Friday, October 22, 2021

From Front Office to the Frontier - the Bureaucrats Career

 Adventures in the Office? Or maybe more than meets the eye?

What are Bureaucrats?

Individuals serving a government or organization in a management or executive capacity.” From The Spinward Marches Campaign version of the COTI careers. In the Supplement book we find the same. The only useful addition is from the pages of sample Bureaucrats: “They are assumed to have mustered out of their particular bureaucratic service and have embarked on some sort of activity within the universe.” [As opposed to outside of it?]

I have long regarded the Bureaucrat career as a placeholder. Something to round out the COTI tables to a multiple of six entries. Paper-pushers at the Department of Redundancy Department. Why would anyone from this background become a Traveller?

The usual answer is “they got bored with the desk job.” I suppose that serves well enough for now. I cannot think of any examples from adventure literature of a cubicle-dweller deciding to live a life of Adventure, except perhaps as a comic relief or buffoon character that the actual heroes have to protect. If you know of a good example, please share in the comments!

Let's take a look at the nuts and bolts of the Bureaucrat career.

Enlistment: 5+ (83%) plus DMs for EDU8+ and STR 8-. This is the only career that grants a DM for a physical stat below a target level. Pretty low bar for entry. Education is the key characteristic for this career. It pays to know stuff.

Survival: 4+ (92%) with a DM +2 for EDU 10+. That's a high threshold, but it makes survival 100% guaranteed. Only Nobles, Diplomats and Doctors have an easier time surviving their terms.

Position (6+; 72%/83%),with SOC as the DM, again not a very high bar. Intelligence is the DM for Promotion (7+; 58%/72%). Even those of modest ability can get ahead with the Bureaucrats. The target numbers are typical for the other COTI careers. With the high likelihood of multiple terms in this career, high rank should be common.

Why work in an office when you could be doing this?
Bureaucrats must reenlist if the reenlistment throw is made. So you have to get thrown out of the service. Why is that the case? Is it just something to make them distinct from other careers? In Supp:4, the rule is the player must throw reenlistment or higher (3+, a near certainty) in order to leave the service before retirement. That's in effect the same as the mandatory reenlistment for rolling box-cars. Retention until retirement is emphasized.

Bureaucrat PCs are going to be older, on average, than other PCs. 5+ is not hard to make (83% successful) with forced re-enlistment. Note also that serving more terms means a deeper skill tool-box. Of the 40 bureaucrats in Supp:4, the average number of terms is 5 (4.55, with rounding).

Skills! This is a real grab-bag. Administration is the theme that ties the skill tables together, while still covering a surprising amount of ground. Bureaucrats can get:

  • Automatic Admin-1

  • +1 END, DEX, INT, and EDU (x2)

  • Brawling, Gun Combat, Blade Combat, one each.

  • Carousing – this one makes sense.

  • Vehicle x3

  • Instruction - In Administration, I guess.

  • Recruiting

  • Liaison

  • Interrogation

  • Administration, with FIVE slots for it, clustered on the 2 Education tables.

  • J-o-T – Never a bad call!

  • Computer – useful!

  • Leader

I think Trader, Broker, Forgery, and Bribery would make more sense. As I've done for the Noble career, an alternate set of skill tables would be an interesting variant on this career. Yet, the given set of skill possibilities can produce Travellers just as capable as those from the Scouts or Other service. Perhaps I've been unfair to this Career choice.

Mustering Out

Bureaucrats are in the middle of the pack with severance pay. The money is both better and worse than Scientists, Flyers and Sailors. Worse because of the two 'no money' slots on the Cash table, better since many Bureaucrats will be Retired and can get the 80K payout. The retirement boost also makes the 'no money' slots easier to avoid. Benefits are . . . poor. High rankers can get a SOC boost, which is useful. Pre-paid passage vouchers are okay, but there are no physical benefits available except The Watch.

The gold watch as a retirement gift (when you get forced out of the service) is just about a slap in the face. 50Cr? Gee, thanks Acme Corporation! It is possible, with bad die rolls to end a 5-term career with no money, no travel options and a 50Cr watch. THIS would call for a story - “What did you do that got you fired so badly?

Who are Bureaucrats? What kinds of jobs?

Rank titles are all very office-worker-y. Clerk, Supervisor, Manager, Executive, Director. They could be shop jobs, but this is not suggested by the absence of Mechanical or Electronics skill. Anything from Passport Control office to corporate headquarters, to the Department of Refuse Management.

Could the Bureaucrat Career be a Joke?

Possibly, except for the potential for unusually high skill levels in Administration.

Flyers don't get 5 slots for Vehicle skill. Diplomats don't get that many for Liaison. Doctors get one more, because well, Medicine is what they do. Bureaucrats, it seems, do Administration. In Supp:4, there are forty sample Bureaucrat characters. Within the first ten is a 7-term Director who has Administration-7. That is crazy powerful. Perhaps even more than Enrique Salazar, my hotshot pilot.

From that same sample of 10 Bureaucrats, the average terms served is 4.7, round up to 5. That's retirement age, and enough time to make it to Director level. Average rank is 2.8, rounded up to 3. That includes two scrubs who never made Position. Average Admin skill level is 2, which I expected to be higher.

I will expand upon the Administration skill in another post, but for now let me say it may be a more effective and powerful skill than it seems at first glance.

Now for my real question about the Bureaucrat career:

WHAT IF the bureaucracy that these wanna-be adventurers work for is the equivalent of the CIA or the Imperial Ministry of Justice? Instead of the Department of Redundancy Department, what if the PCs are operations officers or case officers, running ops and training field agents? Suddenly this career is more serious, right? Let's look:

Intelligence work could explain the presence of Recruiting and Interrogation skills. Gaining assets for the network and getting info out of adversarial agents. Instruction skill means the PCs are training others, so what are they training in? Administration and all those other skills. This includes the combat skills – why should a corporate salary-man get Gun Combat? Field agents need to defend themselves, though.

Carousing and Liaison are ways to make contacts and get information. Intelligence agencies need that too – it's called HUMINT. Vehicle skill is not exclusively applicable to espionage, but can be quite useful. Two slots for improving EDU means the organization wants its members to be well acquainted with the world. In the field, you never know what sort of information will be helpful in maintaining a cover ID, or working a Contact. Computer skill includes hacking – gathering ELINT. Jack of All Trades represents ingenuity and the ability to adapt on the spot, a handy trait for an espionage agent to have.

It makes sense, doesn't it? Argue with me in the comments if you want to.


  1. Allow me to introduce Inspector Mako Ireson, from S J MacDonald's "Fourth Fleet Irregulars" series book 1, "Mission Zero".
    Mako is a prisons inspector, assigned to make sure that spacers being released from military prison and transferred to a special fleet ship are not being 'press ganged' and abused, as the press claims.

    Mako acquires a taste for life in the void between worlds.

    The series is a little Mary Sue, but its fun.

  2. This career would include the guys in charge of a space port, or customs, or immigration, or the space station, or the moon base, or the mines. Lots of potential there.

  3. As for it being a joke, I can't help but think that the note on Reenlistment for Bureaucrats has to be some kind of in-joke that I don't get. We get a roll of 3+ for Reenlistment with an asterisk. The footnote says that characters must throw Reenlistment or higher to leave the service before retirement. So, if I'm reading that right, it simply means that the character normally has the choice to reenlist (35 chances in 36, as only a roll of 2 requires remaining in the service), which is simply replacing the normal roll of 12 as a requirement to remain in service with a roll of 2. I think? Again, it looks like someone is making an obscure joke, or else this is a convoluted way of saying that Reenlistment is automatic, and 1 time in 36 the character has no choice but to Reenlist. And then, I suppose, after retirement age, the system returns to a roll of 12 making another term necessary/possible? But if all this is so, then why not just make the Reenlistment roll 2+, with the usual 12 offering the character no choice and a roll of 2-11 allowing the choice of whether or not to continue?

  4. I can see the need for bureaucrats (though later journals covered the SPA for the port jobs) and don't really think it was a joke. I do think it may have been thought of as more an NPC type of thing, just so you could have stats for that clerk required your signature on the 3rd page of that cargo manifest you forgot to sign. It is just a citizen so fits the bill there. Interestingly for the January challenge I did generate a bureaucrat who had 5 terms, got 2 watches, but only Admin-2. As per 'Willconsult4food' there are lots of bureaucratic jobs that basically border on adventure.

    Besides - that would be an interesting character to play: Walter Mitty character who gets in over his head when his fantasy life becomes real.

  5. If I ever play in a regular campaign, rather than ref, I've been saying for the last 2 years I'll roll up a bureaucrat and see what happens. Could be real fun. A chance for some good roleplaying.

  6. The COTI list of Bureaucrats has, I think, the most highly-skilled characters in either Supp-1 or Supp4. Further down the list is a no-rank Bureaucrat with Admin-4, and an Executive & no-ranker with Computer-6. Then there's the Executive with Admin-6 and Liaison-6. And an Assistant Manager with Admin-7! WOW!