Learning Traveller, Part 1: Making Characters

I’ve been having an enormous amount of fun rolling up characters using the Classic Traveller rules. It’s an easy, quick, very entertaining mini-game. I totally get why we loved this game back in the 80’s.

Unlike most other RPGs, Traveller does not simply dump inexperienced 18-year-olds into the world and let them fend for themselves. In Traveller it is possible for a character to gain experience for up to 28 years in one of six “prior services”… In practical terms, this means a band of adventurers will not consist completely of striplings.

Introduction To Traveller: Traveller Book 0; GDW 1981, page 8

What I Did…

I read the Characters section from Book 1: Characters and Combat. This took about an hour. As I did this before going to sleep – including reading every skill description – I was ready in the morning to roll up some new characters. This, by the way, is the advice given in Book 0:

When finished with this leisurely examination of the rules, return to Book 1, and read closely the section on character generation (pages 8-29). Then get a pair of dice, pencil, and paper and roll up a few characters. (Be sure to save the results. They might come in handy later.) As you do this, take it slowly and build up your confidence.

Introduction To Traveller: Traveller Book 0; GDW 1981, page 12

I started by creating (what was to become) Captain Aspen. I rolled the characteristics in order (as implied but not stated in the rules), ran him through the Marines service process, and mustered him out:

Captain Aspen A39967; Cutlass-1, Laser Carbine-1, Electronic-1, Revolver-1, ATV-1, Vacc Suit-1; Cr20000; Traveller’s Aid Society Member; owns a Cutlass.

Next, I rolled up a new character whom I forgot to name. This proved fatal because, having switched to my preferred method for rolling characteristics, he failed Enlistment in the Navy, got drafted to the Scouts, and prompted failed his Survival roll = dead. I laughed my head off over that one.

Learning from this, I went for Number 3: Bellus was rolled using my preferred approach which is to roll each 2D score and then assign it to a characteristic before rolling the next one. This is how we played back in the day and it allows for some directed decisions to steer a character. Bellus turned out ok, enlisting in the Navy:

Lt Cmdr Bellus 54898A; Ship’s Boat-1, Mechanical-1, Admin-1, Vacc Suit-1; Cr5000; Low Passage; owns a Sword.

My final character was Cassius (yes, I was picking names in alphabetical order). He’s the most interesting of the three (to me) because he has a very low Intelligence and a very high Education: highly knowledgeable but not the quickest of thinkers. He made it all the way to Rank 4 in the Army:

Lt Colonel Cassius 6992CA; Rifle-2, SMG-1, ATV-1, Tactics-2, Admin-1, Forward Observer-1, Brawling-1; Cr5000; Low Passage; owns a Rifle.

At this point, I feel ready to dive further into the rules. Combat is the next bit to read.

Here are my scribbled notes. It helps to see the process, I feel.

What I Learned…

I learned a truck load. For starters, the so-called retroclones for Traveller are not a terribly faithful set of clones. Because they are based on Mongoose Traveller 1e, games like Cepheus are reflective of a much later desire to have universal game mechanisms. This is simply not the case in the original game.

There is a simple mechanism for Combat (which I’ll talk about later) which is based on rolling 8+ on 2D. Most people assume that this is the core mechanism of Classic Traveller. This is a false assumption.

In fact, each Skill has it’s own suggested die rolls to resolve common situations. Much is left to the Referee to determine on the fly. In short, there is a general sense that you should ask for “saving throws”, rolled on 2D, and adjudicate on the fly. This appeals to me greatly. Here’s an example:

Bribery: Petty officials can generally be bribed to ignore regulations or poor documentation, requiring a basic throw of 8+ (plus a cash offer) to do as asked. If the first offer is refused, a second roll may be made with the cash offer doubled. The character offering the bribe should first roll on the reaction table (book 3), and should not offer to a negatively reacting official.
DMs are allowed: if character has no expertise: −5. Per level of expertise: +1. If official reacts as a strong friend on the reaction table (a roll of 12), +2.
Referee: must insure cash offered and act solicited are both reasonable; if not, implement negative DMs. Roll for acceptance, and if rejected, a throw of 3− indicates the offer is reported. Other DMs may be made as appropriate.

Characters and Combat: Traveller Book 1; GDW 1977, page 14

I also learned that character creation is a fun mini-game that takes about 10 minutes or so once you get used to the process… which itself took me about 20 minutes to do first time out. This made me feel that the later suggestion that NPCs be created using the process is going to be a lot of fun and not a huge time sink, as it might be with other games.

My copy of the Traveller set is from 1977. Looks like I started early.

Finally, I learned that I really enjoyed this part of the game. I remembered the joy from the 80’s (when I was a kid) and understand the root of my love for this old game. Back then, I was a player and it was a blast to make a new character and dive off into play. If you’ve not tried it, I’d invite you to find a game… or come and join mine when I get running this down the line.

Read Learning Traveller 2: Combat Simulation

Game on!


    • Sorry – there’s a close relationship. A fair analogy might be to say they are related like AD&D and D&D5e are related: Mongoose unifies the mechanisms, adds more modern stylings, and melds together the developments of the game over time; the same time, Mongoose smoothed out the kinks in the game. But, no, they are not the same.


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