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Get A Life: Generating Character Background Life Events

This article was originally posted to the website in 1998, and appeared in Issue #014, February 2011 of the downloadable PDF magazine.


I'm one of those players who likes to know as much as possible about their character before the game starts. I want to know everything about their homeworld, the culture they were born into, what happened to them when they were young, what kind of family they had... anything that will help make the character live and breath as a unique and interesting individual.

Like most players, I like to let my creativity fly, sparking ideas from my UPP stats, homeworld skills and UWP, background skills, career history, and so on. A detailed homeworld write-up can be a source of lots of character development ideas, and if it isn't a world drawn from the game setting, I'll work with the referee to quickly sketch out the world's physical environment and cultural profile. Culture determines many aspects of the character's family - is it a small nuclear family, or a huge extended clan? It is dominated by one or the other sex? Healthy or dysfunctional? Eventually a general character history suggests itself.

Still, there's a lot about the character I don't know. For more information, I'll need a detailed history of virtually everything they've ever experienced. Well, why not? Why not invent a system for sparking ideas for detailing major formative experiences and turning points in the PC's life?

The Life Events generation system is designed to serve this need. Don't expect it to do all the work for you: it's only intended to give your imagination a jolt in the right direction. It provides vague general suggestions which you're expected to flesh out in detail.

The System

The Life Events system consists of twelve short tables: six "Personal Development" tables and six "Transformative Events" tables. These labels are highly arbitrary: they could just as easily be called Group One and Group Two. Similarly, the tables themselves have vague names, some of them redundant or meaninglessly broad: Single Life, Love Life, Relationships, Career, Finances, Health, Change, Discover, Law & Crime, Turning Points, Social Conflict, and Major Event. Below the twelve events tables, there are few extra tables - I'll describe them in a moment.

Depending on how much detail you're looking for, or how much time you want to spend on the process, you can roll up a separate event for each year of the character's life, or for each two year period, or for each five year period. It's up to you. But one event per year is usually more than enough for an eventful life history.

You can skip the PC's first twelve years and roll from that age onward (the system isn't specifically designed to generate childhood life events). Or you can start with the PC's year of birth, but in this case you should assume that most of the results apply not to the character but to their parents or guardians: changes in the parents' lives can have major influences on their kid's development. Thus, the character's parents might divorce, or the family might move to a new home (or planet, for that matter), or their financial fortunes might change radically.

When the character is over the age of twelve, continue to use this rule of thumb: if the result of a roll doesn't make sense for the character, interpret it as the experience of someone close to the character, such as a parent, sibling, lover, friend, whatever. For instance, if a roll determines that your PC "splits up or gets a divorce," but they aren't currently involved in a relationship, just assume that the PC's parents have split up, or their best friend is going through a divorce.

The Events Tables refer to the character as "you". The word "You" is assumed to proceed the Event description, as in: [You] "are involved in a lawsuit".

The Events listed are supposed to be influential, pivotal, or in some way character-forming. Obviously the PC will have a lot of inconsequential experiences and relationships, but those aren't worth generating. Don't just jot down the result as listed, such as "try a new sport"; instead, work out the specifics of the event, and its consequences for the character, rolling results randomly if necessary: "Age 19: Ensign Phred takes a course in Free Fall Jujitsu, but quickly washes out, as the instructor delights in humiliating late starters."

Similarly, if the tables say the PC falls in love, work out the consequences. In love with whom? Roll up the lover's UPP; do the couple have radically different Social Standings? Are they badly mismatched in Intelligence or Education? Is the love returned, or unrequited? Again, determine the outcomes with die rolls if you want, or make it all up. You can assume the relationship lasts a long time, at least until another roll determines that's it's Over. If it's just an "affair," you might give it a randomly-determined time limit.

Remember to take into consideration the world you're on at the time of the event - your homeworld, or a planet you're stationed on, or a ship for that matter. Make use of the local culture, geography, Tech Level, Law Level, whatever is appropriate. Sometimes, to determine the outcome of an event, the UWP stats can be used as target numbers for rolls. For instance, if you are "diagnosed with a serious disease or disorder", roll the world's Tech Level or less on 3D to recover fully (use more dice or less, depending on the lethality of the disease). A failure might imply that someone close to the PC died of the disease. Similarly, use your UPP stats for target numbers. If you are "involved in a lawsuit", you might roll your Social Standing or less on 2D to win a favourable ruling. If you "try a new drug", try rolling your Endurance or higher on 2D to avoid addiction. And so on.

Don't be a slave to the dice. It's your PC after all - you can make decisions for him or her at any time. If the PC settles down with a partner, it might make perfect sense that they have children, whether or not this comes up as an Event roll; after all, pregnancies can be planned or unexpected. However, since Traveller is about Travellers, it's generally a good idea to assume that the PC will begin the game single, or at least not living with a partner - unless you and your referee think that a marriage can be worked into the game.

The referee should be allowed to check the final character history for consistency with the setting (especially some of the large scale events such as wars and disasters). But the other players don't necessarily have to know any of it. You might have two versions - one the life story you tell to your shipmates; the other listing experiences even your lovers don't know about....

To Roll for Events:

For each year (or period of two years, etc):

  1. Roll one die to select a group of tables: 1-3: Personal Development group; 4-6: Transformative Events group
  2. Roll one die to select a table from that group.
  3. Roll one die to select an event from that table.

Interpret the results very freely. Fudge as necessary. Slashes in tables indicate alternatives (e.g., "Reveal/Learn a secret" means "Reveal a secret" or "Learn a secret").

Personal Development Group


1. Single Life

2. Love Life

3. Relationships

4. Changes

5. Discovery

6. Turning Point


Start/End an affair

Fall in love with someone

Get engaged to be married/Get betrothed

Change your religion/sect/ philosophy

Try a new sport/ recreational activity

Reveal a secret to someone/learn someone's secret


Fall madly in love with someone

Get married/enter a long-term pact

Change your political affiliation

Become an ardent fan of an athlete/ artist/performer

Become a colonist/ pilgrim/seeker/ wanderer


Get pregnant/Get someone pregnant

Have fights with partner

Change your home

Become involved in visual art/new musical form

Become/Cease to be a recluse/loner/ outcast/hermit


Become celibate for a long period

Go for counseling with partner

Join an important organization

Volunteer for charity/ development/ community

Encounter an important person from your past


Move into/out of a living-together arrangement

Confront your lover with a serous problem

Separate from partner

Perform a major Rite of Passage

Become involved in the media

Have an experience which changes your worldview


Have a falling-out/

Question your sexual lifestyle, role, or orientation

Split up/
Get a Divorce/
Terminate pact

Become a celebrity

Try a new drug

A relative dies (and maybe leaves an inheritance)


Transforming Events Group


1. Health

2. Career

3. Finacial

4. Law and Crime

5. Social Conflict

6. Major Event


You are diagnosed with a serious disease or disorder

You get a new job/assignment

You make a major purchase (home, vehicle, land, etc.)

You become involved in a crime/conspiracy

You betray/are betrayed by someone you trust

You survive a major disaster, natural or otherwise


You are badly injured

You lose your position

You find yourself deeply in debt

You are the victim of a crime/ conspiracy

You join/oppose a controversial social movement

You are caught up in a war/armed uprising


You have a mental/emotional breakdown/ disorder

You get a new supervisor or partner

You get out of debt/declare bankruptcy

You become involved in a lawsuit

You are caught up in a feud/factional conflict

You experience a famine/other severe shortage


You require/donate a transplant organ

You have a major success

You invest with great success

You get into trouble with the law

You encounter discrimination/ intolerance

You are caught up in violent civil disorder/rioting/ protests


You get a minor body modification (tattoo, piercing, etc.)

You have a major failure

You invest with major losses

You are publicly accused of a crime

You encounter oppression/ exploitation

You experience a kidnapping/ hostage crisis/ terror attack


You decide on a major body modification (prosthetic limb, organ, etc.)

You feel your career is stagnating

You go on public assistance/receive a grant

You are affected by a new law/enforcement crackdown

You make an enemy/encounter an old enemy

You are caught up in political upheaval/ revolution


If you need to determine the identity of another person related in some way to your PC, you can roll on the 'Other Involved People' table below. For instance, if you roll an event that isn't appropriate for your character, you might decide that it applies to a person determined by a roll on this table.

Other Involved People


Involved Person


A relative or one of your children, if any


A sibling


A parent/guardian


A lover/spouse/partner/close friend


A firend/hero/mentor


A rival/enemy/ex-spouse/ex-lover

If you're a real fanatic, you might roll up some of the more important people in your character's life, and perhaps even roll up their life histories (though you might want to only roll fewer events). This can add whole new dimensions to your PC, discovering how the lives of lovers, enemies, siblings, or children intertwine with your character's life.

Bear in mind that a good referee will find a lot of inspiration in all of this. Expect people from your past to unexpectedly pop up in the middle of an adventure. That high school rival who ruined your first romance; that ex-wife you thought you'd gotten away from forever; that twin brother who's supposed to be long-lost... But of course this is one of the best reasons for going to all the trouble. It brings the game to life and adds to the fun.

Feel free to adapt and modify the system to your liking, or adapt it to your game as necessary. Heretics who like icosahedrals or ten-sided dice might want to convert it into a single D100 system (not a bad idea, really - even if it just ain't Traveller!).