I don’t suppose I have anything particularly new to say about character generation in CT/Traveller – a game (slightly) older than I am, and which grognards have been poring over ever since it’s inception. But once upon a time one of my blogging heroes, Belghast, had this to say on reluctating blogging and finding your voice:

You might say to yourself that you have nothing to say, and that others are saying it better… but the act of you saying it makes it special and unique. I could read fifty blog posts on exactly the same subject and each and every one would have some nugget that the others did not. While we might be espousing the same ideas… each of us is adding our own experience to that mix.

I have been rolling up a bunch of charters recently, so I at least have recent, first-hand experience of the rules in motion. But first, let’s look at this cartoon from Imagine Magazine number 5, the August 1983 issue. Nic (the perpetual) Novice is being schooled on the basics of CT character generation:

Nic Novice

An element of danger and respect

What I like about the CT rules for character generation is that there’s an element of danger that goes along with gambling on longer and longer careers in search of more skills and mustering-out benefits. The game starts right then, when your fledgling character is an eighteen year old rookie, looking to enlist in one of the branches and start his career as an adventurer. And if they die in service? Well, that’s a self-contained story right there (and there’s no shame in tucking those stats away for use as an NPC later on).

The game of Traveller starts the moment you roll your stats, not somewhat later on when you first drag your reluctant farmboy-with-a-rusty-sword into his first dungeon, cowering in the darkness. Traveller PCs are already accomplished professionals, and should be respected as such. For “beginner” characters, the newly rolled members of a Traveller crew are older, wiser, and better skilled than their level one counterparts in most other RPGs. And with all that experience, comes backstory waiting to be explored. These folks have seen some things, man.

Compact and succinct

Thanks to Traveller’s handy space-saving Universal Personality Profile, characters can fit quite nicely onto a relatively compact character sheet (perhaps even an index card, which as a librarian causes meimmense nostalgic pleasure) or even – get this – into a tweet. Thank you, Mark W. Miller, for having the foresight to create such an eminently tweetable system:

Along with the UPP system (the equivalent notation for planets), this makes Traveller a perfect system for tweeting bite-sized chunks of perfectly usable content, ripe for expanding upon later. I like that a lot.

Play what you’re given

Yes, you can die in Traveller character generation. It happens. But it’s not very likely. You’d really have to roll terrible stats (always a possibility, admittedly) and then enrol in a service badly suited for your survival. The bonuses to survival given for meeting a stat threshold might seem small, but 2d6 only gives a very small range, and even a +1 bonus is significant. So play what you’re given. I’ve always been a fan of that, of rolling 3d6 (2d6) in order, and seeing who appears.

Still – this imbues the process with yet another element of risk and reward: the stats for enlisting and promotion are not the same as for surviving: dare you risk being able to climb the ladder with ease if it means your chances of surviving each term are diminished, or do you play it safe but never get a shot at the big time?