Monday, September 22, 2014

Splitting Up...The Final Frontier - Part II

Continuing with my recap of the first session of one of my old Star Trek campaigns, OUTBOUND - Phase II, by the end of the first third of the game the PCs were split into a number of distinct groups in different locations. As this recap is also being posted to highlight elements I've been discussing in my Split The Party series, it is important to note that:

The NPC Captain, and PCs Jose Santiago (Helmsman) and Serin (Sensor Officer, Asst. Navigator) are on the bridge of the Loknar Class USS Thunder Bay, which has just been struck by a barrage of Disruptor energy and a Plasma Missile (similar, although not identical to, the Romulan Plasma Torpedo).

First Officer-Commander Lily Munroe, Science Officer Green Shine Wandering Wave Miragh, and Security Officer Shilana Kincaid, are in a shuttlecraft heading for a scout sized vessel of unknown origin. The team uses the earlier damage the Thunder Bay had done to the Romulan ship's sensor array, and the communications jam, to hide the shuttle's departure and flight path. Quite clever. They hope to make first contact, assist in repairs and/or convince the crew  of the unknown craft that the Thunder Bay will help them as soon as it can. Hopefully the group can also find out why the alien ship was attacked by this unusual Romulan ship in the first place.

Mataeo Rozza was in Main Engineering, ducking under fallen debris and dodging sparking panels. His goal was to ascertain exactly what the damage was, and what systems to prioritize in his repair schedule..

Dr. Shran was in Sickbay, now looking at a parade of the injured and deceased coming through his doors. He quickly went over to a computer console, initiated his 'secret program', and prepared to contact the bridge.

Since you're here, a quick analysis of the mystery of the Romulan attacker. The enemy ship in this scenario is believed to be a Romulan V-9 'Night Flyer' Class Light Cruiser. The PCs' ship should be more than a match for it. However, it appears to have some characteristics inconsistent with a normal V-9.

  • It is able to cloak, decloak, attack, and recloak, faster than a standard Night Flyer.
  • It's cloaking device flickers on, and off, like a dance club strobe light, instead of having the regular wavy fade visual effect.
  • It launches powerful, though conventionally designed, missiles that carry compressed, superheated gas in a warhead. When the warhead detonates, a blast of plasma is released. These Plasma Missiles are very different from the typical Romulan Plasma Torpedo, which is a ball of dense, superheated plasma from launch to impact. The Plasma Torpedo looses strength over increased distances. The Plasma Missile does not, although it becomes less accurate.

Bare in mind that I am leaving out a good deal of player questions, character moments, in-jokes, references to various episodes and movies, people running to the kitchen for snacks, people going to the bathroom, etc. A lot happens in a 6-8 hour RPG session other than the story and the actions of the PCs. Still, this group was always really focused once things got started, and they were really into the game.

Now then, there is quite a bit to go.


Warning klaxons wail, emergency lights come on, and smoke is absolutely everywhere. It is very difficult to see for a few moments as crewmen thrown from their chairs try to get back to their posts. Some tend to those wounded instead.

The PCs roll to see what happened to them as a result of the attack. I make a few secret rolls myself.

Ensign Serin sees that Santiago (the Helmsman) is wounded and unconscious, the Chief Navigator is dead, and so, sadly, is the Captain. Serin immediately hails Sickbay but there is no response. Confused, she hails Engineering. No response. Checking her console, her sensors determine that while it was a hard hit they took, there is no way it destroyed Sickbay and Engineering.

She asks for a damage report, and is informed that the attack shut down internal communications. Ship-to-ship communications are also damaged. It would seem that the central computer may has been damaged, since in addition to communications, the emergency light came on as if the ship were on auxiliary power, even though main power was still online. The computer was telling the bridge power was down, but it wasn't.

For a brief period, Serin is confused as to who to report this information to. The Player does an excellent job of conveying a young Vulcan, working desperately to control her feelings of fear and frustration. With the Captain dead, the First Officer and Science Officer off the ships, and the Helmsman unconscious, the highest ranking and/or most appropriate officer to take charge would be the Engineer, who she can't get a hold of. That's when it dawns on her. She is in command of the ship (This was one of the funniest sequences in the game, play with Emmy winning talent by my ex-wife. She was the least knowledgeable person in the group regarding Star Trek and had only been gaming for a couple of years. Everyone else had a least double her years of experience. Fantastic scene).

Realizing he can't get through to anyone either, Rozza makes communications a priority. In the meantime, his engineering staff let him know that although the systems are reading full power, many sections of the ship have shut down and gone to auxiliary power. Confused, he gives orders to his engineering staff, and then takes a tool kit, an Engineering Tricorder, a Communicator, and a Phaser, and starts climbing the ladders to the upper decks (he is on Deck 5).

Dr. Shran activates his custom 'Medical Administration Assistance Program' in Sickbay. His wife's face appears on a computer screen, and asks what the status of the situation is. Shran gives her the run down. She asks who's in charge, and with great inner turmoil he says that he is. His wife's image chuckles.

Dr. Theyla Sh'Hiri Shran (Th'Tivra's Wife's Image):

"Oh Th'Tivra, if you needed my help, all you needed to do was ask? The formality, the reverence...I am your wife. It is not like I would deny you aid."

Dr. Aldeth Th'Tivra Shran:

"Of course not my love. I know that. I just wasn't sure I could get a hold of you over...such a distance."

Dr. Theyla Sh'Hiri Shran:

"Distance? We were assigned to the same ship. We requested it. I...why am I speaking to you over the computer system? Where are you...and...where exactly am I? Oh dear. Th'Tivra my I dead?"

Dr. Aldeth Th'Tivra Shran:

(Stoically holding back tears) "Yes my sweet. I am afraid so."

Dr. Shran, the living one that is, explains to his wife that he used the 'Medical Administration Assistance Program' and crossed referenced it with her notes, journals, and personal log files to 'bring her back', as the ship was in great danger and he was in need of help he could count on without a doubt. She agrees to help, but suggests they discuss the ramifications of this later. He agrees.

(Precursor to the Emergency Medical Hologram? Perhaps...)

Meanwhile, the Shuttlecraft Burroughs* found themselves dodging and zig-zagging through a small field of limpet mines. Kincaid's deft piloting skills, backed by Miragh on sensors, enabled the shuttle to make it through safely. They assumed the mines had been dropped earlier by the Romulans, although that really wasn't their style.

Once really close to the unknown craft, Miragh sent out signal using alternative means of communication to contact the alien vessel. For example, he used a morse code-like pattern using the shuttle's running light, fired off very low powered microwave bursts, etc. Meanwhile, Munroe tried to enhance the shuttlecraft's communications systems while Kincaid tried to counter the jamming signals. Their combined efforts paid off! Soon, they got a clear line, and hailed the alien ship. Munroe, Miragh and Kincaid made first contact with The Rafalians!

Rafalian Male, Late 'Teenager' Years
Illustration by Keith Conroy.
Colors by me.

As the Rafalians begin to relay the truth of what is going on, Allen (Miragh's player) believes he's figured it out, and asks if he can tell the group his theory before I divulge the information via NPC exposition. The other players, who are listening with rapt attention, tell Allen to go for it.

Allen (As himself):

"The enemy ship is not Romulan. Rather, I would surmise that it is an unknown or rarely seen hostile species, using hologram technology to fake not only a cloaking device, but the appearance of a Romulan 'Night Flyer'. They are after the Rafalian ship because it knows the truth.

My guess is that these 'faux Romulans' have been terrorizing the vicinity like pirates, stealing from vessels they surprise and waylay, with any survivors taking up issue with the Romulan government who has not idea what they're talking about."

Correct! Allen is awesome. Have I mentioned he's awesome? 'Cause he's awesome.

Additionally, the Rafalians fill the shuttle crew in on some further story elements. The Rafalian ship is their first Warp Capable vessel ever! They just achieved war drive after years of research. Their technology shares some similarities with that of the Romulans, their closest, major stellar neighbors, causing Miragh and Kincaid to wonder if they reverse engineered a crash Romulan ship in order to achieve warp technology. Something for later down the line.

The 'faux Romulans' were sitting idly when the Rafalian ship entered into sensor range of it, and noticed it initially had a very different configuration. The Rafalians show footage of the 'Night Flyer's true appearance to the Burroughs crew. Commander Munroe recognizes it...

Cut back to Serin on the bridge of the Thunder Bay, with crewmen (Me as GM) giving her status reports and sensor information. The Communications system is still down. Serin commands a team of technicians to go to the lower decks, find other engineering personnel and check out the Computer Core. If it is damaged as she believes it is, fix it!

Serin's player then goes quite, looks off into space for a brief second, and says...

Selina (As herself):

"Don't we carry communicators or can I get to one? I grab one of those flip open, hand-held Communicators and call the Chief Engineer."

I rule that, although the ship's Communication System ordinarily governs the Communicators as well, they are capable of contacting each other even if main Communications are down as an emergency feature. Selina has Serin work with one of the Engineers to do this and then sends a message to Rozza.

She apprises him of the situation, including the fact that she is currently in command, and asks him if he, now updated and the senior officer, will be coming to the bridge to take over. Ken, smiling, looks right at Selina and says:

Mataeo Rozza:

"Ensign, you've done a fine job so far and I need to get the computer thinking clearly. As far as I'm concerned, I'll go on record that I gave you the Conn. I'll be up there as soon as I can. In the meantime, just don't let us die."

In sickbay, the Shrans has another great character moment as the Captain's body is brought in. There is a personal note that Th'Tivra attended Star Fleet Academy with the Captain's brother, where the three became close friends. Proper Andorian cultural burial rights are discussed. On a more practical note, the Shrans combined medical skills save three crew members with terrible injuries.

They also patch up and awaken Jose Santiago. Santiago refuses to lie down and heal up while the ship is still in battle,. Uncharacteristic of most Star Trek doctors, Th'Tivra, a member of the passionate, warrior race of Andorian, says he would expect nothing less. After a quick hypospray stimulant, Santiago heads back to the bridge

Rozza connects with his team in the Computer Core and does a crazy dangerous, shutdown-reboot procedure that makes the ship appear completely dead in space for several moments. The fake Romulan ship decloaks and closes in on it's prey.

The crew of the Burroughs, now aboard the Rafalian Prototype Warpship, enact some repairs, and the Rafalians are so grateful, and so fascinated by the diversity of species in this 'Federation', that they offer to aid the Starfleet officers in defeated the threat of the Romulan imposters.

The Thunder Bay suddenly roars back to life. Communication systems and main lighting come online as the turbolift opens, and Santiago hurries back to his seat. Without missing a beat, Serin says...


"Bridge to Rozza. Are we fully operational Sir?"


"That we are Ensign. All systems go! We still have damage but pretty much everything works the way it should."


"Excellent. Mr. Santiago, welcome back. Now, if you would be so kind, I believe the proper Human colloquialism is, "Let them have it."

Santiago (His player chuckles at Selina's deadpan delivery of the line):

"Aye sir."

He tells me he keys in a Phaser barrage followed by three Photon Torpedos, BUT only when the enemy is really close. Rozza enters the bridge from a ladder well. Serin says, "Captain on the Bridge", and takes position at the Navigation station. She assists Santiago's attack by plotting a course that will get them into the perfect firing position.

*Various sound effects provided by both my mouth and sound bites on someone's computer*

KRAKA-THOOM! The 'Romulan' ship's visage flickers out, revealing...

Munroe (aboard the Rafalian ship):

"Malurians. That's a Malurian Type-3 light cruiser. I knew something seemed familiar about this set up. The Malurians are known to take advantage of pre-warp cultures through disguise and deception. Ever since the destruction of their homeworld they have also resorted to piracy. They use advanced make-up, holograms and the like to hide among a native people, or to appear to be someone else."

Malurian true face revealed by torn pseudo-skin disguise.

Malurian Light Cruiser with Holographic Shield deactivated.

The Malurians sustain considerably heavy damage. They hail the Thunder Bay but Rozza, now in command, makes them wait. The Rafalian ship comes up alongside the Thunder Bay, which then transports Lt. Commander Munroe, Science Officer Miragh, and Security Chief Kincaid back over, along with two officers from the Rafalian vessel.

Munroe gets to the bridge and takes command from Rozza as he and Serin explain what has transpired in her absence. With the Captain dead, the Thunder Bay is Munroe's ship now. She slips a whisper to Serin and Kincaid, then answers the Malurians' hail.

Munroe informs them that they will be escorted back to their people's nearest spaceport by the Thunder Bay and another Starfleet vessel. In addition, the Romulan Star Empire has been informed of their shenanigans and they shouldn't expect to be able to pull them off again without a severe reprisal. (Serin contacted Starfleet, Kincaid contacted the Romulans as she speaks Romulan).

The Malurians are not sorry but rather sorry they got caught. They blame the Federation for the destruction of their planet, since the probe that decimated them was of Earth origin (only partially correct. See Nomad). The Thunder Bay has an enemy now but one wary of jabbing the hornets nest with a stick, less it come to life suddenly and sting (as it did in this battle).

Soon, the USS Griffon arrives to assist with the escort duties. The Thunder Bay bids the Rafalians good bye for now, vowing to return and looking forward to establishing further friendly relations with them.



One year later, Captain Lilian Munroe walks onto the refitted bridge of a repaired and upgraded USS Thunder Bay. Lt. JG Serin, the new Chief Navigator, greets her and hands her a computer pad, which she signs. As she takes the center chair, she shares some witty banter with her new First Officer, Lt. Commander Miragh. All stations sound off as the Thunder Bay prepares to depart for Rafalia Prime.

And Beyond...


I hope you enjoyed this recap, and found it helpful in gaging how to set up a Star Trek adventure of your own in the future (for those new to doing so). In addition, I hope the retelling of this session gave some insight into what can be accomplished dramatically by splitting the party in a way that give everyone time to shine.

Thanks everyone, see you soon!

Live Long and Prosper,

Barking Alien

*The three shuttles aboard the Thunder Bay were the Burroughs (named for Edgar Rice Burroughs, author and creator of the John Carter of Mars series), the Raymond (for Alex Raymond, creator of Flash Gordon), and the Nowlan (for Philip Francis Nowlan, creator of Buck Rogers).


  1. I was out of town! Anyways, I was inspired by your series of posts to overcome my trepidation regarding splitting the party and did it throughout the first session of my Firefly campaign and it worked just fine. It is especially helpful when it doesn't make a lot of sense to send a half dozen people on a simple task, and then there is a lot of duplication of abilities, as is the case with Firefly (where everyone can literally do all the skills)

  2. Exactly! Excellent point. In a setting/genre like that, it serves to split the party because a whole crew of people doing the same thing in the same scene can be a bit much.

  3. I did enjoy reading this, both parts. Action, mystery, first contact - that's a pretty good run. I had a kickoff for a never-run Babylon 5 campaign that involved killing off the captain and senior officers in an early encounter - I wonder what makes that so compelling?

    I suppose if we accept that it's possible in Trek to make a ship invisible, that it ought to be possible to make one ship look like something else. If you can hide various power emissions, then you should be able to alter them as well - alright, I can go with that. It does open up some doors. I'd hate to think of what could happen if you worked that in with a race of shapeshifters ... lots of uncertainty in the quadrant in that case.

  4. The concept was actually visited in Star Trek: Enterprise, where the Malurians are the antagonists for one of the early episodes.

    I was inspired by this, and of course the Original Series episode that mentioned them, which featured the Nomad probe, "The Changeling".