Wednesday, February 14, 2018

An accounting of all the Star Trek Adventures I’m running nowadays

I just thought I’d post a captain’s log, as it were, detailing the two campaigns I’m running for Star Trek Adventures.

The dual campaigns – one with my home group and the other online via Google Hangouts – serve different purposes, and I’m trying hard to differentiate them in various ways to give me as wide of a perspective as possible about the strengths and weakness of the game system. Both campaigns help me learn the game in different ways and, with some luck, also will help me write more official scenarios as well.

I’ll start with my home group’s campaign, set aboard the Constellation-class USS Gemini.  My home group has trudged along with more or less the same personnel since the release of “The Lost Mine of Phandelver” kicked off the 5e era back in 2014. We started with D&D, then I ran a Last Unicorn Games Star Trek campaign set in the immediate aftermath of Star Trek Nemesis, then switched back to D&D for a while and now we’re playing Star Trek Adventures.

I set the Gemini campaign in the Shackleton Expanse so I can run any of the Modiphius Living Campaign scenarios, plus any of the standalone scenarios from “These Are The Voyages, Vol. 1.” My goal here is to sample as many of the officially released scenarios as possible to get a sense of what ingredients work well at the table. I also occasionally use my home group as guinea pigs to playtest ideas I might include in pitches to Modiphius for new official scenarios. The campaign feels much like the original series or The Next Generation so far, with episodic storytelling and not a lot of continuity from one scenario to the next (though that’s not always the case).

I’ve run six sessions with the Gemini group so far (with an seventh scheduled for this weekend), and the highlight of the campaign for me so far was running “Biological Clock.” Watching the players immediately dive into the Prime Directive ramifications surrounding Optera IV without any effort whatsoever on my part put a big smile on my face. It felt just like that scene in Captain Picard’s quarters during TNG’s ‘Pen Pals.’ During that scene, the crew debates the limits of the Prime Directive as they determine the fate of Sarjenka and her entire species. It was good drama and central to Star Trek’s philosophy.

The second campaign I’m running contrasts with my home group in some important ways. First off, it’s the first full-on campaign I’ve run over Google Hangouts. I’d run one-shots before, but scheduling always seemed too difficult to put together anything more. And, sure enough, there have been some drop-outs and some scheduling snafus. But, undaunted, we press on. I’ve now run three sessions with the online group, and you can watch them all on my YouTube Channel here, here and here.

The online game takes place aboard Starbase 23, near the Romulan Neutral Zone. For this campaign, I’m coming up with totally original scenarios and encounters each time. I don’t want to spoil anyone out there by running official adventures. I’m also taking a page out of Deep Space 9’s playbook by allowing each scenario to lead into the next and building long-form story arcs. The plot of the last two sessions, for instance, has centered around a pair of cloned humans genetically modified by the Tal Shiar to act as viral carriers.

The highlight of the online campaign took place during the second episode, titled “Plague Ship.” The Andorian engineer mounted a one-man rescue effort to save a child aboard a doomed freighter. The freighter’s engines were on the verge of a catastrophic breach. The engineer attempted repairs, but time ran out. An emergency beam out saved him, but the explosion left the Player Characters in dire straits.

Beyond that, I’ve also run the odd session of Star Trek Adventures at my local game store. I’d do that more often if I felt I had a good scenario to run that could be played in two hours or so for new players. “Signals” and the adventure included in the core book work alright for that purpose, but I can’t help but feel neither one gives first-time players the real sense that they’re taking part in an episode of Star Trek. I’ll elaborate on that later if the opportunity arises.

All told, I’ve run 10 sessions of Star Trek Adventures since the final core rules became available. I’m having a great time learning the ins and outs of the system, and it’s always a pleasure visiting the Final Frontier and telling brand-new stories.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Left in the cutting room: More reflections on adventure design

In late 2017, I wrote a couple articles for EN World discussing some lessons about adventure design I took from “How To Write Adventure Modules That Don’t Suck” from Goodman Games. You can find those two articles here and here. It’s a cool book containing a couple dozen essays on adventure design from a wide range of authors. And an original rpg encounter accompanies each entry in the book to illustrate the principles and tips discussed in each essay.

The format packs a one-two punch that often unearths valuable insight into adventure design, but it also yields some uneven results here and there. Not every encounter will prove useful to all game masters, but most are generic enough to fit easily into virtually any fantasy rpg system, and a few of the encounters work with science-fiction elements and settings. With a pdf version available for fairly cheap, I’m confident that most gamemasters would get some value out of the product.

But a discussion of “How To Write Adventure Modules That Don’t Suck” should highlight at least one of the encounters detailed in the book, and I originally intended to do so. However, that section of the article didn’t make the final cut due to an unexpected change in word count. So here, on my personal blog, I’m going to post what I originally planned to write about my favorite single encounter detailed in the book.

“Water’s Garden Shop” by Jean Rabe stood out for its delightful tone and creativity. The encounter assumes that the player characters have been asked to look after a quirky shop in the market district of a fantasy city while the owner is away. Events gradually take a turn toward the bizarre as escalating crises are unleashed on the party. The shop sells all manner of fantastical gardening supplies, plants and small pets, from carnivorous flowers to an intelligent frog who loves to discuss local politics and tasty insects.

The beautifully detailed encounter follows an essay by Rabe on the use of all five sense to immerse the players in the game, and “Water’s Garden Shop” packs plenty of sensory stimulation. The fish tanks bubble musically, the air feels tropically humid and the flowers dazzle in vivid color. Nearly everything in the shop features a magical twist, sometimes readily apparent but occasionally hidden for the player characters to discover. The encounter would serve nicely as a whimsical break for adventurers weary of grim dungeon crawls and marauding orcs.

So I salute you, Jean Rabe, for a lovely bit of adventure design. I hope I can find an excuse to get it on the table someday. I got a lot of mileage out of “How To Write Adventure Modules That Don’t Suck.” Pick it up if you’re like thinking about adventure design and could use some inspiration. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Itching for a Fight

The Star Trek Adventures core rulebook emphasizes that violence should be used only as a last resort for Starfleet crews, and rightly so. Star Trek has always featured heroes that prefer to think their way out of fights rather than immediately firing phasers. But sometimes a good fight makes for an exciting story (and an opportunity for a scene or two of Captain Kirk with a torn shirt).

My home gaming group began “Signals,” the adventure included in the free Star Trek Adventures quickstart guide, during our last session, and the story left off just as the Player Characters crashed a shuttle on the surface of a planet after encountering an electromagnetic storm. The players quickly learned a crew of Romulans also had crashed on the planet, and a fire fight had just broken out between the Romulans and the Player Characters as we ended our session.

To prep for our next game, I reviewed the section in the core rulebook dealing with combat and put together some notes to make the fight as dynamic and engaging for my players as possible. Below, you’ll find my expanded guide for the encounter. Feel free to adapt it for your own campaign.

Setting the stage (Gamemasters may read or paraphrase the following text to start the scene): You regain consciousness unsure of how long you were out. It could have been mere moments or it could have been longer. As your vision clears, you take in the interior of the shuttlecraft, which clearly sustained major damage in the crash landing. The few computer consoles that appear functional flicker, and instruments lie scattered throughout the cabin. A quick check of the propulsion system shows the engines are completely offline. This shuttle isn’t going anywhere without repairs.

Once the Player Characters have gathered their wits and examined the interior of the shuttle, they’ll likely open the shuttle’s hatch to find out what’s going on outside. Once that happens, the Gamemaster should read or paraphrase the following:

The hatch opens onto a rocky, arid plain beneath a red sky swirling with bright discharges of electromagnetic energy. Jagged formations of rock dot the landscape, and the shuttle has left a trail of wreckage strewn around the crash site. Without warning, a sizzling bolt of disruptor energy blasts the ground immediately in front of you and a voice cries out, “That’s far enough, Starfleet! We’ve already claimed this planet in the name of the Romulan Star Empire. We hereby order you to drop your weapons and turn over your spacecraft.”

A trio of Romulan soldiers has trained disruptors on the Player Characters from long range. Two of the Romulans lie prone behind a crag while the third stands nearby, but still remains within reach of the crag and benefits from the cover it provides. It’s the standing Romulan who shouted for the Player Characters to surrender. These Romulans were part of a crew of scoutship crew who crashed on the planet while investigating a powerful alien energy source they’re interested in harnessing as a weapon. They do not intend to allow Starfleet to claim the energy source and will not negotiate with the Player Characters, making combat likely.

The crags behind which the three Romulans take cover grant 2 [CD] resistance. Targeting the lone standing Romulan for a ranged attack requires a successful Difficulty 2 Control + Security Task. However, successfully making a ranged attack against the two prone Romulans from medium range or further requires a successful Difficulty 3 Task. Additionally, the two prone Romulans may re-roll any number of their Cover dice. However, successful attacks against prone Characters from close range generate two bonus Momentum. The Romulans will stay close to the crag and take advantage of the cover, popping up on their turns to fire disruptor blasts at the Starfleet crew.

A chunk of wreckage from the shuttlecraft came to a rest not far from the rear hatch of the shuttle, and Player Characters can easily take cover behind the debris, granting 2 [CD] resistance. The wreckage lies in the zone adjacent to the shuttlecraft’s hatch, meaning it’s a medium-range distance from Player Characters inside the shuttlecraft. If Player Characters take two of the three Romulans out of the fight, the third will retreat on foot back to the Romulan crash site, where several more of his comrades await.

Currently stranded on the planet, the Romulans intend to steal the Player Characters’ shuttlecraft to get back to Romulan space. They also recognize the value of Starfleet hostages and will attempt to capture the Player Characters rather than kill them. If they succeed in subduing the Player Characters, or if the Player Characters surrender, they may try to contact Starfleet to negotiate a way off the planet.

Gamemasters may consider spending Threat in the following ways during this confrontation:

1.    Reinforcements. Gamemasters may summon more Romulan soldiers to arrive on the battlefield by spending 1 Threat for each additional Romulan agent.

2.    Environmental effect. Gamemasters may spend 2 Threat to trigger a power surge that overloads several of the computer consoles inside the shuttlecraft. Any Characters remaining in the shuttlecraft when the overload occurs take 2 [CD] stress damage due to exploding equipment.

3.    Complication. Gamemasters may spend 2 Threat to create a highly localized electromagnetic discharge that causes all electronic equipment – including phasers, tricorders and communicators – in the affected zone to cease to function. This discharge appears like a bolt of lightning that strikes the ground and creates intensely localized electromagnetic interference for several seconds. Characters may repair affected equipment with a successful Difficulty 2 Control or Daring + Engineering Task.

If the Player Characters manage to take any of the Romulans captive, they must complete a Difficulty 4 Persuasion Task to gain any useful information. These Romulans have received training in how to withstand interrogation. However, if the Player Characters succeed in convincing the Romulans to talk, they may learn the following information:

1.    The Romulans came to the planet three days ago to secure the powerful alien energy source and evaluate its usefulness as a weapon.

2.    The Romulan scoutship crashed after encountering intense electromagnetic interference in the upper atmosphere of the planet.

3.    There is a settlement near the energy source that is protected by some sort of energy-reflecting technology, making it difficult for sensors to penetrate the area. The Romulans have made several preliminary incursions to test the settlement’s defenses but have not yet settled on a strategy for a full-on assault.

If the Romulans won the encounter, they take the Player Characters captive and march them back to a camp near the Romulan scoutship’s crash site. The Romulans then pump the Player Characters for information regarding the strange alien power signature and the Shackleton Expanse. The Player Characters will have to come up with a plan to escape from the Romulans. If they’re slow to attempt an escape, the Nelbinar miners, who live in the nearby settlement, may provide an opening by staging a sneak attack on the Romulan camp.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A new (mini) campaign for Star Trek Adventures

Streamed rpgs, the final frontier…

I’ve decided to run a mini-campaign of Star Trek Adventures to stream on my YouTube page. I ran a couple online games this summer using the playtest rules but stopped when the final rulebook became available so I could familiarize myself with the finalized game. Having run four sessions with finished rules and having read the entire core rulebook cover to cover, I think I’m ready to dive back into the streaming world.

I’ve recruited five players, and I’m planning to run one session a month from December through April. I’ve put together some setting info below and I’ve got a good idea of what will happen in the initial session. Beyond that, I’m planning to let the players take the campaign where they wish.

I decided to set the series on a starbase near the Romulan Neutral Zone. That way, I figure I can work in a lot of the political intrigue and drama that I find compelling about Deep Space 9. A starbase setting will also give me a different sandbox to play in than my home game, which is set on a starship. 

The first session is scheduled for Dec. 9. Can’t wait to get some dice rolling.  Here’s the setting and background information I’ve provided the players to help them with character creation.


Starbase 23 is a Spacedock-type starbase located near the Romulan Neutral Zone in the Beta Quadrant. Its position also places it near to the Klingon border, making it one of the most strategically important starbases in Starfleet and a hub of all manner of interstellar intrigue. It houses a wide range of personnel and services, including a Federation diplomatic mission, a judge advocate general’s office and engineering facilities capable of completing extensive repairs on Starfleet’s most advanced starships. Several major trade routes pass near the station, creating a steady influx of civilian and commercial traffic as well.

Its mushroom-shaped top module, perhaps its most distinguishing feature, contains four sets of space doors granting entrance to up to six starships at a time. Ships that dock inside the main bay may undergo a huge range of repairs, from regular maintenance to major refits. Starfleet Command emphasizes operational readiness this close to the Romulan Neutral Zone, and the starships that patrol the surrounding space receive the most advanced defense and sensor technology available.


Starbase 23 remains stationery at a point near the Romulan Neutral Zone in the Beta Quadrant. Starships docked at Starbase 23 could enter the Neutral Zone within minutes at high warp. The Unroth System lies just on the other side of the Neutral Zone, a planetary system that hosts a Romulan colony. Slightly further away lies the point at which the Klingon Border meets Romulan space, a perennial point of friction and gamesmanship between the Klingon and Romulan fleets.

The Paulsen Nebula, where the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D hid from a Borg cube in 2367, lies slightly rimward of Starbase 23 in Federation space. Its dense gaseous content renders sensors nearly useless, making it an ideal location for raiders, rogues and renegades to evade patrolling Starfleet vessels. The region once boasted a Federation colony known as New Providence, but the colony fell victim to the Borg during the 2367 incursion shortly before the disastrous Battle of Wolfe 359. Today, the site that was once New Providence is little more than a vast crater, but a Starfleet science team continues to study the area for valuable intelligence on the Borg threat.


Starbase 23 hosts a crew complement of around 700 Starfleet officers and enlisted personnel. This includes strategic personnel who oversee Starfleet’s monitoring of the Neutral Zone, a fully staffed judge advocate general’s office and security station, separate engineering teams to maintain both the starbase and visiting starships, a team devoted solely to the administration of the starbase, a medical team and a group devoted to scientific research.

The commanding officer of Starbase 23 is Fleet Admiral Behl Ch’Tharris, an Andorian with a long and storied career at Starfleet Command. Admiral Ch’Tharris’s duties require her to spend most of her time overseeing fleet deployments and strategic operations along the Neutral Zone. She maintains a full support team in her office to help her with these decisions. An officer with the rank of commander oversees the day-to-day operations of the starbase, though he or she still reports regularly to Admiral Ch’Tharris.


The year is 2371. The USS Enterprise-D was recently destroyed in a crash on the planet Veridian III. Starfleet has begun exploring the Gamma Quadrant by traveling through the Bajoran Wormhole, where something called the Dominion awaits. Starfleet Command soon will dispatch the USS Voyager to the Badlands on a mission concerning the Maquis resistance group. And tensions along the Romulan Neutral Zone have reached a fever pitch after several incidents over the previous decade show the Romulan Star Empire plans to destabilize the political balance of power in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Nelbinar: Creating an original alien race and homeworld in Star Trek Adventures

Nearly every gamemaster I’ve known loves world building, and Star Trek rpgs offer a unique opportunity to literally invent entire worlds from scratch.

Numerous episodes of Star Trek rely on strange new worlds both as settings and as plot devices to drive stories.  From the planet Minos in TNG, which was taken over by automated weapons systems, to the beautifully realized Pahvo in the most recent episodes of Star Trek Discovery, exotic alien worlds play a huge roll in Star Trek storytelling. So it’s no surprise that Star Trek Adventures offers some advice on creating new races and planets.

As I noted in my previous post about running “Signals,” the adventure scenario included in the free quickstart guide, I felt a mining colony of humans missed an opportunity to offer player characters something more interesting. So when I run the adventure, I substitute an alien mining colony into the adventure. These aliens, which I called the Nelbinar, started in my imagination as nothing more than a Star Trek version of the Svirfneblin, or deep gnomes, from Dungeons & Dragons. I imagined them as a people who send mining crews throughout the Shackleton Expanse looking for new precious materials they can take back to their homeworld to build exquisite feats of architecture. I decided they’d be short in stature, have gray skin and large and pointed ears – all owing to depictions of Svnirfneblins in D&D. One of the best-known Svirfneblin characters from the Forgotten Realms novels had enchanted tools attached to his arms after his hands were cut off, so I decided the Nelbinar, likewise, use cybernetic enhancements to aid them in their work.

From that fairly basic concept, I decided to create the Nelbinar homeworld using the guidance in chapter 10 of the Star Trek Adventures core rulebook, which provides several random tables for planet creation. I had a rough idea of what the Nelbinar homeworld might look like, but I decided to go with whatever random elements the tables turned up as a creative exercise, whether my rolls produced results that matched my original vision of the planet or not.

The process begins with a table determining the planetary type, but I knew the Nelbinar homeworld most likely would have to be Class M to support the evolution of a humanoid race, so I skipped to the next table that focuses exclusively on habitable planetary types. From that table, I rolled a dry desert world, like Vulcan. The next table, on which gamemasters are instructed to roll twice, confers planets with notable features. From that table, I got “warlike primitive inhabitants” and “transcendent inhabitants of great power.” Those two elements left me scratching my head a bit since neither one fits all that well with what I envisioned for the Nelbinar.

I put some thought into it and decided the cybernetic enhancements nearly all members of Nelbinar society use grant the ruling elite of the planet a form of surveillance on the population. The elite compile a huge amount of data about the activities and whereabouts of nearly every member of the species, giving them an almost omniscient view of the planet. So that took care of the “transcendent inhabitants of great power.” But what about the “warlike and primitive” part? I decided that the planet is highly polluted as a result of the species’ limitless drive for construction and development. The Nelbinar pump nearly all of their waste into a large inland sea, where they also send all their criminals, prisoners and undesirables. These prisoners suffer a range of maladies due to their environment, leading to a rough and painful existence on the islands of the sea.

With just those few elements in place, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good grasp of the viewpoint of Nelbinar characters. I’m already visualizing how those pieces might fit together in an episode set on Nelbinar, even though I have no immediate plans for my players to visit the planet. It was a fun mental exercise that makes the Shackleton Expanse (the setting for the Star Trek Adventures living campaign) a little more real in my mind’s eye.

Here’s my complete write-up of the Nelbinar and their homeworld. Feel free to borrow it for your own games, Star Trek or otherwise.

The Nelbinar

Traits:  Nelbinar, Cybernetic enhancements, Indifferent to nature

Overview:  A race of intelligent humanoids with claims on several worlds in the Shackleton Expanse. The Nelbinar dispatch mining teams throughout the region to find unique resources to take back to Nelbinar. Driven by the desire to build their arid homeworld into an engineering marvel, they show no concern for the natural world or environment. Instead, they revere their own ingenuity and technological acumen. They believe their proclivity for innovation will conquer any problem they encounter. Sustainable growth carries no meaning to them.

Appearance:  Nelbinar are short in stature compared to humans, often possessing a slim frame. Their skin is usually a grayish and unhealthy color due to the polluted environment on which they live. Their skin pigmentation is a natural adaptation after generations of being exposed to harsh sunlight on a planet without an ozone layer. They possess large noses and pointed, leathery ears. They often outfit their bodies with cybernetic implants. Goggles that change lighting and enhance visual acuity are common, as are tool-like attachments.

Society: Nelbinar is a desert world, like Vulcan. Nearly all of the planet’s surface – and much of its substrata – features structures developed by the Nelbinar species, made from exotic materials gathered from across the cosmos. Nelbinar spend little time outdoors and do not value nature.

The Engineers, a political elite that design the planet’s more advanced technology, govern much of Nelbinar society and form a ruling class. The cybernetic accessories that virtually all Nelbinar citizens wear also provide the Engineers with a vast dataset on the planet’s population, offering them endless insight into how to they should structure their society, though other societies might consider this level of surveillance an intrusion. This dataset, referred to as the Grid, takes on an almost spiritual meaning to the Nelbinar, and communing with the Grid is reserved only for the most brilliant among the population.

The lone exception to the extensive development that covers Nelbinar is one inland sea, where the Nelbinar dump much of the waste and unwanted byproducts that result from their vast construction efforts. This highly polluted environment features a chain of islands where many of the planet’s convicts and prisoners are sent. The inhabitants of this island chain are warlike and primitive, and many of them suffer from illnesses and psychoses as a result of exposure to toxic compounds.

Ecological niche & impetus toward intelligence: The harsh desert conditions on the surface of the planet favored species that could build elaborate shelters, and that’s exactly where the Nelbinar excel. Their mastery of building with an endless range of materials granted the evolutionary advantages they needed to become the planet’s dominant species. They view their planet as little more than a blank canvass on which to create. The planet gave them little of value, so the Nelbinar have no qualms using their homeworld and its resources as they please.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Tips for running the Star Trek Adventures quickstart scenario

A couple weekends ago, I ran a pickup session of Star Trek Adventures at my local gaming store, Mayhem Comics and Games. Three players rsvp’d for the session ahead of time, but only two showed up to play. I’d hoped to get at least three PC’s, but we pressed ahead with two, and it worked just fine.

I wanted to present the new players with a quintessential Star Trek experience, so I decided to run “Signals,” the introductory adventure included in the free Star Trek Adventures Quickstart. I also considered “Rescue at Xerxes,” the adventure included in the core rulebook, but “Signals” felt more Star Trek to me for two reasons. First, “Signals” starts out on an actual starship, though it doesn’t specify which one. “Xerxes,” on the other hand, begins after a crash landing in a runabout and nothing in the adventure takes place aboard a starship. The second factor that pushed me toward “Signals” was its use of Romulans as the antagonists, another recognizable Star Trek element.

So “Signals” features some quintessential Star Trek ingredients while also introducing many of the core mechanics of the game through a variety of encounters that include exploration, combat and role playing. It’s also simple enough in its design and implementation that gamemasters should be able to run it with minimal prep. Sounds like a perfect introduction, right?

Well, almost.

“Signals” weighs in at only seven pages. That means it won’t take gamemasters long to prep the adventure, but that also means some helpful details probably got left out of the text in the name of keeping the word count low.

For instance, there’s no synopsis or background at the start of the adventure, just a list of things you’ll need to play the game. I believe wholeheartedly that a summary at the beginning of the adventure helps gamemasters map out the arc of the story and aids with comprehension and memory. The adventure also leaves out key details surrounding an alien obelisk discovered recently by a mining colony on the planet Seku VI. The obelisk acts as the macguffin that moves much of the story, but the text asks the gamemaster to fill in the details of who built it and what it does. It’s fine to push gamemasters to customize published adventures for their own games, but I think a quickstart guide shouldn’t pose questions that it doesn’t have answers to.

So here, in no particular order, are a couple of tweaks I incorporated into the adventure when I ran it last weekend.

First off, a proper synopsis:

“Signals” presents a Starfleet away team with a mystery it must solve in order to render aid to a small mining colony and prevent a valuable alien artifact from falling under Romulan control. The adventure begins when the Player Characters’ starship is ordered into the Carina Nebula to locate a missing runabout, the USS Susquehanna. The Susquehanna disappeared after registering an unknown alien power discharge coming from the planet Seku VI inside the nebula.

Investigating Seku VI will require the Player Characters to send an away team to the planet’s surface where the Characters will run into a hostile team of Romulans, also searching for the alien technology. The away team will learn that the Susquehanna sent two crewmen to the planet’s surface who died in a transporter accident caused by surging electromagnetic interference rippling from the alien power source. A Romulan scoutship arrived in orbit, and the Susquehanna retreated into the nebula. The scoutship then succumbed to the same electromagnetic interference and crash-landed on the planet, leaving several survivors bent on securing the alien technology.

The Player Characters will track the source of the electromagnetic interference to an unregistered non-Federation mining colony near the source of the strange power discharge. If the Player Characters convince the miners of their peaceful intent, the colony’s leader will take them to a chamber in the underground mines where workers recently uncovered an ancient alien obelisk emitting powerful bursts of electromagnetic interference. The Player Characters must unlock the obelisk’s secrets while fending off one last offensive from the Romulans to ensure this powerful technology remains out of enemy hands.

The adventure also casts the mining colony as led by a human named Ero Drallen. Featuring a human mining colony misses an opportunity to emphasize for the Player Characters that they’re a long way from home, charting an unknown region of space. So I replaced the humans in the mining colony with a homebrewed alien race I call the Nelbinar, who send out mining teams to distant worlds looking for exotic materials with which they can build engineering marvels on their homeworld. If I get a chance in my campaign, I might make Nelbinar mining crews a recurring feature in the Shackleton Expanse and maybe even feature an entire episode on the Nelbinar homeworld.

If I get a chance, I’ll post a full writeup of the Nelbinar and the role I foresee for them in the Shackleton Expanse.

So there you have it. I think “Signals” is an easy-to-run adventure that successfully introduces the basic gameplay mechanics of Star Trek Adventures to players and gamemasters. With a couple slight modifications, including a summary at the beginning and a more exotic species overseeing the mining colony, it’s a pretty solid entry point.  And it’s free, so what have you got to lose?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Three early impressions with Star Trek Adventures

I recently finished reading all 364 pages of the Star Trek Adventures core rulebook, and it occurred to me that I’d never read an rpg book cover to cover before. If I had to guess, I’d estimate that I’ve read 99 percent of the material in the fifth edition Dungeon Master’s Guide and Players Handbook, some portions several times over. But I combed through those books a chapter here and a section there, as various mechanics became relevant in my home game. My hunch is that’s how most rpg enthusiasts use their rulebooks.

With Star Trek Adventures, I opened up the pdf (I still haven’t received my physical copy as of this writing) and started reading the first chapter and plowed through every last word in the text. In addition, I’ve also run two full sessions with my home gaming group with the finalized rules (after having run several sections with the playtest rules).

So what have I learned?

For starters, I still haven’t mastered the system by any stretch of the imagination (looking at you, reputation mechanic). But here are three big observations I’ve made as I’ve kicked the tires on this iteration of the 2d20 system.

1.  The Fate influence is real

Star Trek Adventures draws a lot of inspiration from Fate Core, a setting-neutral rpg system by Evil Hat known for its emphasis on storytelling and character over crunch and mechanics. Combat in Star Trek Adventures, as in Fate, plays out in abstract zones rather than rigid hexes or grids. Star Trek Adventures also uses “traits,” similar to Fate’s aspects, to help gamemasters and players quickly define situations, characters and settings. Additionally, Star Trek Adventures gives players the option to create characters during play, defining their characters’ talents and abilities as circumstances develop, another staple of Fate Core. (It should also be noted that Star Trek Adventures also includes a more traditional “life path” character generation method that allows players to churn out a fully developed character with a backstory and defined abilities before any dice are rolled.)

So the Fate influence is real, and that influence puts story front and center, as a Star Trek game should. But Star Trek Adventures adds layers of complexity over those Fate-inspired elements, and I would definitely not call Star Trek Adventures a rules-lite system. Starship operations, in particular, present players and gamemasters with a robust set of mechanics and options. And the momentum/threat economy provides a unique toolbox for dialing up the dynamism of scenes. Which leads me to my second observation…

2. Threat is NOT optional

Gamemasters should familiarize themselves with the threat system as quickly as possible because it’s an absolutely essential element of running Star Trek Adventures. Threat is a resource that gamemasters can use to throw complications and obstacles at the players on the fly. Let’s say your players are trying to reprogram the tyrannical artificial intelligence that’s taken over the main computer of their starship. You planned for this to be a harrowing encounter, but the players came up with some solution you didn’t think of or they lucked out on some improbable dice rolls and overcame your climactic challenge way too easily. Just spend a couple points of threat to create a new complication. Maybe the AI decides it’s going to take the PCs down with it and activates the ship’s auto destruct just before the characters wipe it from their mainframe. Now the tension has returned and the players are scrambling to diffuse a new challenge.

The rulebook provides a list of common uses for threat, but it also encourages gamemasters to get creative to throw twists at their players. The threat mechanic encourages improvisation and dynamism, and it’s a critical tool to get the most out of the game.

3. This book is PRETTY

Under normal circumstances, I don’t judge a book by its cover (or its interior art or layout). I’m a writer, first and foremost, and I’m happy to overlook bland design if the writing sparkles.  Star Trek Adventures, however, features such outstanding art and design that even I sat up and took notice. The interior layout borrows from the iconic Starfleet LCARS look seen in the Next Generation-era series. The book also makes use of diagrams and schematics of iconic ships and equipment, and there’s plenty of original artwork as well. It’s a slick design that gets me excited about playing the game. What more could you ask from the visual presentation of an rpg book?