Friday, June 10, 2022

About Dying in Character Creation

If you’ve read this blog, then you have some familiarity with Traveller. If that’s the case then you are also familiar with the well-worn criticism of the Classic rules whereby a character can die before the creation process is finished. "Oh, how quaint and old-timey. Ha, ha, modern games made sure to avoid that mechanical fault, didn’t they?" (Can you tell I’m tired of this attitude?)

Or maybe you’re looking at it the wrong way ‘round.

In most RPGs, classic or modern, character creation is something that is done above or prior to the game beginning. You determine your attributes, get your skills and otherwise fill out your character sheet, acquire your gear and then your PC is ready to have his first adventure.

Traveller does not work like that.

Roll the six attributes for the UPP and you have a playable character, right there. For an example, I refer you to Dane Buckminster. As soon as you decide on the career your PC will pursue, you are playing Traveller. Don’t believe me? Consider this:

What happens in adventure gaming?

  • A PC (solo or in groups) is presented with a situation in which the player can make choices.

  • Some of those choices will have risks of failure [including death].

  • To entice the player to take risks, rewards are on offer if objectives are achieved.

  • This is usually accomplished by rolling dice.

  • Success gains the PC experience and tangible rewards.

All of this happens during Character Creation.

  • Situation: It’s time to choose a career, and begin my adventuring life.
  • Choices: what Career should my PC enter? Should I stay in for another term or get out while I’m young?
  • Risk: Failing the Survival roll. Missing an Aging roll and losing points from attributes. Not getting the promotion or the skills you wanted. Failing to re-enlist and being forced out.
  • Reward: Skill levels, attribute increases, potential retirement pay, better rank. More access to Mustering Out benefits – cash and material.

So, character creation is adventure. Every Traveller PC's first adventure is his Prior Career. The PC’s adventures at this stage of their life is abstracted, of course. It covers possibly 20+ years, it has to be abstracted. But it is adventure.

I have described this part of the game as less creating a character, as getting introduced to one. You find out who this extraordinary person is as their adventure unfolds before you. Even if the character dies during this process, you, the player, still played Traveller with that character. Tell the story of what happened, and how this Traveller met his end. 

For examples of what that can look like I recommend Alexander Jamison (TTB p.30-31). This is character creation turned into a narrative; Adelaide Thrupp is another.

Dive in! Have adventures right out of the gate.

Author Addendum: This past weekend I was at TravellerCon 2022, and got to speak with Mr. Marc Miller. I have met The Man. And he's a very nice guy. I told him my line of reasoning about character creation as playing Traveller. He said "Yes, that's exactly right." I rest my case.

Image credits: Dice, by Pixabay


  1. We actually got "catcalled" when we ran an open table game of CT at a game store. The store owner had to call them off.

  2. I think the option for half terms for failed survival rolls from the Traveller Book is a good compromise. It's also a way to encourage characters into play, as Loren Wiseman once said. Gives a sort of game-balance here.

  3. It definitely annoys me that the same joke is used over and over and over, especially since it's based, as you note, on a misunderstanding of how things work. But I'm also sick of "more cowbell" jokes, so maybe I'm just a killjoy.

  4. I'm a huge fan of classic Traveller character creation. I may start out with an idea but always end up with a complete character with a distinct life story. You can read an awful lot into those die rolls.

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  6. Key quote from the rules,

    "A newly generated character is singularly unequipped to deal with the adventuring world, having neither the expertise nor the experience necessary for the active life. In order to acquire some experience, it is possible to enlist in a service."

    Not required. Possible. You can, if you wish take your character with 578A86 and have them simply start play like that. Remember they'll also have all weapon skills at +0! In fact you could roleplay your way through a term or two in whatever service, acquiring skills that way.

    There's even a novel series with this premise, I'm convinced the writer has played CT.

    "When his mother dies in a flitter crash, eighteen-year-old Ishmael Horatio Wang must find a job with the planet company or leave the system--and NerisCo isn't hiring. With credits running low, and prospects limited, he has just one enlist for two years with a deep space commercial freighter. Ishmael, who only rarely visited the Neris Orbital, and has never been off-planet alone before, finds himself part of an eclectic crew sailing a deep space leviathan between the stars."

    Basically, Ishmael joins the Merchant Service. In the books, there are many mentions of his using his Intelligence and Education to suggest better ways of doing things - and make money. And promotion is described, with his studying for exams for ratings in what are obviously Steward (he starts in the mess), Engineering and so on, and later being promoted from quarter, to half, to full and double share, and so on.

    1. LOL, I got lured into reading that series and I found it very disappointing. Had a lot of potential but really got on my nerves:

    2. Before I look at your review: I find the series rather Mary Sue. He's really smart and emotionally mature and the chicks all dig him, oh and also he's really humble. Nonetheless I found it interesting from an rpg point of view, that it could actually make an interesting campaign to take those CT terms and roleplay through them.

      Now looking at your review, I see you've just put it more intelligently than I did. What I usually say is that there are two kinds of writing: quotable, and story. Something like your Hemingway is just a pleasure to read, the characters are real, and it's all very quotable, each word chosen carefully. And something like Tom Clancy has a story where you want to know what happens next, even if the character is absolutely absurd.

      The writers who can do both quotable and story are the ones remembered generations later, like Arthur Conan Doyle or Tolkien. But the "pulp writers", well you churn through their book in a day or two, put it aside, then two weeks later can't remember anything much about it. That's Lowell.

      But I stand by what I said - the overall picture of travel and trade is interesting and relevant to CT in particular.