Set Phasers to Awesome: Checking Out Star Trek Adventures

I know it’s been a long time coming for this. After talking about the playtest version of the rules here a few months ago, I’ve been waiting rather (im)patiently for the chance to get the actual book. The pre-orders and PDFs went live shortly before CharCon, and once the event was done, I went ahead and ordered my copy.

I didn’t get a chance to read it due to my backlog of other items and events to review, but when the book arrived, I dropped just about everything (except 5 Minute Dungeon) to get right onto it.

Does the game live up to the hype? Does it fill that void after such a long wait? Let’s find out!

==The Pitch==

Star Trek Adventures is the newest attempt at a Star Trek RPG, the first in over a decade, and is produced by Modiphius. The game is using a variant of the company’s 2d20 system, used in their other titles such as Coriolis and Conan, among others.

==What You Get==

Purchasing a copy of Star Trek Adventures directly from the source automatically gives you access to the PDF (standard and printer-friendly versions), so you can get started on reading while you wait for your book to arrive. There is a brick-and-mortar option to buy it and get the PDF, but that seems to vary based on location.

I did the pre-order as my FLGS hasn’t had much luck in getting games in a timely fashion.

The book weighs in at 364 pages, not including the Table of Contents or ads. The inside covers of the book include a map of the known Universe, adding a bit more useful value to the book.

As mentioned, there’s a standard and printer-friendly version of the PDFs, and that’s for a simple reason: the primary text (including the print book) are all done to look like LCARS from The Next Generation (and beyond), leaving you with a dark (black/purple) background with light (white, yellow, light-purple) text and various headers of different colors.

The first 71 pages are dedicated to the setting the stage for the Star Trek universe, with a short overview of the known universe, snippets of in-setting material for past and recent history, and a short synopsis about Starfleet. It is, of course, skewed more towards humanity/starfleet than others, but anyone with the proper knowledge could easily utilize it in their own games.

The timeline is also set primarily for the TNG era. Voyager was just lost in the Badlands, DS9 is still a hotbed of intrigue with the Bajorans and Cardassians, and the Enterprise-D is still the flagship of Starfleet (prior to the film First Contact). There’s plenty of information to run in just about any other era, from the show Enterprise (but no stats for the NX-class ship, sadly) to beyond the film Star Trek Nemesis. Before you ask, no, there’s nothing for Discovery here, but it shouldn’t be long until fans start writing things up for it.

After that, the game strikes a balance between mechanics and setting information for the rest of the chapters, which include information and rules for Character Creation, Combat, Science and Technology, Starships, Aliens, GMing tips, and the Rescue and Xerxes IV mission (the sample used for the first playtest).

Quite a bit packed in this packaging!

==The Mechanics==

I normally don’t like spilling ALL the beans of the mechanics, but I want to at least touch on this for anyone who played or read about the playtest and want to know what’s changed. For the core mechanic, it is honestly the same, just with some tweaked verbage for specifics (like Work instead of Progress).

For those of you that haven’t read my first impressions during the playtest, the core mechanic is as follows: Attribute plus Discipline becomes your target number, and any dice that roll below that number is a success. You always roll two dice, and can roll up to five at a time. Other mechanics, like Challenge Dice, Progress/Work tracks, Social Conflict, and the like remain mostly unchanged, but with a few tweaks in verbage and some minor modifications.

While much is the same, there are a number of things that were greatly expanded on and finally introduced, including Starship creation, Supporting Characters, and even Non-Starfleet characters. I’ll be touching base on most of these further on, because they are rather wonderful bits to discuss.

==The Good==

Like the playtest, the mechanics for the game are relatively simple to follow, utilize, and even hack. The mechanics alone are, by far, the biggest pull for this game; they are balanced and work rather well for the setting.

In fact, the book is quick to bring up an important note when talking about mechanics, and I really think every game needs this.

Another major selling point is a rather simple, and obvious, one: it’s a Star Trek RPG, and it’s been YEARS since we’ve seen one. That alone is a nice selling point.

I’m also a fan of how the writing really stays in setting. There are sidebars to offer tips for players and GMs, but they are written as though you are in the Star Trek universe (i.e. referencing replicators, in-setting materials, etc). I always find things like this to be a nice touch for licensed materials, and it’s good to see it used here (and used well). This is true even down to the layout, which as I previously mentioned, looks like LCARS.

Some parts even include starship controls.

Mechanically, the game is rather simple while having enough elements to be interesting. The Traits and how Advantages/Complications work is very much similar to Fate (easy to tweak, done at the speed of plot, and can be created/overcome by a roll), the Talents offer bonuses that don’t make the system abusable while still letting characters feel unique (break a rule, re-roll dice in set circumstances, etc), and the roll mechanic is simple enough to teach (and tweak) on the fly while also being different enough from other games to stand out. Overall, I like it, and I absolutely adore the fact that the game is incredibly difficult to “break.”

The mechanic itself is also easy to tweak, and there are examples within the game (like using the Scientific Method) that can be used as-is or with a few tweaks to fit the needs of the GM and table. Any game I can hack to make it more enjoyable for the group is a good game.

Character creation is also well detailed and thought out. While there are some that don’t like the idea of a Lifepath creation method, it is worth noting that this game uses it as more of a guideline. Instead of randomly rolling (which you can do), you can select each step of your character’s life and build on those experiences by adding new Values and Traits, as well as standard bonuses. If more games offered this, I’d probably be a bigger fan of Lifepath approaches, but alas, it is not the case.

I haven’t found one path that lets me use two phasers yet, but I’m sure that’s only a matter of time…

From a player and GM standpoint, I’m a fan of the number of player options we are presented with, and how easy it is to tweak them. We are given a number of different species from Starfleet members, consisting of Andorian, Bajoran, Betazoid, Denobulan, Human, Tellarite, Trill, and Vulcan; these are readily available for players, and there’s even a note for Mixed Heritage, allowing for even more versatility outside of the character generation process. There’s even a section about building your own species for your table. While I can see some fans taking these guidelines to build something new (or pull from another favorite setting/universe), I can also see these guidelines being useful for creating a little-known species that appears on screen once and then vanishes.

In the later part of the book, we are given a section of “Aliens and Adversaries,” but there’s a sidebar with each major alien with the information needed to create a player character (or a GMPC-like character), which allows for the creation of Klingon, Romulan, Ferengi, Cardassian, Jem’Hadar, Vorta, and Borg (yes, even Borg!) characters. While every GM might not want to allow players to use these, I find it to be a nice touch, as it allows for alternative game styles (like a Klingon game), alternate universes, or whatever else the GM may want to cook up.

Sadly, no options to play an Android…yet.

The same concept goes with ships, and I honestly like that. We are given a number of ship “frames” to choose from, including Akira-class (U.S.S. Thunderchild), Constellation-class (U.S.S. Stargazer), Constitution-class (U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701), Defiant-class (U.S.S. Defiant), Excelsior-class (U.S.S. Excelsior), Galaxy-class (U.S.S. Enterprise-D), Intrepid-class (U.S.S. Voyager), Miranda-class (U.S.S. Reliant), and the Nova-class (U.S.S. Equinox). In addition to these frames, we are given stats for shuttlepods, shuttles, and the runabouts. Unlike most other games, the ship-classes are not generic-stats, but rather the baseline for a ship of that type, followed by ways to outfit it and the sort of modification options that are available. This means that, unless you purposely build it to be identical, no two ships will be alike, especially after the ship has undergone a few refits.

We didn’t get the try this in the playtest with the Venture or Lexington, but I wonder how each ship would be.

The ships that “aliens” use can also be modified as well for player-use, but there’s a bit of work that will be required there (as there aren’t missions for the ships; they have pre-made stats). Thankfully reverse engineering isn’t hard at all (I was doing it with the playtest), so it’s easy to build upon the current rules and expand your options.

One element that I was concerned about from the playtest was a little note on “Supporting Characters.” On the notes we originally had, Crew Support was used to temporarily introduce a secondary character to keep the player in the action (like on an Away Team) or to grant a temporary bonus (support dice). Now, these Support Characters are much more fleshed out, the options allow them to be played in lieu of the “Main” character (such as on an Away team) for a scene, offer support if they are in the same scene and not controlled by a player, and even bolster small groups (book suggests three or fewer players should use supporting characters as secondary character to fill out roles). Cool thing is, these supporting characters are SHARED by the table, and progression is used to make them better, possibly even as potential Player Characters down the road (think O’Brien from TNG into DS9).

Progression is a bit of an odd beast, but overall good, in my opinion. It uses Milestones, similar to what we’d use in Fate or Cortex, but instead, each one has requirements to meet, such as questioning a Value, getting Injured, and being the primary focus for one more sessions (Normal, Spotlight, and Arc Milestones, respectively). Each milestone has specific bonuses, with the lower ones being minor tweaks to a character (swapping a point in Traits/Disciplines), and the higher ones being used to alter not only the character, but also the ship and other crew.

That last note is important: in this game, characters can spend their own advancements to better an individual Support Crew Member (note that these supporting characters are shared by the group) or to improve the Ship itself. I absolutely love how the game supports the idea that progression is not solely individual characters, but also what they interact with. Progression now represents shared resources, and in the case of Star Trek, the crew’s home. No wonder the various ships named Enterprise were such well known, well-loved, and generally powerful ships.

I’m curious to what I can do with a Defiant-class if given enough time…

Really, there’s a lot of options to borrow from the game, and I’m really digging that. There are rules for using the Scientific Method to solve problems or make new technology (or improve on it, like how Scotty improved the Enterprise‘s warp speed), notes on “Failing Forward” in the GM section, a note on how an officer’s position on a ship grants specific bonuses when on board, a functional (albeit flawed) reputation mechanic, a workable ship upgrade mechanic, an option for streamlined starship combat, and even the aforementioned “The ship is a character” that many games tend to overlook.

In the end, the comment made during one of my playtest sessions still stands: “It’s like Fate, but with more numbers involved.” Some elements could mesh well with Fate, while others could be easily borrowed for other game mechanics with little changes, and I really can’t get over how awesome that is. There’s just so much GOOD about this game, even down to the feeling and messages involved.

I think Roddenberry would be upset with the state of the world, but the ideal here is something to strive for.

==The Bad==

Even with the glowing details above, there’s always some rough edges around the best projects, and sadly, Star Trek Adventures is not exempt from this.

You know things are rough when there’s typos in a book by Page 7, and just a few weeks prior to print copies arriving there’s a four-page Errata document. Thankfully the PDF copy was updated to remedy things, but it’s irksome for those of us that pre-ordered the book that now have to deal with an editor’s oversight in the form of a typo-ridden book. This is a blow to the quality of the book, and I hope this is remedied in the near future.

 

For some GMs, there is a bit more work here than some might like. Characters need to be statted, individual Starfleet ships must be statted (if the group needs to go against one for any reason), the ship the players are using needs stats (and also needs to be tracked for progression, restrictions on said progression, and variable Disciplines depending on initial loadout), and there is a limit to the number of pregenerated opposition. Yes, we have samples of the classic foes like Klingons and Jem’Hadar, but there’s normally three examples per species (normally a Minor, Notable, and Major NPC with a few exceptions). I don’t have too much of an issue with this, but some GMs would rather have a book o’baddies, which you will not find here.

One mechanical concern that came up from time to time is the issue of resource tracking. The GM has a pool of Threat, which is a relatively easy resource to track and use, but from the player side, we have Momentum and Determination players can earn and spend, while ships have Crew Support and Power to track, on top of the usual resources like Stress/Shields. I found that it flowed rather well together, but I’ve met a few GMs that felt these were just “too much to track,” especially since it’s suggested to have a different token to represent each one.

There’s even an “Opportunity” and “Escalation” mechanic for getting items, and it’s playing off of these resources, but is rather lacking at times.

This also doesn’t include character-specific notes. There’s a Reputation mechanic included in the game (0-20) which can impact promotions and the like, but it’s really just kind of there as an RP guideline mixed with a Promotion track, and since it’s luck-based, I’m not really that fond of it.

Progression in general has a bit of an issue. While gaining the Normal Milestone is easy, the others involve your character being in the spotlight, and holding the spotlight for numerous games. While this isn’t inherently bad per-se, there are two issues I have (and will probably have to houserule or use the “organic” option presented).

The first concern is with the Spotlight Milestone, which is suggested to be given out after 2-3 missions (every mission is also possible). Some players really do struggle with the spotlight, whether it’s taking it or even knowing what to do with it, while others struggle with ideas and getting into the grove. This may cause some disruption or arguments at the table, especially since the Spotlight Milestone is down to a vote, and only characters that got a Normal Milestone are eligible. My issue with this is simple: if the spotlight of the story is supposed to be on the Captain, who had a bad day, but the rather charismatic Engineer really chewed the scenery and is overall more well liked, who will get the bonus? It’s a popularity mechanic I’m not too fond of, but GM-caveats may be a bit odd.

The second concern is the actual progression mechanic: it continues to get more expensive. The first Arc Milestones, which are the biggest and best upgrades (and these can impact the ship as well), are given to a player on their third Spotlight. The next Arc Milestone will be on their fourth Spotlight. This continues on, with +1 for each Arc they’ve completed.

Well…shit.

This means that not only will characters stagnate a while (as the real bonuses don’t come in until Arc Milestones), but it also means that the popularity contest of the Spotlight becomes a potential detriment to the party. I have a love/hate with it, but I dislike it a bit more than I like it; slow character progression can kill a campaign, and this would probably need to be tweaked before I can really roll with it.

One of my concerns from the playtest still stands true: social combat is rather awkward, as the mechanics for it are simply suggestions of methods players can take. It feels a bit lackluster as the mechanical side is non-existent and left up to the GM to resolve. There’s a sidebar explaining this, but I just feel odd about it. A part of me thinks that just noting “Social Combat works in a similar matter to X” may have been a better way here. As it stands, it feels like a half-baked idea shoehorned into place instead of adapting an already versatile mechanic with it.

==The Middle Ground of Love/Hate==

This game really brings out the need to reference a Middle Ground aspect for grading. There’s a lot of good stuff in this book, but there are a few things that are double edged that I can’t decide if they raise the grading or lower it.

For starters, I have a love/hate relationship with the layout/design of the book. A part of me absolutely loves and adores the idea that it is using the LCARS motif made popular during the TNG-era. A dark background with a lighter font makes it easier to read, and a printer-friendly PDF was released to allow for easier printing of necessary pages for handouts.

On the other hand, it’s dark background with light font, printed on glossy paper. This means that most lighting options will leave you with blindspots that are worse than most other modern RPGs. I have a hard time reading it in my office at work due to overhead fluorescent lighting, and I have a hard time reading it at home because of general ceiling lights. If I am away from the light, the colors mesh together as some color choices are not THAT far apart (especially sidebars). I’m not a fan of that, and almost want to knock it down if it didn’t make the book look so good.

This is a photo, sans flash, of what this looks like in my living room. The light is about 5′ away, single bulb facing the opposite direction, and on the ceiling.

As a PDF, it’s gorgeous and easy to read, but as a print document, it’s almost worthless for me unless I can be in a space with absolutely perfect lighting. It really detracts from the value, at least for me.

I’m also putting the general artwork in here. Some of the artwork is absolutely beautiful. I cannot emphasize that word enough. The ships are well painted, the technical plans are wonderfully placed, most backgrounds are wonderfully detailed, and some art pieces may cause you to do a double take to ensure they aren’t enhanced screen grabs from the show.

Absolutely. Beautiful.

Then there’s some of the other art. Some pieces are a bit too busy, some have beautiful backgrounds and not-as-beautiful sentient beings, and some are just…drab and uninspired, even to the point of feeling more like a generic sci-fi instead of Star Trek.

Not as beautiful…

One of the biggest faults with the art seems to be around faces; some are well detailed, while others have odd expressions or, even in the case of some characters, the whole head seems oddly shaped.

Mechanically, there’s a lot to love, but also a lot that begs to be tweaked before use. I feel that was about Progression overall, ship modification, and Escalation/Opportunity (item acquisition). There’s plenty of great stuff to use as-is, but I feel that there’s something missing or lacking with each of these mechanics.

Finally, I’m a bit “eh” on the setting details we are given. If you are not a Trekkie, you might not get enough information here to work with for a game if there is a Trekkie at the table (we ran into a TON of potential metagaming during playtests with some die-hard Trekkies at the table, and I’m not as well-versed as I should be). While it’s a good thing that it’s not overwhelmingly focused on the lore as it won’t lose non-Trekkies with boring details, I feel like there’s not enough to really set the stage, even though there’s plenty on the science side of things (classes of planets and the like).

==The Verdict==

All in all, Star Trek Adventures earns a respectable 4 Buns.

There’s tons of great material here for new fans and Trekkies alike, and the core mechanics are solid and well worth the read. I’m wary on suggesting the print copy due to the print issues (typos, fonts, etc), and some of the ideas could have used more time to be spruced up before it was released into the wild, but there’s just so much well thought out detail here that I can’t not suggest it.

Star Trek Adventures is available from the Modiphius webstore, for about $60 US for the print copy (with PDF), or about $15 US for the PDF-only. Other items, including minis and dice, are also available on the site for the die-hard collector.

Make it so, and give those Borg a what for!

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