Arguments for & against point-buy chargen

Discuss the Traveller RPG and its many settings
wordboydave
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Arguments for & against point-buy chargen

Postby wordboydave » Wed Mar 28, 2018 8:57 am

I was listening to The Grognard Files podcast last week, and they were discussing Traveller, and something one of the hosts said crystallized a problem I've always had with Traveller's lifepath generation system: "At the start of the adventure," he said (I'm summarizing from memory), "someone hired us to break into a museum and steal some artifact, and all I could think was, 'Who would hire US? We had a pilot, and an engineer, and a medic, but not one of us had the skills for burglary, and of course in Classic Traveller you never will.'"

That's when I realized the problem: with random skill accrual, not only do you not have control over who your character winds up being (which is REALLY silly, because I've definitely chosen most of my skills in real life!), but you can very easily wind up with an entire crew that's completely unsuited for the types of adventures you were planning to play Traveller for in the first place! As much as people love the lifepath, that critique seems completely damning. Small wonder that people keep trying to invent point-buy systems for Traveller.

I remember waaaay back on this forum, however, in a discussion of point-buy systems, someone from Mongoose warned that they deliberately weight the lifepath tables with a mix of useful and less-useful skills, and that if players are allowed to simply pick from the tables, they'll tend to be very overpowered, with lots of high-demand skills at level 3 and 4. So point-buy systems can't be as simple as picking from tables.

Admittedly, I'm a little obsessed with this issue, so I found a slightly different solution. I went to a random-Traveller-chargen site and made 5000 Traveller characters! And in the process, I discovered that the average 4-term Traveller character (at least using that particular bot) tended to have 6 skill-0s, 6 skill-1s, and 1 skill-2. (It was both the arithmetic average and the mode.)

So my argument is, instead of a traditional point-buy system, where you're given a lump sum and told to go crazy--leading to people giving themselves all 4s in their stats and then Gun Combat-7--what if you simply said, "Choose six skills at level 0, six at level 1, and one at level 2"? Especially if six of those skills had to be service skills from your stated profession? (I chose four terms because that gives you maximum skill and benefits rolls before you have to start rolling for age, so I assume Traveller is encouraging everyone to be 34 when they start.)

Or does everyone cheat on the Lifepath and sort-of accidentally get the character they want, and I've just been too uptight to let myself do it? If anyone has a robust defense of the lifepath chargen system, I'm willing to hear it. From where I sit, it sure seems like if you spend an hour or two making a character for a particular adventure game, you ought to wind up somewhere in the ballpark of what you were hoping to play.
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Re: Arguments for & against point-buy chargen

Postby Annatar Giftbringer » Wed Mar 28, 2018 9:24 am

There are some builtin tools to ensure the character ends up more or less like you want it:

You get to choose background skills (p.8)

You get all the service skills from your first career as basic training at level 0 (p.16) and for each new career you get to pick one skill.

Alternatively, you might go for pre-career education (p.14) for a more focused start.

Skill packages on p.48 exist so the group can ensure that hey have the skills they need for the campaign they’re playing.

The connections rule on p.17 can also help.



All in all, sure you might not get exactly the character you planned for, but I’d say there are enough tools to ensure they at least can carry out the role you’ve intended for them.
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Re: Arguments for & against point-buy chargen

Postby arcador » Wed Mar 28, 2018 10:14 am

Point-by is a valid character generation strategy IMO. The referee, however, must be aware of the consequences.

The skill distribution scheme is a good option in order to pose limits on characters. MgT 1 has a point-by system, where it gets progressively expensive to stack characteristics and skills.

Currently, we play a game with hybrid point-by. It allows stacking. We have a character with 15 dex and 3 gun combat. It makes him a killing machine, but he can do nothing else.
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Re: Arguments for & against point-buy chargen

Postby Linwood » Thu Mar 29, 2018 1:05 am

I allow my players to roll the die for a skill and then decide which table to use. Gives them a bit more freedom to direct their character’s growth but still keeps some randomness in the process. Seems to work pretty well.
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Re: Arguments for & against point-buy chargen

Postby ShawnDriscoll » Thu Mar 29, 2018 2:14 am

wordboydave wrote:
Wed Mar 28, 2018 8:57 am
what if you simply said, "Choose six skills at level 0, six at level 1, and one at level 2"? Especially if six of those skills had to be service skills from your stated profession?
I don't remember off hand what Mongoose's skill spread is, but that is basically what I let players do so they can get a quick character to learn how the game mechanics work before I start a Traveller game.
wordboydave
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Re: Arguments for & against point-buy chargen

Postby wordboydave » Thu Mar 29, 2018 7:24 am

Linwood wrote:
Thu Mar 29, 2018 1:05 am
I allow my players to roll the die for a skill and then decide which table to use. Gives them a bit more freedom to direct their character’s growth but still keeps some randomness in the process. Seems to work pretty well.
Why have I never thought of this before? You're right! It works nicely!
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Re: Arguments for & against point-buy chargen

Postby RogerMc » Thu Mar 29, 2018 1:13 pm

This really only applies to Classic Traveller and is addressed by both basic training and background and connection skill packages in MGT2

So every Scout has at least Pilot-0 and every party should have at least one Pilot-1 or whatever however they roll.

And your average 4 term MGT character should have 2-5 background skills at-0, at least six basic training skills at-0, a minimum of 3 1+ skills and probably 1 to as many as 6 more depending on advancement and event rolls plus 2 connection skills and one or two background package skills.

Something I'm experimenting with now is rolling up characters who roll every term once each on all the skill tables they are eligible for but having all skills earned from the table start at 0 rather than 1 and dispensing with extra background and connection skills.

This seems to produce much more rounded and plausible characters who can do everything you'd expect someone from that career to be able to do but will by looks of it need balancing out by being tougher on difficulty levels or maybe applying bane dice a lot more.

Another alternative is to let them roll once per term as usual but let them choose the table after the roll - or just plain choose your term skills without any point-counting required.
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Re: Arguments for & against point-buy chargen

Postby paltrysum » Thu Mar 29, 2018 2:59 pm

I was talking about this with one of my Traveller buddies yesterday (one who plays in my campaign), and when I mentioned the possibility of a point-buy system, he said he felt that taking all of the randomness out of it ruined the fun. On the other hand, he did indicate that it was frustrating to be unable to get at least some of the skills you wanted your character to have.

To that end, what if you employ a house rule of giving the players 1-3 "wildcards" during chargen? One to three times they get to pick the skill they want, rather than roll for it, from the tables they have access to during chargen. This gives you some ability to direct your character's skill development instead of completely leaving it to the dice.
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Re: Arguments for & against point-buy chargen

Postby heron61 » Fri Mar 30, 2018 1:32 am

I dearly love Traveller, but regardless of whether it's a campaign is set in the 3I, Mindjammer's Commonality, 2300, or some other setting, what I don't like is any sort of rolled chargen. I don't want to get the sort of character that random dice rolls produce, I want to have a character I want to play. I have no problem with a good lifepath system (I like the one that I wrote for Mindjammer: Traveller is one such system), and (especially since I tend to play generalists), I'm fine with point-based chargen systems which make higher levels of skill more expensive, but I have used any sort of rolled chargen in 25 years and I don't play to use one again.
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Re: Arguments for & against point-buy chargen

Postby Condottiere » Fri Mar 30, 2018 11:21 am

It depends on what you want out of your gaming experience; the Classic sort of autopilots the creation process and you have a pregenerated character, which I think is pretty good for NPCs and one shot adventures.

Complete control creates characters you want to play but could be game breaking.

GURPS gave you packages as a starting point.
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Re: Arguments for & against point-buy chargen

Postby NOLATrav » Fri Mar 30, 2018 6:48 pm

Linwood wrote:
Thu Mar 29, 2018 1:05 am
I allow my players to roll the die for a skill and then decide which table to use. Gives them a bit more freedom to direct their character’s growth but still keeps some randomness in the process. Seems to work pretty well.
This. I’ve been using this method since MegaTrav.
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Re: Arguments for & against point-buy chargen

Postby Epicenter » Sat Mar 31, 2018 10:20 am

wordboydave wrote:
Wed Mar 28, 2018 8:57 am
(which is REALLY silly, because I've definitely chosen most of my skills in real life!)
...and did you get nothing but skills you only need for your current career (assuming you're working and not in school or whatever)? And if you truly are such a focused person, I envy you (for the record, I do know such a guy. Ever since he was like 15 all he's wanted to do was fly helicopters for the military, then afterwards, he wanted to use those skills for a civil aviation job ... which is exactly what he's doing. He's flying Apaches for the military right now, in a few years when he'll basically be forced to retire, he has a job as a civil aviation pilot lined up). Alternatively, in my life, you might say I chose a lot of skills that turned out to be fun but not really useful in my career life. I threw a lot of skill points away taking skills like "Philosophy" or "Art."

Most of us cannot see what skills we wished we had when we're, say, 45 years old, and then go back to being 16 or whatever and rearrange our entire lives so we can reach the skill goals of our mature selves. But that's possible in Traveller. That's what MongTrav means is that players know what kind of skills generally come in the most useful and would end up generating these very one-dimensional people who have no hobbies, no interests outside of Combat Rifleman, Battledress Operation, Pistol, and perhaps some social skills.
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Re: Arguments for & against point-buy chargen

Postby Sigtrygg » Sat Mar 31, 2018 11:23 am

I hate points buy systems - they encourage the worst sort of character min/maxing, cookie cutter builds and mary-sueisms IMHO.

These days I don't even allow the 3d6 choose highest 2 for characteristics. You roll 2D in order for characteristics and then go through CT character generation. I get players to roll up at least three characters when we are starting a new game and they get to play the one they want, they may even end up with a character generated by someone else.

Left over characters become NPCs, some of which may end up as PCs due to the death of a starting character.
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Re: Arguments for & against point-buy chargen

Postby Welf » Sat Mar 31, 2018 7:59 pm

Epicenter wrote:
Sat Mar 31, 2018 10:20 am
That's what MongTrav means is that players know what kind of skills generally come in the most useful and would end up generating these very one-dimensional people who have no hobbies, no interests outside of Combat Rifleman, Battledress Operation, Pistol, and perhaps some social skills.
Sigtrygg wrote:
Sat Mar 31, 2018 11:23 am
I hate points buy systems - they encourage the worst sort of character min/maxing, cookie cutter builds and mary-sueisms IMHO.
The thing is: Most RPGs like Traveller expect your character to have some degree of skill in exactly those areas that people min/maxing will use. I personally love to have a multi-dimensional character which has skills he got from his hobbies. BUT if those skills are totally useless, either because you will just never roll them or because rolling them has effectively no effect on your game, you can just omit them completely. Furthermore if a character that only owns useful skills is much more effective in the game than the one with many fluff skills, who can blame you to try and get useful skills?
A great example is the german rpg "Das schwarze Auge" ("the dark eye") that allows you to have skills like "mathematics", "agriculture", "cartography" or "carpenter". They are great skills to give your character some kind of background but you are playing a hero in a fantasy world. Your typical adventures send you into dark caverns to fight orks and monsters. You normally won't have to do complicated calculations, you won't be sowing or harvesting crops, you most likely won't start drawing maps of the world and it is highly unlikely you will be taking part in building a house.
A nice game master might try to somehow give you a few chances to use those skills - it might even be possible to create some kind of plot involving those skills. But overall it is extremely difficult to effectively use those skills. Why? Because in the type of game you are playing those skills are just not important.
Therefore a game should only include skills that are actually helpful or it should clearly differentiate between skills you use regularly and skills that are more or less fluff.

Fortunately all skills in Traveller are more useful (but nonetheless some skills might be completely useless depending on your campaign) and the character generation allows you to influence the direction your character develops into. But for example in one case I tried to create a civilian engineer that ended up to be a great diplomat (3) and administrator (2). Having learned about being a diplomat and administration is a great thing, but this character definitively is not the engineer I wanted to play but some diplomat and administrator who happens to have heard a thing about engineering. So there goes the character concept and there you can see the main problem of a character generation too random. Of course you can just generate another character and hope it fits your needs, but ideally those deviations won't happen in the first place.

And another important part is: Your character will face specialised enemies at some time. The enemy captain probably wouldn't want to hire a gunner that tells him "Well yes, I fired starship guns... once. But my real talent is painting." But if the players best gunner is exactly that it might get pretty lame if the group wants to fight enemy ships themself.
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Re: Arguments for & against point-buy chargen

Postby Condottiere » Sat Mar 31, 2018 8:14 pm

"A hobby. All spacemen have hobbies. There's very little work aboard ship in hyperspace; boredom is the worst enemy. My guns-and-missiles officer, Vann Larch, is a painter. Most of his work was lost with the Corisande on Durendal, but he kept us from starving a few times on Flamberge by painting pictures and selling them. My hyperspatial astrogator, Guatt Kirbey, composes music; he tries to express the mathematics of hyperspatial theory in musical terms. I don't care much for it, myself," he admitted. "I study history. You know, it's odd; practically everything that's happened on any of the inhabited planets happened on Terra before the first spaceship."
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Re: Arguments for & against point-buy chargen

Postby Welf » Sat Mar 31, 2018 9:05 pm

Condottiere wrote:
Sat Mar 31, 2018 8:14 pm
"A hobby. All spacemen have hobbies. There's very little work aboard ship in hyperspace; boredom is the worst enemy. My guns-and-missiles officer, Vann Larch, is a painter. Most of his work was lost with the Corisande on Durendal, but he kept us from starving a few times on Flamberge by painting pictures and selling them. My hyperspatial astrogator, Guatt Kirbey, composes music; he tries to express the mathematics of hyperspatial theory in musical terms. I don't care much for it, myself," he admitted. "I study history. You know, it's odd; practically everything that's happened on any of the inhabited planets happened on Terra before the first spaceship."
Will you be talking in length about the process of painting in your game? Or about the music some character might or might not compose during your jump? I don't think that's the main reason you are playing Traveller. As I wrote before: Really great situations can emerge that allow you to finally use your artist skill in game. It might create situations you will be talking about for years because everyone can't get enough of the epic tale of your Traveller character rescuing the whole crew by drawing a masterpiece, picturing a weird naked alien or something like that. But, depending on your type of game, gun combat or piloting the ship might be relevant much more often than drawing a painting. And as a result drawing a painting should be considered in a different way than gun combat and piloting in a mechanical way.

Personally I hate games that exclusively offer skills that are directly relevant for your game. Fight-focused rpgs only offering skills related to fighting? Not my thing at all. I want to play a character with a back story and so on, not a fighting robot that can't do anything else. But if you have to choose between increasing your painting skill that might not be relevant and a skill you know you will roll every session at least ten times, you might not increase your skill in painting - especially if they cost the same amount of xp or take the same amount of training time. Well okay, you might, if you like a well rounded character and don't mind rarely using this fluff-skill.
I do things like that with my characters too, but I know a lot of games that allow you to have and increase fluff-skills next to your normal skills without impairing your skill advancement in skills you need regularly ingame so your character might survive another day.
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Re: Arguments for & against point-buy chargen

Postby ShawnDriscoll » Sun Apr 01, 2018 12:29 am

I remember playing Traveller where dice were rolled 15 or 20 times by each player at the table during a game session.

Now, the most that dice are ever rolled in a session is 5 times. Traveller doesn't revolve around characters making task checks anymore.
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Re: Arguments for & against point-buy chargen

Postby Welf » Sun Apr 01, 2018 7:50 am

ShawnDriscoll wrote:
Sun Apr 01, 2018 12:29 am
I remember playing Traveller where dice were rolled 15 or 20 times by each player at the table during a game session.

Now, the most that dice are ever rolled in a session is 5 times. Traveller doesn't revolve around characters making task checks anymore.
Some people love to roll dice and others prefer a narrative approach. Highly depends on your and the groups preference.
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Re: Arguments for & against point-buy chargen

Postby ShawnDriscoll » Sun Apr 01, 2018 5:10 pm

Welf wrote:
Sun Apr 01, 2018 7:50 am
ShawnDriscoll wrote:
Sun Apr 01, 2018 12:29 am
I remember playing Traveller where dice were rolled 15 or 20 times by each player at the table during a game session.

Now, the most that dice are ever rolled in a session is 5 times. Traveller doesn't revolve around characters making task checks anymore.
Some people love to roll dice and others prefer a narrative approach. Highly depends on your and the groups preference.
Those games with lots of die rolls had no role-play. Just Mother May I questions is all. I've taught players not to ask referees any questions during sessions so they don't become annoying habits during game play.
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Re: Arguments for & against point-buy chargen

Postby AnotherDilbert » Sun Apr 01, 2018 6:05 pm

ShawnDriscoll wrote: Those games with lots of die rolls had no role-play.
That is quite a silly statement.

You may prefer completely narrative games, but that does not make dice rolls incompatible with role-play.

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