Category Archives: Traveller

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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.

The Regretful Historian

Patron: Academic
Required Skills Those need to operation a starship
Required Equipment: None
Locations: Mullingar, Enniskillen

Players’ Information:
The characters are between jobs on Mullingar when they are contacted by Professor Dugan O’Fallon of the Mullingar Institute of Historical Research (MIHR).  MIHR is an academic organization that uses a substantial endowment from the local government and numerous corporate contributors to fund historical research and archaeological expeditions.  Professor O’Fallon is a well-respected member of MIHR, having written many popular books on the early history of the Eire subsector.

The meeting takes place in the Professor’s office at MIHR in the late evening hours. The professor has seen many a day under alien suns, as his cracked and leathery complexion attests.  He is not well, occasionally getting short of breath as he speaks, and taking breaths of supplemental oxygen from a respirator mask.

“Two months ago,” he says, “I hired an archaeological team for an expedition on Enniskillen.  It wasn’t sanctioned by the Institute – I paid for this one out of my own deep pockets.  You see, I have a personal passion for the history of this subsector, and the team I hired shared my particular passion for this subject, so they were all very eager to go.  Unfortunately, the political situation on Enniskillen has deteriorated to the point where there are a number of armed resistance groups opposing the local government with acts of terrorism and violent confrontation. As the expedition is now two weeks overdue, they may either be victims or unable to leave the spaceport.

“The mission is three-fold.  First, I want you to travel to Enniskillen to determine what has happened to the expedition.  The independent Far Trader Longshot will be lifting tomorrow morning and I have low berths reserved for each of you, along with two tons of cargo space for any possessions and an ATV, which you’ll need for the second part of the mission.

“Second, I want you to rescue or recover the team and its equipment, including any and all data and artifacts it has collected.  There is a packet aboard the ATV that will have the details you’ll need to determine approximately where the team was going and their most likely route.

“Lastly, there is a Far Trader starship – Lady Starshine – that the team leased from an outfit here on Mullingar.  The vessel needs to be returned here within the next month or the deposit will be forfeited and an additional financial penalty will be assessed against me as well.  That last part is important because I used Institute funds to pay that deposit.  If the deposit is forfeited, the scandal will end my tenure with the institute and my career as a historian.

“Your payment will be fifty thousand credits, reimbursement of your legitimate expenses, and a bonus of up to ten thousand credits, depending on your timeliness and your ability to keep things quiet enough to protect what is left of my reputation.  Time is of the essence, so I’ll spare you the formality of haggling for a better price.  What I am offering you is literally all the material wealth that I can spare.  I’m hoping you’ll say yes.”

Referee’s Information:
Enniskillen is currently experiencing a period of local unrest due to the actions of its government.  Specifically, the government has engaged in a series of unpopular policies that have the appearance of benefitting members of the upper economic classes at the expense of the working classes.  The government’s bureaucracy has become more insular of late and has been accused of using unfair and illegal practices to exclude all but the most favored members of the upper classes from being candidates for government employment and obtaining contracts from government agencies.  This has spawned a series of popular protests as well as several extremist terrorist organizations which have made conditions in the main starport’s city, Dunbailey, somewhat precarious for travelers and business professionals.

Enniskillen is a poor, desert world with much of its surface a trackless wasteland of sand and stone.  Archeological evidence suggests that during a wetter time in the planet’s ancient past there may have been a sentient species.  The current site drawing attention is a collection of what appear to be burial mounds discovered nearly five hundred kilometers southwest of Dunbailey.  Due to the current political unrest, the government has prohibited all aerospace traffic (save spacecraft) from its skies until the current crisis has ended.

Outcomes:
1. The team is stranded.  Professor O’Fallon’s team is stranded near the archaeological site in the desert after a particularly vicious sandstorm has disabled their vehicles and communications equipment.  The characters will have to venture overland to find them and return them to the starport, facing various terrain and animal hazards along the way there and back.

2. The team is being held hostage by terrorists.  The Professor’s team has been mistaken for corporate prospectors by the locals, and a terrorist faction of the Liberation Coalition is holding the team hostage in exchange for the release of several prisoners held by the government.  Luckily for the characters, the terrorists are a fledgling organization without much experience in these activities, giving the characters a shot at rescuing the team members.  The referee will have to generate the terrorist faction members as well as map out the location where the team is being held.

3. The team is being held by the government.  The Professor’s team has been swept up in the local movement and has been arrested by federal law enforcement for aiding terrorist acts.  The characters will have to negotiate with the federal authorities to secure their release or mount a much more difficult rescue mission from a protected facility.  The referee will have to generate the federal guards and officials, plus map out the facility where the team is being held.

4. The team is hospitalized.  The Professor’s team got caught in the crossfire during a particularly violent confrontation between the Liberation Coalition and the government.  In the chaos following the confrontation, the team was taken to separate hospitals with severe injuries and their records were lost in the haste to treat so many victims.  The characters will have to investigate the situation in order to locate the team members and transport them back to Mullingar.

5. A rival has stepped in.  One of the Professor’s longtime rivals got wind of the expedition and hired a mercenary team to kill the team members in the remote desert.  The rival has also taken steps to disable the Lady Starwind so that it cannot be easily returned to Mullingar.  The characters will have to locate the team, salvage their notes and data, repair the starship and prevent the rival from delaying them further in order to meet their deadline.

6. The expedition was a ruse.  One of the terrorist factions in Liberation Coalition sent their agents to MIHR to solicit funds for the expedition from the Professor and intends to purchase arms and explosives from their sources in the black market.  The characters can work with the local authorities to recover most of the money, or thwart the terrorists’ actions personally.

The Zhodani Base St. Patrick’s Day Contest – 2013

A quick competition. A $10 prize at DriveThruRPG for the winner. Design something (e.g. a character, a ship, a patron, a system) for the St. Patrick’s Map. The most interesting entry will win.

Send Your entries by e-mail. Please use plain text format and attach any images. Word files will not be accepted!

The competition starts now and ends 16 March 2013.
By entering the contest You allow your entry to be posted at the Zhodani Base. All entries might also be posted in PDF format as a free down-loadable file at the Zhodani Base.

Last years winner was with this write-up of Derry.

Image from wikimedia.  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
Image from wikimedia. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Cirque, a Kickstarter Project for Traveller5

Cirque, a 160 page campaign source book for Traveller5 (T5) at familiar worlds in the Spinward Marches. This sounded like a good idea to me. I am backing it and getting a print version.

The idea of a circus, instead of the usual gang in a Free Trader is quite an unorthodox idea. But it sounds interesting and this is not the first time we have seen an unorthodox idea like this. Remember the rock-band Veedback in an amber zone adventure in JTAS 23. That was a cool adventure in only 3 pages. Cirque will probably be just as cool and requires a lot less work for the referee since it will be 160 pages.