All posts by Clyde Lee Graham

Character A Week: Classic Traveller

Okay, it’s tough to talk about old school roleplaying games without touching on Classic Traveller at some point. I mean it was one of the first science fiction RPGs (Metamorphosis Alpha came out a year before Traveller, and Empire of the Petal Throne could also be considered SF).

Traveller initially did not have much of a background, but was aimed squarely at the sort of fiction that was being written by Poul Anderson, H. Beam Piper, and Keith Laumer.

While the setting had FTL travel, other examples of advanced technology were not as common and technology levels varied from world to world. Most weapons were still standard firearms, and swords and dueling were not uncommon. Suffice to say that this was not Star Trek, nor was it Star Wars. If I were to compare it to movie or TV show, I would have to say that it’s closest to Firefly/Serenity.

Character generation in Traveller was somewhat notorious for the possibility of characters dying during character generation. Traveller uses a lifepath style of character generation, and during each term of service, there is a survival roll. Later editions of the books added an optional rule that instead of dying, your character was injured and received a medical discharge.

The random stat rolls and the randomness of the lifepath could generate some strange characters, but like Basic D&D, that randomness could sometimes hand you a character that you would have never considered.

I’ve also been told that, originally, characters that died during generation were supposed to handed over to the GM for a ready supply of NPCs. Unfortunately, I have no way to confirm this as I have later printings of the books.

For this article I will only be using the Little Black Box books, Books 1 through 3, and I will not use the optional survival rule.

My first attempt at a character resulted in crappy stats: UPP 478644, so I enlisted them in the Scouts since they have the highest survival failure rate… and they ended up dying in their 4th tour of duty. IISV Aurora declared missing, presumed destroyed with all hands on board, year 1106 Imperial Calendar.

My second character attempt, on the other hand, gave me an interesting character I wouldn’t have initially considered.

Stats are generated in the following order: Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Education, and Social Standing, and you roll 2d6 for each stat. And they are written in hexadecimal, so a 10 is an A, for instance. I started with a Universal Personality Profile (UPP) of 67697B.

So I have a social standing of 11. That means she’s a noble with the title of Knight. Within the Third Imperium setting, the Navy is where the nobles tend to go, so I, of course, attempt to enlist in the Imperial Navy. I fail that roll, so instead my character is drafted. The draft is a d6 roll that determines what service you’ll be in. It is possible to get drafted into the same service that you failed to enlist in.

Such is not my luck, and I roll a 6. I am drafted into ‘Other’ at the age of 18. Other has some interesting skill options, but they tend more towards criminal pursuits.

  • First Tour: Drafted into Other; skills received Gambling +1, and surprise, Gambling +1
  • Second Tour: Successfully re-enlisted, make survival roll; Streetwise +1
  • Third Tour: Successfully re-enlisted, make survival roll; Jack of All Trades +1
  • Fourth Tour: Successfully re-enlisted, make survival roll; Gun Combat (Auto Pistol) +1
  • Fifth Tour: Chose not to re-enlist, but rolled a 12 on re-enlistment so my fifth tour is mandatory; and I roll Social -1. Somehow, I lost my noble title here.

At 34 years of age, and every 4 years after you are subject to potential aging effects. I get a little lucky here and only fail my aging roll for Endurance, so that goes down by 1 as well.

And now, mustering out benefits and retirement benefits. Apparently even the criminal underworld has a retirement plan. I did five tours, so I get five rolls for muster benefits, and I also get a +1 on any rolls on the cash table because I have the gambling skill.

For my five rolls I get: a high passage (1st class ticket to somewhere), a firearm (which will be an auto pistol because of skills), and three rolls on the cash table for a total of Cr 200,000. Finally, a retirement benefit of Cr 4,000 a month.

So here I am, with a talented gambler that used to be a noble, has knowledge of the criminal underworld, and quite a bit of cash. Not to mention that the last tour was mandatory. There’s definitely a story here.

And so, we have Jaelah Min, disowned noble scion…

Jaelah Min     67597A     Human Female, Age 38
5 Terms Other                 Cr200,000

Skills: Gambling-2, Streetwise-1, Jack of all Trades-1, Auto Pistol-1

Service History:
Attempted to enlist in Imperial Navy.
Enlistment declined.
‘Drafted’ into Other.
Voluntarily reenlisted for second term.
Voluntarily reenlisted for third term.
Voluntarily reenlisted for fourth term.
Mandatory reenlistment for fifth term.

So, in conclusion, despite how much I prefer games that allow me to play the character concept I have coming in, whether it be point based, or just allowing the player to spend stats where they prefer… well, there’s a certain appeal to this random approach. Three of the more interesting Traveller character’s I’ve had were created this way.

Minor edits…

I am now enrolled in the affiliates program. You’ll see two RSS feeds listing top sellers and new products. I’ll mostly be using this to link to PDFs of the games I’m posting characters for.

Character A Week: Basic Dungeons & Dragons (Moldvay)

So, as mentioned in my last update, I am going to slowly work through my large collection of tabletop RPGs and make a character for each one. I’ll probably have some observations and snarky comments on occasion. And with that, D&D Basic Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic) is the first.

So, back in roughly 1978 or 1979, I used to deliver the local Sunday paper. One sunday, there was an article in the Parade magazine insert on this game called ‘Dungeons & Dragons.’ I’d just recently read every book by Tolkien I could get my hands on, and this D&D thing sounded incredible.

Holmes Ed. Basic D&D

So, I went out in search of it and the Bon Ton department store had 1 single box… and there was totally not Smaug on its horde and in front of it was a warrior and a wizard that, lets be honest, were about to die. 🙂
I was instantly hooked, but didn’t know anyone else that played. That’s a story for another time.

So, Basic D&D was my first roleplaying game and it only seems fitting that it be where I start this project as well. I still have a Holmes box, which did not come with dice, but for our purposes, I will be using the Red Basic D&D book… the Moldvay edition.

We start by rolling our stats on 3d6… and end up with STR 9, INT 13, WIZ 10, DEX 16, CON 11, and CHA 13.  Unlike later editions of D&D, Basic used 3d6 in order: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma. There was no allowance for reordering stats, or alternative die rolling methods, although plenty of DMs had their own house rules. I was fond of 2d6+ 6, for instance.

With that Dex of 16, Thief and Halfling look good. However, I needed a Str of 13 to be a Halfling… so I’ll be a Human Thief.  However there were some minor allowances for selling a stat down to raise another. And here’s my first choice…

As a Thief, I could lower my Int by two to raise my Dex by 1, but that gains me no bonuses, so I will pass. I should note that this is actually slightly above average for stats (60 – 66) being average.

I’ll note that the non-flexible stat order, and straight 3d6 rolls makes this particularly well suited for a simple stat generation program of the sort that every kid with a home computer wrote at some point. Knock out a couple of pages of that, and you can have a new character ready in a few minutes.

And at this point I am mildly annoyed by the organization of the book… lots of flipping back and forth to find things. As a beginner’s RPG, it should have been organized in the order it would be used, especially the character generation section. This said, maybe I’m spoiled now. I certainly didn’t notice back then. Also, it didn’t come with a blank character sheet, though you could buy them. We generally just used a sheet of notepaper.

Hit points for Thieves are the same as Wizards, a d4 per level. This is one of the things that I do not miss about old school gaming… how fragile a character was at start. Though I suppose this was somewhat balanced by how much easier it was to roll up a new character. And so, I roll my hit points at first level, and start with 3 hit points. I’ma gonna need a meat shield.

We then roll 3d6*10 for gold and get a 14, so 140 gold pieces. Clearly, I managed a big score recently.

So, equipment… My choices are somewhat limited. I can only wear Leather armor, but I can use any weapon. With that Dex (and hit points), missile weapons are going to be my first choice. So I start with Leather armor, a short box & 20 arrows, and 3 daggers. My adventuring equipment consists of a backpack, thieves tools, several sacks, 50′ of rope, a waterskin, and some torches. I have 38 gold remaining, perhaps one of my koleś will need a friendly loan…

Of course, a character needs a name… and I tend to be shite at names, so off I go off to Fantasy Name Generators and a few minutes later I emerge with Jacek (Polish) Greyheart (actually, was Blackheart, but I tend to play Neutral, so…). Yeah, it’s a bit generic but far worse has been done in print. I’ll use it.

So, here we have Jacek Greyheart, a clever, quite nimble, and somewhat charming apprentice thief with flexible morals. His remaining coin won’t keep him going for long, and so he’s looking for a paying job of sorts.

Name: Jacek Greyheart
Class: Thief

Str: 9, Int: 13, Wiz:10, Dex: 16, Con: 11, Cha: 13
Hit Points: 3, Armor Class: 5, Alignment: Neutral

Level: 1, Experience: 0 of 1000, Money: 6pp, 8gp

Saving Throws
Poison: 13, Wand: 14, Paralysis: 13, Breath: 16, Staves/Spells: 15

Leather Armor, Short Bow, 20 Arrows, 3 Daggers, Backpack, 1 large sack, 3 small sacks, 50′ rope, thieves tools, waterskin, 1 week standard rations

What’s been going on…

I had some life get in the way of things, including keeping this site updated. Suffice to say, it’s not necessarily finished yet, but we won’t know for sure until November at the earliest. So, in the meanwhile, I tossed an idea out that might keep me updating this thing more regularly both to my Facebook followers, and my tumblr and there seemed to be enough interest…

The idea, such as it is, is that I have a rather large RPG collection that I have amassed over my 40+ years of gaming… yeah, I don’t like thinking about it that way either, but the idea is take a game off the shelf each week and make a character for it, and then discuss  this process, pros & cons, ideas, etc.

Ultimately, I also want to collect these in a wiki for archival purposes, but that can wait until after I get started. I’ll aim for the first post by this weekend. First up will likely be Basic D&D, since that’s where I first got into tabletop RPGs to begin with.

If you have suggestions, AND I own that game, I’ll prioritize those first. Please make these suggestions in comments. Some games will prove more complicated than other… *cough* Powers & Perils *cough*.

Also, if I am able to find software tools to facilitate charatcer gen, I’ll break that out as well.


So back in 1973, Game Designers Workshop published a science fiction wargame called Triplanetary. Designed by Marc Miller, it was a solid newtonian space combat game with a compact and functional set of rules, and you used an acetate sheet and grease pencils to track a ship’s vector.  It was reprinted again in 1981, but has been out of print since.

In 1989, Steve Jackson Games acquired the rights to Triplanetary with the intent of republishing this classic game. My understanding is that it reached a draft status, but never saw print at the time. That said, SJG did publish a much more focused vector space wargame called Star Fist. If you’ve ever played the classic coin-op arcade game Star Castle, well Star Fist was Star Castle, but with chits and grease pencils. If you can find a copy, I recommend it, as it’s a lot of fun.

Not too long ago, Steve Jackson Games did a Kickstarter for a new edition of Triplanetary, which was quite successful. And today my copy showed up on my doorstep. 🙂

Obviously, I have not had a chance to sit down and play this with anyone yet, but I did unbox and inspect the components. As a deluxe version of the game, it does quite well. The map of the solar system is a large, sturdy coated hex map. No need for the acetate sheets… and the grease pencils have been replaced with dry erase markers.

The box contains the map (in two folding sections), a sheet of die cut counters, the 16 page rulebook, a double sided sheet with advanced combat rules, an ad for the Ogre computer game (It’s fun, do it!), two dry erase markers, one six sided die, a tasty, tasty packet of “Dangerous DO NOT EAT” silicagel, and a piece of foam that I assume is meant to be used as an eraser for the dry erase markers.

Sadly, as you may be able to see in a couple of my photos, my box took a drop somewhere along the way and one corner of the box as well as the maps are mildly dinged. It’s not bad enough to officially complain… hell, this shit happens. But yeah, slightly annoying.