I 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:
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.
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.