Star Trek Adventures is a game produced in-house by Modiphius using a specific adaptation of their 2d20 roleplaying system. Other uses of the system adapted for other intellectual properties include but are not limited to Conan, John Carter of Mars, Mutant Chronicles, and the forthcoming Dune. While each iteration of the game bears clearly recognizable elements of the core system, efforts have been made to add, drop, or alter aspects of the system beyond simply renaming them in order to better serve a play experience capable of evoking the IP.
Star Trek Adventures suggests play organized around a principle of staging the ‘adventures’ as Episodes of a Star Trek series, and provides levels of character competence, technological development, and combat lethality strongly in line with the various series rather than with more typical approaches to character, tech, and combat found in roleplaying games.
We have recently completed the third complete Episode and our third month of regular Wednesday play. This Episode is entitled Court of Opinion and each session of the Episode (4 in total) is available for viewing from the links found at the end of this post. Also included in that list of links is the playlist of associated videos which comment on or contribute to our play of the campaign.
The campaign loosely presents an homage to 70s television. This is a fine line to walk. It is a stated goal to be inspired by the TV of that time without the characters acting as though they are aware of being the cast of a show and without the players referencing such things during play. Mostly this inspiration is reflected in the details of description, and the self-imposed limits on the type of science fiction technology included in the setting. In addition, meta-elements such as the way the videos are edited to include period commercials, and how table talk relates the contents of play to the context of the 70s. One possibly confusing aspect of this is that the campaign contains a Pilot Episode, an Episode 1, and now an Episode 2. The names of the campaign and the episodes may also be somewhat confusing – especially on YouTube given the length limitation on titles.
The campaign is called First Response. The group contributed to creating a few titles for the campaign and selecting one from the list. This title corresponds to what the series would have been called had it actually aired on real TV on September 9, 1970 as mentioned in the Pilot.
Each episode has also carried a title, each of which has been inspired by the situation leading into play, or by the early stages of play. The title of the pilot is The Nature of Threat. Episode 1 is called Questions of Duty. Episode 2 is called Court of Opinion. Episode 2, as a result of play has transformed itself into one that is to be continued in a subsequent episode (see below) which will perhaps also bear the title Court of Opinion, part 2. As mentioned in an earlier Reflections video in the playlist, these titles evoke a connection to suggested themes for that episode and are intended to help ground players in a context suggested by the opening situation to help guide players into the episode as an alternate form of description, to help guide the GM in the improvisational play which follows the introduction of the opening situation, and to help increase the sense of experiencing an episode of Star Trek.
The Main Characters before play
Security Chief Korsakov, is a Lieutenant in Starfleet and an experienced member of the Avicenna’s crew from back when it was still the USS Dauntless. Korsakov as created has had a storied career which has caused him to grow from a purely military outlook to one which has him expanding his knowledge through question and study to address the situations he has encountered in the past. Korsakov is one of the few survivors of an encounter that left part of the command crew, including the original captain of the Dauntless/Avicenna – Sten Anders – dead or insane. In his possession is an alien device which may be the root cause of that encounter.
A question this character raised for me before the pilot is, what truly motivates the Chief of Security, is it altruism, self-interest, or some interplay of both?
Flight Controller Yang, bold as brass with highly-honed piloting skills for large and small craft, this newly-assigned Ensign is a fresh face aboard the Avicenna. Yang comes from a family well-placed in politics and Starfleet but has kept these ties to himself. As a new and untried officer aboard a small ship with the potential for such dangerous assignments, Yang seems to fear only one thing – the transporter.
A question this character raised for me in the beginning (and to a certain extent still does), is to wonder to what degree Starfleet is a calling and a home to this talented young ensign, and to what degree it is just a stepping stone to other pursuits?
Acting Captain T’lyak is a Commander in Starfleet and newly appointed CO of the USS Avicenna, a former destroyer in the process of an overdue refit for duty as a ship in a newly-formed crisis response flotilla. T’lyak is a Vulcan quite taken with human philosophical thought, particularly stoicism, who through a series of unfortunate events had to take command from the captain, Commander Sten Anders, to save the crew. As a result of that action and the investigation into the actions of Anders, the Vulcan has been reassigned from his post as the Chief Medical Officer aboard the Avicenna to being the provisional CO responsible for overseeing its refit.
A question this character raised for me is, if he were a human, would the promotion have been provisional?
Sadly, this character has been recast as an NPC.
My play in Court of Opinion represented a course correction in implementation to reflect my observations of the campaign so far. The course correction mainly revolved around how often I spent points of Threat. Threat is a tool for shaping how, when, and to what extent the GM can alter established scenes in play. The change was made to better interact with the players and how they approach scenes and scene elements. Less of a dramatic shift was the continued decrease in the amount of material that I was using to inform the opening situation. Factors that influenced the decision to scale back on elements of preparation, and then scale back further were the actual amount of time available for play, the amount the players interacted with the setting material, and the format of short, weekly, online sessions.
This process coincided with my taking an opportunity to check in with the players about three points relevant to satisfaction in the campaign. This is a regular procedure for me, and though the questions I ask and when I might ask them might change, the process remains the same. In this case, I asked about the possibility of inviting a new person to join the group and return the number of members to 4 in a yes or no format. Likewise, I enquired about a preference, in an A or B format, between the two most easily differentiated approaches to play currently visible in the Actual Play videos. In addition, I asked if the players were interested in continuing the campaign. I find that it is often a good idea to revisit some of the questions that I ask to a group about their satisfaction with or experience of play. That said, different questions usually present themselves as well. I do not feel satisfied with play that is allowed to rely on the simple habit of getting together and the momentum of continuing to do what has been done without some form of assessment and discussion – particularly when the group is learning a new game.
Another part of this process included a self-evaluation of my performance as the GM and I shared a small part of that as an example in a video where I looked at some of the errors I have made with the rules.
The two players voted not to add a new player, indicated interest in playing at least one more episode, and explained their preference for an approach to play.
The Content of Play
The Court of Opinion episode revolved around the USS Avicenna (the ship on which our crew serves) being directed to Starbase 11 for much-needed R&R. The main characters and some of the more familiar supporting characters, however, did not get much of either R.
Young Ensign Yang found himself given an opportunity to earn positive attention from superior officers in Starfleet Command, by running a training seminar in his specialty. The dice and decisions led to this opportunity transforming into a very troubling problem. Although Threat was levied to introduce the possibility of dramatic complication, its use did not ultimately matter. The dice took the most forceful hand in that regard, informing me, as the GM, to complicate things in the specific context of the scene. My instincts led me to interpret this complication as the complaints of motivated, connected, and ambitious cadets from the seminar. These complaints could be the sort of thing that prevent the sort of early and noticed promotions that lead to command opportunities. For a motivated, connected, and ambitious young officer like Yang, I hoped that would be a challenge worth responding to.
The older and more experienced Lieutenant Korsakov found himself called to serve as a witness at a competency hearing for the former Captain of the Avicenna, Sten Anders. That officer had been relieved of duty as a result of mind-altering effects of an encounter on an alien world and having been resurrected from death by an alien artifact recovered from that world and subsequently kept secret by Korsakov. This process involved a physical and mental assessment of the Lieutenant and allowed us to explore the new trait of this character as he had lost a leg in a combat engagement in the previous episode. The hearing was complicated by Korsakov being called as a witness by the defendant, the former captain. Korsakov was quite adamant that Anders should not regain command of the Avicenna. I had hoped that this situation could lead to some debate, and was not disappointed in either the roleplay that resulted and the interjections of the dice. Korsakov’s decisions to reveal the nature of the artifact during the hearing and to raise questions not only of competence but of the very identity of Anders, led directly to the dramatic and explosive conclusion of the episode. It also led to the sense that the episode should continue.
Why end this episode with a “To Be Continued”? Simply put, the events which arose during the episode had been acted upon, reacted to, and/or interacted with in one or more ways which suggested some degree of resolution, even if only in the short term. The events which are tied more to the campaign itself, pre-exist the episode, and may carry on beyond it were also acted upon, reacted to, and/or interacted with, but in a manner that did more than just those three things, but less than something like a resolution. They had evolved more than they had been resolved. The recognition of this, the decision to honor it, and the act of announcing it take place in a relatively short moment of time near the end of the episode – a far shorter moment of time than it takes to read this and eons shorter than it took to write it.
At the time of writing, the Actual Play of all four parts of the Episode are available on YouTube. Ron has released a Reflections video which I will not watch until I have finished editing mine from its constituent parts and have released it. KC has also been pressed for time and may need longer to catch up. He recently released his reflections on the previous episode, Questions of Duty. All of these videos are or will be in the playlist. If interested, please check the list for updates when you have time.
Court of Opinion Videos
The length of play has increased a small amount during this epsisode so that several of the sessions have a two-hour run-time, not including table talk. While a 30-minute increase in length does not sound all that significant, I can report that I felt less rushed and that that matters.
For those who watch the sessions, I am curious about how you have come to think of the characters, both main and supporting. I would like to know what you think about what the players have had them do in play and their reasons for doing so. I wonder about what the episodes might seem like to you if they were imagined to be actual episodes of an actual show.
For those familiar with the rules, I wonder about what things seem difficult to you and what things seem easy. I would like to hear about the things you feel need to be changed in order for you to run the game and why you think such a change might be necessary. Likewise, I wonder about what parts of the game you feel absolutely must remain as they are. For those learning the rules on their own, please note that many of the rules appear in the videos as annotations as they occur. Not all uses of the rules are obvious or discussed and may not be obvious to those who are not aware of them. These types of situations in particular are generally spelled out in annotations.
Of course, observations, inquiries, and interactions not related to these questions are very welcome.