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Star Trek Adventures - First Response - Session 4 (Pilot, part D)

Reporting on this installment has been delayed because although the pilot episode did reach its conclusion with part D, videos and other posts are still being prepared in regard to it. However, as play continued with the first part of the new episode last night, the time has come to post this report. 

For my part, there was much to enjoy in this first foray with this group into an Original Series spin-off of our own devising. While, like anyone, I can find fault with my own contributions to the actual play, I find myself liking the interactions among the players outside of the game and as a part of the game, and I am very curious about and interested in their characters. I am also very curious about what form the conversations of play will take after a few episodes have been experienced. 

In this episode, the experimentation on my part continued, mostly with how scenes were framed. This time I went for a process of overlapping scenes we can cut between. I tend to like this approach in general and with STA in particular, but as some aspects of doing it in 2d20 involve game mechanics (such as the decay of Momentum) I found, upon review that I could have handled that aspect better. This is where we can see the controlling hand of habit stepping in to bypass the best of intentions~

We also get to see some fairly strong uses of Threat, particularly near the end. Uses like this can catch players by surprise, but I was unsurprised with how well they took it. 

I have noted that some details are slipping by random players in each session, so one thing I do want to look into with the group is sources responsible for this such as lag with zoom, multiple people speaking at the same time, momentary inattention, incomplete description, insufficient clarification of important points, etc. The group of players is really sharp and insightful, so these isolated and random but recurring incidences of missing information stand out due to the contrast. If it were one episode or one player that would be easier to figure out, but as it is all four of us, it is worth investigating as it must touch on varied causes from technology to technique. 

The Episode and its Offspring

Videos that are currently available on the conclusion are listed here, with the playlist linked as usual, below. In case viewers have missed it, each video has links in the top right corner which take you directly to the playlist and to other related playlists. These become visible on a mouse-over. 

Part D

Ron's Reflections

Anthony's Reflections

As the episode has reached its conclusion, I have also released a (long) video which contains segments recorded prior to the play of each session which focus on the preparation process and factors which shaped, informed, or influenced that process. 

Pilot Episode Preparation

Additional posts, which include KC's Reflections, KC's full-session commentary, and a written recap of the imagined events are still in progress. As these are released, I will append them in the comments below.

Questions

As the GM, I have some questions for those who watched this session, a previous session or more, or all for sessions:

  • What about the characters do you find interesting?
  • What ramifications from this episode would you imagine?
  • Were there any surprises for you as the episode played out?
  • How much of your response to any of the three questions above do you feel comes only from what you watched as compared to being a combination of what you watched and what your own imagination has filled in?
     
Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

Part D of the the Pilot Episode presented as a scene by scene commentary by KC (Ensign Yang)

KC's personal reflections on Part D of the pilot episode can be seen here

Ron Edwards's picture

Here are my reflections for the session, which actually don't address "what we did" or specific system features at all, but rather drift over to another Trek-musings topic entirely. I've decided to restrict my thoughts on play itself to whole episodes rather than sessions. Still, I think it's relevant in an intersecting-axes, eigenvector-like way..

Helma's picture

Anthony, you posted a number of questions and I decided to try and answer them. I realized now that the answers are as long as the pilot episode, sorry for that, but I think I will not try to shorten them. Hope that it's not to much.

What about the characters do you find interesting?
It is their personalities (that includes even secondary characters and NPC) and what that says about the atmosphere on board and the former captains leadership. My interpretation is that most of the crew has been on board since before the retrofit and thrives. People like Anya Smith and M’Bhuto stay for a reason – mostly because they can do their jpb the way they want to without any “disturbances” from higher up. There is a couple of really strong personalities and I look forward to see them clash, handle adversity and develop.
What ramifications from this episode would you imagine?
As this was the pilot I’d not count on many things carrying on into the next episodes. I’m counting on the alien artifact (and alien technology from the same culture) to be a recurrent part of the series. Oh, and I wonder how long it will take them to get the weapons systems going. The “we against the ignorant rest” attitude that was displayed by the constant attempts to ignore incoming calls (my kudos to the unnamed communications officer who hold of Starfleet Command for an hour at least) has probably set the scene for how missions are going to be handled. One last thing will be how the events of the pilot will influence ensign Yang in the future.
Were there any surprises for you as the episode played out?
This is a difficult question, I’d say no long lasting or really big ones? Given that we know where you come from, that is that you want to recreate the feel of the original series I’d rather say that from my point of view and my sketchy recollections you succeed very well (realized that I probably never watched a full episode of Star Treck and finally did so yesterday, watching “The Cage” in it’s whole length).
One of the things that did surprise me are the number of female officers on the bridge. I’m seriously wondering what finally tipped the scales.
Something else that I’m wondering about is where the interesting attitude regarding engineers comes from. I have a feeling it is a Star Trek thing but can not pinpoint it.
How much of your response to any of the three questions above do you feel comes only from what you watched as compared to being a combination of what you watched and what your own imagination has filled in?
All of my responses are a combination of what I watch and what I automatically fill in. I’ve no idea how to watch or read something and “switch” of my imagination and you are giving me a lot of things to work of. The “disruptions” by rules explanations and the like are no disruptions as far as I’m concerned, they actually help me because I’m not left being distracted by “how did they get there” thoughts.

By now I have a complete (I think) list of cast though I’m not aöways sure where the line between secondary characters and NPC goes and I’m looking forward to the next episode.

Thank you for taking the time to answer, Helma. I enjoyed reading your responses. I find it particularly interesting that you have an attachment to the maverick behavior which has begun to appear in play. I too am very curious about how that will manifest in future sessions, and in what ways that will influence how the campaign goes. 

Some of your questions, will be answered in the next wave of videos (there won't be as many, but there will be a few). Later today I will be releasing the first session of the next episode, and the table talk video which includes the process of Experience and Promotion. That segment of the video delves deeply into not only how the characters felt about the events of the pilot, but how their superiors did as well. 

Trek does have some archetypes, such as "The Diplomat" and "The Engineer" which have evolved into tropes of the show, and I suspect that is what you have noticed about engineers, but perhaps you mean something else~

A video on failure and introducing it in STA can be viewed here

Ron Edwards's picture

I really enjoyed this one.

Context of failure

Thanks, Ron. I am glad to hear it. The video does not cover all the ground that the seminar here did, but it is similar to talks I have with new groups I play with or when we take on a game where the context of failure differs from what we have been playing. STA pushes that particular bar pretty hard, I find - even in the Original Series. The concept of being the best of the best, under the pressure of the highest expectations, with the greatest consequences for error is baked into many of my favorite episodes, and contributes to enjoyable parts of many less-favored episodes as well. 

Sean_RDP's picture

In the context of Star Trek TOS, can we take a look at an example from the series and talk about that in terms of failure. I recently watched the episode, The Apple, and was thinking about failure in terms of Scotty's attempts to extract the Enterprise from the grip of Val.  

It seems to me that the GM was dropping a lot of threat to keep the attempts from succeeding. I guess, my question is how do you / would you handle the balance between a highly competent officer (Scotty) and a 10,000 year old highly advanced computer? Would the successive failures be just failures? Would the final all out attempt that buys the Enterprise only an hour be success with cost? 

I haven't watched that episode for some time, but I remember the situation you reference, and it is a good one for discussing approaches. It is probably better done in a video, but here's a (hopefully) short text response:

That the Enterprise is trapped and losing power and that there are spin-off effects from that I would establish as location traits. That situation is a factor of being in that place and will be experienced as long as the crew remains there or until they find a way to escape. It is not something an alert crew might detect or prevent or the like, it is a part of the context of the place and the episode as a whole. The ship has arrived at a place where this is possible and unless the crew can change the circumstances, that effect will persist as will all the spin-off effects in turn. 

If the tractor and energy damping beams from Vaal are expressed as location traits, they will need to be countered with the crew finding a way to negate them. Given the intensity of the effects and the power held by Vaal as explored in the episode (planetary and localized weather control, long-range refined energy manipulation, impenetrable force sceens, eternal and flawless operation, etc) these location traits (all ships that enter orbit will be 1. held in place and 2. drained of power at a set rate) should likely be given a rating: Damping Beam 2, for example. We don't have to run this as an action by Vaal and engage in a lot of behind the screen dice rolling, it is just something that applies as soon as orbit is reached. It will begin at that point and be noticed by the crew either on their own as a result of other events in play, or be set up as a 'scene of noticing the effect' by the GM because the crew are good at their jobs and would notice. 

As a scene trait, the characteristics of that trait or the trait itself can be negated by making it untrue (ie. Vaal gets shut down) or by creating an Advantage that addresses one of the deletrious effects of the beam. This can be done through a Determination Spend (Make It So) or by the use of earned Momentum (Create Advantage). Usually, a Momentum Spend to Create Advantage will cost 2M. If the Damping Beam 2 trait were being addressed, that cost would not be enough to do more than reduce the effect by 1. As the rules indicate that each spend option can only arise once from a single Task, that would mean that efforts to negate the Trait with Create Advantage via Momentum would take two separate attempts. If I had set up this episode for play this way instead of what I suggest below, that would mean that 4 tasks would be needed for the crew to set up and implement the 4 advantages needed to cancel out the tractor effect 2 and the damping beam 2. Each could be spaced out into different scenes, take a set duration to accomplish, and could occur around other scenes of action on the planet. 

It could also be established as a Gated, Timed Challenge. There are specific steps to take in order to prepare the Enterprise to break away and/or negate the energy Drain. Each step will take specific and significant amounts of time (examining the effect, rerouting circuits to enable more Impulse power, etc) These tasks will be of high Difficulty (say 3, boosted to 5 initially by the Location Trait itself) which makes them daunting to consider (Hence Scotty's stress and bewilderment) and likely requiring the use of Ship's Power to accomplish with sufficient Momentum to ensure an Advantage can be created. That has two consequences: increased complication range, and it further drains the ship's power thereby accelerating the seemingly inevitable. A clever crew (like on the Enterprise) can still rise to that challenge and gain additional time before burn up, but at risk of problems (cicuit burnout). They may even be able to figure out a way to escape on their own (cause Vaal to expend more power and deny it the ability to recharge) perhaps by a 10hr phaser barrage and wiping out the village of the People of Vaal...  Hmmm. There is a tough choice which will get less and less tough to make as the hour of burning up in the atmosphere nears. Will a TOS era crew immolate itself rather than harm the innocents below?

If the rolls to complete each of these tasks in order and on time as the clock counts down to death should fail, then success at cost could certainly be on the table and that leads directly to denying the use of Momentum to improve results and to the assignment of one or more complications. You gained orbital distance, BUT the circuits are blown. You need  new solution. Time is spent, the hour of death is nearer, resource use is now harder. Nasty - just like in the episode. 

If this set up proves to be insufficient as devised to feel challenging and/or the GM has plans for the episode on a story level (Arrive, meet People of Vaal, The Beam!, Philosophical Discussion about cultural stagnation and their role as Seprents in Eden, Near loss of Ship, Defy Vaal and free the People, The End) such as when writing for publication, then the GM could use Threat to introduce Complications, alter the environment, or even bring about a reversal. An example of the latter could be the cause for the complication descibed above: Scotty gains ground, the Enterprise is pulling away, but the re-wired circuits cannot stand the strain and so burn out. Scotty has gained some time, but unless another solution is found...  a fiery death awaits. As it is a reversal, however, a solution is suggested by what is learned during the attempt. Vaal's use of power accelerates the need to recharge and the amount of power being expended can be seen to weaken as that recharge time nears.  

In the episode, we could imagine that there are no values in play allowing spends of Determination until the end where Kirk suddenly swings into action and generates a successful plan (Assigning specific Tasks to different Enterprise departments) to drain Vaal of power. That might be: an Advantage that The Phaser Banks still work, or it might be that the Enterprise can cause Vaal to use power faster than Vaal can drain the Enterprise, oe ir might just be the generation of sufficient successes (Perfect Opportunity) to get the job done. Mileage may vary~

So, several approaches to this episode allow us to reverse engineer rules explanations for the outcomes shown in it. Choices between them might relate to the number of players, the style of their play, their interests (Are the Main Characters on the ground throwing rocks and getting shot be plants, or on the Enterprise solving treknical problems?), and so on. 

Have I answered your questions or have I caused more.... or both?  
;)

Sean_RDP's picture

No that explains answers my question quite well, thank you. I do like how there are several ways to achieve the same result. 

CGA's picture

I've given this episode a close viewing and have both specific thoughts on the answer to the question in this specific case (that Scotty is an NPC as depicted in this episode, as judged by the scene frames and his level of agency within the script/plot).  He just doesn't get to try things or put effort or approaches into breaking free of Vaal in "The Apple."  It doesn't look like there's room for him to 'create opportunity' to buy additonal dice given the brevity of his apprearacnces and how generally the space-side scenes are entirely through the lens of Kirk's communicator.  I found the challenge of interpreting 'The Apple' into STA mechanics an entertaining challenge and have gotten a bit caught up in it (a video may result).

In any case, in a more general sense the question of "how does one weigh a highly competent starfleet officer against a 10,000 year old computer?" is a question I prefer to answer in as many cases as possible by actually statting up the adversary in question and giving them a defined power set.  I did this exercise for "Who Mourns fo Adonais," a similar TOS "god of the week" episode.  (sample https://imgur.com/a/VKb5p2y ) The adversarial agent may begin scenes with certain traits already achieved, other traits might require them to create complication or advantages with their own tasks. 

When it comes to spending of threat, I have come to prefer keeping a strong link between character action and how the threat is manifested as possible.  At the start of the episode, there's the initial pool, which if there's a set-peice act II premeditated, it may be appropriate to spend it through with create problem and complication spends to stymie efforts as spoken to.  But for the most part after a good deal of experience with trying these kind of episodes, I prefer to simply make the NPC/adversary force and its sci-fi superpowers using the mechanics, then role-play that adversary.

I am glad that you have joined in the discussuon, CGA.

The two of us have been talking about this a bit using Teams as it is such an interesting question. I find it particularly interesting in light of once you assess what way or ways a certain thing from a TV episode can be done with the rules, the next step that occurs to me is to assess if the TV characters involved in that scene are Main Characters per STA rules, Supporting Characters being played in a scene, Supporting Characters in a scene, NPCs, or background characters. Exploring the different options gives some solid insight into how a crew can be built for a campaign, what seemingly routine tasks aboard ship really should not be left in the hands of Supporting Characters, and so on. 

The meaty part of that stampede of thought is what CGA highlights above: the decision to represent adversity as Traits (which determine what is or is not possible, or determine how Difficult something might be) or to represent it as dice-based Opposition, such as as an NPC. There likely isn't a best answer to whether we should approach Vaal as a set of Traits that affect the Episode, or if we should present Vaal as a powerful NPC able to affect a vast area, but I am certain there is a best answer for a given group - either conceptually or practically.

For example, under the time constraints that the STA campaign that I am a part of has, I am very unlikely to make Vaal an NPC - as satisfying, unpredictable, and versatile as that would be - simply because it makes me feel that I have more to track and that there will be moments where the focus is on my dice rolling as a character. That isn't a bad thing by itself, but it contributes to my sense of how much time is passing with the other players watching me talk or do things. I fully expect another GM to feel the opposite way, and choose Vaal as an NPC over Vaal as a set of Traits because, perhaps, they find it easier to interact with the system via a character sheet, and they prefer the interactive nature of opposed rolls with the players. No best answer, but a best answer for a particular group. 

It is very nice to have options!

CGA's picture

So just to clarify: a lot of antagonists, especially those at a distant remove, don't need to exist as a full character sheet in my mind for my mind to be satisfied I've "created" them; a simple rubric of interacting traits, a set of goals, a locality of knowledge vs ignorance... that needn't even be fully codified in writing can do the trick.

In the case of Apollo there's just so much of his physical presence and a feeling of open-ended play to how the elements interact in that episode.

The main events of the pilot episode have been written up with some very minor rules notes on my blog. I may follow this up with a summary of the rules in use in each scene and how they were implemented, but that will depend on time and percieved value. 

LINK

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