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Traveller the 5th: It Builds Character

Another post in our series of reactions and analyses from my first reading of Traveller 5.1. Having finished establishing the baselines of the world, we move into the section labelled in the Table of Contents “Characters”. This is part 3 of a series with X posts.
There is currently a bundle for the T5 PDFs where you can get all of them for less than 20 bucks for the next 4 days at the time of writing.

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All Credit and Love to Bill Waterson. Go reread Calvin and Hobbes!

Meat on these Bones

Now that we’ve established how traveller measures things and have concluded setting baseline expectations, we now move on to the core of most RPGs, The Character! Traveller is (in)famous for its lifepath system for character generation, especially for the chance to die during character creation in some versions of the game. Is this one of them?

For these next few posts, I’m going to accompany the analysis of the text with a few worked examples. I’m going to generate four new characters according to the rules, enough for a “standard” adventuring party. I won’t be trying to adapt these characters in any way for my personal setting, let’s just see what the system turns out. From my understanding, Character Generation is one of those things a Traveller game needs to nail, at least according to Sir Poley so it’s important that it’s not messed up so I won’t be doing any tampering beyond what the book tells me to do as the GM.

Characters have Characteristics; Who Knew!

Characters are the central focus of Traveller; they are the alter-egos of the
players, and all activity is centered on them.

pg. 46

We begin with a single introductory page dedicated to telling us about all the different kinds of “Character” a player can make. Big mistake of terminology here. The page lists different types of sophonts are listed and described, not different types of characters. Doh!

[Meta Note: I originally had written this article through but WordPress lost everything past this point so I am forced to rewrite everything. Here are my second thoughts.]

Traveller is a 6-stat game like DnD. I generally like the Default 6 human characteristics of STR, DEX, END, INT, EDU, and SOC. While I do appreciate that there are alternatives for several of these stats and that they do not trade 1 to 1, It does add a lot of complexity. The formatting doesn’t help. I think if all the info for the “analog” characteristics was in its own section this system would be a lot easier to parse and easier to use.

Traveller does apparently have “ability checks” where you roll (number of dice used to original generate the stat) attempting to get under the characteristic. It strikes me as a rather elegant bit of design in every system I’ve seen it. I do find the rule that you have to use at least 2 other stats before you can use the same one again an interesting bit of balance. Apparently, this is basically the only rule that Mr Miller himself uses for convention games.

While playing Traveller, Marc role-plays. Very little rules. Traveller is truly a rules-light game system once you start playing. For our scenario, we generated characters by only rolling up stats. No skills. Just stats and pick your service. All rolls were made against those stats, but you couldn’t roll against the same stat again, until you had used them all. Oh, and you had to support your decision on which stat to use. After that, it was all role playing. Creating a communal story. He made it up as he went along, allowed us to build the story, and acted as “referee” just as intended. After we were through, he said “There. Now you know how I play Traveller.”

The choice to have 2 extra “hidden” Stats is an interesting one but one that makes sense to me. The choice to have Sanity hidden from the players is of particular interest. Looking at how its use is described, it seems a bit…. undercooked compared to systems like delta green, unknown armies, or Mothership. That’s fine as Traveller doesn’t seem to primarily be a horror game, but for a toolkit such as this, I expected a bit more.

I feel like Intelligence is a bit undercooked as well as it’s only described use is for solving puzzles. I’m sure it will get used more but as described in this section it doesn’t impress.

Rolling Up a Character

The Process for generating characters seems relatively simple

  1. Roll 12d6 to generate basic characteristics
  2. Determine a homeworld and gain skills based on the Trade classifications it has.
  3. Acquire Education
  4. Run through a Career
  5. Muster Out

All of this has more complexity to it than first meets the eye.

First, for generating characteristics, the process seems straightforward until you realise that non-human characters can generate characteristics differently and you also need to specify which characteristics they have based on the society they are born into. There is also the option to record the “Genetics” of the characteristics although it says this can be determined with “Genetic Testing” later. Seeing as all of that is optional let’s keep it confined to standard humans for now.

Generating Stats for two characters we get:
David (18): 6872C7 - An idiot savant
Shawna (18): 63858B - A well educated high class clutz.

When it comes to the homeworld step, Traveller 5 helpfully provides a big list. Unfortunately, without the ability to read the UWP, a lot of these planets kind of mesh together. Also, there are a lot of trade classifications. This is the first step where players might have to actually make a choice as some Trade Classifications offer multiple options for what skill the player would get. I do wish there was an option to select these options randomly.

David is from (Check->1,3) Capital, the heart of the imperium.
    David (18) | 6872C7 | Streetwise-1, Language-1 

Shawna is from Tremous Dex, a Non-industrial ice capped world. He is a Knight based on his Social Score.
    Sir Shawna of Tremous Dex (18) | 63858B | Driver-1, Vacc-Suit-1

Overall the first two steps are pretty clear and easy to follow.

Hey! Teacher! Leave those Kids Alone!

Education is a different matter. I don’t know what it is but it took me a while to really get how education works. I think this particular area would really benefit from a flow chart. that said once I got the flow down it is relatively simple to move through and get my characters taught.

David Elects for University, is admitted (Check->5) and after 4 years of studying Astrogator for his major and  for his minor passes with honors (9,7,3,7,10). He gains Astrogator-5, Robotics-2, an EDU increase to D, and a BA w/ Honors. He elects to continue to a masters, is admitted (Check -> auto success for anything with EDU) and after 2 years he gains a MA w/ Honors, EDU increase to E, Astrogator-9, and Robotics-3. He finishes this off with 2 more years to gain his Professorship w/ honors, resulting in an EDU of E, Astrogator-8, Robotics-3. 
    David Professor w/ Honors (26) | 6872F7 | Astrogator-8, Robotics-3, Streetwise-1, Language-1
Shawna goes to university. She selects Gravitics for the major, Mechanic for the minor. She fails her first semester, applies for a waiver and succeeds, and then passes her remaining years, leaving with honors (Check->9(6),8,2,3,7). By Graduation she has gained Gravitics-7, Mechanic-3, an EDU increase to 9 and a BA w/ Honors. Satisified with this level of education she goes into a career.
    Sir Shawna of Tremous Dex BA w/ Honors (22) | 63859B | Gravitics-7, Mechanic-3, Driver-1, Vacc-Suit-1

A few quibbles: Can someone join NOTC during a professorship program? If they start in a regular 4-year university can they elect to take on more schooling after getting their BA?

The second character I actually did over chat with a friend and only I looked at the rules. I feel he made reasonable decisions given they weren’t looking at the book. took us about 45 minutes? A bit involved but it was handled ok enough.

Career

Now for the real meat. This area suffers the most from a lack of clear organization and a need to flip back and forth. The chart for the specific career instructions is many pages away from the reference table for each career. Honestly, I think this is probably the biggest stumbling block this game faces in getting people to play it. When building the second character it was this section that took the most time flipping around to find answers.

Can we put the rules for aging and land grants earlier, please? Aging affects stats which can affect rolls during careers. I got lucky when I went back and redid the aging checks but that has got to be integrated into the flow better. Aging is a pretty vital subsystem I feel for this kind of character generation game.

My biggest question which I’m still not 100% on is on skill gain during a term. Each career gains a # of skills each term based on a number of factors. The paragraph for selecting skills says that for each skill roll on the career skills tables. the character selects a column and the rolls 1d6 for the specific skill. Normally this would be fine. pick a column and roll, just like in SWN, but there’s this statement “Column 1-Personal Skills may always be rolled.” which makes me think the specific skill columns are restricted somehow. are we supposed to roll for the columns? If we are, shouldn’t the columns be 1-6 with personal being 0 or 7 being as one can’t roll a 7 on a D6? That’s how I’m rolling with it until I can see otherwise.

David Takes the sensible career and becomes a Scholar. His education is high enough to begin automatically and starts as a Lecturer of Astrogation(1) for his first term. He selects C2 for his first CC, He takes no mods and (check->6) completes his research with no injury, (Check->9) but fails to publish. He attempts to waiver(1) (Check->4) and manages to push it through to publication. He Gains Publications-1. Attempting to get promoted (Check-> 2 WOW) Succeeds! he automatically continues into term 2 as Instructor of Astrogation(2). He gains the skills from (1346->22457) Personal(2),Academic(2), General(1) Getting (43651) int+1, C3+1, a tradex2 (Gravitics-2), and Survey-1.
For his second term he chooses C3 for his second CC. For his research he (Check->6) completes his research without Harm and (Check-7) publishes without incident giving Publications(2). His aim for promotion (Check->9) goes poorly and he applies for another waiver(2) and (check->5) barely scrapes by to be promoted to Assistant professor of Astrogation(3). He applies for Tenure (Check->4) and manages to gain it! He gains skills from (12246->23357) Personal (2), Academic(2), and General(1) resulting in gaining (62212) C6+1, C2+1, and Astrogation-B. He auto succeds on continuing to Term 3.
For Term 3 he chooses C1 as his CC. He passes his physical aging check for no downsides. When researching He is Cautious(+2) and (Check->5) succeeds in his research but (Check->8) fails to publish. He waivers(3rd) and (Check->7) barely fails. His attempt for promotion (Check->7) Fails. Taking the L, he focuses his skill acquisition all on Personal (4), Gaining (3334) C3+3 and Int+1. Given his next stat is int and that'll be a failure, he elects to leave the Scholar life and take a term as a Rogue. 
Using EDU as his CC, he auto succeeds on getting in. Once again passing his aging test he feels no affects of gaing. He takes Scholar as his Scheme. He is brave (-6 to target), and (Check->7) succeeds on risk, auto succeeds on reward, and gains (100kCr*(1+15-7+6)=) 1.5MCr. He gains 6 skills (114456->2567) electing from Avocation(2), Vocation(2) and Academic(2) gaining (225145) Sciencex2(Robotics-5), Streetwise-2, Trader-1, Art(Author-1), Trade(Gravitics-3). At this point he's 42 and starting to age and so elects to muster out.
At muster he has 3 terms in Scholar and 1 in Rogue. gaining (335->557) STR+2, C3+1, and (1->2) a Starpass.
For his background he(65543/6551):
 * He attended the Helam Education Company(rank 1 school).
 * While a scholar he published "Toward an Alternate basic theory of Astronavigation", acquired Detailed readings predicting flare timing for Wroclaw, was a member of the Imperial university of Capital, and was rejected in an application to be president of the college of astrogation.
 * As his stint as a rogue he had the goal of Acquiring the Bank of Capital. He did acquire A 10,000 share certificate for said bank while under the guise of some work he was doing for the The Yellow Institute. While in this guise he gave an important lecture at the Astrogators Academy on Tremous Dex.

   Professor David - Tenured Assistant Professor of Astrogation, PHD w/ Honors (42) | 89C4F8 | Astrogator-B, Robotics-5, Gravitics-3, Streetwise-2, Survey-1, Language-1, Trader-1 | Publications[2], Successful Intruige[1], Starpass[1 year], Professors Pension[10kCr/year after 58]
Sir Shawna of Tremous Dex tries to join the spacers and fails(Check->10). After a year she falls back on a career as a Noble. First term intrigue w/ no mods (Check vs DEX->9). He gains (1262->237) and elects to spend all 4 in stats (4143) resulting in his stats changing to 73979B. He rolls a 4 for continuance and is eligible to keep being a noble. she rolls a 4 vs 10 and return from exile at the end of his second term. 3 6 3 1 -> 4742 and selects for more stat increases -> 3,2,4,3 resulting in her stats improving to (74B89B). she decides she's had enough and musters out with (4+2 and 4+2) 200,000Cr and C5+1. At SOC rank B she also has a land grant on his homeworld and on another planet in the system. 
For her background material (1554),
* Attended Tremous Dex University
* As a noble she was primarily concerned with with rising to the next level of Nobility.
* Due to failing at the intruige of Havelock’s Palace, she was forced to resign her position as member of the Domain Committee for Frontier Security and went into exile.
* During her stint in exile she acquired an unknown sophonts skull for her noble
s collection. It is tagged "430k years?"

Sir Shawna of Tremous Dex BA w/ Honors (31) | 75B89B | Gravitics-7, Mechanic-3,Driver-1, Vacc-Suit-1 | Land grants[Tremous Dex:Main(20kCr/year) +1 (5kCr/year)], 200kCr, Fame[16]

There is no mention of injury (beyond exile) for failing an intrigue so I don’t think a noble risks injury like most others.

Character Conclusions

There is a lot of interesting material here and the various subsystems interact in surprisingly fun ways. The background tables are neat and helped build out the story. Mechanically the game would do just fine without them. They could have been shoved in an appendix and it wouldn’t have mattered too much.

For my personal tastes, I feel like mechanically it should have had alternate options for “Completely random” generation and “Fixed” generation. to choose between. The system presented here was a bit too wishy-washy one way or the other. Compromises again, but I feel like if a clear distinction had been drawn it would have made it easier to use as a toolkit and customize how far in either direction on that spectrum a GM wanted his character generation to be.

Overall I get the appeal of using a system like this to generate characters and I love the detail it provides. I feel like it would have been improved if it had laid out the process with 4 options (Random minimalist, Set Minimalist, Random Maximalist, Set maximalist) and had a few flowcharts to make it easier to understand.

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