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 Trivial Skills: Adding Color to Your Game

Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted to the Freelance Traveller website in 2004, and edited and reprinted in the September 2013 issue.

Traveller is an awesome game. It was at one time the SF RPG and is still going strong. But, like its contemporaries, the mechanics were quaint, simple, and basically assumed people couldn’t do very much. It was entirely too possible to have a character start with no skills whatsoever, and learning a new skill was a painful, lengthy, and expensive process.

But then MegaTraveller came out and solved most of that, making us heavy with skills. And we liked it. But even it still failed to entirely address the beauty that is man—to reflect knowledge, aspirations, and interests that make our lives worth living.

Trivia. Hobbies.

Most of us work to live. To enjoy ourselves doing the things we like. Undertake hobbies like gaming, fishing, or perhaps blazing away at targets with a variety of high-powered weapons. But, in the Traveller universe, only the latter is supported in the skill sets. A player can scream until he’s blue in the face that his character is a master of Venusian Chess, but without Venusian Chess-4 after his name who’s going to believe it? Hell, how is he going to get that skill?

The solution is Trivial Skills. Trivial Skills represent those hobbies, interests, and passions in life that make it worth living but that, in a gaming sense, have little intrinsic value beyond assisting in role playing the character. Things like Cooking, Wine Appreciation, Backgammon, Billiards, or Writing.

I work it like this: Every character (PC or NPC), gets their Education value in Trivial Skill levels to assign to Trivial Skills. List the skills separately from the main skills so the GM has a nice snapshot of possible motivations for that character. If they’re given out (and selected) before career resolution actually begins, they might serve as inspiration for choosing the career, or for fine-tuning events explaining career anomalies.

Editor’s Note: If your game is played with the original rule limiting total skill levels to INT+EDU, you may choose to not count them against the total allowance, since they don’t really represent any abilities ‘useful’ to the character. Then again, you might not, as time devoted to a hobby is time not devoted to ‘useful’ pursuits and skills. You’re the GM. You decide.

If you’re a player bringing a character to a new GM, and your old GM used these trivial-skill rules, you might want to explain this to your new GM—or point your new GM at this article—before bringing your character in.

Level 1 represents a passing familiarity, level 2 a decent knowledge, while level 6 means the character is a master of all minutia of that pastime and probably obsesses over it, talking about nothing else.

For example, Terry has an Education of 6. He gets 6 levels and assigns them thus: Holo Movies-2, Cooking-2, Beer Appreciation-2.

Terry is a holo movie buff. He has a vast collection on his hand computer and likes nothing more than to pop an exotic tinnie, put his feet up, and watch a classic flick. He’s a dab hand in the kitchen, particularly desserts, much to the enjoyment of the rest of the crew. He is a big fan of beer, sampling local wares on every planet in a quest for a perfect ale. If able to he’ll have a brew on the go in his mini high tech beer fermenting keg – even though it takes up a big chunk of his personal space allowance.

What’s the point? If this skill is of limited game mechanic value why have it? Like I said, it helps colour a character, make him more of an individual instead of just a collection of stats.

Besides, give a character an interest and he’ll pursue it. Add skill levels, and he’s more likely to find ways to use it in the game. In the hands of a creative player or GM it could prove much fun.

Terry is thrown onto the grimy deck before Ragnar, the Corsair captain.

The other pirates laugh.

‘We caught this one skulking in a drive access way,’ says Lannut. ‘He shot Mernak in the face.’

‘Made him uglier, eh?’ says Ragnar with a laugh.

‘Made him dead,’ says the escort.

A dark mood comes over the assembled throng.

‘Our cook. Dammit. Now we’ll have to eat T-rats again,’ yells Ragnar, slamming his fist against the wall.

The other pirates mutter angrily.

‘I hate T-rats,’ complains Tagrett, rubbing his half metal head. ‘They taste tinny.’

‘And I hate what they do to my waistline,’ growls Yeslick, pinching the rolls of flab under his vacc suit. ‘I put on four kilos last time. Let’s space the snecker.’

‘I can cook,’ says a small voice.

The pirates look down at Terry.

‘I do a mean soufflé,’ he adds. ‘With wild berry jus.’