Combination Platter

The original starship Enterprise

The original starship Enterprise (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is interesting, when talking about (and working on) Star Trek episodes (or adventures, as the case may be) and their foundations — that is to say, where they find their roots.  Take The Original Series’ “Obsession” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obsession_(Star_Trek:_The_Original_Series) which has clear links to “Moby Dick”.  This is a tale of one man’s vengeance and quest for atonement.  Just like other episodes before this one, the theme and story was compelling and exciting, but once thoroughly examined, did not lend itself well to group play.

That did not deter me from wanting to re-imagine the story, however.

In the end, this episode wound up having a little bit of everything, which (I think) is one of the reasons my players responded to it so well.  There’s exploration — and not just space, the PCs get to explore a planet.  In this, my group greatly expanded upon the written narrative and turned the planetside exploration into a session itself.  This, in turn, enabled me to truly showcase some of the oddities created by the Genesis Event and what a newly “birthed” planet might actually be like, with rapidly evolving and competing ecosystems.

There’s spaceship combat.  In this case, it was against a vessel type previously encountered (including an old foe, enabling the group to expand their rogues’ gallery) which showcased the sharp contrast between their earlier starship and their newer one.

There’s a bit of a mystery to it all, as well.  Although, like most re-imaginings, astute players will see the “mystery” for what it is (although, that can be a powerful RP tool, as my players demonstrated repeatedly).

There’s ground-based combat, too.  Yeah, the players got to fire their phasers (and the Security head got to use Photon mortar aspects, too)!

There’s even a good chunk of social interaction, between the colonists, the enemies, and in dealing with (and figuring out) the mystery.

So, really, the episode truly had a bit of something for everyone.

This is also one of those adventures that appears rather short on paper, but has a greater depth than what its length might otherwise indicate; there are ample opportunities to expand and improvise.  And so, it is this wide combination of set pieces and situations that helped to create an incredibly entertaining whole.

I hope it does the same thing for your Trekkers.

Episode 8 All That Glitters

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Flying Eggs No More

STAnnihlate

The Original Series of Star Trek enjoyed visionary stories, ground-breaking characters, exciting locales, and great special effects.  All of those qualities have stood the test of time, except for the special effects.  As is evident by the remastered episodes, this is an understood effect due to the advent of CGI.  Simply put, the dreams woven by Star Trek’s visionaries are far easier to realize with CGI than models and celluloid shading.  No better example of this exists than the neural parasites of Deneva.

Encountered in “Operation – Annihilate!”, episode 29 of season 1 of Star Trek (The Original Series) (found here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation:_Annihilate!), these terrifying creatures resembled little more than quivering, fried eggs.  The concept of the episode was chilling and unnerving:  the Enterprise crew encounters a planet overrun by alien parasites that induce insanity.  To explorers, this is a nightmare manifested.  For a child watching this episode in syndication in the late 70s, it was near-comical.  There really is nothing frightening about a quivering, fried egg, even when…or especially when…thrown and “stuck” to your favorite half-human/half-Vulcan’s back.

It should be clear, then, that the episode begged for a re-imagined staging during the Star Trek campaign I ran.  The story was sound and the unlimited SF/X budget afforded any tabletop RPG group fit the need perfectly.  And so, “Operation – Annihilate!” served as the basis for the first episode of Season Two.  Of course, this episode also introduced the crew’s new captain and their new ship, this alternate universe’s equivalent of the “Enterprise”.

Additionally, this proved an ideal time to “promote” all of the PCs and to make them full-fledged department heads.  This move granted each player a greater degree of narrative influence, both in access to the captain, as well as freedom to design and introduce crew in their department.  In essence, it served to heighten player ownership and involvement in the ever-growing universe and story that was our Star Trek game.

So, for your enjoyment, here is the next episode of our continuing voyages…

Episode 7 Infestation

All For One

English: A stylized delta shield, based on the...

English: A stylized delta shield, based on the Star Trek logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wow.  How cool!  Recently (as in today), a fellow Trek-fan compiled the Star Trek rulebook PDFs, inserted the addendums, and slapped a snazzy cover on it all to provide one and all an unified PDF Star Trek FATE document.  He even named it, “To Boldly Go”.  Pretty appropriate, I think!

Kudos, Matt Ceb, and thank you for the work!  Very cool!

Here’s the document in full:  To Boldly Go v2

Grab On and Hold Tight

spacestation

When I set out to put together, and run, a Star Trek campaign, I insisted on emulating the television series over the films.  They lent themselves better to a long-term tabletop campaign, with the styles, themes, and development mirroring one another quite nicely.  Therefore, each “adventure” needed to be a complete “episode”, one that mostly told its tale, but that continued to chew on material introduced earlier, while adding just a bit more.  Eventually, as episodes occurred and moved into “lore” the universe deepened and grew more complex.  There were names, ship, system, personnel, and otherwise, each carrying a bit of flavor and history which collectively created a vivid fabric for our games.

Likewise, I planned from the very beginning, to run in “seasons”.  Each season was given its overall storytelling “task”.  Season One’s task was straightforward enough:  introduce the players to the setting and establish the stage for the following seasons.  Like any good season, the season finale needed to be exciting.  It needed to answer a few questions, but pose even more.  It needed to kick that “want for more” in the behind and get the players begging for the next episode immediately.  It needed to be BIG.

Therefore, for the first time in several episodes, we returned to original content, playing more on information provided all the way back in episode one.  Here, at least to the audience, we finally reveal what happened in the first episode’s opening sequence.  And I’ll tell you, my players ate it up.

This was a big episode, both in scope and in mechanics.  It was the first “large scale combat” ran for the Star Trek game.  A good chunk of that conflict was kept to narration, with “pocket events” doled to the players to, not only keep them engaged, but give them power to help shape the conflict.  Granted, to set things up for what was to come, there wasn’t actually a tremendous amount of influence that could be had.  In fact, the episode winds up playing a bit more like a natural disaster movie in that the main characters can’t really thwart the “doom”, but instead are scrambling to find a way to survive.  While that is far more “railroading” than I am normally comfortable with, it was all done for very good reasons.

And that survival was vital, it enabled the setup that would come in following episodes to work that much better.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  For now, let’s just enjoy the exciting catastrophe that is Day Zero.

Episode 6 Day Zero

Captain, My Captain

Space Seed

This post comes at an ideal time, what with the new Star Trek movie playing in theaters.  This one continues the concept of “modernizing” classic Star Trek episodes, in this case “Space Seed”.  This is the story that introduced one of science fiction and Star Trek’s most notorious villains, Kahn.

As with previous examinations, it was quickly determined that the story, as it was, would not translate well for tabletop gaming.  Frequently, television shows focus on one or two characters at a time.  They do this for many good reasons, with available time and budget being two primary ones.  Roleplaying games have an unlimited SFX budget, we gamers are limited only by what we imagine.  Time may be a bit more tricky, but typical gaming sessions often last far longer than a one hour program run.  Because of this, and because most game groups consist of three to six participants, stories that focus on one or two characters require tinkering to make them work.

Of course, then there’s also the notion of wanting to leave your own “finger print” on something reimagined.  So, there are changes.

When I ran this episode for my players, they all knew what was coming very early on.  Anyone who has seen Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Kahn will probably figure things out, and fans of the original series will see the writing on the wall.  For us, however, that was half the fun.  My players did not see this as an opportunity to erase Kahn from the story, rather they took it as an opportunity to help fulfill his placement and position him to become a reoccurring villain of their own.  It was a creative challenge and exhilarating to experience.

There is a correlating subject related to my comment about group sizes that I think needs to be addressed.  Astute readers of these adventures may have already picked this up, but I think it is important to call this out and offer some explanation.  In the Star Trek game I ran there was no Player Character Captain.  The Captain of the ship (in this case, Pike) was an NPC.  This was done intentionally.  First, it enabled the players to each take “ownership” for a specific branch.  Second, it eliminated the notion of one player “out ranking” the other players.  Third, it kept a central character as a “mission-giver” or patron to the players’ actions.  The players can still, ultimately, be “in charge” of their own destinies by guiding the Captain’s “decisions” in a more “meta” sense. Of course, this isn’t etched in stone, but it worked splendidly for our campaign and I would urge others to do the same.

Either way, the goal remains the same:  have fun! So, without any further delay, here’s the next episode:

Episode 5 Kings of Old