Monday, June 20, 2016

The Curious Case of the Other Service

What can you do with the Other service?
This man might be a criminal, or maybe a millionaire. Or Both.

While working on some yard work recently, my older son and I were discussing a group of characters he had been building. His group consisted of one PC from each of the six basic services. We use the services from Supplement 4 (Actually from The Spinward Marches Campaign book) and the advanced services in Bks 4 & 5. I've built scores if not hundreds of PCs over the years. After the conversation it struck me that out of all those, I've created only a dozen or so characters from the Other service. I've never used one in a Traveller game, no matter how brief. That struck me as odd. I decided to have another look at this least popular service. Is it really that bad of a choice?

Sure, it's easy to get into (roll 3+, 97% probability) and it's no harder to survive than the Army (roll 5+, DM +2 for Int 9, 83% or 97%). reenlistment is easier than the Army too (5+ 83% vs 7+ 58%).

OK, so you only get one skill throw per term, and there aren't any Rank & Service skills. But the Navy offers only SOC modifiers, and only for top officers. The Merchants offer Pilot, but only for 1st officers, and that's after three promotion throws of 10+ (17%, or 28% with the DM). It is long odds that you'll make 1st officer and get the Pilot skill.

Others do not get retirement pay, but neither do Scouts. Others don't get extra muster-out benefits from rank. The Benefits table has the usual stuff, INT & EDU bonuses, passages and guns. This is comparable to the rest of the services. They have two blank spaces on the Benefits table. This pushes players towards the Cash table, where they can get a lot of money, more if they have Gambling skill. Many Others will have it – it's on the Service Skills and Advanced Education tables. Navy, Scouts and Merchants can't get the Gambling skill, so why does their cash tables have a 7th entry? Weird.

Now, the Other service is often thought of as the criminal element, but let's think about that. Yes, there is the last entry on the Personal Development table where a non-physical characteristic can go down. Hmm. But, there's no DMs for high or low SOC to enlist. This means that a Knight who goes for the Other can come out still a Knight.
The Other service is not for dum-dums. The Survival DM depends on Intelligence. It's the highest required INT score of the services (the Navy and Merchants only ask for INT of 7+). The Merchants are the only other service that requires that high of INT for a DM. Keep in mind that with the DM, survival is almost automatic, at 3+. The danger-prone scouts can only get an 83% probability of survival with their END DM. If INT is your strongest stat, the Other may be a good choice as you're not hindered by low stats.
On now to skills. There are social skills, technical skills, combat skills and even a vehicle skill. Like the Navy, Scouts and Merchants, Others can get the handy (if misunderstood) Jack of All Trades skill. The only category that's absent is the Space skills. That's not bad, the Army and Marines don't have them either.
The only specifically criminal skills on the list are Forgery and Bribery. The Others can get both. Forgery is only available in the Other service. Spies are the alternate category of persons that I can think of that would make use of Forgery skill. But spies are basically criminals on a government payroll, so, yeah, sometimes Others are criminals.
The rest of the skills on the Other skill tables are just what you find for the five more 'formal' services. An Other character will blend right in with your commonly encountered group of Travellers.

If I wanted to slip some new skills into the system, the Other service would be the one to use. The service is vaguely defined, so there's the most latitude to explain an unusual skill. Let's suppose I introduced a Science skill - pick your specialty from a list. Why would the Marines or Army or Merchants have Science skills? With the Other, it's easy to explain - 'he's a scientist'. How many pulp heroes were scientists? Lots.

With the easy survival and decent reenlistment roll, it makes sense for Other characters to stay in for the long haul. This means that an average-aged Traveller (34-38) will have 4 or 5 skill levels. In my examples, I'm including two Skill-0's for each character unless they have JoT skill. This should satisfy those who feel a character is incomplete without a laundry list of skills.
If anything, it is probably that which kept me from rolling Other characters often. When I was younger, and had less imagination I was leery of having characters with short skill lists. I had this misconception that a Traveller can only do what it says on his character sheet. Now, I regularly remind players that the skills are only what the Traveller has been properly trained in. Any Traveller can try anything they want to do.

Sample Other characters:

Jones 747A96 4 Terms
Medical-1, Streetwise-1, Mechanical-1, Vehicle-0, Gun Combat-0
Cr 1000, 1 High Passage, +1 EDU

Sheldon 559859 4 Terms
Streetwise-2, Forgery-1, Brawling-1, Vehicle-0, Gun Combat-0
Cr 20,000 High Passage Gun

Thomson 777884 3 Terms
Computer-1, Mechanical-1, Streetwise-1, Vehicle-0, Gun Combat-0
Cr 101,000

Thompson 787978 4 Terms
Vehicle-1, Mechanical-3, Gun Combat-0
Cr 21,000 Gun

Nothing about any of these characters sounds specifically criminal. Thompson could be a professional race driver's mechanic. Jones might be a medical technician from a blue-collar neighborhood. Sheldon may be a criminal, or a corporate spy. Thomson may be from a lower-class background, but with that pile of cash and his skills, he could easily gain SOC by working at it 

Now I've got to go back and roll up some more Other characters, and use them in an adventure. If you have a memorable Other character, crim or not, please share in the comments section.


  1. I don't think I would have gotten the point of the "other" class when I was gaming as a teen either. Today, thanks to the Traveller Out of the Box blog posts I got it immediately. This is where Kamandi and Luck Skywalker come from. It's where every other character you can imagine comes from when the concept doesn't fit neatly into one of the classic space opera identities spelled out in the other character types.

    1. So, yeah, the first other character I made was a Kamandi type. A lost world stripping rescued from a ruined planet from a star roving aid doctor. The traveling doctor and his wild, athletic companion. I know, not terribly original, bUT eminently gameable.

  2. Nice article with some interesting analysis. Thanks. I've always (until recently) played with Citizens of the Imperium so never really explored Others aside from an NPC option. Good stuff.

  3. One other thing I've noticed - if your character has an EDU of 8+, then "Other" becomes a decent way to get some classic "spy" or detective skills - Forgery, Electronics (for breaking & entering), Computer (same), Streetwise, JoT... In fact, only Medic doesn't fit, and that's such a useful skill in a firefight that it's a welcome addition to the list.

    Since all players get "level 0" combat skills, your spy won't be helpless, though they won't be a combat specialist unless you head for the Personal Development or Service Skills table.

    In conversations elsewhere, many people have reasoned that Other should follow Scout's lead and allow 2 skills per term, especially since it doesn't have the Scout service's lucrative cash table. I like that idea, personally, but of course it's a "house rule".