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Star Trek Adventures - A GM's Perspective

Started By:
aceman67, Fri 16 Mar, 2018 1:20 PM
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     –  Last edited by aceman67; Fri 16 Mar, 2018 1:25 PM.
    Star Trek Adventures - A GM's Perspective

    1. Introduction & Lore

    For Christmas last year I was given a gift card to my FLGS (Friendly Local Gaming Store), KAPOW! Comics, Cards & Games LTD., which coincided with the release of Star Trek Adventures' release, and I picked myself up the Core Rule Book. Up until that point, my only exposure to Table-top games was playing Pathfinder Society on a weekly basis for two years at Kapow, and I was pretty familiar with Pathfinder's system and basic mechanics for games that are based on the old D&D3.5E engine.

    Star Trek Adventures would be my first 2d20 game and learning a new system, at least to me at the time, was a daunting experience because it was radically different. When I first read how the task system works (Take a given Attribute and Discipline, add them up for a target number and roll 2d20, and if you Roll UNDER that target number, you succeed) made me re-read that section twice, because it was counter-intuitive to a longtime Pathfinder player where Nat-20s were king. I'll get into the actual meat and potatoes mechanics later.

    Lorewise, Modiphius really did their homework when it came to this game. The CRB (Core Rule Book) is a joy to read and just to look at. The original artwork done for the book is amazing. If they ever got around to releasing an Artbook for the game, I would snatch it up in a heartbeat.

    The core game itself is geared to be set in 2371, which is shortly after the destruction of Enterprise-D, The Equinox and Voyager have just gone missing, The Maquis are waging guerrilla warfare on both Federation and Cardassian targets in the DMZ, First Contact with the Dominion had just be made, and war with the Dominion is all but inevitable. With the loss of three starships, and a war on the horizon, Starfleet is looking for other ships to pick up the slack, and that means you the players.

    This opens up a whole host of story ideas: Searching the Badlands for the Maquis, Hunting changing spies, countering Romulan espionage, and so much more. But fret not, you fans of TOS and ENT: The game's mechanics blend seamlessly with other time-frames, the CRB has a space frame for the TOS Constitution, as well as the Miranda-Class from TWOK era, and the new Command Division supplement book has more space frames from Enterprise, TOS, TOS Movie eras, even the class of ship that the crew of the Enterprise-D found Scotty on!

    Expanding more on the Lore-Side, the newly upcoming Beta-Quadrant books is one of the best pieces of trek-info books that I've read save for the Encyclopedia, with information of all the major planets (Andor, Earth, Vulcan, Qo'Nos, Romulus, and a lot of information on the different major factions of the Beta Quadrant, IE Federation, Klingon Empire, and Romulan Star Empire, and it is also is peppered with lots of little things that made me laugh but fit in perfectly with lore.

    Like how the Andorian and Klingon hockey teams have a bitter rivalry how the Imperial Klingon Opera Company, in a cultural exchange concert, did an Operatic version of a 21st Century Death Metal song.
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    The Beta-Quadrant book also adds more playable species for your Player Characters to use, including Benzites, Bolians, Klingons and Zakdorns (You know, the race of that pompous Tactician from the TNG episode "Peak Performance").

    2. Gameplay
    --2a. Storytelling is More Imporant

    Unlike other games (Pathfinder for example) where the mechanics are fairly rigid but expansive enough so that it doesn't feel limiting (There's a skill check roll for pretty much any action), and the Story is based around the mechanics, Star Trek Adventures takes a fairly different approach, the Narrative of the game is the fore-front of the game, and the mechanics often take a back-seat if they get in the way of the story (The CRB even says so in the Gamemaster section that the mechanics shouldn't get in the way of a good story). When you get down too it, the players are here to tell a story, just like in the TV show and Movies.

    A huge part of this involves the Threat/Momentum/Determination system.

    The Threat pool is a point system that is available to the GM based on how many players are in the game (most missions are built around getting 2pts per player), and the players can add to that threat pool to gain advantages like buying extra dice to succeed at a task roll, or they give the GM threat by taking actions like shooting to kill instead of stun or bringing a Phaser Rifle on an away mission, and the GM can spend threat to turn up the heat if they feel the players are having too easy of a time by using threat to add more NPCs for them to fight, or increasing the difficulty of a task roll to make a situation more perilous. When used correctly (and fairly), this can lead to some stressful and climactic endings to missions and some seriously good times!

    The Momentum pool is shared between all the players and is capped at 6pts (Unlike threat which is unlimited), any excess (more than 6) momentum earned in a scene should be spent before that scene ends or it's lost. To gain momentum, all a player has to do is roll more successes then is needed on a task roll (IE Player rolls on a Difficulty 1 task, and scores 2 successes, the player gets 1 momentum). Players can then spend this momentum to gain more information from NPCs, bring advanced equipment into the field to give them an advantage (like a transporter enhancer in a hazardous environment), to avoid an injury if they get hit really hard by an enemy attack, buy extra dice for task rolls, or re-roll dice. This gives the players a tool to give them the edge they need to be successful.

    The Determination system is tied directly to a Player Character's values. At the start of the game, a character starts with 1pt of determination, and can't have more than 3 at any given time. Players can spend determination for a very powerful advantage, like creating a perfect opportunity by utilizing one of their values, where they would treat one of their d20's as if they had rolled a 1 or critical, and score 2 successes. A good example of this is from the first JJ-Trek movie where Chekov goes 'I can do that!' runs down to the transporter room and beams Sulu and Kirk onto the Enterprise while they're free-falling off the mining platform. Other ways you can generate determination is by challenging a value, for example, if that player has a fear of the Vacuum of Space, having them go outside in an EVA suit and accomplish a task would give them a point of determination they can then use later. The player as to then modify that value to reflect that they faced their fear and overcame it, and that promotes character development and growth, and that can lead to some great story telling opportunities!

    --2c. Character Creation

    One fo the shining jewels of STA is its Lifepath Character Creation system.

    You pick out what species your character is and their name, choose where they grew up, where they born on their homeworld, or out on a far-flung frontier colony.

    Then pick their upbringing, where their parent's Starfleet Officers, or traders, farmers, politicians, artists and more.

    What career track did they choose at the academy, what specialties did they focus on?

    After they graduated, what events happened to them during their carreer in Starfleet before their current assignment?

    All the choices you make during the creation process changes what their Attribute points are (Control, Fitness, Presence, Daring, Insight and Reason, with all the values totalling 56pts with none of them above 12) and how skilled they are in a given field (Command, Security, Science, Medicine, Engineering and Conn, with all the values totalling 16pts with none above 5), and you also pick out 4 Talents, 4 Values and 6 Focuses that reflect those choices as well.

    For example, if a character picks the career event "Death of a Friend" and they're a security officer, a value they might pick would be "My crew is my family, And I'll do what it takes to Protect Them!" showing that they've chosen to deal with that loss by making sure that it never happens again. A good GM would use this in their mission to create unique challenges that spotlight a characters.

    --2d. Starship Creation

    In Star Trek, the ship is as much a character as the crew, and the Starship Creation system in STA is just as customizable as the Player Character creation system.

    First, you pick your class of ship, or Spaceframe. Are you crewing a class of ship that has been tried and tested like a Miranda or are you flying something fresh from the Starship Design Bureau like an Akira or Nova? The year that a spaceframe was developed determins how man refits that Class of Ship has had, namely 1 refit for every 10 years of service, which would allow them to increase a ship systems value by +1 up to a max of 12pts. For example, the Excelsior class has been in service for 86 yeras by 2371, so it would have had benifeted from 8 refit cycles, giving the players 8 points to put into the ships systems as they see fit.

    Next, they need to select a mission profile: Is the ship geared for tactical operations, giving it access to the best that Starfleet Tactical has to offer, or is it a Multirole explorer like the Enterprise-D. Selecting a mission profile increases the ships Department Stats by set ammounts. The mission profile also gives the ship access to specific talents, from which they pick one.

    Once those two things are out of the way, you look at the ship's scale. The Ship's scale limits the number of talents that that ship can have. For example, the Nova class has a scale of 3, and the Space Frame comes with the talent 'Advanced Sensor Suites', and the Mission profile 'Multi-Role Explorer' gave them access to the talent "Secondary Reactors" to increase their max power. Since they have a scale of 3, the players would only be allowed to pick one more talent that their ship would qualify for (by having the right number in a ship system or department).

    --2e. Supporting Characters

    The Ship's scale also allows for another thing, Crew Support. Using the Nova Class as an example again with a scale of 3, it would allow the Players to come up to 3 supporting NPCs they can use. Only one can be introduced per mission, and the first time they are used, they're pretty basic, with low stats, no values or talents, and only 3 focuses. But each time they are introduced after that, the players can choose to improve one of the following: 1 Value, 1 Attribute Point, 1 Dicipline Point, 1 Focus, or 1 Talent they qualify for. A creative player base can have a lot of fun with this mechanic, and invests the players in the game because they would be attached to Transporter Tech Bobby that beamed them out of a tight spot when he was first introduced! Wink

    3. Actually Running A Game

    The official missions that Modiphius have made avaliable from their Live Campaign, The CRB, Quick Start Guide and Vol. 1 of These are the Voyages are very good. I've even ran one of the Homebrew games a fan wrote and my players had a blast because we had a guest player who played Captain Picard!

    Most of the missions are tuned for up to 3-7 players, and I don't recommend having any more than that (I currently have 6 players who turn out for my game on Roll20 on a Bi-Weekly Basis), and the best descriptive term for it is 'Herding Cats', because not only are you making sure the mission proceeds, you also have to make sure that everyone has something to do and no one feels left out.

    Now, up until now, I've spoken highly of the game mechanics, but for every Jewel in a game, there's a Turd. And STA is no exception. I'm speaking of the Extended Task Mechanic. It got so confusing at one point and googling how to actually do it (the CRB does a very poor job explaining it), that I went and made a Flowsheet so my players would be able make sense of it, because a lot of the official missions are Extended Task heavy.

    Another point of concern for a GM is people taking their character's rank in the story and power-tripping with it. I personally have been the victim of this where the player of a higher ranked character brow-beat, and even yelled at me into backing off an action he didn't agree with saying "I'm the Commander, do what I tell you".

    Playing another player's character for them is bad table-top ediquette and is never acceptable. To take care of this though, STA does have a reputation system in place to account for officers being insubboardantant, and with the up coming release of the Command Division book, players can even use these rep points to earn medals which give powerful reusable boons. If you're going to GM, watch out for this. Just because a player out-ranks another narratively, doesn't give them leave to tell another player what to do with their character if that player feels its the best choice for them.

    Last part, and this one I can't speak from experience for, is Ship combat, as I've yet to play it. But from what I read, its Fast-Paced, Nerve-wracking and if you're not perpared, very deadly. Every character needs to work together to make sure that they're around for another mission!

    4. Conclusion

    Star Trek Adventures is one of the best table-top games I've ever played, both as a player and GM. The mechanics are flexible, straight forward (most of the time), and it accomodates every fan (with little changes, you can make any mission suit any era, be it Enterprise, Discovery, TOS, Movie-Era, TNG, DS9, Voyager or Kelvin-Timeline (with homebrew content). I've found running games for STA very fullfilling and rewarding. Having players tell you that they had a great time after a tense 4 hour play-session thwarting a Romulan plot to steal a Federation Starship is amazing!

    Seriously can't wait till March 24th when I put my crew through their paces when they have to escape from a Gravitationally unstable worm-whole while at the same time, rescue the crew of a NX-Class starship lost in time since the Earth-Romulan war!
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