Traveller Companion: Test Driving the Background and Career Packages

Old School

Alternate Character Generation

Since I can’t get a game session in at the moment, I decided to amuse myself on a day off by generating some travellers using the package based alternative method in the new Traveller Companion.

The methods used were exactly as described in the book:
- For characteristics, roll 12 dice, and assign them to characteristics as desired. I used the “heroic” traveller option to replace to the two lowest dice with 5s.
- Background package replaces any background skills and the 1st term.
- Career package replaces all career progression, and the traveller ages 3d6 years.

I didn’t preplan characters to any great extent, in other words I didn’t put the starting characteristics, backgrounds, and careers side by side to make sure I was optimizing the characters before assigning characteristics or picking a background. I did spend some time to be sure I had a coherent party during the final skill selection (the traveller skill pair and the explorer skill package from the core rulebook), but not until then.

Overview of results:
- VERY strong travellers were the result
- Characteristics: all five travellers had 4 skills with at least a +1 DM. Two had a +2 DM, and one had two +2 DMs. Only one negative DM in the whole group.
- Average 19 skill levels, plus 5-6 level-0 skills each.
- Definite quirks and patterns in the results

Characteristics: assigning the 12 dice as desired gives the same average total characteristics of 42 (6 X 7), but allows for much min/maxing. In other words, there were a lot more 9s and 6s than anything else. Why have a Str 7and Dex 8when you can rearrange the dice to have Str 6and Dex 9? Note that this can be exacerbated by planning ahead and looking at the characteristic adjustments resulting from chosen background and career packages. I didn’t do this.

I did play the “heroic option”, allowing the two lowest dice of the 12 to be replaced with 5s. Statistically, this should increase the average roll from 42 to 49, and also slightly tightens the spread (as low sets are on average increased more than high sets). 49 points, combined with the ability to mix the dice, is very powerful. It’s almost the ability to assign points at will. My travellers actually average 50.4 points after characteristic rolls. One rolled 55 points with 12d6, and it would have increased to 61 with the two replacements. I left that one at 55, as 61 is just too many. 55 is too many, but that’s what was rolled.

Background Package: Definitely a leap towards more powerful travellers, as at the age of 22 your traveller will have between 4-7 skill points (the 7 comes with an Edu -3, so don’t get too excited) along with 4-6 level-0 skills. This compares to three skill points at best and 4 to 5 level-0 skills at best in the traditional method. Using this method before jumping in to the traditional career method would also serve as a way to enhance your travellers by a few skills over the traditional method.

Career Package: The career packages provide between 6-10 skills points, with a few skills levels as high as 3, but most at level-1, along with 4-6 level-0 skills. The agent package, with 10 relatively high value skill levels, looks very powerful, but I didn’t select it for one of my travellers.

During the “finalization” process, you get up to 5 addition skill points: Step one gives you the choice of increasing one career skill of at least level 1 to level 4, or picking any three career skills and bumping them each one level, up to a maximum of two. So one uber skill, or three increased skills. Then you pick from a list of paired skills, but these have to max at level 1. This generally diversifies the character, although you could use it to increase level-0 skills to level 1.

The rules clearly state that you also get to pick from the skill packages in the core rulebook, but it seems like overkill when added to the paired “traveller skills” in the finalization process.

Using the age 22 + 3d6 process, my travellers ranged from 30-39 years old. Note that this also increases the strength of travellers, as they are less likely to face the age 34 and age 38 aging rolls that they would need to get this level of skills using the traditional method.

Quirks and realities of the process:
Biggest benefit is the ability to end with the traveller that you wanted when you started. No getting drafted out of university, or getting kicked out of the Navy in your first term. A lot of players will really appreciate this.

Characteristic scores don’t affect ending skill levels: One big difference between this method and the traditional is that the packages don’t require survival or promotion roles, meaning that the characteristic scores don’t play into how many skills you end your career with. With the traditional method, high characteristics greatly increase the odds of successful survival and promotion rolls, resulting in a marked increase in skills at the end of 4-5 terms. With the career package, you get a boatload of skills regardless of your characteristic scores.

Career choice is much more important than background, as the skill increases the player picks during finalization must be career skills, not background skills.

Background skills and career skills stack. In reality you’re more likely to see your level-0 background skill replaced with a level-1 career skill, or a level-0 career skill wasted because you already have it at 0 or 1 from your background (this can also happen during traditional traveller generation even if you actively plan to avoid it), but if you do choose backgrounds and careers that match well, you can stack skills to end up with a level 4 skill even before finalization. Admin, Vacc Suit, Gun Combat (slug), and Streetwise 4 are all possible. There may be others that I missed. My travellers didn’t end up this way, but they could have with some planning.

You end up with high skill but low rank travellers: who would give up three skill levels to get a promotion? Not me, that’s for sure. This struck me as strange at first, but when starting a campaign, should anyone really be a retired Admiral, General, or Ambassador? If your answer is yes, then you’ll need to adjust the system or stick to another method. I haven’t tried the point buy system yet, but it will have the same issue: With the traditional method, high rank means more skills. With the packages and the point buy system, you’re weighing one vs the other.

You definitely don’t get the “story” that comes with the traditional method: the events, the injuries, the connections. This system is made to appeal to the player that wants the character they want, not an interesting life story to go with a slightly disappointing character.

Lots of contacts, very few allies, and not a rival or enemy to be found. This is a definite drawback to the system.

Characteristic increases (and decreases) are defined by background and career, other than the option to choose Soc +1 as your career benefit. Not that I needed to increase any characteristics given the ridiculous levels I started with. So if you grew up in a Metropolis with Int 8, five of the 18 careers will automatically get you to Int 9. Pick any other career and there’s no way to get there.

No ship benefits. This will bother some people, but doesn’t bother me at all. A referee should know what kind of campaign is being started and whether a ship is necessary. The travellers can obtain a ship through a game session, or the referee can just hand them one as a career benefit. Or not. I actually like the idea that whether or not a ship is obtained at this point is not up to a die roll.

Maybe it’s just the backgrounds and careers I picked, but almost everyone has Streetwise and Recon. They’re everywhere. A while you might think that Spacer (Crew) would be a popular career, there are only so many campaigns where Vacc Suit 3 will be useful. How many vacc suit rolls have you ever made?

The Companion states that the skill packages from page 48 of the core rules are still available, but they seem to serve the same purpose as the traveller skills pair on step two of finalizing the traveller.

I’ll post the actual travellers created a little later when I have some time. Hope someone finds this useful.
Nice, thank you for this.

I've been using MTU Background & Upbringing rules prior to career selection to help players get closer to where they want to be with their character before play starts. Interesting to see where my house rules overlap - and don't.

I'm sure I'll be picking up the Companion at some point soon but in the meantime this has given me some ideas to play with. Cheers!
I’ve used the new rules to create NPCs a little quicker l, just tweaking skills a little to get them exactly right. It’s been a great time saver.
I kinda just give NPCs whatever I want them to have. Never really used the rules unless I want to build a particularly impressive Patron, and even then I'm skipping some dice roles to have it be what I want.
Yeah, stats I assigned it the packages are handy to give me a quick scout, tribesman or whatever.
My crude yet functional point buy is 42, 7-11. Take 42 points and spend them on the 6 stats, 7 points can go to stats or skills, 11 points to skills, and I'll flesh it out with 0 levels like Vacc. Roll 4d6 + 14 for age, 2d6 x 10,000 for creds; then tell me who you are, want to be a Vargr Pirate? Cool.
Perhaps my favorite of the five travellers, and a good example of the min/maxing made possible with the system used. This is the one that rolled for 55 points. She actually lost a few during creation due to picking the "Fringe" background. Characteristic penalties for that one are harsh, but the skills are valuable.

Traveller #5:
Fringe Background
Performer Career
Age 32
Art (Performer) 3
Streetwise 3
Athletics (Dexterity) 2
Carouse 2
Deception 2
Broker 1
Gambler 1
Persuade 1
Stealth 1
Steward 1
Melee (unarmed) 1
Electronics (Sensors) 1
Pilot (Space craft) 1
Engineer (Maneuver) 1
Gun Combat 0
Profession 0 (the Core Rules description for Profession 0 doesn't make much sense to me, so I'm going with Barkeep 0)
Recon 0

5 contacts
See what I mean about powerful characters? It's a lot. I think if I ever use these in a campaign I'll use either the skill package on Core p.48 or the Traveller Skills pair in the Companion Career Paths, but not both. Taking this character, and then adding Engineer and Electronics from the skill pair, AND stealth and Pilot form the Explorer Skill package, strikes me as too much diversity (although I really wanted her to have Stealth 1 instead of stealth 0).

Anyway, I really like the character. My idea is a skilled actress and dancer who was raised on wrong side of the tracks. In addition to her physical/professional skills, she can be quite the charmer both socially and in business dealings, although she'll always be rough around the edges. Note that's there's no definite criminal background (not that you can prove, anyway!), but she'd be an ideal combination of confidence woman and cat burglar. She could charm her way into anywhere on the arm of some stuffed suit junior executive or noble dandy (although the boss / queen mother might be appalled), and then rob the place with some combination of fast talking and acrobatics (therefore proving mother correct).
Old School said:
I did play the “heroic option”, allowing the two lowest dice of the 12 to be replaced with 5s.

Interesting. I'm punching this into my computer to see what the die spread looks like.
Old School said:
- For characteristics, roll 12 dice, and assign them to characteristics as desired. I used the “heroic” traveller option to replace to the two lowest dice with 5s.
Heroic indeed.

I get an average of over 8, or over 9 with a single dump stat.

The chance of a 12 is about 62%.

So, usually you get a 12, a bunch of 9-10s, and one or two lower stats. No, thanks.
The average of the 12 dice when replacing the two lowest with 5s is 49, with a standard deviation of 5.5.

12,9,9,9,6,6 is 51.
9,9,9,9,6,6 is 48.

So yes, I think it's a bit much. Combining those characteristics with the skill levels resulting from the packages is very strong. But that may suit some campaigns and playstyles. Some people use 3d drop the lowest, which gives an average stat of 9.5 - that's much stronger even than this.

You can also argue that even if you use stronger characteristics with the traditional character creation, you should back off when using the packages, because the packages don't require survival and promotion rolls.

I've recently used 3d drop the lowest for two stats of the players choice, and 2d for the others. That gives an average of about 47, which I think it is right for my games, but you get too many over 50, which is too much. I might go to a straight point assignment of 45 or 46 in the future.
Tbh, I would allow them for a char played by a guest player who will most likely play 1 session. If he wants to play more afterwards, the rest of the generation methods are well balanced.
Very useful play-test and summary. I got some pretty over-the-top characters just using the standard character generation, but mine were a different sort of over the top. But since I was doing my runs through the system to generate background stories, and I would be converting to a rules light system (PDQ#) as pre-generated characters for a short run game, I could scale them anyway.

On the matter of the Vacc Suit-3 character, I think if I had such a character among my platers, I'd make a point of creating an occasional situation where it would be useful.
A question for those who’ve been experimenting with the new chargen backgrounds - have you been rolling for an event? I’ve been with using the University table for Merchant Academy and Life Events for the others, but I’m not convinced it’s the right thing to do.