I have recently just wrapped up playing a six month long Traveller campaign, and it was great fun! Our ragtag group was able to work their way up from being honest free traders, to dishonest free traders, to legit privateers before all being killed horribly by a psychic brain-plague! Traveler has been an utterly unique roleplaying experience, and I have more to write about its many old-school peculiarities and wonderful oddities, but today I am here to make a point about Traveller’s much discussed character creation system, which is that it is an engine that produces perfect player characters.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, allow me fill you in. The science fiction game Traveller was released in 1977 (just before Star Wars in fact!) and it’s hard sci-fi theme gave it an immediate and dedicated audience. Easily the most famous thing about Traveller, aside from its foreboding box art, is its character creation. No point buy to be seen here, and no “Roll 3d6 down the line”, instead after generating your stat points, you procede to guide your character through their entire life in four year chunks up until the point where they end up as an adventuring spacefarer.
This is a weird thing for a game to do, like really weird. Player choice in the shape their character will take is kind of a big part of the appeal of RPGs for a lot of people. And Traveller rips away that treasured power in favor of putting you in the role of vague decision making presence in the life of a random galactic citizen for 4-24 years of living before you take control, like some sort of pushy guardian angel.
Despite this weirdness, I have found no better system for generating a character who right from the moment you take control of them feels like a real person with a history who is situated in a real world. My beloved Pendragon comes close, but I am willing to admit that Traveller does it better for your first character
Rather than take your through every step of the way, I will be sharing some of the fantastic results that this character creation system has borne out, some of these are player character material, some are NPC’s, and some are funny or sad.
Augustine Kolbe Sohrab was born on the arid world of Novum-Uruk under the thumb of the zealous Valentinian Regime, who had little tolerance for Catholics like him and his people. He spent his youth training in practical medicine under Dr. Ibrahim Alvarez, a brilliant recluse who provided medical care to the downtrodden Catholic community. Augustine was denied entry to college but finally became certified as a doctor of practical medicine when he turned 28, and shortly after he was forced into exile along with the rest of his community, seemingly having been betrayed by his old mentor, selling out the community in exchange for his own safety. After trying to leverage his limited funds to secure a place on a science expedition to the far rim, Augustine was forced to flee to the Imperial Commonwealth and was drafted into the merchant marines
Poor Dr. Sohrab was my first character in the Traveller campaign, and while I envisioned a prestigious career as a doctor for him, the dice took him down a rather grim path of persecution, exile and numerous career changes. In the end, he didn’t die and get replaced, he was exiled from the local stellar nation for smuggling alien technology, another exile in a long life of being forced to move along. His final scene of his immigration to a relatively egalitarian republic on the fringe of the galaxy was legitimately bittersweet in a way that I don’t think it would have been without all the history the character generation process provided for him.
There was also was Dr. Harry Veron. Dr. Veron had a relatively peaceful childhood on the capitol planet of the local duchy, and attended a prestigious university specializing in xeno-archaeology. It was here at the start of a potentially prestigious career where things began to go poorly. A governmental crackdown on xenoarchaeology forced Dr. Veron to re-orient himself towards xeno-linguistics. This did little to stop the interminable conflicts between departments that stymied his research and the constant government interference that always seemed to keep Dr. Veron from the information he felt he desperately needed. After almost 30 years in academia Dr. Veron threw up his hands after once again being denied a promotion and quit. Taking his money, pension and archeological equipment with him.
What Augustine and Harry demonstrate so well is that this character creation system is geared towards making just hte sort of people who would be giving up everything to travel the stars at the age of 38. That is to say that Traveller character creation makes losers most characters end up with setbacks in their career, injuries or other roadblocks in their life that provide perfect justification for them to begin careers as Travellers.
Sometimes the system spits out something rather amusing. Our ships engineer Axel Anderson was kicked out of college for excessive partying, failed repeatedly in the world of business and decided that he hadn’t failed at Free Trading yet so signed on at the age of 38. One player repeatedly found his character being betrayed by his pirate gang, which became a running joke. A friend and I also rolled up Luke Zhang, a career criminal who after a small robbery was promptly sentenced to eighteen years in prison! where he became a fixer. When he left prison he became an aimless drifter before being drafted to the navy in his late forties! and served for eight years with distinction in a desk job before being drummed out, and was ready to be a Traveler at the age of 54 with a weirdly large amount of cash in his pockets and a duffel bag full of rather eclectic mementos and equipment.
Not every character fails at all their goals or ends up a joke however. I’d like to introduce you to Rhys SicAdams. Rhys was born a genetically tailored human designed to preform highly analytical tasks. He went to college for computer science where he met his wife Maggie, who he loved very much. The same year that Rhys was laid off of his job as a police analyst, Maggie got cancer, and Rhys was picked up in his desperate hour by a Corporate recruiter, who found a place for him as an agent in their ranks. Although he found the work distasteful, Rhys worked his way up the Corporate ladder, paying for his wife’s expensive treatments, and his aptitude and cunning eventually earned him the spot of Director of Corporate Intelligence for his employer at the age of 50!
Now Rhys is no Traveller character, he is clearly much to successful. That is another thing I enjoy about this system, it creates winners as well as losers. Every character has a small chance of achieving the wealth and influence that evades most of their peers. When my friend finished rolling up Rhys, all of us agreed that a retirement to the great big folder of NPC’s was his only worthy prize for a life well lived, and there he went, to a digital folder called ‘Winners” on our games roll20 page.
I hope I have illustrated for you all how cool the results of this famously intriguing character creation system are. I would highly recommend that you pick up the Mongoose Traveller core rulebook and roll up some characters for yourself! I think you will find it entertaining, and you’ll get a great stable of NPC’s to drop into any sci-fi game you run in the future!
Long time no see! I have two articles forthcoming on the Demons of Planescape for DCC as well as a shorter somewhat comedic piece on Monte Cook’s Invisible Sun. I also have some exciting things that may (or may not) come to fruition in the next few months. Thank you to everyone who has been reading over the recent dearth of content, I have gotten something like 3-5 visitors a day since I last posted which is huge, and I really appreciate everyone’s support ~KillerGM, The Archivist