So far, your character creation is going well. You’ve served two terms in the Navy and gained considerably solid skills in electronics and engineering. Enough is enough you say and are ready to begin your career as an adventurer, but the Navy may have other plans in mind. You successfully rolled for reenlistment back into the Navy for a 3rd term, and now you begin pressing your luck on surviving during just the character’s creation process. You must roll a 5 or better on a 2D6 in order for your character to make it through the 3rd term, add +1 to your roll…..oh, I’m sorry, this is perhaps the worst time for you to roll a 2. The trash can for that character is over there in the corner. Junior Cadet Hendrix was KIA while trying to get through his 10th year in the Navy.
Back in the 1970s, a staple in sci-fi RPGs was released, simply called Traveller. Originally published as small, Reader’s Digest-style booklets, Traveller gave gamers a look into roleplaying games set in deep space. There were three booklets initially. The first covered the famous character creation process and how to handle combat (which is surprisingly light), the second booklet covered just Starships, and the final book dealt with the understanding of various worlds, world building, and adventures. These three simple books contained tremendous amount of information for being so light and easy to read. They brought about a new concept as an alternative to how Dungeons & Dragons was playing at the time (1st Edition AD&D was released the same year).
Along with an introductory booklet, Game Designers Workshop eventually would produce a total of 9 of these basic core booklets that expanded on various areas such as mercenaries, robots, and naval personnel. Beyond the initial 9, GDW created 13 supplemental books that further detailed the game through GM assistance articles such as information on animal encounters, aliens, new ships, and further campaign setting aid. The 9 books combined for a staggering 456 pages (albeit measuring in at 5.5 x 8.75”) while the 13 supplement books totaled 604. Although sizably impressive, GDW would also produce a hardback version of the three “little black books” along with two adventures and some added material that spanned out to a couple hundred pages and could be comparable to the thickness of the 1st edition AD&D Player’s Handbook.
But what was inside of the books? The most notable feature Traveller offered, without a doubt, was its character creation. I have yet to find another rule system that comes close to how Traveller made characters. In similar fashion to the trend at the time, when you rolled up characters, you referred to charts. Lots of them. You would take over a character for your adventure after the character went through a previous career either in the military, merchants, scouts, or as a criminal. Unlike most systems, you didn’t get to choose which. Instead you selected one of the fields that interested you and rolled for a target number to successfully become enlisted. If you failed, you then randomly rolled a d6 to end up in any of them, which could be the one you originally wanted. Despite becoming, say, a Marine, it didn’t mean you were going to play a Marine. It just explains what you were before embarking on your adventures. This enlistment locked your character in a 4-year span with whatever you landed on. Yes, your character would automatically age 4 years from 18.
The second step was to determine if you even survived the full 4 years or if you freaking died. That’s right. Your character, before you ever get a chance to roleplay the guy, could be dead and worthless. If this happens, your character is gone and you have to start over again. And if that wasn’t brutal enough, if you did survive the 4 years, you were forced to roll to see if you were re-enlisted by the service even if you didn’t want to. That seems unfair, but thus the life of military, traders, and crime. So what was the benefit of continuing on to a second, third, and more terms?
The perks were what fleshed out your character that comprised of things you would come to expect in making a character. You would get various skills and attribute increases as you progressed such as a rapier, piloting a ship, bribing an officer, or gambling. Promotion is also a possibility since the game is heavily inspired by military practices. Again, a successful roll of a certain number gets you that sweet, sweet promotion that will eventually yield you better retirement perks (if you make it that far). Generally character creation, or at least the danger of dying, ends when you fail your check to be re-enlisted. At that point, you can enjoy rolling more charts to acquire your gear, skills, retirement pensions, and various other perks that make your life a little less stressful in the future.
The process is a guts check. Just how lucky do you think you are? How far do you want to push your character before he is ready to set out? The farther you push, the more benefits you will receive, the more skills you will acquire….but….the older your get. Remember I said a term is 4 years earlier, and you keep track of your age as you progress in creation. Sure you can go 7 terms, but your character will be 46 years old starting out. As you would suspect, age will have its consequences, and you must roll to avoid physical deterioration in the form of lowering your attribute numbers.
All of this is determined by dice rolling, which some people may feel constricted with the lack of creative license. However, everything is laid out in black & white and requires little understanding, which favors new roleplayers. It yields a high risk, high reward mentality, which gives a great understanding of how brutal the actual game is because the game can be rough. It’s not a casual game system where you have multiple saving throws to avoid certain death. In Traveller, you are mere mortals in a dangerous, unknown galaxy where every encounter could easily be your last. It demands focus, teamwork, selflessness, and creativity. However, the choices are limitless in a vast space filled with hundreds of planets to explore and people to meet. Everything is run on simply a 2D6 roll with various modifiers the GM comes up with either considering the character’s skill level or situational modifiers typical to any rule system such as terrain, mobility, opposition, etc.
Traveller comes in various editions including Mongoose Publishing. If you are more into the classics, Wayne’s Books sells the reprints of the classic 9 books and 13 supplements for only a couple of dollars each and is well worth it. If you’re curious, pick up Book 1 for $3.99 on Amazon and see if the technical side appeals to you. There are far more areas the game focuses on including Book 2, which is a very enjoyable, in depth creation system of your very own starship down to how many cargo bays you can fit on your deck plan and still have room for your pulse canons. If you’re looking to give the sword and shield a rest and pick up a laser pistol, Traveller may be a good start.
Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with. Thanks for stopping by.