Friday, August 31, 2012
Tomorrow is the official, last session of my Champions campaign, "The New Champions", based on the world setting created by my friend Will and which I last played in my first year of college prior to resurrecting it for this game.
It's been a pretty wild ride, with as many amazing highs as face palming lows. What started out as one of the best campaigns of any kind I've run in a while slowly turned into a game I simultaneously enjoyed and dreaded.
Somewhere at the half way mark of this nearly year long, a least one a week campaign, the player dynamic shifted and I don't think the game ever quite recovered. This can be attributed to both myself and the two remaining original players. Without the third, the drive of the campaign lost its way somehow. The new PCs who joined us were just not the cult of personality our missing man was and it made those left behind stumble and have difficulty finding their way without him.
Add to that the fact that the new and original players didn't always see eye to eye in their approach to how to play and what to do. I'll admit to getting both frustrated and bored at the play style of one of the new additions, and it caused me to lose momentum and enthusiasm for what was happening a number of times.
In the end (and it is the end for now - see below), I decided it was best to end on a positive note or as close as I could be to one. With an epic ending in mind, the players and their PCs proceeded to follow a completely different route than what I had envisioned (no problem) and are now going toe-to-toe against a team of some of the most powerful and ruthless villains in the world. Already, their main base has been wrecked, several major NPCs injured and the villains are holed up in their heavily armed, extremely fortified, 'Hall of Doom' headquarters hidden (though finally located by the heroes) in the Verkhoyansk Mountain of Siberia.
So, tomorrow I can look forward to one hell of a massive Superhero/Supervillain blow out bash. After that...
The next campaign for this group, as I've mentioned before, is based on the popular Japanese Anime/Manga Hunter X Hunter. The game will be run by my pal Ray and feature a homebrew system of his own design based heavily on certain attributes, mechanics and other elements actually mentioned in the Manga. A very neat idea and one I hope and believe he will be able to pull off.
The only problem is...
As I have said time and again, I don't really like to play RPGs as a player even half as much as I like running them as a GM. Actually, saying I enjoy it less than half as much is being kind.
Plus...gamemastering for me is kind of theraputic. A way to get out all those ideas for stories, images, characters and ideas I would otherwise have no outlet for. What will I do with these things if I am not running a game? I will write them down, draw them and do preparations for the games I will eventually run of course but will that be enough?
It's going to have to be for the time being.
I can assure you I am not exaggerating when I say I've run over 100 Star Trek RPG sessions. As a matter of fact, I am understating the number considerably.
Since first purchasing the Star Trek Role Playing Game 1st Edition by FASA in 1982, I have run at least 3 long term campaigns, half a dozen short term ones and several dozen one-shots and pick up games.*
While I have used modified versions of numerous Star Trek, Traveller, Space Opera and Star Frontiers modules, you can't run that much Star Trek without creating a fair number of 'episodes' out of nothing but your own imagination and your love of the shows.
In the interest of nostalgia and helping out my fellow GMs interested in running Star Trek sessions or campaigns, I thought I would list some of my most successful adventures. In the interest of saving space, getting the most out of the post and not boring my audience with unnecessary details, I'm going to list the adventures alphabetically by title and have a small blurb of the adventures general plot to accompany them.
If possible I will note any variants or interesting tidbits I came across while running them (since I ran several of them more than once with different groups).
A personal note on canon, needing to have seen the episodes and general Star Trek familiarity:
For the most part, I try very hard to make adventures that do not require anyone to have seen, or at least remember in detail, any given episode of any of the shows. I will sometimes drop nods or Easter Eggs that those who have seen certain episodes will get a kick out of but it's never mandatory that you have seen a certain episode in order to solve a mystery or save the day.
That said, many of my most enjoyable campaigns featured players who were at least casually familiar with Star Trek lore and had a least one or two players in the mix who were big fans. This enabled me to create adventures that did reference the shows and some of those were so fun I included them here.
Body of Work
-Originally inspired by a number of science fiction stories I'd read including 'Cage A Man' by F. M. Busby and the origin of Superman, 'Body of Work' actually resembles the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode 'The Inner Light' and the recent Star Trek: Titan novel 'Fallen Gods', though I created this adventure years before either of these stories were made known.-
Having beamed down to a planet to investigate the ruined city left behind by a long dead civilization, the away team/landing party encounter a statue of a plant/mushroom-like being holding several humanoids with its numerous leaf/tentacle/limbs. Scanning or touching the statue causes the entire group to black out and come to moments later in the bodies of several mushroom people working as part of a think tank group trying to avert some disaster. The players than play out the final days of this civilization with the families and culture of these fungi folk. The group turns out to be a team of the greatest scientists, philosophers and scholars of their society who are charged with saving the world or at least the people, hampered by a ruling council composed of 3 scientists who discount any religious or philosophical approaches and 3 member who balk at the blasphemy of science.
By sessions end, the apocalypse occurs and the PCs return to their bodies. If they fail to save anything or anyone from the culture, the humanoid figures held in the statue's limbs will now appear to be them. If they succeed in saving something or someone, the statue is an amalgam of the landing party members holding mushroom people in their hands.
Hither Comes The Other End of Midnight
-Inspired by the Star Trek: Original Series episode 'Assignment: Earth'.-
Having escorted an influential Ambassador to a Federation Diplomatic Meeting with previously hostile aliens now trying to make overtures of peace, an attempt is made on the Ambassador's life by an unknown assassin. Eventually, a woman is found whose identity has been falsified. She admits in private with the Captain or First Officer to be Rachel 11, an agent of an interstellar civilization far more advanced than the Federation that sends operatives to intercede when dire situations occur. Rachel explains that someone will assassinate the Ambassador, pin it on the former hostiles and the Federation will enter a state of war that will bring in the neighboring Klingons to take advantage of the situation.
Refusing to give anymore data or evidence of what she is claiming, will the Starfleet officers believe her? Can they prevent a war if what she is saying is true and will they do it with or without her?
-Inspired by Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. The adventure should be set at some point after those films but before the Next Generations replicators in the Star Trek timeline as they make the need for the plot hook too hard to explain.-
An emergency message from Starfleet Command puts the PC ship into immediate action as a rescue vessel as it is the closest ship to an agricultural world gripped with a major disaster. Medical ships and others are on the way but the farming community and scientists on the planet need to leave ASAP!
It turns out that this is no ordinary farming planet but rather the test site of a new agricultural technique using information obtained from the failed Genesis Project. By using seeds whose genetics are encoded with Proto-Matter, rapid development of highly nutritional plant stuffs has been made that could easily end hungry on many worlds. Unfortunately, after several successful harvests, the Proto-Matter reacted violently with a foreign bacteria brought in by a freighter crew. The PCs are eventually able to hand the survivors over to hospital ships and dedicated rescue vessels and continue on their journey.
Sometime later, while surveying a pulsar or whathaveyou, the crew experiences strange instances of being ridiculously healthy. Sparring that doesn't seem to tire you out at all. Allergies or old war injuries that appear to have gone away. Next, one by one, the Starfleet officers who were exposed to the rescue efforts will see better, move faster and essentially become superhuman. Sadly, they will not gain the ability to control their new found awesomeness and will begin damaging control panels by touching them, hear even little sound on the bridge at deafening levels, etc. The PCs need to find a cure and control their actions carefully before they become very powerful bulls in a very fragile china shop that can explosively decompress.
Variants - 1) Klingons, Romulans or Gorn try to raid the PC vessel having learned of the disaster and super-gene plants by monitoring communications from the colony. Face off with Klingon warriors as Super-Vulcan and make'em think twice. 2) The freighter that caused the viral mutation by bringing a foreign bacteria into the test environment of the colony has experienced them same rise to superhuman levels but also learned it will eventually kill you. If they could get a sample of the original bacteria to a Starfleet medical lab an antidote can be synthesized.
Rage of The Pussyfoots
-Inspired by 'The Age of the Pussyfoots' by Frederik Pohl and an idea by my good friend Joe Cangelosi. One of our earliest adventures. -
While investigating debris believed to belong to a Romulan vessel from way back during the Romulan War with the pre-Federation United Earth Space Probe Agency and the Coalition of Planets, the PC vessel is attacked by a group of unmanned/robot satellites. These powerful weapons platforms are of an unknown make and model but resemble Romulan Disruptor and Plasma Weapon technology.
Further investigation brings the ship into contact with even more powerful robotic weapon platforms and even robot ships (similar to System Defense Boats from Traveller or something between a fighter and a runabout).
Eventually the action packed encounters lead to evidence of a war-like alien species who are violently territorial...or are they? In truth, the previously pacifistic, extremely cowardly, squid-beings have incredibly long lives and a means of conveying racial memory through a telepathic, almost hive mind link. Just a few years ago, these creatures, who had no idea there were any other intelligent creatures in the universe, had their entire culture drastically changed when a rogue missile crashed into one of their cities from space and destroyed it. The missile had been traveling for years and years, having been launched by either the Coalition or the Romulans during the war between them. The frightened squidoids geared up for war, determined to do whatever necessary to protect themselves and their offspring from the alien invasion they knew was coming. To them, your PC vessel is validation that they were right.
The Battlefield of Empty Promises
Alternate titles - The Battlefield of Empty Space, Battlefield on the Edge of Forever
-Based on the Star Trek: The Original Series episodes 'Let This Be Our Last Battlefield' and 'City on the Edge of Forever'. Best run in the late TOS Movie Era or sometime in the Next Generation or later.-
The male twin of two Cheronian children rescued from that planet's apocalyptic civil war has been working with scientists on the planet that serves as the location of the Guardian of Forever to try and further understand its nature and origins as well as prevent its accidental use.
The Cheronian has other plans however and uses the Guardian to travel back in time to Cheron before Lokai leaves the planet and Commissioner Bele gives chase. The young male Cheron leaves behind a journal, a message to his twin sister who is working with Starfleet Intelligence, that he has figured out which of the two men, Lokai and Bele, is the twins' father and that the brother intends to kill him, thereby preventing the events that destroyed Cheron. The Cheronian scientist's notes indicate it was this event, Lokai's escape and Bele's vow to make him and all his kind pay, that set off Cheron's final war.
PCs will have to follow the Cheronian scientist back to the past of his world, with his sister's help and locate him before he not only changes history but eliminates himself and his sister from the timeline. Originally when I ran this, half the time travelers were made to look like one group and half the other group, created a very uneasy and disturbing look at bigotry and the reaction to it on both sides. One of our best sessions ever based on two of my favorite episodes.
The Body Electric
-Inspired by The Matrix and numerous films, books and other science fiction stories about virtual reality and artificial intelligence. It also features a variant on an idea I had for Superman's enemy Brainiac.-
The ship picks up unusual electromagnetic readings from a small planet that is nowhere near qualifying for Class M status. Luckily, it appears the readings and various signals indicating extremely advanced machinery and communications are located beneath the planet's surface. For some unknown reason, no one responds to hails at first. Then, transporter coordinates are given with an apology from the chief of operations of the facility saying that his communications systems and those of your ships seem to work on very different principles and he is having difficulty making them completely compatible.
When the away team beams down, they find themselves in an amazingly advanced edifice, at least a decade ahead of the Federation, the Klingons and others on the UFP's level. The aliens that control the facility are amicable if a bit standoffish and only vaguely humanoid in appearance. They explain that there are other, more humanoid beings working there who will come by shortly. They are happy to answer questions about their facility, show you around, etc. Eventually more humanoid versions of the same beings show up and are more touchy-feely and less cold.
Meanwhile on board your ship, things are in Red Alert Mode as the landing party never materialized. In fact, the differences in the communication and energy relay systems between the ship and the surface may have essentially killed the landing party, dispersing their energy patterns and molecules in a billion directions.
The true is, the facility absorbed the away team's patterns and are storing them in a complex, Holodeck-meets-the-Matrix computer grid. This is the way the AI of this research station explores and learns about the different people in the galaxy. It then uses the data it obtains to improve its own programming and the appearance of the aliens in its virtual reality. It eventually hopes to build robot bodies and download various subroutines of itself into these bodies and explore outward from the planet.
The PCs need to discover they are living in a Matrix-like world, figure out how to escape and convince the base's AI that there are alternative ways to go about its task.
The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea
-Inspired by the Star Trek: Original Series episode 'Devil in the Dark', elements from the canon of the science fiction RPGs Blue Planet and Traveller and my own personal interest in the ocean and sea creatures-
Your vessel is on route to a mining colony on a largely water covered planet to assist them with a recent plague of malfunctioning and failing underwater sensor equipment. This is the perfect chance to get the Chief Engineer off the ship for once as well as introduce that lovely or handsome Oceanographer NPC you've been thinking of using. A nice time to spotlight any aquatic or amphibious aliens on the crew as well. Anyway...
A good deal of the mining on this planet, which has very few large land masses on the surface, is done by silicon based aliens known as Horta. What land there is on the planet's surface is of course the tops of massive underwater mountains. The Horta are able to tunnel through solid rock with a powerful corrosive acid secretion and can detect not only the choicest veins of ore but avoid piercing the outer walls of a cave and causing billions of gallons of salt water to flood in.
Evidence suggests that the Horta maybe doing something to the equipment, either accidentally or on purpose. In addition, they seem to be avoiding drilling in certain areas, even if tests by the Mining Corporation indicate it would be a great spot.
Eventually it is revealed that the sensors are being blocked or deflected by an alien intelligence native to the planet. I've run several variants.
1) The Horta knew and were protecting the aliens, feeling a kinship with them since the Horta had a very rocky first contact with Federation miners and feared the same would happen here. 2) The Horta were avoiding the aliens because they sensed hostile intent. They (the Horta) will recommend not disturbing the aliens at any cost. 3) Though not exactly hostile, the aliens were using a 'Psychic Siren Call' of sorts to steer the Horta away from their nests and get the Horta to damage the equipment for them.
Note: For any adventure where the Horta from 'Devil in the Dark' appear, I use the word 'Devil' in the title. For example, I renamed the FASA module 'Witness for the Defense', which features a young man on trial for killing a Horta on the mining colony of Janus VI, 'Sympathy for the Devil'.
Words Can Not Describe
-Inspired by various ideas and stories on unusual ways aliens might communicate. Several Star Trek episodes of TNG, Voyager and Enterprise have explored this concept to varying degrees of success and entertainment.-
While exploring an uncharted region of space, the PC vessel encounters another ship whose inhabitants are of an unknown alien species that never invented the spoken word. While the species is not deaf, sound, the ability to perceive it and the information gained from it is considerably less developed in both their biology and culture. How do you communicate with them if you can not talk to them or listen to them and the physical differences in your two species make charades a real hit and miss prospect.
I wanted to create an alien race that was not only not superior to us in some way but seriously deficient in some sense that many of us take for granted.
Variants - 1) Complicate this by having Klingons or Romulans make trouble for the PC and/or alien ship. 2) Start out with a miss understanding about what had happened to one of the aliens' outposts.
If any of you have any favorite Star Trek adventures that you've run and would like to share feel free to do so in the comments. Likewise if you have any questions regarding any of these feel free to ask.
The end of the month has come and with it the end of my month long focus on Star Trek gaming. I am not done by any means however. No, I still have quite a few things to say about the subject and will likely inject a few Star Trek Saturdays or Star Trek Sundays into the months ahead.
Live Long and Prosper Gaming Fans,
*Some explanations - A long term campaign is, for me, a campaign lasting over a year where the group meets a minimum of once a week. A short term campaign is one that lasts a year or less and/or one where the groups meets once a week or less.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Let us for a moment take a look at the onscreen depiction of alien creatures in both Star Trek and Star Wars.
By 'creatures' I mean, in this instance at least, living beings of animal-level intelligence. These are non-culture creating, non-starship piloting, biological entities.
By 'onscreen depiction' I mean to remove from this particular discussion all the appearances of such creatures in books, video games and the like. For the sake of completeness however, onscreen will include all animated series, though their canon is often in question.
Between the original Star Trek TV Series in 1966 and now, there have been 5 television shows, an animated series and 11 movies.
Between Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977 and now, there have been 6 movies, at least 2 traditionally animated series and the current CGI animated series.
First Observation: There is a lot more visually viewable Star Trek than there is Star Wars.
Second Observation: More creatures of a non-sentient* type are seen and seen more often, in Star Wars than Star Trek.
I've noticed over the years that when running Star Wars, I, and a number of other GMs I've met, place animal/creature encounters in their games fairly often. Wampas attack those hiding in frozen caves, Mynocks chew on power cables, giant lizards are ridden into the double sunset, etc.
In Star Trek, creature encounters are few and far between, likely a reflection of the way they are shown (or not shown) in the TV shows and films. Also, a good deal of Star Trek story and action takes place aboard starships, on space stations and in the cities of ancient or new civilizations. You are as likely to see a Mugato on your Excelsior Class vessel as you are a live Grizzly Bear on a modern naval battleship.
You do hear about them though.
That is, Star Trek is very fond of mentioning alien animals often but they are actually seen far more rarely. People maybe blind as Tiberian Bats or jump around like a Tarcassian Razorbeast but we rarely see these things.
In the end, what is the purpose of such creatures in a Star Trek RPG? Why should we, as Star Trek fans and gamers, do anything differently from the shows and films? That is, do we need to inject beasties into our games anymore than the producers of Star Trek inject them into the movies and episodes?
Need? I am not sure. But we can.
Personally, aliens are among my favorite elements of science fiction. I am also an avid animal lover who has forever been fascinated by our furry, feathered and oft four legged friends. My dog for example constantly amazes me. There is, in my home at this time, laying at my feet and chewing on a bone, a 40 lbs., hunter/scavenger carnivore descended from a pack predator. That's incredible when you think about it? Would you let a wolf or coyote sleep in your bed? No, probably not, but how far away is the family dog from just that? Not that far at all genetically.
I think it highly unlikely that we will find any living, extraterrestrial organisms during my lifetime. It would not surprise me if they were found within the lifetime of my currently 5 year old nephew or his children. When they are found, they will very likely be what we would call animals. I'm not expecting us to encounter sentient or starfaring beings but rather something akin to something not unlike a fish. Perhaps naught but a worm or insect. Whatever is it, it will be far closer to the Corvan Gilvo than to an Andorian.
Alien animals should be, in my opinion, seen a bit more in Star Trek. If the mission is to seek out new life forms and new civilizations, certainly animals are a more abundant and well adapted life form than any two-legged, tool using being. New civilizations may have greater contact and understanding of their natural surroundings and live in harmony with animals in a way we would find incredible, enviable or even unsettling.
Beaming down to a world like James Gurney's Dinotopia or taking a shuttlecraft to Wayne Barlowe's Darwin IV would be totally in keeping with the spirit of Star Trek even if it's not exactly what we've seen in the past. Remember, your special effects budget is essentially unlimited.
The occaisional alien monster-creature is also in keeping with the style of Star Trek, so maybe a alternate take on my opinions from this previous post might be worth considering. The idea is that Star Trek is, when all is said and done, a Sci-Fi adventure series and sometimes alien critters the size of whales come barreling out from beneath the snow to chase you across a frozen wasteland.
What do you think? Have you had or run many creature encounters in Star Trek games? Can you think of ways to make them common in a Star Trek campaign? Should they be?
That's the trouble with tribbles. Finding out where they belong.
Monday, August 27, 2012
Interesting weekend if not necessarily the best for gaming.
Saturday ended up not being much of an anniversary celebration much to my dismay, though the three of us who showed up did have some laughs and in the end that's all the matters.
The adventure with the kids today was rough, as many of them just couldn't focus, think creatively or even sit still. End of summer blues played a big part I think.
With my current gaming status in transition, my mind drifted back to the good old days of gaming and, since I am talking Star Trek this month, that meant reminiscing about old Star Trek campaigns. This post by Blacksteel helped as well. I helped him, he helped me and maybe this story will inspire him or someone else. That's some damn Circle of Life stuff that is.
So, using the Guardian of Forever, I take you back to 1985 (I think) and the adventures of...
Star Trek: Fedifensor
Star Trek, The Role Playing Game by FASA
Names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Mark - Human, Captain, CO - Just recently promoted at the start of the campaign.
Dave - Half-Human, Half-Vulcan, Cmdr, XO/Helmsman. Eventually become a Captain.
Richard - Human, Lt. Cmdr, Chief Engineer - Really hates Klingons. Cybernetic arm and leg.
Dan - Andorian, Lt., Doctor - Twisted sense of humor. Often scared his patients.
Brian - Human, Enlisted-Chief, Security Chief - Skilled with archaic weapons (sword, bow & arrow, etc.).
Wanda - Human, Lt., Chief Science Officer - Played a few times. Otherwise used as NPC.
Eric - Andorian, Enlisted, Tactical Officer, Asst. Chief of Security - Played a few times. Otherwise used as NPC.
Adam* - Arkenite, Ensign, Chief Navigator - *Me! Played when someone else GMed. Only a couple of times. Otherwise used as NPC.
The USS Fedifensor, a Remora Class Escort assigned to a routine patrol of the Romulan Neutral Zone.
Initially identical to the Remora Class in the FASA Federation Starship Recognition Manual, our ship had several updates over the course of the initial 6 months of play. Few of the alterations and customizations were major until right before the part of the campaign I am going to tell you about in a moment. The most significant change was improved Photon Torpedoes and Shields and a more developed backstory and greater usage of the fin/wing like modular mission pods seen on either side of the ship.
Although slightly more combat and espionage oriented than most of my Star Trek campaigns (actually my very first one was as well...hmmm), Fedifensor still saw it's share of discovery, god-like aliens and the menace of time travel. However, it is a particular point in the history of this campaign that I want to address.
After months of running this campaign (set during the TOS motion pictures), the player of the first officer PC got a job working (or maybe taking some classes or something) on our game day. In a big farewell blowout adventure, the PC becomes captain of his own ship, the more exploration minded USS Nirvana, and takes off at the end on his own missions.
About 2 weeks later I get to talk to Dave, the player of the first officer turned captain, at length. Turns out he had begun running a Star Trek campaign of his own. Dave's younger brother played his former character and the campaign followed the adventures of his new ship in roughly the same area of space as the campaign I was running. We stayed in touch, traded notes and soon it was clear to any player of either campaign that the continuity of the two games was a shared one.
A few months go by and Dave and I are at the local Pizza place when a good friend of ours walked in. We hadn't seen Mike in forever. He was older than us, a former counselor at our camp and had joined the navy but was back for a while it seemed. Asking us if we still gamed we told him about our Trek games. He flipped out. A huge fan of Star Trek and a big gamer he wanted in but neither game met with his schedule. Using our campaigns as a basis, we helped Mike develop his own to run with a few friends and navy buddies. Then it hit me...all three campaigns were in the same sector of space.
It all culminated a few months after that. Rumours and side adventures in all three campaigns led to the discovery of an alien species of energy beings that were possessing people throughout the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Everything led up to a potential take over of our sector headquarters, Starbase Templar.
What happened next became legend in our gaming circles for years afterward (dramatic, no?). Three GMs, 17 players, three Starships...a 24 hour gaming session that featured a battle between the forces of the alien invasion and the PC crews and their vessels. In the end, 4 PCs were killed, including the former first officer turned captain, Dave's old character, who sacrificed himself and destroyed his own vessel to eliminate the dimensional portal the aliens were using to enter our reality.
We boldly gamed where no one had gamed before!
Hope you enjoyed my little trip down memory (Alpha) lane.
Still more to come.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
Friday, August 24, 2012
Just taking a moment this morning to acknowledge a little personal achievement...
Tomorrow, Saturday the 25th of August, 2012, celebrates 35 years of involvement in the pastime of Role Playing Games for yours truly.
I don't really have much more to say on the subject just now. I don't even think tomorrow will be as much of a celebration as I'd like, since I don't really have anything prepared and a good portion of those I wish could participate won't be there.
Oh well, any game is better than no game at all.
Cheers, Barking Alien fans and those who can here accidently thinking there was free food. I will be thinking of you all as I game tomorrow.
An additional note of very sad news...
Jerry Nelson, actor, musican and Muppets puppeteer has passed away. I can't even begin to tell you how sorry I was to read this only moments ago and how big a fan I am of Mr. Nelson's work and talent. Jerry Nelson was, especially earlier in his career, a musican foremost and was brought in to the Muppets fold for his singing and musical ability. His most notable Muppet performances include Floyd Pepper of the Muppet Show and Count Von Count from Sesame Street.
This link leads to a previous post from my month of Muppet RPG madness showing Jerry Nelson at his best as Scred from the SNL 'Land of Gorch' sketches, singing with the also awesomely talented Lily Tomlin.
One. One Wonderful Person. Ah-ah-ah-ah.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
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).
Monday, August 20, 2012
With many of the regular kids being on vacation with their families, my Sunday class was small and so I ran a one shot of Superheroes based on a very simplified Icons. Chicken Man, The Turbo Turtle, Lady Wind and The Unseen Knight managed to thwart the villainous activities of Assault N' Battery, Mister Mist, Thunderwoman, Dr. Dragon and their leader, The Water Wizard, before the nefarious fiends could rob the 1st National Super City Bank. It was a blast!
Before we get started with today's post, I wanted to send out some birthday wishes to two very different gents who've influenced our hobby, our collective culture, as well as me personally (albeit to different extents).
First, a Happy, Creepy, Thoroughly Mad and Incomprehensible Birthday to H. P. Lovecraft! Your essays and insight were as weird as your fiction and certainly not always pleasant.
Second, but by no means lesser, a Happy Birthday to The Great Bird of The Galaxy, Gene Roddenberry, for creating the 'Wagon Train to the Stars' that is the focus of my posts this month, before this and for many posts to come.
OK, down to business...and business is a' boomin'!
In my previous post I talked about the consideration that each beginning Star Trek PC and many of their opponents walk around with the equivalent firepower of a high level D&D wizard.
Accepted as a true statement on the nature of armed, ranged combat in the Star Trek universe, how do you enable your PCs to get into fights with each session seeing at least one of them vaporized? Well...tricky question.
First off, is seeing PCs disintegrated fairly often OK with you and your players? If it is and you are running a more old school mentality game, let the dice fall where they may and don't worry about it.
If on the other hand you want the PCs, like the main characters on a Star Trek TV series, to have a bit more longevity, you may want to consider my alternate approaches.
The Corbomite Maneuver
The threat of Phaser use is nearly as effective as Phaser use itself. That is, don't be afraid to brandish the weapon, be afraid to fire it.
Patterns of Force
When conflict is inevitable but you don't want to resort to atomizing everyone in sight, what are your options?
Well, looking to Star Trek, we see a surprising large amount of hand-to-hand and melee combat for a setting focused on the 22nd-through-24th centuries. Unusual ionospheres, mysterious radiation and ancient alien dampening field technology can really play havok with state-of-the-art Starfleet weaponry. Luckily, every Starfleet officer is well versed in the deadly art of Trek-Fu! Don't forget to karate chop your opponent on the back of the neck after he doubles over from your elbow to his stomach.
When trying to blend in with primitive natives on a planet you are surveying, it's not a good idea to draw attention to yourself by using an alien weapon on a local, even if he is attacking you. If the standard weaponry of the world/region you are in is a tonfa-like baton with one sharp end, well, make sure you have one of those. You know what they say, "When on 892-IV...".
Finally, Starfleet officers are often captured by locals and enemies species alike and relieved of their gear. If the PCs can escape and knock out some guards, they would do well to grab their captors' swords or nunchucks or sonic blasters or whatever those guys are using.
Day of The Dove
Of course not every encounter has to begin and end with violent conflict. Yes, yes, I know, 'just the exciting ones' right? I think Gene may have been overly optimistic about our chances...
In conclusion, I love a good Star Trek fight and believe it or not I have seen my fair share of Phaser battles as well. Just be sure not to use any one approach or response too often or too many of the same types one after the other. Infinite diversity isn't just for Vulcans. Sometimes it's for infinite combinations, like a quick left jab following a powerful right cross.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Star Trek is one such RPG setting.
Each player character in a Star Trek RPG, unless otherwise instructed or prohibited not to, carries as their common sidearm a cell phone sized energy emitter that causes targets, once hit, to vanish. It is a 'go away' gun. Someone is hit, they 'go away' permanently.
This is, in no uncertain terms, really, really powerful. I know the various officially licensed and even some of the less than official Star Trek systems give detailed charts to determine the damage of a Phaser on different settings but really it all boils down to 4 'Conditions...
Stun Setting - You are hit, you are unconscious.
Heat Setting - Used to heat up rocks or weld or burn through doors.
Kill - You are hit, you are dead.
Disintegrate - You are hit, you glow briefly, you go away.
Now this isn't just the good guys we're talking about. This is the basic firearm of the setting. The Klingons, the Romulans, the Gorn, all of them have weapons that turn you into vapor in seconds.
This presents players and their characters with a very different combat dynamic than they are used to in most other games. It may take one or two sword swings to fell an Orc, a couple of rounds to take out a spy and a superhero will blast his opponent with heat vision and lay down a few 10 ton punches before the fellow is merely knocked out.
That is not what is going on here. This is one successful hit, one enemy gone. This is like real life combat where one bullet can kill a person.
So what is Adam getting at with this post? Simple. Armed combat in the Star Trek universe is quite unusual from what you may have encountered in other games. There are numerous ways to handle it but, in my opinion, only one overarching way that keeps the feel of Star Trek.
Perhaps the most common and easiest way to handle the power of a Phaser, Disruptor or similar weapon is to depower it. Assume, as often they seem to do in post-TOS Star Trek, that the default setting on the weapon is similar to a Blaster, simply a beam of light that hurts and nothing more. This is done without much fuss or muss by altering the amount of damage caused on the aforementioned charts most Star Trek RPGs love to give us. This will ensure longer firefights and a kind of action movie approach to Phaser combat.
Another way to handle it is to limit the charges on the weapon. The idea is that the Stun setting draws much less power from a Phaser or Disruptor's power cell but a Disintegrate setting draws quite a lot. There is some precedent for this in the show, although it's never clearly stated how many shots will drain a Phaser.
My last suggestion is both the most Star Trek-like and yet perhaps the hardest to convey to most gamers. This final idea is one of theme. Star Trek is essentially 'Wagon Train to the Stars' and the firing of a Phaser is like a Cowboy drawing his gun or even, a Samurai in a Kurosawa film drawing forth his katana. You do not draw your weapon unless you are prepared to fire it and you do not fire it unless you are prepared to kill somebody.
This respect for the weapon and what it can do often leads my players to set for Stun much more often than Kill or Disintegrate. Enemies need not die if you don't have to kill them in a Star Trek setting. Not every opponent need be vaporized. Disintegrated opponents don't reveal their plans or tell you how to deactivate the world-destroying alien satellite. No renegade starship captain or mad scientist was rehabilitated or stood trial for their crimes in the form of vapor.
At the same time, it always Starfleet officers to walk around with a bit of a swagger. Much like the old west, these are individuals who may not want to wipe you off the face of Gamma Arcturus V but they will if they have to. A Starfleet officer has to do what a Starfleet officer has to do...
More on combat in the Star Trek universe and what it means to gaming there coming up in...
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
My Champions campaign is ending, with the first of the 'two-parter' finale already completed last Saturday. We are skipping this coming Saturday as my friend and player Ray will be attending GenCon. And I am not jealous at all. Nope. Not one bit. I...oops. Seem to have broken my third stress ball.
In all honesty I am happy to see this campaign end, before it got to the point where I was really disliking it. I went back and read my accounts of the early part of the campaign and then compared those posts to the ones related to the latter half and you can clearly see...things changed. I think I will hold off from Superhero gaming for a bit, at least with the current group dynamic. It's a shame. I am still a huge fan of Supers games and this one had so much coolness that I didn't get to.
My amazing girlfriend Jenn (no, seriously, she is amazing. I am amazed.) has agreed to give gaming a try. The introductory game of choice? Faery's Tale Deluxe! Didn't I tell you she's amazing?
The main focus of today's post is an update on the RPG/Storytelling class summer program I continue to teach on Sundays in Brooklyn.
For this particular summer session, I wanted to focus on something a bit more light-hearted and humorous but more importantly, to teach the kids about cooperation and teamwork. Now it has been working...for the most part...but I am up against the mentality of 3rd-to-6th graders, some of whom are related. Having trouble with your cousin outside of the game means you don't want to help him in the game.
One lad in particular has a tendency to be a bit troublesome and self-centered, although strangely enough, he didn't act that way at all when he was a Starship Captain in a Starships & Spacemen one-shot I did with the kids a ways back. There he was fantastic,. letting each person voice their opinion, taking everything into account and going with the choice that best solved the problem at hand and benefitted the crew and ship as a whole.
It took some time, I had to get all 'tough teacher' on him, followed up with extra homework and then a little one-on-one conversation but I did finally find out what the issue really was. He was indeed having issues with his cousin (another player/student in the class). In the end, I think we worked out an understanding, even if everything may not be completely squared away.
I don't know that I will never see the same bad behavior again but I honestly believe he'll think about it before doing something in the game that hurts his allies (who are, in truth, his friends) or stops the game from being fun. He's a good kid, one of my favorites but like all of us at his age, he's got a lot to learn about life and growing up. Luckily he's got time.
I think I really like this teaching thing. Who knew? I sure didn't. I despised school. But then again, none of my teachers used RPGs to try to teach us stuff.
I'd love to get back to that Starships & Spacemen idea with this class. Not only would it be fun but I wonder if I could make each planet a mini-lesson on a different subject. Ooh. Wonder if that would work with my regular gaming group. They could use it...
Also, I wanted to acknowledge a few happenings, both joyous and sorrowful, that have occurred within the last month or so.
GenCon is this week! AHHH! I cannot go (weep) but my good buddy Ray will be. I am going to try for next year. If my business is as slow next year as it is this year it should be no problem to get the time off.
Congratulations NASA on the successful landing of the Curiosity Rover on the surface of Mars. Nice work ladies and gentlemen.
While our brains were placing robot explorers on the red planet, our athletes were taking the gold on the green and pleasant isle of England. Kudos to our Olympic participants.
We may be a gun-toting nation of rich people treading on poor people's backs, without money, jobs or a decent health plan but we really do kick ass at the cool, fun stuff don't we? Boo-yah!
On a more serious note...
Rest in peace Joe Kubert, father, teacher and comic book artist and pioneer. The man who taught me nothing's ever easy in Easy.*
Well, looking forward to the weekend! Another session with the kids, a game with my girl and hopefully cool news from the floor of GenCon. In the meantime, more Star Trek RPG talk is on the way!
*From the classic DC war comic 'Sgt. Rock and The Easy Company'
Monday, August 13, 2012
Commenter Jayson called this one for sure. I came up with the title of this post simultaneously with that of the previous post, 'Who Mourns For Adonais?'. I don't mind telling you all I'm having quite of a bit of fun going all Tangent Comics on these old Star Trek episode titles.
Now, we've sort of established that most people want to have an attractive character or, if less concerned about Human appearances and concepts of attractiveness, a character with good stats or cool abilities. This is a bit of the old school D&D mentality creeping into our Star Trek but it must be said that for the majority of players that is the starting point that leads to them liking their character, caring about it and giving it personality. This last part is the element I am most interested in for the purpose of this post.
If looks aren't a factor, what is? Bonuses to attributes and perhaps special abilities. After that, do we have an interesting alien? In my opinion no but we do have something to work with.
Matt Celis made the following comments on the subject of aliens in Star Trek...
Possibly in response to my query,
"Why is it, with tons of undeveloped and cool looking aliens in the Federation to make your own, does everybody and their brother want to come up with some crazy backstory so they can play a Klingon Starfleet Officer. Geez."
"Probably because most aliens in Star Trek are exceptionally boring: what weird ridges will they have on their heads to make them nonhuman?"
He also wrote...
"I think it's also, in Star Trek, a factor that many alien races are seldom seen and have no real background or character except for Vulcans, Klingons, and Romulans. Most are just weird face attachments to make them nonhuman, but nothing more."
Ah! This is where the development of a cool alien PC in Star Trek begins.
My good friend Allen, who I have mentioned here before, is, in my humble opinion, the absolute master of playing in depth, well developed, extraterrestrial freaks.
Allen can correct me if I'm wrong, but whenever the opportunity arises to play in a setting with non-human, allied/friendly species (at least in Science Fiction), my good buddy jumps at the chance to take an obscure alien and turn it into a PC species every bit as developed as Vulcans, Andorians or Klingons. In the process, he gets to add to the game's world building by coming up with specifics on the biology of his chosen alien as well as its environment and culture (and in most cases these elements influence each other to some extent).
Given the nature, length and breadth of Star Trek, anyone with the above mindset is in luck, as strange and barely fleshed out aliens abound in the background of many scenes. While I too grew very weary of the bumpy-head-of-the-week alien, there are many interesting and underdeveloped aliens just waiting for an enterprising (heh) and creative player to make them their own.
I, and a good number of people I've played Star Trek over the years, see the large number of seldom seen aliens with little to no canon background as a blessing rather than a curse, an opportunity rather than a flaw. How can I create an alien race that fits into the Star Trek universe and yet still make something original? I know! I can take that odd metallic looking dude from the bar scene in Star Trek III, or perhaps his female companion with the strange brow ridge, and completely design their peoples' whole deal from the ground up.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As such, there is in truth beauty, anywhere you choose to see it.
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
This statement, simple, straightforward and general though it may be, can pretty much be held as a basic truism. While what constitutes beauty and ugliness may vary from culture to culture, it is the culture of role playing gamers I am concerned with here.
I have heard the above phrase uttered and paraphrased numerous times in my life but the last time was by my good buddy Dave, who was referring to World of Warcraft and other Massive Multiplayer Online RPGs.
In those games, the bulk of the player community (which is young and male regardless of the total demographic which includes many women and older players of both genders), prefers to play which ever side has the Humans, Elves, Dwarves and other traditional 'Good Guy' races of Fantasy. World of Warcraft is a particularly interesting example of this, since the story behind the game has the Alliance (Initially made up of Humans, Elves, Dwarves and Gnomes and generally thought of as the good guys) being real a**holes, while the Horde (the bad guys - Orcs, Trolls, the Undead and the Minotaur-like Tauren) are very honorable and spiritual in many ways.
The Alliance PCs outnumber the Horde PCs by quite a bit on many servers. Why? Well, mainly 'cause people want to play the 'heroes'. But...according to the plot of the game, the Alliance aren't necessarily the heroes. Each side has done both right and wrong by the world, themselves and each other. Maybe it's because people, being Human, want to play Humans. It's easier. Logical reason if there ever was one...for table top RPGs but not necessarily MMOs. Could the reason be...
"No one wants to be ugly." No one wants their character, their avatar, the representation of themselves in their fantasy world to be less than amazingly handsome or beautiful?
You see pretty much the same attitude in table top games. Most players I've encountered play Humans and Elves, with a lesser number as Dwarves and Halflings and finally Gnomes and Half-Orcs. Dwarves get away with being more on the ugly side since they are also tough and sometimes portrayed as humorous. Few want to be Gnomes who aren't as cute and "Aw shucks" as Halflings.
In Science Fiction, especially Star Trek, the camp is really divided. Most people I have spoken to on the subject say the same thing, their campaign crews are largely Human with a smattering of Vulcans, Andorians and the occasional Orion (you'd be surprised how many women I've met and known who want to be Green Orion Women is a Star Trek game - more on that another time - but it does fit my hypothesis - people want to play what they believe to be attractive characters).
Now, this statement is a generalization. Of course people, men and women, younger players and experience veterans, play strange and even ugly looking characters. Usually it's because that species has some cool ability or interesting background. Klingons are popular with many Star Trek fans but (and I apologize to the Klingon contingent waiting just off my port bow) they really aren't very good looking.
Now my players, at least those I have had very successful games with in the past, have been very different. Eager to get into the head and other body parts ("Eh?" - I mean explore the exobiology of... - "Eh?!" - Quit it will you!) of an alien species and culture, we see our fair share of real weirdies.
While Andorians are my favorite Star Trek alien, I myself have played a Kazarite (the last alien in the image at top going left to right). The first of the aliens in the image above, the Chelarian or Rigellian Chelon has been played by a number of players in my games (people just like turtles I guess) and my good, and very much missed friend, Allen is especially adapt at playing bizarre and obsure Star Trek species such as the three armed, three legged Edoans (now renamed the Triexians) and the squid-like Xelatian.
So what do you think? How much does the aesthetics of a species play a part. Rather, how Human does a species need to be for you to want to play it? Does it matter? Why does it matter? Is it purely ego? After all, how many people out there are getting their PCs involved in romantic relationships with the opposite sex (or heck, the same sex...or heck, the sexless exchange of spore pods...)?
More on aliens coming up...
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
This post will discuss a subject that, though I will try my best to address adequately, I make no pretenses to my ability to truly do it justice. Please note, this is a long one.
You see, if there is one thing I've learned after running Star Trek campaigns for almost 30 years now, it's that you can not ignore and must always treat with care the single most important NPC in your game...
In the game of Dungeons & Dragons, the PCs are usually a travelling group of adventurers who rarely stay in a single town or city for very long. Often, only enough time to stock up on supplies, weapons and armor, check out a few rumors and learn the location of the next ungodly hole in the Earth where someone thought to bury a lot of junk, a few pieces of true treasure and where the denizens of monsterdom seem to be able to find affordable housing. D&D characters seem to have no real home, no base of operations and often no support network behind them. This is not always the case of course (nothing is always the case with everything and everyone - there, there oversensitive D&D fan) but it does seem to be more common in that genre then in say, Superheroes.
In a Superhero game, the PCs are usually members of a team and that team often has a headquarters. Some campaigns actually deal with the PC Supers secret identity and therefore there are heroes that have a home or apartment, while others seem to live at the groups 'Watchtower'. A support network is often in place, whether consisting of other heroes or a government owned anti-supervillain organization (such as Marvel's SHIELD or UNTIL from Champions) or both.
Science Fiction in general has a very different approach to the issue of where do the PCs hang out when not adventuring and how to they get support for specific missions they may not be able to easily handle on their own. It is an old spacefaring Sci-Fi staple that the heroes live onboard their starship.
This is especially true in Star Trek. The PCs all live in a gigantic, starfaring megadungeon that they call home and which travels with them to their various adventures. In addition, this massive RV, which transports them on a cross-cosmos sight-seeing tour of the galaxy, comes complete with food, equipment, honest to goodness bathrooms and shower facilities and a bunch of extra bodies to help move things.
In many of the Star Trek games I've run, the ship is not just a bus with Phasers and
Transporters but a part of the team. It's home and it's family to the PCs after a while. Now it doesn't always start out that way but I've seen it happen time and time again. The Players do not want to see their ship destroyed, not just because the PCs onboard would go up in flames right along with it but because it is the place they're characters live.
This effect is greatly enhanced by personalization. Now, what does that mean in the context of a Star Trek game? How much can you personalize a Starfleet vessel before Starfleet Command sends you to mine Borrite for the rest of your life?
It moves up to medium scale by having the players name the shuttlecraft and specify some details about the vessel's internal layout (in one TMP era game my players insisted the ship had an Astrometrics lab similar to the one seen on the Enterprise-D in Star Trek: Generations, albiet smaller and not quite as holographic.).
It moves up to the majors by improving or altering the ship's weapons and defenses or adding an extra tractor beam projector or maybe customizing the science labs on Deck 6. I have a house rule that allows the players to pool experience points to buy such enhancements. For those who say such a concept isn't quite in fitting with canon, I direct your attention to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Galaxy's Child" which confirms field modifications made to the Galaxy Class Enterprise-D by Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge.
The process is not unlike that of the PCs in a Dungeons & Dragons game getting to build their own castle and customizing it as they begin high level play. They get quite attached to their keep, even more so if they had and continue to have a direct hand in its design.
My good friend, fellow Star Trek fan and Star Trek gaming nut Nelson would design the bridge layout for every game we ran, often making dozens of sketches or alterations to a single sketch to get it just so.
What I mention above are elements that contribute to more then just a greater need and desire to protect the ship and it's crew. By allowing the ship to develop as the characters develop, the vessel takes on a grander role then simple conveyance. It is a character itself but it is also a community.
Many ships, based on the style of their commanding officer and bridge crew, form a personality all their own. Certainly some starships in the fleet have a notoriety for having crews that are rough and tumble or by-the-book and no-nonsense or easy going and relaxed. The type of ship may reflect itself on the crew's personality and vice versa. A Scientific Survey Vessel exploring the Crab Nebula will have a crew and customized capacities very different from those of a Military Frigate patroling the Klingon-Federation border.
In conclusion (at least for now) do not ignore the potential drama, humor and personality of the PCs' constant companion...their starship.
Treat her right and she'll always bring you home,