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John Law II: Character Generation for Traveller: The New Era

This is a revised version of an article that originally appeared on the Traveller Mailing List in 1995, and on the pre-magazine Freelance Traveller website in 2002. It appeared in this form in the September 2014 issue of the downloadable magazine. It assumes that the reader has a copy of the core rules for Traveller: The New Era.

I am a civilian employee of a police department in a major U.S. city. My experiences suggested that the Law Enforcement career of Traveller: The New Era could be improved somewhat.

For the record, I live in a small town of about 30,000 people; my employer maintains a force of about 40,000 uniformed members of all ranks, serving a population of about eight million. In order to best carry out my particular duties, I have become familiar with police operations to the greatest extent possible. I have also heard about other departments from police officers who have transferred in, or who have done exchanges with other departments.

In general, there will be two kinds of Police Departments for the purposes of character generation: small departments and large departments. The mission is not dependent on size, but the department table of organization will be strongly affected, as will the ranks and some skills attainable by members of the service.

Mission of Law Enforcement

At the lowest level, the mission of a Law Enforcement organization is to enforce the law, naturally enough. How this is viewed will generally depend on other factors such as governmental structure or law level (in the sense of official oppressiveness). In general, though, enforcement will consist of any or all of the following:

Routine Patrol:
Law Enforcers will routinely circulate through their area of responsibility, providing a near-continuous presence with the aim of deterring the commission of criminal acts.
Response to Reports of Past Crimes
Law Enforcers will gather information on crimes committed within their jurisdiction. This information may not be acted on directly, but is nevertheless useful to the organization, as it allows the organization to identify patterns of criminal activity, and allocate resources more efficiently to prevent future criminal activity.
Sometimes, a crime will be serious enough to warrant a concerted effort to apprehend the perpetrator. Or, there may be a significant amount of information that is fairly easy to develop. Law Enforcers will gather and correlate this information in an effort to identify and bring the criminal to justice/retribution.
If there is enough information to definitely associate a specific individual with specific crimes, Law Enforcers will attempt to take the individual into custody as the first step in bringing that individual to justice/retribution.

Table of Organization

Small departments are generally unitary, with no functional separation (dedication of resources and manpower to specific tasks) nor operational separation (division of resources and manpower to specific subsections of the operational area). Large departments frequently have both. For the purposes of this article, we will refer to a functional unit as a ‘bureau’, and to an operational unit as a ‘precinct’. The typical small department can be treated as a single precinct for its table of operation.

Note: Decide on whether a department is small or large by looking at the number of people served by the department, the size of the territory served by the department, and the number of people needed to serve the department’s needs.

The typical precinct is commanded by an officer of rank O2 or higher. This individual is responsible for overall coordination of activities that occur both within the police station or out in the operational area, for the entire 24-hour period of the standard day. In large departments, or in jurisdictions where there is a lot of crime, he may be assisted by an executive officer whose rank in small departments is at least one lower than his (but still at least O1) or in large departments may be equal in rank.

Law Enforcement is a round-the-clock job. Police departments don’t close down at the end of a normal business day. Instead, the manpower is allocated to allow necessary coverage over an entire day. Typically, to assure complete distribution of information in an efficient manner, the Law Enforcers will come on duty and go off duty in groups. We will refer to such a group as a ‘platoon’.

Typically, there is one platoon for each eight hour period in the operational day. Each platoon is listed as being on-duty over a specific eight-hour period. Each platoon is led by an officer of rank O1 (the patrol supervisor) who is responsible for coordinating operations in the operational area for the period during which his platoon is on-duty.

The patrol supervisor is also responsible for reporting his platoon’s activity to the commanding officer, and for passing on information to the following platoon about conditions requiring special attention. Staffing of the police station (i.e., ensuring that a sufficient number of rank-and-file Law Enforcers (patrol officers) are in the station at all time to take walk-in reports of crimes and to process arrests) is the responsibility of the platoon leader, as well.

Each platoon is divided up into several squads. Each squad works a sequence of days on-duty, followed by a shorter sequence of days off-duty. Squads work so that there is sufficient coverage each day, and so that over a long period of time, each squad’s on-duty time is twice its off-duty time. Squads are headed by leaders of rank E3 or above who are responsible for ensuring that all information required by the platoon commander is collected from the patrol officers, and for monitoring the performance of the patrol officers in his squad.

There are also usually Law Enforcers assigned specifically to investigations of crimes where information may be developed on an ongoing basis, or where the crime is serious enough to maintain an ongoing effort to bring the perpetrator to justice. These investigators are usually called ‘detectives’ in English-speaking cultures. In small departments, they are usually considered a squad on special assignment, but see the notes on Detectives in large departments.

Administrative duties may be handled by patrol officers given a “special assignment” of Staff, or by civilian bureaucrats (unranked clerks) specifically hired for the purpose.

Large departments may have additional levels of command—for example, a Division Command may have oversight and data collection responsibilities for several precincts. Large departments always have a headquarters separate from a precinct, which has ultimate overall responsibility for operational oversight and strategic planning for the department as a whole. Large departments are generally divided up into operational bureaus, as follows:

Patrol Service:
Responsible for day-to-day patrol operation of patrol officers. These officers are the ones that respond to emergency calls and crimes-in-progress, and who act as a deterrent by their presence.
Detective Service:
Responsible for investigation and information development of crimes-completed (in the past). May also arrange and execute “sting” and under-cover operations.
Internal Affairs:
Responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct by members of the service. Responsible for proffering specifications for departmental hearings.
Information Systems:
Responsible for maintaining computer systems and software (or other data gathering and storage facilities), and development and purchase of same.
Physical Plant:
Responsible for maintenance of physical facilities of the department.
Responsible for supply and maintenance of equipment and consumables required for department operations.

Information Systems, Physical Plant, and Quartermaster may be contracted out to other government agencies, or to non-governmental firms. Patrol Service and Detective Service operate “round-the-clock” (but see below). Other bureaus generally operate only during “normal business hours”.

Detectives are not generally organized into platoons and squads as patrol officers are. Instead, each detective sets his/her own hours based on the needs of any cases and/or “stings” or under-cover operations he/she is currently working on. Hours spent on-duty must conform over the course of one fiscal year to the same ratio required of Patrol Officers.

Ranks and Typical Titles

The use of numbered E and O scales is a convenience, and does not generally represent an actual usage. Titles given are common in English-speaking cultures.

Law Enforcers are divided in a manner analogous to the “enlisted” and “officer” division of military forces. Typically, “enlisted” Law Enforcers may be collectively referred to as “Patrol officers”, “Policemen”, “Police Officers”, “Constables”, and so on, and will include detectives of ranks labelled with E grades in the table below. “Officer”-grade Law Enforcers may be collectively referred to as “Supervisors”, “Commanders”, and so on.

The table below gives the rank number and rank titles for all ranks as used by the New York City Police Department, and some approximate equivalents in other departments. Parenthesized titles are those used by Detectives. Where “—” appears in the table, it means that the NYPD does not use that rank. Some policing services use a strongly military or paramilitary rank structure; titles for those have been omitted, except in cases where the title is also found in non-militarized organizations. Equivalent rank/title is very approximate, and in any particular organization may be higher or lower than shown.


Rank NYPD Title Alternate Titles or English translations thereof
E1 Cadet Trainee, Aspirant
E2 Police Officer, (Detective) Police Constable, Agent, Trooper, Armsman, (Detective Constable, Investigator)
E3 Corporal, Senior Constable
E4 Sergeant Leading Constable
E5 Senior Sergeant, Staff Sergeant
E6 Sergeant Major, Subinspector
O1 Lieutenant Inspector
O2 Captain Chief Inspector
O3 Deputy Inspector Superintendent, Commander
O4 Inspector Chief Superintendent, Senior Commander
O5 Assistant Chief Assistant Chief Constable, Assistant Prefect
O6 Deputy Chief Deputy Chief Constable, Prefect
O7 Bureau Chief, (Chief of Detectives) Superior Prefect
O8 Chief of Department Chief Constable, Chief Prefect
O9 Commissioner General Director


In many US organizations, ranks O3 and above may be considered political appointments from within the ranks in large departments.

Small departments never have Cadets (rank E1) and generally omit ranks E3, E5, E6, O5, O6, and O7; rank O3 may or may not exist. If ranks O5, O6, and O7 are all omitted, rank O8 is called simply “Chief”.

Some large departments omit rank E1, E3, E5, and E6, especially in the US.

A department that has rank E1 will also have a Police Academy of its own; a Cadet will be a prospective Police Officer in the final phase of his/her training, or, in the largest police departments, may be a college student who is on a work-study program with a major field of study of Law Enforcement or Criminal Justice.

Small departments never have Commissioners (rank O9). Large departments may or may not; if a Commissioner exists, it is as a civilian political appointee setting overall policy, not involved in operational matters. Where no Commissioner exists, the Commissioner’s role is generally subsumed into the jurisdiction’s elective Executive.

Rule Changes

In the US, Law Enforcers are generally civil service employees until they achieve rank O3. As such, officers must have come up through the ranks. Do not roll for Commission. Promotion should be rolled for regardless of SOC and world government if current rank is below O2, with a +1 DM for each 2 terms served (count the current term) in addition to the stated DMs and no SOC benefit. Term DMs are no longer added once a character achieves rank O2, but at that time, the SOC benefit is added. Thus, a player with SOC 9 who achieves rank O2 in his 5th term did so with a +2 DM on the promotion roll in addition to any DM for CON, but no SOC DM is given, even on Low Gov worlds. In subsequent terms, the character has a +2 DM for time-in-service, and a +1 DM for SOC 8+, for a total DM of +3. The automatic promotion on Gov High+ worlds applies once a character is attempting to promote beyond rank O2.

All characters enter the career as rank E2. Time spent as E1 where this rank is used is covered by initial training and/or Undergraduate University.

Characters may leave the career and then choose to come back. If a character had rank O2 or below at the time of departure, roll 2D6 for the total number of terms in all careers up to this point. If the result is greater than the number of terms served in all careers, the character may re-enter with no loss of rank. If the result is less than or equal to the number of terms served in all careers, one level of rank is lost for each term not served in Law Enforcement. If the character had rank O3 or above at the time of departure, roll 2D6 for 10+, DM +1 for SOC 8+, DM +1 for each 2 terms served in Law Enforcement. If the roll succeeds, the character is reappointed with no loss of rank. If the roll fails, the character may not return to Law Enforcement.

Skill Packages

Small departments

The supplied skill packages in the basic rules are OK as written. However, the “Detective” skill package is not used for being “commissioned”. Instead, roll 1D6 for assignment each term; on 1, the special assignment is “Staff”, on 2, the special assignment is “Detective”. On any other roll, the character is a uniformed officer.

If the assignment is “Detective”, use the Detective skill package instead of the Uniformed skill package; if the assignment is “Staff”, the skill package consists of Vehicle, Interaction, Charm, Language, Perception, Economics, Social Science.

On “Staff” assignments, the character gets one Government and one Law Enforcement contact instead of one Criminal and one Law Enforcement contact in that term.

Large departments

Roll 1D6 each term for bureau assignment:

  1. Patrol Service
  2. Detective Service
  3. Internal Affairs
  4. Information Systems
  5. Physical Plant
  6. Quartermaster

If the bureau assignment is Patrol or Detective, roll 1D6 for assignment; on 1 or 2, the character has been assigned to “Staff” and gets the staff skill package above. Otherwise, Patrol assignees use the uniformed skill package; Detective assignees use the Detective skill set. For other assignments, use the following skill packages:

Internal Affairs:
Determination, Charm, Interaction, Perception, Vehicle, Economics, Social Science. Contacts as per TNE.
Information Systems:
Charm, Economics, Technician, Interaction, Perception. Contacts as “Staff”, above.
Physical Plant:
Engineer, Artisan, Construction, Technician, Vehicle, Economics. Contacts as “Staff”, above.
Charm, Determination, Interaction, Vehicle, Economics. Contacts as “Staff”, above.