Monday, January 25, 2021

New Year, New Character Day 19: Traveler The New Era

 New Year, New Character 

 Day 19

 Traveler: The New Era 

I'm not sure, but I think I got conned when I purchased Traveler: The New Era (TNE). As a young gamer, I had heard of Traveler, of course. It was famous for its rock hard Sci-Fi setting, it's long history, and its notorious "you can die in character creation." Despite the hushed whispers and gossip, though, none of my friends actually had a copy of it, nor had ever actually played it. 

I was at my very first convention, and talking to one of the vendors when, somehow, the topic of Traveler came up. He immediately pressed into my hands a copy TNE. Maybe he was a fan of the New Era, maybe it was just the "new" one at the time, but I had no idea I was getting something...different from the Traveler I had heard about. 

TNE was a "reboot" of the setting, taking place centuries later than the "classic" era of the game, after the iconic Empire of the setting had fallen into chaos. In TNE, this time was marked by a brutal civil war in which one of the belligerents released a horrific computer virus that had devastated almost all advanced technology, plunging the galaxy into an era of isolation and barbarism. TNE takes place just as the society is preparing to rebuild, with much of what was settled and peaceful space turned into unknown and wild territory. I didn't realize at the time how radical or controversial these changes were. To me, this was just Traveler

Later editions ignored these changes, undoing the civil war, and never mentioning the release of "Virus." I played and ran a couple of games in the "restored" setting, first using the GURPS rules and later with the Mongoose release, which more closely hewed to classic Traveler. And while the games were fun, there was something about TNE that kept drawing me back to it. It's been sitting on my shelf since the early '90's, untouched save for my occasional readings, dreaming about what kind of game I would want to run or play in this more harsh and dangerous future. But, I've never even made a character for this game, confused and, to be fair, a tad afraid of the system. This is something I'm going to fix now.  


While certain decisions can be made, TNE is, at its heart, a random character creator. Not only will I need to roll dice for things such as attributes, but I will also be rolling to create the characters home world and all other facets. As far as I can tell, all of these are based on 2d6 rolls. I will note when there are differences from this standard. As for the basic mechanics, I'm not entirely sure I fully understand them. From what I can gather, you add the relevant Attribute + Skill together to create an Asset. That Asset is then modified based on how Difficult the task is, and the player rolls a D20. If the result is less than or equal to the Modified Asset, the character succeeds. So, for example, if a player was trying to figure out what's wrong with an engine, they would add together their Intelligence (say, 7) and their Engine Repair skill (say, 3), for 10. Assuming this task was "Difficult," it would be multiplied by 1, or 10. The player then rolls a d20 and hopes to roll under 10. 

I think that's how it works.  

Given its random nature, there's no need for me to have a concept in place before I begin. I do go ahead and flip a coin for my characters gender, and get male. For his name, I flip to the Everyone, Everywhere List and decide to do something a tad different. His first name will be from the "Eastern Africa" list, and his last will be from the "Iranian" list. Rolling, I get Kariuki Zahed. I also decide that Kariuki will be from a Pocket Empire, one of the tine statelets that either managed to survive the collapse, or has slowly rebuilt on their own. This "empire" will consist of maybe a dozen worlds at most, connected through the scant handful of ships they've managed to restore. 

Due it the complexity of character creation, there is a specific "Character Creation Worksheet" for one to use in creating a character. Most examples posted will be from this. It has numbered sections, but I will be following the core rule book's section in cases where they conflict. 

Step 1: Home World

there's a couple of different options for determining where your character comes from. The GM could assign one,  you could pick from the sample planets found later in the book, or you can roll to determine. My rules for this series is to randomness when available, so I go with that route. Each home world has a number of values for its size, atmosphere, tech level, etc.  I roll 2d6 for each and here's what I get:

Kariuki comes from a small, thinly settled world. Water is, fortunately, plentiful, and while they have their share of "law and order," the government isn't overly intrusive into the lives of the citizens.  They haven't fallen too far behind compared to others, being of "Early Interstellar Age" and have a good "B-type" port facility. 

Riffing off my naming choice for this character, I call the planet "Dodoma" after the capital of Tanzania. 

Step 2: Attributes

I now need to roll 2d6-1 to determine Kariuki's attributes--Strength (STR), Agility (AGL), Constitution (CON), Intelligence (INT), Education (EDU), and Charisma (CHR). These will also be modified based on his home world. For example, due to Dodoma's Low Population rating, his Charisma will be 1 less, but due to its Tech Level, he will add 1 to his Education. If the end result is less than 36 added together, I may add points as I see fit to bring them up to 36. 

The initial rolls were pretty disappointing, and the only total up to 32. I have four points to spend to improve them. His Agility, Constitution, and Education are all in need of improvement, but I feel like Education will be the most useful. I spend all four points to increase his EDU to 7. There's also a section for "modifications"--I know his home world will modify these attributes, but I'm not sure if anything else in character creation will as well. For now, I just note the base attributes and the modifiers, leaving the Final section blank. It's possible he could be psychic, but that requires an Examination of some sort. I simply not that his current Psionic Strength is 0 for now and move on to his Social Standing. This is rolled like attributes, 2d6-1, for 4. I'm not exactly sure what this means, as the book only really focuses on those with 11 or higher. I assume it means "working class" and move on accordingly.

Step 3: Background Skills

From just growing up on Dodoma, Kariuki has a few skills. I can pick 4 skills from a list with a starting value of "2." I also get a few skills at "0" (no bonus, but I avoid the "unskilled" penalty) base on his home world. Starting with the later, Kariuki begins with Computer, Ground Vehicles (wheeled), and Willpower at 0. Due to his limited physical attributes, I decide to focus on Kariuki's Education and Intelligence when picking his Background Skills. I grab him Computer, Electronics, Pilot (Interface/Grav) and just for fun, History. 

Step 4: Career

Kariuki is now 17, and ready to start his career. There are a number of potential Careers I can choose, and each choice will last 4 years, referred to as a Term. There is no hard limit to how many Terms he can spend at this point, though there is an option for random determination. In this case, you roll 2d6 after each Term, and if the number is equal to or less than the total Terms so far, this step ends.  I want at least 3 Terms (bringing his minimal age to 29), but will use the random method after that. 

Each Career will give me a package of starting skills (for the first term), and then a different number for subsequent terms. I can also pick 1 secondary skill per term, of any sort I feel is appropriate. Most will also have the option for Special Adventure of the like, which will require a die roll to accomplish. Success will bring other advantages. I'll figure it out once I get rolling.

I kind of want to make Kariuki a pilot/engineer of some sort, and figure he needs to up his education before moving on to his professional life. I look at Flight School, but it has a requirement of AGL 6+, which Kariuki is lacking. I then look at Military Academy, which might be ideal, but that requires his Home World to have a POP of Mod+, and Dodoma only has a Low population, so that's out.  Instead, he goes to Technical School. 

Technical School, like other education "careers" works a tad differently than others. I get six levels I can put into a specific list of skills. I decide to put 2 into Computer--raising that to 4, 2 into Space Tech (Ship's Engineering), and 2 into Economics (Admin/Legal). For his Secondary skill, I decide to increase his History by 1. I also get a Contact in one of these skills, and decide to go with Space Tech.  There's no Special Assignments, Promotion, or Ship DM's for this Career.

I really want to go with the some kind of pilot, and based on what he's had so far, I decide to go with Trader for his next career. First, I need to roll to see if he gets a Commission. This is a 2d6 roll against a target of 6+. There are various modifiers for this, but none apply to Kariuki. I get a 7, making him an 01/4th Officer.  I get a package of Skills for his First Term in this Career, gaining skills in Zero-G environments, improving his Pilot (Interface/Grav), Ships Engineering, and gaining Communications, Bargain, and Marketing. I decide "Astrogation" will be his Secondary Skill, gaining that at a value of 1. I also gain a Trader as a Contact. For Special Assignment, I need to roll 2d6 against 4 and get a 3, for nothing special this term.  I do gain 5 "Ship DM's" for a Trader, which is something I will use later in Character Creation.  At the end, I roll for a possible Promotion--2d6 against a target of 7, with no modifier. I get an 11, and Kariuki is now an 02 / 3rd Officer.

I keep with Trader for his next term, and this time he qualify for a Special Assignment which gives me additional Skill Points for a more...interesting set of skills--such as guns. He also gets promoted to 03 / 2nd Officer. I roll to see if I continue, and get a 5. Trader has been good for Kariuki, so I keep that for him. As this is his 3rd Term as a Trader, he now only gets 3 Skill Points, though with a +1 due to his promotion.

I go with Trader for one more term, his fourth. He gains his skills and has a Special Assignment; this time I give him a Criminal contact. He is promoted again, and is now an 04 / 1st Officer.  I roll the career dice, and get a 2. His "background" is complete, and now it is time for his story to begin. 

There is one last thing I need to do one this step--due to Kariuki's advanced age (33!), he might have lost some of his Agility. I roll a d15 against his current score of 4--if I roll less than or equal to that number, he loses one point. I roll a 12, so he's fine.

Step 5: Derived Values

I now need to figure out things like Hit Points, Carry Capacity, Initiative, and the like. All are derived from his attributes. 

Step 6: Starting Money & Equipment

For starting money, characters get a certain amount based on their Home Worlds Tech Level, multiplied by their SOC score. Kariuki comes from an Early Stellar world, so his base is 1,000. His SOC score is 4, so he gets 4,000 credits per Term. He doesn't get any for his Education Term, so he starts with only 12,000 credits. 

I might be missing something, because it seems odd that this isn't modified by the rank he managed to achieve in his career, but I can't seem to find where this might be involved. So, 12k it is.

I also have the option of rolling to see if I own a ship. Remember all those DM's I got for Kariuki's Terms? They end up being a +15 to the die roll I need to make to see if he owns one. In theory, one would work with the other players and combine the various DM's, but I'm just curious as to see what would happen with Kariuki, so I decide to roll. I roll a 2d6 and add his 15 for a total of 22. However, due to starting in a Pocket Empire, this has an additional penalty of -20, dropping him to a 2. Which means for all his years as a merchant trader, he ends up with a single Middle Passage ticket. 

At least he can get off this ungrateful rock.

Final Thoughts

I'm pretty sure I screwed some things up with Kariuki. I think I made the wrong decision boosting his Education, rather than going for his Agility or something else. I'm pretty positive I miscalculated his skills. All in all, I now remember why I never pushed all that hard to get a game of Traveler: The New Era off the ground. Even in Character Creation, it is overly fiddly, complicated, and poorly explained. I've never seen a game that would benefit more from a running "example of character creation" to clarify so much of it. 

Though given that this is a "dead" system, and subsequent Traveler games went back to the classic system, no such change will ever be coming.

The various career Terms really don't add much to the Character, other than balancing out "more skills" vs. "potential penalty for age," and what effects you do get (such as Promotions), seem to have little if any effect. At least Mechwarrior's Lifepath system gave some interesting events in ones life, which could help personalize their backstory, in addition to giving bonus skills. Also, I have no idea of how "competent" Kariuki was at the end. Is a 6 in piloting "good"? The few examples they give have skills with values around 8 or 10, so I'm thinking it's not all that impressive. Combine that with the sheer number of skills the game has, and this is another system with a bad case of "more skills, dumber characters."  Unlike every other game I've done so far for this series, the act of creating a character for TNE has made even less likely to ever run it. In fact, I don't even want to fill out Kariuki's character sheet. Instead, here's the completed Generation Worksheet. 


  1. Thanks for participating. I've added your site to my list of participants in the Character Creation Challenge.


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