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Benefits and Burdens: Roleplaying Character Traits in Classic Traveller

This article originally appeared in the January/Feburary 2017 issue.

Traveller is, of course, a roleplaying game. All such games call for a modicum of acting skill by referees and players alike. Not to insult the average gamer, but some players have more acting chops than others. Fortunately, some game systems such as GURPS (Steve Jackson Games) and HERO (Hero Games) use the idea of purchasing character traits; primarily as a method of game balance, also offering excellent roleplaying hooks. These traits are known by many names, but broadly, they’re classified as advantages (a.k.a. “Virtues,” “Merits,” “Edges”) and disadvantages (a.k.a. “Flaws,” “Hindrances”). Simply put, they help to shape and define a character, transforming him or her from a two-dimensional cardboard cutout into a living, breathing individual with a backstory and purpose.

Classic Traveller obviously used no such system. The original books took the route of speed and simplicity, leaving it to the players and/or referee to assign traits and fill in backstory. But a traits system could be useful for those who want to combine the simplicity of Classic Traveller with the richness of detailed character traits.

We’ll use a system of Benefits (character advantages) and Burdens (character disadvantages) to help define Traveller characters and give players hooks on which to base roleplaying. We’ll refer to them collectively as traits during discussion.

Assigning Traits

There are three ways referees and players can assign Benefits and Burdens to characters: simple assignment, substitution, or point-based assignment. The referee may of course think of others:

Simple:
The referee and player meet and agree on a few traits based on the character concept. For example, a referee allows each player to have up to four traits. A player who wants to play an ex-Marine might choose Battle Impulse and Pain Tolerance for Benefits (reflecting the hero’s combat experience), and Addiction and Temperamental (to reflect an ongoing struggle with PTSD). This method may take place after character generation.
Substitution:
This must be taken during character generation and allows a player to simply select a Benefit (or an additional Benefit level) instead of a skill; or select a Burden/level in lieu of a failed Survival or Aging throw, with the referee’s permission.
Point-based:
This must also be taken during character generation and resembles one of the points-based systems mentioned above. The referee assigns each trait a point value and then gives each player an allowance to spend on those traits. Of course, Benefits would cost points while Burdens would “give back” points. It’s highly recommended that the referee require all points to sum to zero.

Regardless of the method chosen, each trait is expressed in levels, just like skills gained during character generation. Level effects are given under the trait descriptions below. Also, where traits are described as using a fraction of their levels, any results should be rounded down before application where necessary.

Traits marked with an asterisk (*) require discussion between the referee and player as to the details of the trait.

Benefits

Acute Senses:
One sense of the hero’s choice (sight, hearing, etc.) is above the norm for his or her race, with each level adding a DM of +1 to the throw to use it. Only one sense may be so designated.
Aspiration*:
The adventurer has adopted a higher purpose in life, and all actions are motivated by that intent. ⁄₅ of the Benefit’s levels add a positive DM to any skill or ability used in pursuit of the goal.
Attractive:
The hero is considered beautiful by his or her racial and cultural standards. Each level adds +1 to Reaction throws.
Battle Impulse:
The PC has superior reflexes honed by training or time spent in combat zones. Each level of the Benefit adds to Initiative throws per Book 1. In addition, the Benefit adds ⅓ of its total as a DM vs. surprise.
Born Lucky:
The hero is one whom luck just seems to follow around. The Benefit’s levels become a pool of DMs the player can use however (s)he wishes, but when they’re used up, they cannot be used again until the next gaming session. Alternately, the referee can simply allow the player to dictate one Critical Success per game.
Charismatic:
The adventurer has a great deal of charm and personal magnetism. The Benefit adds its levels as a positive DM to Reaction throws. Note that this is independent of Attractive (above) or Unattractive (below).
Favor*:
Someone owes the hero for performing some deed (saving a life, perhaps) or as some other reward. The levels indicate either the number of favors owed by individuals, or a single favor owed by a figure whose relative power and influence is indicated by the number of levels. For instance, 1 might be an individual of relatively equal power or influence, while 5+ might be a subsector-spanning organization or a very powerful individual such as an Imperial noble. This Benefit is expendable; once a favor has been called in, it’s gone.
Flexible:
The adventurer is able to contort his or her body in ways others cannot. Each level of this trait adds +1 to DEX throws only for the purposes of escaping traps or bonds, squeezing into or out of tight spaces, or simply impressing an audience.
Good Reputation:
The hero is considered reliable and trustworthy. This Benefit adds of its level as a positive DM to Reaction throws. Note that given the vast distances involved in Charted Space, the referee may declare that the hero isn’t widely enough known to enjoy this trait.
Healthy:
The PC is especially fit. This may be due to a specific fitness regimen or just plain good genes. Levels of the trait are added to the hero’s END before determining injury damage, chance of contracting disease, and the number of full-power blows or swings allowed in combat.
Hypoalgesic:
The individual has an exceptionally high capacity for pain. of the Benefit’s levels are applied as a negative DM to any damage the hero takes. Minor pain (small cuts, injections, etc.) may be ignored at the referee’s discretion.
Innate Bearings:
A PC with this ability has an innate sense of direction. As long as (s)he has a specific starting point, (s)he can intuit distance and direction travelled, similar to an Inertial Locator (Book 3). Note that this ability functions on any world, independent of a magnetic field or landmarks.
Insight:
Some people simply know things, with no apparent reasoning process involved. Heroes with this trait can use superior deduction or intuition to solve problems. Each 3 levels of Insight acts to INT when he or she is attempting to make a judgment from information gained during an adventure. Example: a PC needs to determine where brigands have taken his kidnapped companion. Faced with a lack of concrete clues, he applies his Insight bonus to his INT, makes the throw, and thus can make a good guess where his friend has been taken.
Intuitive Liaison:
The hero is able to adapt his or her personality, mannerisms, and speech to fully resonate with an audience. Each level of this Benefit adds a positive DM to Liaison skill. For PCs without Liaison skill, it adds of its levels to Reaction rolls.
Network:
The PC has built a number of contacts that provide information, aid, and even money. Like Favors (above), the levels indicate either the number of individuals in the network, or a single contact‘s relative power and influence; see Favors for an example. This Benefit is not expendable.
Prime Directive:
The hero has a non-interference deal with an individual or organization. The levels indicate the number or relative power of the others as suggested in Favor, above. The entire agreement becomes null and void should either side willingly violate its terms.
Proprioceptive:
The hero has superior balance and spatial perception in regards to using his or her body. This Benefit adds its levels as a DM to DEX throws when such are necessary and to Zero-G Combat skill (Book 4: Mercenary).
Ready Accommodation:
Similar to Network (above), the hero has built an association of contacts that provide guaranteed accommodations or friendly hiding places on short notice. The levels indicate either the number of individuals in the network, or a single contact‘s relative power and influence; see Favors above for an example. The levels may also indicate the relative quality of the lodgings: 1 may mean a room in a flophouse or space on an old Army buddy’s couch; 5 might mean an opulent suite in an upscale hotel.
Sacrosanct*:
The hero is immune to one or more laws, usually minor, but the rare adventurer might enjoy immunity from prosecution from a major law. This may be due to some sort of legal arrangement or informal agreement. The Benefit’s levels indicate the number of laws the hero is immune to, or, alternatively, the relative power of the law. Note that the Imperium would never agree to overlook crimes like murder, slavery, or mass destruction.
Stylish:
The individual is up on cutting edge fashion, personal style, and the latest trends. Whenever the hero declares that (s)he’s “dressed to impress,” (s)he adds the Benefit levels as a positive DM to reaction throws.
Spatially Aware:
This Benefit grants superior 3-dimensional sense, which the hero can use to quickly calculate vectors and trajectories in all three dimensions. Each level of the Benefit adds a +1 DM to the following skills: Navigation, Pilot, Ship Tactics, and Zero-G Combat. Note that this Benefit supersede Proprioceptive, above.
Substance Resistant:
The PC suffers no ill effects from ingested chemical substances. Typically this is alcohol—(s)he can drink every else in the bar under the table—but might instead be drugs. The Benefit adds its levels as a positive DM to the adventurer’s END for purposes of determining intoxication or other ill effect.
Sultry Voice:
The hero has a particularly attractive voice; every 2 levels of the Benefit adds +1 DM to reaction throws if (s)he speaks. Note that this Benefit works even over a communications link or if the hero is otherwise not in sight.
Total Recall:
The adventurer possesses the fabled “photographic memory.” (S)he can recall specific details of every encounter or event (s)he’s been involved in. (To simulate this, the player should be allowed to make as many notes as necessary or use recording devices.)
Willpower:
The individual has superior force of will. Each level of the Benefit grants a +1 DM to the PC’s resistance throw vs. physical or psychological coercion (END or INT, respectively.) This is useless against psionic manipulation.
Worldly:
the PC has “been around the block,” and is a virtual database of experiences. Each level of the trait adds to the adventurer’s Tactics skill. If the adventurer doesn’t have Tactics, (s)he may spend one combat round remembering a past situation applicable to a current problem, gaining ⁄₅ of the Benefit’s levels as a positive DM to formulate a plan. (“Being pinned down by pirates like this reminds me of that time we…”)

Burdens

For brevity, Burdens that are the direct opposite of a Benefit are simply listed as Burden: (Benefit), with any additional effects or rules noted. Simply reverse any DMs granted by the Benefits to get the Burden effect.

Addicted:
The hero is psychologically or physiologically dependent on a chemical substance (i.e., a drug or alcohol) and must indulge daily or lose the number of Burden levels as physical damage until (s)he does. The PC can try to resist; each level of the Burden acts as -1 DM when determining the chance to do so. If the throw comes up a natural “2,” then the hero binges for 2D-END hours (minimum 1). The PC may not also be Substance Resistant (above.)
Bad Reputation:
(Good Reputation).
Born Loser:
(Born Lucky). If using the alternate rule, the referee gets to dictate one Critical Failure/Fumble per game to affect the hero.
Compulsion*:
The hero heels an irresistible urge to engage in a particular activity for a number of times per day equal to the levels of the liability. The hero’s efforts to resist take a -1 DM per level of the Burden. Some common compulsions are shopping, gambling, sex, and hoarding; the referee may think of others. For compulsions for things like alcohol or tobacco use, see Addicted, above.
Ethical*:
The adventurer is governed by a strict personal code which forms the basis for his or her actions. The hero may add other ethics which dovetail with the personal code. Examples include a doctor’s Hippocratic Oath, or the ancient Victorian codes of proper social conduct. The levels of the liability indicate the hero’s strength of commitment to this code: 1 may indicate that (s)he struggles to live up to its precepts; 5 may mean an unshakeable adherence. Note that others may try to take advantage of the hero based upon knowledge of this code and its details.
Honest:
The hero cannot or will not practice deception of any kind. Every two levels of the Burden equals 1 DM to others’ reactions to the hero, based on their dedication to honesty. For example, a group of law enforcers would react positively to a truthful hero, while pirates would react negatively to someone so forthcoming about nefarious activities. If the hero is forced to tell a lie, (s)he must throw vs. INT with the Burden’s levels as an unfavorable DM; failure means the truth comes out regardless. Note this is independent from Ethical, above—an unethical person may still unfailingly tell the truth.
Hyperalgesic:
(Hypoalgesic). All damage that gets through armor is doubled. In addition, the levels subtract from the hero’s efforts to resist physical coercion.
Impaired Senses:
(Acute Senses)
Impulsive:
The adventurer is prone to rash actions. If the hero tries to resist plunging into a situation before thinking it through, each trait level imposes a -1 DM to his or her efforts to do so. Such individuals also tend to act out of sheer ennui. The combination of this and Overconfident (below) is particularly dangerous.
Indebted:
The hero owes money. The levels indicate either the number or creditors or the relative power of a single creditor; see Favor above for examples. In addition, the levels indicate the number of additional throws on the Cash Mustering Out table for his or her career; the result is the total amount of money owed. This is independent of a starship mortgage (Book 2: Starships.)
Inept:
The hero may be trained, but his or her motor skills aren’t equal to the task. Every three levels of this liability counts as -1 DM against one skill of the hero’s choice (except Jack of All Trades.) Note that this may force a skill level to go negative.
Irresolute:
The adventurer has poor decision-making skills, or a mental issue that causes frequent confusion. Either way, each level of this liability is -1 against the PC’s INT for purposes of making a decision. The referee may rule that emergencies are exempt from this Burden.
Lascivious:
The hero is governed by an unusually strong desire for amorous liaisons. The downside is that it may cause him or her to act inappropriately in pursuit of that desire; each level of the Burden is a 1 DM on the Reaction throw table (depending on the target) and against the hero’s efforts to resist hitting on someone. PCs with this liability often have the stereotypical “girl (boy) in every port.”
Law-Abiding:
The hero will not willingly break the law under any circumstances, as long as the laws of the particular world are clear. Levels of the liability indicate the strength of conviction: 1 might be someone who occasionally bends a rule or two; 5 is someone unshakably honest.
Lightweight:
(Substance Resistant).
Minor Dependent(s):
The PC has one or more young (or unhatched eggs) which must be cared for at all times. Note that most worlds legislate harshly against neglect. The levels indicate either the number of dependents or the age in years of a single dependent in multiples of 3.5.
Oath*:
The adventurer has taken a vow to perform some action or service. Typical acts include exacting revenge, finding someone or something, or righting a past wrong. The vow drives the PC’s actions; the liability’s levels indicate the strength of the PC’s conviction to carry out the terms of the oath. This is different from Obsession below as an Oath can be imposed externally (e.g., by an organization.)
Obligation:
(Favor). The PC owes someone a favor; one day, they’ll collect. The levels indicate the same as Favor above.
Obsessed*:
The hero is fixated on accomplishing a goal to the exclusion of anything else. This may or may not have a higher purpose. The Burden imposes a -1 DM to any attempt to sway him or her from the self-appointed task. Note this is different from Oath above, as an obsession is totally self-directed and internally driven.
Overcautious:
The hero avoids even minor danger whenever possible. Such individuals are typically considered cowards. of the levels are applied as a negative DM to reactions by individuals who respect bravery. If forced into a situation where (s)he must face danger, ⁄₅ of the levels are applied to any of the adventurer’s skills used during the event.
Overconfident:
The adventurer is convinced that (s)he’s more powerful or capable than in reality, and acts accordingly. Such behavior can spill over into narcissism, and can get the individual in big trouble. This has nothing to do with whether the individual is actually proficient.
Pacifist:
The PC avoids violence of any sort and will try and disengage from it as quickly as possible. If forced into a situation in which (s)he must employ violence, the levels serve as a negative DM to any skills used until the adventurer or the opponents have left the area.
Phobia:
The hero has a deep and unreasoning fear of something, and will avoid being exposed to the feared thing at all cost. Almost anything can be a phobia; lists of known phobias are easily found. The levels act as a negative DM to the hero’s efforts to stay in the area of the feared object. If the throw fails, (s)he must immediately leave by the most direct route. Note that his may put the hero in more danger. The levels can also serve as a rough indicator of the power of the phobia: 1 could indicate something rarely encountered, while 5 could be a common object or event.
Self-Indulgent:
The hero willingly overindulges in food (gluttony) or the acquisition of wealth (greed). To such an individual, there can never be enough of either. If the hero tries to resist, the trait’s levels become a negative DM to such attempts. ⁄₅ of the levels become a negative DM on Reactions from those who discover the character’s proclivities.
Stress Paralysis:
The PC is easily overwhelmed by stressful situations. This most commonly happens in combat, but can occur in other demanding instances. The PC reacts as though Surprised (per Book 1), with the trait’s levels becoming a negative DM for this purpose. The affected character throws vs. Surprise (with the same DM) each combat round until (s)he recovers or the stressor ends.
Unattractive:
(Attractive).