In the world of tabletop RPGs, the fantasy setting is king. After all, the genre started with Dungeons and Dragons, which was quickly followed by multiple successor games. When Star Wars came on the scene, many game makers sought to make games capitalizing on this new space opera trend. However, in the midst of all this, there has never been a strong pull for good, straight forward science fiction RPG. The latest Star Trek RPG, Star Trek Adventures, aims to service that segment. Read on to see what we thought about it.
The system is a interesting derivation on a standard d20 game
I’ve always been a massive Star Trek fan, but had never played a Star Trek RPG before (the last one anyone remembers is the old FASA game, which ran out of print in 1989), so I was excited to try it. To begin, Star Trek Adventures is a d20 RPG in the sense the you roll twenty sided dice, but that’s where the similarities end. It uses Modiphius’s 2d20 system which drops all other dice for d20s and the occasional d6. To see how this system works in STA, let’s say you need to fire your phaser. You look at your characters control attribute and security disciple (they’re two sets of stats in this game). You add those two stats together and that determines what your character has to roll in order to succeed. If your control is 9 and your security is 3, then you need to roll a 12 or lower on the dice for it to be considered a success. Each task your perform, whether it’s firing phasers, scanning for anomalies, or successfully ejecting the warp core requires a certain number of these dice to succeed in order for you to actually succeed. So, let’s say you need to get 2 successes to fire a phaser and hit. If you roll two dice (which is what you do for every task) then you have to roll a 12 or lower on both dice.
I know it seems like a lot, based on how those sentences come together, but after you play the game for ten minutes understanding what you need to roll comes incredibly easy. At it’s most basic level the 2d20 system dramatically speeds up the game and significantly improves how the game flows from player to player. It makes it very easy for gamemasters to make control DCs on the fly based on what the players are doing instead of telling the players they can’t do said thing because they didn’t anticipate the player’s actions.
The core book is a work of art
Seriously, the glossy black pages on white text are very appealing. The quality of the printing and binding of the core I purchased at Gencon surpasses what I have expected from game companies these days. It looks and feels like a high quality textbook, and that’s before you even get to the actual artwork, which itself is magnificent. They also utilize the existing design scheme of The Next Generation era of TV, including the look of LCARS.
The thing I enjoy most about the core rulebook is that nearly the first 100 pages are dedicated to creating the setting for the game. The game and the core start with the idea that it is taking place in 2371, which is a very specific timeframe for Star Trek. It’s the year that the USS Voyager gets lost in the Delta Quadrant. It’s the year the Dominion are discovered. It’s the year the Klingons pull out of their alliance with the Federation. It’s the year the Enterprise-D is destroyed in Star Trek Generations. This opens up any number of entry points for gamemasters to create their own home-brew campaigns.
That being said, it also doesn’t prevent one from moving the game back into the Original Series era or the Enterprise era, as the stats for the game can be either somewhat modified, or is already available in the core book. In this day and age, it’s wonderful to see the core book actually have everything that gamemasters and players need to run the game, instead of needing to purchase 3 to 4 books before you can reasonably get started.
It’s not for everybody
All this praise being said, the game has it’s own problems, some of which are structural and some that are based in preference. The biggest issue I see is the leveling system. Simply put, there is no leveling system. Your character that you create at the beginning of a campaign will be largely the same by the end. The game doesn’t rely on experience points to determine your character progression, but what are called milestones. Milestones are determined by two main factors, how and if the player’s values were challenged in any way, and if the character completed a story arc. The character’s values determine a number of factors in the game from how they interact with the world, to if they reach a milestone, to if they interact with “determination” which is another gameplay component. The problem with this is that values and determination are vaguely defined in the book, and their interactions are confusing at best. This is partly because this is a new game mechanic, but also values are not actually listed in game. The book offers no real guidance with example values beyond a handful of vague examples that don’t proffer a clear understanding of how that value could be used or challenged. I understand that this is meant to give the player and gamemasters freedom to create organic motivations and plot points for the players, but by tying it in with the leveling system they ensured that everyone would be confused. As a matter of fact, the whole mechanic was so confusing and irrelevant that while playing the game at Gencon we were encouraged to ignore those things by our gamemaster. All this being said, the milestone system only offers modest increases in stats. In all but one case, it is merely a way to respec your character or your ship.
It puts role playing front and center
For people who prefer deep game mechanic centered around combat and character leveling similar to standard d20 RPGs, don’t look here. Everything in the game is designed to enhance the role playing, which in my opinion balances the system by making it impossible to break characters. The benefit of this is that you always feel like your ship or your character can die at any moment — because they can.
By eschewing the complicated character leveling progression common in most RPGs, along with ponderous combat rules, the game makes way for smoother combat that places role playing at the forefront. The game even makes room for what are called “social conflict encounters” which run under the same rules as combat, except it’s build around your characters social interaction. An example of this could be seen in The Next Generation episode “The Drumhead” where Picard is trying to persuade his crew and the Admiralty that retired Admiral Noah Satine is conducting a witch trail. It makes social conflict every bit as exciting as physical conflict by aligning them under the same rules.
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Although the game isn’t for power gamers, or for people who enjoy the old school method of character leveling, it is a fantastic game for those who are new to RPGs or who are more interesting in storytelling than character building.
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