T5 Review

(Disclaimer: Jonathan Sherlock was both a beta tester and a kickstart backer.) Traveller 5th Edition (T5) is an ambitious reconstruction of Traveller. The central mechanic, the task system, combines “roll under a characteristic” with the universal task system. The core of T5 also details basic assumptions about range, time, and money. All of these benchmarks are used repeatedly throughout the T5 core rules, making the game system both consistent and flexible.

Character Generation

The Traveller tradition of characters who are generated with some life history continues. But careers have been consolidated into 13 types, although some of them have many sub-types. The emphasis is on fluid, quick play while constructing a character history and defining their abilities. The different careers now have slight variations on how terms are resolved, stimulating the imagination for a character’s history in different ways. Characters can be of any Sophont species, and the Sophont generation rules plug-in directly to character generation. Built into the core character generation rules are the possible variations for non-Human Sophonts. More on this later. Skill acquisition now makes a distinction between Skills and Knowledges. There are a defined list of Skills, but most skills are further divided into Knowledges which can be added to in a flexible manner. For example, Fighting is divided into different kinds of knowledges associated with different weapons – but Referees are free to add new Knowledges as the needs of their campaign dictate. Characters perceive the universe with five standard senses (well, OK – reduced to four by combining smell and taste), but the rules systematically allow for extension beyond Human norms, and additional non-Human senses. Interpersonal interactions also get an entire chapter, such that the game not only simulates combat, but other forms of interaction.

Combat

Combat is highly abstracted, and does not include detail such as ammunition tracking and line of sight. The view is that there are two sides, we have a rough idea of the terrain, the two sides are either closing or withdrawing, and they are shooting / hacking at each other. Resolve damage, and leave it at that. This may present some problems where an exciting situation based on three positions in a triangle, or an enemy running away from some players while chasing others. The Makers mean that every conceivable piece of equipment in the full range of Traveller combat technologies can be easily designed with a few simple choices. With the QREBS innovation, the rules cover all devices from beginning faulty prototypes to advanced tech ultimate versions.

Starship Design

Starship Design returns to the Classic Traveller mold. Take given hull sizes, configure them, and plug-in the required locomotion, weapons, and other utilities. Only two design constraints are used – cost and hull volume. The design system acknowledges the lessons learned from earlier systems, and is vastly easier to use than either MegaTraveller or TNE. This allows for quick imagining of ship missions and then designing them by selecting options. The design system only covers Adventure Class Ships – that is, ships the players are likely to own or commonly contact. Future T5 supplements will include Battle Class ships.

World Building

The core World Building mechanic remains unchanged from Classic Traveller – all Traveller fans will still be able to read UWPs. An interesting addition is “hospitable zone” worlds that are an orbit either side of the traditional HZ, for hot and cold (but hospitable) worlds. System generation still uses similar mechanics that started with Classic Traveller Book 6. What has been added is a detailed chapter on building world maps. The mapping in T5 also “zooms in” on individual world hexes, facilitating detailed mapping. How the world surface interacts with vehicles and travel is now clearly and systematically laid out. Beasts that might live on worlds are now described and rules for taming them are included. They are no longer just annoyances for players or a possible source of food. This reviewer would enjoy a future World Building Supplement in the style of Digest Group’s publication for MegaTraveller for fleshing out further detail.

Adventure Format

The EPIC adventure format is a clear framework for scripting adventures. It follows the standard narrative convention (orientation, complication, resolution) but allows for events to unfold in different orders depending on the action of the players. An interesting aspect of this adventure format will be how it plays out when players want to shove things in their own direction. This latter sandbox style play might need some juggling to fit in an EPIC adventure format: but the question of balancing story progression with player initiative is as old as role play gaming itself. Psionics fit neatly within the skill and attribute systems established in Character Creation. A huge variety of robots and synthetic life forms fit neatly into the universe, and without complex vehicle design construction rules. The focus is kept on imagining classic science fiction elements.

Sophonts

The chapter on generating sophonts excited me the most. Millions of possibilities are consolidated into tables and charts that stimulate the imagination. The Referee is encouraged to select options as much as roll randomly. No alternate careers are presented for non-Human species, and all statistics for any species are now standardised – but the system allows for millions of possibilities. This means future Alien supplements will focus much more on culture, role playing and stories than on presenting charts and statistics. Any Sophont generated by the Referee can be immediately used in Character Creation, and equipment that is specific to that species can be designed in the Makers.

Makers

I loved MegaTraveller. But after coming back to Traveller after many years, I started realising just what a nightmare the vehicle / starship design system really was. I am a bit of a gearhead. But now that I Referee for a mix of 9 and 11 year olds (with another friend who is my age who helps the play along by being a good PC). What keeps them entertained? A moving storyline! I want to be able to grab the props I need quickly, with ready to go stats that suit the story, and be able to make them up quickly to account for unforeseen circumstances. Sure, most equipment the players will come into contact with will be in the standard lists. But now we can customise equipment for different worlds, sophonts and environments. The Benchmarks established early in the book come into their own in the Makers. The QREBS system is mostly a way of adding flavour to the game – how reliable is that equipment? What is its quality? Will it break down at an inopportune moment? But when coupled with TL’s, we can quickly create that early prototype Plasma Gun at a lower tech level, with the resultant higher cost and bulk and lower reliability. The QREBS system combined with the various Makers make it possible to populate the Traveller Universe with all kinds of early prototype through ultimate hi-technology examples of the same item. This makes sense: a TL15 combat rifle would perform better than a TL7 one, even though TL15 troops would probably use energy or gauss weapons. Vehicles are now straightforward designs around an array of missions and technologies. It is possible to quickly create air ships, cars, grav tanks and nautical craft, and all of them fit straight into the travelling and combat rules. The chapter on Money comes into its own with ThingMaker. Now that the Credit has been standardised to 15 minutes of unskilled labour, this means that Cr4 can be considered the minimum wage. In an Australian context, the minimum wage is $15.96 per hour – say $16. This means that Cr1 is approximately $AU4, which gives a starting point for costs for Referee invented items. The minimum wage varies by country and there are limits to how far you can take this, but T5 lays out a system that fits together.

Errata

Unfortunately, T5 went to press with substantial errata. The errors in the print edition I have found include tables with headings one column shifted and the like. There is a growing errata document on Citizens of the Imperium. Fortunately the electronic versions of the rules can be re-issued easily; unfortunately the lovely printed book is harder to fix. Ultimately Marc Miller and Don McKinney had to make a call on getting the books to the printers. Without a deadline, nothing gets done and projects sit around and get stale. So my criticism is one of degree rather than kind – it is my belief the project would have benefited from a longer time for beta testers to read the document. As a community, a set of beta test activities could also have exposed errors or unexpected results in the rules.

Presentation

The presentation is kept simple in the style of the Classic Little Black Books, but is now One Big Black Book. Well loved illustrations taken from JTAS abound, especially the very recognisable work of William H. Keith. As a personal aside, his illustrations always gave Traveller that gritty feeling of a Film Noir like The Third Man or The Long Goodbye. The order of chapters can seem confusing – there is a lot of information to take in all at once. The Introduction chapters go beyond “what is a role playing game?” to deeper questions about what makes travelling an adventure. It also clearly delineates the boundaries of Traveller – which means it will continue to develop its jointly shared canon while making that universe flexible for visitors and anyone who wants to modify or provide an alternative. Conventions, benchmarks and measurements are provided for in their own section. Only some of this information needs to be read in detail by the beginning player. The chapter on dice rolls at first glance seems a waste of pages, but during a game when the Referee is trying to convince the players that they are not just being “unlucky” it will prove a useful reference. The Player’s Book will be a welcome addition to T5 so that Referees can lend / give players a book to get them started without overwhelming them. In the meantime, Referees will need to guide newer players into the game.

Conclusion

Traveller was never a conventional role play game. It always had a feel of a Referee managing a simulation to some extent. The layout of the T5 One Big Black Book is not conventional. T5 takes the strengths from previous systems and forges them into a new game that will cover all Traveller canon periods and allow Referees to generate their own ideas for play. All interaction between characters and the universe around them has been systematically and carefully laid out. Although there are substantial errata that need fixing over time, this core rule book is a solid foundation for the rebirth of Traveller. ojnothered_is_happy Edited May 27. Just one paragraph that might have been confusing.

12 thoughts on “T5 Review”

  1. “the traditional “roll under a characteristic” of Classic Traveller” – I wonder, was it really roll under? In the German translation it was like “8+” from the beginning.

  2. Benjamin – for the most part, tasks were rolled as “8+” and so on and the mechanic of testing a characteristic I can’t find in the Classic Traveller rules officially. But many Classic adventures in called for “testing” a characteristic by rolling 2D and succeeding if you equaled or were lower than the characteristic being tested. E.g. p. 30 Twilight’s Peak – “throw dexterity plus 3 or less to trip entering the room”. I.e. try to roll 2 dice and get less than the character’s dexterity + 3 to avoid tripping, Such entries are scattered around adventures. I did not mean to imply that “roll over” did not exist! Only that the scattered mechanics of “roll under” and “roll over” have been combined into one coherent system.

  3. Biased review I think – you didnt mention that the 650 page book doesnt even have an index – which makes it practically worthless as a reference book.

    It is a massively rushed product. Despite MM having the money and time to get it absolutely spot on he didnt even hire professional proof readers or an editor. That to me speaks volumes.

    The need to include everything into one giant book was an amateur mistake, someone should have told him to split the stuff up into three or four books. I want my basic Traveller to be very simple and easy to pick up and game with. Complexity should come with optional follow on releases.

    MM should have concentrated on getting a perfectly presented, beautifully produced, concise basic rule book out first and won over all the old players, just like Mongoose did with one of their few truly remarkable products, the Traveller Core Rulebook.

    The route MM followed was probably the worst thing he could have done, producing a massive unwieldy book with tons of basic errors and no sensible arrangement. The real shame here is that either nobody had the sense to tell him where he was going wrong, or he didn’t listen.

    I will be waiting for the 2nd Ed to come out, if there ever is one after this mess.

  4. Nats, that was hard words. I haven’t received the book yet, but I don’t believe it will be useless for not having an index.

    T4, T20 and GT have indexes, but I haven’t really used the indexes in any of these. I have read the books and learned where to find the rules was looking for. None of these books are 650 pages, but the T20 book is 440 pages. I don’t think I will have any trouble learning the T5 book. (But I think that it would have been better with an index.)

  5. Nats – we don’t know each other at all, and it annoys me that you use a word like “bias” which makes this discussion personal and acrimonious. I have declared my simple interest in T5, and given an appraisal of what I have read, and expressed my view – obviously you have another view.

    I agree with some of your concrete criticisms, but not your conclusion.

    –Index–
    The book would be improved by an index. As a former technical writer and project manager, actually reading the document and understanding its structure is far more important than an index. This makes the contents more important in a published volume.

    –Size of the volume–
    The primary audience for a core rule book is the Referee who will run the game. The T5 core book still has many things left out (Battle Class Ships, personal combat rules including tactical map based combat, game background, canon alien races, canon sector data e.g. Spinward Marches to name a few).

    I have offered in this review the observation that the Player Manual promised as a future idea on the Kickstarter Page here will improve this situation.

    Marc Miller’s philosophy seemed to be that he wanted a complete game presented in one volume – is this an ‘amateur mistake’? All I can say is that I like what has been produced and I will be using it.

    –Professionalism of the process–
    The product was marvellously backed on Kickstarter, and the money was invested in rewards for players on top of printing. I personally backed this product because on seeing the drafts I loved them. I understood the risks – I was backing someone else’s idea and a measure of trust was needed.

    Did Marc Miller have the money to hire professional proof readers or an editor? I do not know, I have not seen any financial statements about how the quarter of a million dollars was dispersed.

    But the fact that Marc could not get the project really rolling before putting it up on Kickstarter and that he has sold a licence to Mongoose and SJG years ago means me to conclude that he personally did not have the capital to put up for this project. And once he put it up on Kickstarter, time constraints meant that the process was always going to be a rush to the printers to get rewards out to backers.

    Prior to the money being raised on Kickstarter, this was an amateur affair, but in the sense of an affair of people who loved the project. Don McKinney ably managed the process on the CoTI bulletin boards, and in the middle of the process suffered big health problems. We also had to cope with the deaths of key people involved (read the absent friends page carefully). With pride I include myself among the ‘army of dedicated playtesters’ mentioned at the front of the book. The editing and proofing work was done by a volunteer community. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see several ways of organising a better volunteer community.

    –A second edition–
    With the substantial errata still present in the book, I agree that a second edition is probably going to be necessary. Kickstarter is not an arms-length commercial transaction, it is about giving someone a start. On that basis, I am looking at the money I contributed as a worthwhile investment. It also means I will be purchasing a second edition and not looking at it as wasted money.

    The Core Rules of T5 are now out in public and we can now join in a deep reading and understanding of Marc Miller’s ideas. The way he has laid out the foundation for all player character interaction with the universe is fascinating, leaving out detail that isn’t important (e.g. kilowatt consumption of robot brains).

    –Market success?–
    Will this product get market success? It is difficult to say – your judgement seems to be that it will not. You might be right. I am not sure – the blinding success of the Kickstarter is hard evidence that a lot of people believe in Marc Miller and are prepared to put their money where their hearts are.

  6. I was a fan of Classic Traveller, Traveller 2300 and Twilight 2000, but I wholy disagree with the conclusions of this review and see the T5 book as a very expensive piece of kindling.

    No Index is a major point against it or any modern game book, but that’s not even where my biggest gripe comes in.

    It is called a Game System which it is not. The book is a Rule System, but that is all. What it is lacking that sets aside a Rule System from a Game System is at leasts having samples of equipment, vehicles, characters, and even locations that the players can use to start playing almost right away, and this book lacks them.. It’s has less ‘source material’ in it than most truly generic systems I’ve worked with and it’s a very setting specific rule system. It mentions most of the major species in the game, but does not give an example of one. Has a whole chapter on designing non-humans and doesn’t even list give a single paragraph to flesh out how to play any of the already existing characters.

    What I expected and wanted to see in a new Traveller system’s core book was the rules and the source material with later expansions fleshing out history, details and expanding the lists of sample material to work with. What T5 is is a pile of rules and a lot of history with no actual material to work with.

    It’s not a complete Game System, ready to be played… It’s a Rule System looking for it’s game.

  7. I’ve seen the T5 book and it’s frankly a mess. I don’t know what Johnathan reviewed, maybe there’s a secret edition out for people who paid a lot of money for the Kickstarter, but Traveller 5 is by far the worst Traveller edition I have seen (and I think I’ve read them all over the years). No, I will go further, this is probably the worst RPG product I have ever seen.

    With the amount of money Marc raised via Kickstarter, there’s really no excuse whatsoever for this failure.

  8. There is a misconception in this hobby which is perpetuated by folks who don’t seem to actually run games and spend most of their time merely analyzing game books. If you have experience running games before, you should have no problem GMing T5. In play the system is as loose or detailed as you the GM, want it to be. You could easily ignore the combat system and resolve fights like any other cooperative task. Or you could it make it more tactical by using the range-bands with miniatures and develop a zone based skirmish set-up comparable to some modern minis games. Experienced GMs will know what they need and use it, and know what they don’t and change it. This is a core element of this hobby. Indexes are for rules-lawyers.

    As for setting detail or milieux, as always, that is the responsibility of the GM. Just pick up a copy of Mongooses Spinward Marches book or even TSR’s Star Drive for their Alternity system. Or just do what your player’s do and use the systems contained in T5 to create your own sectors and worlds like they make characters (which is kind of the point of these games afterall). If this is too difficult, do something else. Read. Then comeback to it refreshed and inspired and help take your player’s to world’s they have never even thought possible. Isn’t that what we do, as Gamemasters? The books are not the game. It’s just so easy to think otherwise though. (T5 is ace, by the way. It’s a bit like Marc Miller’s DMG if you will. A guiding light in the darkness of mediocrity that is modern RPG design.)

  9. I was a backer of the T5 project. I had very high hopes for the game. My book proudly sits on my shelf with my other Traveller materials… collecting dust.

    I found the system to be overly complex without providing any fun. I still remember the fun with the original CT black books creating a character or making a starship. When I got T5 I was underwhelmed. It’s chock full of information, errors, and huge omissions. Some of the design systems (like creating a weapon) are Striker-esque. The starship section has some interesting info (like three different types of jump bubbles), but missing some of the improvements created in previous versions. I also received the deckplans and MM completely redesigned things like the layout of the Free Trader when none was necessary.

    I was happy to be a backer. I’ve supported pretty much every iteration of Traveller (‘cept for D20). But for what I and others paid for to get T5 out the door I am sure I will never purchase a MM-authored project again without having it in my hands so I can see it before spending money on it. Which is saying a lot considering I’ve purchased nearly all of my Traveller materials sight-unseen (I’d still buy a GURPS or DGP published work sight unseen just based on previous experience!).

  10. Now I got traveler five on the whim. Solely based on the traveler name the physical copy because I fell in love with the character creation process. Once I bought it and as a newcomer to the series it’s utterly unapproachable. I can see it being a good tool kit for the DM. But it’s not made truly for a player like myself to graph my head around it. It’s terribly organized there is a lot of flaws and especially someone that has the physical copy and I cannot get additional updated version with the ends and makes it incredibly unwieldy. I do you have some buyers remorse I should’ve just got the classic traveler or The mongoose version would cause a least that approachable.

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