This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue.
With very few exceptions, and those for specific careers only in specific versions of Traveller, character generation starts with the character at age 18.
A player might request that the character start early. Under certain circumstances, I’m inclined to allow it, but…
It’s one thing if it’s part of an overall background that the player wants for their character. It’s another thing if the player is just trying to abuse this to “cheat” and get more skills before aging rolls start at age 34. I’ll impose penalties on those early starters.
Some of these penalties are to reflect difficulties younger characters would have to qualify for careers, survive, and gain promotion. A 12 year will probably look young. On average, a younger person also wont have the same maturity and amount of life experiences as their peers. The penalties are low enough to still allow for the exceptional child character to be at least as competent as an average 18 year old.
Rather than adjust the character stats, I’ve opted to impose DMs on the character as described below; it’s marginally easier to manage in play. I’d recommend making a column of youth DMs on the character sheet, and just updating them or eliminating them over time.
DEX, STR: DM –1 (each) for each two years or fraction thereof below the age of 18. For characters starting younger than 18, their physical development is not complete yet. The imposed penalty is recoverable as the character ages back up to 18. A player that has their character start at age 15 would have a -2 youth DM for these characteristics.
Recovery is at the end of a term. If they are over 18, remove all the youth DMs. If they are still under 18, recalculate the DM. A character that starts at age 13 will have a -3 youth DM when they start; at the beginning of the second term, the character will be age 17, and will have a DM –1 for youth.
END: No DM. I interpret END as an indication of general health and determination. In order for a character to be able to start early, determination is clearly exceptional, and general health has to be at least as good as an 18-year-old’s.
INT: DM –1 for each four years or fraction thereof below age 18. While this is something more innate, I also see it as something that matures to its full potential as the person matures. A character that starts at age 15 would have DM –1 for youth.
Like DEX and STR, recovery is at the end of a term, and is simply recalculated. For the 13-year-old with a -2 youth DM to INT when they start, they will have a -1 youth DM to INT at age 17 when they start their 2nd term.
EDU: Reduce the characteristic by 1 for each two years or fraction thereof below age 18. Note that this is a characteristic change, not a DM, and it is not recovered! The reduction reflects the younger start and lower level of education compared to someone older. The character has been busy with a career and not in school. Increases through character generation are handled normally; no additional penalty is applied.
SOC: Referee’s discretion. Play it loose; look at the back-story. A noble teen starting early might not warrant a SOC penalty if, for example, it’s due to inheriting the title when a family member passes. The same noble child might warrant a major penalty if, for some reason, either they have repudiated the family, or the family has repudiated them. The child of a merchant with higher-than-average standing might incur a minor penalty when taking over the family business before reaching age 18.
Because the character has not had as long to gain background skills, reduce the number of background skills or levels by 1 for every two years or fraction thereof below age 18. If the number of background skills or levels is normally dependent on the character’s EDU DM, apply that penalty in calculating the number of skills or levels, then apply this one to the result.
At first I thought certain careers should be off-limits for starting early, like the military not taking you until you are 18, but if the player gives the character a good story I’ll allow it. Maybe the Imperial army won’t take a child but some worlds may have groups that force able bodied children to be soldiers—or just have a culture where a child as young as 13 or 14 might be considered old enough to participate in society as an adult. A 16-year-old who really wants to leave home and be a scout might pass themself off as being 18. While a good story is a must, the youth DMs above still help reflect barriers to entry.