have and if it dies make another one. That can be troublesome if the death occurs, say, in Jump space or on a lifeless planetoid, but a clever GM can figure something out. A hidden cryoberth maybe….?

    There’s also the matter of the character of a lucky player ending up with much more going for it than the character of a conservative player. Because I haven’t played much, I don’t know how much difference this makes in play.

    I’m also still not sure how I feel about playing an aged, injured character. Sometimes you just want Mal Reynolds and his crew, not … some aged, injured character. I guess I should just play the Firefly RPG in that case, but still I think coming out young, healthy, and playable (though perhaps not rich) in just a couple of terms should be possible. In Mongoose, the forming of Connections and the use of a Skill Package can augment one’s skills, so maybe that’s the intention.

    The other thing worth mentioning that makes Traveller interesting and a bit ahead of its time is that character growth is pretty much done after character creation. No levels, no experience points. I believe there are rules on training, but in Mongoose they’re somewhat discouraging. Most of how a character will advance is simply by earning worth in the universe, as money, reputation, or just achieving goals.

    “Refluffing” my character’s species never occurred to me. Good idea.

    • greywulf says:

      In Traveller, a character is done when you decide he’s done. This means your typical Traveller party (in D&D terms) can be apparently unbalanced with 60 year old high-ranking characters working alongside wet behind the ears 22 year old barely out of kindergarten.

      And y’know what? I works, brilliantly.

      Traveller is one of the few systems where it is possible to have elderly master and willing student (for example, a General and his busboy) on the same team. It makes the team feel much more “real” than a party where everyone is statistically equal, all the time.

      That’s firmly in keeping with the scifi genre too. Imagine the spread of D&D-style levels across the occupants of the Millennium Falcon, for example. There’s Luke at the beginning of his Jedi training (level 1 noob!) sat alongside the high Paragon-level Obi Wan. Not to mention the Demigod Level 30 awesomeness of R2D2.

      Or how about the bridge of the Enterprise – there’s a mixture of differing ranks and levels of experience on the Bridge, all the time.

      That said, I have run one-shot Traveller games where we set the age of all the characters at 30 just to get a certain (Firefly-like) style of play. That works too.

  2. Jonathan says:

    You got me hooked, Greywulf. I downloaded the rule set and ran though character generation, and it was a blast. Looking forward to the rest of Traveller week! :)

  3. cooperflood says:

    Here’s a quick first attempt at a character. Additionally what does Psg on the mustering out tables refer to?

    Jarius Endeavor (Human)
    Scout 2 Terms Age 28
    C49896 Cr0
    Pilot-1, Computer-2, Mechanical-1, Jack OT-1, Shotgun-2

    Jarius attempted to enlist in the Marines but just barely missed the cut (his social standing probably hurt his chances). He ended up being drafted by the Scouts. There he found he was average at just about everything, but his true calling is in computers. In combat Jarius favors blasting everything with a shotgun, despite barely being able to hit the broadside of a barn.

    • greywulf says:

      Good character!

      Psg refers to Passage – a ticket for one Jump trip from anywhere. It can be Low, Middle or High Passage – cryosleep, second class and first class accommodation. Some characters sell them (a High Passage can be re-sold for Cr9,000!) or hang onto them for those times you need to leave the planet, fast.

      Be warned: Traveller character generation is very addictive!

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