SH0: The Surplus Heroes/Character creation

Welcome to Surplus Heroes, at least as I experience it. I’m a player not the GM so I don’t see what’s going on behind the screen!

This page presents the background of the surplus heroes. Or at least as much as they admit to. Or just what I made up.

widowHonorably retired: Widow (Michiko “Mitch” Malandro)

Age: 32 terran
Sex: female
Body type: mesomorph (height and weight at 1.0G: 1.72m, 75kg)
Skin tone: tan
Hair: black (often coloured)
Eyes: black, Asiatic shape
Facial features: regular (oval)

Distinguishing marks: a number of heavy scars, mainly bullet or shrapnel related; many smaller scars


  • Marine service bars on back of neck
  • Marine unit insignia (sea-serpent intertwining 121) on left shoulder
  • Marine campaign annotations on right shoulder
  • Stylised ‘MM’ on abdomen
  • Ring finger tattooed in ring-fashion with two dates

(Many other tattoos have been removed and will show under fluoroscopic light)

Family name: Malandro

Given name: Michiko

Street names: “MM” “M2” “Shenduveesh”

Other nicknames: Mitch

Novo Janeiro’s inhabitants largely descend from 2nd Imperium colonists from Brazil and Greater Japan. Michiko grows up in a shanty town fringing the arid-land major city. Her desert survival abilities date from this earliest period. She joins a street gang, proving capable of at least surviving. She moves through a succession of relationships and street names. During a showpiece clean-the-streets campaign she is given a “join up or rot in prison” choice. She signs for a hitch off-world with the Colonial Marines.

After basic, where she becomes semi-literate and proves competent though not outstanding in the course requirements, she is assigned to the 121 Corps bound for Argus TF Station, Psyadi IV. Psyadi IV is predominantly ocean and the 121 emblem is a sea-serpent rampant. Their nickname at this time is “screaming snakes.” Here private Malandro earns specialist grade, becomes fully literate and learns aquatic survival and signals.


She signs for a second hitch. This is an active period and Malandro is promoted right through the non-commissioned ranks as the unit thins. It is during this second hitch (aged around 22-25) her string of bad luck with male partners enters the record. Her first husband dies in an underwater manoeuvre. The screaming snakes stand off an assault by swarming bugs and her second husband dies before he can be evacuated.

The 121 is refreshed with reinforcements and Malandro takes recuperative leave, during which period she decides to push for a commission. She marries again on her return to the unit. Corsairs based out of the usually lawless Jesedipere system are the main targets of the Navy and the 121 sees action. This is the beginning of her third hitch. She studies for promotion and heads small formations. Her squad is near-annihilated in a heavy firefight with rebels or corsairs, leaving her a widow once more.

She succeeds in gaining rank as Warrant Officer and marries a fourth time, this time to a fellow-officer. A tragic accident exiting airlocks under fire leaves her a widow again. She completes her third hitch with an honourable discharge and brevet rank of Lieutenant and the handle ‘Widow’. Civilian life has its ups and downs and Widow finds her signals skills pay best aboard an independent trader as a sensors and communications technician.

After two years with the other surplus heroes in the Bad’n’Ruin joint venture, where her role expands into de facto ground-force commander, Michiko marries a fifth time and ships out of system.

Honorably retired: IcemanGiant

Age: 36 terran subjective, 51 objective
Sex: male
Body type: endomorph (height and weight at 1.0G: 1.73m, 100kg)
Skin tone: pale with blue sub-tones
Hair: unpigmented; normally shaven
Eyes: blue/unpigmented
Facial features: irregular (broken nose), square

Distinguishing marks: see skin tone


  • Marine service bars on back of neck
  • Marine unit insignia (Snake intertwining 121) on left shoulder
  • Marine campaign annotations on right shoulder

Other nicknames: Giant

Giant, as he was back then, was recruited from solid anglic stock on the old First Imperium core planet Maash’sha. He was large for a Colonial Marine of the time and place. His liking for shooting things was identified by Marine profilers as a feature rather than a bug, and he was placed on an enhanced weaponry training path.


All went well for the young Giant, shooting increasingly vast distances at foes he only saw as IR dots. His second tour arrived, he signed up again, having no plan for the future beyond Gunnery Sergeant’s stripes. At the end of his hitch he was offered an even better posting, using ground weapons as well as ship-board, in the Aramis subsector.

His third tour saw Giant proficient, though not sniper grade, with standard Marine carbine and assault rifle. However, action in the Jesipedere system led to Giant’s unit ship being shot down. His emergency pod kept him alive… for 15 years. But the over-long cold sleep removed almost all of his pigmentation – skin and hair and even eyes to some extent.

A Marine unit rotated in for new peacekeeping duties against Jesipedere Corsairs found his pod by chance, and revived him. It was here he met Mitch, a young sergeant and medic with the 121st “Screaming Snakes.” Having checked his records, the 121st assigned him to complete a fourth hitch with the unit. He stayed willingly: any friends he had were dead or retired many sectors distant. He demobbed at the same time as Mitch, by then known as Widow, and like her, found his skills worked best aboard an independent trader.

After two years with the other surplus heroes in the Bad’n’Ruin joint venture, during which he sharpens his sniping skills, Iceman ships out of system to pursue ever-larger guns.

Honorably retired: James “Big Jim” KowalskiBigJim

Age: 36 terran
Sex: male
Body type: endomorph (height and weight at 1.0G: 1.76m, 95kg)
Skin tone: tan
Hair: black
Eyes: grey
Facial features: even, rhomboid

Distinguishing marks: engine-oil-tattooed burn along right tricep; exhaust burn-tattooed on left ankle, synthetic (cybernetic) left arm, heavy scarring across back

Tattoos: Scout insignia on right shoulder

Other nicknames: Grease, Fry, Mac

Fry, as he was back then, grew up on a starport fringe. Both parents worked tech-maintenance jobs. Fry had a streak of adventure and ran away to join the Scout service, though even by then he had picked up the rudiments of mechanical repair.

To his dismay then, he found the Scouts had more need for keeping craft in the air than for pilots with derring-do. By the end of his second hitch Jim was known as Grease or Mac, depending on how much the Scout concerned wanted to stay in the air; and had a smattering of a number of skills but chiefly in starship engineering. BJ_EngineerHe worked hard on fitness and bulked up so that he could be selected for some more glamorous post. The nickname Big Jim began sticking to him at this time. It was also at this time he first made the acquaintance of an attractive though nervous young Scout pilot nicknamed Pip.

A third hitch offered Mac, or Big Jim, a chance for real action, in the Jesipedere system where corsairs had made inroads on the trade lanes. Big Jim’s unit was decimated by corsairs and he himself lost an arm. During rehab, he acquired respect for Pip’s ability to negotiate sweet deals.

Recuperation and therapy saw Big Jim’s waistline expanding slightly but placed him back in the mainstream where he was happy to wrestle life out of engines. He demobbed after that fourth hitch, and quickly got back in touch with Pip through a cousin of hers.

After two years with the other surplus heroes in the Bad’n’Ruin joint venture, during which he polishes and broadens his ship-tending skills and becomes quite the deadly melee fighter, BJ ships out of system.

Honorably retired: Piper “Pip” E. RogersPip

Age: 36 terran
Sex: female
Body type: ectomorph (height and weight at 1.0G: 1.66m, 55kg)
Skin tone: olive
Hair: dark brown
Eyes: brown
Facial features: even, diamond

Distinguishing marks: heavy scarring across left rear shoulder and back

Tattoos: Scout insignia on right shoulder

Likes: Pip likes cats, chocolate (in almost any form) and fast vehicles. Also pilots that are male, clean, normal, and not nerdy.

Pip hails from a well-known star-faring clan, although that does not necessarily
mean an easy ticket for every member. A fair part of the family history, for good or
bad, is in the public domain. The exploits of Pip’s explorer great-great-grandfather
(T.B. Rogers) are legendary.

She joined the Scouts and went for the star-ship pilot and engineering certificates at the same time, with the corpsman medic training as a backup. Pip_Scout_IIPip managed to get her pilot ticket but her parents and grandfather have high standards and were a bit disappointed that she only fully qualified in one discipline. (Her brother B. Charles Rogers or ‘BC’ – one sibling that Pip is likely to have mentioned – got two tickets so he “turned out OK.”)

Bumping into family, relatives or other figures that know of the family (for better or worse) is likely to occur any given port. The clan seems to be everywhere and this leads to all sorts of rumours.

After two years in the Bad’n’Ruin joint venture with her cousin Bex and the other surplus heroes Pip cashes in and ships out of system to keep a low profile for as long as her family lets her.

For this piece I’m using draft tables our GM has kindly given me access to.

Character Creation

Character creation occupies only about one and a half hours, which is not bad for four players creating characters for a system that is cousin to another system they don’t really remember! I do make mistakes creating my character, and have to re-do my character after the session: whether that reflects the rules’ brevity or my own lack of attention is open to question.

Random Only

We all begin with clear pictures of what we want, which is too bad, because our GM insists that it’s the random rolls that decide, not our own preferences. We have a gentleman’s agreement to swap if we roll up a character that looks like someone else’s character preference. But in practice each player moves from attributes to choosing a service without pause, by which time it’s too late. So DB ends up with a relatively small ‘Giant’ and DL ends up with someone he hadn’t planned for at all. AL flips to a female character, which is fun but unexpected. I get pretty much what I wanted, though my female is a bit more solid and a bit less communicative than I hoped.

I’d prefer a point-buy system, frankly. There’s a school of thought that says it doesn’t matter what you roll up, you just play it: but the opposite school of thought – that if players have a strong picture of their character beforehand, and can craft the build to meet that picture, then the game is all the better – has proven true over numerous campaigns.

To provide a picture of how the system works I’m going to describe my own character’s creation in fair detail. Again this is because I have only my own limited perspective.

GM Instruction: ‘I’d like to see a core ship’s crew.  There should be a Helmsman, an Engineer, someone on Sensors and maybe a Gunner.’

(The GM does not mention that a Merchant will be just as handy as a Gunner until after we all finish.)

I want a female crew-member – my last character was a male Paladin – and preferably with tech skills. I’d also like medic skills because the GM has mentioned, very early on, that medical skills will mean the difference between life and death for PCs. So now to see how my rolls help!


Rolling for Frame, Athletics, Fortitude, Alertness and Psi with 18-4d3, I score: 10, 11, 10, 12 and 9. As Psi seems to be near-useless from the first read, and I know Alertness is used many times and many ways, this could have gone better but is pretty good.

I think for future editions Psi ought to be checked for ‘talent’ right away with no penalty. At present there’s a ‘try if you dare’ rule that seems anti-fun. If you do test for Psi talent and fail you don’t get an official career path. Weird.


Caseless is reminiscent of classic Traveller: select a career (mostly military) and you get skill levels and some progression and specialty paths. This is what the choices look like: Main table, then specialty table.

Attribute Imperial Navy Colonial Marine Scout Service Merchants Other Psychic
Space Tech 11 13 11 11 14 14
Engineering 11 12 11 12 14 14
Tech 12 11 12 12 10 12
Vehicle 14 11 13 12 11 12
Interaction 12 12 13 12 10 10
Science 12 12 12 13 13 12
Survival 13 11 11 13 14 14
Attribute Imperial Navy Colonial Marine Scout Service Merchants Other Psychic
Combat ranks in Melee or Firearms Melee or Firearms: one at 2 the other at 3. A 2, 2 and a 3
to spread between
Melee, Firearms and
Support weapons
Melee or Firearms: one at 2 the other at 3. Gunnery 2 Melee or Firearms: one at 2 the other at 3. Melee or
Firearms: one
at 2 the other
at 3.
Melee and Firearms start at 2 each.
Specialization Starship Helmsman, Smallcraft, Engineering, Medical, gunnery Corpsman, Gunnery,
Smallcraft, Combat,
Starship Helmsman,  Engineering, gunnery Starship Helmsman, Smallcraft, Engineering, Merchant, gunnery Forgery, Security Systems, Gambling, Persuasive, Computer Telekinesis, Telepathy, Clairvoyance, Mental battle.

You can see that picking a Service decides what skill groups you get and what specialties you get to choose from. For example if I want to be a medic only, and with fair Space Tech, Navy is a good option. I want tech-medic and Colonial Marines offers both Corpsman (medic) and Technical so that’s what I pick. As a result, my specialty is:

Technical: gain two boxes Sensors and Comms, 1 Tech improvement, and two additional skill rolls. My Tech advances from 11 to 10. The specialty Sensors and Comms maxes at 2 ranks (boxes that can be ticked off).

I also assign my high combat score of 3 to Marksman leaving 2 apiece for Close and Support.

With a score of 13 I’m not going to want to roll on Space Tech: in the Marines they get you there, they don’t tell you how they did it! My Interaction and Science are also below par.

Development rolls

Next up is finding out how many hitches I have served. The more hitches the more rolls to get better at things, and the more likely it is that physical attributes in particular deteriorate.

Randomising with 2d3-1 I get the ideal: 3 hitches. This also decides my age, with four years per hitch making 12 to add to the base of 18 for a total of 30.

Two skill rolls per hitch. I already have 2 bonus skill rolls from my specialty, and so that gives me eight rolls on the Colonial Marine column of the following table.

Attribute Imperial Navy Colonial Marine Scout Service Merchants Other Psychic
Personal Development 1-2Combat Marksman;
3-4Close combat; 5-6Space tech; 7Beam weapon; 8Gambling; 9Admin; 10Athletics
1-2Gun Combat; 3-4Close Combat; 5-6Gun Combat; 7Fortitude;
8Frame; 9Athletics;
1-2Combat Marksman; 3-4Close combat; 5Gambling; 6Sensors; 7Persuasion; 8Space Tech; 9Alertness; 10Frame 1-2Combat Marksman; 3-4Close combat; 5-6Gambling; 7Crim Con; 8Merchant; 9Interaction; 10Alert 1-2Combat Marksman;
3-4Close combat; 5-6Crim Con; 7-8Gambling; 9 Interaction; 10Tech
1-2Combat Marksman; 3-4Close combat; 5Psionics; 6Alertness; 7Athletics; 8Crim Con; 9Computers; 10Persuasion
Service Skill 1-2Engineer’s Mate;
3-4Co Pilot; 5-6Gunnery; 7-8Sensors; 9EVA;
10Space tech
1-2Gunnery; 3-4Support weapon; 5-6Sniper; 7Expertise; 8Vehicle; 9Beam weapon; 10Monofilament 1-2Engineering; 3-4Space Tech; 5-6Technology; 7Beam; 8Sensor; 9Corpsman; 10EVA 1-2Gunnery; 3-4Merchant; 4Persuasion; 5Interaction; 6Admin; 7Crim Con; 8Corpsman; 9EVA;
1-2Intrusion; 3-4Forgery; 5-6Computers; 7Close in;
1-2Telepathy; 3-4Telekinesis; 5-6Clairvoyance; 7-8Psychic Block;
9-10Psychic attack
Advance Skills 1-2Co Pilot; 3-4Leadership; 5-6Engineering; 7-8Corpsman; 9Science; 10Space tech 1-2Corpsman; 3-4Leader; 5Personal weapon armourer; 6Smallcraft; 7Aquatic; 8Desert; 9Survival 1-2Co-pilot; 3-4Eng.Mate; 5-6Gunnery; 7Science; 8Small Craft; 9Beam weapon; 10Corpsman 1-2Co-pilot;
3-4Eng. mate; 5-6Interaction; 7Gunnery; 8Crim Con; 9Merchant; 10Needler
1-2Interact; 3-4Tech; 5-6Any;
7Grav belt; 8Airraft; 9Vehicle; 10ATV
4Grav belt; 5EVA;
6Airraft; 7Corpsman; 8Interaction;

The tough choice is deciding how many to roll on the ‘advance skill’ side and how many on the ‘attribute’ side of the table. (Since I don’t see tech or medic on the service skills band, I don’t try that area.) I decide on five rolls for advance skill, three for attribute. Here’s what I end up with:

Skills: Two boxes of aquatic survival, one box of desert survival, one box of personal weapon armourer, one box of leadership. These are helpful in filling out a bit of background. Have I served on a water-world? Perhaps I hail from a water-world and served in a desert, or vice-versa. A high proportion of US Marines hail from landlocked states, so yeah, could be.

Development: One gain each in Athletics, Gun combat, Fortitude. Athletics improves to 10, Fortitude to 9. Combat marksman improves from 3 full ranks (worth 6) to 3+1 box, or +7 on each roll. None of these are absolutely character-defining but certainly good from a surviving-the-action point of view! I’m beginning to feel more like Vasquez from Aliens than Lambert from Alien. Which is not what I was looking for.Vasquez

(Mis)Fortune and Promotion

My three hitches result in a number of ‘survival’ rolls: I am lucky and survive all these ageing and mishap checks. (I can hear that my four-hitch buddies are not as lucky: groans all round the table. Four hitches makes ageing effects far more likely.) I am equally lucky on my promotion check: I gain a rank, choosing lieutenant which adds 1 leadership box. This maxes my leadership out. If I gain more, I take an advance in Interaction. I note that at some stage I have to test the waters for ordering around my buddies. Giant, our gunner, decides not to push leadership because I’ve got it. Pity really, it would be fun to have a number of leaders.


It’s time to choose a quirk, which gives a bonus and a flaw. There aren’t a whole lot to choose from but as there are only four players that’s not an issue at this end of the game. After reading the list a couple of times I select ‘Reservist’ which adds 2 ranks each to admin (now max) and close combat (two out of three needed to get to total of 3 full ranks) and has the kind-of-flaw of making me very visible to officials in-port. It may prove to be a terrible choice but the other one I thought seriously about was Out of Time which our gunner Giant is already leaning towards. Time_Cop

Giant: specialty Gunner; Has also taken Combat Marksman up to 4 and has +3 bonus so adds 13 to all 3d10 marksman checks, with 4 aim to reduce dice. His quirk is Out of Time, so he is 57 years older than he looks, and no family, but has a number of extra skills. Giant is played by DB.

Big Jim the Engineer is going Black Dog with a cybernetic arm (with a hidden blade, which is one better than Black Dog in fact.)Black_DogBig Jim: specialty Engineer. Other than that he is fairly large, I don’t know much about Jim. Jim is played by DL.

Our Helmswoman Pip is going for Need for Speed, which sounds fun.


Pip: specialty Helmswoman. Pip appears to be the only crewmember with a reasonable Interaction score. She also has ranks in Corpsman, which is handy. Pip can also gamble efficiently – a skill that goes right along with good Interaction. Pip is played by AL.

Mustering Out

Mustering out entitles me to 5K creds, a sidearm, and some random rolls. I get three rolls for Mustering Out, and a bonus roll from my Promotion. My results are:

1: An additional attribute improvement. Easy choice: I improve Alertness which shifts me from 12 to 11. 11 is average for a straight 2d10 check, and as the check must be equal or higher, I’m going to make a ‘normal’ alertness check more times than I fail it.

6: Equipment. This entitles me to personal work tools.

4: Wearable. This entitles me to personal armour.

5: Two additional skill ranks. I have not marked these in yet. I still don’t have my medic on so it’s likely that, if I’m permitted, these can be for maxing up Corpsman.

The last two skills

Finally two further skill ranks are assigned additional to any of the above. The GM recommends looking for fun stuff but I’d like something that reflects my age, background and rather poor Alertness and Interaction. Then it emerges that Merchant ranks are also useful. Once I know what skills are useful and fun (such as how you go about persuading officials or getting jobs off contacts) this might become obvious. I pencil in Small Craft.

My character as she reads

She’s a female ex-lieutenant. She is more technical-savvy than aware of her surroundings. She directs or manages people rather than bringing them with her. Bad experiences may have made her reserved. While she can manage the paperwork and signals sides of getting on in the Imperium she will not be able to seal deals without some serious upgrades in Interaction and Merchant. She is tough and capable, without being superhuman in any way. Her main functional skill is Sensors, and she can manage a number of other technical skills including loadouts for personal weaponry.

I’m giving her the handle Widow, which relates to the mini I have in mind, but also fits the ‘bad experiences’ suggested by her lower than average Interaction score.

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