TRAVELLER: Out of the Box – How the Text of LBBs 1-3 Teaches How to Make Awesome Part I

45b96a0a8845ed78b2958bc87f1b6b58_largeThis is a post about how I approach some of the tools in Traveller Books 1-3. How people use these tools can be very personal and very specific. But I feel I should spell out how I read and use the text of the books so people can see how I’m using the tools.

From Traveller, Book 3:

A Prod to the Imagination
Animal Descriptions: The referee may elect to describe animals in order to allow a better image in the adventurers’ minds. The basic system may be used without this aspect, but descriptions such as lion-like, amoeboid, etc. may prove useful.

Traveller Book 1 contained the Character Generation Example of Alexander Lascelles Jamison. I remember being blown away by the example as a teen after buying the boxed set at the Compleat Strategist and reading the book on the train on the way home.

The Traveller character generation system abstractly builds four to forty years of a character’s life with a series of die rolls. It is fun and efficient. But because we are both pattern-making creatures and story-making creatures, as we find out if a character ended up in the service of his choice or was drafted, got a commission or kicked out, we can’t help but turn those little rolls into a person’s life.

In an amazing turn, the Character Generation Example doesn’t just walk us through the steps of the die rolls, but makes the creation of a narrative for the character’s history explicit!

CHARACTER GENERATION EXAMPLE
The following example is given to illustrate the process of character generation. Actual die throws are shown in brackets, as are comments on the application of game rules. Die modifications are labeled DM.

Alexander Lascelles Jamison. Having just finished school, Jamison sets out to win his fortune in the universe. Taking stock of himself and his personal qualities [generate all six personal characteristics; he rolls, consecutively, 6, 8, 8, 12, 8, 91 he soon decides that his UPP of 688C89 adapts him best for the merchant service. He visits his local starport, checks out the situation [required roll of 7+ to enlist, with a DM of +2 allowed for his intelligence of greater than 6; he rolls 5 (+2=7)1, and just barely manages to convince a merchant captain to let him sign on.

First Term: During his first term of service [survival roll required is 5+, with a DM of +2 allowed for intelligence; he rolls 11 (+2=13)1 he faces no great dangers, merely the humdrum of day-today events. His application for a commission [required roll of 4+, DM of +I allowed for intelligence; he rolls 7(+1=8)1 is a mere formality. As a 4th officer, he proves hard-working and efficient [promotion roll required is l0+, with a DM of +1 for intelligence; he rolls 10 (10+1= 11 ), and is quickly promoted one rank. 3rd Officer Jamison clearly feels that he has found his place in life, and decides that he would like to continue in service [reenlistment roll of 4+ required, no DMs; he rolls 71 and reenlists. He has become eligible for four skills during this term of service [two for the initial term, one for obtaining a commission, and one for being promoted]. The work as 4th officer was, at times, strenuous [Table 1, roll 1 = +1 strength] but he certainly developed his muscles. While learning the details of his job and dealing with people [Table 1, roll 5= blade combat] he learns to handle a dagger. Routine operations [Table 2, roll 2= vacc suit] require that he learn to handle himself in a vacuum suit. Finally [Table 2, roll 5= electronics], he takes an elementary course in electronics.

Second Term: The rapidly maturing Jamison suddenly finds himself faced with some of the dangers of the merchant service [survival throw required is 5+, with a DM of +2 allowed for intelligence; he rolls 3, which is the lowest it is possible to roll and still survive (+2=5)l, possibly a pirate raid. He does stay alive, however. His continued efficiency [promotion throw of 10+ with a DM of +1 for intelligence; he rolls 12 (+1=13)1 gains him his desired promotion to 2nd officer. He signs on for a third term of service [reenlistment throw of 4+ required, no DMs; he throws 61 and is accepted. He is eligible for two skills this term [one for service and one for his promotion]. He goes on a physical fitness kick [Table 1, roll 3= +1 endurance] and learns to better defend himself [Table 2, roll 4= gun combat] using the small body pistol.

Third Term: Jamison’s third term is rather uneventful [survival throw of 5+, DM of +2 for intelligence; he rolls 9 (+2=11)1. Unfortunately [promotion roll of 10+ required, DM +1 for intelligence; he rolls 8 (+1=9)l, he fails the examination for 1st officer by two points, and does not receive a promotion. Determined to succeed, he reenlists [reenlistment roll of 4+ required, no DMs; he rolls 101. He is eligible for one skill [Table 2, roll 5= electronics] and studies an advanced course in electronics to increase his knowledge.

Fourth Term: Things go right in the fourth term for Jamison. Facing little
danger [survival throw of 5+ required, DM +2 for intelligence allowed; he rolls 7 (+2=9)], he also passes his 1st officer exam [promotion throw of 10+ required, DM +1 allowed for intelligence; he throws 12 (+1=13)] easily, receiving his promotion and an automatic pilot-1 expertise. Reenlisting again, he begins a fifth term of service [reenlistment roll of 4+ required, no DMs; he rolls 71. He is eligible for two skills this term. He trains himself in the martial arts [Table 1, roll 5= blade combat], choosing the cutlass and [Table 2, roll 4= gun combat] the submachinegun. Finally, this being the end of his fourth term, Jamison is (for the first time) susceptible to aging [saving throws for strength (8+), dexterity (7+), and endurance (8+) are made; he rolls 12, 7, and 9, resulting in no changes].

Fifth Term: Beginning his fifth four-year hitch [survival roll of 5+ required, DM +2 for intelligence; he rolls 7 (+2=9)], he stands for promotion [promotion roll of 10+ required, DM +1 for intelligence; he rolls 10 (+1=11)] and makes captain. At this point [reenlistment throw of 4+ required, no DMs allowed; he rolls 31, the service falls on hard times, and notifies Jamison that it will no longer require his services after the current term. He is eligible to retire (with a pension of Cr4000 per year). His service entitles him to two final skills. He studies [Table 4, roll 5= pilot] to improve his piloting skill, and [Table 3, roll 3= electronics] continues his interest in electronics. Age also begins to take its toll [throw for strength (8+), dexterity (7+), and endurance (8+); he rolls 9, 6, and 11, resulting in the reduction of his dexterity by one point] with a slight decrease in his health.

Mustering Out: Having completed twenty years of active duty in the merchant service, Captain Jamison is eligible for a variety of service benefits [five rolls on the tables for terms served, plus two by virtue of his rank; in addition, he is allowed +1 on all rolls on the benefits table]. He receives [cash table, roll 4= Cr20,OOOl a severance bonus of Cr20,000, [benefits table, roll 5 (+1=6)= +1 education] an educational benefit, [benefits table, roll 6 (+1=7)= merchant ship] possession of a merchant ship, [benefits table, roll 2 (+1=3)=middle passage] a travel allowance, [benefits table, roll 6 (+1=7)= merchant ship] credit for participation in the ship acquisition program, [benefits table, roll 6 (+1=7)= merchant ship] credit for more participation in the ship acquisition program, [benefits table, roll 6 (+1=7)= merchant ship] and more credit for participation in the ship acquisition program. Jamison has apparently been putting much of his salary and ship profits into a continuing program dedicated to acquiring a ship; now he has one, and thirty years of the forty year payment schedule have already been paid off.

Alexander Lascelles Jamison is now 38 years old, a retired merchant captain, with a pension of Cr4000 per year, and a healthy cash balance. His single middle passage, useless to him as a shipowner, has been converted to cash (Cr7.200). Considering that the merchants forced him out of the service at the peak of his career, he has some slight resentment against the merchant service.

Merchant Captain Alexander Jamison    779C99
Age 38    5 terms    Cr33,200
Dagger-1, Cutlass-1 , Vacc Suit-1 , Pilot-2, Body Pistol-1 , SMG-1, Electronic-3
Owns a type A free trader, with ten years payments remaining.

All of these details were extrapolated imaginatively from the die rolls themselves. The numbers themselves indicated no specific direction or history or narrative to impose on the character. But the rolls and results prompted moments where one’s imagination could spark with detail to build out the character.

I don’t know about you, but in my youth, those two pages fired my imagination. Jamison wasn’t just a series of numbers created to go out on an adventure. He was a person, with a history, passions, and point of view. (“Considering that the merchants forced him out of the service at the peak of his career, he has some slight resentment against the merchant service.”)

Is it worth noting that the 1977 version of Book 1 contained a portrait of Jamison, the only piece of art in all three books? I think so. Marc Miller wanted people to create a person–with a past, ambitions, disappointments, and a dream for the future.

I’m not saying that one could not do this with other games, or that other games did not encourage this. I am saying that this philosophy was sewn into almost every aspect of LBBs, from the subsector and world generation system, to the animal creation system. I’m saying this was valuable and worth considering closely. I’m saying all this because it is my thesis that this point of view was lost in later materials published in line with GDW’s House Setting.

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One thought on “TRAVELLER: Out of the Box – How the Text of LBBs 1-3 Teaches How to Make Awesome Part I

  1. Pingback: Blog Watch: Dune’s Jews, Can-Do Optimism, Sesquipedalian Style, and Civilization’s Suicide Pact | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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