Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Menagerie - Part I

Space...The Final Frontier...

Welcome to August, a very special month for me as it contains the day each year that commemorates the first time I ever played a role playing game and began my long time love affair with this hobby.

August 25th, 2012 marks 35 years that I have been involved with RPGs. Wow.

I'd like to take the opportunity to reflect on my favorite RPG subject and setting and make this August the month of Star Trek Gaming here at Barking Alien!

To begin, I'd like to get a few opinions on who the PCs are in terms of rank and position and what it means to your campaign.


For the sake of this discussion (and most of those going on this blog for the month), let's assume we are talking about a Star Trek RPG campaign revolving around a Starfleet vessel, full of Starfleet officers (and perhaps others as well), doing Starfleet things (exploration, defense, transporting dignitaries, etc.) in service of the United Federation of Planets.

Why yes, you can play a campaign in which you are mercenaries and smugglers stealing and conning your way across the galaxy as you try to get away with murder and more then your fair share of credits in the Star Trek universe. You can also use a screwdriver to hammer in a nail. I personally tend to prefer that my crazy scroundrals trucking across outer space do so in Traveller or Star Wars. If you're going to play Star Trek, why not focus on the element that makes Star Trek uniquely, umm, y'know, Star Trek.

Now then...

Traditionally, I have run nearly all my campaigns with the PCs playing the bridge crew of a vessel of at least 125 people. That is, the PCs are the Captain, First Officer, Chief Engineer, Chief Medical Officer, Chief This and Head of That. The 'party' is responsible for the safety and well being of a starship load of NPCs. While we have run campaigns with smaller craft as noted above, the average campaign vessel has around 250-300 crew members.

This is, to me, the default way of playing Star Trek. Why? Primarily because it's the way we are used to seeing the TV shows. We do not tune in week after week to watch Ensign Jones and Crewman Rivera clean out the waste disposal units and refill the ship's stores. We watch Captain Kirk or Commander Data or Chief O'Brian meet up with the hostile aliens from a planet that is trying to develop a weaponized warp field or some such craziness.

We want to play the decision makers whose decisions effect the lives of hundreds of people on their vessel and untold billions throughout the galaxy. We want to be the movers and the shakers and the people who deal with them.


Now another way to play, one that was incidentally strongly suggested by Last Unicorn Games in its awesome ICON System Star Trek RPG,is to play the 'lower decks' Starfleet personnel such as cadets, enlisted or junior officers.  


Playing younger and less experienced officers is less Star Trek-like but it is more RPG like, with your PCs starting out low ranking and not especially skilled but having the potential to rise up to high ranks, position and maybe even command of their own ship. This is the equivalent of being the game at 1st Level with the hope of one day building your own castle. Got to think long term for this kind of character.


Which option do you prefer? When Capt. Picard, Dr. Crusher and Exobiology Specialist Alexandrov beam down...who do you want to be? OK, maybe that example is a bit weighted...

One option I have tried was to have the PCs as low to medium level officers in a small craft. Imagine a ship around the size of the
Mission Class Courier, set up for the PCs plus a half dozen other people (NPCs). The ship's commanding officer has the rank of Lt. Commander perhaps. Everyone else is under that. This provides a low ranking, less experienced crew but one that has considerable leeway as it is essentially in command of the vessel it has. Normally such a ship, considering its size and capabilities, would be assigned to a group of ships exploring or defending a particular area. It is also possible that the vessel is attached to and deployed from a research outpost or similar Starbase.

More on the nature of PCs and NPCs as we continue forward...bearing 8-0-2 mark 12.

Barking Alien


  1. I apologize for the potentially large number of grammar and spelling errors. I wrote most of this while barely able to keep my eyes open. I will edit it a bit tomorrow.

  2. Alternately, it might be interesting to have each player come up with a Bridge crew and lower decks character. That gives you some extra NPCs right off the bat that the PCs have some investment in. Then every few sessions, you could run a lower decks session which give another perspective on the ship and crew- players could use that to introduce other elements or perhaps even reveal something new about their primary characters.

  3. That is actually the subject of the second part of my 'Menagerie' post.

    The idea of 'troupe play' Star Trek is probably not new by any means but it is new to me. What I mean by that is, since I tend to run campaigns featuring the PCs as the bridge crew and stars of the show, it would be a new experience for my players and I to play multiple characters on the same ship. I do really like the idea however and would love to give it a go.

  4. One thing that appealed to me about the Prime Directive RPG was that the party was intended to be a specially trained Away Team. Rather than try to explain why Captain Kirk and Spock always beamed down to the dangerous alien planet, these guys just said "They don't. They send in the experts."

  5. I have to chime with the troupe play as well. However, I also use the Ars Magica concept of "grogs" as well. That is, the "red shirts" (and other minor NPCs) are also rolled up and are "communal property"...any player can use them in a scene. Very useful if the party is "split up."

    As to the players themselves, yes, I prefer their "mains" to be the bridge crew/department heads. I have toyed with the idea of them being a "prime team" as well, but if I ever do that they'll probably be assigned to a Starbase and, I'll run something akin to DS9 (but with more time "off-station").

  6. My only experience of this kind of gaming is in Rogue Trader, where it's assumed that the players will be the top dogs on board ship. None of them wanted to be the Rogue Trader himself though, so that created an interesting dynamic, as they were in charge of most ship operations, but still had to follow orders.

  7. I've only run into a few problems with this type of approach, one of which was a situation where all 3 players wanted to be the captain. Solution? Destroyer Squadron Eagle-12! Everyone's a captain - of a Larson class destroyer! Operating out of a starbase in a team of 3 ships changes up the traditional structure in some interesting ways. Plus, they can be less experienced and lower ranked as well.

  8. For our Gurps TNG (post Dominion War era) we each made three characters.

    1. Bridge = Higher Officer
    2. Specialist = Middle to lower rank officer
    3. Enlisted = Grunt

    The Captain: Each week we would rotate the Captain to a new player. The Captain was basically the Decider NPC. This helped prevent GM schizophrenia. Talking to himself as the Captain and the Encounter NPC was too much to handle.
    Dividing things up this way meant everyone would have a character beaming down. The Captain always stayed on the ship.

    This type of arrangement worked very well and everyone was able to participate in a natural way.

    We havent got too far into marvel heroic roleplaying to Star Trek conversion. But I will keep you updated. In a brainstorming session it really feels easy to convert. We will eventually post to our group website. (-:

  9. Playing an ensign and taking orders from NPCs= no fun, at least to me.