How I Do Things; Creating Random Systems

One of my kind followers made a comment/inquiry into my thought processes for my System of The Day project (where I am generating a new, random Traveller5 star system each day in 2020), even suggesting I make a Youtube video about it. I asked him if he “really” wanted to delve into my mind – only half-jokingly, as I don’t consider myself truly sane nor normal. (I suppose no one thinks that of themselves? I can’t comment much more than that.)
All joking and such aside, I had previously considered making a blog post about it, but thought it’d be rather bland. However, since someone has gone and asked about it, I figured “why not?” So here is the result.

PREPARATION

As with many rules systems, especially science fiction systems which strive for a fair bit of realism (Traveller5 certainly qualifies for this), the charts and procedures needed for a major task tend to be spread through at least several pages of the game manual. I’ve also found, in many game systems, there are a lot of additional charts in the way, some being of use, some less so, some rarely (if ever) used, and some which just shouldn’t be in that section. Many times these are space limitation/layout issues, and can’t be easily worked around. The T5/Traveller5 rules aren’t horrible in this regard [others may argue this point, but I played the original Space Opera, as well as Rolemaster; nothing compares to them for clutter…], but I decided early in this project to make a list of just what I need – sort of a, “Just the facts”, kind of thing. This makes the charts portable, as well as saving wear on my books… I can’t always bring a tablet along for the PDFs, and a single sheet of paper is MUCH more accessible.

To this end I wrote down the necessary charts on one sheet, then wrote the step by step procedures for system generation on the reverse side. This latter task was necessary, as there are several different steps, none of which were collected in one complete chart – not to my liking or style, anyway. Both took some work, and then more reorganizing to a format I could use easily. In addition, over time I made several “house rule” changes to things which bothered me, or (more so) didn’t fit what I was envisioning, and these changes were added here. I ended up having to rewrite them several times, mainly for legibility, but I am finally happy with the end result (or what currently passes as the end result; more changes may happen, or I may spill Mountain Dew on them, and have to start over…)
Here are the current sheets I use:

20200622_1220113784164134624765947.jpg

The end result: a two sided sheet with all the necessary charts on one side, and the generation procedures on the reverse (plus some lookup tables, where they fit; that space issue again.) HOWEVER, this particular sheet of mine contains a number of changes to the charts, so are not exactly standard to the T5 system. There are also several house rules embedded in them. Of note are the Stellar Charts. I have dropped the OB stellar types from the tables. This is because in the accompanying tables (Jump Limits, Habitable Zones) these two star types don’t have entries, making it difficult to properly generate stellar systems with those stellar classes. Rather than trying to determine the proper values (from other versions of the game), I have dropped them for now. I have also dropped use of the optional +1/-1 modifier to rolls on the upper/lower portions of these charts; I am using straight rolls with no modifications.
Another big change I made is in the (non- mainworld) world type charts. The original version has two charts, one for Inner Worlds, one for Outer. I changed this to make three charts: one for Inner Worlds (orbits out to Habitable Zone -2); one for the Habitable Zone; and one for the Outer Worlds (Habitable Zone +2 and greater). To my mind this makes more sense. For example, I just can’t see a ‘habitable’ world result in a very close orbit to a hot F-type star. Though I am no scientist, it just doesn’t make much sense to me, as it would be too hot no matter what the world’s albedo might be.

***PLEASE NOTE: For legal reasons, I inquired with “The Emperor” himself, Mr. Marc Miller, for permission to post these modified charts here, and he was more than gracious in granting permission to do so. Many thanks go out to him for this.

I also have a ‘master list’ of random planet names, one hundred in total. When I roll a system I start with the name, rolling on this list (usually a D100 roll, or D10/D10 roll). I will occasionally rewrite this list, in order to keep it neat, and full. I know, I know! I could just use a text file or spreadsheet to do this. Call me old fashioned… I’ve always preferred paper.
The names on this list are from several sources. The first names are from that great science fiction series by E. C. Tubb – The Dumarest Saga. I currently have 40 world names remaining from this influential series. The other names were generated with a variety of online random name generators. As needed, I will generate new names to fill in gaps in the list.

GENERATING THE SYSTEMS

This step is pretty straightforward. I use a blank sheet of paper, usually in a composition notebook, roll a name, then generate the mainworld. Once this step is done, I add in the other details as defined in the procedure – extensions, stars, world placement, world generation, and satellites.
This is, usually, the easy step. Systems with multiple stars and numerous worlds can be a pain to chart properly at this point. But once completed, they are easy to list in a blog post without clutter.
The final step in the process is perhaps the most important, and of course can be the most time consuming – and frustrating.

ADDING DETAILS

How do I add details? Where do the ideas come from? That is, as always, a difficult question to answer. One not-so-obvious factor is I’ve been playing roleplaying games, in particular Traveller, for almost 40 years. There is A LOT of relatively useless data floating around in the gray goo…

First, I will look over the generated system. Some things may pop out. For instance, is the system resource rich, or poor? Is fuel difficult to access here? What is the government? Is there more than one? Are there other settled worlds in the system? Could these be colonies or outposts, or are they ‘squatters’?
Is that very small population on a planet miners? Or are they research scientists in a monitoring station? Is that distant settled outer world a mining outpost, or a pirate base?
Is the main world poorly populated, even though it has a great environment for humans? Why? Is there a medical or disease issue? Are the locals limiting settlement from ‘outsiders’? Was there a recent war or uprising?
If a world is “prime” real estate for humans, yet with a low population, I’ll check the government and law codes. Perhaps the local residents wish to keep the ‘riff raff’ out of the system, to preserve its beauty, keep it for themselves, or some other such factor.
Is more than one world settled? If so, why? Is there another colony competing for resources, or is it a mining colony? If the world’s base tech level is too low for regular space flight, how did these people get there? Are they “outsiders”, or merely miners from a nearby system? Perhaps they are refugees.

These are some of the questions going through my head when I look for inspiration in a system. Sometimes the path is obvious. Usually it isn’t. Sometimes I have to step away from a world and let the gray matter percolate for a few hours. You can actually tell when I’m having trouble with a particular system write up, as it will sound forced or generic. Sometimes the system just isn’t that spectacular on the surface. And some systems truly are backwaters, with nothing to recommend them.
Then again, these systems are Supposed to be generic. They are designed to be used and modified by other referees for their settings and campaigns. I hope they are of use. 🙂

IN CONCLUSION

This is the main process I use. It is not thorough. It is not complete – that’s impossible, of course. It does give me enough to work with, where I can get enough base background generated for a passable system writeup. Sometimes this is rather difficult…
It is also difficult to create something “Original”. Nothing I do or write in these systems can be considered truly original. I don’t have THAT much creativity! Each of us, our entire backgrounds, backstories, books we’ve read, etc, all influence these things.

I hope you’ve enjoyed delving into the mind of a Traveller fan (fanatic, actually), or at least found something of interest. Feel free to post comments, ask questions, and so forth. I’m sure there’s something I’ve missed or forgotten, and I’m always looking for more ideas and input.

Stay safe, and have a great day. Keep on Travelling!

2 thoughts on “How I Do Things; Creating Random Systems

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