Learning Traveller 3: Mercenary

One of the great joys in playing Classic Traveller again after so many years has been rediscovering the various caches of Little Black Books (and other supplements) that are squirrelled around the house.

Today, as I begin to develop and deepen my understanding of Classic Traveller, I’ve decided to begin to delve beyond Books 1 to 3 and stride into the next sequence of learning: Mercenary, High Guard, Scouts, and Merchant Prince.

Read from the beginning: Learning Traveller 1

These tomes offer a variety of new or deeper options for play in Classic Traveller. For example, Mercenary (unsurprisingly) offers the Mercenary Campaign with rules for running “Tickets” – missions which utilise mercenary units across different worlds. On top of each book’s options, however, sit expanded Character Generation rules for each of the basic Services introduced in Book 1: Characters and Combat.

My first step deeper into Traveller, especially as I try to figure out what shape to give my forthcoming solo campaign, is to roll up a character using the generation systems provided in each of Books 4 to 7.

The Regular Army O

I started by rolling up Characteristics and, as has become my House Rule now, assigning each 2D roll to one of the basic scores before rolling the next. This allows for a degree of steering in character creation which, I feel, is important when players are generating an alter-ago for a longer-term campaign.

My Mercenary character started with UPP: 8A7574

In the basic Book 1 Character Generation system, your character gets one skill per 4-year term of service, plus additional skills for promotion. Book 4 changes this dramatically: each term is now resolved as a sequence of four 1-year assignments and you can potentially get five skill rolls from the process… or, from Term 2 onwards, you can risk getting zero.

I elected to attempt enlistment in the Army and was successful. By the way, this appears to be the point at which you can put aside Book 1 and use Book 4 instead: you still need Characters and Combat for how to roll up characteristics and the enlistment roll, and optionally the Draft. You’ll need Book 1 nearby for re-enlistment, however.

This change to Assignments was initially a little jarring – especially when I realised you don’t get bonus skills from Promotion anymore – but, in actual play, the system is richer and provides an additional layer of emergent story. This warmed my heart.

Max Erling’s Progress

Max has enlisted in the Army. Because there is a bonus for characters coming from a Tech Level 11+ world, I decided he’d be from a TL10- world. That said, I haven’t assigned a Homeworld because I want to flesh that stuff out if I choose to use him in solo play. If I don’t use Max as a Player Character, he’ll become a useful NPC with a nice backstory. Either way, my campaign wins.

Term 1

The first Term of Service begins with Max getting a first year assignment to Basic Training and Advanced Training. For these, we give him an automatic choice of Gun Combat skill before rolling on the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) Table.

It’s worth noting that, looking at the Gun Combat skill description in Book 4, it appears the rules from Book 1 are being replaced. Instead of choosing a specific type of gun (Book 1), you can choose from a range of broader skills: Combat Rifleman, Pistol, Submachinegun, Laser Weapons, Zero-G Weapons, High Energy Weapons, and Auto Weapons (Book 4, pages 12-13). I initially concluded this was a replacement, not addition to the rules, because of the wording that precedes the Skills section in Book 4:

All skills not listed or elaborated below remain as they are described in Traveller Book 1.

Mercenary: Traveller Book 4 (1978), page 10

But, having read Scouts: Traveller Book 6, in which characters gain Gun Combat by selecting a gun from the gun list in Book 1, I now believe the intent is that Army/Marine characters have broader skills. This seems like a richer, if slightly more complex, way of doing things.

Max chose Combat Rifleman-1. The MOS roll delivered a second Gun Combat skill. Instead of raising Combat Rifleman, he selected Laser Weapons. I have always liked the idea of Laser Rifles. That concluded the first year’s assignment.

Year Two’s assignment got me using the new rules in earnest. In short, you roll for a General Assignment (which only really matters if your character is Commissioned as an officer) and a Unit Assignment. Max rolled a Support assignment in Internal Security. He survived, wasn’t decorated (meaning: no medal), got promoted to Lance Corporal but didn’t receive a skill. The lack of skill arose from the fact that Internal Security duty gets you none – not even a chance to roll. Ho hum.

Year Three saw Max get posted to Command in a Police Action. He survived, wasn’t decorated, was promoted to Corporal, and learned the Recon skill. That sparks some nice thoughts in my imagination about jungle patrols on some backwater world. See how the process nudges the player’s creativity?

Year Four put Max into Staff Training which he automatically survived but obviously wasn’t going to win any medals for doing. He was promoted to Lance Sergeant and trained in Mechanical. At this point I began to realise that Traveller probably taught me quite a bit about how Army life might feel.

Term 2

After finishing Term 1, Max can attempt to re-enlist. This referred us back to Book 1 but with new modifiers. Basic re-enlistment for the Army is 7+ (on 2D, obviously), and Max gets a DM+2 for being an NCO. I rolled 5 which only just qualifies Max for a second term; a close call.

The first assignment is to Command with Internal Security. Max rolls his eyes because he’s not going to learn much this year. That said, survival is easier – he makes it – and he is promoted again, this time to Sergeant.

The second year gets Max posted to a Staff assignment during a Counter Insurgency mission. He survives easily, presumably because he is behind the lines, and isn’t decorated. Max is, however, promoted to Gunnery Sergeant and manages to learn a new skill. He chooses the MOS table and rolls Heavy Weapons. It seems reasonable that Max was trained on the Light Machine Gun (LMG), so he gains LMG-1. Cool.

Year three places our Army character in a Staff posting on Garrison duty. There are no risks but also very few rewards: the only opportunity is for promotion and Max succeeds. He’s now a Leading Sergeant.

The final year of the Term puts Max in Command on another Counter Insurgency mission. He survives with aplomb and is decorated for the first time: a citation for the Meritorious Conduct Under Fire (MCUF). He’s not promoted but he does learn a new skill. He selects the MOS table and gets Vehicle. Given a choice of wheeled, tracked, or grav vehicles we discover that Max learned to crew a Tracked Vehicle. I like the idea that he did something gallant, rescuing some Squaddies by bringing an APC to get folk home.

Max is 26 years old and checking for re-enlistment. The roll is a 6+2 = 8 for success. It seems reasonable that Max would stay in another Term.

Term 3

Continuing in the Infantry (you don’t get to change Military Arm unless you get cross-trained), Max gets a Special Assignment. Book 4 gives non-commissioned officers different possible assignments to commissioned officers, so we are rolling on Enlisted and NCO’s Table. A die roll of 6 places Max into OCS: Officer Candidate School.

OCS grants Max one command skill, one staff skill, and one additional MOS from the Infantry. After that, he’ll be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant (which, by the way, is Traveller Rank 1 from Book 1). Awesome! Max rolls Heavy Weapons skill, Forward Observer skill, and Gun Combat. Let’s increase his LMG and Laser Weapons skills. Getting an MOS skill to level 2 gives Max a +1 on Survival rolls going forward.

Year 2 places Max into a Command assignment on the most dangerous of all missions: a Raid! He survives, is decorated with another MCUF, gets promoted, and learns a skill. As a newly-minted First Lieutenant (Rank 1), Max picks up a roll on the Command Skills table, gaining +1 Endurance. Obviously a gruelling raid on a border world has toughened up our aspiring officer.

It’s the third year and Max is put back into the Command assignment pool, getting involved in a Police Action. He survives with ease and picks up a skill (just). Max rolls on the Army Life table for a change and gains another +1 Endurance.

For the last year of Term 3, Max is transferred to a Staff role in support of another Raid mission. His survival is close – without the +1 from MOS skill at level 2, he’d have been smoke. Max is decorated with a Medal For Conspicuous Gallantry (MCG), promoted to Captain (Rank 2), and picks up another skill. He rolls on the Staff Skills and gains Medical. Perhaps Max has been involved in another close call in which he was forced to bail his unit out of a deadly enemy counter—attack which got behind the lines.

Max rolls for re-enlistment and faces the tough question of whether to push on into a fourth Term of Service. The roll fails, sparing him the dilemma. Max is mustered out.

Mustering Out

At the age of 30, Captain Max Erling musters out of the Army. We’re back to Book 1 for the usual procedure. The only addition is that Book 4 asks us to write a Resume for the character. I’ll drop that at the end of this article.

Max is Rank 2, so he gains one extra roll to his basic three for serving three Terms. He opts for a roll on the Cash Table first, netting Cr10,000. The second roll is on the Material Benefits Table, for +2 Education. The last roll is also on Material Benefits, for +1 Intelligence. It seems like, in reflecting on his military service, Max has consolidated his learning and picked up some critical thinking skills. He’s too young to worry about aging, so we’re all done.

Captain Max Erling

Max Erling, Captain 8A9694; Combat Rifleman-1, Laser Weapons-2, Recon-1, Mechanical-1, LMG-1, Forward Observer-1, Medical-1; Age 30; Cr10000; OCS; MCUFx2, MCG; Qualified on Combat Rifles, Laser Weapons, LMGs, Tracked Vehicles.

All in all, that was a lot of fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Mercenary (Book 4) experience takes far longer than the basic system from Characters and Combat (Book 1) but it delivers a richer sense of character with a tasty outline of backstory. Just enough to get you started in play.

Read Learning Traveller 4: High Guard

Game on!


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