New Star Trek Adventures Books: Command Division & Beta Quadrant

Image: Modiphius

Modiphius just announced product details and release dates (well, release months) of the next two books for the Star Trek Adventures RPG. The books are the Command Division Supplemental Rulebook and the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook.

The Command Division Supplemental Rulebook provides “new material for characters in the command or conn departments.” This includes (from the Modiphius website):

  • “Detailed description of the command division, including its role in Starfleet, the various branches within the command division, the role of Fleet Operations, life as a command division cadet, and details on starship operations.
  • Expanded 2d20 Social Conflict rules, enhancing social encounters and galactic diplomacy.
  • An expanded list of Talents and Focuses for command and conn characters.
  • Over a dozen additional starships and support craft to command and pilot, including the NX, Nebula, Sovereign, and Steamrunner classes, as well as many shuttle types and the indomitable Work Bee!
  • Advice on creating command division focused plot components for your missions to test the mettle of your captain and flight controller. 
  • New rules on running Admiralty-level campaigns that let you command entire fleets, as well as information on commanding starbases.
  • Detailed descriptions and game statistics for a range of Command and Conn focused NPCs and Supporting Characters.”

(Fanboy note: OMG Nebula class! An admiralty campaign!)

The Beta Quadrant Sourcebook provides “an in-depth look at the Quadrant both the Klingon Empire and Romulan Star Empire call home.” Details from Modiphius:

  • “Information on the Federation’s presence in the Beta Quadrant, including the homeworlds of Andoria, Earth, and Vulcan.
  • Material about the Klingon Empire and its history, including information on its core words of Qo’noS, Boreth, Khitomer, and Rura Penthe.
  • Information from the Romulan Star Empire on their history and politics, and information about their worlds Romulus and Remus.
  • A host of new Federation species to choose from during character creation, including Benzite, Bolians, Efrosians, and Klingons.
  • A selection of alien starships, from the Klingon Empire, Romulan Star Empire, Gorn Hegemony, Orion Syndicate, and civilian craft.
  • Guidance for the Gamemaster on running missions and continuing voyages in the Beta Quadrant, with a selection of new Non-Player Characters to enhance encounters.”

(Fanboy note: OMG Bolians! Gorn! Orions!)

Both books release in May of this year, and you can preorder on their individual product pages.

Command Division | Beta Quadrant ]

First Star Trek Adventures Session

This is how we read in the 24th Century: on a PADD.

On our last game night, a few friends and I started a new Star Trek campaign, and I’m excited enough about it that I wanted to chat about it here.

Some of us took part in the playtest for the new game–Star Trek Adventures–but this was our first trial of the just-released PDF of the core rulebook. (For more information about the game’s background, read the interview with Modiphius’s Chris Birch that I wrote for Gnome Stew.)

Playtest aside, this is the first Star Trek campaign I’ve kicked off since around 2000, late in the Last Unicorn Games years. For this campaign, things went a bit differently than I had planned. Let me tell you why I think that’s a good thing.

The official Challenge Dice haven’t shipped
yet, so we customized some blank dice.

My Traditional Campaign Setup

One of my favorite things about starting a Star Trek campaign is all the fun decisions I get to make. Things like…

  • Which era? Original series? Next Generation? During one of the shows? Before/after the televised episodes?
  • Where are we? Alpha Quadrant, like in most TV series? Gamma or Delta Quadrants, like Voyager or parts of DS9? Non-Federation territory? A single planet or starbase?
  • Who are the PCs? Standard Starfleet senior officers? Up-and-coming cadets? Academy students? Klingons/Romulans/Cardassians/other non-Federation folk?
  • Which ship class? If the setting is a ship (which it usually is), we need to know what kind. A familiar one like the Galaxy-class that’s been extensively featured in a show? A more minor class that hasn’t had the spotlight? Something old and storied, or something new and shiny but untested?
  • What’s the ship’s name? After we’ve picked a fun ship (if we’re doing that), we’ve got to name her. Something to honor a part of the real world (like USS Darwin)? A more universal name that would apply across worlds (like USS Discovery)? A name borrowed from a previous series (like USS Reliant-B)?
  • Who are the people in your neighborhood? I love filling out the crew roster with non-player characters, the ones who fill the roles not occupied by players.

I usually get input from the players on some of these details, but not all of them. This time, for example, I asked them their preference of era (and the choice was Next Generation), but that’s it. I knew I wanted a ship-based game in the Alpha Quadrant featuring Starfleet senior officers, because I figured that would give us the best chance of using published adventures without a lot of modification.

So, I was just about to start picking out what ship I wanted to set the campaign on when a glance through the new rulebook changed my mind.

Collaborative Campaign Setup: The Ship

One of the things that the Starships chapter in the Star Trek Adventures rulebook covers is a ship’s “mission profile,” a way to specialize any ship class by adding points to this or that system in a pre-set way depending on its assignment. Here’s the bit that caught my eye:

“The players choose a single Mission Profile for their starship.”

The players? Then I flipped back earlier in the chapter, at the discussion of ship classes.

“The Players choose a single class for their starship.”

YES. I realized I hadn’t even considered putting the keys to the starship in the players’ hands. This should absolutely be a joint decision, because the players who are Star Trek fans will have favorite ship classes (and some will likely have ships they strongly dislike!), while even the players who aren’t such fans will still feel more of a sense of ownership if they have a say in which beautiful space boat they get to live in.

Time for me to put on my Old GM’s Hat.

Back when I started running games, in the 80s, a GM was expected to do all the work of setting up a campaign. I loved doing it, but also love the fact that more games now are encouraging us to share that work—and that fun—with the players. I just hadn’t had the chance to do that in a Star Trek game yet!

(I’m not even saying that previous Star Trek RPG publishers didn’t address this, just that if they did, I didn’t notice it and carried along with the way I’d always done it.)

So I took the game’s advice and let the players choose and name their ship. They chose the Intrepid-class, the same one used on Star Trek: Voyager.

Image: Memory Alpha

Collaborative Campaign Setup: The Crew

Although I had decided not to define anything about the players’ ship, I did prepare some notes on a few crew members before the game. My thinking was that I would have an NPC captain prepared in case no players chose that role, and also have one co-worker for each PC to work with during the introductory adventure.

I like having lists of crew members for a Star Trek game. For one thing, when I improvise some action on the ship with a new crew member, it’s less obvious that I’m winging things if I already have a name and species ready to go for Ensign Extra. My other reason for liking these lists is that the players themselves can select an NPC from it whenever they need one. Instead of asking me if there’s a science officer they can summon to the bridge, they can just look under the list of science officers and pick, say, Lieutenant Meeshay.

Crew rosters from previous campaigns.

Star Trek Adventures suggests handling this differently. This game uses the concept of Supporting Characters, which are ones that any player can create on the fly for immediate use. Creating supporting characters involves a simplified version of the game’s character rules (which makes them really improv-friendly), and better yet, players are encouraged to take control of such a character when their main PC would be otherwise away from the action.

And, as with the player decisions being invested in the ship, there’s the hope that they will connect better with crew members they helped create.

As it happens, I DID end up scrapping my NPC plans for the first session and asking the players for ideas. One reason for this is that my three “co-worker” NPCs didn’t feel like a great fit for the PCs after seeing how those characters emerged from the character creation process. (For example, one NPC was a Betazoid and one was a Vulcan—and so were two of the PCs. I wanted the players to feel unique, so I shelved those NPCs.) The other reason…well, we’ll get to the captain shortly.

The He-Man Connection

While the players were creating their characters, one ended up with a Vulcan Chief Medical Officer. When trying to think of a name for the character, this player figured he’d have a nickname along the lines of “Bones.” He went with “Skeletor.” (From a colony planet called Eternia.)

The nickname stuck, a little too well. Because later, when we were brainstorming ideas for the name of the PCs’ ship, I joked that if Skeletor is involved, maybe the ship should be called USS Grayskull. To my surprise, everyone immediately agreed.

It was a good test of my commitment to roll with whatever ship name my players decided on.

The players also immediately rejected my idea for their NPC captain (a Vulcan), eventually deciding that the captain’s name is Adam Randor.

What’s really funny about all this to me is that none of us are He-Man fans.

Custom ship sheet by Matt.Ceb

Final Notes

The players ended up making a Trill command officer, Betazoid/Human science officer, and (as already mentioned) Vulcan doctor. The game’s Lifepath character creation system was fun, and gave each character a home environment (e.g. homeward vs colony), upbringing (e.g. artistic or agricultural), Academy specialty, and a few career events. For example, we learned that our science officer had to take command once in the past to save the day, and that our Vulcan doctor was involved in a transporter accident that cost him a leg.

After making characters, I ran a short adventure I’d written for the purpose of taking the PCs on a test drive. I’ll probably talk more about that in a later post. And I had the opportunity to learn one more lesson that day, after I tried to embrace the game’s philosophy of collaborative creation by asking the players to describe their ship’s transporter chief. The lesson was: don’t expect more creativity right after the players have spent two hours creating their characters.

“Live long and…”
“…rule Eternia!”

Star Trek Adventures: First Playtest Session

Our holiday centerpiece

Last weekend I ran my group through the first playtest adventure for Star Trek Adventures (which I talked about earlier, due out next summer.) I don’t want to spoil the adventure for others who might be in the playtest, so my discussion here will be general.

Basic Rules (as of this writing)

This is a playtest, so a lot of details about the game may change before publication. But I wanted to give you a brief overview of what playing the game is like.

Star Trek Adventures uses the 2d20 system, which Modiphius uses in some of their other games such as Mutant Chronicles 3rd Edition and Robert E. Howard’s Conan. I’m not familiar with those, but in the STA version, you add an attribute to a skill, then roll 2d20 and hope one or both are equal to or less than that number. The game gives you ways to add more d20s (up to 5), and rolling a 1 or rolling under your skill’s specialty gets you an extra success. The number of successes you need depend on the difficulty of the task (usually 2).

Here are some other notable rules from the current playtest draft:

Momentum: When you roll more successes than you need on a given task, you can spend the extras for added effect–or save them in a group Momentum pool that everyone can use on later turns. Momentum points let you do things like add a d20 to a roll, or make a roll harder for an enemy.

Threat: Kind of the opposite of Momentum, Threat points are a pool that the GM can use to help out the bad guys. Players can choose to voluntarily add to the Threat pool to gain an extra die to roll, thus helping themselves out in the short term by risking more trouble later on.

Another chance to use my action tracker cards!

Determination: Each PC starts with several of these tokens, and they work like hero points or plot points or bennies in other games. You spend them to do cool things, and earn them by being a good player. In STA they’re more powerful than Momentum points, but it does feel like there’s some overlap.

Values: Each PC in the playtest had 3 Values, things like “Fortune Favours the Bold,” “No Love of Violence,” and “Outspoken and Argumentative.” The playtest rules spell out one positive use for this and one negative. If you’re rolling on something your Value might help, and you spend Momentum on it, you can get an extra Momentum point for free. And on the negative side, you can choose to gain a point of Determination if you accept a Complication from the GM. (Kind of like a GM Intrusion in Monte Cook Games’s Cypher System.) It sounds like more uses for Values will be included in later rules. I think this has the potential to be core to the game’s “Star Trek” feel.

Challenge Dice: When rolling damage or similar results, you use special 6-sided dice. For now we don’t have specially printed dice, so we use regular six siders with the following values: 1-2 count as normal, 3-4 count as nothing, and 5-6 count as 1 plus a bonus effect. The effect differs per weapon; an example would be a knockdown effect when you’re punching someone.

Injuries: Every character has a Stress track, and damage will usually come off of this. If you run out of stress, or take a lot of damage at once, your character is Injured, which in this game means you’re out of the fight. You can, however, spend Determination to soldier on.

Group Impressions

Happiness is a table full of dice and playtest notes.

I enjoyed reading the playtest rules and running the game. In play, we felt that some of the rules need tweaking–especially extended tasks, which were extra hard to understand and really slowed us down–but I am optimistic about the game’s future. There’s a lot to like here: the system is (mostly) simple, there aren’t a ton of skills, players have a lot of control over their destinies, and there’s a focus on encouraging problem-solving and not just fighting.

I’m expecting the second playtest adventure in a few weeks. I hear it may include starship rules and/or character creation. Can’t wait!

Star Trek Adventures Playtest Begins

Modiphius has kicked off the playtest for their upcoming Star Trek Adventures RPG. Not only is it a playtest, it’s a “Living Playtest,” in which the playtest reports from gamers will influence characters and maybe even events in future adventures.

When you sign up, you choose between one of four playtest ships. Your choice determines what kind of missions you’ll receive, from combat missions to science missions to a balanced mix.

I’ll be running each playtest mission as Modiphius releases them, so if you’re in Memphis, feel free to join me! (My ship is the USS Venture, featuring a broad range of missions in the Next Generation era.)

You can sign up for the playtest on the Star Trek Adventures playtest page.

50 Years of Star Trek, 30 Years of Star Trek Gaming

Star Trek is 50! Can you believe it? September 8 was the 50th anniversary of Star Trek’s television debut. I was still -3 years old at the time, so I didn’t catch the premiere, but as soon as I was able to start watching the reruns, I did. I really got into the show in junior high, when I had a crush on a girl who—amazingly—knew all the episode titles. (I duplicated this skill over the next year by mentally repeating each title as I read the James Blish episode novelizations; this was in an era before we could watch anything we wanted on demand!)

There’s another Star Trek anniversary this year–at least, for me there is. Thirty years ago, in 1986, Star Trek became the foundation of my first roleplaying experience, when I found FASA’s Star Trek: The Role Playing Game in my local Toys By Roy. I had heard of Dungeons and Dragons before this, but since I wasn’t a fan of fantasy at the time, I was immune to its charms. Star Trek, though, that was a different story!

My 2nd Edition box, released in 1983

I played this game SO much—probably more than any other game. It came in a box (like many games back then did), which held three thin rulebooks and one of those old 20-sided dice numbered 0 to 9, the kind of die that predated the d10. And the kind you had to fill in the grooves yourself with crayon or marker, if you wanted it to be readable.

Star Trek
My Star Trek “10-sider.”
So well-used it’s nearly round!

The game used a percentile system for both attributes and skills, and boy were there a lot of skills. (Now that I think about it, these two elements probably primed me to fall in love with Call of Cthulhu when I encountered it a year or two later.) Although the first two Star Trek movies had already been released, the boxed set focused on the original series and the animated series. It covered Star Trek pretty well, I thought, with pretty good info on technology and species, and fun systems for creating planets, creatures, and civilizations. Star Trek: The Role Playing Game was also well-supported with a line of adventures, movie sourcebooks, a tactical combat game, and alternate campaign settings like the Klingon, Romulan, and Orion sourcebooks.

IMG 7979
I still have every character I ever made for the game.

Other Star Trek RPGs have come and gone since Star Trek: The Role Playing Game (one of which I also loved), but this one will always be special to me.

Happy birthday, Star Trek!