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

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

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

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

Too Far Gorn

STArena

Ahhh…good times.  First contact.  Ripped uniforms.  Foam rocks.  Latex masks.  Double-fisted punches.  Old school choreography.

Last post we talked a bit about the notion of taking a fan-favorite Original Series Star Trek episode and modernizing it for group-style roleplaying.  This post embraces that concept in a full bear-hug, squeezes as hard as it can, and asks for a giant foam rock to throw at your favorite Starfleet officer.

The episode in question is “The Arena”, episode 18 of season 1 of the Original Series (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arena_(Star_Trek:_The_Original_Series).  It is a beloved episode that plays much better in memory than in viewing.  The story is fairly solid, and I recall it being pretty intense when I was a kid.  Compared to the frenetic action sequences of today’s media, however, it plays like a snail-race.  Thus, for me, it begged for modernization.

When I rewatched the episode, I noticed something vital for a tabletop game:  as written, it would not play well for group activity.  The majority of the episode involves the crew watching Kirk fight his Gorn opponent as if it were a boxing match.  Certainly, the commentary concerning violence as a sport and the like can be debated, but for most RP groups (mine included) that would not be an enjoyable session.

So, some modifications had to be made to turn the adventure into more of a group activity.  This started as a subtle change that wound up altering the entirety of the episodes presentation and progression.  I strove, however, to maintain a loyalty to the original concept, while putting a greater emphasis on player involvement, as well as discovery, in particular maintaining the core concept of “uncertainty in exploration”.

The end result is for your judgment, however.  Therefore, I proudly introduce episode 4…

Episode 4 Ancient Claim