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Traveller 5 First Impressions

TravellerI have a lot of great things to say about Traveller in general. It was the second role-playing game I ever played (the first being DnD). It was a trail-blazing game in many ways. It boasted an innovative character creation system, which providing players with a randomly generated character history of sorts.

The game mechanics were fairly simple (for games from that era), and the eventual setting was rich in history and adventure possibilities. In fact, from the very beginning, Traveller contained everything necessary to build your own setting.

It had its drawback for me too. It constantly tested my math skills, causing me to regret sleeping through the section on vectors in math class. It had a less than elegant way of dealing with how various weapons and various armor types interacted — it was a table, and a fairly big one that wasn’t easy to memorize.

Enter Traveller 5. Unlike the three relatively thin digest-sized books that came with the original set, Traveller 5 is one honkin’ big core book. It is, if you need a frame of reference, approximately the thickness of Hero 6th Edition Book 1 and Savage World Deluxe Explorer’s Edition stacked atop each other.

But that’s okay. I don’t mind big core books, so I will make the effort to learn the game. That said, I have only read a small portion of the book thus far, so take this “review” with a grain of salt. I do have some observations already:

Organizationally Challenged

Whenever I start learning a new system, I start with character creation. Once I know what numbers go into a character, and what the ranges of numbers might be, I have a frame of reference as I read the combat mechanics, task resolution system, etc.

In the opening character generation chapter, however, I begin getting a fairly detailed explanation of the task resolution system BEFORE I know how to determine my stats. I don’t know if this will continue, but if it does, it makes looking up game mechanics difficult. “Where’s that rule again?”

No Beginners’ Rules or Optional Rules Designations

On my way to the character generation system, I passed what would probably be the most mind numbing complication I think I’ve ever seen in an RPG rule book: “The Personal Day.” That is, what your character’s individual biological day is like (with regards to your home planet’s day/night cycle, your sleep cycle, when you become fatigued, etc). This belongs in an optional rules section — not at the beginning of the book (again, organizationally challenged). I don’t know how integral the personal day mechanics are to the rest of the rules set, but my first inclination is to ignore it completely.

Personally, I think some modularity in the T5 rules was in order here. Perhaps a scaled back version of the game in the first 30 or 40 pages — a basic or beginner’s version — that can be expanded upon in later chapters. I am of the belief that all core books should make an effort to be beginner-friendly. You never know who is going to pick up your book in the game store, and if someone who’s never played an RPG picks up T5 and pages through the first 30 or so pages, they’re going to be met with dice probability charts and complicated rules. Not only will they likely put T5 back on the shelf, but they may just walk out of the store.

No Index?

I can forgive no index in a small book. In a 600+ page book like this, it is unacceptable. With the organizational issues I’ve seen so far, I can see players in fits of frustration as they try to remember in which slightly related section they’ll find a necessary rule.

It’s almost like the book was written as a reference for people who are already familiar with the system and need only look up the occasional rule when their memory fails them. I wonder of Mr. Miller and his play testers might have been so insulated while they were engaged in playtest that they got locked in some sort of groupthink, causing them to lose sight of the fact that some of us would actually have to LEARN this game by reading this book.

But I Will Keep Reading

Marc Miller’s original Traveller provided me with countless hours of fun and entertainment in my youth. Traveller inspired me to voraciously consume as much science fiction literature as I could at the time. It even inspired me to take writing seriously, as I wrote up countless scenarios. It moved me out of the graph paper, dungeons and treasure lists into a game of adventure, intrigue and mystery.

That’s why I’ll keep reading T5. That’s why I’ll one day run a game of T5. Traveller was an instrumental influence on my creativity in my formative years. The organization may leave something to be desired, but I still see things in the book as I page through it that give me hope — armor and weapon designing systems, a hefty careers section for character generation, detailed world creation rules.

I’ll keep readers updated as I make my way through the biggest RPG book I own. I’ll give you the good, the bad and the ugly. It may not always be pretty, but it will be honest.

To be continued.

 

 

 

 

Written by

Stu Venable is the producer of Happy Jacks RPG Podcast and writer and editor of DoucheyDM.com. He is founder and director of the Poxy Boggards and a member of Celtic Squall. He holds a degree in Journalism and Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach. He is a husband and a father. He hates puppies.

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7 Responses to "Traveller 5 First Impressions"

  1. Andreas DavourNo Gravatar says:

    Interesting. Sounds like I did the right thing to stay away from that Kickstarter. I’ve read some of the stuff Marc had distributed before when he worked on the system and it made me run away screaming. MGP Traveller made me quite happy, though. I’ll await further parts in this review series. Thanks Stu!

  2. BeRKANo Gravatar says:

    I am still waiting for my book. You have some good points in your review. I hope these will be fixed in the errata. When I get my book I will post my own review.

  3. Nigel StuttNo Gravatar says:

    Good review, stopped me from potentially buying a dead duck by the sound of it. Shame though, I love Classic Traveller and if he had just redone that in the same old format ….

  4. jamesoswaldNo Gravatar says:

    The original books had very poor organization and user friendliness as well. I am fully planning on creating a simplified ruleset for my players when we do finally get around to playing. I love the setting and do not regret buying the book, but I’m a pretty hardcore rules junkie. This is NOT a system for the casual gamer.

  5. TelNo Gravatar says:

    Really enjoyed your review to date. I backed T5 Kickstarter and I can honestly say I am happy to have supported Mark Miller in his endeavors with this project. I think the project was very ambitious for Mark, where it seems he wanted to personally control every aspect of its production. The pressure of deadlines through the commitment to Kickstarter leads to mistakes, such as the oversight of including an index. As for upfront rules for beginners, I expect your assumption that the insular playtesting and production either missed this aspect, or Mark has a beginners set in mind that will be jettisoned ASAP. I think we all need to keep in mind Mark does not have the resources of say Wizards of the Coast!

  6. WPCNo Gravatar says:

    Just got my book and found your review. I guess I’m not the only one unhappily surprised. I must say I happily supported Marc through Kickstarter just out of nostalgia: locked the little black books but haven’t played in decades and probably never will. I was really surprised on the layout (‘organizationally challenged’ as you say). What I liked best about Classic Traveller was that I wasn’t over burdened with rules. It was very easy to crack the books, roll characters, grasp the basic combat system, and dive in. T5 is not that at all, and disappointing so. Like you said, I can’t see a novice picking this up off the store shelf and flipping through and saying ‘Awesome! I want to learn to play this!’ I’m a smart experience RPGer and all the tables and shorthand notations quickly turned me off. I just spent an hour browsing, and I have no idea how to generate a character. I don’t think I would recommend this to any novice, and maybe not to an experienced gamer looking for a sci fi game. Marc seemed to go overboard on having a table and system for EVERYTHING. I don’t know about you, but I like my games fast paced and fun. Detailed tables and rules and equations does not a fast game make. Oh well, maybe someday my signed T5 Core Book will be worth something. Now, where are my LBBs…..?

  7. Pierre SavoieNo Gravatar says:

    I placed an order just after and just outside the main Kickstarter system, and got my book 114 days later! But, taking advantage of vacation time, I’ve read every single word of every chapter and table in T5, no skimming.

    You made a very perceptive statement when you said, “It’s almost like the book was written as a reference for people who are already familiar with the system and need only look up the occasional rule when their memory fails them. I wonder of Mr. Miller and his play testers might have been so insulated while they were engaged in playtest that they got locked in some sort of groupthink, causing them to lose sight of the fact that some of us would actually have to LEARN this game by reading this book.”

    In their circles, they haven’t really had a beginner in decades. They should go meet one. I had read classic Traveller in The Traveller Book edition before (and, by the way, if dealing with Traveller products people really ought to take a speed-reading course because speed-reading really works) but no significant play experience. So I was not completely out of my depth understanding the T5 concepts. They even attempted to explain role-playing games in the first chapter of T5, but expert players really don’t do a good job of explaining, and a lot of “theatrical” terms and analogies seem to creep into the discussion. Role-playing was such a serious departure from classic games it may defy easy description.

    Then, the rules are plagued with errata in such fundamental things as character and star-system design. When an errata was recently presented for star-system generation, it was applied only in the character generation for the character’s birth-world, NOT in the general chapter on system generation later OR the chapter on sophonts and THEIR homeworld! Later, I found out their interpretation of what needed to be corrected was wrong in the first place. So the score is: error still present in 2 spots, error incorrectly corrected in the third spot! That’s the level of editing after the fact that seems to be going on.

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