Thursday, May 16, 2013

Into Trekness...Samaritan Snare

My lack of posts lately is abysmal.

It's my own fault. A self inflicted failing related to other things occupying my time while allow a bit of ego to creep in where it is unwarranted and unwanted.

I had hoped to receive a bunch of questions in regards to Star Trek gaming so I would have additional inspiration for posts this month but I've sadly received only these so far.

That's not actually the sad part in and of itself. The problem, which is totally my bag, is that I began to feel a lack of motivation to post, dwelling on the absence of questions instead of focusing on answering the ones I had gotten. A Samaritan Snare I brought upon myself, if you will. Bummed that I couldn't be more helpful to more people I have ended up not being helpful to anyone, most especially the one person who did answered my request.

I will try to make up for this with the time I have remaining in May.

As for the questions, these come from a commenter by the name of Valerius.

- How well do players from, say, D&D, adjust from a "loot and get better equipment" to the "standard issue is all you need" (and "there is no money") paradigm?

The short (and slightly snarky) answer is, I wouldn't know. ;)

To elaborate, I haven't played a lot of Star Trek with people who have primarily played a lot of D&D. As D&D is not a favorite game of mine or many of the people I've gamed with over the years, the ideas of 'loot to improve' and 'kill to get better stuff' have never been major motivators.

Our D&D-like games are inspired by Superhero comic books and Star Trek (not the other way around) and both of those settings are one's where you have the powers you have and you've got the gear you've got until you either invent something new on your own or you are supplied with a new gadget or gimmick by your allied support organization (say SHIELD or Starfleet Command respectively).

If all your character is about is getting cooler stuff and being more 'powerful', Star Trek probably isn't the game for you (not YOU you, the proverbial you).

- On a related note, do you use a "gentleman's code" with phasers to avoid disintegrating characters (PCs and villains) out of existence?

A Starfleet Officer firing a phaser set to Kill or Disintegrate without provocation or prior authorization by a superior officer would be reviewed like a cop who gunned down a suspected criminal. A Starfleet Tribunal would have to determine if the threat warranted that course of action.

That said, it also just isn't the way it's normally done on the shows. Usually stun is the default setting and it's proven to be sufficient for the most part.

I went into greater detail on phasers and combat in the Star Trek RPG before. I really like the way those posts came out and highly recommend taking a look at them if you are interested in the subject.

- Can you talk a bit more about the different Star Trek games? I only know well the Decipher CODA, but have never played it (sadly).

There have been a good number of Star Trek RPGs, official, unofficial and Star Trek-with-the-numbers-filed-off. I will address the most prominent/well known official games here but I may address some of the others in a later post.

I could easily go on for pages and pages about each of the these games. I may, sometime in the future, give a more detailed analysis of each but for now I want to focus on answering the question as presented.

The first and arguably most well known official Star Trek RPG was created by the game company FASA. It was created and developed by Guy McLimore, Greg Poehlein, David Tepool and others and first came out in 1982 (with a Second Edition in 1983). The game was published from 1982 to 1989 and during that time released a large number of supplements, adventures and sourcebooks. Most of the game covered the Original Series and Original Series Movie Era (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Although there were only actual sourcebooks for III: Search for Spock and IV: The Voyage Home).

FASA's Star Trek did go so far as to produce two sourcebooks for Star Trek: The Next Generation, however the first of these was produced before there was very much information available on the setting and its characters and is filled with inconsistencies and errors.

The story goes that relations between FASA and Paramount were strained in the later years of the games publication. Paramount, which had to approve all of FASA's material, became increasingly unhappy with what they saw as the violent and militaristic nature of the Star Trek universe as FASA depicted it.

The game itself is a fairly basic percentile system and I really loved it. I houseruled it a bit over the years to improve how action points worked and how use of your Communicator, Tricoder and other devices effected your skill rolls but it's a solid system that really doesn't need a lot of tweaking.

I like the system for that old school feel as well as being easy for most people to understand. I find that the abstract nature of many RPGs confuses those who are familiar with an IP/setting and are assuming they can get right into it when they hear, "Don't forget to include the modifier from the drama die." Gamer goes, "OK" and non-gamer Star Trek fan goes "Whadda-what?".

Percentile has always, in my experience, been easier to, ahem, assimilate to. You have a 45% chance of hitting that Klingon. You have a 62% chance of fixing the engines? Better make it 55% since the whole ship is shaking apart from the enemy's gravity weapon. This explanation of skills is something people can wrap their heads around. I've said it before, games might catch on with a wider audience if they didn't game talk at you so much.

On a scale from Ensign to Admiral, I rank it Commander.


Last Unicorn Games' Star Trek Role-Playing Game, which utilizes their ICON System and on which I was a playtester, is my preferred system.

The ICON System is a 6-sided die based system that works a little different from most die pool systems but it certainly qualifies as one. You roll a number of dice equal to your Attribute with a bonus die (or dice), called an Edge(s), added in as appropriate. When you roll you take the highest number rolled (and only the highest) as your result. Skill Ratings are than added to that result.

So for example: Lt. Sorpik, a Vulcan Science Officer, is trying to determine what seemingly common chemicals were combined that accidently poisoned the crew of a research station. Sorpik has an Intellect Attribute of 3 so he rolls 3 dice. His Physical Science (Chemistry) Skill is 2 (3), meaning he adds a +2 to his highest roll in all Physical Science tests except ones involving his specialty of chemistry, where he adds +3.

So he rolls and gets 2, 5 and 6. The 6 is highest so he adds +3 to it for a total of 9.

The system uses a Drama Die, which allows for a critical success or failure with a roll of 6 or 1 respectively. A roll of 6 allows you to add the next highest die you rolled to your total.

Going back to the example above, if the 6 Sorpik's Player had rolled had been on the Drama Die, he could add the next highest die to his result. The next highest is the 5 so the final total is 6+5+3 for 14.

It's a simple and fairly straightforward system that allows for dramatic play and just enough crunch with minimal to no headaches in trying to make everything work. To date, it's my favorite system for running Star Trek and I have used it many, many times. As I've noted elsewhere, it has just enough crunch to satisfy the technical nature of Star Trek and it's easy enough to support my love of theatrics and story.

I rank it Captain, possibly Commodore.


Lastly, and sadly least in my opinion, we have the Star Trek Role Playing Game featuring the CODA System by Decipher.

Decipher's version of the game came about a bit to soon after Last Unicorn Games lost the license. Rather, after Wizards of The Coast lost the license for them as WotC had purchased LUG, laid off a good number of very talented people in an attempt to gain the license for both Star Trek and Star Wars simultaneously. The greedy, no-talent...I mean...the entrepreneurs over at WotC apparently didn't realize their was some stipulation in the Star Trek license preventing that and boom, no Star Trek game.

When Decipher than hired a lot of the creative people behind the ICON system to create the CODA system and a new Star Trek game they, well, rushed it a bit I guess. To me, CODA feels like a cheap copy of ICON, changed just enough in just the wrong places to get rid of the charm, easy, flexibility and awesomeness of ICON.

CODA is far too close to Dungeons & Dragons 3E, taking ICON's Template + Overlay + Packages character creation system and making it feel like a Race/Class system, complete with Feat-like abilities. Just doesn't work for me.

In all honesty it's not a horrible system or game but it just doesn't feel right for yours truly.

I give it the rank of Lt. JG. If there had never been an ICON system I would promote it to full Lieutenant.

Thank you for your questions Valerius. I hope I was able to help or a least provide of a bit of insight from a veteran Star Trek GM.

More questions please! Keep them coming!

Barking Alien

A few bits of business before I go...

I know I'm late but I want to say good bye to the master of stop motion, the king of cool effects, the one and only Ray Harryhausen.

Today commemorates the passing of Jim Henson, my hero above heroes, who died May 16th, 1990. It's hard to believe it was so long ago. Will always miss you man.

Lastly, DC Comics, in their continuing efforts to completely destroy themselves and any interest in their universe, have cancelled the Legion of Superheroes comic. There is rumor of a new comic to replace it called, 'Justice Legion'. Granted, Legion wasn't very good these last two years but I really have no idea why they couldn't fix the problems it had.

Honestly, I'll concede that it might be difficult to continuously put out a top notch Legion of Superheroes comic book issue after issue after issue, but I would personally find it far harder to make a bad Legion comic. That takes some skill.


  1. Lots of good memories of the FASA game, but my only beef was the disconnect between stats/attributes/characteristics and skills. You could have a 15% in Dexterity and an 86% in Acrobatics with no connection between the two when it came time to roll the dice.

    Okay, so here's a question: how you do adjudicate command structures and a gaming group?

    1. If I recall we mostly used Attributes for saving throws. Basically if a situation had no appropriate skill connected with it, you rolled under your Attribute.

      To lift a piece of heavy debris you'd use Strength, to catch something before it fell you'd use Dexterity, etc. If you had a skill that fit the situation and it was higher you'd use that.

      Now, if you could come up with a way in which one of your skills was helpful if not exactly the right thing for the job, I would say roll under Attribute plus 5%.

      How do you adjudicate command structure?

      This is another of those 'you just do' things for me, although enough people seem to have difficulty with this that I will address it as a separate post.

  2. Or, on a lighter note: Gorns in Starfleet--yes or no? ;)

    1. No...with the following caveat...

      Depending upon the era you're playing in, there is no canon reason the Gorn and the Federation could not be involved in an officer exchange program. Remember, I said canon.

      Get ready for some major geekery...I thought this through a long time ago...

      For reasons unknown, although the original series episode "Arena" does not end with the Gorn and the UFP as clearly allies or enemies, much of Star Trek's expanded universe (I sight Star Trek Online, the 'Typhon Pact' Star Trek novels and the new video game based on JJ Abrams' blasphemy-verse) like to depict them as a hostile power. This concept is perplexing and largely inconsistent with clues provided at the end of "Arena" and in the series Deep Space 9.

      According to Kasidy Yates, the woman who eventually marries and has a child with station CO Captain Benjamin Sisko, her youngest brother lives on the planet Cestus III, the world where Kirk and crew first encounter the Gorn. The Gorn claimed that Cestus III was part of their space while we of the UFP placed a colony/outpost there.

      The fact that Kasidy Yates' brother lives there, in a place called Pike City, would seem to indicate the UFP and Gorn came to some kind of treaty regarding the planet. References to the Gorn are dropped numerous times in episodes of DS9 and Voyager.

      So, while they are not officially sanctioned as allies of the UFP, canon Star Trek makes no assumption that they are 'bad guys' in any way. Maintaining their position as neutral but interested parties in galactic politics that are involved in trade or other agreements with the Federation is a very interesting way to go that opens up a lot more story avenues then just making them an enemy species.

  3. Paramount thought FASA Trek was violent and militaristic? Ironic considering what Paramount has produced since then!

    I'd rate FASA way over LUG, which had that convoluted system of rolling dice. Never read
    Decipher's version.

    1. Convoluted in what way? I basically explained the entire system above. Roll a number of 6-sided dice equal to the appropriate stat, add Edge dice if applicable, only the highest number counts. Skill ratings are added to the highest die roll.

      Seems pretty simple.

      Then again, I find most versions of D&D convoluted. A d20 one way for some things, a different way for others, percentile for random charts, different dice for every weapon, etc. Exhausting.

  4. Hey, here's a question: Where did the rest of my Star Trek posts go, mister?


    I was kind of looking for more about this campaign idea you had.

    Legit new question: you've run a fair amount of Trek. Forget systems for a moment - that kind of game would you like to run that you haven't before, beyond the one you mentioned? Maybe a particular era you haven;t explored in play?

    Have you ever run a non-federation campaign?

    Have you ever run a multi-captain campaign? One group, multiple ships, all in one area or squadron.

    How about instead of an officer exchange program there was a ship exchange program and you had, say, a Next-Gen era Klingon ship serving in Star Fleet? Interesting or too impractical to manage?

    1. "Hey, here's a question: Where did the rest of my Star Trek posts go, mister?"


      Why I oughta...! And I oughta too. >_<

      They're comin' they're comin'. Keep ya shoit on.

  5. The CODA system was clearly a hack of the d20 system, but compressed to 2d6 rather than d20. The starship combat system in that game was pretty brilliant though. No need for maps and minis, but lots of choices and detail.

    I don't know if you have any versions of Prime Directive from ADB.

  6. I've seen Star Trek rpg's online. They're pretty intense.

    1. Most of the online ones (most) are less mechanical and more theatrical. They are 'role playing' heavy and 'game' lite.

      Trying to find a balance between these to elements is the holy grail of gaming, Star Trek or otherwise.

  7. Thank you for answering! I had totally forgot about those last year posts.

    Looking backwards, if Wizards of the Coast had published a Star Trek game at that time, it would probably have suffered the same problems that Star Wars d20 did: a game of fast action, laser firefights and blazing starships built with a tactical system designed for melee combat and cautious exploring. It didn't work well (obviously), and it took three rulesets in a seven-year period (madness!) to get it more or less OK (but far from great).

    CODA is far too close to Dungeons & Dragons 3E, taking ICON's Template + Overlay + Packages character creation system and making it feel like a Race/Class system, complete with Feat-like abilities.

    I think you failed to mention how terribly organized is the book in that respect, too XD. Flipping pages over four different chapters isn't very handy.

    1. To be sure. FASA and LUG are both far easier to read.

  8. How do you deal with the building point ablation issue in ICON? I'm a fan of the system overall myself, but I find that *one* bizarre way of adding modifiers together frustrating.

    1. Not sure exactly what you're referring to. Do you mean when you have a skill and specialty and receive it again as part of a package?