Red Alert: Feeling Out Star Trek Adventures

While I have a strong love for Star Wars, Star Trek still holds a special place in my heart. Still, I often wondered just how good of an RPG Star Trek would make, as the stories we are presented with in the series revolve around the Federation and it’s interactions and very little outside of the military structure besides a few hints from non-Federation species.

As a sci-fi/science fantasy setting, it just felt lacking in comparison to Star Wars (filled with space knights, rebels, smugglers, and an oppressive regime), Firefly/Serenity, Battletech/Mechwarrior, and many of the others I was playing throughout college.

I have to say that I shocked myself when I was excited to hear that Modiphius was releasing a new Star Trek RPG. I never bothered with the rest of the Star Trek RPGs for the aforementioned reasons, but for some reason I still haven’t realized, I wanted to take a look at this.

After a number of e-mails and running logistics, I got my hands on the playtest materials and started running the game for a few different groups. Here’s what I’d like to share of my experiences so far.

As this is not the finished product, I will not be giving this a rating or following my usual review. If anything, I want to just talk about the game itself to talk about my early impressions.

While the game doesn’t require an NDA, I’m a bit wary of going into all of the ins and outs of the rules as they are still in early development. I’ll go into more details when the rules are finalized and I have a core book in hand, but for now, please accept my apologies for being vague on the mechanics.

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==The Early Pitch==

Modiphius is taking their 2d20 system (powers Conan, Achtung Cthulhu, and many others) and tweaking it for the Star Trek universe.

To date, there were three other Star Trek RPGs from Last Unicorn Games (ICONS), FASA, and Decipher, each having different systems and approaches to how the game should be run. This makes it the fourth officially licensed Star Trek game to be published.

This version of the game is designed to support every non-Abrams version of Star Trek, meaning Enterprise, The Original Series, The Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and the films associated with each of these franchises.

==What We Have==

As of this writing, I’m looking at Alpha 1.3, which is a clean set of rules for basic actions, combat, and starships, as well as a smattering of adversaries from the 23rd and 24th centuries. We also were sent an adventure with the initial packet.

At the moment, we are missing character creation and progression rules, a number of details for ships (proper ship creation rules, shuttles, etc), and setting notes that would be useful for the work.

The playtest is part of a Living Campaign, meaning the various actions and results we submit will impact the later adventures written. I’m normally iffy about general Living Campaigns (as later adventures are often influenced by the whole of players submitting details, meaning it may not make sense for your own group’s actions), but I am curious about what is happening here.

The campaigns are broken down by “ship.” The ships we are offered are the USS Lexington (Constitution-class) in the 23rd Century for some background details, followed by a group of 24th Century ships, namely the USS Venture (Galaxy-class), Thunderchild (Akira-class), and Bellerophon (Intrepid-class). The overall campaign goal is to explore the Shakleton Expanse around Narendra Station, and each ship plays a part in that story (and a role in the action, of course).

==How Does It Play?==

At the moment, I have pick-up groups at the local comic book shop as well as a group of friends for a play-by-post game, meaning I’m running two different sessions and two different campaigns. I am actually running adventures for the USS Lexington and the USS Venture between the two groups, with potential repeat sessions here and there.

So far, the game has met with a surprising amount of success, albeit with a few hiccups.

The core mechanic is a simple add stat+skill, roll low mechanic that we see in a number of games (Inverted 20, The Dark Eye, and more). The difference is, in this game, it tracks successes; you roll MULTIPLE dice, and each die under the number grants a success. More successes mean better results, and the mechanics grant a way to bank these better results for later effects (more dice, more damage, and more). It’s not complicated, but the most complex part is the free-form elements of the narration.

The idea of doing crazy things and hope they work is a major part of Star Trek lore, and the current rules offer multiple ways to allow it ranging from a single die roll, an Extended Task (multiple rolls with a progress track), to spending resources gained via good rolls or roleplaying  to make things happen.

Additionally, the game is built on the premise of “If you explain it, you can roll it.” For example, have a really good skill with phasers but everyone needs help with repairing? Announce how you can use the phaser to weld and you’re good! Are you a pilot and everyone is trying to collect dangerous plants? Explain how your hand-eye coordination works for the task and you can roll that instead.

For my local group, we’ve been having a blast. Most of them are Pathfinder players that are Trekkies and wanted to join in on the fun, while a few are die-hard fans of narrative-heavy games. While the game is a bit more narrative in nature (one guy commented “It’s like Fate, but with more numbers”), everyone was able to grasp the core mechanics with relative ease. In fact, the group got into the spirit of Star Trek right off the bat and went into some of the rules of “So Crazy It Might Work” almost immediately; in my first two local games, I’ve seen them trying to modify warp cores, use a phaser to weld a core breach, use their knowledge of Medicine/Biology to note weaknesses in an opponent, and rip apart a station to build an anti-ionic energy machine to cure a devolution problem. It’s been a great romp through basic Star Trek shenanigans, that’s for sure!

One local group finished the given adventure, and some of them returned with friends a few weeks later to play with more of the new rules, such as the starship rules. While they are a bit quirky (ships are given character sheets almost identical to player characters), the group got right into it and went toe-to-toe with a pair of Romulan vessels with plenty of hilarity to spare. Good times there!

My online group has had a few more hiccups. Outside of the obligatory problems of online games/play by post, the group is having a harder time grasping the ways to use alternative skills for rolls due to the vague descriptions of the stats/skills, which grinds certain scenes (like extended tasks) to a halt. Part of it may the difficulty of soundboarding efficiently and acting off of each other, while part of it may be tied to the open-ended nature of the game; most of the players are classic D&D and d20 players, with little experience with games like Fate. As we are all working from a distance and via text, it is a bit harder to truly work together the way a game like this needs to be.

We’ve been working on it (and a few players have FINALLY read the rules), so things have been moving ahead a bit more. We still have some snags, but I think the snags are more about online play than the mechanics themselves.

Overall, the rules are easy to pick up, the math is simple, and the narrative is flexible. It’s not perfect by any means; the Social Combat mechanics are clumsy and almost non-existent, ships are still a bit vague at times, and there’s little support if a player is missing but fills a vital role on the ship (or if you are unable to have a character fill that vital role on the ship due to group size). Another concern that we have: it may turn out to be too “heavy” on the numbers or provide little progression. We’re still in the early phases of things, so only time will tell what we REALLY get.

==The Early Verdict==

More than likely, I’m looking at picking up the core rulebook for Star Trek Adventures. I’m not entirely sold on it yet, but from what I’ve seen, I do like it.

Character creation/progression and in-depth starship rules will make or break the game for me, as they do with any sci-fi RPG (and part of why I have that love/hate with FFG’s Star Wars), but so far, the game may end up gracing my shelves and be a part of my convention RPG list.

If you would like more details on Star Trek Adventures, including seeing the discussions or signing up for the newsletter, you can do so by following this link.

==Update: 6/8/2017==

Last night, I received word that the pre-orders for Star Trek Adventures are now live, with an August release lined up. Among the order options are the core rulebook, the 1701-D Collector’s Edition, miniatures, dice, and a Borg Cube Collector’s Box/GM Kit with everything needed to play.

While there is a LOT of blowback on the prices (about $60 USD for the core rulebook), the rulebook is competitively priced (Star Wars, Numenera, and 7th Sea are all in that ballpark). I’m not a fan of the pricing on extras ($40 GM screen, over $20 per set of dice, etc), but that’s licensing for you.

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