Tag Archives: Traveller role-playing game

Making Characters for Traveller

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When I started playing the role-playing game Traveller with a group of middle school students, one of the first challenges to overcome was the creation of original characters and interesting new stories.  You can only play for so long with characters named Solo, Skywalker, and Vader.  Then, you must get creative.

What I am going to show you today are a passel of characters so creative, lame, and craptastic, that you will probably forever after have pity on those poor kids who chose to play the game with me.

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Harry Scipio Strontium 90 was a space detective.  He and his assistant, the dwarf Quark, were necessary to the game because player characters had a tendency to kill people, aliens, and destroy planets, routinely misusing the biggest and baddest weapons in the equipment handbook.  He relentlessly pursued player characters and villains across space and time.

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The Geomancer was a deep space explorer who mysteriously never took off his space suit.  He bailed characters out of trouble when they invariably got marooned on airless asteroids, lost in dead space with no fuel for the starship, or imprisoned by cannibal plant people on an unexplored world.  In the end, it turned out that his mysterious space suit was actually empty, containing only gas and radiation, and possibly an alien spirit-entity.

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Mantis was actually a player character.    The son of the high school science teacher was one of my most dedicated game players.  He decided that he had to have an evil player character.  He said to me, “Mr. B, we will make him secretly evil so that he does things that take the party into danger and betray them without their knowing.  It will be fun as they try to figure out how to save themselves.”  Now, Mantis was an alien super-scientist who had a very big head and small body, so he removed his own head and connected it to a large robotic body.  He stood imposingly taller than all the other characters at eight and a half feet tall.  His evil plots were initially rather lame and easily defeated.  It didn’t take the players long to figure out that he was working against them, and he spent a considerable amount of time as a detached living head on the starship’s auxiliary control panel.  He went through various penances and punishments, ultimately avoiding being flushed into space through the space toilet.

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Susano initially started out as Mantis’ evil experiment.  He was an enhanced clone with super powers and wings.  He was super charming and likeable, but supposed to further Mantis’ evil agenda.  They began to plot the take-over of entire planets like Djinnistan and Vilis.  But the longer the game went on, the more he became a son to Mantis, and the more he influenced his scientist father to use his abilities for good.  They would eventually help a band of rogues create a New Star League out of the ashes of the Third Imperium.  Teacher’s kids are often the biggest pains in a classroom, but that tends to be because they know all the teacher tricks already and are invariably more creative than the average classroom clown.  The last I heard from Mantis’ creator, he was an electrical engineer in Austin, Texas, and probably busy secretly planning to take over the world.  Though hopefully he didn’t remove his own head as a first step.

That is only a small sampling of the characters we created for Traveller, but at more than 500 words already, I need to be saving the rest for another day.

 

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Nebulons

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Part of the Traveller Role-Playing Game is dealing with alien races.  So, as a game master for the Traveller Adventures back in the 1980’s, I had the opportunity to create alien races of my own.  Truthfully, the alien Telleron race that I created for the novel Catch a Falling Star already existed in my cartoons and fiction stories before I began playing the role-playing game.  The Nebulon Race, however, was invented entirely for the game.  Only later did they become a part of my fiction.

Space Cowboys3  So, what are Nebulons?  Gyro Sinjarac on the left in the picture is an example from Aeroquest of a Nebulon.  They are aliens who are human in every respect except for their blue skin.  Interestingly they can even successfully interbreed with Earther humans.  This is apparently due to either the evolution of Nebulons from Earther explorers, or, more likely, the galaxy being seeded with Earth humans and Earther DNA by the mysterious alien race known only as “the Ancients”.  What is not debatable is that Nebulons have unique skin.  The blue skin with high levels of natural copper sulfate in it has evolved as a protection from interstellar nebula radiation.  No one who has learned their language and studied their culture has ever identified a planet of origin.  Instead, the Nebulons have been a space-born race since humans first encountered them, travelling in  their symbiotic space-whale space cruisers.  They are a mysterious deep-space race of alien beings who use organic symbiotes,  in other words, living creatures, as their pervasive technology.

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Junior Aero makes an excellent example to use to explain what Nebulons are.  You can see by this picture that not only does he possess the Nebulon blue skin, but also the bright yellow hair, the red heat-transfer cheek organs, and the small stature that makes them easily satirized as “Space Smurfs” in honor of Peyo’s beloved blue comic characters.

The Nebulons as a race are often cited as evidence of the evolutionary trend of intelligent races towards neoteny, the retention of childlike features into maturity and adulthood.  Even the oldest and the most physically fit of the adult Nebulon population resemble children and young teenagers rather than Arnold-Schwarzenegger-like humans.   But believing them to be soft and weak like children is a mistake that often yields tragedy for those who contend against them, especially in battle.  The Nebulons have often fought in space wars like the 5th Unification War, both for and against the human-led Imperium.

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But the Nebulons are not automatically at odds with humanoid races in any way.  They are generally happy in demeanor and temperament,  easily befriending other races, even the snake-eyed Galtorrian humans that tend to dominate the Imperium.  They seem to be particularly fond of Pan-Galactican Space Cowboys, having helped them during the border conflicts with the mysterious race known as the Faceless Horde.

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So, there is a glop of information about an alien race from my science-fiction comedy writing that you can sort out as you like, and can probably learn from as a science fiction writer yourself.  They are probably an excellent example of what not to do when creating a science-fiction-style alien race of your own.

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Starships

One of the things I discovered by relentlessly playing outer-space D & D is the unique setting for fiction presented by the basic interstellar starship.  Here you have a cookie-cutter setting with a basic set of requirements that can’t really change.  It takes the crew as the primary cast from one possible site of adventure to the next, offering a complete barrier to carry-over conflicts and interactions, and also providing a setting for forced internal conflicts that can have profound story consequences.

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Starships are an enclosed environment where you cannot simply run away from your troubles.  Especially when you are alone aboard with a hungry flesh-eating alien and surrounded by empty, airless, interstellar space.  You have to confront both inner and outer demons face to face.  There is no mileage available to put between you.

It has a certain set of requirements for who is on board and available to be hero friends or friends turned adversary.  There must be a pilot.  Somebody has to know how to drive the thing.  There must be an engineer.  Somebody needs to be able to fix things and keep things running.  Somebody needs to know how to manage food and drinking water and the general odor of this enclosed place.  That last is a position that is too often overlooked in movies and science fiction novels.  Scotty cannot be expected to clean the toilets on the Enterprise.  And somebody needs to be in charge.

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Express boats in Traveller are one-man-crew affairs, basically in the service of carrying information between the stars, an interstellar postal truck of sorts.  These can be the setting of man-versus-himself  sorts of conflicts.  If starships are in our future, and it is obvious with global warming we don’t have a future without them, then we are going to have to confront the concept of living with boredom.  Boredom can become mindless or it can become raving insanity.  This is why, in my Traveller games the X-boats all carried the current favorites among episodes of I Love Lucy reruns.  Aliens have been watching that stuff for years now in real life.  It will one day be a galaxy favorite.

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Starships are also filled with a fascinating complexity.  There will be times when there is no gravity so up and down can become irrelevant.  If the heat goes out, deep space can freeze you solid.  If you go outside, you need a space suit so you don’t blow up from your own internal pressure suddenly released in a pressure-free environment.  And you have no air outside the spaceship.  James Holden’s favorite coffee maker could malfunction and foul the air with poisons from burned plastic, causing a serious problem-solving situation that could result in you needing to get really, really, a thousand times really good at holding your breath.

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And, of course, there is the obvious conflict of meeting another starship with lasers and meson cannons and nuclear missiles all controlled by a captain who is a homicidal maniac and knows your sister and really, really wants to get revenge on her whole family for what she said about his zilfinbarger back on Metebelius III.

So, as a role-playing gamer, and as a creator of science fiction, I really, really love starships.  I will probably talk about them a time or too more until it gets really, really annoying… almost as annoying as the whole “really, really” thing.

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