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!
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!