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Subject: Traveller Character Generation… Perfected rss

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Art Gorski
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This is a review of the Character generation system portion of the Traveller5 Core Rules. I have been writing a character generation app based on these rules and have gained much knowledge of the process and an appreciation for the system that I am sharing here.

A Little History

In the beginning there was the simple character generation system in the original Classic Traveller Book 1: Characters and Combat, which covered navy, marine, army, scout, merchant, and other characters. This was followed up in Supplement 04: Citizens of the Imperium with the same simple character generation system expanded to add pirate, belter, surface navy, diplomat, doctor, flyer, barbarian, bureaucrat, rogue, noble, scientist, and hunter characters.

A while later an advanced character generation system for Classic Traveller appeared in Book 4: Mercenary (army and marine), Book 5: High Guard (Second Edition) (navy), Book 6: Scouts (scout), and Book 7: Merchant Prince (merchant). This improved system generated characters with more skills and chrome but didn’t really create characters comparable to the earlier system. This new system was also used in the Classic Traveller Alien Modules to generate characters for these sophonts.

MegaTraveller used a system similar to the CT advanced character generation system but didn’t cover all the types of characters available in CT. It introduced the interesting mechanic of cascade skills. If you gain a level in Gun Combat, you select a specific type of weapon to gain the skill in.

InTraveller T4: Marc Miller's Traveller, Marc Miller simplified the character generation process somewhat while retaining the best features of the earlier systems.

Finally, we come to Traveller5, where Marc Miller has created a character generation system reminiscent of the T4 system with many additional wrinkles.

Sadly, T5 was a flawed product from the beginning. The character generation system is complex (covering about 35 pages of the version 5.09 rules) and suffered from many inconsistencies. Happily, the updated version 5.09 of the rules has rectified many of the problems. Those that remain have been discussed copiously over the last few years in the Citizens of the Imperium forums and most, if not all, problem areas have been addressed and clarified.

A Note on Sophonts

T5 has a complete sophont creation system for aliens which includes variations for some of the standard Traveller characteristics used in character generation. All sophonts have Strength and Intelligence, but while humans have Dexterity, a different sophont might have Agility or Grace instead. Instead of human Endurance, a sophont might have Stamina or Vigor. Instead of human Education, a sophont might have Training or Instinct. And Instead of human Social Standing, a sophont might have Charisma or Caste.

The T5 character generation system has rules for all these characteristic variations, which shows up as complexity in the rules. If the rules specify C2 as the target for a successful roll, Dexterity, Agility, or Grace can be used interchangeably. But if Dexterity is specified as the target for a roll, then Agility or Grace are divided by 2 and used. Some paths through the system require a specific characteristic. Sophonts with one of the alternates cannot select that path.

Many of the traditional alien races of Classic Traveller have been defined in T5 sophont creation system terms and can be used in the T5 character generation system. However, this system is biased towards citizens of the Imperium, not the native environment of these sophonts. So sophont characters that are commonly found as citizens of the Imperium can be reasonably generated by this system, such as Bwaps, Vargr, and Aslan. Hivers, K’kree, and Droyne, not so much.

Skills and Knowledges

T5 defines a comprehensive list of skills, including a few that act like the cascade skills of MegaTraveller where you don’t get the skill in the category, but rather in one of the specialties.

A significant change is that some of the skills that can be gained also have specific knowledges. When you gain a level in a skill, you must specify one of the knowledges of that skill. After every 2 increases in knowledges, your next receipt is in the actual skill itself. Skill and related knowledge levels stack, so if you have Driver-1 and Wheeled-2 you can drive anything with a skill of 1 and wheeled vehicles with a skill of 3. Sciences are treated as knowledges but there is no Science skill itself.

Even more interesting is that there are no limits to the knowledges that can be defined. Anytime you gain a level in a skill that includes knowledges you may define a completely new knowledge. So when your Aslan character gains a skill in Fighter, instead of taking a level in Unarmed knowledge, you can define a new Fighter knowledge named Dewclaw and take a level in that.

Language level receipts are the same as any other skill in education settings, but outside of education are treated completely differently. Your first language received has a level one less than your native language. Each additional language is at one level below that, and so on. So if you have Native Language-9, the next two you receive will be at levels 8 and 7. Completely new languages can be defined, as with knowledges.

There are also specialized knowledges for Careers and Worlds, with levels defined by the number of 4 year terms spent in those environments.

Skills are generally capped at level-15 and knowledges are capped at level-6.

Characteristics

T5 starts by rolling up the 6 main characteristics of a character. For humans, these are 2D6 rolls, but this can vary for sophonts. Psionics and Sanity are additional characteristics that are rolled only if needed.

Getting Started

The next step is selecting a homeworld and optional birth world if different. TravellerMap.com is a great source for finding suitable worlds, although T5 provides a list of Spinward Marches worlds. Each world has a variable number of Trade Classification codes which may award automatic skills to characters from that world.

This is probably also a good time to specify the character’s native language, with a skill level equal to the greater of Intelligence or Education.

The character’s initial age is now set to Life Stage 3, age 18 for Humans and often different for other sophonts.

Education & Training

Although a character can choose to immediately enter a career, it’s often a good idea to increase one’s Education level and skills at the cost of some increase in aging. Unlike previous versions of Traveller, education and careers can be visited in any order and intermixed.

Some educational institutions are suited for characters with the Education characteristic while others are for those with Training. Characters with Instinct are not suited to any education options.

An interesting new feature is Educational Waivers. A failure in any educational roll can attempt a waiver. Waivers can be rolled to avoid prerequisites, so a boy genius can go for a PhD at age 18 without a BA or Masters degree. Waivers can also be used to override failure in applying for an institution, failure in a year of study, failure to graduate, or failure to attain honors. Each waiver roll uses a target of Social Standing minus previous number of waiver attempts, so each additional waiver is more difficult to achieve. Waivers are also available in the Scholar career.

Some notes of interest:
Apprenticeship can be used to gain level-4 in certain skills and knowledges without increasing the character’s age. This option is considered to take place earlier in life and can only be taken once.
ED5 is a remedial program to increase a low Education characteristic to level-5. It also does not increase the character’s age and can only be taken once.
Trade School(Education) and Training Course(Training) are 1 year programs to increase skill or knowledge in one area of study.
Mentorship(Training) is a 1 year program to increase the Training characteristic level by 2.
College, University, and Service Academies all award a BA degree after 4 years of study and skills in a major and minor. They also increase Education. All can result in an officer commission and immediate entry into a military career after graduation.
Masters and Professors programs award advanced degrees after 2 years of study, increase Education, and provide major and minor skills.
Medical and Law Schools require an Honors BA and award specialty skills and degrees.
Flight School, ANM School, and Command College are special educational programs that occur during military careers.

Completing an educational program may complete prerequisites for other educational programs and avoid the need for a waiver.

Careers

T5 defines a total of 13 different careers. A character may have more than one career, and revisit a previous career after doing something else. Not all careers are available immediately. Some careers can only be visited once, or may not be available if not chosen first, or may result in the end of character generation upon completion.

Each career has a unique success roll to begin, differing rewards, and different procedures to complete each term. As in previous versions of Traveller, a term in a career is 4 years long and a number of skills are awarded each term.

Most careers define a subset of controlling characteristics for term resolution. Each term, one characteristic is chosen and its value is used for risk and reward rolls. A characteristic may not be reused until all others in the set have been used. Most careers also have a user-defined modifier for each term which allows the character to be brave or cautious and affect risk and reward rolls.

Risk failure may result in injury and reduce the controlling characteristic level permanently. Reductions by 4 or more require the character to leave the career at the end of the term with double benefits. Reducing the controlling characteristic to 0 results in immediate character death, just like in the good old days of Classic Traveller.

Many careers define ranks. Some have dual tracks for enlisted and officer ranks and award a bonus upon officer commissioning. Sometimes a promotion in rank will award an automatic skill for that rank.

T5 introduces a Fame system to indicate how well known a character has become. Each career has differing ways of increasing fame, and in general, a character’s overall fame is the total of the individual fame levels in all careers completed.

Most careers have a continuation roll which you have to succeed to continue in a career. Before making this roll you can choose to voluntarily exit this career and enter another career or educational institution. If the roll is exactly 2 on 2D6, one of two things happens. If the character is in the military reserves (officer training program completion or service academy graduate), then the character immediately leaves this career for at least one term in the previous military career. Otherwise, the character must stay in this career for the next term. In the unlucky event of failing this continuation roll, the character must immediately leave this career and begin adventuring.

Career notes:
Craftsman requires Craftsman skill and high levels of other skills to begin. The goal is to create masterpieces of significant value.
Scholar has goals of successful research, publications, increasing rank, and tenure. Waivers may be attempted to overcome adverse results.
Entertainer has a goal of high fame and a high level of talent in a performing art. This talent level may be used instead of skill level while performing.
Citizen is only available as a first career. The goal is increasing skill in a randomly determined job and hobby.
Scout has a choice each term of safe courier duty or hazardous explorer duty which awards more skills. The goal for explorers is to make world discoveries and be awarded valuable land grants while avoiding a loss of sanity.
Merchant has a goal of acquiring ship shares to achieve ownership of a starship.
Spacer, Soldier, and Marine are the military careers. The goal is to attain useful adventuring skills and an annual pension.
Agent has a goal of completing missions and being awarded commendations.
Rogue has a goal of completing successful schemes and becoming rich.
Noble requires a high Social Standing to begin. Adventuring begins when this career is ended. The goal is to complete successful intrigues, avoid exile, and increase noble rank which awards valuable voting proxies and land grants.
Functionary is associated with a previous career. Adventuring begins when this career is ended. The goal is to be successful at office politics and increase rank.

Aging

As with earlier versions of Traveller, T5 performs aging checks which can reduce physical and mental abilities of a character. Because of the sophont system, physical checks begin at life stage 5 (age 34 for humans) and mental checks begin at life stage 9 (age 66 for humans).

Mustering Out

As with earlier versions of Traveller, T5 has a similar mustering out system to award characters cash, benefits, entitlements, and physical possessions useful for adventuring.

Each career has unique Money and Benefits tables that may be chosen for each roll available. Each term completed in that career awards a roll. Additional rolls may be made for commendations, certain medals, and high fame. An optional die modifier may be used on each roll, usually based on the number of terms completed in the career, sometimes based on final rank.

If a roll awards a benefit already earned that is not cumulative, such as a Wafer Jack or TAS Life Membership, that benefit may be rerolled.

The rules are not clear on whether mustering out is performed as each career is completed or all at once for all careers before adventuring starts. It’s possible that mustering out could increase Social Standing and allow entry into the Noble career, which argues for doing this as each career is completed.

Entitlements are also determined at this time. Some careers award pensions at life stage 9. Military careers award annual retirement pay available immediately.

Final Thoughts

T5 character generation is a beast. Those not familiar with previous versions of Traveller character generation will have a hard time understanding this system. A full understanding of the complete process will require an investment of time and sadly, some research in on-line forums to resolve questions. The Citizens of the Imperium forums are invaluable in this regard. That’s where I found sophont creation cards for a number of Traveller sophonts. That’s also where I found an excellent collection of flowcharts by user Hemdian which clarified the educational and career processes.

That said, most Traveller players like to roll their own systems, and may choose to just make judgement calls in interpreting the rules. Fair enough.

Now that I’ve spent the time to learn this system, I find it reasonably easy to use with many enjoyable choices along the way.

This ultimate version of Traveller character generation can create your basic old school character with no education and one career as before, or can be used to create a grizzled old character with lots of education and a variety of career experiences. The perpetual student that gets academic tenure as a scholar before taking up the family obligation in the nobility. The scout that never could hit that big discovery but found his fortune as a rogue. The ex-military agent that ends up as a military intelligence contractor functionary. The choices are yours. There’s a whole universe out there.
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Ken
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agorski wrote:
T5 character generation is a beast. Those not familiar with previous versions of Traveller character generation will have a hard time understanding this system. A full understanding of the complete process will require an investment of time and sadly, some research in on-line forums to resolve questions.

Yes, sadly I found this to be true. I was so excited to dive into it and after many hours finally gave up without having finished my first character.
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Douglas Bailey
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Thanks for the excellent review and summary; I never made it far enough through the chapter to even try making a character.

It sounds like all of T5: the ideas sound good when you aren't trying to parse them from the aimless, poorly-edited text. Your example of not being able to tell when mustering-out occurs is pretty characteristic of the entire rules set, based on my attempts to read through it.
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Art Gorski
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So as I mentioned up front, I've been working on an iPad app to automate this entire process. Yes, all of it. Sadly, I can't squeeze the interface onto a phone so this one will be iPad only. I've been puttering away at it since the first of the year and am about 3/4 done.

It's a blast to use (well, in the Simulator anyway). You can create a richly detailed T5 character in a few minutes, with a complete log of events for creating that backstory.

I've yet to complete 3 careers, mustering out, and the glossy interface. When it's done I'll post a notice here and, of course, it will be free in the App Store.
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