Thursday, September 4, 2014

Quick Look at Traveller 5

Well, this arrived last week:

After some experience with the early playtest versions of T5 I have dropped in and out of the T5 discussions over the years and until recently had not really bothered to look into the status post-kickstarter etc. This copy was a good deal on eBay and as I page through it I'm beginning to understand why.

For one, it's huge:

It's thicker than the Pathfinder core rulebook, and that's one of the heftier ones on the shelf. To think this game started out with 3 little black books of 48 pages each ... this one is over 650 pages. Sure, there's a lot in there, but even Mongoose Traveller's core book is under 200 pages. I am not normally opposed to the single-rulebook approach but there is so much here I think it turns into a negative on some level. When you're talking options with someone who isn't as into RPG's, pulling out a rulebook that looks like a thick college textbook is not a strong selling point. It was a problem for Hero 5th edition and it's a problem here too, I suspect. Especially compared to some of the other options.

Second, it uses that !#@$#@^% dice mechanic that showed up either in 4th edition or in that early playtest of 5th. The basic idea is to roll under a target number which is typically stat + skill +/- modifiers. Picking a lock might involve Dex (8) + Intrusion (3) with a -1 for crappy tools, giving a target number of 10. To show varying levels of difficulty, we roll dice - an easy task would mean rolling 1D, while a difficult task might involve 3D or more. So on top of the already counter-intuitive roll-low system, now we add on a layer of "rolling more dice is bad" - gah!

I see some of the benefits of doing it this way - hey, your raw stat number really matters in this system - but I am not looking forward to trying to sell that to gamers who have been playing everything from a whole bunch of d20 games where roll high = good to games like Savage Worlds/Star Wars/Star Trek where dice explode and games like Hero where rolling more dice is always better!

Contrast this with classic Traveller and Mongoose Traveller where the basic system is roll an 8+ on 2d6, modified for stats, skills, and situational modifiers. That same lockpick check now is 2d6 +1 (Dex mod) + 3 (Skill mod) -1 (bad tools) to beat an 8+.

I'll post a more detailed look as I dig into the massive tome, but my initial reaction, and this is as a Traveller fan since about 1981, is that it's not great for new players and not all that great for old players either. MegaTraveller was my favorite version until Mongoose came out, and it had a lot more structure to checks and systems than Classic did, which I thought was a plus. Here that systemization is carried to the extreme with everything fitting into a neat little box to the point that even I think it's too much. I suspect those who like "game as art" will hate it but I also suspect Traveller was never their game anyway. Those who like "game as game" may find that it's turned into such a technical manual that the fun has dissipated right out of the game. I'm not kidding here - there are 9 pages of probability charts showing different numbers of dice and percentages vs target numbers. This begins on page 25. Character generation starts on page 59.

I know I'm going pretty negative here but the initial "hitting the high points" survey of the book left me here. A more in-depth exploration may change it but that's going to take more time and I'm not sure how quickly that's going to happen.

Honestly, if you like Traveller and are not particularly wedded to one of the prior editions, check out Mongoose Traveller. It's well-supported, has mechanics that make sense, and has a respect for the earlier versions that is a really nice touch. The main rulebook is comparable to the original 3 little black books and is plenty to get a campaign going.

More to come.

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