Wednesday, August 22, 2012

That Which Survives

There is an idea regarding starships and the starship as character that I want to address.

The October 1989 issue of Dragon Magazine (#150 to be precise) contains an article on running a campaign for the FASA Star Trek Role Playing Game called, "A Final Frontier of Your Own" by John J. Terra. I have mentioned before, very early in the life of this blog, that I read that article each time I prepare to GM Star Trek.

I have read it dozens and dozens of times at this point. If you have never read it and you want to run a Star Trek campaign, do yourself and try to get a hold of that issue and article. While many of the elements of the article may seem obvious, please do not underestimate the power of seeing something in print and how it makes things you don't even think about that much harder to forget.

One particular part of the article that I want to talk about here is on the subject of the PCs' vessel. As part of his initial overview of campaigning in the Star Trek universe, Mr. Terra makes this reference to his own campaign...

What is interesting to me is how he notes at the end of the paragraph essentially the same point I was making in my previous post. However, notice that he mentions the PC ship getting an upgrade, the 'party' using a different ship for a while and finally being assigned a brand new ship.

How many of us actually do that? That is, how many of us who have played or run Star Trek or a Star Trek-oriented campaign have actually seen our ships grow and change and eventually give way to new and better ships?

I think it's a fascinating idea myself and I have used it on a few occasions. I've run a number of successful (meaning they were fun and people enjoyed them a lot) Star Trek campaigns but only a few long ones. Given the chance, I love the idea of starting the players off on a small vessel like a research ship/surveyor and then, after some major discovery or encounter, have Starfleet reward them with something more akin to a TOS (The Original Series) Era Miranda Class (The USS Reliant) or Constitution Class (The USS Enterprise).

Eventually, after a dozen or so adventures on their ship, having turned in some XP a couple of times to Starfleet Engineers (that is, the GM) for upgrades, it's time to overhaul the ol' girl and get all TMP (The Motion Picture) Era up in there. Ahem.

Continue to play awhile longer and yes, upgrading again or replacing the vessel with an entirely new class of ship would be awesome.

I recall one campaign where the PCs started with a TOS Miranda, went to a TMP Miranda and eventually some of the PCs were promoted and reassigned. We started a new campaign in which the previous Captain was now an Admiral and promoted our Helmsman to Captain (some 5 years later in the campaign timeline).

Our former Chief Engineer now worked at the Starfleet shipyards on Mars (Utopia Planitia) designing new classes of starships. The player of said Chief Engineer came up with an original design of his own making to serve as the starting ship for the new game. So, the player of the former Lt. Commander Helmsman is now Captain, the old Captain is an NPC Admiral and every one else made new characters. The ship had several neat features and improvements by was generally a bit smaller and less powerful then the TMP Miranda we ended the last campaign with.

Ships, like characters, grow and move forward, increasing in capabilities just like the crews that call them home. To avoid too much power creep too quickly, start the players off on a relatively low end or medium end vessel. Change them over to something medium-cool within the first dozen episodes or less (maybe around 6-8?). After another two dozen go for something very cool, although as noted, allowing for upgrades to the medium-cool ship in the interim.

What do you think? The exact when and how of ship upgrades and exchanges need not be so specific. This is more of an outline. Play it by ear (or antennea if you're Andorian).

Barking Alien


  1. I've done things like this with Star Wars games, but our old Star Trek one never got that far sadly.

    1. That's too bad.

      Yeah, I've done something similar in Star Wars, Traveller and a few other games but it's different. You don't usually see an evolution along that same 'Class Line' you do it Star Trek.

      The only other genre/setting where this kind of thing happens might be Mecha, especially something like Mobile Suit Gundam. You could go from piloting a GM, to a GM Command, to a Gundam and then see the Gundam converted into the newest prototype Hyperion-Gundam X or something.

  2. The TOS-Era campaign that was my favorite looked to be going in that direction, since it was set aboard the second Intrepid and thus started after TOS ended. The crew, both PC and NPC, went through some permutations, with significant new members joining well after the start, and the "standard" group took awhile to settle down (and never truly did).

    They played several games both before and after I was able to join them, the last apparently involving our Vulcan captain's promotion to Commodore and his assignment to command of a Starbase--which definitely pointed to a change in the game, as PCs' options grew strategic as well as tactical.

    But that was the last session that was ever played of that campaign, as I recall.

    1. Bummer, as that sounds like a pretty good jumping on point for a 'new season' as it were.

      Another awesome thing about a Star Trek campaign I've noticed is how easy it is to have PCs come and go compared to other games.

      Missing players and their characters can simply be working below deck or on shore leave at the nearest Starbase. New players and their PCs could have been recently promoted, recently assigned or on loan from another vessel or a Starbase.

    2. Yes, the versatility of crew rosters in Trek was a boon to myself and another fellow who got as much enjoyment from making characters as playing.

  3. Awesome resource. I shall search for it!

  4. Alright, I did have this experience and I wrote way to much about it to make a sensible comment so it's now a post on the blog that's linked back here.

    The only game even remotely similar in this aspect is probably Battletech. It's on an individual character level so it loses some of its punch, but you do have the inheriting of an existing vehicle (potentially), damage, repairs, upgrades to newer tech, and possible replacement or retirement as stronger designs become available. It's a lesser form, but if you play a long campaign some of those elements do show up.

  5. I remember that article, I had that issue of Dragon--Halloween issue with Call of Cthulhu articles in it. Good cover, too. I have a copy of that article that I keep in my FASA Trek box and re-read for inspiration. No need to track down Dragon # 150, though, as there is a PDF floating on the Internet.