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Q&A on Running Star Trek Adventures (2d20)

I have been communicating with Sean_RDP / Logan40k about Star Trek Adventures and our experiences with it. Part of that conversation was to agree to post some thoughts about our respective campaigns in a digestible format, so as a starter we have this brief Q&A to broach the topic. 

What did you do with the game?

We ran the campaign through several short 'adventures' which were envisioned as actual episodes of Star Trek. Each episode took 2-4 sessions to complete with a session running 2-3 hours in many cases and 1-2 hours in others. Play was opened and closed with a formalized ritual behavior that included officer log entries, the voicing of our version of the "Space the final frontier..." monologue, and was rounded out with with GM descriptions of a typical family watching the episode as it played out. 

The Series: To Know the Unknown

The ship selected was a Cheyenne Class cruiser refitted for a Multi-role mission, with an emphasis on exploration. The ship's dedication exhorts its crew to know the unknown and to defend those who cannot defend themselves. The USS Crow was sent on a continuing mission into the Beta Quadrant beyond the Romulan Star Empire to blaze a trail of good will for future Federation diplomatic missions while disrupting Romulan aggression in the area - if necessary. 

The ship had a squad of Starfleet Marine Pilots assigned to it for purely military operations. This was one source of cultural and ethical friction in the setup of the crew. Another source of sensitive interaction was with the Chief of Engineering. 

The main characters (PCs) were the ship's Executive Officer, it's Operations Manager, its Chief of Security. In the early sessions there was the Chief Medical Officer and the Science Officer, and in the later sessions, we gained a Chief Technician. The rest of the bridge crew were recurring Supporting Characters. The captain, the chief engineer, and the Marine Squad Leader were NPCs. 

The Episodes:

  • Pilot Episode: Shakedown Cruise
    • Test the ship refits
      • Dramatic tensions arise when a by-the-book attitude in Engineering conflicts with the by-any-means attitude of the Bridge crew
  • Leap of Faith
    • A string of sleeper ships from a pre-warp culture are preyed upon by pirates
    • The crew learns the sleepers are fleeing a Romulan take-over of their world
      • Debate arises over how to help within the ethics of Starfleet, the Federation, and the crew itself
  • Siege Perilous
    • Two vessels are found in danger of being pulled into a trinary black hole cluster
    • Rescue operations are tense and many hard decisions need to be made
      • Challenge presents itself in establishing contact with the aliens and finding ways to merge and harness their different technological bases to save as many as possible
  • Crew Exchange
    • Following the rescued aliens from the previous epsiode to their destination where they were headed for a mission of mercy 
    • The Executive Officers were exchanged during the voyage to help improve the functionining of the Universal Translator and foster a stronger spirit of cooperation
      • Cultural differences and biology cause various moments of tension, not all of it alien
      • Signs of Romulan inolvement in the disaster spur diplomacy with the locals
  • Secrets
    • Using star charts gained from their new allies in the quadrant, the ship heads to a nearby system to investigate ancient ruins while continuing to search for Romulan outposts
      • A cat and mouse hunt with a Romulan vessel results in some startling revelations about the Captain
        • This episode played out partly in reverse chronological order
  • Shore Leave
    • One of the crew is arrested for something innocuous while on vacation on a resort world, and the sentence is death!
      • Rivalry and misunderstanding are revealed as the charactres try to help their crewman
      • A deepening of overal tension appears with the recognition of Romulan activity on the peaceful and defenseless planet
  • Ambush
    • The Romulans tailing the ship attempt to catch the USS Crow off-guard while the Crow is attempting to do the same to them
      • A new crew member joins  
      • The new bonds among the crew are tested as old rivalries with Engineering resurface
  • What You Need is Known
    • Investigation of a dying system discovers another alien ruin, but this one matches records from the 5-year mission of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 and its discovery of the People of Vaal
    • A Gorn heavy cruiser arrives intent on driving them from the system while computer and sensor failures aboard ship and dangerous incidents on the surface impede the investigation into the nature of the planet and an imprisioned population of humanoid people
      • Several mysterious and ancient forces seem intent on achieving goals beyond the ken of the crew
  • Court-Martial (season finale)
    • The ship is recalled to Starbase 152 as the captain is summoned for a Court-martial
      • The crew rallies around her, but their efforts to mount a defense seem to be balked at every turn
      • The Executive Officer realizes that he is on a shortlist for Captain of the USS Crow and might be the only officer on that list interested in keeping the crew together

 

What were the expectations for play and the reactions to play?

The group had been together for close to 4 years at the point of starting Star Trek Adventures and had played a 3+ year Star Wars (Genesys) campaign, several off-shoot adventures with players taking on the GM role in that same campaign setting, and a variety of one-shots for Leagues of Gothic Horror (Ubiquity). In that time, our shared but differing love of Star Trek had become well-known. Given that understanding, we paid careful attention to choosing an era of play and paying close attention to each members thoughts on examples of good and bad episodes. From that pool of opinion was formed a coherent vision of Star Trek from our group's perspective. Overall, there was enthusiasm, but a certainty that we would soon go back to Star Wars or move to one of several other games I had pitched to them.

The production problems in the layout and organization of the material and the lack of a competent editor and proofreaders were already proving to annoy me before play started and would not improve during the year+ of play. 

In play, we discovered that the group was even more in sync with Star Trek than they had been with Star Wars. They were more comfortable with each other, and having contributed to the set up of the campaign they were very comfortable with the ship, its mission, and their roles. Their enthusiasm spurred me to create numerous handouts and to set up the location of play to operate like a Star Trek meeting room, with display panels and other resources. We enjoyed ourselves a lot. 

As an aside, I continued to hate the physical book and the PDF. It may seem over-the-top to use the word hate for a book, but considering the value of the IP, the resources Modiphius put into the art, binding, and support for the line, it is incomprehensible to me that no one paid for a competent editor to work on the text. An RPG is text first. This set me on a path of speaking out about such flagrant disregard for the consumer by larger producers and acceptance of this (or ignorance of it) by consumers who seem to neither read nor play the games they buy. It was a strong reaction.

Was play aided or impeded in any way by the group?

We decided early on that the episodes of The Next Generation and The Original Series were to be treated as historical records, much as the The Cage is used in The Menagerie in the Original Series. This worked in two ways. First it strongly empowered our highly competent crew to sound that way through the confident dialogue of the players. Second, it gave me a resource to cite in Obtain Information tasks that I could quickly reference by title (which the players could look up on Memory Alpha while playing using their phones as a physical analog of a tricorder or computer terminal) or that I could show scenes from as if being played back on the view screen. We found this to be both fun and useful. 

The other major factor was that each player had a set of handouts which provided the full deckplans of the ship, details of their character's role on the Bridge, the specific rules for their tasks and Talents, and a list of the secondary characters. Very quickly the group began to remember where everything aboard ship was and to be able to think of it as a real place. In addition, rules questions were minimized which prevented me from screaming my hatred of the organizaton and lack of index in the book to the sky. No one needs that, least of all me.  

Play was impeded by the birth of a child and ultimately Season 2 has yet to begin due to issues of parenthood and some changes of job and schedules. 

Are there any Actual Play videos or other resources available?

I have a series of recaps in video form complete with commentary on the system and its effects. It can be viewed here: Star Trek Adventures Recaps: To Know the Unknown
 

I had the opportunity to play the game before I ran it. That session can be viewed here thanks to the Complex Games Apologist channel on YouTube:   Repatriation

The GM's Reflections on that session can be viewed here.  My reflections on that session can be viewed at this link. Incidentally, the Complex Games Apologist channel has a fantastic series on the rules for Star Trek Adventures. 

Follow Up Questions:  From Me to You
If you have read, played, or run the game, please join in the discussion!

1. What rules proved to be easier/harder than you expected and what was the source of that effect?

2. Do you conceive of an RPG with a licensed IP like Star Trek Adventures to be for portraying the characters from the shows, for emulating or parodying the characters from the shows, for running your own characters in the setting of the shows, or something else?

3. Have you played a Star Trek game with a different system, licensed or otherwise?

Your Questions....?

Do you have questions about 2d20 (now a system customized to support a variety of IPs and needs) and/or Star Trek Adventures?  Please post them in the comments~

 

To Know the Unknown Recap and Commentary Playlist: Click Me

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

Sean_RDP's picture

My answers may not be as detailed as Runeslinger's, but I appreciate the opportunity to talk about my experience with Star Trek: Adventures

What did you do with the Game?

We decided after a group vote to play Star Trek: Adventures after getting done with several years of D&D5E and one year of Shadoruwn. As a game master I wanted to run a system that was not 5E and something less dice heavy than Shadowrun. The group had suggested they wanted more of a focus on narrative and less gameyness. Whatever that means. 

It came down to Conan and STA and STA won by a nose. I offered up the idea of playing Star Trek and we discussed what era, though I knew it would be The Next Generation era.  The characters would have their own ship, would be the command crew as the main characters, and it would take off in a different direction from the other contemporary shows (TNG, DS9, Voyager). I chose to send them off into unknown parts of the Beta Quadrant so that they could make their own way. My plan was for six sessions per season, and 4 hour sessions as 1 episode. So six episodes.

The Series

First, you may see some points where Runeslinger's game and mine are similar. I think it interesting we both chose to send the crews into the Beta Quadrant, beyond Romulan space.  That is something I think might be of interest to discuss why. My answer is simple: I wanted an area of space that was close enough to the main area of the Federation that events from those other series would or could affect the hero ship. The Alpha quadrant was a bit played out, so I chose Beta as the material suggested it was the less explored of the two.

I was looking for a good ship, but older model. I am a bit of a ship guy. I like ships, sea and space. A Galaxy-class was out of the question: too big and too capable. The Excelsior and Ambassador classes, both "heavy" cruisers like a Galaxy, were also a bit big for what I wanted. The small science vessels were too small and that left a Constellation class (like Picard's Stargazer) and the tried and true Miranda class vessels. The most famous of which is USS Reliant from ST: The Wrath of Khan. But the Miranda is such a versatile vessel they keep updating them. I also liked the sound of Star Trek: Miranda as a name for the series and so decided not only would it be a Miranda-class starship but it would be THE Miranda itself. Mira as the crews call her.

The main characters were: A Romulan defector as the Captain, a Trill XO, an Andorian Security Chief, a Human 2nd officer / Operations, a science officer, and a chief mdeical officer. Human I think. There was an engineer, that no one liked, a human second for Security and the Ensign who flew the shuttle. These were recurring characters. 

Episodes

I do not know if I have all the episode  notes but I have some of them.

S1E1: Toils of Persephone

The USS Miranda is tasked with delivering a Federation (Andorian) and Gorn ambassadors to the Haellion system and planet Haellion IV. There to meet the Ullidi ambassador. I broke the session into two acts. 

Honestly, this session was a ton of fun. I introduced several species from the Star Fleet Battles universe as potential friends and foes. In particualr the Kzinti (in at least one episode of the Star Trek Animated Series) and the Lyrans, their cousins/blood enemies. The players did Trek things all over the place. 

Each character also receive their own intro scene or a shared one with another main character. I focused heavy on spolighting different main characters. 

However, the seeds of the campaign's ultimate demise were there. I had stated that I wanted something more serious or at least taken seriously. But there were seeds of the Orville in the session. Things were a bit zany. And I should have course corrected either towards it are hard away from it. Instead I tried to keep a middle ground. 

S1E2: Can You Ever Go Home Again?

This episode dealt with the Andorian Security chief facing family issues and a dangerous rescure mission. The mission was fine, the family drama fell flat. And that was okay, I did not sweat that too much. Ensign Gary (I may have called him Bob earlier but the notes say Gary) survived two episodes. That was the highlight of the session. Again, a sign that the game may have drifted away from the tone we had agreed on.

S1E3: Season of Floods

This episode dealt with a region of space that had interesting life forms, a dedicated scientists willing to risk hsi life to study them, and a radiation "flood" that would keep ships out of the area for a year. 

This episode was meant to focus on the science officer and give her a choice to remain and be part of the team or stay on the Miranda. What is the price of knowledge was one of her values (I think). But the player did not pick up on that, instead suspiciously assuming the scientist was going to kill and dissect her for his experiments. I was frustrated and the player was frustrated they did not pick up on those clues.

S1E4: The Edge of Memory

This was the last session I have major notes on. The USS Miranda picks up her own distress beacon from eighty years earlier. My recounting of this session is that there was tension among the players. Several thought each other were not taking the game seriously.  I am not sure anyone had fun.

We played two more sessions, in a kind of extension of episode 4, but I called it quits after session 6. People were missing the game and I could tell there was an underucrrent of issues.

What were the reactions to play and expectaions of play?

I spoke to the group about my expectations. They were, primarily, dealing with taking what we were doing seriously, which did not mean not having fun, and to be true to the source material. All were fans of the TNG part of the franchise and so that is time period we played in. 

And everyone agreed that is what they wanted. But I play with a group for whom sarcasm is a second language. Or maybe a first language. We love ironic phrasing and in this case, it upturned the game. One player, who usually plays it loose, was a big fan of Trek and wanted to take it seriously or play it straight. This was a big deal for this player. But there was a misalignment in expectations as other players tried to rope this player into the normal shenanigans. 

There were a lot of shenanigans. 

Was play aided or impeded in any way by the group?

I never blame my players. I blame myself for not creating a better environment and expectations for the players. 

The players awould not speak to one another outside of the game about the game. I am not sure why. This meant often I was playing peace maker. Not everyone learned the rules as well as some others. So there again was a source of frustration. For myself in particular. I did not want to put anyone on the spot and spent a huge amount of time with one on one emails asking about the player and their character. 

So I do think some of the players did not engage with the game at the same level that others did. That may be an understatement. Everyone had different expectations of the game. Including myself.

Conclusions

I think the system is great. I think that my first foray into the setting and system was a disaster that I should have seen coming. I won't self-flagellate, but this campaign hurt my confidence as a GM in general. I want to try it again and I want to do a Babylon 5 hack of it when I have time. 

 

Sean_RDP's picture

I just remembered a detail about episode 4: the Trill character's symbiot was on the original Miranda and was the captain if my memory serves. I thought this would give that character space to establish themself and work on some of the anxiety. Ultimately it did not.

In our Discord chat, Sean_RDP and I discussed some of the elements that worked against his campaign and that mine avoided. One of these was the influence of the comedic The Orville television series obviously put together from a place of love and irreverance for Star Trek.

At the time of my campaign, that show was running and two of the initial players were definitely bringing references in to their play as out-of-character asides and as in-character dialogue into the first session. We had talked a lot about what our group conception of Star Trek was, so I had not expected this, and the Orville and its tone had not had been a part of the discussions prior to play. We had discussed tone a bit, but not as much as we should have given the new mix of personalities within our group (we were adding two new players). We did this partly because there is a lot of Star Trek media in the Next Generation era to sort through, and because there was a clear age gap in the play group. We had noticed this gap when getting ready to play Star Wars (our previous campaign). That age gap was sufficient to have a distinct effect on the amount of exposure each side of it had had to the other's first exposure to the IP. Recognizing that Episodes 1-3 are not like Episodes 4-6 of Star Wars on several levels, we sat down to talk about what we wanted from each and what would be discarded. We did the same for Star Trek, but it did not work out as well - at first. 

Fate intervened to rectify the Orville problem by causing a birth which took two of the 5 players out of action for a few weeks and causing them to miss Session 1. This gave the two players who kept playing for humour more focus in the first session and ensuring we would notice the difference in tone between the members of the group. Fate continued to play a role by delaying the second session by a week and then finally by shuffling everyone's work schedules. By dumb luck, the two Orville fans were unable to remain in the campaign. Had that not happened, I would have had to follow step one of the holy trinity of play and "talk with the players" to indicate the mismatch in tone and get a consensus on which tone we preferred. This would have been a bit awkward as at that moment it was a four person group split evenly in opinion.

When the two new parents returned to play, everyone was on the same page in terms of "what is our Star Trek" and in regard to its tone. We talked about that openly to reinforce it and affirm it, and then played out the rest of the campaign without needing to talk about it again for adminstrative purposes. We did talk a lot about how the campaign 'felt like Star Trek', though. 

The other factor which helped, I think, was that I like to set things up early to help build attachment to a setting aspect (a ship, an organization, a way of life, etc) and involve the players on an out-of-character level to fine tune that aspect to the point where they find it easier to become strongly invested in it. That investment is contagious and with some conscious fanning of its fever, can help it become self-sustaining. 

Sean_RDP's picture

Our group was split in that sense too. The captain just plays to have a good time or was doing so in this campaign. The other two players having a hard time staying 'on tone' were just not comfortable with the decision making that senior officers require. So they would revert to the engaging in comedy play, going down rabbit holes and such, to deflect the need for serious in-character decision making. Again, I feel a bit responsible in this as I pushed them to stay within parameters they were clearly not interested or comfortable in. 

This frustrated the other three players and lead to a building tension within the group.

Ross's picture

Follow Up Questions:  From Me to You
If you have read, played, or run the game, please join in the discussion!

I played in four sessions with a group at my local games cafe. The campaign faded out due to Covid / GM burn out.

1. What rules proved to be easier/harder than you expected and what was the source of that effect?

The various options for spending criticals (is that the right term, I can't remember) in fights seemed quite complicated for the actual impact they seemed to have on play / outcomes. Not that this was a huge problem for me as my Chief Medical Officer couldn't hit the side of bus, but some of the other players seemed to grind their gears on this when all they really wanted / needed to do was fire phazers and stun things.  As I recall the spending successes seemed much more workable / usable for "bigger tasks" like scientific research.

I'm not sure any of us ever got the hang of the increasing / decreasing range for fumbles mechanic - as evidenced by me not remembering what it was called. 

2. Do you conceive of an RPG with a licensed IP like Star Trek Adventures to be for portraying the characters from the shows, for emulating or parodying the characters from the shows, for running your own characters in the setting of the shows, or something else?

Of the options "running your own characters in the setting of the shows" seems closest to what I personally would want. And more specifically using that to engage with the / some of the interestng things in that setting - so I was drawn in the campaign our GM planned by his intention to engage with the aftermath of the Dominion War, characters with trauma from the conflict, carrying out missions of peace in a vastly over armed starship, that sort of thing. Some of the other players presumably had a different answer as they were playing characters drawn from the corners of the series (DS9 specifcally) / its associated books. 

3. Have you played a Star Trek game with a different system, licensed or otherwise?

No but I'm not really a Star Trek afficionado.

I also have a question - I thought it was interesting that you had NPC crew members providing some of the conflict within episodes. My understanding of in particular the Values mechanics was that the game tried to set up the Player Characters to bring these tensions / conlicts in among themselves, and possibly with the secondary characters. Did you find this necessary due to having a smaller player group (when I played we had 6 players plus the GM)?  

I will answer your question first, Ross. Having one or more NPC characters aboard for the express purpose of generating tension did not turn out to be necessary, but it did turn out to be interesting and enjoyable in the cases where the players came to wonder about the source of tension and then came to care about resolving the conflicts. It gave them the opportunity to interact with these things as a group in a place of relative safety and control so they could focus on the questions these NPCs raised.

Before we played I was working under the notion that the players would be unlikely to give me Threat in order to improve their chances of success. One solution to this beyond setting up situations which create Threat as a result of introducing specific traits to a scene is to have an NPC character be somewhat out of sync with the rest of the crew. Their interactions can create threat instead of Momentum. If the players allow the problems to fester, they are contributing to the Threat pool by their inaction. I figured, that once we had played for a while and they saw the effect Threat had on play, that they would recognize that it would not be the end of the world if they generated some when buying extta dice. I was right, and they did want to avoid Threat, and so the NPCs served their function well there by generating Threat for me to use and allowing me to demonstrate how the GM spends it. 

Another factor was in helping the ship to feel as large as it was supposed to be. The Secondary Characters go a long way to making this happen, but a sprinkle of NPCs gives it that extra zing. 

Effects
When spending Momentum and Effects rolled on the Challenge Dice, it can turn into a hunt for the perfect option or a long discussion about what the various options do for you. That does go away over time. We had a similar thing crop up with activating weapon qualities in Star Wars (FFG) so I was somewhat prepared for it to crop up again, and they were receptive to my suggestions about talking about the details outside of the session, and just going with an Effect(s) that matched the action being shaped in that moment while also recognizing that the fiction isn't set by the dice roll and then modified by the effects, but rather it is set after the dice results have been modified. It is a one-step process that looks like a two-step process. 

Familiarity with how Injury/Breaches work, and what to expect in terms of dice results really helps. I totally get how it can seem that the effort required to review and choose the options can make them seem underwhelming. In part this is related to the intial Task Difficulty. Too high and there is not enough Momentum to spend and too low means there is too much and all of that leads to talking about what to do instead of doing it. Also, when characters act alone - especially in something like ship combat - instead of as a team, then results can be underwhelming. 

Complication Range
The game's inclusion of success at cost and of scene traits makes for some interesting situations. The dice can contribute to this with setting the complication range. There are several ways this can happen, but probably most commonly is done by the GM. By spending Threat, the GM can expand that Complication Range which means more rolls might lead to new scene traits being added or more Threat being introduced to the pool which in turn means the GM can cause greater changes to the scene to enhance its challenge. Normally a roll of 20 is the worst result and it introdoces a complication. Certain rules in the game allow for this to be expanded to be 18-20 or even 16-20, making it more likely that things get "more interesting" in the scene. 

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