Thursday, 27 February 2014

And Now For Something Completely Different: Our Star Trek RPG

Space: The Final Frontier.  These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise...

 With Pendragon over the next RPG campaign we'll be moving onto is Star Trek.  This will be the fourth block of the game, which is set in the early 25th century about 40 years after the start of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and concerns the adventures of the Federation-class U.S.S. Enterprise N.C.C. 1701-F. 

Our heroes and the adventures they have are very much in the mould of Picard's Enterprise: a mixture of different races work in unison, tring to solve all problems non-violently where possible and with the future portrayed in ultimately positive tones.  While some material form the other sides of Trek do show up - some references to the intrigue of DS9, including the shadier organizations within the Federation - it's a future where the moral high ground is achievable and killing every person blocking your path is not rewarded.

We don't use any of the official Star Trek RPGs, though I do include books from those games amongst my old Star Trek Chronology and Next Generation Technical Manual as inspirational reading.  No, instead we use Primetime Adventures as our rules-set.  This indie game by Matt Wilson is designed to ape TV shows and in particular to ape ensemble-cast TV shows where each character has their own story arc - so it's a reasonably good fit for Trek.

The uniform designs of the 25th century - taken from madeinjapan1988 on DeviantArt many moon.  Here's a link to the original.
Character generation is very light, with each character having a personal story arc topic called an Issue as well as some Traits and Contacts: essentially skills and friends who might be useful in their episodes.  The unique part is that the group also designs the Season of shows - they pick a finite amount of episodes their show will run this season (usually 5 or 9) and then decide which one will be their Spotlight episode by choosing to allocate points to the episodes to rank their Screen Presence in the episode at 1, 2 or 3.

The character sheet is so minimal, two next to each other still doesn't take up much space.

On any given episode, any conflicts (essentially the game's version of skill tests) are resolved with playing cards and your starting number of cards is your screen presence for the episode - plus any Traits and Contacts you can justify as being relevant.  As such people who are the Spotlight of the episode will have a starting hand of at least 3 and be more likely to succeed, mimicing the style of  Trek which has has plenty of examples of episodes in which one member of the ensemble has a starring role: nerd won't struggle to name a few examples of Data episodes, Worf episodes, Troi episodes or whatever. 

Conflicts happen at the end of most scenes and fill in the roll skill checks or the like would carry out in most game - one or more players choose waht they want to achieve in the game and compare cards with the GMs hand to try and succeed. There's a lot of group narrative in this game - having more red cards than the GM (called the Director in this game) means you succeed, but whoever has the highest card has narration so describes how the various people win or lose their conflicts.  The Director has final veto on the story but players are able to pull the story in some surprising ways.  For a Star Trek game this actually works quite well because most of the group are familiar enough with the source material to know what Star Trek should "feel" like, and come up with ideas that fit that style.

The dedication plaque of the U.S.S. Enterprise N.C.C. 1701-F.  When this goes on the wall, the game has begun.

One last little twist the game has is "Budget".  These are counters the Director spends to set the size of his hand in any given conflict - which is always one, plus one card for every token he spends.  The quantity of tokens at the start of an episode is a formula keyed to the screen presence of every character present - so the more flashy the players can be in an episode, the more chance a GM has to do the same, an a GM must ration these points across the episode which produces a natural rhythym to the story.  Furthermore, spent budget points sit in the middle of the table and can be awarded from one player to another as "Fan Mail" - Fan Mail is then spent by the owner to add a bonus card to any side in any conflict, even if they aren't involved themselves, but spent Fan Mail that produces a red card (and thusly an extra success) goes back into Budget.  The end result is that there's an economy of points sloshing about.

In game the end result is that every session feels like a single episode of a TV show with a distinct beginning, middle & end.  Characters have spotlight episodes where their story arc bubbles to the surface, and by choosing who will have the Spotlight on the last episode we can build up to a bigger, all-guns-blazing season finale.  The main weakness of the system is that physical conflict isn't handled much differently than any other conflict - there's no crunchy combat system for people who enjoy tactics, positioning and random weapon damage.  For something TNG styled, though, that's fine by me - re-watching a season of Next Gen it was interesting just how rarely weapons are fired and how especially few times starships fire at each other outside season finales.

They do this way more than they shoot anyone.
Raj and Ailsa return from our Pendragon game to play Star Trek, and Matthew & Molly will also be joining us again.  Charles played one block of Star Trek with us but it wasn't really his thing - I think the narrative indie stuff just isn't his cup of tea nor was the and he'd rather play something a bit more 'splodey.  (The official Trek games, like the 80s FASA one or the 2000s Decipher one, might actually be more up his alley)  We might try and recruit an extra player as well since neither Dave nor Aaron are available to rejoin us - depends if any of the people joining us for one-offs click with us.

As a game with a lot of player narrative control it doesn't actually require a huge amount of advance planning for me as a GM - I might do more once the players have designed their season layout, but for now I'm content to read articles on Memory Alpha and watch a few old episodes of TNG to put myself in the right mind-space.

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