For me, I really want to like and recommend this product. I've been a fan of Traveller since the first small box, as it was the first actual role-playing game I ever purchased. That being said, I realize that I am somewhat biased, but Traveller5 is really hard to recommend to all but the most die-hard Traveller aficionados.
I’ll start with the positive. Traveller5 is greatly updated and expanded compared to previous versions/editions. The basic rules have been adapted to allow for more flexibility for characters or other intelligent beings that deviate from the human norm. This flexibility can cause some confusion, as a previous reviewer noted when sometimes attributes were written “Str C2 End” instead of the just saying “Str Dex End” – this allows for beings without a specific Dex stat to make the specific check. There are even sections on genetics for your character! The expansion also continues with a good system for the quality of items, which manages to apply to everything from a hand tool to a starship drive. Finally you have the notion that a higher tech level civilization can actually make a better power plant or jump drive, for example – no longer does a TL15 civilization necessarily build the same component with the same characteristics as a TL9 civilization. There are also accommodations for prototype and experimental versions available at earlier tech levels. Many tech level tables have been greatly expanded to show systems that are possible well beyond the Imperial norm of TL15. And other Traveller rules of the past that sometimes caused a chuckle (remember Murphy’s Rules in Space Gamer magazine?) have been corrected or modified: you don’t die in character creation any more. Taken all around, there is a lot of good new material here and a lot of positive changes.
But that brings us to the negative. To be fair, much of what is negative is viewed as such because there have been so many positive features added or revised that those which remain as they were, or are missing entirely, seem jarring. But let us firstly address the elephant in the room, and the primary reason is Travller5 is so hard to recommend:
The rules are a mess.
It is more than typos or charts in the wrong places or the like: it is more the overall impact that it has on the reader. There are over 700 pages in the PDF, and yet most sections read as if there was an editor behind the scenes doing their utmost to cut down the word and page count. It means most concepts are, at best, about half-explained. It means that the reader has to go over and over sections, refer to charts, refer to examples (if any are given), to try to figure out what is really being said or what the intent of the rule or system might be. You then add to that obtuse style a number of other problems, such as no references to charts. So it may explain a system on one page, perhaps give you an example, and you’ll know from both the text and the example that you’re missing something . . . which you’ll find on a chart three pages later. Then you’ll flip back at try to figure it out, as it may not be obvious . . . because the example (if you have one) could be wrong. The example may mysteriously make a different roll (is it a typo? Did you miss it on the chart?) or completely miss a whole selection of modifiers that really leaves you wondering (again) what the original intent might be. Here’s an example from the section on “How Jump Works”:
On page 338, it talks about the Astrogation task, and gives the table at the top of the page. So far so good, but part of the task is that the number of dice is modified by Stellar Density . . . which isn’t even explained on that page, it’s much later in a section on generating subsectors and the like. The text below on the page, though, never makes mention of Stellar Density as a modifier at all. Even the example given doesn’t use that modifier. As a reader you know something isn’t right from reading the text: given the example as written, a jump of 6 parsecs is effectively impossible (average roll of 7 dice, including the uncertainty die, is 24.5, meaning that a character would have to have an Int of 12 and Astrogation skill of 13 just to make it half of the time) for a player, and a TL15 computer would fail most of the time too (at TL16 you could get an artificially intelligent computer which would still fail). If you factor in Stellar Density from the chart, that makes it reasonable (reduces it to 4 dice, or an average of 14, which the computer could do most of the time). And then it gets odd: a character who, because of the uncertainty die, is not certain that their roll might be successful, is encouraged to “verify” the task. But to do so takes 24 hours and adds to the difficulty of the task, meaning you’re far less likely to succeed at the verification than you are at the original task. So you take much longer, and have a much higher chance to fail . . . why would you do that?
And what is really not mentioned there either is that the fuel requirements of the old Traveller are unchanged so if you fail an astrogation task, and wind up jumping in to deep space . . . you’re dead. There may be jump-9 technology, but that just means 90% of your ship is taken up for fuel. You can now link jump drives together, too . . .but that doesn’t help you for fuel, so if you link two jump-4 drives together you’d still need 80% of your ship’s tonnage in fuel.
Astute readers then note that, even with stellar density modifiers, the astrogation task for all of those higher order jump drives is effectively impossible (except across rifts or extra galactic distances). How do the rules address that? With an egregious hand wave: “without making any criticism of the Astrogator, most higher order jump Astrogation tasks fail.” A basic, “yeah we can’t explain it to you, but it works exactly the same way as a TL9 jump drive and has the same limitations as jump-1, so you figure it out.” The book is chock full of other advanced technologies that aren’t explained, so it seems really incongruous to say they’re all governed by the same mechanic, except when you get really advanced that mechanic doesn’t work, so you just flit about randomly.
Not all of the rule sections or systems are this bad, nor are they all incomplete to this same degree. But the overall effect is that the reader is forced to go over and over sections, read the whole thing, go back and revisit, and otherwise spend an inordinate amount of time simply deciphering some systems. Some things are fixable with errata it’s true – hey on page 340 where it talks about jump mishaps I don’t think the injury diagnosis / first aid table is supposed to be at the top of the page, you could correct some examples and add modifiers, and so forth. But even if you fixed all of those things there were still be areas that would require quite an investment in time to read and re-read, and still some systems that would be fodder for a 21st century version of “Murphy’s Rules.” If you’ve experience with Traveller, you can get through this, although you did likely expect more from a PDF that costs this much. If you’re not, start with one of the older Traveller versions – they won’t be as complete, or as novel, in some areas, but it will give you a strong foundation in what to expect to perhaps enable you to overcome the later shortcomings of Traveller5.