Traveller 5 review: First impressions

My T5 Kickstarte rewards.

My T5 Kickstarter rewards.

As I’ve had the T5 rules for less than a day, this is not, at this stage, going to be an in-depth review at all. My aim here is to provide a brief overview, then attempt to generate a character or two. Later installments will look at the various ‘makers’ provided in T5 (gunmaker, armormaker, vehiclemaker, sophontmaker, worldmaker, shipmaker and the delightfully named thingmaker) and run a sample combat.

My first impression is extremely positive. It’s big, the rules look pretty flexible and, even though the mechanics have changed, this is very recognisably Traveller, a direct descendant of Classic Traveller in a way Traveller: The New Era was not.

Please note that at the time of writing, T5 is not available for retail. I was a Kickstarter backer. We get our copies first. I don’t know when copies will be hitting the shops, when PDFs are available or anything like that.

Judging books by their covers

This is a big book. Huge. Members of the Citizens of the Imperium forum are already calling it the BBB (Big Black Book), in contrast to the LBBs (Little Black Books) of Classic Traveller.

A comparison with other chunky RPG rules sets:

Traveller 5: 46mm thick, 1.95kg, 655 pages

Hero System 5ER: 45mm thick, 1.475kg, 592 pages

Pathfinder Core: 32mm thick, 1.775kg, 569 pages

Jason and Tina Waters’ now legendary experiment with Hero 5ER demonstrated it was proof against black powder guns, wadcutters and drive-by bayonettings. I suspect T5’s denser paper would prove even more effective, but I’m not about to experiment with my copy.

The first skim

The flycover has a personal handwritten thank-you note from Marc Miller, and a personal handwritten note from the Emperor Strephon, addressing me as Sir Andy and appointing me henceforth Count Natoko (Rhylanor/Spinward Marches, according to the credit-card Patent of Nobility that also came with my Kickstarter rewards), and bidding me rule well.

The flyleaves are printed – the opening one with a character sheet (for humans; aliens can have different stats), the back one with a two-page black-on-white map of Traveller’s Third Imperium and the surrounding governments. We’ve seen this map before – it dates from the Megatraveller era, but it is printed very legibly.

Pages are clean and printed well. The paper is not dissimilar to standard printer paper. Text is crisp, in what looks to be Helvetica (or something very, very close to it); chapter headings are in Optima, the traditional Traveller font. Layout is very functional, in two equal columns.

There’s a contents page. No index. A series of colour plates in the back are on glossy paper. They include several full-page 3D renders of classic Traveller ships – the Beowulf Free Trader, Empress Marava Far Trader and others – and space and planetside scenes, and a two-page ship recognition guide, the Green List, which purports to be published for young travellers by the Travellers’ Aid Society.

The Green List is one of a number of colour items scattered throughout the book which add a rather cool, insightful and atmospheric touch to the Third Imperium setting, although the vast majority of the book is setting-free rules.

Another example of the atmosphere is in the Equipment chapter – under Uniques and Valuables, it has such items as Dagger, Imperial Navy; Cutlass, Marine; Medal, MCUF; various shrines; and the Sylean Mint Spinward World Series (collect all 436 worlds of the Spinward Marches on commemorative plates). Each has a rather nice description which adds some much-needed colour to the traditionally dry setting.

The book’s contents are:

Introductions (p 10-21)

10 pages of introductory material, starting with one-par biographies of Traveller contributors and fans no longer with us (including J Andrew Keith, Don Rapp, John M Ford, Paul Montgomery Crabaugh, Andy Boulton, Gary Gygax and others; Hunter Gordon died after the book sent to the printers). I think that’s a really nice touch.

Other sections cover the theme of the game, technology of Traveller, a history of the Third Imperium, a currently up-to-date map of the Milky Way showing it as a barred spiral, with Terra marked, but no other Third Imperium locations.

Basic Information (p 22-57)

This section gets very finicky about categories and definitions. It lays down the foundations of the rest of the rules, so this precision is understandable. It opens with dice rolls and how to use them (T5 uses a dice pool system where rolling low is generally better – the more dice you roll, the harder the task is). There are several pages of tables showing the probability of various types of dice roll, a page on Trav’s extended hexadecimal numbering system, an explanation of what the game means by tons (and I note with approval that displacement tons are back to the traditional 13.5m3), a rather exhaustive description of the game’s range bands, from Contact, through Reading Range (0.5m) and Talking Range (2m) to Far Orbit (5,000km) and space ranges (from surface to 10AU, or 1.5 billion kilometres).

There’s then a table describing Gas Giants and “Strangeworlds”, including inferno worlds, “StormWorlds” and “RadWorlds”. This seems rather out of sequence and is followed by tables listing orbital distances, habitable zones and travel times.

There’s then a table listing fame (a new, optional Traveller attribute), which rates fame by how widely one’s name is known, from 1 (a parent), to 6 (a city), 10 (world), 16 (outer system), 19 (subsector) , 24 (Empire), 29 (the Galaxy, 32 (the Universe) and topping out at 36 (all reality).

There’s a three-column table categorizing danger and risks by probability, severity and imminence which I can’t figure out how to use yet.

A section called Benchmarks starts to introduce Traveller’s economy and provide statistics for it. Details of noble fiefs and what they’re worth are included, as are typical earnings and costs of living for different social classes, and there’s a discussion of the difference between cost, value and price with (of course) a statistic to rate these.

Characters  and Life (c. 150 pages)

The section starts with a discussion of characteristics. Like older versions of Traveller, humans have six stats, rolled on 2d6: Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence and Social Standing.

But most of these have variants for alien races. The variant stats work slightly differently to the standard ones, and each variant is carefully described. Dexterity (hand-eye co-ordination) might be replaced with Agility (whole body co-ordination, common for flying species) or Grace (body-limb coordination, common to swimmers).  The other characteristics with variants are Endurance (Stamina, Vigor), Education (Training, Instinct) and Social Standing (Caste, Charisma).

Humans use the standard stats. If your character has a variant stat, they aren’t human. Species are classified by which stats they use, so a human is classified as SDEIES (strength, dexterity, endurance, intelligence, education, social standing).

Social standing is expanded somewhat from older editions I’m familiar with (TNE is gathering dust on a shelf, having never been used in a live-fire environment, and I don’t even own a print copy of T4), with some ranks being presented in lower case, so Social Standing E (14, in the hexadecimal system) is broken into e (Viscount) and E (Count).

There are two ‘obscure’ stats, which are only rolled for when needed in play: Sanity and Psionic Strength.

The Personal Day shows how long one can stay awake, based on one’s Endurance (or Stamina or Vigor), and what effects being sleepy have.

There are 17 careers to choose from. They differ somewhat from Classic and Megatraveller, but are familiar enough. You can change careers without penalty – unless you fail a Continuation roll, in which case career development is over and your character enters play.

Character generation is random, but steps have been taken to make it much easier to get the skills you want your character to have. Skills are rather more plentiful than Classic or Megatraveller – a rough rule of thumb on the CotI forum suggests doubling skill levels of those editions to get the equivalent T5 skill level.

The available careers are Craftsman, Scholar, Entertainer, Citizen, Scout, Merchant, Spacer (the new name for Navy), Soldier (Army), Agent, Rogue, Noble, Marine (elite forces) and Functionary (bureaucrat, official etc). They’re intended to be broad enough that they can cover pretty much any type of character; some are broken down into specialities.

All characters get the option of going to college or university; or specialised academies (Naval Academy, Military Academy, Law School, Medical School; some of these will open up other academies). Going to Uni will boost your education, as in earlier editions, but will also let you put skill levels in your chosen Major and Minor.

Homeworlds will also grant skill levels – determined by the world’s trade classifications – so even a raw 18-year-old character will have something. Someone born on Earth (Garden, High Pop) will have Trader-1 and one Trade-1; someone born on Preslin (Desert, Non-industrial, Non-agricultural, Poor), will get Survival-1, Driver-1, Survey-1 and Steward-1. Homeworlds can be picked, rolled randomly or ignored (instead picking 1D6 background skills).

There’s some attempt to drag Traveller out of the 1970s retro-SF feel it’s carried for so long (hey, the first edition was a 1970s SF game). Characters can get clone insurance and cybergear (the Wafer Jack, for skill chips) as mustering out benefits, and there’s a section on genetics, cloning and genetic modifications.

Further reading

Sections I haven’t really looked at yet are Combat (incorporating gunmaker, armormaker and vehiclemaker), Starports and Starships (including ship design and combat), Stars and Worlds (including trade and commerce) and Adventures (including psionics, sophonts, robots, beasts, equipment and the thingmaker)

Creating my first T5 character

(Note: Subsequent reading shows I’ve made several mistakes in this; among the most important is that Archaeology, like all knowledge skills, has a maximum level of 6. I’ve posted a corrected version of this character here, but will leave this erroneous version for posterity.)

For simplicity, I’m going to make a human character, and I’m going to pick his homeworld: Natoko/Rhylanor (C8879AB-9), the world where the Emperor Strephon has made me Count.

Natoko has Ancient ruins, so I’ve decided I want to make an archaeologist specialising in the Ancients. That’ll be a Scholar, and I will want to go to University (it’s a requirement, unless you want to be an Amateur Scholar or an Unorthodox Scholar).

Natoko is a Garden World. That gives me Trader-1. It’s a High Population world, so I get Streetwise-1.

I generate stats. I’ll want high Int and Edu, and I’m prepared to re-roll until I get them.

The first set of above average Int/Edu rolls I get are: Str 8, Dex 8, End 9, Int 9, Edu 12, Soc 9. Above average all round.

To get into University, I need to roll a standard check (2D) lower than my INt or Edu. My Edu is 12 – can’t fail that. I need to pass each year until Graduation, each success will grant me a skill level in my Major or my Minor (which I choose). To make this a little more interesting, I’m going to lower the character’s Edu to 10.

There’s a table for generating names of colleges. Using it, I find I’m attending the Imperial University of Natoko.

Admission: I need 2D lower than 10. I roll 6. I’m in. I pick Archaeology as my Major and… what would be good Minor for studying Ancients? Sophontology? History? Let’s go Planetology – I’m a landscape archaeologist. I could join the OTC or NOTC, but a military career does not appeal.

Year 1: I roll a 10, and just scrape through. I take Archaeology-1.

Year 2: Roll 3. Archaeology-2

Year 3: Roll 10 (this is a tough course). Planetology-1.

Year 4: Roll 10. I take Planetology-2. Yay, graduated. I would get Edu-8, but I already have better than this.

Roll for honours: Roll 3. Success, so I get another level of my Major: Archaeology-3.

I now have a BSc (hons) in Archaeology. I decide to go for post-grad and apply for a two-year Master’s course.

Admission:  I roll 3. I’m in.

Year 1: 8 is a success. I take another level of Archaeology. I now have Archaeology-4.

Year 2: 10. Another success. Planetology-3.

Try for Honours (not clear if this applies to Master’s degrees, but why not?). 6. Success, and I get Archaeology-5.

I’ll go for the doctorate, a 2-year course.

Admission: Roll 7. I’m in.

Year 1: Roll 4. I’ll have Planetology-4, please.

Year 2: Roll 6, and I’ll take Archeology-6. And graduate with (check: roll 10, success) honours. This gives me Edu-12 and another level of Archaeology, taking it to level 6.

OK, I’m 26 years old, with a doctorate in Archaeology. Time to start that academic career.

With Edu-12, I’m automatically admitted, and at Rank 1 (Lecturer of Archaeology).

I will automatically get 4 skills a term, and an extra one if I get promoted. I’ll also increase my major by 2 if I produce valid research (through the risk/reward system)

The key to a career is the Risk and Reward rolls. I have a pick a characteristic for making these rolls from a list (for Scholar, it’s Str, Dex, End and Int), and I cannot repeat a stat until I have used all the others.

Failing a risk roll means my research this year is wasted and I cannot try a reward roll. Succeeding in the reward roll means I get published.

Term 1

I choose Int as my governing skill. Risk roll of 7 – my research is valid. My major goes up to AArchaeology-8. I make a reward roll of 9. I’m published. There’s a table to determine the title of my publication. I make a Flux roll of 0: The Effects of Planetology on Archaeology.

I’m also promoted (Int, +1 for being published) to Scholar 2, Instructor of Archaeology, which gives me another skill roll

For skills, I figure I’ve been out in the field. I’m going to roll once on the Personal table for a stat increase, twice on the World Travel table, once on General and once on Conflict.

I end up with +1 Dex, Hostile Environ-1, Vacc Suit-1, Animals (a cascade skill – I choose Rider-1) and Fighter (another cascade skill; I pick Slug Thrower-1). It looks like I’ve been off planet I the course of my research, maybe scouring the system for other Ancient ruins. But I’ve also been on planet – maybe riding’s one of the best ways of reaching some ruins, and I’ve either been to the shooting range or fought off treasure hunters.

I’m now 30. I make a continuation roll to carry on in my career (I could change career, but I don’t want to). Continuation is against Edu + 1 (the modifier is because I was published).

Term 2

This term, for Risk and Reward, I choose End. I roll 7 – solid research. And I roll 8 for reward – another publication. The flux is -3, so my paper is A Detailed Bibliography of Archaeology.

Promotion: I need 11 or less (Int 9, +2 publications) and roll 11. I’m now Scholar3, Assistant Professor of Archaeology. I’m eligible for tenure at this rank – and I must get tenure before I can be promoted further. The tenure roll is Publications x 3. That would be a 6 or less, which is tough, but I can make this roll at any time, so I’ll wait to see if I get more publications.

Nevertheless, I know where my trowel is. If those crusty old fuddy-duddies don’t recognize my talent, I’ll have to get more articles published.

I choose Dex (now a 9) for my Risk/Reward stat. I’m going to be Brave – I have a bold hypothesis to test. This lowers my Risk target by 2, but increases my Reward target by 2. I make the risk roll (7) and the reward roll (5 – this is 4 or more below my target, so I have an award-winning publication, which counts as 2 publications). And I’m now at Archaeology-10. This publication is called (Flux +4): Our Evolving Understanding of Archaeology.

I now have Publication-4, so I need an 12 or less for tenure. I roll a 7 and get it.

I’ve got 5 skills to roll for. I’m perfectly happy with my Archaeolgy-10, so I’ll roll on the Personal, General (twice) Vocation and Avocation tables.

I end up with Social +1 (to take me to Social-10 a gentleman), Bureaucrat-1, Survival-1, Starship (a cascade skill – given my interests, I pick Sensors-1), and an Art (a cascade skill, I choose Author-1).

I’m now 34 and Life Stage 5 and must make aging rolls. I test against my Life Stage for each if Str, Dex and End – I want to fail these. I fail the first and third, pass the second so my Dex drops by one to 8.

My continuation roll is at -1 this time. But I have 4 publications, so  I need an 15 or lower on 2D. I roll a 7.

Term 3

I’ll keep going as a scholar. I choose Str as my Risk/Reward stat. My research is valid (roll 7), but I’m not published (roll 10). My major increases to Archaeology-12. I easily make my promotion roll, and am now a Scholar 4 associate professor of archaeology.

I get 5 skill rolls. I’ll go for 2 rolls on the general tables, 1 on conflict and 2 on avocation.

I get Hostile Environ (taking it to level 2), and Survival (also level 2), Fighter (I pick Slug Thrower-2), a Science (I choose History-1) and an Art (Author-2).

I’m not going to try for continuation this time. But at 38, I have to make another set of aging rolls against Life Stage 5. I make the first, losing 1 point of Str, and fail the second and third (good!).

Term 4

I’m going to write books about Ancient archaeology. That’s the entertainment career, Author speciality.

To become one, I need to roll 2D against INt or Edu. I’ll go for Edu (12) and roll 2.

I need to determine my Fame. A beginning entertainer rolls 2D for talent which acts as Fame in Term 1, but I already have some fame for my scholarship. Though the rules don’t explicitly say it, common sense suggests this will carry over.

My talent is 7. My fame as a scholar is Rank 4 + 2 publications + 3 for an award-wining publication for a total of 9 – I’m known continent wide.

Ordinarily, an entertainer wouldn’t roll for adjustments to Fame in term 1, but since I’m carrying fame over, common sense suggests I should. Adjustments are a Flux roll (1D-1D for -5 to + 5). I have to make one roll, and can make 2 more if I choose. The first roll is -4. I’ll make another: +2. And another: +3. My fame is now 10 – world famous!

I get 4 skills, and an extra 2 for increasing my Fame. I also get +1 Talent for increasing Fame.

I choose 2 space travel rolls, 2 general, and 2 vocational, and get a starship skill (Sensors-2), Sensors (now 3), Navigation-1, Survey-1 and 2 Arts (I put them both into Author, so Author-3).

I’m now 42, and my Life Stage is 6. Aging rolls: Fail the first 2 (that’s good) and miss the third, so lose 1 End.

Mustering Out

I get 3 rolls for my 3 terms as a scholar at 1D6 +4 (for my rank)

I take one roll for cash (4+4=8, Cr35,000) and two for benefits. 6+4 = 10, so I get Life Insurance – I have a spare clone! And 5+4 equals 9, a ship share.

I get one roll as an Entertainer and choose Benefits. 1+1 (for my sole term as an author) gives me a Wafer Jack, so I can plug skill chips into my head.

Let’s recap this character:


Age 42


University + Masters + Doctorate; Scholar4; Entertainer (Author)

Archaeology-12, Planetology-4, Sensors-3, Author-3, Slug Thrower-2,  Hostile Environ-2, Survival-2, Vacc Suit-1, Trading-1, Survival-1, Bureaucrat-1, Riding-1, Trading-1, Streetwise-1.

Equipment: Ship share (Lab ship); Life Insurance, Wafer Jack. Cr 35,000.

Publications: The Effects of Planetology on Archaeology, A Detailed Bibliography of Archaeology, and the award-winning Our Evolving Understanding of Archaeology.

I decide I’ve also written a popular guide to archaeology for my Entertainer career.

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One Response to Traveller 5 review: First impressions

  1. Craig A. Glesner says:

    Just to let you know (and what is with everyone building Scholars?) that there is already Errata regarding Educational Terms.

    For instance, since your Edu was better than the Edu awarded with Graduation, you get Edu +1 when you Graduate.

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