Posted in General Writing, GM Prep, Rants

The Voyages of the USS Schrödinger: A Star Trek Adventures Post Mortem

So, it’s an interesting revelation that I stopped making posts to this blog about the same time as I started running a Star Trek: Adventures game. Now STA is not solely to blame, we did have an exchange student at the time as well as my job went through some drastic changes as we were sold to another company, but a lot of my free creative time was taken up by coming up with Star Trek Adventures, Adventures…

So now after 2 Seasons and over 30 sessions, we are taking a break from The Final Frontier.With that much mileage under my belt, I figured I should relay my thoughts. These are my personal thoughts after my experiences. Your experience will vary.

A Universe to Explore

Star Trek is a vast property with endless possibilities. Star Trek Adventures does a great job opening the universe up to you. It provides all the tools you need to come up with great adventures, your own stories as well as your own unique crew to inhabit them. I was never a big Star Trek fanboy. I watched the first few seasons of Next Generation in my youth but didn’t stick with it. I didn’t dislike Star Trek, I saw all the movies, it just wasn’t that big a thing for me. So, going in and running a game I was behind the curve. It became clear almost everyone at the table knew more of the universe than I. But a did a lot of research. Memory Alpha is your friend, I got lost in their linking wiki more than a few times.

It was neat creating stories for Star Trek. It was different than any other RPG I’ve run. Instead of creating a big bad, a dungeon, and a good versus evil plot, I leaned more towards moral ambiguity. I put the players in charged situations and forced them to make hard choices, and those choices had consequences. A lot of the 2nd season was about the consequences of their actions in the first season. But designing adventures like this meant “action” took a back seat. Sure, there was combat, but it wasn’t the main focus. The players would actively try to get out of fights rather than in them. (Which is the Star Fleet way… Negotiate first) However, coming up with ideas got quite difficult after a while. You see with Star Trek Adventures there is very little player contribution to the story I found (At least for the A plot) You had to come up with the problem, the NPCs involved, all of their motivations, as well as if/then scenarios on possible player actions. Not to mention I had to come up with a series of relevant facts about anything I introduced for I needed to make sure I had something to tell the players if they spent momentum on finding more information. It was a lot, especially for someone who didn’t know the universe like the back of his hand.

However, with that said, we had some really good stories that came out of the game. Stories I doubt I would in any other RPG. Some highlights Include:

  • A Space Faring sentient reduced to Medieval tech because another enslaved sentient race was the source of their power
  • A newly warp-capable race having a lot of its solar systems resources annexed by the Klingons for the sake of Diplomatic Harmony
  • Having an NPC crew member become a holographic crew member after his conscious was found still in the memory banks after a failed transport via transporter.
  • Demoting a PC Vulcan Captain via a rigged tribunal by corrupt Admiral
  • Having a Klingon Doctor (spy) PC kill a prisoner patient under orders of The Klingon Empire and just about getting away with it. (getting a slap on the wrist and a transfer to a different ship.. due to politics)
  • Having a large non-sentient spacefaring pyrophile plant absorb the energy of the star (in an inhabited solar system) in order to reproduce.

A System to Use

This was my first foray into a 2d20 system. I have to admit I am not a fan of 1d20’s as being a sole arbiter of success and failure, I must prefer the nicer curve of dice pools. So, the 2d20 system was an interesting mix. A lot of the time it was a 3d20 roll or even a 4 or 5d20 roll. It kind of felt like a dice pool but with the swinginess at times of a 1d20. But after 30 or so sessions my thoughts on the system as a whole are kind of “Eh”.

My lackluster feel of the system didn’t really have to do with the D20 itself but more the momentum economy. To get more dice you use momentum. Even towards the end of the game I had some players who always forget to use momentum. While I had other players constantly trying to game the system in order to get more momentum.

The system as a whole would probably work well for a completely narrative focused table, however, if you have any kind of power gamers or people who like a lot of crunch in their game it might pose a problem; It did for some of my players. For instance, there is very little player progression, there is a little bit of advancement a lot of character tweaking you can move one attribute or discipline down while another goes up that kind of thing. There is very little actual growth because you’re starting out as competent Starfleet officers. They don’t really get better at whatever they are competent at. It fits the feel of the TV shows but for a game, some of my players felt like their character wasn’t going anywhere advancement wise.

We did try to use the reputation system the second season with this system based on what you did you during an episode you could go up in rank from cadet to first officer, that kind of thing. However, the gaminess of a roll at the end of the session kind of didn’t work for us. It didn’t seem to give a good feel for the players’ accomplishment in the session. Also, it is really hard after you’re done with the main story to say ‘ok let’s go do this game thing and make this arbitrary roll to see if you gain good reputation or not for your actions.’ In the end, I wanted the ship’s captain to decide if another player deserved a promotion or not, not some random rolls.

The one part of the system that really shined was the supporting crew member mechanic this was great in that it allowed our players to split up a little bit more often. I could have side missions that only included one or two members of the main cast, much like the shows did, while having the other players still be engaged in the scenes. The one big drawback, however, was the captain rarely left the ship during away missions this meant that the player who played the captain rarely got to play the captain during interesting scenes, however, his go-to side character became a fan favorite at the table. The supporting crew quickly became members of the team, meaning that even though we had a 5-player table it really felt like we had the crew of a full ship to play with.

Another sore point was the extended task mechanic. As a GM I felt like I had to use this because players were taking talents that directly affected extended tasks. On paper, in theory, it looks like you could do some really fun things with them; having great breakthroughs advance the story, solve problems in very interesting ways, but a lot of times it ended up turning into; picking dice pools, rolling dice, and finding out what the outcome means. It really tied solving a problem into game mechanics rather than solving it via story. With a narrative minded table this might not be a big deal it might work really well but there are a lot of dice to roll and it kind of seemed a little clunky.

All in all, in my experience I would say Star Trek adventures is a pretty uneven game. It does somethings really, really, well; it invokes the feel of the Star Trek series, It allows you to make a ship and characters that that feel alive, it allows you to tell very interesting stories. But often I felt like the mechanics of the game got in its own way; they didn’t seem to be that elegant, and they seem to be where the action and the story of the table ground to a halt. Whenever we had to start picking up dice if you’re rolling more than the D20s if we had to pick up those D6s things just got a lot slower and the adventure a lot less interesting and fun. I’d still highly recommend Star Trek Adventures for any Star Trek fan or any table that wants to play Star Trek game that is a narrative focused table, there’s a lot there to love. But, if you have a table that has players who like to min/max the system or those that really enjoy leveling up thier characters, you may want to give this game a hard read before you fully commit.

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