Character Creation Advice: Roles and Traits

Traveller-inspired RPG gameplay in the “Deeps of Lyrae” setting using my character-creation prompt allows a wide variety of roles because the prompt itself is about adopting a new occupation: that of a space pirate. I like this “starting fresh” flavor as it allows you to walk the players through the setting in-game.

They’ve never been space pirates before, so how would they know how to do it? Starting in a backwater also provides this kind of narrative aid: they’ve never explored the universe before, how would they know what it is like? However, players who like to start out as masters-of-the-universe gods and heroes won’t like this setup as well as I do.

Starting characters are limited to 150 points — exceptional but still realistic people. We will set the technology level (TL) to TL 11. This is a little high for Traveller. In the GURPS rules TL 11 means we can then expect manned interstellar space flight, particle beams, nanotech disassemblers, fusion power, living machines, brain transplants, uplifted animals, antimatter, and designer viruses (p. B512). I’m ditching the idea that from Traveller that computer technology didn’t evolve.

A key question for the players during character design will be occupation. We have to crew a spaceship with this bunch.

Now Hiring!

In theory someone could do anything with their life, then suddenly want to become a space pirate. However, in order for the players to feel useful in this adventure, the adventurers need to be pushed toward skillsets that will actually be useful in space piracy. Adept roleplayers will find this obvious.

Essential shipboard roles include pilot and engineer, and it will help to have a good gunner, sensor/communications tech, and someone with merchant experience—pirates attack merchant ships, after all. I will also certainly find work for a medic, hacker, soldier, or gadgeteer/tinkerer.

This part of the Imperium is an exceedingly boring, peaceful and law-abiding place (remember, it’s a backwater) and weapons will be hard to obtain. The gadgeteer/tinkerer role could be especially critical because a gadgeteer can improvise weapons for everyone else, or make store-bought non-lethal weapons more powerful.

Space-adventurer-types that are farther afield from this list are also a possible fit, but they may be a little harder to integrate into the action. These might include a spy, prospector, mechanic, xenobiologist, or an experienced criminal (from con man to pickpocket).

Roles To Avoid

Specialists like artists, lawyers, scientists, and entertainers may feel under-involved. Much of the adventure is spent in space and spaceships, so anyone who spends points on planet-specific skills will also be at a loss. This includes outdoorsmen, animal handlers, and terrestrial survival experts.

Note that the phrasing of the prompt does not allow characters who are already successful space pirates, and I forbid this backstory or the party of players will feel unbalanced. For plot reasons, government agents should also be ruled out: no cops or soldiers, unless they are corrupt and/or have been drummed out of the service.

Relevant Advantages

3D Spatial Sense, Immunity to Space Sickness, and Improved G Tolerance are always useful for spacers, but it might also be fun to roleplay hicks that don’t have these things (slang idea: dirt-puppies? planet-lovers?). G-Experience is useful but might be hard to explain if you’ve spent your whole life on one boring planet. Talents like Hot Pilot are also on target (Gurps Space p. 220).

Space piracy is going to involve confrontations and it will be dangerous. Any combat-relevant advantage might be a significant asset to the team: consider Combat Reflexes (this is invariably useful), High Pain Threshold, Enhanced Dodge, Hard to Kill, Rapid Healing, and Fearlessness.

The Imperium contains many advanced worlds, therefore the High TL advantage is possible if it can be explained. The plot is structured as a mystery and it contains challenging situations the characters will be ill-equipped for. To survive a difficult situation and figure out what is really going on the party might depend on one person’s acquisition of Intuition, Luck, Unfazeable, or Danger Sense.

Given the prompt, very much Wealth and Status would probably not make sense and should not be allowed. No CEOs, aristocrats or noblemen, unless they have fallen on desperately hard times and gain no benefit from their former situation (in which case they should not be able to spend points on these advantages).

Relevant Disadvantages

Loner, Stubbornness, Shyness, or Cluelessness is plausible for almost any character in the group that finds themselves seriously considering running away to try life of space crime. Maybe a Gullible character was talked into it by someone else. Honesty should be disallowed by the prompt itself: Piracy is a crime, and honest people obey the law. Still, there are many honorable rogues, so Code of Honor might play an important role in this adventure. Good people could be pressed into piracy for complicated reasons.

Gameplay will center on issues of morality, and this is more interesting if different characters have differing understandings of right and wrong. The wide range of nonlethal tactics and weapons available in this universe means that Pacifism [Reluctant Killer] is very plausible and could even be used for a combat-oriented character. (“We’ll all buy stunners, we agreed to be space pirates, not mass murderers.”)

Characters whose backstory indicates they grew up on the starting backwater planet might distrust robots, and artificial intelligences (a variety of Intolerance), as it is likely they would have only seen these things on TV.

Scope of Traits

As this adventure begins on a minor planet and then quickly leaves that setting, the I may wish to rule out (or discount) any characteristics that are unlikely to affect gameplay after leaving the starting world. Many planet-specific enemies will be local affairs. They might motivate a character to begin this adventure, but they will be unlikely to follow a pirate past orbit.

This could affect advantages and disadvantages too. Given the long travel times between worlds, you might even be able to outrun debts or a criminal record, at least temporarily. Likewise, if a merchant has extensive networks of contacts on a planet, then he realizes that he will probably never visit that planet again, a gamer might feel the standard points paid for this advantage to be unfairly costly.

As a blanket rule, if a GM wants to use this scenario they can require the frequency of appearance modifier (p. B36) for Allies, Contacts, Patrons, Dependents, and Enemies to be a maximum of “Rarely” unless they are Imperial in scope. Any scoped rules without a frequency of appearance modifier should also be adjusted. For example, Social Stigmas that only exist on the starting planet must be reduced to 1 point, making them effectively quirks, as after the group gets off-planet these stigmas will only affect the other members of the adventuring party (although the stigmatized character could still be traumatized by their treatment in the past, believing everyone else is still hostile toward them). Claims to Hospitality should be discounted to zero points if they only apply on the starting planet.

Foreshadowing: It will be a little tricky to implement these limitations during the character design process without giving it away to the players that they are leaving this planet almost immediately and never coming back, but I think I can pull it off.

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