Designing Basic Careers for Classic-Compatible Traveller
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue.
While there is no question that there has, in the past almost 40 years, been significant proliferation of careers in Traveller, there is still room for creating new careers, or adjusting (“tweaking”) extant careers for one’s own campaign. While career tweaking is outside the scope of this article, some of the ideas presented here may be useful for the career tweaker, as well as for the referee designing a new career from the ground up.
Classic Traveller will be the focus of this article, but, again, the ideas presented here can easily be used for other versions of Traveller, most notably MegaTraveller, Marc Miller’s Traveller (also called “T4”), and quite likely Mongoose Traveller (at least 1st Edition; I don’t have 2nd Edition yet to compare). Similarly, the focus will be on designing the career, but notes on how I feel careers should be played will be included.
One mistake that seems to appear in fan-written careers is the attempt to provide skills in every possible area of endeavor – ship ops, combat, interpersonal, technology, and so on. While military and “military-esque” careers often do have such broad-ranging opportunities, most characters won’t, in reality, be able to avail themselves of all of them, and thus will tend to have their skills concentrated in what the “service” does best – an army/mercenary character would probably have a strong bias toward ground combat; a navy character to shipboard ops and possibly gunnery; a merchant to interpersonal and economics… even if the character is “well rounded”, it’s not highly likely that they will get it all from the career. Even where the character is able to take advantage of broader opportunities, those skills gained will be oriented toward the needs of the career. Civilian careers are less likely to have broad skill opportunities, and are unlikely, with a few exceptions (e.g., Law Enforcement), to have much available in the way of combat-related skills.
I should also note that I am a recent more-or-less convert to the idea of “Old-School Roleplaying”, where there isn’t a skill for every action no matter how trivial. In general, skills should represent the ability to act in unusual circumstances – the ordinary person in the United States or Canada would not be considered to have Ground Vehicle/Wheeled skill, or at best, to have it at level 0, for example. This will definitely color my choice of skills for a career, and also biases me toward the basic character generation of core Classic Traveller (Books 1-3 and Supplement 4), vs. the extended character generation of Books 4+ and MegaTraveller.
Structure of a Career
Careers can be divided into three “segments”: enlistment and progression, skills, and mustering out. Individually, the skills segment is the hardest to “get right”, but that doesn’t mean that one doesn’t need to put thought into the other segments. There’s a fourth item that needs to be looked at, however: a statement of what the career is and does. If you don’t have this clear in your mind, your career is going to end up trying to give the character everything possible.
This article will tackle the development of a career in the following order: Definition of the career, skills, mustering out, and progression.
Defining the Career
The description of a career is basically the answer to the question “What is a «careerist»?”. It’s not always a simple answer, even for things that we think we know. As a test, I asked a few people I knew, “What is a plumber?”, followed by “What does a plumber need to know?”. Most of the responses to the first were quick, but incomplete (in much of the US, plumbers don’t work only on water pipes, but on [cooking] gas pipes as well). Responses to the second were slower, and still incomplete – and every time I asked, “What else?”, the next response was even slower, until most gave up (and even so, I got answers that hadn’t been in my knowledge set previously). My point? In order to write a good career description – or to design the career for Traveller – you have to understand what the career does. Do your homework before sitting down and designing your career; it’s not something to do on a whim in an afternoon.
Our example career will be that of Systems Analyst. I chose this because my training and career in real life has been as one, so I can safely say I know what one does. I will write the definition as follows:
A systems analyst looks at what an organization does and how it does it, and proposes redesigns of the organization’s workflow to accomplish the goals of the organization more effectively, according to the definition of “more effectively” provided by (usually) the organization’s management. This may involve changes in procedure, technology, organizational structure, physical plant layout, or pretty much anything within the organization that impacts the organizational goal. The analyst does not actually make any changes; rather, he acts as a consultant to determine what should be done, and possibly as a principal advisor when and if the organization elects to go ahead with the redesign.
That description tells you quite a lot about a character whose prior career is a systems analyst. He’s going to need a high intelligence, because he needs to quickly grasp the goals and tasks of the organization he’s analyzing. He will probably need a high education as well, to be able to evaluate what changes are possible and which are likely to work, and to know where to look to find out more, if he doesn’t have the needed information to hand. He will need good interpersonal skills, possibly at multiple levels, so that he can talk to the people whose workflows he will be redesigning, and to the people who have hired him. He will have a good understanding of systems in general, and how they interact, and how people interact with them – though he’s not likely to be able to step in and replace any of the people who actually make the system work, except at the most basic levels in some cases.
The role of Systems Analyst has existed for a long time, though the “job title” seems only to have come into general public awareness since computers became small enough and inexpensive enough to become a part of every business. As a result, the general perception is that the Systems Analyst is the person who makes it possible to integrate computers into a business model, both for good and ill, from the point of view of the people affected. That perception is incomplete, however; the person that goes into a manufactory, looks at how product manufacture and assembly is handled, and proposes changes such as rearranging the assembly line, combining parts into a single unit for manufacture, or shows that casting instead of machining for a certain part will be less expensive in the long run, all without bringing in a single computer, is just as much a Systems Analyst as the pencil-necked geek that made it possible to fire five out of ten clerks by putting computers on the desks of the other five, and making it faster for the public to get their driver’s license renewed at the same time.
As noted above, I take the position that not every action is going to require a separate skill. Sometimes, there won’t be a skill for what the character wants to do; at that point, it’s up to the player and the referee to work out between them what other skills may be relevant or useful, and at what penalty – if any. Designing the skill tables for a career shouldn’t revolve around ensuring that all relevant skills are available; they should revolve around what is likely for the character to have learned through actual experience – or perhaps formal training – in the career.
A career requires four skill tables: In Classic Traveller, they are called Personal Development, Advanced Education, Advanced Education (EDU 8+), and (generically) Service Life. (Mongoose Traveller requires six tables – a career is divided into three specializations, each of which gets a Specialization table equivalent to Advanced Education – but it’s not unreasonable for the purposes of this article to treat a specialization as a separate career.) When assigning skills to the various tables, I generally use the following guidelines:
Personal Development is for changes to stats, and for skills that are not strongly tied to the career. For careers that don’t have a “physical” aspect, this can represent the sort of thing that the character might do on weekends – working out, going partying with friends, etc.
Service Skills is for those skills that will be learned or exercised as part of the routine duties of the career. Anyone in the career will of necessity develop some or all of these skills, simply because that’s what they do.
Advanced Education is for those skills that are not part of the routine duties of the career, but are likely to be needed in the career, possibly for a specific assignment. If the career allows for specialization (as Mongoose Traveller does), skills specific to a specialization would go here. These skills can be thought of as representing on-the-job training, or strong and frequent exercising of INT and EDU in connection with a specific job. A “shade-tree mechanic” would learn car repair – and by extension, other sorts of mechanical stuff – this way.
Advanced Education (EDU 8+) is for those skills that would be gained as a result of deliberate training (i.e., relevant to the job, but not something that you can learn from scratch by doing). They may be more technical in nature than the Advanced Education skills. If a company were to upgrade from having a lot of standalone computers and an in-house “computer guy” who’s self-taught to having a managed network, they might pay for a “boot camp” (an entire college course compressed into a week) for the computer guy to learn network management and become their first full-time “IT staff”.
Now that we have an idea of what sort of skills would go on each table, let’s start filling the tables. We’ll do that by looking at the various skills, and deciding which table they should be in based on the descriptions above. I’ll be limiting skill choices to those used in Book 1: Characters and Combat (1981 edition) and Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium. Note that the latter book refers to books other than Book 1 for skill definitions; I’m not ruling out such skills.
Sadly, the least interesting (in my opinion) of the tables for a Systems Analyst is the easiest one to fill out: Personal Development. There’s not a lot of physical action in the job; the analyst will be mostly watching as others do their jobs, and asking questions as needed. Most personal development will be outside the job, and working out just to keep from getting fat (more like “turning into a complete lard-bag”) isn’t unusual – though it’s far from universal (I’m an example of that, though walking to my commute is enough to keep me from being a complete lard-bag…). On the other hand, the analyst will also likely be a recreational reader, with eclectic tastes – as likely to pick up a book about building houses or refinishing furniture or learning to read a foreign, constructed, or fictitious language, as a SF novel. On that basis, it’s not unreasonable to put +1 STR, +1 END, and +1 EDU into the personal development table.
The same desire that leads to “working out” may also lead to taking a martial arts course; such a course may also appeal because many of the “classical” martial arts are more than just physical. The skill that best covers that in Book 1 or Supplement 4 is “Brawling”; place that in the Personal Development table. Similarly, fencing might be attractive, as it offers the same sort of physical and mental conditioning; place Blade Combat (Foil) in the Personal Development table.
To finish off the Personal Development table, we note that our earlier discussion indicated that Systems Analysts have generally high INT and EDU. That generally leads to one of two opinions about gambling: either they decide that “it’s a tax on those who can’t do math”, or they think they can come up with a System that can allow them to come out ahead in certain games. In some games, you’re not really betting on a game of chance, you’re betting on the reactions of other players. Being good at that doesn’t specifically rely on interpersonal skills, but it allows the player to learn how to “read” others, which helps in using “Liaison”. On that basis, we’ll place “Gambling” in the last slot in Personal Development.
There are interpersonal skills that are critical to being able to function as a systems analyst at all. Those will be Admin and Liaison, and should appear on the Service Skills table. There are short courses that can teach people to overcome personal flaws when dealing with others – accent elimination, speech therapy, team-building and confidence-building exercises, and so on. To represent those, we’ll put Liaison into the Advanced Education table as well.
The observation and asking of questions is going to provide the analyst with knowledge that’s going to stick, and inform him on future jobs, but it’s not really going to give him the ability to replace any of the people that he’s talking to. The best representation of that is Jack-of-All-Trades, and we’ll put that in Service Skills.
Analysts don’t always work alone; on larger jobs, they may work as a part of a “re-engineering team”. An analyst with sufficient experience may be asked to lead such a team; this person will have developed leadership skills. As with Liaison, earlier, some of the techniques can be taught, so we’ll put “Leader” into both the Service Skills and Advanced Education tables.
Once the proposal for re-engineering/redesign of workflow has been accepted, implementation is necessarily going to include teaching the people actually doing the work how to do it under the new system. While you may not need formal training to be an instructor, it’s not something that will “just happen”. You can get to the point of being adequate without knowing the esoterica of training techniques, but the best instructors have usually had some formal training in advanced instruction techniques. We’ll put “Instruction” into both of the Advanced Education tables.
If your system is complex enough to require the services of a Systems Analyst to improve, chances are that your system is operating in a cultural context where conformance to regulations (e.g., health and safety, environmental, etc.) is necessary. If you choose to admit Legal skill (Book 7: Merchant Prince), whose description technically limits it to interstellar trade, but which is often interpreted to allow other uses, place it in both Advanced Education tables. If you choose to stick with the sources above, place Admin into either table, but not both. For this example, I’m placing Admin in Advanced Education (EDU 8+).
Rounding off the rest of the tables is a little harder. We’ve covered general skills which should apply to any Systems Analyst; but the design of a Classic Traveller basic career doesn’t really allow for specialization. Additionally, there aren’t really enough applicable “specialist” skills to build out the tables unless you choose to allow additional sources. So, from here on, it becomes rather arbitrary.
To finish off the Service Skills table, I’d just duplicate two of the skills already there. Which two is a matter of taste; I’m choosing Jack-of-All-Trades and Liaison, as being the most useful – the analyst is probably going to spend more time talking (and listening!) to the workers than to the managers that hired him, so those would be the most useful skills, and thus the better-developed ones.
The two Advanced Education tables are a little more difficult. Recall the difference from above, and note that the analyst can probably grasp the basics of most of the skills used in an analyzed system easily – but not in-depth enough to replace any of the workers except perhaps at the lowest levels.
My inclination is to put “Mechanical” in Advanced Education, and “Electronics” and “Computer” in Advanced Education (EDU 8+). That’s undoubtedly my bias showing; I have no doubt that the case could be made for putting any of the three in either of the tables. The justification for including them in the tables at all is that (a) we do need to fill the gaps, and (b) as stated earlier, “systems” is more than just computer systems, so familiarity due to the needs of a particular job isn’t unreasonable.
While it’s not specifically a skill that the Systems Analyst will need as a Systems Analyst, and thus should probably be put into the Personal Development table, it’s entirely possible that an employer may make a vehicle operator’s license a requirement for employment, or the analyst may find that the location of the system to be re-engineered is not where the management is, and it’s necessary to be able to operate a vehicle – owned or rented – to get between them. Place Vehicle (Wheeled or Grav, depending on what’s commonly used at the TL) in Advanced Education.
For the remainder of the skills, I’ll once again resort to duplication. For Advanced Education, the most likely candidates would be Liaison, Leader, or Instruction; I don’t want to overuse Liaison in the table, so I’m going to pick Instruction as the duplicate.
For Advanced Education (EDU 8+), it would seem that the only choices would be Instruction or Admin, but Instruction already appears three times, and just like with Liaison, I don’t want to overuse it. One of the duplicates will be Admin. The other… The only reasonable candidate that’s not already in the table three times is Leader. It’s hard to justify it for this table, but I’ll sigh a little and use it. Our final tables are shown below:
|Advanced Education (EDU 8+)
|Blade Cbt (Foil)
One could have argued in favor of Carousing in the Personal Development table, in place of either Blade Combat (Foil) or Gambling. I don’t consider my arguments in favor of either to be compelling, so if you want, change either to Carousing.
Arguing in favor of Gun Combat (Auto Pistol or Revolver) instead of Blade Combat (Foil) is, to me, problematical. Unless the purpose is specifically self-defense, in a relatively low-law-level cultural context, the sort of handgun training (generally target shooting) that a person is likely to get won’t really be enough to override the social conditioning not to shoot people. Yes, in fencing, the training will generally be to back off after a non-injuring “touch”, but at least there you are acting against a live opponent, and so might be less likely to hesitate when it comes to actually needing to fight. Nevertheless, the argument can be made, so if you like, make the substitution. Bow Combat (any) is even less likely, unless in a lower-tech context, for the same reasons. In any case, “combat” skills are generally not likely to be in the Systems Analyst’s repertoire, so which one you pick for the table is really at the “tweaking” level.
Having completed the skills table to our … acceptance, if not quite satisfaction, we move on to the mustering-out benefits tables. This will be relatively easy, as it’s a single table, six or seven entries, plus a Cash Benefits table of seven entries (six if you don’t have Gambling in the skills tables). What’s more, at least three entries are either “automatic” or write themselves based on the skill table: one passage (Low or Middle), a weapon to match a personal weapon skill from the table (Foil, in this case), and either a toolkit to go along with the Mechanical or Electronics skill, or a hand computer to go along with the Computer skill. Or, you can do what I’ve chosen to do, and just make the entry say “Toolkit”, with a note about how to decide what sort of kit. That’s actually a break from sticking with Books 1-3 and Supplement 4; the toolkit idea was from one of the extra career books (Book 4+) or MegaTraveller.
For the material benefits, I’ll stick with what I perceive as “tradition”. That puts the Passage at 1, the weapon at 4, and the toolkit at 5.
Generally, 5 is membership in the Travellers’ Aid Society and 6 is a better passage than can be gained from a 1. I don’t really see this type of character ever doing anything Significant Enough to have someone walk a fully-paid TAS membership through the possible blackball process, so I’ve not included TAS, and I’ve placed the passage at 6.
Doing high-profile work for a high-profile organization can bring further offers of work or public “attaboys”, which may make it possible for the character to work for additional high-profile organizations. Prestige builds, and I think that justifies putting +1 SOC in the table, at 7.
The Book 1 careers all offer increases of 1 or 2 in both INT and EDU as benefits upon mustering out, INT at slot 2, and EDU at slot 3. I’ll do the same, with a +1 to each.
Under Book 1, without considering Supplement 4, this career would be an expansion on “Other”, and thus not eligible for a pension (“Retirement Pay”). Under Supplement 4, it would be eligible, but the amount is unspecified. I choose to “split the difference” and award the character Retirement Pay at half the rate given in Book 1. At the referee’s discretion, allow a roll of 9+ on 2D, DM +(SOC÷5, round down), and if the roll succeeds, award the pension at the full Book 1 rate.
A bit of research says that pensions in the US were typically about 30-35% of final salary in the late 1970s, when Traveller was first written. That means that someone with 5 terms probably made about Cr12,000 at the time they retired, and an 8-termer about Cr30,000. The Cash tables in Book 1 and Supplement 4 don’t actually seem to have much of a relationship to salary or pension – and there really isn’t a reason that they should – but I’m going to use those two figures to “anchor” the table. I’ll round the 12,000 down to 10,000, and place it at 3; I’ll place the 30000 at 5. For the remainder of the table, I’ll split the difference for 4 (20000), and for 2 and 1, I’ll copy the low salary figure (10000) and halve it (5000), respectively. For the last two, I’ll assume windfalls above even the high salary figure; I’ll put 40000 at 6 and 70000 at 7.
DMs: +1 on Material benefits if Rank 5 or 6; +1 on Cash if Gambling 1+
Toolkit: The toolkit should be a Mechanical toolkit, an Electronics toolkit, or a Hand Computer, depending on which skills the character has. If the character has only one of the skills, that determines the type of kit; if more than one, use the one with the highest skill level to make the determination, or decide by mutual agreement between the player and the referee. Subsequent awards of this benefit may, at the referee’s discretion, either increase the value of the kit, or award an additional skill level in the appropriate skill.
Foil: The first award of this benefit is an actual weapon; subsequent benefits may be taken as additional skill levels in Blade Combat (Foil).
Now that we’ve completed the mustering-out tables, we have only the career progression to worry about (unmentioned previously is the table of ranks. We’ll cover that here, as well).
First, “enlistment” and “re-enlistment”, or (as Mongoose calls them) Qualifcation and Continuance – which I feel are better terms for this career, as it’s not military. Generally, it’s easier to stay in than it is to get in in the first place, and it’s not hard to get in initially. In this case, rather than trying to work it out with all sorts of justification for coming up with what would quite frankly be bogus mathematics, I’ll just say that of all the careers in Book 1 and in Supplement 4, the one that Systems Analyst “feels” most like is Scientist, so I’ll use those numbers – 6+ to qualify, DMs +1 for INT 9+, +2 for EDU 10+, cumulative, 5+ to continue at the end of a term.
Survival in the career isn’t hard if you’re one of those people who has a “knack” for it, but it’s not trivially easy. I’d say that a survival roll of 6+ is probably about right, with a +2 DM if INT 9+. You can argue for the DM being available for EDU as well, but (a) survival rolls in Book 1 or Supplement 4 offer only one possible DM, and (b) I don’t feel it really matters how much info you have access to, if you don’t see how to apply it.
Commission/Position doesn’t really apply, but Promotion does. In many cases, it’s a natural outgrowth of experience, but merit/ability does play a role if you’re not purely a self-employed consultant. It’s not quite as easy to get the promotions as it is to stay in the career; this is partly because of a combination of “market saturation” and career longevity – you tend to be competing against the same people for a comparatively long period, and even though you’re getting better at the job and more experienced, so are they. Even when you work for a company that specializes in workflow reengineering, systems analysis, or whatever that week’s version of the buzzword is, you don’t have an infinite market for your services. Promotion 8+, but since there’s no separate roll for Commission/Position, I’ll allow two DMs to make up for the “lost” opportunity – but they’re not cumulative; you get either the +1 or the +2, not a combined +3. Since EDU was the bonus for survival, INT is the big bonus for promotion. +2 for INT 10+, +1 for EDU 9+.
|DM +1 if
|DM +2 if
To the extent that ranks can be said to apply, these are the descriptions:
There is an assumed Rank 0, the rank at which the character enters the career, as an Analyst Trainee. Analyst Trainees may work with anyone else on the project, at any level, doing much of the drudge work (filing paperwork, fetching and carrying, etc.), but are expected to observe and learn, asking questions in private.
The equivalent of Rank 1 is Junior Analyst. The Junior Analyst works with and under the direction of a Senior Analyst, and is also responsible to the Team Leader. Junior Analysts’ assignments usually involve pure information gathering (“What is your current procedure for doing this? What information do you need? How do you currently get it? How much duplication is there?”); they will report their findings to the Senior Analyst and/or at team meetings, and are expected to ask questions at those meetings or in private, never while in front of the customer. Their analysis, which is often picked apart and the underlying thought process analyzed, is often requested as part of the learning process.
The Senior Analyst (Rank 2) reports to the Team Leader and Project Leader, and has discretion as to how to accomplish the tasks that are given him. The Senior Analyst is expected to present analyses of extant processes, and identify inefficiencies and propose solutions that fit within the framework of the project definition. Some awareness of legal or regulatory constraints is expected, but criticism for overlooking same is not generally severe or career-damaging.
Achieving the status of Team Leader (Rank 3) represents a significant step up in the level of responsibility. The Team Leader is not given instruction or direction, in the way that lower-level analysts are, but is instead given an area of responsibility for the job, and is expected to manage his resources (including Analysts and Analyst Trainees) and define needed tasks. Within the overall limitations of the job, he is expected to set the timetable for various interrelated tasks, and to ensure that information is shared with those who need it, whether within his team or with other teams. His analyses are expected to include suggestions for accomplishing the goal of the job, and to include analyses of costs, including time for any physical changes required, and time spent training personnel in new procedures. Close work with the Project Leader, and to a lesser extent the Project Manager, is expected.
The Project Leader (Rank 4) is generally the most experienced or most skilled Team Leader assigned to the job. In addition to leading a team of his own, he is expected to coordinate the efforts of all the teams assigned to the job, and work with all of the Team Leaders to design the re-engineering implementation project – which may be handed to the customer as a project scope document to be used by the people actually making the changes. He will support the Project Manager in making presentations to the customer’s management representatives. Project Leaders are very much a transitional position; instead of focusing on the analysis and reengineering, they spend a much higher percentage of their time managing the project and meeting with the Project Manager and the customer.
The Project Manager (Rank 5) is clearly a managerial position, and could be said to represent a career transition from Systems Analyst to the mid-to-upper levels of Bureaucrat. Analysis and implementation are mostly fond memories; the Project Manager spend much of his time meeting with customer representatives explaining why the project suddenly seems to have gotten bigger than originally thought, or why the project can’t be expanded as the customer wishes. At the same time, he needs to manage internal crises so as not to “air the project’s dirty laundry” in front of the customer, and keep the project moving. Project Managers may also be part of the initial contact group, when a customer first presents their needs, and careful negotiations are required to either land the contract or turn it down without permanently closing doors.
There is no Rank 6 equivalent; those are either Bureaucrats or Other.
The Systems Analyst career isn’t the best career that one could come up with, but it’s sufficient to show the thought processes behind career design. The career builder needs to keep in mind that Traveller fits into the GNS model as a strongly simulationist game, and therefore, careers should be aimed not at building a character that can stand alone and dominate a team no matter what the situation, but instead at building a character who is likely to have strengths that can compensate for another’s weaknesses, and become an essential part of a well-balanced team. It takes more than an afternoon’s work to get there, but the results will be in keeping with the best of Traveller.