Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Genesis Wave

Gaming the Final Frontier Part I - General Order Two - Full On Pre-Production

As I prepare the Series Bible for my new Star Trek RPG campaign, currently entitled Star Trek: OUTBOUND - Operation Gamma Flight, I have been doing tons and tons of research, making illustrations and maps, watching and reading a lot of Star Trek, asking my players for their ideas and opinions and generally thinking about how to best convey the process to you on my blog. It occurs to me that although I've done this kind of thing a hundred times, I've never had to explain it before. Here goes nothing...

Series Focus/Theme

The first thing I do is come up with a general 'Series Concept' for the campaign. While I will likely run all manner of adventures from action to humor to horror to espionage, the series should have an overriding theme. This theme is something you should always keep in the back of your mind when running the game and designing adventure episodes. If you stray too far or fail to embrace the focus of the campaign somewhat regularly, so will your players and you may not feel like you're really playing a Trek game after a while.

The theme could be a Federation Starship Exploring the Frontier, Military Patrol Ship on a Hostile Border, Espionage at a Forgotten Waystation/Outpost, etc. or any of a thousand other concepts.

For this campaign I've chosen to go classic with a twist, Starfleet Vessel Exploring a Particularly Hostile Frontier Region. The general idea is that we are exploring the side of the Gamma Quadrant that touches the Alpha Quadrant. This is made possible for the first time because the hostile powers normally preventing the study of this area are either no longer enemies, in no position to oppose (though that doesn't mean they're happy about it) or eager to get the Federation's help and form an alliance because they know of a threat in the area we don't know about. The campaign will mainly be about getting the chance to go where no one has gone before and the natives of the region who would rather we didn't. I picture a Starfleet crew with the attitude voiced by Bill Murray in Ghostbusters, "Back Off Man. I'm a Scientist".

Series Setting

The next question to answer is when does this take place? As stated in a previous blog post, the best Star Trek shows, games, etc. are a mix of styles and adventures so the setting is more about the types of ships, phasers, uniforms and such. For me, it's less about how the people act since I feel humanity is best represented by our continued attempts to improve, so regardless of the near-utopia portrayed in TNG, players always play with a modern mindset.

After discussing this with my players (an absolute must in my opinion) I've decided to set the series around 20 years after Star Trek: Nemesis or 10 years or so before the setting to be used in the MMORPG Star Trek Online. The look and feel of the technology and setting is very Next Generation mixed with Deep Space 9, although the adventure plots will feature a heavy dose of TOS action-adventure. I wanted the feeling of forward progression (the reason I went further into the future of the Star Trek continuity) but also knew I wanted the players to feel like it isn't easy trying to establish a utopia (as evidenced in Deep Space 9 and Star Trek Online). Basically, if you want a better tomorrow you have to fight for it.

So the setting is basically 20 Years After Star Trek: Nemesis. Circa 2399.

The Ship

One of the unique and wonderful elements of starfaring science fiction gaming is the idea that the players have an actual home that travels with them. The choice of a ship or space station is not to be taken lightly. In essense, this is going to be the PCs' home, headquarters, biggest weapon and largest responsibility for a good portion of your series. Too small and weak and you limit the challenges or types of stories your party/crew can face. Too powerful and your going to have to up the competition and you may find you have to destroy the universe every week to challenge the team.

Often, I like to start the game with the crew on a slightly less then awesome ship so after a few dozen episodes I can have the ship upgraded or move them to a better class. This is an especially effective reward after they've survived a battle that damaged their vessel pretty badly as it also makes sense in the milieu and established continuity.

As I teased on a fellow blogger's D&D/Fantasy website, I lthink its funny when DMs make a big deal about the Mega Dungeons they've made. Each of my Star Trek groups have their own 20+ level Mega Dungeon that flies around with them every adventure and periodically visits other Mega Dungeons in the form of enemy ships, alien derelicts, abandoned space stations, planetside complexes, etc. To create a Mega Dungeon is cool but to live in one and take it with you is awesome!

For our ship I've designed my own class. Resembling the Akira Class from Star Trek: First Contact and inspired by the amazing design of the USS Mawson by John Eaves, I have created the Oz Class Deep Space Explorer, USS Arcadia.

Since many of my current players are new to playing Star Trek, and one of them isn't even much of a Star Trek fan, I decided I wanted a ship that fit both the style of the story and had a bit more punch right out of the gate. As a result, the Oz Class is an exploration ship that can kick butt and take names. While it is visually of the same lineage as all my favorite Star Trek ships (the Miranda, the Akira, the Nebula) its capabilities more closely resemble those of the Luna Class, USS Titan. Its bigger and a bit more bad ass then the Titan but the idea is the same.

Crew, mission details and more coming up next...

Barking Alien


  1. I see an Oz class ship and think "Just so long as the runabout isn't named Toto."

  2. Heheh...I do tend to connect the names of my group's shuttles to the name of their ship. Currently I'm planning on the following shuttles: The Baum, The Denslow and The Shanower. Any other suggestions?

    Barking Alien