A fallen aristocrat who hunts for renewed glory for her family at the edges of space. A meek corporate citizen who watched his life ripped away. A wounded vet, once marked for greatness, who looks to find her purpose once more. A wealthy artist, looking desperately rekindle his creative spark and renew his fame’s upward trajectory. A talented scout who is looking to turn his abysmal luck around, and might have found a family along the way. Meet the Party strives to create ready-to-play characters for a variety of systems and settings, both for your use and to inspire you in making characters of your own. This week, we will be taking a look at a recent update to a classic with an impressive number of die-hard advocates: Mongoose Traveller!
Traveller has a rather long story behind it. It has roots in some of the oldest of gaming, with the first version released in 1977, making it one of the first RPGs released. Since then, the license has changed hands multiple times, with versions produced for d20 systems and GURPS. This even includes two current competing versions, with the Traveller published by Mongoose (Mongoose Traveller) competing with that of a recent copy by the original creator, Marc Miller (Traveller 5). One thing that both current editions have kept is its lifepath character creation.
Traveller had a bit of an inauspicious start for me. It was first brought to my attention by a friend via an offhand mention as “one of those games where you die in character creation.” I must have looked at him cross-eyed, because he rushed to defend it, telling me the story about how he wanted to play a Cop, but at some point had his memory wiped and was dropped from the service, and had joined up with the current smuggling crew. It was the first time I had a serious Lifepath at character creation explained to me. My experiences in Cyberpunk 2020 had been limited to Tom from Myspace putting out massive bounties to people’s “Top 8” in a one-shot line roll game. (“Hiyo, Tom here!” – Ed.) I was intrigued and picked up a copy. However, while I have played with a number of different groups over the years, my main group has tended toward deliberate character building, with people planning out their builds in the long term from character creation, and it is partially due to that reason that I have never found a group interested in playing.But recently, I received an alert that Mongoose had updated their Core Rulebook within weeks of me writing my first Meet the Party, and that seemed to be a sign.
Characters roll their attributes randomly, and from that determine their background and starting skills. Based on what they have, characters attempt to join a profession and make a series of rolls based off of their attributes to see if they join, stay in, or get promoted in their field, and what benefits/detriments happen during that time period. This covers a block of four years of a character’s life, and while players can do this multiple times to power up their characters at character creation, there are negatives, including attribute loss and, yes, death. This does have more flexibility than the character creation from, say, Zweihander, where everything from your age, gender, caste and career are all settled from random d100 rolls. Players DO have the chance to provide a guiding direction, but settling on a planned career before your first attribute roll is rather tricky.
In that spirit, these characters will be created using this generation plan. The rolls have been done with the intent of giving a cohesive party, but the dice gods are notoriously fickle when it comes to the plans of GMs and gamers. So, let’s see who those dice gods have decreed shall be roaming the galaxy today:
Attributes: STR 7 (0) | DEX 7 (0) | END 6 (0) | INT 6 (0) | EDU 6 (0) | SOC (9) (+1)
Titles and Benefits
Scout Ship (Claim used to purchase the El Dorado)
Backstory and Character Study
Alexandra was born into a family of patricians, a family that mainly functioned as adjuncts to a major house, the Denisovs. She had been expected to join the family business in a relatively secure position, relying more on her heritage than any real world skills to get by. However, when the Denisov family leader died his heir was less frugal, driving their holdings into insolvency.
Deprived of that connection, Alexandra failed to find a place in the ranks of nobility. Her father, with a more old-fashioned mindset of family duty, threatened to cut her off if she did not take a term of service to the Imperium one way or the other. She entered the draft, and was fortunately placed in the Scout Service as an explorer. It was a comfort to still have the chance to serve, coupled with the glamour of seeing the unknown and the possibility of gaining glory that would enable her return to society.
It was during the first leg of her service that her ship was asked to divert to pick up an unlucky comrade who had been stranded. That’s when she met Edwin. In the tight quarters on the final leg, the two bonded. She found him charming, he was a ready help on the ship, and they found that enjoyed each other’s company. Edwin found himself discharged over the loss of his own ship, and she suspected that she would never see him again. However, they would run into each other over the years at a spacer bar, and the two eventually became an item, seeing each other in brief spurts over the years.
Alexandra spent a total of four terms in the Scout Service, with a mostly uneventful but highly commended career, reaching the rank of Senior Scout at a comparatively young age of 29. Eventually though, her luck ran out, and she found herself stranded on an exploration when her ship suffered a malfunction. It was enough to convince her superiors that her time had come to an end, and she didn’t put up much of a fight. Her father still had enough connections to help her start a business of her own. Reaching out to Edwin, she convinced him to leave his post at the merchant marine to help her start up the Bouganvillia Courier group.
In terms of raw attributes, Alexandra is mostly unimpressive. However, her extensive experience as a pilot has added up, making her more than competent. Her social standing and the rank she accumulated in the Scout Service have gone toward a lot as well, and those contacts are a large part of how they were able to own the El Dorado free and clear. She has picked up a few enemies in the Service though, mostly those annoyed at her for getting such a favorable severance after what they see as a screw up.
Charles “Charlie” Axel
Attributes: STR 4 (-2) | DEX 4 (-2) | END 6 (0) | INT 5 (-1) | EDU 12 (2) | SOC (7 (0)
Titles and Benefits:
Gambler 0 (+1 on Benefit rolls and trained in Gambling)
Backstory and Character Study:
Born into an average Imperium family with sub-average athletics and raw intelligence, Charlie was a nobody. He was forced by his parents to study rigorously, as they were convinced that this was the only way he could escape their lot in life. Even they were surprised when Charlie was accepted into University. Without natural brilliance, Charlie set out to find the easier classes to pass, regardless of field, gaining a wide berth of knowledge. Oddly, it was relying on hard work instead of natural talent that let him pass legal courses with relative ease, where he had a knack for finding loopholes and shortcuts through bureaucracy. It even managed to impress a classmate, Emma, who was also part of the legal program.
Upon graduating, they both took job offers at Worther Price, a major planetary corp. It quickly became apparent that Emma was on a far quicker track, pulling at their relationship. Before they broke up, Charlie was sent on a business trip, where he was supposed to assist with an acquisition. Before he could reach his destination, his ship was attacked by pirates, and he was taken hostage as the only survivor. It turned out that the business deal had been hinging on stolen data, and the pirates were demanding its return. A courier ship, the El Dorado, was dispatched to complete the deal, but to his horror, Charlie had not been included in the company’s ransom. Fully expecting to die, Charlie watched as one of the couriers drew on his captors and demanded his release, getting Charlie shot for his trouble.
On the way back to Worther Price, the company contacted the crew to congratulate them on a job well done…and to say they were sorry about Charlie, but his family had received a generous ‘Severance or Death’ benefits package. It was his choice as to which, but either way he needed to leave the system, now. A bit stuck, Charlie turned to his rescuers. As it turned out, his legal knowhow was incredibly useful when it came to dealing with customs and regulations, and his shallow but broad knowledge of mechanics and electronics made him a useful hand around the ship. He might not be a specialist at some of his skills, but his EDU score makes him the best choice for anything he has basic training in or understanding of.
Attributes: STR 12 (+2) | DEX 10 (+1) | END 10 (+1) | INT 9(+1) | EDU 8 (0) | SOC (7 (0)
Titles and Benefits:
Armor (Armor Worth 10,000 credits, TL 12)
Free trader and Ship Share (Traded in for the El Dorado)
Backstory and Character Study:
Bisuke was born into a family of soldiers, expected to be the son that would serve and carry on the family legacy. Being born a girl did not change that plan at all. Bisuke was a gifted athlete, quickly becoming ranked in Coup Vitesse, a sword martial art. Based on this strength, she was accepted into the Imperium Marine Military Academy where she thrived, receiving a commission and promotion to Lieutenant upon graduation.
Unfortunately, during her first tour, tragedy struck. She lead the front of her unit in advance recon, but she was flanked from behind due to bad intelligence. The squadron was ambushed and almost entirely wiped out, with her becoming grievously wounded in the process. The Marines cleared her of wrongdoing, and helped with her medical treatment, but she was discharged from the service in spite of her objections. Complications kept her in recovery, while she began to amass medical bills.
Looking for another way to use her skills and education, Bisuke joined the Merchant Marine, who were happy to take a combat vet. Again there was structure in her life, but life was very different. Other than preparing for a possible boarding action, there was relatively little use for her skills. The only thing that kept her from leaving was her medical bills, and the chance that her service might satisfy her family’s sense of duty. It was around that time that she met Edwin, the two of them bonding over being older than the other recruits and that they had been forced to leave their original service. They became fast friends and confidants for each other.
As the years passed, it became clear that her career was not progressing nearly as quickly as it had looked when she had first joined the Marines. That added to her dissatisfaction, and when Edwin announced that he was leaving at the end of his next term, she chose to leave as well.
It was during their first job with this new retinue when she found Charlie being held as a hostage. He reminded her too much of her now long dead recruits to simply leave behind, spurring her to action. She’s tried to take him under her wing since then.
Bisuke is a formidable fighter, with easily the most combat experience in the group. She is skilled at reconnaissance, and is a natural leader. She does tend to be a bit more broad in her expertise, rather than specialized in one area. Alexandra is easily a better pilot and Edwin has refined his combat skills more than her, but her wide range of skills give her a lot of flexibility and utility.
Attributes: STR 2 (-3) | DEX 3 (-2) | END 3 (-2) | INT 4 (-2) | EDU 7 (0) | SOC (14) (+2)
Titles and Benefits
Jack Of All Trades
4 Ship Shares (Used toward the El Dorado)
Backstory and Character Study
Declin is a famous case of rising to celebrity from obscurity. Born into absolutely mediocre social standing and with few apparent gifts, Declin took a low paying job to be an assistant on the set of holodramas and was brought onto a low budget suspense thriller titled Nothing Lasts Forever under a firebrand young director Jorge Stephanz. Declin found a talent for just managing to get things done with surprising alacrity. During the tempestuous production countless assistants were fired, and Declin found himself as Executive Producer for a film the company assumed would be lost in obscurity. Instead, at the last minute, with Declin able to drum up investors and respond to Jorge’s shifting requests, the project became Outer Rim Saints, an action movie that became a surprising hit in the Imperium.
The two became darlings of the company, going on to make hit after hit together, and Declin’s fame and celebrity grew, with him eventually able to get his own films approved. In spite of substandard education and no great deal of book smarts, Declin had an uncanny knack for drumming up extra cash, digging up extra information, and living the glamorous lifestyle well enough for it to be self-sustaining in the industry. The pair worked on a simple formula: find a script for Jorge to throw his ideas into, and let Declin pack it full of top end special effects. The movies continued to make money, but critical acclaim quickly faded. Declin remained in good standing until he attempted a foray into politics by supporting a challenger for a planetary governorship, one who had powerful connections in the industry. His murky history for partying and double dealing was made public, and Declin found his project suddenly on hold.
It was around then that he had an idea to “get back to his roots”; in reality, hiding his face long enough for scandal to pass. Leveraging his vast connections, he managed to dig up a surprising amount of funding for a new experimental “project”. Declin decided to room with a traveller group, and when he reached out he was surprised to find out that the Scout Corp was willing to sell off one of their ships to a group of independent operators. Meeting with this new Bouganvillea Courier Service, he was happy to find a group of oddballs and misfits (perfect character studies). While the others’ connections had been enough to line up a sale of a decommissioned and damaged ship, his money was enough for the group to finish paying off the ship repair damages, and make a few upgrades. While not exactly eager to have him aboard, Alexandra, Bisuke, and Edwin couldn’t afford to turn down his offer.
Though he isn’t personally useful for much around the ship in general, there is no denying that Declin has a knack for negotiating and fast talking his way out of a sticky situation. His Gambler tendencies tend to get them extra coin at the right moments, and his status gets the crew rubbing noses with people well above their normal station for courier assignments, and offers them an air of legitimacy that they might not have otherwise.
Attributes: STR 8 (0) | DEX 6 (0) | END 9 (+1) | INT 10 (+1) | EDU 7 (0) | SOC 7 (-1)
Backstory and Character Study:
Edwin started off with a fairly hard knock life; born to a poor family, he was decently athletic and intelligent but the pressures of helping support the family prevented him from attending school as much as he would have liked. With less than perfect grades, he failed to get into the Naval Academy, and without the proper connections was not accepted into the naval service. With nowhere else to go, he entered the draft and was sent to the Scouting Service as a surveyor. That short lived stint ended in disaster as his ship ran out of fuel and was stranded. On his way back, he met Alexandra, and it was love at first sight. The two bonded quickly, but Alexandra seemed to feel that it was a quick fling.
Edwin’s luck began to turn around as he applied to become part of the Merchant Marine. They were less choosy about his educational background, instead evaluating him on his raw intelligence. He steadily progressed through the ranks, building an impressive record. He always tried to keep an eye out for the ship that rescued him, and was delighted to find Alexandra again. The two have been seeing each other for over five years now, though previously it has been interrupted with their work. When Alexandra informed him that she was leaving the service and wanted him to join her in a private enterprise, he leapt at the chance.
Edwin doesn’t excel at any one thing, but he is an incredible survivor. His time in military service as well as his rough upbringing have left him with a chip on his shoulder and a knack for surviving the worst. He’s picked up some training in combat skills that help him match up to the naturally gifted Bisuke, has practical Mechanics and Astrogration experience that focuses on more practical short term fixes than the ones in Charlie’s manual, and has enough piloting knowhow to sub in for Alexandra from time to time.
Titles and Benefits
3rd Officer (Merchant marine)
2 Ship Shares (Used toward the El Dorado)
The El Dorado
Type-S Ship (Scout Ship)
Hull: 90 tons, streamlined
Armor: Crystaliron, Armor 4
Maneuvering Drive: Thrust 2
Jump Drive: Jump 2
Sensors: Military (Recently replaced) (DM-0)
Power Plant: Fusion, Power 60
Fuel Tanks: 12 weeks operational
Weapons: 1 x Triple Turret
Systems Fuel Scoop, Fuel Processors (40 tons a day), Probe Drones x10, Docking Space (4 tons), Air Raft, Workshop
Maintenance Costs: 3064 credits a month
Reduced Hull (-10% stock model)
DM -1 on repair attempts
Luxurious (Steward +1)
The El Dorado was once the highest end ship in the Scouting Service, the type of ship that was used to shuttle VIPs when the Service wanted to impress them. It was built to be luxurious, without sacrificing anything to performance. That was 86 years ago. Since then, the design has fallen severely out of date. Its hull provides less protection than the newest models, its original sensors have proven woefully inadequate at keeping up with the times, and so many of the original parts have gone out of manufacture that maintenance and repairs had become laborious for the Service to keep up with.
For Alexandra, it was love at first sight. Upon leaving the Service full time, she had been preparing for a more standard benefit of a “loaner” in semi-retirement. However, with her connections and a surprising amount of capital raised by the founding members of the Bouganvillia Courier company, she was able to offer a great deal of currency for immediate payment. The Service saw an opportunity to gain a whole lot of credits and a publicity bump for selling one of their ships to a famous celebrity (Declin), a ship that was otherwise costing them by moldering in drydock.
With the remainder of their funds, its new owners were able to replace the sensors with modern versions and upgrade its weapons systems. The El Dorado is still not as powerful as a dedicated combat ship in a fight, but is fast, maneuverable and more importantly its power plant is powerful enough to run the jump drive without sacrificing their maneuvering drive or basic systems. Its fuel scoops and processors allow it to manufacture its own fuel too, allowing the El Dorado to function for long periods of time without returning to port. All in all, it’s an excellent option for couriers and explorers.
How they interact
The crew has a fairly diverse background in terms of where they came from and what they specialize in. However, they do have a collective theme that they’ve fallen from society’s graces and this is their way back. For Alexandra, it was being thrown from her comfortable life, and crewing the ship gives her a shot at redemption and glory to work her way back to noble status. For Charlie, it was breaking from the life of a citizen where society was supposed to protect you as long as you played by the rules, and watching profit being . Being ejected from it so suddenly has destroyed that illusion, and he is pissed off about having quarterly profits valued over his own life. For Bisuke, it was watching a brilliant military career dying with her men, and the way that her gifts seemed to be squandered after one bad day. Declin watched his fame and influence count for nothing when he bothered the wrong person, and say how fragile standing can be. Edwin had lived his entire life being told “No”, and the fringes of space may be the only place where there is no one to tell him that. There is a hunger in all of them makes it unlikely to settle into an ordinary existence.
Alexandra feels for Charlie. She knows how it feels to have the rug pulled from under you so suddenly. That doesn’t mean that he can’t be annoying though. Voyaging in space in a new experience for him, and while the El Dorado is luxurious by her standards, he always find a reason to complain. He can run most of the ship’s systems better than anyone else onboard, so keeping him around is worth a bit of griping.
She is a bit jealous of Bisuke for the time that she herself never had with Edwin. She can’t be sure, but she can’t shake the feeling that she’s a romantic rival as well, though Edwin assures her there’s nothing to worry about. Bisuke is a hell of a fighter though, and a wonderful piece of steel to go with her silk.
Alexandra wishes that she didn’t need Declin. The old man is insufferable with his carousing and womanizing, and keeps treating her business like an art project. But she did (and still does) need him. His money was the final piece necessary to acquire the El Dorado from the Scouting Service, and there was enough left over for repairs and upgrades that kept her from having to pilot a deathtrap. He also still has the access to society that she lost long since, and he might be her ticket back in.
Edwin might just be the love of her life. Their relationship has had so many starts and stops and tumbles, but he always came back to her. She hasn’t told Father yet though…he might just cut her off if he knew she was consorting with someone so out of her status, diminished though it is. Maybe, just maybe, if they prove their worth out in the black he would come around. In the meanwhile, she’s just happy to be with him.
Alexandra is, in one choice of words, a scary bitch. She always seems to be on the outside of everything, only getting close to Edwin. She makes the rules and gives Charlie his cut, and without a whole lot of options, he can deal with that.
Bisuke makes him feel uncomfortable in a different way. She might be older than him, and more ripped and scarred than a conventional standard of beauty, but the way that she kicks ass does it for him. She doesn’t seem to notice though, and he feels too shy to bring it up and risk the friendship that they’ve built up, as she has really helped him acclimate to a wildly different lifestyle.
Declin is a dream to hang out with. How cool is it that he gets to hang out with the visionary artist behind the Metamorphers franchise!? Still, it is a little jarring to see one of his idols drink like a sailor, and it’s a little weird to be occasionally referred to as the “B-plot comic relief”, but hey, he’s an artist. It’s to be expected.
Charlie can’t be sure, but he has a feeling that Edwin doesn’t like him. He can’t think of anything that he did to Edwin, but he has a feeling that he’s unwelcome. Nothing has come up yet, but Charlie is keeping an eye out for trouble there.
Bisuke can’t help but admire Alexandra. Alexandra also went through her own rather shocking fall from her life plan, and has fared much better than Bisuke has. However, Bisuke doesn’t see the same commitment to honor and service that drives her. Alexandra is out for her own glory, not the glory of the Imperium, and has never been faced with a loss like Bisuke had with her unit. She’s also a bit jealous of her relationship with Edwin. Edwin has had eyes for only Alexandra for as long as she’s known him, and while she doesn’t feel the same way about him, it’s something that she wishes for herself.
Charlie is a mix of little brother and one of her fresh faced old recruits. Sure, he complains like hell, but he’s a good enough kid. She used to churn much worse into fine soldiers. The kid has more in his head than he realizes, not that she’ll tell him that or he’ll be gloating for weeks.
Declin is a strange one. It means something to her that he took a stand, and lost his livelihood for it, but she is pretty sure that he cracked somewhere along the way. She gets a strange feeling when he looks at her, like he sees a doll or moving prop. He is a good time to hang around, has plenty of stories to tell when the crew relaxes in port, and he tends to be able to wrangle free drinks to share with ease.
Edwin is a good friend, and she’s privately amazed that the Navy chose to pass on his talents. He might not have had the raw physical skills that the Marines scouted her for, but he has tenacity, and with all the practice he’s put in he’s a solid friend to have by your side as well. It is a bit mystifying to her what he’s doing with Alexandra, but that’s his choice to make.
The Alexandra archetype should be portrayed by a leading lady. Maybe add a revenge plot to the backstory. The living family doesn’t make for a great character arc. Maybe we can get her to do the stunts for the actress we get. We might need a quiet emotional scene to set isolation from the others.
See the character actor sheets for Charlie. Look for someone who can pull off one those Omnidisciplinarian Scientist roles. Let’s keep an eye out for something we can use for the setting Unobtainium that he can analyze.
Let’s check the stunt doubles for Bisuke…maybe we get her for the whole thing. It’s going to be hard to get someone to act like a soldier better. Pretty enough for a beta romance plot, or main character’s best friend. We might need makeup for those scars.
Edwin…who are the hot names for the male leads? We’ll keep a lookout for those “Bad Boy with a Heart of Gold” types for casting. We definitely don’t want this guy around the set during those parts. Let’s see if we can get a few good one-liners from him while we’re in the field.
To Edwin people tend to stop at the shell that Lexi puts up, and he thinks she is content to keep it that way. It took a long time for him to get through to see the person inside. She is more scared than she knows, and the specter of her parents hangs over her. She is hung up on what they think about the relationship, and it is becoming a point of contention between the two, though neither has pushed too much on the subject.
Charlie is an oddity to him. Here is a man who had better advantages than he ever did, and had the schooling that he dreamt of. It’s odd to see someone with such little ambition, and he is a bit jealous of the chances he hasn’t had…and it’s made worse by the fact that even with such limited drive Charlie’s better at many of the technical skills Edwin himself has needed to pick up in bits and pieces.
Bisuke is a fast friend. Unlike with Charlie, he doesn’t begrudge that she had better chances, because she tried to take advantage of every one of them. It wasn’t her fault that her squad met its fate, but he can tell that it continues to weigh heavy on her. He as a bit surprised at how readily she was willing to join him, but he’s happy to have her.
Declin…well, he can understand why Lexi doesn’t like him, but it’s pretty cool to have him. The man opens plenty of doors for the group, even if he does seem a little cracked.
The crew of the El Dorado seem to have a niche carved out as high speed couriers and explorers. There are many opportunities they can choose, and a great deal depends on how willing they are to stray from the righteous path most of them began on. There is legitimate work surveying far away planets and poking around the fringes of space, but it doesn’t always pay the best and (more importantly) doesn’t get a lot of acclaim unless you make a major find. Pushing at the bounds of legitimacy can offer quicker results: running high value contraband quickly, smuggling, or ferrying fugitives. Perhaps there is something in the middle: running patrols to warn of pirates, or as advance scouts in border squabbles. Traveller has the makings of a player driven game or a hex crawl, so there is plenty to work with.
The crew of the El Dorado seem to have a niche carved out as high speed couriers and explorers. There are many opportunities they can choose, and a great deal depends on how willing they are to stray from the righteous path most of them began on. There is legitimate work surveying far away planets and poking around the fringes of space, but it doesn’t always pay the best and (more importantly) doesn’t get a lot of acclaim unless you make a major find. Pushing at the bounds of legitimacy can offer quicker results: running high value contraband quickly, smuggling, or ferrying fugitives. Perhaps there is something in the middle: running patrols to warn of pirates, or as advance scouts in border squabbles. Traveller has the makings of a player driven game, or a hex crawl, so there is plenty to work with.
Overall, I would like to say that I had a surprising amount of fun making the characters that I did. As a few notes about the process, things really did not take the direction I thought they might. Declin started out as a character with the worst attribute rolls, and I was honestly surprised when he hit an amazing run of luck to be promoted, which gave him the best benefit rolls by far. Bisuke had the best attribute rolls, and promptly failed out of her first full term with the Marines. I did fudge some of the rules on how they obtained the El Dorado free and clear, but I evaluated whether or not it was something I would allow as a GM, and in general, I will make a choice that advances the story. The idea of giving the players a run down, storied ship, while making sure that all various ship shares and mortgage down payments counted for something advanced the story more than purely going by Rules as Written. It’s a decision that the party and the GM should come to together. I just happened to be both in this case!
In final evaluation, as I have been writing this article there have been plenty of people who I have heard criticize the overall play of Traveller, but few have said bad things about the character creation. In fact, talking it over with the other Cannibal Halflings, we might use the methodology as a hack for other systems. All in all, I think that the Mongoose Traveller rules are worth taking a perusal simply for the character creation. I look forward to hearing what people might have in store, both in that system, or using the character creation rules as a hack to add some flair on another sci-fi setting such as, say, Edge of the Empire or Cyberpunk 2020.
Until we see the results, see you Space Cowboy!
Aki would like to thank his friend Dave for introducing him to the game, and does not apologize for making characters in a weird mishmash of Black Lagoon, Firefly and Honor Harrington! Header photo from Mongoose Publishing. Please let me know what you think, and what crazy space adventures you’ve been up to on my freshly made Twitter account @WHalfling!