TRAVELLER: Out of the Box–Making a Character, Playing to Find Out


Obviously, it is possible for a player to generate a character with seemingly unsatisfactory values; nevertheless, each player should use his character as generated.
–Traveller Book 1

I think the Classic Traveller character creation system does a lot of other neat tricks that I discuss in this post. (It teaches the mechanics of the game (the 2D6 bell curve, DMs for rolls based on characteristics, the honest risk of death (which is how I play) in pursuit of what you want, the basics of suboptimal choices (“Do I call it quits after one term? Or risk death?”) which in many ways is baked into the implied setting, working with the hand you are dealt (choosing the career based on potential characteristic DMs.)

And let us remember as well, it doesn’t happen that often. Odds are good (especially with DMs) that characters will make it alive through terms. The risk is there.

But for me, just as important, is that the roleplaying begins here. In the rules rolling up those six characteristics is called “Initial Character Generation.” Those six die rolls are the character creation process. Once you have those six characteristics written down on a scrap of paper the game begins.

Notice the phrasing here from Book 1 (emphasis added):

A newly generated character is singularly unequipped to deal with the adventuring world, having neither the expertise nor the experience necessary for the active life. In order to acquire some experience, it is possible to enlist in a service.

The rules make it clear that entering a service is, in fact, optional. You could. You might not. Your choice in these matters is part of play. Character creation is already over. You are playing right now.

Of course you’re going to try to get into a service . You want those skills.* And so you try to enter a service. But still, it is a choice. Your character’s life is underway. His life of risk has started. We are learning who is he as we play out his life.

And this is the fascinating thing. As we do this process, we build a character.

Is my guy the kind of guy who chose to leave after two terms? Got kicked out? Pushed his luck and went for a fourth or fifth term voluntarily? Wanted to get out but got drafted?

These questions, along with “Why did my guy never get promoted?” “What the hell happened during his service to make him so skilled in Blade combat?” and more, along the with answers the Player creates, add up to define character even before “play” begins. (My thesis is play begins the minute you pick up the blank character sheet, btw. Make of that what you want.)

But the biggest of these questions is the relationship the character had with a dangerous career. Why did he stay? For how long? Why? Why did he get out?

Given that all of the original Traveller characters would be characters heading off onto worlds remote from the centralized government they once served, their relationship with risk, danger, and death is part and parcel to getting a hold on them.

For all the reasons listed above, I love the Classic Traveller character system and its risk of death.

Significantly, the Classic Traveller character generation system really isn’t set up for the Player who wants a specific kind of character type. The system is designed more about the “play the cards your dealt” in which the Player rolls characteristics and then makes decisions about how much he’s willing to risk to get an soldier from the Army (if that’s what he wants) even though he’s got characteristics that are better suited for the Merchant Marines.

The game wasn’t designed for the Player to always get what he wants. You make your six characteristic rolls and then you decide where his best odds are in a system full of suboptimal choices. (A character might have better odds of survival in one career, but his odds of promotion will be lower; while his odds of promotion might be better in another career, but the odds of survival lower. The Player has to weight these DMs and odds, and then make a choice and see how it goes.)

You can also put him in a service that you think will kill him, be surprised when he survives, musters out with some interesting skills, and wonder “Who is this guy?”

And then follow him into play to find out what will happen and how he’ll conduct himself in order to survive while pursuing wealth and power on the fringes of society.

How he will conduct himself will, by definition, provide interesting roleplaying and memorable moments that can’t be gained by simply plowing through circumstances with an average and powered up PC.

The game was built to provide a range of kinds of characters, inspiring roleplay through both strengths and weaknesses. Again, Classic Traveller is built on a “play the hand you are dealt philosophy.” Let us say you roll up characteristics of 222222. Your guy, until he dies, has characteristics of 222222. Okay, now what are you going to do with that?

The answer to that question is part of what Classic Traveller is about.

* A Note: First, one could bypass the services, start at 18, and use the Experience rules to train in two weapons (a blade and firearm). It’s possible!

And hers is another thing I never see people do, but the rules would allow. You blow off enlistment and seek a Psionics Institute. This would allow better odds for more power and versatility in psionics than one would get at a later age. By using the Experience rules, one could choose two weapons (blade and firearm) and have them at an expertise of 1. Not something most people are going to do. But I think it’s worth noting!


10 thoughts on “TRAVELLER: Out of the Box–Making a Character, Playing to Find Out

  1. One little comment… I have often seen the experience rules touted as mentioned, but consider that in order to get those two weapon skills, you have to make an 8+ dedication roll…

    I’m not sure if some folks are thinking the dedication roll is made at the end of the 4 year program, but the way I read it, the roll is made to begin the program.

    Still, an interesting choice. And note that even without, the 18 year old character still has level 0 in all weapons.

    • The roll is made at the beginning of the four year period as far as I can tell. So there’s no guarantee the PC will have those weapon skills. The example implied that the Throw for dedication had worked out!

      When you say “touted as mentioned” I’m not sure what you mean.

      • Sorry for the poor choice of words “touted as mentioned”…

        I often see the experience rules mentioned in a way that focuses on the “hey you get +1 in two weapons right away” without calling out that you do need to make an 8+ roll (with no DMs) to get those levels. A decent chance of success, but definitely a bonus not something to count on.

        It should also be noted that with good stats, one could have a variety of weapons that one is +2 in. A character with a really good set of stats might well be worth skipping enlistment and starting at age 18.

      • Yeah, if I ever suggested its automatic, apologies.

        And right. As written, the CT rules allow opportunity for bonuses, both innate and because of skill. Once you add in the default expertise of 0 for weapons (which allows the PC to avoid the unskilled DM -5 when trying to hit something) you see that the PCs are way ahead of the game.

  2. LBB Traveller was my first RPG so I thought for the longest time the only way to generate a character was this way. I especially embraced the “take the hand dealt” approach. Totally agree that chargen is a game; still love just rolling up a character then filling in the background. Strongly believe the characters are much more interesting.

  3. Skip the Services and go for the Psi Institute? I have got to try that! I have a PC group with experience that the young Talent could join up with – the older PCs can then be the mentors to the newbie. What a great idea. Thanks, Chris!

    • I have no idea where it is from — apart from “The Internet.”
      I sometimes surf Google Images for art to use for the blog. I don’t know more than that!

      • James Gurney Asteroid Miner. Doesn’t seem to have been used as a book cover or anything like that.

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