Traveller 5 review: second impressions

As I keep reading the new Traveller 5 rules, I am becoming more and more impressed with them.

The underlying mechanics – roll under a target number (often Characteristic + Skill) on a number of 6-sided dice representing difficulty – is simple and intuitive. What’s more, the system is highly structured and designed to work with the same mechanic. Want to shoot something? The number of dice you roll is the range band of your target. You get a bonus to your target number (Characteristic + Skill, of course) equal to Range – Target Size. Everything is classified, everything is harmonious. It’s an elegant system.

I’m also coming to the conclusion that I’m bang in the middle of the target audience for this edition: a committed Traveller player who left the fold with the Traveller: New Era debacle. Traveller 4 didn’t do enough to bring me back; GURPS Traveller was fun, and remains a favourite incarnation, but lacked the full Traveller spark; and Mongoose Traveller seemed somewhat regressive.

To give an idea of the commitment to each incarnation of Trav, I own pretty much all the GDW publications from the Classic Trav era, though I’m missing a number of JTAS volumes and have none of the board games (Fifth Frontier War, Azhanti High Lightning, etc). I have Beltstrike and Tarsus. I have Striker. I’ve most of the Megatraveller material from GDW and DGP. I own a TNE rulebook, which has never seen action, and a copy of Brilliant Lances, likewise unused, an unused copy of the T4 rulebook, a couple of T4 background books (First Survey. Regency), a copy of T20, and Traveler Hero, the Mongoose rulebook, with a lot of the supplements in PDF form, and I have everything published for GURPS: Traveller.

In other words, I committed to Classic Traveller, Megatraveller and GURPS Traveller, but other versions left me rather cold.

My favourite incarnation of Traveller was Megatraveller, which I’ve stuck to, on and off, for the last 25 years, with frequent forays into GURPS Traveller since that came out. I like Megatraveller for a couple of reasons: a unified task system, logical tactical combat and design sequences that let me build vehicles as well as ships, and use them in combat, as part of the core rules. It was complete.

Traveller 5 does that and more with (so far) far fewer errata issues than Megatraveller.

While combat is simpler than earlier editions, it can be an all-or-nothing affair, particularly when it comes to NPCs. This is, I assume, intended to cut down GM paperwork. For example, to put an NPC out of action, you need to do 10+ hits in one shot; fewer means the NPC functions at full capacity; if he’s wearing Cloth armour (AV 14), this means doing 24+ points with one shot; good luck doing that with your Bullet-3 magnum revolver or Gauss Carbine – and even a Bullet-5 Advanced Battle Rifle will struggle (the odds are 5.88%). Since armour, once penetrated, becomes ineffective for the rest of the ‘situation’, a second shot will usually take the NPC down. By the way, for the uninitiated, Traveller’s cloth armour is ballistic (bulletproof) cloth, something akin to Kevlar. A woolly jumper or Jayne’s hat won’t protect you from gunfire.

Will it attract new players to Traveller? I don’t know, but it may have an uphill  struggle. I took my copy of the rules to the Gulf Roleplaying Community’s minicon last Friday and non-Traveller players were not just unimpressed, they were intimidated by the size of the book and its stark cover. ‘It looks like a textbook’ was one complaint.

But those like me who played Traveller in the past have been almost universally intrigued by the new edition. Several friends have mentioned they’re very interested in getting a copy.

There’s a lot of criticism of the new rules in blogs and the like, most of which seem to focus around its size, its organisation (or lack of it) and the errata.

I think the errata is a pretty minor issue. Most errors identified so far are simple grammatical errors which don’t affect playability at all. Actual mistakes in rules or tables are much rarer – not non-existent, but nowhere near as bad as you’d think reading some reviews. Don’t believe me? Check out the errata document on the T5 thread at the Citizens of the Imperium forum.

Size? Well, although T5 is physically bigger than Pathfinder Core I suspect its word count is lower. Point size is bigger, and an awful lot of space is given to charts codifying certain aspects of the rules – if you have the PDF you can print these out and run a session from them.

Furthermore, much of the content is intended for use away from the gaming table. Gun, armour, vehicle and ship designs are not intended for use in play. Traveller’s always had a certain solo appeal – even in the days of the little black books it was fun to create characters, design ships, create worlds or indulge in trade and speculation. These elements will scratch that itch.

In fact I’ll have to use them: there are some sample weapons and armour, but none of the standard Traveller vehicles or ships are pre-designed. That’s a little frustrating, but at least it will get me using the makers.

Complaints about Traveller 5’s organisation are more valid, I think. Certainly, it desperately needs an index. And much of the benchmarks chapter, including dice probability charts, that occupy the front of the book could have gone into an appendix. Traveller 5 is an excellent, elegant system, but the best that can be said of the organisation is that it doesn’t help you use it (though I wouldn’t go so far as to say it actively hinders use of the system). But what’s done is done. For me, it’s not a deal breaker. The organisational quirks continue with the PDF as well – it isn’t bookmarked, which I find annoying) but, as well as the full rules, an html index page links to each chapter, chart and section, all of which come on the CD as separate PDFs. Why? Fortunately, Marc hasn’t locked the PDF, so it’s a fairly easy matter to create my own bookmarks since I own a decent PDF editor (Nitro Pro).

Enough of rules and rulebooks. Traveller 5 introduces some new setting material as well.

Perhaps the most notable is that, while the Imperium’s maximum tech level is still 15, the various charts go up to TL-33, after which societies go through a technological singularity; brief rules for this are provided).

This means that Jump-6 is no longer the best available, though as a TL-15 development it remains the best commercially available in the Third Imperium. In fact, jump can go as high as 9, after which it’s superceded by the Hop drive (10-90 parsecs range), the Skip Drive (100-900 parsecs) and more advanced drives. With the rules on experimental and prototype items, there’s a strong implication the Imperium could have top-secret experimental ships capable of better than Jump-6 – in fact, it’s capable of early Jump-7, prototype Jump-8 and experimental Jump-9, as well as experimental Hop-1.

Jump itself is investigated a little more thoroughly. As well as a picture of what jumpspace looks like, there’s a discussion of several ways of creating a jump field, including the jump bubble, jump plates and a jump grid, each of which has its own pros and cons. The last time I recall anything in that much detail was in an old JTAS from the Classic Trav days.

Another variant is Oversize and Titan armours. These special forms of Battle Dress are double and triple the size of standard armour respectively, and can carry oversize weapons to match. The Titan Battle Dress is pretty much a mecha.

Psionic training is handled in much more detail than CT or MT; characters now go through 5 stages of training, from testing through to master. Interestingly, at the fourth stage, a player must choose his character’s personality: order or chaos, good or evil (or neutral on both axes). Yes, that’s the D&D alignment system. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that, beyond the fact that it amuses me.

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16 Responses to Traveller 5 review: second impressions

  1. Craig A. Glesner says:

    Yeah, I can't say I am a real fan of Stage Four Psionics either. Though I do love how it Timmii stops the old CT, Now I have Psionics and am All Powerful bit.

  2. William Buchanan says:

    I agree with your entire assessment of T5 and the various editions of Traveller, almost word for word. The sole exception is that T4 was my favorite incarnation. From "Fire, Fusion, & Steel", to "Pocket Empires", I just loved that system like no other. Even so, I was extremely frustrated by the poor quality editing, and the "errata", as you call it. Both were legion in T4, sad to say.

    Except for one brief "golden age" in the mid 80's, Traveller has been mostly a solitaire endeavor for me, for over thirty years. Even so, I'm really excited by both the quality and the content of T5. I hope that I can find a group of people to actually game with me, for this edition.

    Thanks for the excellent review.

  3. Kenneth G says:

    Thanks for the informative review. I have to say that, with a product as large and as expensive as this and with the time it took to be completed, not having an index would be a deal-breaker for me. Maybe a revised edition might be in order?

  4. I want to get this.. I’m very interested in the makers.. like designing spaceships and worlds, etc.. I hope to write a solo exploration adventure.. I’m sure this could easily be done with this? Can you go into more details on the makers?

  5. Bob says:

    I’m still exploring the book. I am intrigued and excited but not ready to ditch my Classic T yet.

    I would like to see a PDF with all the forms that are in the book. You can NOT scan this book!
    I agree that the dice table should be an appendix.
    T5 NEEDS an INDEX!! Over 650 pages and NO INDEX!?? Hey Marc, make a downloadable index PDF PLEASE!!!

    Sorry… didn’t mean to shout….

    I’ve been playing Traveller since the 70s. How could I pass this by? Let the good dice roll!

    Peace,
    BOB

  6. sam says:

    I’m getting less and less impressed with the debacle that is Traveller 5. Seems like a hastily put together scam that can at best convince existing players to try it but has zero hope of attracting new players. Perhaps you guys can confirm some things for me:

    Weapons (starship) do damage based on the mount size. Lol? So whether I have a quad mount booger-thrower or quad mount pulse laser, they’re all doing the same damage.

    Starship combat is pretty broken. 20 minute combat rounds – with completely confusin rules as tp how to handle 2 craft that are attempting to change range vs eachother.

    Also – smallcraft that have a range 7 will annihilate any number of battleships given time. Why? Because you can’t hit them at range 7. At all. Range > size means you can’t attack.

    Makers that are untested.

    Character gen that if you don’t house rule some basic stuff results in some crazy breakage (mustering out).

    Thank god there is Mongoose Traveller – but I may tweak space combat to account for agility/craftsize etc

    I am so disappointed. And let’s not forget something for 300 grand

  7. sam says:

    Sorry – meant to say a kickstarter for $300,000…

  8. Bob says:

    After over 8 hours of reading and learning T5….

    I wanted to love T5 but I don’t. Some reasons:

    No index. It’s 650+ pages. How do I work without an index?

    There is no equipment and stuff (except for a spattering of weapons and armor) – you have to make it. Creating is cool but with all the pages in this volume there should be list of stuff made; from medkits to starships! WHAT?? I want to jump right in and I can’t. Very bad.

    This book is NOT easy to scan and there is virtually no downloadable form support on the net or anywhere. I know that this could change in time but with all the money raised it should be there.

    There is more but I don’t want to go on and on. I’m sorry. Like I said, I wanted to love this. I don’t.

    I have played this game since the beginning in 1977. For me this T5 does not work as it is. It’s close in MANY ways but the omissions and errors and fat and bulk and MIT/NASA depth (way too deep even for Traveller) are not fun for me and I feel many other players will feel the same. Not all but many.

    SUMMARY: If T5 had an index and a lot of pre-created things (weapons, armor, equipment, starships planets and places creatures/animals, races and everything else) so that I can jump right in I would like this. There is just too much missing as it is.

    I will be watching and if things change I will be back.

    Peace

    Bob

  9. I want to like it, and to a degree the ‘rules’ as presented have a certain appeal, as far as rules go, but it’s incomplete. Could care less about the limited art, though I agree with the lack of index or #.#.#.# labelling of all the rules with a thorough table of contents and it has neither. Neither of those is a breaker for me. Could are less about all the minor typos… What I am most annoyed by is something mentioned by the previous poster: The lack of actual source material.

    It’s a 650+ page rulebook for a specific setting but it has been presented like a generic rule system, where the rule book is ALL rules and no source material. 650 pages of rules and background blabber about a setting it gives specs to actually cover. Mentions most of the non-human species but doesn’t gives specs on one. It mentions all the most common ship types, complete with pictures, but doesn’t give complete specs on any of them.

    As far as I am concerned, for a setting specific game system, it’s incomplete and broken and screams of the marketting plans that I won’t buy into. All the source materials aren’t going to be for fleshing out the specifics, but are going to be made for all the relevent rules, and they are going to be trickled out like Downloabable Content for a compuiter game. There will be the Vargr add-on, and the Hiver add-on and the traveller’s gear add-on and so on… By the time one is able to actually put together the materials for running an accurate game IN the setting presented, one will have to own a dozen books… And then there will be setting and time era specific books too, but I doubt rules and source material will often be found together which is just bad marketting when the rules themselves are setting specific.

    This COULD have made a beautiful redesign Traveller, if it had a few pages of source material to work with, or it COULD have been a pretty decent generic game system with Traveller planned as the in-house setting to fit the rules… As is, it’s neither and my interest in the new game has been completely deflated, now that I have seen it.

  10. Nats says:

    Yeah I dont think I will be getting T5. I love Classic Traveller, I love reading the little black books, and I love the fact that I can create practically any situation I want to from those few rules. CT provides the framework but leaves me to flesh out the details, sometimes on the spot during a game. I like that. I don’t like hundreds of regimented rules to cover everything. Mongoose tried that and it’s dull – reading loads and loads of rules. And I don’t need them. I can manage fine with three little black books. So no I won’t be buying T5, and I will probably sell my Mongoose stuff at some point in the near future because I am just not using it. And like the CT books I dont need anything more than the Mongoose Core Book and perhaps Spinward Marches anyway – the rest of the Mongoose stuff is just boring unmemorable filling that I dont need. Am I letting my nostalgia get in the way a little bit – yeah I am. But why am I nostalgic to start with? Because Classic Traveller was so superb! And it still is.

  11. FredB says:

    Just got mine, and for an over 600 page manual, Where’s the INDEX, I read into it, and go back later and lose what I was reading, Where’s the F%$#ing INDEX!

  12. Carcosa says:

    This is the first Traveller book I ever bought, after playing several sessions of Mongoose Traveller with some friends. It seems put together by amatuers who tried to get overly technical. This book seems broken as the core book for a roleplaying game, but might work for gms who need a reference for the existing Traveller game from Mongoose. The builders are at the core of this book, but it really needs existing samples of ships planets armour equipment etc. It would take forever to run a single adventure if you had to generate every item ship weapon and vehicle that you need to use. its just impracticle. I was also hoping for something on cybernetics. Some information I just don’t understand such as on pg. 43 for orbital ditances and ship drive limits.

    I have owned and played dozens of rpgs since the 80’s and Ive only come across a few that got out that had problems like this.

    I’ll have to wait and see if a supplement comes out (at a reasonable price) that makes this more playable. In the meantime I ordered the Mongoose core rules hardcover for 1/5 of the price of this.

  13. Carcosa says:

    After Spending some more time with it, it’s much better than I first thought! Really could use some supplementary material though. Would love to see a big Third Imperium book covering the campaign setting, and an equipment book that includes vehicles starships and space stations as well as normal equipment armour and weapons.

  14. simonator says:

    The greatest strength of the this edition is that you can do just about anything…the greatest weakness is that you have to do just about everything. Certainly most of us would rather just pick up a standardized PGMP-15 and use the stats rather than custom design EVERY weapon, vehicle, spaceship, and race from scratch. So I agree with what others have said: it really needs a set of setting specific, worked out examples of standard designs for optimum use as a rules set.

  15. I cried real tears when SJG published the first announcements for GURPS Traveller – Hang on, Beowulf, help is on the way. Beyond buying most all of those books (and even submitting ideas for a few) but the ship design rules didn’t -quite- do it for me. So, mostly, I’ve stuck with MT rules for ship design.

    Now I’m trying to decide whether to buy T5, and your review above has been very helpful, but since you’ve got such broad familiarity with all the incarnations, I wanted to ask you – which system do you think has the very best ship design rules? If an experienced player really took a lot of pleasure from designing ships, from small craft up to super-dreadnaughts, which rule set would you recommend as the best one?

    Thanks – if you have time to answer, here or on Facebook directly, I’d appreciate it. In either case, thanks for the article.

    • the.barwickian says:

      Best is subjective. What follows is opinion…

      There were two ship design systems associated with Classic Traveller – the original system presented in Book 2 – Starships, which covered ships up to 5,000 displacement tons and only turret weapons, and that in Book 5 – High Guard, which was capable of building capital ships. High Guard is probably the better of the two systems there. It\’s a little more complex than Mongoose Traveller, but not much, and it\’s very flexible. The High Guard ship combat system is capable of handling fleet encounters.

      Megatraveller has one of the most flexible systems, which ties into a vehicle design system as well, but it is so full of errors that it\’s almost impossible to work with. There is an errata document floating around the internet which fixes it, but using that means flipping between multiple documents. While I used to build MT ships with pencil and paper, these days a spreadsheet is definitely the way to go. (From MT onwards, errata are the bane of Traveller).

      I\’ve little experience of making ships in Traveller: The New Era. I didn\’t like that version of Traveller; my rulebooks have never been used in play.

      The starship design system in Traveller 4, the Quick Starship Design System (QSDS) is generally considered poor, and many people use a fan-made revised version, available on the internet, the QSDS 1.5, which fixes a lot of its problems. I rather like the revised QSDS – it\’s as flexible as Megatraveller. Fire, Fusion and Steel presents another, considerably more complex, design system. I simply don\’t have the time or inclination to use that.

      T5\’s starship design system is back to the smaller hull sizes of Classic Traveller Book 2 (which it calls Adventure Class Ships). It\’s actually pretty good, with sufficient options to make design interesting and relatively few calculations (certainly less that Megatraveller).

      That pretty much covers the mainline Traveller editions.

      Of the licensed versions, I have experience with Traveller Hero, GURPS Traveller and Mongoose Traveller (1 and 2).

      Traveller Hero, just like Hero System, is more a matter of deciding what you want and rating it in game terms. It is not a design system wherein one is trying to balance hull volume with available power, component volume and overall cost. You could build a shuttle with more firepower than a dreadnought if you wanted. For this reason, most Traveller Hero ships are conversions of ships designed in other systems.

      GURPS Traveller has a simple but effective modular ship design system in the core book, further expanded in Starships. Alternatively, you can make the ships in GURPS Vehicles, for which I have a masochistic love. If you choose to go this route, you almost certainly want the GURPS Vehicle Builder (GVB) software as well – attempting to build a GURPS vehicle with pen and paper, or even a spreadsheet, is punishment for past sins. GVB is also capable to building ships using the modular system from the core book and Starships as well, so it\’s quite handy if you\’re looking to GURPS Traveller.

      Mongoose Traveler 1 – well, I\’d say upgrade to Mongoose Traveller 2. It\’s a much nicer version of their rules. However, the core rulebook doesn\’t have any ship design rules at all. They entire design system has been moved to the High Guard supplement, currently in pre-order. I have the PDF, having pre-ordered the hardback, but haven\’t really had time to do more than flick through it yet, though I like what I see. I know several people on the Mongoose forums are busy tracking down errors, which will hopefully be fixed by the time the hardback is printed (and also hopefully incorporated into an updated PDF).

      To sum up that lengthy overview…

      If you seek simplicity, Classic Traveller Book 2 or High Guard. If you seek a complex, all encompassing system, GURPS Traveller. If you\’re looking for more flexibility with a little complexity, T5 or Mongoose 2 High Guard.

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