Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Paradise Syndrome

There is a good deal more I'd like to say regarding player characters in a Star Trek RPG but for the time being I am going to plot a different course and discuss the heart and soul of Star Trek...


I have some strong feelings and opinions on this subject and how it is often portrayed in gaming (to my experience that is) and I apologize if at any point my attitude on the matter becomes a rant or if negative vibes are directed at any particular other game or genre. I will try to keep my ire, should it arise, to an absolute minimum. I don't think you will notice it much.

So to continue...

A few weeks ago, Noisms posted an entry on his blog wondering if Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, as well as those that followed so closely in their footsteps, had picked the right 'pseudo-era' for the implied setting of Dungeons & Dragons and it's many like minded embellishes and imitators.

Essentially, Noisms proposed that the pseudo-medieval period of an Anglo-Saxon feudal Europe was not, in truth, the best time to be an adventurer and explorer.

I concur whole-heartedly. The more I learned about world history and especially the history and culture of 'medieval times', the less logical the Dungeons & Dragons default set-up seemed to be. It is a fantasy game though after all and certainly some elements are more fantastic than others. In reality it would seem, at least to me, that D&D is not intended to resemble the medieval period of Western Europe so much as the fantasy worlds of Lieber, Tolkien and their ilk.

Now Star Trek is a different story...

Using Noism's criteria for the type of society that would produce the kind of adventuring soul that would join Starfleet to participate in its mission to go where no one has gone before, we encounter some interesting variables.

"Historically, adventurers have mostly been fostered by a mix of variables - relatively high poverty (the motivation to escape), relative lack of opportunity for advancement (another motivation to escape), relatively high chance of glory (discoveries of new areas of the globe to explore), breakthroughs in travel technology (e.g. ocean going vessels that could make it all the way to China from Portugal) and relatively large numbers of young men with nothing to do (big pool to draw from)."

Starting from the last element and going backward, the United Federation of Planets definitely has large numbers of young men and women with nothing to do or, more accurately, nothing pressing. Life is grand in Star Trek's future, with little to no disease, no poor or homeless and endless opportunities for education and the chance to follow your dream...assuming you have one. My idea for the near-utopia of the Federation is that, day to day life in the close-to-perfect 23rd* and 24th centuries can pretty boring and even unfulfilling if you don't have an innate talent, chosen goal or you are not inheriting a business from a previous generation. Those who want to do amazing things but don't know what amazing things they want to do make up the bulk of Starfleet's Enlisted personnel. They believe Starfleet will give them discipline, direction and purpose, not unlike those who joined the navies of the past and present.

Breakthroughs in travel technology abound. Be they the NX-01 from Enterprise, the newest, fastest vessel and first to break the Warp 5 barrier or the Starship Voyager with its Bioneural Gel Packs and Emergency Medical Holograms, each advancement in technology brings with it the excuse to test said advancements out in the final frontier.

In Star Trek, a relatively high chance of glory is not so much about the glory itself but it is definitely about what Noism suggests the glory is for. New alien species, strange stellar phenomena and the remains of long lost civilizations are out there just waiting to be found.

Now, if Star Trek's setting differs from the traditional motivators that Noism notes, it is in the first two elements he mentions, "relatively high poverty (the motivation to escape), relative lack of opportunity for advancement (another motivation to escape)".

These elements do not really exist in the standard canon of Star Trek as principle conditions of the Federation. No one is poor, even if not everyone is rich. Lack of advancement depends very much on personal talent, skill and determination. Assuming these two factors start everyone from a Vulcan Monk to a Human Orphan to an Andorian Farmer on the same footing, what better way to prove to yourself and those who know you that you are something special then to show them you are Starfleet material?

In a way, this post, meant to discover exploration as an important part of a Star Trek Role Playing Game campaign really turned out to be about PCs anyway. Well, at least in regard to their possible motivations. Huh, whaddaya know?

Lots more to come, ahead Warp Factor 5!

Barking Alien

*The 23rd Century of The Original Series and the movies set in that era was not nearly as utopian as the universe that is depicted in 24th Century (The Next Generation onward). This is one of the many reasons I prefer to set my campaigns in the TOS and TMP periods.



  1. Like it or not, the Federation is a Utopian Communist society. Glory doesn't fit into that model easily. Joining Starfleet is a rebellious, glorious act of independence. Even though paradoxically it is a regimented career. Even more so when you take up the life of an independent Merchant Marine trader. Which, btw is rarely presented as a fun life in Star trek.
    I ran a Star trek TNG Gurps game of an independent trader that worked the Romulan / Federation border. It was fun but tricky. The players had to feel empowered within this larger universe.

    BTW, if you don't know already...Lovin' the Trek Talk. (-:

  2. I'm glad you are my Unknown friend! I am loving talking about it and hearing back from you and other fans.

    I should have noted in the above post, that setting your game in the TOS (The Original Series) era of Star Trek does change things a bit.

    TOS was nigh-utopian, evidenced by numerous episodes where Federation members and allies bickered and fought (Elaan of Troyius and Journey to Babel), commerce was still a major concern on the frontier (mining and trade was key in Devil in The Dark and I, Mudd) and even within the rank of Starfleet fear and prejudice could rear its ugly head (Balance of Terror).

    In that setting, Starfleet is the destination for two very different kinds of people if you think about it. The best of the best who will best serve themselves and society by exploring the galaxy, furthering its knowledge and defending its way of life and those who don't fit in back home and just want to be away from the hum drum life of their small, backwater planet.

    Personally I find it interesting that their is not a greater attention paid to this in either the Star Trek shows or the Star Trek RPGs. I would certainly love to see some kind of definitive difference between the Enlisted Crewman and the Career Officer, though honestly I'm not positive I would want a major mechanical difference in the rules. It would definitely be cool to play as part of a character's persona.

    1. Sorry, I meant Mudd's Women and not I, Mudd. I always get the name of those two episodes mixed up.