Sunday, March 31, 2019

Let Me Tell You About The Game I'm Running - Star Trek Adventures

My roleplaying group is about a year into our Star Trek Adventures campaign. We game slightly less than once a month due to the demands of real life and the challenges of scheduling. Even less than a dozen sessions in, it seems like a good time to take stock.

A team of the Emperor’s finest cleanse a space hulk of filthy xenos! Uh… I mean, a Starfleet Away Team explores a mysterious asteroid ship.

The original idea was for me to run a few sessions to try out the game. Each session would focus on different aspects of the rules. By the end of a few sessions, we would be familiar enough with the game to start a "real" campaign. Our "shakedown cruise" gradually turned into the campaign that we would be playing long term.

The notion of a Star Trek game was a natural for our group. All of us were Star Trek fans and were very familiar with the setting. Most of us had played previous Star Trek roleplaying games. Interest remains high.

Our campaign is centered around USS Yamato, an Akira-class starship that continues the legacy of the Galaxy-class USS Yamato lost in 2365 (in the Star Trek The Next Generation episode "Contagion"). The Akira-class is a fan favorite since its first appearance in Star Trek First Contact. As a cruiser, an Akira-class starship allows for a diverse range of missions compared with a smaller, more specialized ship class like a Nova or Defiant. The Akira-class was also chosen due to the player's desire for a modern starship. The name is a nod to the anime Space Battleship Yamato. These decisions were made collaboratively by the group, rather than by me as the gamemaster. This follows the rules presented in the core book.

The player characters started the campaign as newly assigned bridge officers - the captain and the heads of the science and security departments. This places control of USS Yamato firmly in the hands of the players. I am familiar with the concept of running the captain as a NPC in order to retain greater narrative control and avoid interplayer conflict, but do not favor the practice. The members of my group are all mature and experienced roleplayers. They recognize the difference between the level of authority a character has in a fictional setting and the level of cooperation needed in a roleplaying group. As gamemaster, I have plenty to do without having to run a character who is in most of the scenes. Finally, having orders arrive from Starfleet provides enough direction for the group to follow.

Over time, we found that having only three player controlled characters was a hindrance. Even though the players had characters in critical roles, not every Player Character would be in every scene. Even the flexibility offered by having players control Supporting Characters during such scenes only went so far. The small number of Player Characters also had an effect on starship combat, as the number of actions the ship can take is keyed on the number of Player Characters. Talking it over, we decided to give each player control over two Player Characters. This expanded the roster of Player Characters to include the first officer and the heads of the medical and engineering departments. This opens up other approaches to problem solving and helps insure that each player has at least one character in every scene. This also allowed me to split up the action between events happening in different locations. For example, the captain remaining on the ship with members of the bridge crew while the first officer is leading an Away Team on a planet. This approach makes it easier to emulate the shows by introducing a "B plot" to the session, but does involve some juggling back and forth.

The campaign opens in the game's default year of 2371. USS Defiant has yet to return from its first mission into the Gamma Quadrant and USS Voyager is still being fitted out at the Utopia Planitia fleet yards. USS Yamato has been assigned on a patrol mission along the recently established Demilitarized Zone along the Cardassian border. Sending an Akira-class starship into the area is part of Starfleet's response to the emerging Maquis and Dominion threats. Captain Kerensky also receives classified orders to deploy probes into the Badlands in an effort to gather navigational data and intelligence on Maquis activity. This information will be of great value for Starfleet's plans to counter Maquis operations later in the year. On the way to Deep Space Nine, USS Yamato is notified that USS Equinox has been reported as lost. USS Yamato's course takes it along the outer edge of the search area. Captain Kerensky issues orders to maintain a watch of any signs of the science vessel.

Naturally, none of this goes to plan.

The search for USS Equinox turns up another Starfleet distress call - this one close to a century old. Following up, USS Yamato discovers a crippled Archer-class scout ship - USS Agincourt. The scout ship's warp drive, communications, and other systems were badly damaged by fission warheads and the corpse of the science officer is found on the bridge. USS Agincourt's logs indicate that the scout ship was attacked while investigating a primitive sublight ship built into an asteroid. After the deaths of the captain and first officer, the science officer ordered the crew to take refuge on the asteroid ship while she went for help. Taking USS Agincourt into their shuttle bay, USS Yamato backtracks along USS Agincourt's course. The similarities to the Yonada - an asteroid ship encountered by Captain Kirk's USS Enterprise - are noted, but this asteroid ship is from a different technological base. The asteroid ship soon looms on the main bridge viewscreen. Would any of USS Agincourt's crew have survived after nearly a century? What kind of civilization built the asteroid and what welcome do they have in store?

And I'll leave it there. I'm not going into detail about every session, but that example offers a good feel for the game we are playing. There is little point to using a licensed setting like Star Trek and not getting into the lore. Briefing the characters about the situation near Bajor gives the players a firm idea of when the game is happening. Name dropping Deep Space Nine and USS Equinox fixes where the game is taking place. The Archer-class scout ship is an expanded universe ship from the original series era. The decisions are up to the players, but they know that following the bread crumbs - the century-old distress call, USS Agincourt's logs - will get them to the fun stuff sooner. Besides, their patrol mission was not time sensitive and starships divert from assignments to investigate unexpected situations quite often in the shows.

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