Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Traveller Tuesday: A review of T5 (Traveller 5th edition)

This past Christmas, I was given the opportunity to look over a copy of the newest iteration of Traveller. T5 was Kickstarter funded and was promised to be the "ultimate edition" with "rules and concepts you never thought possible" including  "so many things that players have asked for, or that have been imperfectly handled previously."  With all this in mind, I was eagerly looking forward to seeing what this Magnum Opus had to offer.

Well, the "never thought possible" bit was true. 

After I looked it over -- because this beast is 656 pages long, and I don't think anyone has the endurance to read something like that in a single sitting -- I knew I needed to have other people look at this, so that I might share my mental anguish. 

This review, then, is a collection of the snarky comments we shot at each other as we read as much as our sanity would allow.

But first, a quote to kick things off
Unknown commentator: "First Survey, like too many of the Imperium Games products, was what I like to call "fractally broken" - not merely bad, but bad on every scale, with pockets of small badness concealed within larger badnesses, bad from any analytical viewpoint, self-similarly bad."  [Erin adds: T5 is like the above mentioned product, only at an exponential level of badness.] 


Erin:  Capsule review: "I'm certain there has to be a game in here. After all, there are all these rules ...!" 650+ pages and the author has sucked all the fun and interest out of the game in favor of OMG CHARTS. 

The_Jack: Sounds like GURPS Traveller minus the spontaneity and whimsy.

Erin: This is the kind of game only someone with Asperger's would play. Because more rules = more fun, right?

McThag:  Uh... Geff  HAS Aspergers and he rejected it.
Fuzzy Geff: More than half again as large as my microcontroller "data sheet", and that cost $40 to print (okay, and spiral-bind with plastic covers).
I'm only 10% in, and am ready to declare that the only use for these rules is to diagnose the author's mental illnesses. When he was naming the various Nd6 rolls, I could believe it was just OCD. Now that I've found the "Genetic Profile (GP)", I am convinced that other malfunctions are also involved.
Erin: Daaaaayyyyyyummmm!

McThag: And an aspie rejects it thus, "the only use for these rules is to diagnose the author's mental illnesses." That's like wrapping the asteroid with smallpox blankets.

Jack: So it's a "wall full of crazy" compressed into a book. Maybe if you read the book aloud it heralds the Old Ones. Or would that be too interesting?

Erin:  If you were a gamer nerd I could make a really cutting analogy:  "It's like the left-brain version of Nobilis."*  Trust me, that would KILL in nerd circles.


Jack: It's... troubling. I stopped my skimming on the dTon lecture. They.... they have a chart of ton versus kg and all the tons are 1.


That's an ACTUAL sub heading! You'd think they could write...  Oh, I don't know...


Erin: Most telling, I think, is that character generation doesn't start until, oh, page 55ish.

Jack: Well, a dissertation on units is FAR more important. And I LIKE being a nerd about unit systems.

McThag: Wow, this game includes a free statistics lesson!


McThag: 48 pages of character generation. Huge section for randomly generating the background that many GMs will consider mandatory... this system seems to be written for GMs who can't or won't just make a decision and tell the players that's how it will be.

Erin: My big problem is that the whole thing seems to lack flavor and fun. While they do mention Aslan, Droyne et al, there are NO RULES for the differences between those races and humans. Let alone, not having any flavor or fluff or history. And yet, 13th pages on senses...

McThag: Flavor is generated with this easy to use calculus algorithim, just solve for the area under the curve...  I don't understand how this COULDN'T be fun! It's got hard math, and difficult math and frustrating math and it's all organized like hex editing a DOS game!

Jack: And worse, it's BAD math! So far this reads like a game made by math fanboys who are, alas, innumerate.

McThag: We are Jack's burning disappointment.

Jack:  Well, it's nice that they parted out how a Fame state of 32 differs from one of 36. And I can see why they didn't include stats for the other major races. If you want to play a Vargr you can just derive your own!

Erin: Because if you're a GM, you're already inventing the universe, so what's one or more races as well?

Jack: That does seem to be this game's "Logic."

Erin: It's almost like this is a (really shitty) rules "upgrade" for a setting you already own.  Which, to be fair, it is. I don't see any non-Traveller grognard buying this. Ever.


Jack: Oh yes, because every single weapon for every single murder hobo needs its own character sheet! "With a knowledge of Weapons, Armor, Vehicles, and Combat, players can generally understand the relative value of Armor from their LongNames and Models."

McThag: Everything is a series of hex codes and you'll basically have to memorize the format for each thing to use them.  Its part of the easy four thousand step "ArmorMaker". Simple!

Jack:  Damn, it feels like it'd be simpler and quicker to build a real gun than use this... thing's balky flowchart.

Erin: You have to look really, really hard just to find a stock, default "vacc suit". I didn't even bother looking for stock guns. Although the 32-shot, spiral-magazine "revolver" was worth a small chuckle. I'm like "Revolver? UR DOIN IT RONG"

McThag: It's like a belt but with a cylinder gap!  My brain hurts. Where's my melon baller?

[Editor's Note:  This is where McThag bails on T5.]

Jack:  The ACQUIRING WEAPONS section.... Wow! I never thought to go to the factory! They.... they have a section on how long certain parts of a rifle "should" be. But they don't even have deck plans of ships! ... I wish I was well enough to drink.

Erin: Yesssss. Feel my pain.  Aren't you glad you didn't spend $35 on this book?

Jack: It's not even a bound hard copy? 

Erin: Oh, you'd have to pay over twice that to get it in hardcopy! 


Jack: Oh man.... the battle dress just looks... sad. Way to make me pine for Mongoose's art, Trav5. 

Erin:  Here's what is funny: Some of that art is from the early-mid 80s. Specifically, the pictures of the Zhodani nobles.

Jack: It DOES have that 80's vibe! The Zhodani look like Ming the Merciless. Or evil wizards. 

Jack: The drill machine on page 287 is just sad. It's like they did a Google image search for a screw bolt, blew it up, and then cropped it over a tank. 

Yes, this is the ACTUAL PICTURE, taken from the PDF. 

Erin: Are you ready to add insult to injury? The Kickstarter for this raised over THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS.

Jack: ....

Erin: Look at the production values of that book. With the shitty art and the obviously layered images and etc

Jack: Thanks for the money, suckers!
Parenthetical Aside
Oh good, they've got a whole chapter on Beast Power.  Couldn't skimp on that!
Jack: page 366

just.... page 366
Page 366
Erin:  Well, this book was already doing a number on our sanity. Now it's official: this is the Traveller Necronomicon.

Jack: I am starting to feel a bit feverish. [Editor's Note:  Jack had the flu at this time. It is unknown if reading T5 aggravated his condition.]

Erin: Do you hear a strange flute sound coming from angles orthogonal to reality?
Jack: Oh wow. The corners of the room are starting to get... wobbly

Erin: Hounds of Tindalos might like Beggin' Strips...

Jack: And the Chirstmass music on the radio is starting to get a circusy undertone

Oh! And "Santa Claus is coming to town" is very sinister now

Oh man....

the "comic" on page 375

I think that cinches the "humans did not make this" theory


Jack: "Sensors are the technological eyes and ears (and other senses) of starships (and of many star system installations). Technology magnifies the capabilities of personal senses and translates the information that sensors gather into understandable formats."

Erin: In other breaking news, space is rather dark and a bit chilly.

Jack: YES! T5! Because I am too gormless to know what sensors ARE, but I AM willing to plot through hundreds of pages of tables and flow charts and will fill out two pages per armor vest!

"The Referee Has Perfect Knowledge"


"The Players Have No Knowledge. They know nothing. They depend on the readings from their sensors to develop an understanding of the situation." Wow!

Erin:  Truly this is a cutting-edge game. 

Jack: It's like this was made by someone who watched a couple Trav games. The ship diagram on page 312 makes no sense. Half the callouts are painfully obvious, like the one that points to Wings...

Erin: "Wings and fins." No shit, really?

 Jack: ... and the other half are nonsense. I'm really getting the feeling that this is some sort of simulation of a game book written by things that don't quite grok hu-mons. I'd say this is all a Hiver plot, but the Hivers get games.

Oh-kay.... My mind is slipping

I'm in the Starsysstme section

and I read B Mainworld as


Erin: Oh dear. I've done brain damage to you. So sorry.

[Editor's Note: at about this point we realize we aren't even half done with the book and neither of us has the stamina to continue. We decide to do something constructive, like get drunk and use our heads like a hammer.]

Erin: Why don't you play us out with your most brutal synopsis of this product, Jack?

Jack: This is like a cargo cult of a game. It was made by people who have seen table top games played, and they figured that if they made the proper holy tome, then the game would be summoned. 


And with that, I'm going to put "Traveller Tuesday" on the back burner for a while. Do not fear, for I plan to return, but there are other settings which need my attention.

* Nobilis is a joy to read. It's like the kind of game that Neil Gaiman would write. Lots of evocative text, funny little anecdotes and capsule stories. There's just like, you know, no system there to run a game on.


  1. What jumpspace looks like ...

    That's really lame.

    Its not the first of my favorite games (well ... ok, ... I've not played Traveller in quite a long time) ruined by yet another stupid edition.

    And that comes from someone who bought the original TSR Dungeons & Dragons rules, dull brown pamphlets printed by typewriter typescript.

  2. What makes this worse is that this "definite edition" was written by the original designer, Marc Miller.

    Clearly, he's gone the same route of madness that Lucas has.

  3. Open the Travellernomicon to page 366 and say the incantation written thereupon, "Marc W Miller is ph'nglui mglw'nafh Marc W Miller Rl'yeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!"

  4. I'm another passenger on the "olde-tyme-gamer" bus...
    (Back when Gen-Con was held at UW-Parkside)
    Our GM took a hard right turn one summer and our games went from RPGs to Brokers & Commodity Traders in Spaaaace.
    Most of us transitioned away from Traveller to a new RPG that was more focused on the Role Playing part of the game - Gamelords LTD's Thieves Guild and the City of Haven. (That, and a good bit to Morrow Project.)

    Loved reading this liveblogging format of your snarkfest...

    My particular favorite:

    Erin: Do you hear a strange flute sound coming from angles orthogonal to reality?
    Jack: Oh wow. The corners of the room are starting to get... wobbly
    Erin: Hounds of Tindalos might like Beggin' Strips...

    (I do hope you read 'Vault of Unspeakable Horror"?)

    Thanks for a chuckle on a soggy nasty day at the edge of the Black Sea.


  5. I can't argue with any of these comments (other than that some of them are obviously over the top; I did laugh). I tried to point out the good parts in my review - and I do think that there are good parts. But, as I said there, the real value of T5 is to cannibalize it for ideas and such to use with other editions of Traveller (CT, MT, GT, or MgT, which are pretty much the only editions worth the effort to date*).

    *Some would add TNE. I think that TNE, T4, and T5 are only good for ripping out the couple of good ideas to use with one of the good editions. I see no use at all for T20, Traveller HERO, or the D6 adaptation that I can't remember what it's called.

  6. Reminds me of my impressions of the Imagine system. Think AD&D 2nd Edition with about 50 more extraneous rules tacked on.

  7. I understand that the only really usable book out of the Mongoose Travelers universe of Rules is the Core book because the rest have such horrible grammar and spelling mistakes but why a new version rather than just trying to fix the screwups in the Mongoose or any of the other still in print versions of the game?

  8. Because Mongoose is basically a cleaned up and improved for the 21st century version of Classic Traveller, whereas T5 is supposedly the author's "true vision" of the game. (shudder)

    And really, Mongoose isn't that bad, grammar-wise... it's the layout that is atrocious. Get the PDF versions so you can Ctrl-F what you're looking for.

  9. The most good that will come of this is when new players complain that making a character in GURPS is too complicated and takes too long, I can plunk T5 down in front of them and say, sweetly, "we can play this instead."

    Plus additional quote from a friend who encountered this review, "My Gohds, it's like the Hero 5th Edition phone book without the underlying simplicity and clear organization!"

  10. The very sad thing about this is that out of 650+ pages of text, I was only able to take one or two usable ideas from it. I've gotten more mileage out of TNE and T4 than I did out of this leviathan.

    ... there was a D6 version of Traveller? Like, the Star Wars system that West End Games invented?

  11. I am given to understand that there is a D6 adaptation, though I have not actually seen a copy myself. And yes, that refers to the system that was originally developed for the WEG Star Wars RPG, then was later made generic.

    I'd point out that there's nearly nothing usable in the core rules of TNE or T4, either. Most of what is worthwhile there comes from the supplements (eg Pocket Empires or World Tamer's Handbook), at least in my opinion.

  12. Whoa! I'm a serious grog nard and I wouldn't touch T5 with someone else's ...

    I did get to go through a copy of it though and I think your comments are kind. Yeah, really, I said that.

  13. I've yet to meet anyone who WOULD play it. I'm not saying they aren't out there, I'm just saying I haven't met them...

    ... and would probably be frightened of them if I did.

  14. Oh, heck, Palpal, I'd play it.

    Wouldn't run it even with a rented dick, though.

  15. WOW. That's somehow even more damning.

  16. Well, you know that I've got a decided preference for MT (followed by CT, then MgT, then GT, then TNE in a distant last place). I won't touch T4 or T5 as a Referee, though there are things that I'd take from each.

    Well, that's not true. I'd run T4, but only as a Pocket Empires campaign. I'd need to print out the complete errata first, though. I plan to make an adaptation of Pocket Empires to my MT retroclone, after I finally finish that. I probably will adapt TNE's World Tamer's Handbook first, though, because the Colonists campaign could be a lot of fun.

  17. What really upsets me is I loved the original Traveller and Megatraveller and most of all the editions and was hoping T5 would compile the rules and streamline them. Instead, this looks like crap. It looks like little effort was done to actually make a game, and I will never trust Marc Miller again. I am not going to buy crap again.


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