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Traveller 5 Review

June 24, 2013 Comments off

Trav5

Traveller 5 finally arrived a year after the kickstarter began, and about 3-4 months late. It is an impressive achievement, and combines what normally would be several different volumes into one massive 656 page tome.

TL;DR – The layout, editing, and clarity does not reflect how long this system has been in beta (years?). The dice turned out awesome. Ultimately, I’m a bit disappointed.

This book does a few things very well. One of the most impressive is a system to create anything you can imagine. Each has a system depending on what you want to create: GunMaker, ArmorMaker, VehicleMaker, BeastMaker, even ThingMaker (something for creating devices or other equipment). There are also systems to create Starships and Star systems, but they have entire sections dedicated to them, and seem a bit more complex than designing gear.

Graphics and illustrations are somewhat sparse, and tables abound giving it a very retro “wall of text” feel which, in my mind, should have been avoided. It makes it visually boring, and in some cases jarring, to read. To its credit, much like Pathfinder there is a rule for EVERYTHING. Good luck deciphering the acronyms once you find the appropriate table.

I do enjoy the core mechanic of a difficulty number and having to roll under that on a certain number of dice. Often it is a combination of a characteristic plus a skill. The difficulty is set by how many dice you have to roll to stay under that number: i.e. 1d6 easy check, 2d6 moderate, 3d6 hard, up to 10d6 double hasty beyond impossible. I also like the idea of a flex result. Flex is 2d6-7, giving you a result anywhere from -5 to +5. This can be useful for determining the random result of something like current weather conditions, -5 being hurricane, +5 being ideally bucolic, or how much time a task takes. Changing a tire? That will take ten minutes, plus or minus 5, roll Flux.

There are tons of tables, and even a table about tons that will have the math nerds squealing with joy, and thankfully distances are left a bit vague so we don’t have to bust out the protractors and rulers if it comes to a fire fight.

Character generation is very similar to other versions of Traveller, but seems more detailed than the Mongoose version I’ve made characters in before. The career paths are literally written like computer programs with If:Then statements and even the tabs delineating one instruction from the next. Here is the career path for Spacer (Navy):

Roll to Begin vs Int

Select Branch

Roll Naval Operations 4 X

use highest Mod for R&R

Roll Risk and Reward

vs C1 C2 C3 C4

Roll Spacer Promotion vs C2

If Spacer, Roll for Commission vs C3

If Officer, Roll for Promotion vs Soc

Determine Skill eligibility; take Skills

Roll 7 – to continue

If No, end Career

Note Muster Out benefits

 

Clear as mud, right? Here are side by side examples of Mongoose Traveller layout, and Traveller 5 layout side by side. Which looks like it was released more recently (click to enlarge):

Screen shot 2013-06-24 at 8.58.51 PM Screen shot 2013-06-24 at 8.59.52 PM

Its a shame, really. I wanted to love this game, and eagerly anticipated it’s arrival. There are elements of it that are really compelling and may be excellent, assuming I can decipher enough of the rules to play a game. I just tried unsuccessfully to find a character sheet for this version of the game, and the card in the book looks like it was created in excel, with about as much visual interest.

The dice they made for it are really cool, with vibrant colors, great graphics and nice weight.

Overall, I can’t recommend purchasing this book. It’s a massive, expensive mess. Maybe the next printing will have more graphics, better layout, and additional proof-reading for both content and clarity.

DABDA Do, DABDA Don’t

April 15, 2013 2 comments

Players give ‘life’ to their characters with traits that are usually extensions of themselves in some way.  Even while playing games such as Dungeon Crawl Classics or Traveler which uses a prolific amount of random character generation tables, players cannot help give personalities to their characters.  Other games, such as Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder, use a more detailed character generation system that allows more customization in which players put much more of themselves into their characters.  This results in players becoming attached to their characters and factors such as naming their character, customizing options and achieving higher levels contribute more to this attachment.  But we all know what inevitably comes to any character – death.

I used the widely-known Elisabeth Kubler-Ross 5 Step Model, also known under the acronym DABDA, as a basis to help explain player behavior when character death occurs.  Although Kubler-Ross initially applied these principles to those suffering from terminal illnesses, we can easily modify the principles for this article.  It is wise to remember that some players will not experience every step and if they do, it may be only briefly (as in seconds; think of any console game where you re-spawn).

1.       Denial – “Wait, what just happened?  No way!” 

In this first stage, players may deny that their character even died.  As a defense mechanism, some distance themselves from other players around them by becoming extremely quiet or sulking. 

2.       Anger – “That’s not fair!  That’s bull!” 

This stage usually manifests as a brooding anger instead of as an outburst.  Sometimes you may witness a player outburst, but that is usually not in a public setting such as a convention or at your local game store.

3.       Bargaining – “What if I do this, will that save him?”

Players hope to delay, postpone or reverse their characters’ deaths by reviewing what happened to get them killed.  Negotiations with the higher powers (game masters, judges and sometimes deities) are conducted thoroughly and this is usually where the resident ‘rules lawyer’ shines.

4.       Depression – “I sure do miss Rangaar, but who cares?”

At this stage, players actually grieve for their character.  They tend to reminisce about achievements, comedic exploits and general good feelings that this particular character gave to that game world.  Players usually do not dwell too long at this stage as they usually move quickly to the last stage.

5.       Acceptance – “I’m dead.  Can I roll up another character?”

In the last stage, players finally accept the loss of their character and move on.  They either need to re-spawn, get raised or roll up another character because ‘life’ goes on.

DnDnext Playtest, Traveller5, Pirates, and Appendix T

June 1, 2012 Comments off

The memorial day holiday offered the perfect opportunity for some of the Skyland Games guys to give this DnDnext Playtest a whirl. We were all pretty eager to see how the various mechanics would work out in play, and encouraged by the old-school feel of the character sheets, and the provided adventure: Caves of Chaos.

Adding to the old-school motif, we had seven PCs in the party, (something we would normally avoid at all costs in 4e) but it didn’t bog down the action as much as large parties have with other editions. Once the players were accustomed to their character sheets and equipment, the turns moved pretty briskly for such a large party. We had all of the pre-gens represented, while we doubled up on the elven wizard and the thief. We also had a fairly even split of guys and ladies playing (4 guys, 3 ladies). Scott suggested we tap in to the DCCRPG core rulebook for some names and titles to give these guys a little individuality. For those of you unfamiliar, at the back of the DCCRPG book, there are two Appendices that are percentile tables in which you can roll up a name and a title based on your class. From these we derived such awesome names as Naroob the Chaste, Thremnym the Killer, Scarabus the Mystic, and Llambichus the Paladin among others. Its a fun, simple way to add a bit more flavor and individuality to your character; especially fun with pre-gens.

Overall I think everybody had a really good time, and this version of DnDnext seemed to lend itself to more creativity and improvisation at the table, something many of us feel 4e usually lacks. Its not that you can’t improvise in 4e, just that most players tend to bury their heads in the 5-10 pages of their character sheet to look for a power, rather than consider the situation and try and make something up. I just received the first email from WotC seeking feedback from the playtest. Hopefully we’ll be able to play it more in between games of DCCRPG and Pathfinder.

Speaking of which, last night was the second session of our pirates campaign and the Skulls and Shackles adventure path! (Minor spoilers ahead) At this point we’ve been on the boat for about two weeks, and have been working on gaining some allies from within the crew. The officers of the ship clearly think we’re up to know good, and they’ve started to make sure they have some allies as well. By the end of the session, only one crew member was still on the fence between the groups, and the crew was pretty evenly split. Methinks the waters ahead may be choppy! It has been an awesome experience so far, and a refreshing change from the bite-sized adventures in Pathfinder Society. The only thing that has been a bit confusing so far is keeping track of the NPCs! There are about 30 crew members and all of them have a little back-story. It’s a very richly detailed module.

In other news, Marc Miller, the original creator of Traveller has launched a kickstarter to get the Fifth Edition published! You didn’t think D&D was the only 35 year old game working on reinventing itself, did you? I personally really like Traveller, even though I have played very little of it. Instead of three little black books of the original, Marc is raising funds to publish a massive 600-page core rulebook. I think I’m going to need to own a copy of that! According to the kickstarter page, a lot of updates have been made in terms of technology levels, robots, computers, ships, and just about all the aspects that makes Traveller, Traveller. I’m really looking forward to it, and hope they’ve got some great artists on board to fill those 600 pages with more than just text. With all these great systems to play, it may be awhile before we can get back to Traveller, but when we’re ready, hopefully there will be a 600 page tome waiting for us.