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Day 4: Classic Traveller

Yesterday, I noted when I first got into RPGs I was much more a science fiction reader and watcher than a fantasy reader. That would be true for over a decade until my interests shifted to detective more than any fantastic genre. The only caveat would be a lot of science fantasy was labeled science fiction back then but is more likely to be labeled fantasy now. Andre Norton’s Witch World is a prime example of that shift.

As Jeffro Johnson, to pick out one example points out in Appendix N: The Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons, the reality was genres were never as well defined as we pretend they are today.

Still, circa 1980 I was a science fiction fan, and while Gamma World kind of scratched that itch I wanted a science fiction RPG that was about what we all knew real scifi was about: riding around space.

So I got a copy of Traveller. My first copy was the 1977 version of the Little Black Books. I don’t have that set handy, but I do have copies of the 1981 version. So let’s roll-up my own answer to Dumarest of Terra.

Because it is still the 70s we start with the random generation of six characteristics (instead of attributes) with D6. This time we’re rolling 2D6 for Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Education, and Social Standing. That’s pretty much the D & D standards with two changes.

Education replaces wisdom and pretty much maps with years of formal schooling although not exactly 1-1, although that isn’t made quite explicit until Book 4: Mercenary. This is pretty unusual today where only the most educated characters had finished high school, but I think it reflects the Horatio Hornblower in space nature of the setting as well as the era the game came out when a good middle-class life in the US was common for people with only high school educations.

Social Standing is a rank in a classed but not quite feudal world. If you look at as mapping to the class structure in the United Kingdom in the 18th and 19th centuries you won’t be too off. Again, this reflects the Horatio Hornblower in space aspect of the setting.

Let’s roll some stats.

ST: 11
DX: 5
EN: 9
IQ: 3
ED: 4
SS: 7

A quick aside, Traveller had a shorthand for characters called the Universal Personality Profile, which was simply six hex digits of the stats in order. For our woman here, it would be B59347.

The rules suggest naming our character here. I don’t remember either version of D&D or GW mentioning names much at all. Traveller has an interesting pair of paragraphs on the topic.

Naming: Once generated, the character should be named. There are several schools of thought on the nature of names. One school holds that the character should carry the name of the player; the referee can then refer to Frank or Cindy, and everyone knows exactly who’s who. This usage is convenient, but tends to lose some of the flavor of the campaign.

Another school calls for the use of pseudonymsor fanciful names (for example:
Alexander Lascelles Jamison, or Timothy Fairweather; more extremely, Seeker
or Starkiller). As with everything in the game, the actual choice depends only on

Traveller Book 1: Characters & Combat pg. 9

Looks like we have a big, clumsy, uneducated oaf so let’s leverage that for her name. Searching for “famous physically strong women” 1 brings me to “9 Inspiring Strongwomen of History”. Most of these women fit the image I have of our character and many have incredible nicknames. Playing some mix and match I present Mildred “Apollina” Blatt.

Next, we enlist in a career. We will spend several 4-year terms in the career learning skills and building up benefits. In Book 1 we only have six choices: Navy, Marines, Army, Scouts, Merchants, and Other, a catchall for civilian jobs that a Walter Mitty might hold before he goes adventuring. We have to succeed on a 2D6 roll against an enlistment number. If we fail we roll a D6 to see who drafts us. Characters who are drafted cannot be promoted in their first term. The target is different for each service and each offers a +1 and a +2 bonus for characteristics of certain values.

Looking at Apollina’s UPP her strength will get her a +2 to the Marines whose target is 9, +2 to the Scouts whose target is 7, and +1 to the Merchants whose target is 7. Her Endurance will get her a +2 to the Army whose target is 5. Apollina will try for a soldier’s life. With a roll of 8+2 for 10 she’s in handily.

The first step of any term is survival. You need a 2D6 to avoid your character dying this term, the famous death in character generation of Traveller. The 1981 version I’m using has an optional rule:

-Optional Rule: If the referee or player so indicates prior to character generation, then a failure of the survival roll can be converted to injury. The character is
not dead, but instead is injured, and leaves the service (after recovery) having served
only two years of the four year term

Traveller Book 1: Characters & Combat pg. 910

Army survival is 6 with a +2 bonus for an education of 6 or better. We roll a 6 and Apollina survives her first four-year term in the Army. She can now strike for a commission. The Army commission target is 5 with a +1 for an endurance of 7 or better. A roll of 8+1 for 9 and Lt. Mildred “Apollina” Blatt puts on her spiffy combination cap.

Having been commissioned this and every subsequent term, Apollina will be up for promotion. The target here is 6 with a +1 for and education of 7 or better. The dice give us an 11 and Captain Apollina finishes her first 4 years in the Army.

We now can roll on a selection of skills tables. There are four for each service: Personal Development, Service Skills, Advanced Education, and Advanced Education (8+ needed in the education characteristic). A character gets 1 roll each term except their first where they get 2. A commission earns a roll as does a promotion. In total, Captain Apollina gets four rolls this term. We will roll on Personal Development, Service Skills, and Advanced Education twice. This are D6 rolls.

She also gets Rifle-1 for being in the Army and SMG-1 for making Lieutentant.

We get 1, 5, 1, 4. The one gives us +1 ST (updating our UPP to C59347. I was hoping for a five on the Personal Development table to get a +1 to education, raising it to 5 and getting us the survival bonus. The five on service skills gets us Blade Combat, and we’ll need to choose what blade. The one on advanced education gets us Vehicle, again we have to choose the type, and the four gets us Tactics.

Halberd is an entry on the blades table and that strikes me as Apollina’s perfect weapon. I see her charging as a trench raider on some backwater world stabbing down at helpless conscripts. Of course, she needs to get to the trench safely so for Vehicle we’re going with hovercraft.

The last step of each term is re-enlistment. To continue is a straight roll on 2D6. Army has the highest target at 7. Even if you wish to end the career you have to roll as a roll of 12 means you’re retained even if you didn’t want to be. Our roll is a 10 and Captain Apollina decides to stay another term.

Second term we roll exactly a 5 and survive. A roll of 8 for promotion leads to Major Apollina this term. She’ll have two skill rolls. I’ll take one each on Service Skills and Advanced Education. A four on the former gets her Foward Observer, while a three on the latter gets her Electronics. A roll of 8 to re-enlist means Major Apollina will service a third term, hoping to make Lt. Colonel.

For the third term we roll a 7 for survival and a 7 for promotion. Major Apollina’s lack of education and intelligence may had lead to a ceiling for her career. With only one roll we take advanced education again and get Vehicle. We’ll up Hovercraft to Hovercraft-2. Our enlistment roll is 2 which is fine as Major Apollina was ready to leave.

The final step is mustering out. We get one roll per term plus two for the rank of Major for a total of five on two tables, Benfits or Cash. A maximum of three can be taken on cash. We take two on cash for a 1 and a 6 giving her 22,000 credits on mustering out. A 2 and a 3 on the Benefits table lead to a +1 to IQ and a +2 to ED for a new UPP of C59467. A 5 gets us a prepaid High Passage, first-class accommodations, on a starship.

And with that, Major Mildred “Apollina” Blatt heads off her base to the nearest starport to begin life as a Traveller.

  1. I had to add physically, otherwise I just got lists of CEOs…the real-world version of “strong, female characters”.[]
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