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*Freelance Traveller

The Electronic Fan-Supported Traveller® Resource


This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue.

Traveller5. Marc Miller.
Far Future Enterprises http://www.farfuture.net
656pp, hardbound
US$75 (est.)

Having played and collected Traveller RPG material from every version since the original “Little Black Books,” I was intrigued by Marc Miller’s incarnation, Traveller5. Having seen it in beta testing for the last several years, I hesitated to jump in to last year’s Kickstarter based on its long troubled history and hefty price tag. At $75, it’s a highly priced book by RPG standards. However, on the surface it is fairly good value at under $.09 per page. That said, when one of the original Kickstarter books came available on the secondary market at an incredibly low price (including accessories and dice), I jumped at the opportunity to add it to my collection.

So what is Traveller5, anyway? In a word: overwhelming. The physical 656-page book, with its iconic solid black cover with red and white title lines, harkens back to the days of the original “Little Black Books” and reminds me of the 4th Edition Talislanta hardcover in its sheer size and density. Yes, this book could stop a bullet! The book itself is well-constructed, with a solid binding. Internally, the book is almost entirely black and white, save for the 16-page glossy color Ship Recognition Guide at the end of the book. The internal front cover has a character card printed upon it (both front and back), which one could possibly copy for game use. The back internal cover, including the last page of the book, has a black and white map of the known Traveller Universe. Illustrations are scattered throughout the book and are of varying quality.

The book’s introductory pages include the usual publishing and copyright information. Of interest, it also includes a list of the various Traveller editions throughout the years. Conspicuously absent are the Traveller20 and Hero System editions; I’m not sure why these were overlooked.

The book itself is broken down into several sections that I will refer to as chapters for clarity:

Each chapter includes a varying number of sections. Two observations: first, there was no established break between chapters, whether a blank page or chapter title page, that helped narrow things down. Second, the Table of Contents listed various sections with a particular title, while many of the sections had a slightly different title. Although it was fairly easy to figure out, it proved frustrating. That said, let’s take a look at each chapter.

The 9-page “Introductions” chapter includes the following sections:

Overall, the “Introductions” chapter does an adequate job introducing the Traveller game and world.

The 36-page “Basic Information” chapter covers the following sections:

Overall, this chapter provided a lot of reference information, but did little to live up to its title, often serving more as information overflow.

The 140-page “Characters and Life” chapter covers the following sections:

Overall, “Characters and Life” is incredibly detailed and, seemingly, compartmentalized. There is no discerning between basic game-required information and mechanics from optional game-required mechanics, nor is there a character creation example to guide players through the process.

The 96-page “Combat” chapter includes the following sections:

Overall, this chapter is big on details and small on results, lacking in any appreciable examples to validate the various systems described, especially with regard to the various “makers.”

The 114-page “Starports and Starships” includes the following sections:

Overall, the “Starports and Starships” chapter is incredibly detailed, but lacks concrete examples, as alluded to in previous chapters.

The 109-page “Stars and Worlds” chapter supposedly starts at page 418, but actually begins at page 416 with a galaxy graphic similar to that found on page 14, with some additional Traveller-specific details, along with a “secret” graphic of the galaxy highlighting demographic regions based on an Imperial survey. This chapter includes the following sections:

Overall, the chapter does a great job at highlighting one of the things Traveller does best: world design.

The 114-page “Adventures” chapter includes the following sections:

The “Adventures” section serves as a catchall to highlight a variety of things that would be used or encountered, either directly or indirectly, in an encounter. It provides a good starting point for fleshing out various facets of an adventure, but lacks examples (and credibility) in some areas.

The 16-page “The Travellers’ Guide to Starships” provides players with a set of color illustrations to better visualize various starships, both iconic and otherwise, in the Traveller universe. It’s helpful, if only to place a picture with a starship name.

Having read through the entire book, I come away with various questions:

  1. What was the thought process behind its organization? While the table of comments seems fairly organized, although sparse, the book fails to deliver a cohesive product that flows in a logical order to properly demonstrate the game and play. For example, many of the systems illustrated (i.e., the “makers”) are actually optional. Reading through the book, however, a player can’t differentiate between what is required and what is not. It’s as if Marc Miller and his colleagues assumed the reader would already understand the difference. In addition, given the magnitude and scope of the book, I’m shocked no index was included. There is so much detail in this book, with much crossover from system to system (such as the Universal Task System and QREBS), an index would have made a huge difference in helping locate said systems and entries.
  2. How much time was devoted to editing the book? Several grammatical errors are dispersed throughout the book. In addition, there are accuracy issues with the various “makers” and subsystem designs, including misplaced and missing information, which will undoubtedly turn many people off.
  3. Who is the target audience? Clearly, the target audience is not someone new to gaming, but someone intimately familiar with the Traveller RPG in general. I don’t see this book expanding the Traveller playing population.
  4. Is it meant to be a role-playing book? I’m not sure. Having read it cover to cover, it lends itself more to a Traveller-specific RPG encyclopedia or gear heads toolbox than strict RPG. In fact, it reminds me of those Gygaxian Fantasy World books (Cosmos Builder, Nation Builder, etc); basically toolbox books to aid referees in game development, but by no means a standalone RPG. More to the point, the “Traveller is a Role-Playing Game” section explicitly states “much of Traveller is solitaire.” While there have historically been solo role-playing games, this doesn’t lend itself to what many would consider a mainstream RPG. Those interested in Traveller specifically would be better served by the original rules or Mongoose Traveller as an entry vehicle.
  5. Is it playable? On the surface, no. While I’m sure it can be played by those intimately familiar with previous iterations of Traveller, with some modification and house ruling, it would prove extremely difficult (if not impossible) for others new to the system, especially given its lack of organization and apparent modular design. Again, those interested in Traveller specifically would be better served by the original rules or Mongoose Traveller.
  6. Should I buy this book? If you are a hardcore Traveller fan who understands what you’re getting into, then I would say the $35 PDF is well worth it as an encyclopedia/modular toolbox. Even for all its flaws, it does a good job of driving creativity. Otherwise, the book, while large, is overpriced as an RPG given its complexity, and overwhelms the reader with systems and minutiae while simultaneously under-delivering in terms of a coherent game.

On style, I rate Traveller5 a 2 due to its lack of organization, poor editing, and sporadic cartoonish art, and iconic cover. On substance, I rate Traveller5 a 2 based on its overwhelming, if underachieving, content that does not lend itself to game play, as well as its high price. If you understand its many flaws going in and accept it for what it is, you might find value in it... If you can find the physical product at a deeply discounted price or don't mind the electronic version.