This week marked the -46th anniversary of First Contact Day, the date in 2063 when Zefram Cochrane was the first human to create and engage a warp drive (time travel situations excluded), as depicted in the film Star Trek: First Contact. As such, it seems appropriate to look at the state of affairs with the upcoming Star Trek Adventures roleplaying game, slated for a 2017 release from Modiphius Entertainment.
Modiphius has been playtesting the game since late last year as an open live playtest, using gamers from across the world as guinea pigs to find bugs in their design and crowdsourcing improvement suggestions. In addition to the Alpha set of rules for playtest, the Round 1 included a generic “starter” adventure that all of the playtesters could run through. I discussed my thoughts on this shortly after I playtested it, back in December, playing the group with a mix of Star Trek enthusiasts and their less-enthusiastic spouses, all of whom are relative novices at roleplaying games.
Earlier this year, based on feedback from the first round, Modiphius released a second round of playtest, as well as new adventures focused on the specific ship that you signed up to test for, allowing them to test science/exploration missions vs. combat-oriented missions vs. diplomacy missions, and so on. The new set of rules contained updates to earlier rules, but also a key new gaming system: starships. Once we provided feedback on the Round 2 playtest, playtesters were given access to the character creation system.
So let’s take a moment to dive into Star Trek Adventures …
Most of the updates had to do with clarity of the rules, adding examples of play, and so on. Some changes are cosmetic. The “Bravery” Attribute was renamed to “Daring,” for example, and “Skills” were changed to “Disciplines.” That sort of thing. Though this might be diving a bit more into the nuts-and-bolts than is wise, some of the rule changes were substantial enough to warrant mention here, as I think they have a particularly strong impact on the feel of the game:
- Focus was originally tied to a specific Discipline, so your “Astrophysics” focus was tied to the “Science” Discipline or “Phasers” was tied to “Security.” With the revision, the benefits of a Focus (extra successes for good rolls) applies to any Discipline rolled for a related Task. So if you are trying to make an Engineering roll to repair a broken phaser, a Focus in Phasers would be beneficial, and trying to persuade a group of Astrophysicists to evacuate an endangered station it’s feasible that your Focus in Astrophysics might help the Command roll. (GM’s discretion, of course.)
- Each character now has four Traits, which are general descriptors that can modify the difficulty of the task, for both good and ill. One of these is automatically the character’s alien race (or two races, for hybrid aliens). Spock, for example, would start with the traits Vulcan and Human, and then would get two other traits. What I like most about this system is that the traits are very open-ended, and the goal of this is to be very character-oriented. For example, Traits like “Musician” or “Gambler” or “History Buff” would be appropriate, as would physical or personality Traits like “Graceful,” “Logical,” or “Impulsive.” There may need to be some balancing between positive, negative, and neutral traits (Socially Awkward is almost always going to hurt you and Athletic is almost always going to help, for example, while Gambler or Impulsive could go either way depending on the situation), so I expect to see this refined a bit moving forward.
- Directives have been added, which are mission-specific Values. In other words, just as you can invoke your personal Values to get game benefits, and you can gain Determination points when those values are in conflict with each other, you can invoke these Directives in the same way. For example, in the Round 2 playtest adventure, the key challenge focused on a species that were covered by the Prime Directive but were also at risk of extinction. Values related to compassion were at odds with the Prime Directive, and the characters had to decide if they would violate their Value or the Prime Directive (and, either way, get Determination points for it). From a storytelling standpoint, I think this is one of the best things about how they’ve set up this system!
Starship System and Combat
Seriously, though, I know that anyone interested in playing Star Trek Adventures is probably really interested in finding out how the ship mechanics work. Though there will be revision based on feedback, I would be surprised if there are major changes, so I’ll outline the basics here for those who are interested.
Each starship has a set of statistics that is similar to how a character sheet is set up, with the following differences:
- A starship has the following Systems (instead of Attributes): Communications, Computers, Engines, Sensors, Structure, and Weapons
- Each starship has Focus in 3 key systems, such as Emergency Medical Hologram or Enhanced Tactical Systems, representing areas that particular ship is specifically designed to excel. (Again, this means that when you make a good roll on a Task that applies to a related Focus, you get additional successes.)
- Each ship has a Power rating, which can be allocated for travelling at Warp, replenishing shields, or enhancing weapon fire.
- Ships have a “Crew Support” rating, indicating the number of specific available NPCs that can be invoked in an adventure to fill roles not covered by the PCs. The crew itself may be significantly larger, but anyone beyond these specific NPCs is assumed to be busy with other tasks that are crucial to the operation of the ship.
- For combat, each ship has a Shield and Soak ratings, as well as a variety of weapons.
- Ships have a scale from 1 (shuttlecraft) to 5 (Borg sphere – large enough to hold a Voyager-sized ship inside it).
- Starships have the same Disciplines as characters, and also have Talents (special abilities) that are individualized to the type of ship. For example, Intrepid-class ships have a very efficient engine design that allows them to use less Power when travelling at warp speed.
In general, the way these statistics apply to actions with the ship is that the character is performing the action, and it gets assisted by the ship. For a general piloting action, for example, a character would typically use their Control Attribute and Conn Discipline to determine their target number, which for a really good helmsman might be 14. They roll 2d20 against a target number of 14, and each die that gets a 14 or lower counts as a success. (If they have a relevant Focus, then low rolls may count as double successes. Rolling a 1 always counts as a double success.)
The quality of the ship applies here, too. The character gets assisted by a single die that uses the ship’s relevant Systems. A ship’s piloting target number would come from adding the Engines and Conn statistics of the ship. For the Intrepid-class U.S.S. Bellerophon (Engines: 10, Conn: 3), this means you would roll a single d20 against a target number of 13. Each roll of 13 or less is a success, which add to the successes from the pilot. You can also spend points of Momentum and Determination to assist with the rolls, as in the regular rules,
Any roll that involves the ship’s systems – medical rolls using the ship’s medbays, science rolls using the ship’s science labs or sensors, engineering rolls to receive a transmission through interference, etc. – are assisted by the ship in this way.
The combat system, though, is where all of this really comes together. In combat, a full bridge crew has a multitude of tasks to perform, providing a lot of versatility to combat based on what is happening in the combat. Engineering officers can dispatch repair crews, while the science officer attempts to divert energy to the shields and the pilot performs evasive maneuvers. Sensors can be used to find a weakness in the enemy ship’s defenses. The commander can assist at a station while someone else is performing another task. There are really a dizzying array of options, which is an impressive thing to pull off I think. While it’s potentially a lot to keep track of, it very much has a feel of an episode of Star Trek when combat is taking place.
Damage to the shields is restored fairly easily, but if the damage overrides the shields then there can be a risk of a Breach in one of the Systems, each of which carries a crippling debilitation for the ship’s operations, or a risk that one of the PC crew members suffers an Injury. This damage can, of course, be patched up in a makeshift fashion, but the ship has to return to a starbase for more extensive repairs if the ship has taken this much damage.
The starship systems are both smoothly integrated into the core rules and provide a distinctive feel that differentiates starship operation from being on the ground. When we first got the Round 2 set of rules, I ran a homebrew game that split the party in two: half the PCs beamed over to a damaged ship, and then their own ship got attacked by a cloaked Bird of Prey. The feel of jumping between a spaceship combat and an away team trying to bring up the damaged ship’s shields was like we were in an episode of The Next Generation.
One of the most fun parts of a tabletop roleplaying game is character creation, and in this regard Star Trek Adventures has once again really hit a character-centered approach that will facilitate good storytelling. The first iteration of their character creation system applies a “LifePath Character Generation” method. I don’t know if Modiphius uses this in their other systems or if it’s new to Star Trek Adventures, but it turns character generation into a process of really thinking about your character as a person.
Each step along the LifePath means you make a determination about a character, which unlocks certain options for statistics and abilities of the character. This means that you’ll have a mix of Traits and Values that reflect the life that your character has led, rather than being a character who has sprung fully formed out of nowhere as a Starfleet Academy graduate. There are six main stages along the LifePath that are tied to key elements of the character’s background:
- Planet of Origin
- Starfleet Academy Track (Command, Operations, or Sciences)
- Career Length (rookie, veteran, or in between)
- Two additional “Career events” (a list of 20 options is provided)
There is a seventh stage of character creation that involves adding some finishing touches to the character.
For a first pass at character creation, it provides a nice array of options, with a virtual guarantee that a group will not become too stagnant, even if two players pick some similar background options.
So far as I know, the game is still on track for a release in late 2017, and they appear to still be taking applications to participate in the playtest at the Star Trek Adventures website. If you want to be involved, and help contribute to the cause, check it out.
Until next time: Live long, and prosper.