Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Noble Houses – Small ones, large ones, some as big as your ‘ead

Sometimes you just need a couple of ideas to define an NPC, and sometimes you need a complete character sketch. For “crowd scenes”, there is often little point in minutely detailing a host of NPCs as odds are on that the Player Characters will breeze through the encounter and be on the next ship outbound before you can reveal all the clever quirks you’ve written up. But on the other hand, to avoid all the NPCs becoming cookie-cutter caricatures, they do need some defining points.

Given my current interest in Noble Houses Major and Minor, I was intrigued to discover a post on The Welsh Piper Blog about randomly generating character quirks for Noble Houses in a Fantasy setting. “How hard would it be to convert this to Traveller?” I asked myself. And so here are some thoughts ...

This Character Sketching system is aimed more at Houses Minor than Houses Major as basically, there are many more Houses Minor than Houses Major. Depending upon your take on Traveller Noble Houses, these character sketches should also work for system- ruling Houses Major as well. Be aware, though, that Houses Major come under more intense scrutiny from various Imperial Authorities than what Houses Minor are subject to, so some of these results may require a little massaging.

House Rank
If a hierarchy of Houses Minor within a given area (usually a planet or planetary system) has not been fully mapped out, then the Social Status (and Rank) of the House is generated:

Roll 1d6SOC Status
Rank
-1
11
Honour Knight
1 - 2
11
Enfeoffed Knight
3 - 4
12
Baron
5
13
Marquis
6
14
Count
DM: -1 per result of SOC 12+.

The intention is to create a Social Pyramid by restricting the number of “high-end” Houses Minor on a given planet or in a given system.

Head of the Household
If not already known, dice to see if the local society practises Male Primogeniture (1 – 3 on a d6) or Absolute Primogeniture (4 – 6 on a d6). Other forms of succession are also possible, such as Lateral Succession, Dynastic Rota or Dynastic Election, but Male Primogeniture and Absolute Primogeniture tend to be the succession practises we are most familiar with.

Roll for the sex of the current title holder – Male (1 – 3 on a d6) or Female (4 – 6 on a d6).

The Patriarch (1 – 4 on a D6) or Matriarch (5 – 6 on a D6) is the person who dominates the decision-making for the House. A Matriarch result in a Male Primogeniture society indicates that the Nobleman’s mother, aunt or sister is the dominant personality within the House. A Patriarch in a Male Primogeniture society result where the title holder is female indicates that a grandfather, or an heirless Uncle, is dominating the House’s decision making until he can marry off the title holder.

Dice for the Age Band and personality of both the Title Holder and the House Patriarch or Matriarch.

Roll 1d6
Apparent Age
Personality
1
Young
(1d6: 1 Trusting; 2 Bold; 3 Confident; 4 Arrogant; 5 Rash; 6 Immature)
2 – 4
Middle-aged
(1d6: 1 Assertive; 2 Aggressive; 3 Savvy; 4 Cautious; 5 Swaggering; 6 Calculating)
5 – 6
Old
(1d6: 1 Cunning; 2 Strident; 3 Cautious; 4 Meticulous; 5 Bullying; 6 Detached)

Compare the Age Band results of the House Title Holder with those of the House Patriarch or Matriarch and decide whether the two characters can be rolled into one, or whether it is better to retain the two separate characters.

Prior Service
Roll to see which career the Title Holder pursued prior to attaining the House Title

Roll 2d6
Prior Service
2
Business Executive
3
Army Officer
4 - 5
Naval Officer
6 - 7
Diplomat
8
Bureaucrat
9
Scientist
10 - 12
Noble

Moral Stance
This is the over-arching moral stance adopted by the House in the pursuit of its goals:

Roll 1d6
Moral Stance
1 – 2
Scrupulous: While the House will pursue its goals with the uttermost vigour, it will, at all times, operate within both the letter and the spirit of the Law.
3 – 5
Law abiding: Whilst pursuing its goals vigorously, the House will stick within the letter of the Law – what is not forbidden is possible.
6
Pragmatic: The Ends justify the Means. Laws are for lawyers to worry about.

Influence
A measure of the power, prestige and wealth of the Noble House, and how it is viewed by its peers. In game terms, a House’s Influence determines how difficult it is for that House to archive its goals or ambitions, how likely it is to be courted as a power broker, and how much weight and respect its views and interests are given by other Houses.

Roll 1d6
Influence
1
Nil
2
Scant
3
Minimal
4
Average
5
Significant
6
Considerable

To archive a favourable result when undertaking an action, or when pursuing the House’s goals, the House must roll its Influence or less on 1d6. Skills possessed by the Patriarch/Matriarch and/or the Head of the House that can assist the Influence roll include: Leader, Bribery, Carousing, and Liaison. Each of these skills will reduce the actual roll by one: eg House Smarfii has an Influence of 3. Lord Garron Smarfii has Liaison-2. To archive his current objective, Lord Garron must roll 3 or less (his House’s Influence). He has Liaison Skill so this can either be viewed as temporarily increasing his House’s Influence to 4 (so he has to roll 4 or less to succeed) or reducing the result on the die he rolls by 1, making it easier to roll 3 or less.

Holdings
Holdings can be physical land – in fact Noble Characters can receive estates as benefits – but it is more usual that a Noble House will measure its holdings in such things as wealth generating stock and bond portfolios, real estate, and corporate control.
As a fast and dirty determinate of a Noble House’s Holdings roll 1d6:

Roll 1d6
Size of Holdings
1 – 2
Modest Holdings – generates 1d10 x Cr100,000 per annum
3 – 4
Appreciable Holdings – generates 1d10+10 x Cr100,000 per annum
5
Extensive Holdings – generates 1d10 +20 x Cr100,000 per annum
6
Massive Holdings – generates 1d10 x Cr1,000,000 per annum

These sums are in addition to any other benefits individual members of the Noble House might be granted.

House Size
The House Size is the number of members of the extended Noble Family who can expect to draw upon its resources. Also, it is the core group that the Head of the House, or the Matriarch/Patriarch, would expect to count upon for support – unless of course he or she can’t.

Roll 1d6
Family Size
1 – 2
Small Family (2d6)
3 - 4
Medium Family (2d6+6)
5 - 6
Large Family (2d6+12)

Recent House Activity
These are significant unplanned events in the Noble House’s recent history. Such events can explain a Noble House’s attitude or reaction to events and circumstances, or indicate their probable reaction.

Roll 3d6

Activity
3
Favoured by the Subsector or Sector Duke for (d6: 1 - 2 staunch loyalty; 3 - 4 the ability to generate funds; 5 - 6 political acumen and deal making).
4
Achieved overwhelming military victory.
5
Achieved Pyrrhic military victory.
6
Sponsored a House of lower SOC to rise to House Minor Status or, if the House is of House Major status, sponsored a House Minor to House Major status.
7
Returned from expedition (1d6: 1 - 3 in local system; 4 - 5 in wilderness world in Subsector; 6 beyond Imperial border).
8
Captured (d6: 1 - 2 pirate band; 4 revolutionaries; 5 spies; 6 raiders).
9
Brokered diplomatic agreement on the Subsector or Sector Duke’s behalf (d6: 1 - 3 trade agreement; 4 - 5 mutual defence pact; 6 truce).
10
Discovered valuable commodity (d6: 1 - 2 precious metal; 3 anagathics; 4 - 5 Indistrial material; 6 gemstones or radioactives.
11
Birth in the Family.
12
Death in the Family (d6: 1 - 2 natural causes, 3 - 4 tragic accident; 5 battle; 6 suspicious circumstances.
13
Participated in dual (d6: 1 - 2 won; 3 - 4 lost; 5 - 6 draw).
14
Adventuring family member (s) presumed lost or dead.
15
Losing money as a result of (d6: 1 stolen heirloom; 2 - 3 bad business; 4 corporate raiders; 5 rival House; 6 freak accident).
16
Vassal settlement in jeopardy of (d6: 1 attack by raiders; 2 - 3 plague; 4 - 5 failing food supplies or life support; 6 revolutionaries).
17
Suffered military defeat.
18
Snubbed by Subsector or Sector Duke because (d6: 1 - 2 poor military performance; 3 use of anagathics/cloning or cyborg technology; 4 late paying taxes; 5 - 6 causing trouble at court.

Current House Goal
This is the project that the head of the Noble House is currently focused upon. While there could be many motivations, such as pursuit of wealth, power, favour or prestige, the noble will set out to archive this goal with all possible resources at the disposal of the House. The Moral Stance of the Noble will temper what the Noble will do, though there is no guarantee that a Scrupulous Noble won’t fall victim to the machinations of a more Pragmatic Noble.

Roll2d6
Goal
2
Support the Subsector or Sector Duke’s plan for (1d6: 1 - 2 expansion; 3 warfare; 4 - 5 diplomacy; 6 rooting out dissidents/revolutionaries.
3
Acquire larger holdings (d6: 1 - 2 strategic location; 3 - 5 valuable resource; 6 special feature).
4
Dispose of (d6: 1 - 2 another noble; 3 courtier; 4 military officer; 5 high-level bureaucrat; 6 powerful adventurer or celebrity).
5
Marry into a particular family for (d6: 1 wealth; 2 love; 3 - 4 political advantage; 5 lust; 6 nefarious purposes).
6
Bring about political reform.
7
Bring local pirates or raiders to justice.
8
Boost local defences by (d6: 1 - 3 acquiring System Defence Boats; 4 - 5 upgrading the Tech Level of the defence forces’ equipment; 6 hiring experienced offworld mercenaries).
9
Establish a new colony.
10
Upgrade infrastructure or Tech Level within the House’s estates.
11
Remove stain from family name.
12
Increase the Family’s prestige and influence by (d6: 1 - 2 funding and leading an exploration mission or scientific research project; 3 - 4 amassing wealth; 5 military prowess; 6 political influence).

House Scandal
Most families have secrets, some dirtier than others. Some secrets may be rumoured or known about by many members of the House, while others are known to only a few. In any case, these secrets are kept carefully hidden away from outsiders for fear of financial loss, political fallout or the loss of prestige such knowledge will bring.

Roll2d6
Scandal
2
None – outwardly the behaviour of the House is perfect, perhaps a little too perfect.
3
Party to treasonous activity with (d6: 1 revolutionary cell; 2 - 3 official body; 4 - 5 foreign power; 6 dissident noble faction.
4
Committed and covered up a capital or High Justice Crime.
5
Addicted to (d6: 1 - 2 drugs; 3 - 4 alcohol; 5 - 6 unseemly, illegal, or immoral practises).
6
Manipulates the system to avoid Imperial service.
7
Supports a band of (d6: 1 - 2 pirates, 3 revolutionaries, 4 unregistered mercenaries, 5 psionics, 6 musicians and entertainers).
8
Embezzling tax revenue to (d6: 1 - 2 amass a personal fortune; 3 - 4 divert to fund a revolutionary movement; 5 cover gambling debts; 6 pay an extortionist).
9
Moonlights as (d6: 1 - 2 resource poacher; 3 - 4 corporate raider; 5 gunrunner; 6 smuggler).
10
Secretly a psionic.
11
Family History of mental illness.
12
Under the control of (d6: 1 - 2 a Psionic manipulator; 3 - 4 a glamorous fortune hunter of the opposite sex; 5 - 6 a charismatic faith healer.

Lastly
Houses Minor and Major can feature in a Traveller campaign in a variety of ways. They can be the patrons and employers of bands of adventurers, as well as the targets and foes of such bands. Conflicts between Houses can set up situations that require a “few good sophonts to act in an unofficial capacity”. Such conflicts can also impact upon events in the wider campaign area as scandals are uncovered or military or intelligence units have to be redeployed to foil acts of treason or dishonesty on a system-scale, or markets can be thrown into turmoil by actions, or the rumours of actions, taken by Houses pursuing their own agendas. By looking at the motives of the Houses, such events become less the result of random rolls on a table and more like the shifting and flexing of a power structure responding to its natural rhythms.