Thursday, May 9, 2013

Into Trekness...Ensigns of Command

Campaigns I'd Like to Run: Star Trek: Mission

The idea for this entry actually came to me on the 1st of May when I saw a post with the title "Campaigns I'd Like to Run" over at Age of Ravens. As it turns out, the subject is Lowell's accepted suggestion for the RPG Blog Carnival.

Generally speaking, I pattern most of my Star Trek RPG campaigns after the time honored approach most of the TV series and films have taken. Basically, the PCs are the Bridge/Command Crew of a Federation Starfleet Starship heading out where no one has headed out before.

I've always found it very interesting and a bit perplexing that the default campaign concept for Last Unicorn Games' Star Trek RPG line (the system of choice for yours truly when running my favorite IP) assumes you'll be playing 'lower decks' Starfleet officers. The game is designed around the idea that the Captain and possibly the entirety of the command staff are NPCs. The idea here being that you can get promoted as a reward in addition to standard experience points or drama points.

I've never tried this to be honest. Not really anyway. My memory may be slipping and I may have pulled it off in a one-shot or for a convention game. The true of the matter is that for the most part I have never liked this idea. It does add something to the development of the characters but it takes away their control and decision making opportunities.

While considering this one day, I came up with a way to possibly pull it off. I crossbred it with an idea  for a space station setting I've always wanted to try out. In the end, the campaign focuses on lower ranking officers stationed at a Deep Space Station/Federation Research Outpost in a secluded and mysterious space sector a good distance away from the Federation frontier.

Something like this...(Do you mind if I borrow your format Lowell?)



High Concept: Adventurous young Starfleet officers attempt to unravel the mysteries of a newly opened region of space from a small, lonely research station very far from home.

Think: Star Trek: The Original Series meets Ice Station Zebra meets The Thing (John Carpenter original or the Sci-Fi novella Who Goes There by John W. Campbell Jr.).

Actually this is tough the more I think about it. Those films have the right feel of isolation and mystery I am going for but they aren't exactly right for how I picture this series. The thing is, most Sci-Fi series based on or around a space station make the assumption that the station is busy. Perhaps it is a popular meeting place, trade outpost or whathaveyou. Often it's near a wormhole, an important planet or its in a key military location.

This is none of that. This is a research station in Antarctica that someone put there so they could say they were there before someone else put something there.
Premise: In the mid-to-late 23rd Century (roughly contemporary with the last year of the USS Enterprise's (1701) first 5-year mission under Captain James T. Kirk) Starfleet makes inroads into a star sector where bizarre spatial phenomena have previously prevented entry. First discovered over 30 years ago, the dangerous and unexplained anomalies have suddenly and completely ceased.

A small research outpost, similar to Deep Space Station K-7 or a TOS version of Regula I, is placed in a system in the sector, its nearest Starfleet or Federation neighbor being a Starbase six weeks away at maximum warp. The outpost is temporary, designed to serve long enough to allow Starfleet to establish a more substantial presence in the region. After that a full scale Starbase will be placed in the Sector.

Player characters are junior officers assigned to the station in various positions (Science Officers, Engineers, Security, etc.). However, instead of spending all of their time on the station and having adventures come to them (a staple of space station based campaigns), the PCs are periodically sent out on different investigative, exploration missions aboard one of the station's Mission Class Couriers.

The campaign title, Star Trek: Mission, is therefore a play on the Mission Class ships going on smaller missions while the overall mission of the research station ties everything together.

Scattered Thoughts:
  • Prior to about a year before the start of the campaign, the sector of space that serves as the campaign backdrop saw random bursts of energy, some as large, and powerful as a supernova. The bursts were not exactly localized, occurring periodically at random intervals across a 50 light year radius. The source and exact nature of the energy discharges has never been determined. No one knows why the explosions stopped either.
  • Everyone and everything will be upgradeable. Meaning: PCs can raise in position and rank, the Mission Class Couriers and Station can be upgraded, the station may eventually be completely replaced with an altogether better space station, etc.
  • The setting would be TOS if I had my way but I could adapt it to the TOS Movie Era (Motion Picture to Voyage Home specifically) very easily.
  • Some larger ships (though none as powerful as a Constitution Class) will visit the station from time to time with one, or two becoming reoccurring regulars. The PCs will get to join these ships on missions and maybe (hopefully) get to know the Captains and crews. This could lead to the PCs transferring to one of the ships later in the series/campaign, or even taking it over if they reach high enough rank and/or something happens to the original staff.

Mechanical Considerations:
  • I don't have any distinct mechanical considerations at this time, probably because the LUG rules work for me as they are, and I am much less interested in rule mechanics in general than I am the characters and story. The only possible change or modification I can foresee may involve trying to adapt the old FASA RPG space combat system to LUG. I really liked how every position and specialty was integrated into starship battles. Everyone had a job and working together with a good Captain directing things was the key to winning/surviving.

These are just the beginnings of a work in progress but I figured I would pitch it to you studio execs out there and see what you thought.

OK, off to work. More to come including answers to your questions and my ideas for my Star Trek game for RECESS.

Barking Alien


  1. Nice- I like the way in which this narrows and focuses the campaign. I also like the concept of allowing the players to invest in all aspects of the setting.

    1. Thanks Lowell, I appreciate your opinion. If I haven't said it before, I really like Age of Ravens. It's rapidly becoming one of my favorite blogs.

      The major concept I am working with here is the slow and gradual build.

      This is very different from my usual approach of taking a decently powerful vessel with a fairly capable and established crew and dropping them right into a full on Star Trek experience in the first session.

  2. You have the line "Think: Star Trek: The Original Series meets" without a second item, making me think this might be a fun thing to complete. Possible answers:

    ...Earth 2
    ...Twin Peaks

  3. Argh! Blogger was acting weird when I was writing this so I'm not surprised, I just didn't realize it.

    Will have it fixed tonight.

  4. ... Mad Max 2
    ... 12 Angry Men
    ... Sid and Nancy
    Sorry. Couldn't resist.

    Sounds like fun! Nine crew and no ship-mounted weapons? There's a challenge. Don't name it "The Gilligan."

    Keep it TOS (TV, not movie), as there is much more technology we have now they never dreamed of. And Starfleet issue miniskirts.

  5. Another possible angle: Your character is on this station because they needed some bodies on the station, not because you graduated top of your class at the academy, not because you're some kind of genius, and not because you're the first member of your race in Star Fleet. Want to know where the below-average academy grads end up - places like this.

    1. Pretty much. If the best of the best are stationed on the flagship of the fleet, the Enterprise, where are all the cadets who, well, passed and graduated but that's about it.

  6. The whole lower decks campaign doesn't make any sense to me because it just isn't what you see on the show. The premise of the show surrounding the command crew of a starship lends itself perfectly to a role playing game, in fact, the show must BE a role playing game. I mean how can explain why it is that the ship has 400 hundred people on it and the same three guys go down to the planet every time. It's because, they are the player characters.

    1. I don't disagree with the conclusion you've arrived at. It is, after all, the only thing that makes sense. As a matter of fact, the same reasons it works as a TV series set up are WHY it works as an RPG.

      I won't go into all the correlations between Star Trek and classic Role Playing Games (because I have already done so before) but I would like to focus on this one element for a moment.


      Who's your party?: Group of assorted adventurers. Each has a role and a particular set of abilities.
      Who's 'The Caller'?: Good question? Varies?
      How do you find adventures?: Meet in a tavern, where you are contacted by a Wizard, Cleric, Sage or representative of the King or you happen upon them while exploring the countryside.

      Star Trek:

      Who's your party?: Bridge Crew of a Starship. Each has a role and a particular set of skills.
      Who's 'The Caller'?: Player playing the Captain
      How do you find adventures?: Meet on the bridge, where you are contacted by Starfleet Command, receive a distress call or you happen upon them while exploring outer space.

      In the D&D game, no one is contacting your henchmen or hirelings about an adventure. While your party may be friendly with the local blacksmith, the King didn't go to him in the country's time of need, they went to you. Why? You're the PCs. You are the focus of the story and game.

      While it is certainly possible to do things differently, doing it differently is only of interest because of the time tested and audience approved normal of the cliché that makes the whole thing work.

      Star Trek is exactly the same.

      That said, I still think starting a game this way could be very interesting. It would eventually evolve into something more traditional as the lower decks characters are promoted.

    2. It's a little funny, because starting out as the lower-decks ensign types and proceeding to higher ranks is pretty much taking a Trek campaign back towards a traditional D&D campaign model of starting out as 1st level peons and leveling up through the campaign. So in an RPG sense it makes perfect ... sense and I'm surprised one of the published games hasn't presented it as more of a standard campaign type before now.

      That said one of the cool things about the Trek RPGs is that they avoided all of that low level mucking about and let you start as a "high level" character with tremendous resources facing problems from relationship issues to diplomacy to universe-threatening alien beings.

      I don't think that starting out as nobodies in and of itself makes for a "better" campaign, so BA has mixed it with the ramshackle base in a completely new area concept as well. I think that does qualify it as interesting, providing a lot of room for the game to expand in whatever direction the players take it, from character growth to "stuff" like ships and the base, to discoveries in the area, even to what races become the focus of player interactions. Fewer assumptions, more room for in-play development, a "blanker" slate than most campaigns - I think it sounds pretty good. It's a Trek sandbox!

      Best Audience (IMO): People who have played a lot of Trek games and want something different, -OR- people who are coming from a D&D background and expect this kind of campaign model. That's a pretty good set of players to have, too.

  7. How about a few cargo pods lashed together as a temporary space station? They can build up from there.