Friday, June 22, 2012

Character Creation: Traveller

The classic Traveller role-playing game, published in 1977, uses a system of character creation that is not only 100% random, but it's the only system I know of where the character can die during creation. There's an optional rule that allows a PC to finish the creation process with an injury, and I must assume that most people must have used this rule when creating a character. The part of this system that I find fascinating is the complete randomness of it, yet it only uses one or two six-sided dice for every score and table.

Classic Traveller was intended as a generic science fiction role-playing game that could accommodate any specific setting or genre of play. Over the years demand for details of an 'official' campaign led to the Imperium, but similar to Greyhawk's development many regions of space seemed to be randomly generated and just shoved together, with explanations for their interactions determined later.

So let's get started.

The Game: Traveller (sometimes referred to as Classic Traveller)
The Publisher: Game Designers' Workshop
Familiarity: Never played, but have read through the books many times.
Books Required: Book 1 - Characters and Combat (there are supplemental books for expanding characters of specific services but they aren't required and I don't own copies of those anyway)

The first step of character creation is to roll basic characteristics using 2d6, applying the roles to the characteristics in the order rolled:
Strength 6
Dexterity 6
Endurance 9
Intelligence 10
Education 4
Social Standing 6

We can already see that this is guy is very smart and resilient, but otherwise average. He probably grew up on a poor but rugged world, or perhaps he lived a very rural life, which would explain why he hasn't received a lot of education. If I had any say in what skills he might get I would definitely give him something related to wilderness survival or hunting. For now I am just going to give this man a name, Sten Laurent.

The next step is acquiring skills, this is accomplished by joining a service. Most services are of a military nature but there are rules for joining nefarious or less reputable organizations as well. Even if Sten doesn't successfully enlist into the service of his choice, he can potentially get drafted into the same service. The most difficult service to join is the Marines, but I feel like Sten would know he hasn't received a proper education and he would choose a service that might give him better training than he received on his homeworld. The best service for that would be the Navy or the Scouts, and since the Navy is harder to get into Sten goes after them first. I need to roll 8 or higher on 2d6 to get in, but Sten gets a +1 to the roll due to his high Intelligence. I roll a 5 and he doesn't get in, now he must submit to the draft which is another roll. I roll a 4 which leads to Sten getting drafted into the Scouts, he considers himself lucky since that was his second choice.

For my character's background, I envision Sten having some foreknowledge about getting drafted into the Scouts and he doesn't have a problem with that, but he tries out for the Navy anyway because he thinks their benefits are better. When he doesn't get in perhaps somebody pulled some strings to make sure he would get into the Scouts, like an overbearing family member or a rival with connections in the Navy. This would be something I would leave open for a GM to bring up as a plot hook later.

Every term of enlistment in a service lasts for four years, and at the end of every term you get one random skill, but you must also make a survival check to see if you die in the line of duty (or get injured and are forced out of the service). At the end of every term you can get promoted (which requires a roll) and then reenlist (another roll) or you can muster out and receive a commission (more rolls). Characters who are drafted don't get commission bonuses for their first term. Without going into the minutia of the rolling mechanics I'm simply going to sum up Sten's career in the Scout Service.

Basic training in the Scouts involves learning how to fly a starship (Pilot 1) and Sten ends up taking a broad range of classes (+1 Int, Jack-of-All-Trades 1). During his second term he begins taking on more physically strenuous duties (+1 Str) and begins learning technical expertise (Mechanical 1). During his third term he's broadened his technical expertise (Electronics 1) and manages to pick up some rudimentary firearms skill (Revolver 1), he's injured however and is forced to muster out at the age of 26. During his time with the Scout Service he managed to get more schooling (+2 Education) and has saved a sizable chunk of money (20,000 Credits).

Instead of getting physically injured, I would suggest to my GM that Sten was caught in a firefight that forced him to kill several pirates but not before seeing a few close friends in the Scout Service get killed. This has left him with a bad case of panic attacks whenever he is forced into very stressful environment, which is why he was forced to leave the Scout Service.

The rules suggest using abbreviations for characters and they refer to these brief 6-digit codes as UPP (universal personality profile). A ten is expressed as an A, an eleven as a B, etc. Sten's characteristics according to this code would be 769B66. This method of expressing a character smacks of computer code, which makes me assume that Marc Millar and Loren Wiseman were programmers during their day jobs.

The way I would write the character is like this:
Sten Laurent, age 26
Strength 7, Dexterity 6, Endurance 9
Intelligence 11, Education 6, Social Standing 6
Electronics 1, Jack-of-All-Trades 1, Mechanical 1, Pilot 1, Revolver 1
20,000 Credits

Sten is a fairly average spacefarer who is smarter than his background and experiences might suggest on the surface. And now I would be free to purchase equipment, but that's boring so I'm going to skip it.

Friday, June 8, 2012

dice and math

Because I've been going through so many role-playing rules lately, I've been looking at dice mechanics and probability and sizing up which systems are simplest. Not which systems are best, because best is subjective. The basic differences in systems can always just be boiled down to percentages. The average to hit roll for an average human against another average human varies from system to system, but each variance can be expressed as a percentage which illustrates how each system is different.

In d20 (and most versions of D&D) the base roll is a d20 against a 10. Each number on a d20 can be expressed as 5% of a whole. Needing to roll a 10 or higher translates to 55% chance of success.

In World of Darkness the base roll might be a dice pool of four d10s against an average Defense of 2, which lowers the pool to 2d10. To get one success then would translate to 51% chance of success.

There is no average in GURPS since it's a point-buy system. Assuming a character with a DX of 10 and no combat skills, you can brawl without a skill but the character doesn't do as much damage, and the percentage chance to hit is 50%. But in GURPS your opponent can dodge the attack, and assuming a similarly unskilled character with a Dodge of 8, they have a 26% chance of evading that attack. Which means that an average character only has a 38% chance of successfully hitting another average character.

In Deadlands... forget it. It's too chaotic.

I've been tinkering a lot with 2d6 and 3d6 lately so just for fun, if you assume you need to roll 8 or higher on 2d6 the chance of success is 41%.

Extreme results have differing percentages as well. Assume you need to roll the highest number possible, and on a d20 it's a 5% chance, on 2d10 it's 1%, and on 3d6 it's less than 1%. On 2d6 it's 2.78%

Which then begs the question: Why don't people judge their games by the percentages? The more I crunch the numbers the more attractive 2d6 becomes to me. Yet most games, and probably most gamers too, shy away from using 2d6 because it's too plain or generic. There's a combat system waiting to be born out of 2d6 that nobody has adequately explored yet, or maybe they have and I've just never seen it.