Did you note the spelling? Good, because in 2008, Mongoose Publishing (MGP) came out with the reprint of a time-honored classic: TRAVELLER: Science-Fiction Adventure in the Far Future. I had high hopes for this reprint, as I’m sure MGP did. Original TRAVELLER had incredibly fun character generation and yielded evocative results, but the game play was so complex that it lost its luster fairly quickly after the character had been established. Personally, I’ve never had the opportunity to run a game, but I’ve spent enough time with the books to know it would be a chore. The chart for space travel alone could take the finer scientific minds at MIT weeks to sort out. Honestly, if I were to run Original TRAVELLER, I would generate characters, remain faithful to game play rules and setting options, but the rest–that’s right I’d make the rest up. And that’s no way to play a game.
What is so gleefully fun about original TRAVELLER character generation stems from three key points:
- It is fast. Very fast.
- The character generation process involves developing skills over the course of a career.
- Your character can die during the gen process. Yes, that is correct–die.
When I say fast, I’m talking fast. As in, 5-10 minutes, tops. Maybe 15-20, if you’re just starting out. And this was made even more convenient with the Far Future Enterprises (FFE) Y2K reprint of TRAVELLER and all 13 of its supplemental booklets. All of the information in one place, with contents and indexes. So, chargen was always a breeze and one would never feel overly bogged down by the oppression of choice that usually plagues the same process in other games.
So, less than half the time, great, but even greater is a creation process that yields twice the personality and life legacy of a character. TRAVELLER excels at this because instead of simply making a character who begins his or her adventure at the base level, one can assume that their protagonist has had a life seasoned by trials and experience. Within minutes of rolling statistics, The chargen takes you on a journey, applying for a career, running for a promotion, mustering out, retiring, or falling in with the merchant crowds before eventually earning a name for yourself. Attributes might lend your character toward physical prowess, where he or she would excel in the military, or perhaps social status and intelligence serve as the primary attributes, in which case diplomacy, trade, or even nobility suits you. During each term of the chosen (or drafted) career, your character earns skills that infer various traits, and before you know it, your fighting soldier or witty pirate has a developing personality. By the end of the process, if he or she survives, the wealth of knowledge they possess is earned, not awarded.
Like I said, though, only if the character survives. That’s because during each career path, you’ll need to roll to see that the character survived. At face value, it almost seems odd. For example, you might say, “I’m building a character for a game. I can’t use a dead character.” Well, fair enough. You won’t be using that character, true. But the simple fact that your character could die at any time during development, makes those characters who have survived all the more important. The constant presence of death seems to give your character a breath of vibrant life.
As you can see, I hold this chargen method in high regard. With that in mind, my wishes for the recently published MGP reprint is that they keep this method intact while fixing some of the more difficult aspects of TRAVELLER that FFE couldn’t seem to mend, even after numerous supplements. With that in mind, I am going to open my MGP book and develop a character, after which I will compare the process to Original TRAVELLER in the hopes that MGP got it right. Stay tuned (If there’s really anyone reading this).