This is my hands on review of Traveller 5 by Marc Miller. I received my copy via subscribing to the Kickstarter project, as detailed in my previous “first impressions” blog post.
Starting at page 1, the first thing I notice that is extraordinary is a list of those who are no longer with us. A list of gamers and writers who have made huge contributions to Traveller and since passed away – including Donald Rapp, the author of Scouts and Assassins, a supplement which I have to this day, and a tribute to Gary Gygax as founder of the hobby. A nice touch, in my view.
I will follow this with a brief summary of each chapter, and then get into describing my impression of the detailed mechanics.
Task Resolution (die rolling mechanics)
The new system is similar, yet quite different. Gone are moderate = 8, hard = 10 etc. Now you roll under your ability (characteristic + skill) to succeed. And if the task is easy, you roll 1d6, moderate, 2d6, difficult 3d6 and so on. So the familiar d6 lives on, and the mechanic remains fairly simple, but quite different in practice.
To add variability there is a new Flux mechanism. 1d6 – 1d6 generates a bell curve between -5 and +5 centred on 0. This is used to create variability such as quality, time, accuracy etc. Then there is good flux (subtract smaller from larger) and bad flux (subtract larger from smaller).
You can take longer to do something, and reduce its difficulty. If something takes more dice than you have skill points, “This Is Hard!” kicks in, making it one category harder for you. If you roll 3 sixes, you succeed in some spectacular way, and if you roll 3 ones you botch it in equally dramatic fashion.
I quite like how these variations look on paper. I look forward to seeing how they work out in game.
There is some streamlining of character careers when compared to most modern Traveller editions, or even the classic with expansions, but there are a wide variety of basic types available. All types effectively come with advanced generation style options, so there will not be a big discrepancy between characters generated by different generators, or even different careers. The choices are little different than in prior versions – some being slightly broader in definition, so Soldier covers both Army and Mercenary – and Spacer would cover both Navy and Spacer from earlier editions.
Here is one place where we see the new philosophy being applied. There are no specific alien race frameworks for character building presented here. Instead, we have the sophont maker – a set of rules that allow for flexible creation of templates for intelligent beings as characters. As far as I can tell, each of the previous editions major races could be created using these rules – but those races are not presented (other than as historical or astrographical data).
A wide but sparse list of items are given here – so characters could be reasonably equipped in short order. Again, rules are presented under “ThingMaker” to create new pieces of equipment of almost anykind. Vehicles, Guns and Armour are each given their own subsystem – VehicleMaker, GunMaker and ArmorMaker respectively.
One noticeable change is the definition of combat round – 10 rounds will be 10 minutes – but the text is deliberately vague on exactly how long a particular round is. Initiative is dealt with in a unique fashion – the “winner” can be negotiated, and gains a bonus in that if he hits a target, that target may not fire back that round. However, either way, all other enemies get a +1 mod against the first attacker (to show himself). Attacks are resolved using the task resolution system. Ranges are dealt with in an abstract sense using bands, so theatre of the mind is the default order of the day.
Wounds are dealt with in a per-damage-type way, with some damage being dealt to the traditional physical stats, and other types being very specific. Hit locations are dealt with (at least for PCs) and wounding as always is significant and consequential.
Again we see few concrete builds of starships (some iconic examples are provided), but no specific price and feature lists. The design and building rules are detailed, and one can create any class of ship from traditional sources, as well as have some whole new capabilities. Tech levels beyond 16 have been fleshed out in a much more detailed way (over prior editions) so it is (relatively) easy for the GM to create new alien or ancient technology.
The core book has very little in the way of sector, subsector or star-system information. The complete world-building system is fleshed out, including some great detail on world mapping, population spread and demographics.
Although huge, the core rules book is relatively light on encyclopedic specifics (races, starships, arms and armour) and heavy on meta-builders – rules to create new things. Gamers who delight in designing new ships, weapons, even races and monsters will find this book very much to their liking, and even perhaps the only text they need on the subject.
I think we can expect the future to hold a slew of supplements which read like the Sear’s catalog (or the SuSAG catalog).