Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Thousand Suns Readalong Chapter 4: Career Packages

This chapter gives us yet another incremental look at both the system and setting of Thousand Suns. The careers here are very much in line with with what I’ve seen in Traveller’s Book 1 and Supplement 4. But Traveller can very easily deal you a one term Army character when you might otherwise have wanted a crochety old five term Merchant with a ship. GURPS templates tend to follow clearly defined archetypes while having lots of subdials for you to personalize with. The most noticable difference between Thousand Suns, Traveller, and GURPS here is that by default, Thousand Suns encourages players to mix and match the various careers together. Indeed, players that choose to specialize with just a single career are actually penalized!

The point-buy system is starting to look more and more GURPS-like, but there is a striking deviation from both Traveller and GURPS: the skill specializations cost one point each and glom onto your root skill level regardless of how many specializations you have. In other words, Bureaucracy-3 costs the same as Bureaucracy (Legal, Military)-1. Specializations do not operate as separate skills, but we are instead told that they function much like the hooks that have only been briefly described so far. I’m really tempted to skip ahead to the next chapter as this sounds like a real wa-hoo kind of a move that will give players some interesting gamey choices every time a specialization comes into play. From a game design standpoint, this would also appear to put a cap on the ever-expanding skill lists that seem to plague space games in particular.

In Traveller, human characters cannot start with psi powers. They must spend several sessions searching worlds for a psionic institute that can train them. This is a clever default pull for a sandbox game, but a consequence of this design is that psionics are a slightly marginalized in traditional Traveller campaigns unless someone’s running a Droyne sport or something crazy like that. GURPS Traveller is a bit light on psionics in its core rulebook templates. T4 and TNE had a separate Psionicist careers, but that’s a little overboard for me. In contrast, Thousand Suns has Esper careers that can easily be combined with the others. This gives a fast-playing option for building psi characters out of the box. For instance, you could choose a Novice Colonist with Novice Esper and Novice Rebel to neatly model Luke Skywalker at his Empire Strikes Back stage of abilitiy. Novice Civil Servant combined with Experienced Esper would be a fun option that might be closer to Hiro from the Heroes tv show. Flynx from Alan Dean Foster’s Humanx novels would be an Experienced Criminal and a Novice Esper.

"I've beaten a lawman senseless, I've fallen in with criminals. I watched the captain shoot the man I swore to protect... I think I'm on the wrong ship."

The most striking addition to line up is the Missionary career. Traveller ommitted that sort of thing perhaps out of a desire to be politically correct or else to at least not step on anyone’s toes. While a lot of science fiction used to assume that religion would cease to exist at some point and Frank Herbert supposed they’d change into unrecognizable conglomerates, old school religion seems to have been accepted back into the future in recent decades. If Catholics in Speaker for the Dead seemed a bit much to me at one time, then I had to admit that the Mormons in The Gripping Hand actually weren’t that bad. The Graysons in the Honor Harrington series actually grew on me after a while. Even so, I think it is Shepherd Book from Firefly clinches the deal by making religious characters cool in science fiction. It’s a good thing, too, because there’s a movement afoot to remove the cleric from Dungeons and Dragons. Judging by the career stats, Missionarys are persuasive, charasmatic, and good judges of character… perhaps being more or less consistent with G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown. The rules associate no inherently negative qualities with Missionarys, but this is perhaps balanced by their inability to turn undead here.

The only gripe I have with these careers is that they are very linear. Experienced people have twice the skill levels as novices, but they’re all in pretty much the same skills. If I was going to build a similar templating system in GURPS I would have increased the depth as well as the breadth. The fact remains that I am more likely to run a session of Thousand Suns than I am to actually finish building a better set of templates, so maybe there is something to the author’s design choice here….

Check back here tomorrow for chapter five!

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6 responses to “Thousand Suns Readalong Chapter 4: Career Packages

  1. RogerBW January 11, 2012 at 9:14 am

    I find the customisation turned quite far down here – some careers don’t have any (e.g. Novice Law Enforcer), Marines get a single “one of the following” pick, and even the careers that give several ranks in skills of the player’s choice tend to give a lot more ranks in compulsory skills.

    The GDW House System as used in Dark Conspiracy tended to give you set skills for the first term in a career, but let you take anything you liked off the career skill list for subsequent terms. GURPS templates tend to be single-pass affairs, but they to tend to emphasise customisation unless they’re for pretty narrow fields.

    (I think I must have the first edition – copyright 2008, blue cover. But it seems pretty close except in details. I don’t have the Missionary, though.)

    • jeffro January 11, 2012 at 10:05 am

      Yeah, James told people not to repurchase the newer edition just to get the changes as there weren’t a huge number of them. The layout was the main improvement– I haven’t heard anything good about that for the first edition.

      Edit: Ah, here’s where I saw that. Check under “more information” on the RPG-geek page.

  2. John E. Boyle October 23, 2016 at 10:51 am

    I like the feel of these Career Packages; players can go with a one note veteran if that is what they want (or if we’re pressed for time in prepping the character) or they can take their time and read each career type to get a handle on what kind of character they want.

    As you point out, this setup does limit the skill bloat, and less rules, more play is a good thing.

    But these hooks are starting to intrigue me more and more.

    • jeffro October 23, 2016 at 11:09 am

      I wonder to what extent the hooks were directly inspired by Ron Edwards.

      • John E. Boyle October 23, 2016 at 1:09 pm

        Not really familiar with his work, except just for having heard the term “Bang” used to indicate a moment of choice for a character.

    • jeffro October 23, 2016 at 1:17 pm

      Ah, yeah. “Get to the bangs” was a term I picked up from his Sorcerer rpg. If I was going to do a big survey of rpg history, pinning down his impact would be high on the list. People tend to not cite him as an influence, so it’s a bit tricky to nail this down. So many things he introduced are taken for granted now, looking back at his stuff I wonder if it would even come off as derivative!

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