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Background Skill Generation

This article was originally posted to the pre-magazine Freelance Traveller website in 2004, and reprinted in the March 2014 issue.

I created this character generation add-on for my games, which are based on Classic Traveller (CT). It can easily be modified for use with other similar Traveller rule sets, such as MegaTraveller, Marc Miller’s Traveller (T4), and Mongoose Traveller. It is meant to be used after the character’s stats are generated normally, but before the character enlists/is drafted into a career.

The use of homeworlds is recommended, but not mandated.

Roll the character stats normally, then, before starting career resolution:

Roll 2D and compare total to EDU. If the roll is less than EDU, the Player gets a number of throws on the chart equal to the difference. Otherwise, if this roll is exactly 2, the character gets one background skill. If the roll is equal to or greater than EDU, and not a roll of 2, the character gets no background skills; proceed with career resolution.

After you know how many rolls you get, then throw on the chart! Roll 1D for the table, then roll 1D for the skill. Each result will either give you a skill, give you a choice of skills, or direct you to another chart.

Award of a skill results in Skill-0 the first time you roll it (unlike normal chargen). Subsequent awards of the same skill increment the skill level normally.

You will typically end up with a few Level-0 skills that will give you clues to the character’s background. If you’re really lucky, you may even get a first level skill or two.

If you’re using character homeworlds, keep them in mind when rolling background skills. Avoid giving characters skills that are inappropriate to homeworld law level or tech level. The referee should resolve these issues on a case-by-case basis. The recommended handling would be to substitute an appropriate analogous skill (e.g., Equestrian instead of Vehicle, if the character is from a pre-Industrial TL), but allowing a reroll or simply ruling that no skill is awarded if an inappropriate skill is rolled are both justifiable. Homeworld TL and Law Level will both have an effect on what skills are available, especially Law Level with respect to weapon skills, or tech level with vehicle skills or other technologically-based skills.

I allow homeworld-inappropriate skills to be awarded if the character rolls SOC or less on 2D. Alternatively, MegaTraveller offers two useful rules for allowing characters to obtain homeworld-inappropriate skills: first, characters who join the Rouge, Pirate, and Other (and the like careers) have access to weapons at 1 LL lower (that is, more permissive) than the rest of the populace. You haven’t resolved the character’s career yet, but this is good stuff to keep in mind when rolling up background skills too (it’s role playing, man, role playing). Second, a character can overcome a homeworld restriction by rolling 2D for 7+. I like this because it takes into account that characters can learn skills in all sorts of ways imaginable. A third good rule along these lines from MegaTraveller is that Nobles are not restricted by homeworld codes. That gives a nice benefit to noble characters.

I would still give your character the default skills you think he should have. If he’s from a late-industrial TL world, you’ll probably want to give him Ground Vehicle-0 so that he can drive. A character from a Vacuum world will probably have Vacc Suit-0, etc. If these default skills are rolled, go ahead and raise those skills up to Skill-1 as appropriate. These are player characters after all.

Just to be nice, if a player rolls snake eyes on the initial 2D throw mentioned above, I’m going to give him a single roll on the background skills chart. That way, even if you have a character with a very low EDU, you still have a small chance of getting one Level-0 background skill.

Don’t forget, if you use Heaven-and-Earth or the MegaTraveller World Builders’ Handbook, different TLs can be generated for worlds specific to types of industry. You may want to consider these, if you have this info handy (I do a simple click in H&E, and boom, there it is).

These are background skills, unlike the more extensive skills a character will get during his career. Remember that this chart is determining skills the character gains before age 18. It’s unlikely that we’ll see a character like this learn Demolitions-0. However, if the referee allows, I’ve included a way for this to happen (because I know referees have unique skills in their own games). One of the results on the Combat chart is “Special”. Use this result to award any special skills you think a character should have a small chance of getting (but you don’t want to award it as a default skill).

You’ll see a mixture of skills on the table I created. Feel free to customize it for your game. I've included mostly CT and MT skills, but you’ll see some T4 and the occasional TNE skill in the list. Note that you need EDU 8+ to roll on the Technical Education and Advanced Education tables. When rolling on the Transportation table, be mindful of homeworld TL restrictions, if you’re using homeworlds.

When rolling on the Combat table, think of your homeworld restrictions, too. Note that a result of Archaic Weapon can improve your character’s Sword skill (or, you could pick a bow, sling, blowgun, boomerang…even the Early Firearm skill). Blade Weapon in my game is a catch-all title for any type of melee weapon. If you roll Blade Weapon, you can choose a polearm, or a sword, or a club, or a spear…whatever. If you roll Gun Combat, you can pick an appropriate handgun or rifle. But, if you roll Handgun, you can only pick an appropriate pistol.

The Tables

If multiple skills are listed in a single space, select any one of them. If a skill is in italics, it is a cascade skill, and a specific sub-skill to that skill, from the appropriate rule set, should be selected. If a ‘skill’ is listed in bold, it is a reference to another table or subtable; roll 1D and select a skill from the indicated (sub)table.


  1 2 3 4 5 6
  Personal Development Interpersonal Development Education Economic Transportation Combat
1 Perception,
Environment Archaic Weapon,
Early Firearm
2 Athletics,
Recruiting Linguistics,
Native Language
Equestrian Blade Combat
3 Leader Steward Computer
Robot Ops
Watercraft Brawling
4 Tactics Carousing Jack-of-all-Trades Broker,
Aircraft Handgun
5 +1 STR,
+1 DEX,
+1 END
+1 SOC +1 INT,
+1 EDU
Bribery Grav Vehicle Gun Combat
6 Vice Economic Technical Education (EDU 8+ only) Vice Ground Vehicle SPECIAL, Referee Discretion

These tables can only be rolled on if directed by a roll on the above table.


  Vice Technical Education
(EDU 8+ only)
Advanced Education
(EDU 8+ only)
1 Gambling Instruction Ship’s Boat Hunting,
Guard/Hunting Beast Handling,
2 Disguise,
Communications Vacc Suit Survey,
Planetary Navigation,
Sensor Ops
3 Forgery,
Zero-G Environment,
Zero-G Weapons
High-G Environment
4 Stealth Electronics,
Gunnery Swimming,
5 Intrusion Medical Engineering Recon
6 Streetwise,
Advanced Education
(EDU 8+ only)
Pilot Transportation

Skill Notes

This is how I interpret some of the skills when using them in my games:

Leader is a good skill in my game: it improves a character’s initiative throw during the combat round.

Tactics is another good skill in my game. I use it as a “pool” of points the character can use to improve throws after the fact during the game session. Tactics is only used for combat rolls.

Athletics is a good skill to use when doing any task throw that's based on physical stats (running, climbing, jumping, forcing a stuck hatch, throwing a rock, etc).

Camouflage is a T4 skill that indicates expertise in hiding things on your person as well as hiding yourself (hiding in shadows type of thing).

Perception, I use when I want a character to throw to see if he notices something.

Determination is a skill I use that characters can roll on to stay concentrated on a particular task when distracted (you’re trying to open a lock, but bullets are slamming into the door…make your roll, or your intrusion task just got a lot harder…)

Willpower is a skill similar to Determination. A character may make a Willpower roll in order to keep from passing out from blood loss to a wound.

Throwing is a T4 skill. If a character has Dagger-1, he uses that in a melee type of situation. But, if he tosses the dagger, then he uses the Throwing skill.

Artisan is a skill I use anytime a character needs to craft something. We’re usually not talking about real “art” here. A creative use of this skill may be to disguise a pit on the ground with bamboo and leaves. The Artisan skill throw tells me how hard it is to detect the trap.

Intrusion is a MT skill. We’re talking about lock-picking here.

Native Language. Each character in my game get's this skill as a default skill. I typically play close attention to the languages and dialects that NPCs speak. Not everybody speaks Anglic. If fact, a lot of people do not speak Anglic.

Jack-of-all-Trades (JoT). I use like Tactics, in a “pool” of points a player can use to improve throws after the fact, but JoT is only applied to non-combat throws. JoT is also used to help a character when he needs to throw on a non-default skill, like Medical or Pilot or Engineering. In my game, characters cannot attempt those types of tasks unless they have at least Skill-0 (you’ve got to have at least some knowledge to even try), but JoT allows them to try without the required skill. JoT characters are resourceful.

Planetary Navigation is, well, finding your way on the surface of a planet, as opposed to Navigation, which is what starship navigators use to plot jump routes.