We Went…WHERE?!

nexus-stvii

Discovering and uncovering other dimensions, by purposeful experiment or accidental stumbling, is another Star Trek staple.  Whether alternate universes (such as the much-loved Mirror Universe), parallel existences (like fluidic space, home of Species 8472), or smaller “pocket” dimensions (ala the Nexus from “Generations”), these “other worlds” are a common source of mystery and adventure for the crew of any Starfleet vessel.  It was only natural, then, that we eventually get to one of our own.

This episode (actually an intentional two-parter) did exactly that.

Like many others, I was fascinated by the Borg.  I had found, however, that what history was known of them, either through speculation or actual reveal, was left wanting, and I wanted something different.  That is one of the beautiful aspects of tabletop roleplaying — you can explore alternatives, options, and different directions at a whim.  In this particular case, I wanted to explore the Borg’s ancestors, so to speak, and that’s what this episode was all about.

From a game mastering and adventure writing standpoint, I was entering a phase of improvisation with my group, hence the shorter page count on this episode than others.  Improvisation is something that exists in roleplaying games no matter what, but there are varying degrees to its implementation.  For this two-part episode I went much further to the “little prep” side of the spectrum, and for what I had in mind, it worked well.  The group got to really explore this “other where”, and I was able to react immediately to the emotional cues my players sent.

It worked well.  In fact, I seem to recall a series of “No!”s when I declared, “To Be Continued…”

Episode 14 Space Between the Stars pt 1

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They’re Coming To Get You, Uhura

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

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

Of the many fantastic things about Star Trek, it is a license where anything can happen.  Episodes can be intense, they can be light-hearted, they can examine social issues, they can be straight-up space shootouts, they can be comedies, they can be horrific.  This diversity lends itself very well to the roleplaying table, affording creative GMs and players alike the opportunity to tell stories as they want, not those confined to a handful of genres.

Due to the general isolation involved in Star Trek (despite how populous the galaxy happens to be), horror is a common element.  Whether this is a stalking, “misunderstood” salt vampire, a vampiric, sentient cloud, or a microorganism that devolves its host to primal beasts, horror is a common theme throughout Star Trek.

So it was so for my game.  In this case, I had always wanted to see zombies in Star Trek beyond the Borg.  The Borg were an obvious zombie analogy, and one done so well they became fan favorites, whose appearance spanned multiple series and spawned a movie in which they starred.  But they needn’t be the only Star Trek zombie, so I put my hand to another one.

And the Genesis Expanse provided ample means and grounds with which to plant the seeds of my Star Trek zombies, as this week’s episode reveals.  So, without further delay, I happily present the latest Star Trek episode:

Episode 13 Garden of Eden

Tying Things Together

English: Logo from the television program Star...

English: Logo from the television program Star Trek: TOS (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The campaign, at least if you have been following what’s been presented of the one I ran, has been building for a while.  In fact, we’re now hitting our twelfth episode.  Most of the episodes took about two sessions, so we’ve been playing for a while.

During that time, many elements that make traditional Star Trek stories Star Trek have come to pass in our own tales.  There have been exciting discoveries, challenging social situations, villains to thwart and out-maneuver, and downright alien moments.  There has also been plenty of character development, interaction — both internal (with other PCs) and external (with NPCs), and possibly a change or two in the cast.  Space can be a dangerous, deadly place.

Few things in tabletop roleplaying games validate play experience like bringing them up (or better making them a central aspect) in an evening’s adventure or episode.  The same can also be said, when cementing verisimilitude, about consistency amongst locations and characters.  This is especially true if you happen to bring back an escaped foe.

This episode is all about exactly those two elements, and because of that, it took extra care, both in preparation and in execution.

In its typed format, it is one of our shorter pieces with slim references to game mechanics.  This is intentional.  At this point in the campaign, the mechanics became second nature to myself and the players, and should likely be there for you.  Determining difficulties of tasks and results of foe actions should, at this point, be nearly rote.

Because of the scant mechanics, however, the material is rich in story.  This was a key episode in the campaign — it highlighted a traumatic change a PC had recently undergone (in this case, it was as Trill junior science officer who had been infected by Borg nanites and where the Trill symbiote and the Borg nanites had come to something of a controlling “stalemate”, enabling the PC to play a Borged Trill).  At the same time, we re-introduced an old foe that had caused the PCs a great deal of misery.  Simultaneously, while bringing back this old foe, we also took a sidelong look at the “mega-story arc” that had been running through the entire campaign.

This was an episode of some revelations, but of greater questions.  It was an episode that moved the story forward, both for the group and for a specific PC.

Now, because of that, I had to do some minor re-writing to make it as “generic” as possible.  In the end, this was not entirely possible.  For the episode to truly work, it almost requires a Borg-infected PC.  It is my hope, however, that for those games that have not, do not, or will not go in that direction then perhaps the framework provided can inspire in other ways.

Regardless…Episode 12 Mudd In Your Eye

In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream…

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

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

Sure, its may be the tagline for Aliens, but horror has long been a component of any sci-fi, including Star Trek.  Granted, slasher-horror is rarely the subject, but psychological horror, and even alien/mutant horrors are not unheard of in the Trek universe.  Salt vampires, blood-sucking clouds, insanity-inducing parasites, zombie-like assimilating cyborgs, and many more have plagued and terrified crew members of Federation starships in nearly every iteration of Star Trek.

We’ve already had a few of these crop up in our series, and horror is a genre I enjoy, so it was inevitable that it would pop up again, and this time as a central focal point.

The majority of Star Trek episodes also tend to highlight a particular crew member or two, and this one is designed to focus on empathic/telepathic crew members.  Of course, every other crew member will have things to contribute and accomplish; this isn’t a one-person show!

We also maintain the season’s sense of discovery (in this case, the horror of the unknown versus the thrill of the unknown) and again showcase the unpredictable effects the Genesis Event had on this entire region of space.

For my group, this was a tense episode with potent moments of terror (as much as can be induced at a well-lit gaming table) and personal touches.  In many ways, we continue the trend discussed in our last post about making things personal.  Of course, this also serves to heighten the horror.

This was also a good episode to highlight that, sometimes, “victory” can be as simple as surviving.

Episode 11 Q is for Quarentine

Make It Personal

Kirk Talks to Spock about his "Fez Addict...

Kirk Talks to Spock about his “Fez Addiction” (Photo credit: The Rocketeer)

Star Trek is a sweeping space opera that involves countless worlds and even more alien beings.  The numbers are simply staggering, and in the case of individuals, incalculable.  Despite this, Star Trek stories are frequently personal.  They involve family, loved ones, old friendships tested, betrayals, deceit, and all the stuff that makes drama…well…dramatic.

Whether these personal moments are interactions between established crew members, or those introduced by the events of a particular episode, making a Star Trek story personal makes it actually mean something.  This gives the tale a life and feeling, it escalates dangers from being cold and removed to matters of the heart.  And for a tabletop environment, it gives the players something to care about beyond the numbers.

This episode of our Star Trek campaign was very personal.  In the one I ran, I had a player who played a Caitian Security Officer.  In a twist of irony, he came from a family of rogues and ne’er-do-wells.  It was this character’s desire to rise above his family’s choices and become something greater, at least in the light of law, order, and civility.  From the onset of this character’s genesis, I knew I wanted to target that relationship:  it was a plot handed to me on a silver platter.

The Genesis Event offered a prime excuse for a vicious, personal plot:  the Genesis Wave had wiped out the Caitian homeworld and the species was in a chaotic state of relocation.  This made them prime targets for plunder and exploitation, both by species outside their own and, more tragically, by those selfish few within their own species.

And thus my plot was hatched:  rogue/pirate family members would play on familial allegiances to gain access to something powerful that could safeguard their vulnerable peoples versus plundering pirates!

For our group, the episode worked fantastically, with emotional ties being tugged, allegiances questioned, and motivations complicated.

This episode will likely require some tailoring to fit any given group, but it would be well worth the effort!

Episode 10 While the Cat’s Away

My Own Beginning, My Own Ending

500x_5__the_guardian_of_forever

Ahhh, the Guardian of Forever, easily one of the Original Series’ most iconic entities.  It was introduced in the “The City on the Edge of Forever” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_City_on_the_Edge_of_Forever), an episode heralded by many as the best of the Original Series’ run.  That point is up for fair debate, but what is inarguable is the Guardian’s longevity.  The entity (or device…or just simply, “thing”) encapsulates much of what Star Trek is about:  unknown, exploration of deeper meanings, grand power (and more importantly, what it means to wield it), and place in the universe.

It should be no surprise, then, that the Guardian would make its appearance in my Star Trek game.

Like most Original Series episodes, however, this one would not hold up to traditional table top gaming; there simply isn’t enough material (as is) to entertain a group of nine players.  But the Guardian, and its capabilities, intrigued me.  The notion of being able to go back in time to witness, or directly impact, an historic moment in time  is fascinating.  To make things even more tantalizing, with a universe as diverse and detailed as Star Trek, the potential “historic moments” are numerous!

So, I wanted something that would be familiar, something that would grab and entice and compel to keep “correct”.  But I also wanted to avoid some elements that had been overused (World War II, for example).  Finally, after a great deal of thought and reading, I settled on a Star Trek historical event, one that was entirely fictitious, but utterly necessary to the proper evolution of the universe.  I settled on First Contact (the movie; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Trek:_First_Contact).

star-trek-first-contact

Staging the episode during the night of the Borg attack on the Phoenix provided the episode with a setting and foe that was simultaneously undeniable and exhilarating.  This provided the players an opportunity to interact with a reviled and feared enemy, contend with a scene many knew quite well, applied an external pressure not typical of the Star Trek episodic adventures previous detailed, and, ultimately, produced one of the most tragic moments in the game.  When a young Trill science cadet was infected with assimilating nanites, the tension at the table was real.  As the player ultimately settled on a strange dual-symbiosis between symbiont, nanite, and host the excitement and enthusiasm for the character’s evolution was felt by all.

It was, as all roleplaying sessions ought to be, ridiculously fun and ripe with long-lasting memories.

Episode 9 Alms for Oblivion

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