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Traveller: Using Monsters

Creatures of Distant Worlds Compendium (MGT 1e)

I want to take a break from our usual Monster Wednesday for a moment and discuss the reasons to use monsters in Traveller. In games of fantasy like D&D and Pathfinder, using monsters is fairly obvious. In cases like lions and owlbears, it is a case of survival, a man vs nature story. For orcs and goblins, they are a stand in for uncivilized humans in a non-magical world. When it comes to zombies, dragons, and devils, they represent an aspect of humanity and our fears rather than an individual human. But what about science fiction in general and Traveller in specific. How should you use them? In my opinion, Star Wars is the best place to look for how to use sci-fi monsters well.

1) Essential Part of Native Life

While the sand people would be NPC aliens, the elephants covered in rugs that they rode we’re an essential part of their life. Remember that just because you have high tech people living on a planet doesn’t mean the natives are integrated and can use the technology. Some will still use animals as a significant part of their daily life, whether for transportation, protection, or a food source. No one says that that animal has to be docile.

Suggestion: When dealing with primative life, give them some kind of animal to make their life easier.

2) Dangerous Fauna

“Nuke them from orbit; it’s the only way to be sure.” When you are colonizing a whole planet, you’ll want to eliminate the local dangerous fauna. However, if you are not a sizable government with sizable resources, you’re not going to do the job well. Take the Rebellion for example. They only had enough resources to establish a small base on Hoth. They couldn’t waste resources to eliminate all the snow creatures like the kind that got Luke. In fact, if you watch the outtakes, you’d see that one even made its way into the rebel base. Random encounter, right there.

Suggestion: Have some kind of monster spring up as random violence when you are not in a hub of civilization.

3) Cheap Short Range Vehicles

If you’ve looked in the Vehicle Handbook, you’d know that high tech vehicles are expensive. So if you are not going far, ride something there. They come so much less, especially if you are just taking them from the wild instead of buying them. Just because riding an animal is low tech doesn’t mean that the saddle has to be from another century. Not to mention, if you are in an extreme environment, like Hoth, they will probably be better adapted to the climate than your vehicles. Additionally, different cultures use animals in different ways. Some might ceremonial roles or as symbols of their people. As a final bonus, they are meat and warmth if you are stuck in a bad situation, even if you thought they smelled bad on the outside.

Suggestion: To emphasize different cultural or economic conditions, have a high tech popilation ride animals.

4) Pets

Having a pet adds flavor to a character. Dr Evil and his hairless cat. Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Jabba and the rancor. What does it say about Jabba that he kept a rancor? That he liked watching people being eaten right in front of him. That he wants to be feared. That he likes associating himself with powerful creatures. That he is over compensating. Probably all of the above.

Suggestion: Give a dangerous person a dangerous pet.

5) Entertainment

The Last Jedi had animal racing that the wealthy were betting on. Animal racing is a common use and can be used in your game. Animals fighting each other can also be used. Imagine how much damage the fighting animals can cause if they escape.

Suggestion: Add some flavor to a location by using animals as entertainment.

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Any Traveller NPC On The Fly

D66 Compendium 2

When I am prepping a Traveller game to run at home or a convention, I will always take the time to stat up an NPC and come up with a full backstory. This way, I always have consistent skills, the right number of dice for weapons damage and the exact equipment the character should have. This should be part of any good GM’s prep before running a game. Yet when the players catch me off guard and I have to have a Traveller character on the fly, I don’t bother looking in any books. I just remember these simple rules:

1) Pick a Theme

This may seem obvious, but it must be stated upfront: have a theme for the NPC. If I don’t, I quickly have NPCs that are good at everything. To combat this, I pick a theme and I stick to that theme for the character. It can be as simple as “doctor” or as complex as “down on their luck stock trader who took up painting.” Either way, their theme is pretty simple as it only needs to get me through the game session so I can stat them out fully (should the NPC survive that long). That theme dictates what skills, characteristics, and other bonuses the person should and should not have.

2) Bonus Tree from Competent to Incompetent

In much the same way that the difficulty goes up or down depending on how difficult any particular challenge is, I keep a ladder in my head of what bonus to add to any roll. Here’s what I use:

Bonus When To Use How Many Skills
+4 Exceptional Max 1
+2 Professional 1-3
+1 Above Average 2-4
+0 Average 3-6
–1 Below Average 4-8
–3 Never Exposed Before All the Rest

Take the Doctor for a second. For an exceptional brain surgeon, I’d give them a +4 Medic, but for your average family doctor, their Medic would be +2. Related skills like Science (biology) and Admin would be +2. If the subject of art came up like if the doctor was talking to the stock trader, I could assume the doctor took an art history class in college for fun so is not a complete noob at it and would get a –1.

The down on their luck stock trader, well that person is down on their luck because they are not all that skilled at it to begin with. So I would give them a +1 in Broker, Carouse, and Gambler, +0 in Admin, Art, Persuade, and Streetwise.

Even then, I wouldn’t write these numbers down. This is just what I’d assume based based on the theme. If, by the end of the session, it looked like the NPC would return, I would write down those stats after the game while it was still fresh in my mind so I had it for next time.

3) Weapons and Armor

While I can fudge weapons and armor in a pinch, I pretty much keep these stats on a sheet close by.

User Armor Bonus Weapon Damage
Military +15 5D+3 Zero-G or 4D, AP 5, Auto 3
Police +10 3D Stun, Zero G or 3D, AP 3, Auto 2
Survivalist +8 3D, Auto 3
Paranoid +3 3D-3 or 2D Melee, Stun
Stealth +1 2D Body
Unprepared/Civilian +0 1D unarmed

Like I said, I keep this with me. Even if I remember what the police officer’s weapons and armor is, that doesn’t mean that the players will strip them of it after knocking the person out and then they are left with being an unprepared/civilian entry. This little preparation makes running a game quick and easy for when (not if) the players run the game off the rails.

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