Friday, 22 April 2016

The Voice In The Mirror: The Star Trek RPG Season Finale

One of many ace Mirror Universe scribbles on DeviantArt by Sean Peter Tourangeau

Our Star Trek game has had it’s end of season episode – which, as discussed last time, was the return of the Mirror Universe and the appearance of the I.S.S. Enterprise.  Not the conquered humanity of Deep Space Nine’s mirror universe, our encounter was with a loud and proud Terran Empire whose goal seemed to be turning the locals upon themselves before swooping in for the kill.

I briefly considered running the whole episode from theperspective of the I.S.S. Enterprise – having the players play their mirror equivalents exclusively and show them scheming against what they call the "Invert Universe" – but that was just a bit too bonkers a notion,.  I did, however, set the first scene with them playing their mirror versions which encouraged the players to set scenes using both sets of crews, jumping back and forth to deal with the misery the last scheme had inflicted on the opposition.  

There's more than a bit of the Crime Syndicate of America to my Mirror Universe - which seems fair since they're both early "evil universe versions of the main cast" stories.
This allowed us to follow the classic storytelling rule of Show, Don’t Tell when it came to the Mirror Universe.  Rather than have to deliver boring expo-speak or have extended scenes in which I nattered to myself, the players could discover how Imperial Starfleet operates by moving their dark reflections around in it.  Primetime Adventures is a game with some shared narrative duties so while I did do prep work on the Mirror Universe (including a timeline so I understood the history that had led to this invasion attempt) letting the players flesh out their own mirror versions gave them chances to quantify the mirror universe themselves. 

For example - While I had decided that Mirror-Kestra would be the Captain’s Woman for Mirror-Satlek and they’d have some sort of sexual relationship, it was left open enough that Sister Superior could choose the flavour of that relationship and whether it was consensual, abusive, political or whatever.  Similarly, I left her relationship with Mirror-Sakonna vague and up to the players to decide – is it funnier if their petty bitching in our universe became outright scheming and murder attempts, or if they were in fact best chums?

Neither of them is blonde like Sakonna, mind.
The end result was that the players kept me on my toes with their ideas.  Raj played Mirror-Arvind, the engineer, as a very stereotypical bully: a vicious, petty man when in a position of power but then a complete suck-up toady to Captain Satlek.  Matthew made Mirror-Soto, the tactical officer, crueler but not unrecognizable: he was still a passionate patriot in the military, just he was a patriot to a fascist regime.  And Sister Superior…. Sister-Superior kept us on our toes, first hinting that Mirror-Kestra might be getting used by Satlek in a violent, domineering relationship before flipping it on its head and revealing that she and Mirror-Sakonna were co-conspirators, attempting to manipulate then overthrow the Captain.

I, Kestra, am your new leader!
Most of our series have been fairly self-contained but this time round we actually ended on a big To Be Continued moment.  The players discovered as they studied stolen data from the I.S.S. Enterprise that the Terran Empire has run out of lebensraum, has run out of useful space to conquer and without continued territorial gains their unstable empire cannot survive.  They have no functioning Bajoran wormhole, no gateways to the Delta or Gamma quadrant – with all the useful planets nearby colonized, they needed to look to other places.   

This is, of course, the problem discussed at the very end of the first Mirror Universe episode - that the Terran Empire is doomed, sooner or later.  That's also the motive behind the events of expanded universe novel Dark Mirror, which in the grand tradition of GMs I stole from mercilessly.

Anyway, the "Invert Universe" is their target and their gateway between universes is a Wormhole in Romulan space whose formation is the reason for the weird supernova that destroys Romulus in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie.  The season finale was the players hunting the Mirror-Enterprise back to this spot, whereupon the Mirror-Damocles and an entire fleet of vessels emerge from hiding.  An entire assault force is waiting for them and their goal is to form a beach-head in our space!  

Our version of the Locutus cliffhanger - I wonder if the actor playing Captain Satlek hasn't signed his contract yet?...

Cue the end credits and a bunch of nerds posting on message boards in the world where this is a real TV show, arguing over whether this was an awesome finale or the Worst. Episode. Ever.

Overall the season seems popular with the group.  Our experiment with a more heavy season arc seemed to pay off and the nine episodes included a fairly nice progression of the Romulan Civil War storyline, liberally nicking from real-world recent events.  (This did mean less exploring strange new worlds, admittedly, and more running around the Romulan border catching the space equivalent of unsafe inflatable dinghies)  

 I considered it very important that Kestra not just go “back to normal” after having to shoot her boyfriend at the end of last season and I think that worked out well.  Aaron’s story arc – essentially playing a replacement computer program for himself who must eventually be de-activated – was one I wasn’t entirely sure about at first but ended up giving us some great comedy moments.

We basically ended up with Steve Jobs thinking he's the hero of Die Hard when he's actually just very confused.
Poor ol’ Dave got something of the short end of the stick as our Diplomatic Corp Attaché.  On the one hand, he did let us show a non-Starfleet view of Starfleet and gave someone other than Satlek the chance to negotiate with the captain/president/terrorist of the week.  On the other hand, it’s a little harder to squeeze him into every bridge scene or away team by virtue of having a very narrow remit.  He suffered from a lack of screen time and I don’t know if that’s fixable the next time round.   

Does Dave need a character with a clearer purpose, a stronger reason to be involved?  Is it that Dave himself needs to be more pro-active about ramming himself into scenes and getting lines even if it feels tenuous?

There's no shame in writing yourself into scenes, I think.
Playing their own alternate reality versions as hammy as they wanted seemed to appeal to most of the group. Raj in particular seemed to enjoy playing Mirror-Arvind as someone so horrible that when he dies the audience would cheer, and Mirror-Kestra gave Sister Superior the chance to show off her inner super-villain.

Matthew, however, was a little colder to the whole thing. He seemed to think it was fine as a concept for a single episode but as the end of a season to which the Romulans had been the major arc, he found the focus on the mirror universe a bit jarring. The Romulan Civil War still hangs in the background – the Mirror Universe people seemingly guilty of arming the D’Eran State rebels with the intention of destabilizing the quadrant and making their own assault easier – but he felt that the focus should have been more on the Romulans, especially when they were our main outlet for real world analogues.

I think he may have a point there, because even if I enjoyed the episode I must confess that the Mirror Universe idea did come a bit out of left field for most of the group. I think my the best way to move forward would be to close up this Invasion story line in the first episode of next series – albeit probably leaving a sequel hook- and then get back to the broader “Romulus = Middle East” story. I think a Mirror Invasion also gives us legs to continue on the “Militarising Starfleet” plot which has been gently building up in the background and that might end up being the bigger season arc of our next outing.

Very interested to hear if my players have any thoughts they’d like to share about this game? Or if anyone wants to see this Mirror Timeline I wrote up?


  1. I sort of enjoyed playing mirror Arvind, but I'll shed no tears when he meets his inevitable messy end.

    I do agree with Matthew on the point that the arc that we had been doing all season was abandoned at the point when it should possibly have been coming more to the fore. I'm certainly glad that you're intending to wrap up the mirror story fairly sharpish next season.

    As for next season, I know people are enjoying the arcs and longer, darker stuff, but I'd like to see at least one new alien planet (outside the Federation) and something to indicate that we haven't completely abandoned our primary mission (the one on the plaque). I feel that I can't question this in character - it's more a Bro'ch'n thing than Arvind, but I'm certainly missing that.

  2. While I do want to keep the show more TNG in some respects - there's still a fair bit of that Roddenberry idealistic streak to us - I think we may still be seeing some of the "Alpha Quadrant Politics" stuff bubbling away in the background for the next wee bit.

    I do however agree that you didn't get many chances to go out into the great beyond this season and we should perhaps to that, possibly tying back to that Militarising Starfleet plot. Maybe there's a big rush to check all the Wormholes that are recorded to make sure there's no mirror activity, so the Enterprise is sent to the corners of the quadrant to check them out? Maybe the map data we got from the I.S.S. Enterprise notes some planets we haven't explored yet and gives us some clues as to what to find there?