I have been thinking about Star Trek today. Specifically, I have been thinking about gaming in Star Trek. Star Trek has had a few RPG’s based on it. Fasa, Last Unicorn and Decipher have all done games based on the material, not to mention Prime Directive. They all had varying levels of success. Fasa, in particular, had an “interesting” time with the fact they came up with their own canon for the game world, only to have it directly contradicted later by the rights holder. Star Trek, in general, seems like a no brainer for a scifi game setting, that anyone would love. Unfortunately, i there may be a significant hurdle to making a satisfying RPG in that setting.
The Star Trek setting, on the face of things, has a lot to offer. It has a lot of room to operate, there is a big galaxy out there, with lots of races, settings, and superluminal travel to get around. You have ray guns and batleths. You have wars, political intrigue, and exploration. There are many themes you can play with and the show had a history of even some challenging notions popping up. The setting universe is pretty much a vast playground.
However, there is a catch. A lot of Star Trek’s appeal comes from the being the crew of a starship, that occasionally ends up in battles. In a TV show or movie, there is the exciting battle, where the captain gives orders, and the ship maneuvers and fires. In gaming practice, however, having a single captain who controls the ships movement, and actions, can be less fun if you are not the one playing the captain.
That is, of course, a little bit of an exaggeration. There are some things you can do in that ship battle scene, to give the other players something to do. You could allow people manning the individual stations have individual die rolls related to their ship officers area of expertise. This would still be much more constrained than a lot players might be unsatisfied. In particular, what would your ships counselor or doctor do in that scenario?
You could also say, why worry about it, because the space combat did not come up that often in the shows. Well, that may well be, but they came up often enough to be somewhat iconic. They have many more space battles in the movies, which is likely due to the increased effects budget. They are moments of supreme tension in the films. Star Trek 2, in particular, relied pretty heavily on the space battle scenes.
So, here you are with a situation where these scenes are important, but a lot of the traditional game design choices would make them less than satisfying. I think that this is a situation where there are a number of solutions.
The Star Trek universe is huge. It is spread over thousands of worlds, and not every interesting story in that space has to be in Starfleet, or a ship of the line. Deep Space 9 is held by many to be the best Star Trek series ever. While it eventually had the Defiant, it’s main action was based of the station. You have a range of options with a station as your setting, intrigue and murders on the station, to political conflicts, and maybe even repelling an invasion.
Beyond that, you could be playing as the crew of a merchant ship, scientific vessels, and other ships that don’t have a lot of combat capabilities. The only involvement in ship to ship combat at that point would be in running away. You would still run into danger when you got to destinations. You could have a lot of the same setting stories that one has on a station, but with more locals. Also the scientific vessel has away missions to different planets. Discovery and peril are on the table for every new world.
Another thing you could do, that maybe not everyone would think of, is a game set in the headquarters of the Federation. Imagine the political intrigue that goes on with a over a hundred worlds trying to coexist. Espionage takes on a whole new direction when you have psychics, shape shifters, and cloaking devices as part of the landscape.
These are all workarounds based on the notion you are working with a straightforward classic design game system. A lot of the older systems start with the notion of working out the war game based rules first, and then add in rules for other things. These days, there are other options available, other directions to take.
So games like Fate and other newer games take a more narrative direction. The idea is the games story is less beholden to miniature wargame structure, but to a story telling structure, with the players effecting the story in ways formerly reserved solely for game masters. This sort of structure makes the “captain problem” less evident. When switch to a ship to ship combat model, things become more abstract.
The players could maybe help shape the problems in the conflict, declaring the enemies cloaking device is being compromised by a neutrino leak, or they are in a nebula that interferes with the sensors. They can affect the environment, and attempt less direct changes, like adding an aspect to the ships shields that they are cycling through the harmonic frequencies. The whole point being to allow the players more control of the scene overall, to feel less like the one guy has all the control and everyone else is a along for the ride.
“Narrative” games is a pretty broad range to use to describe a game, but they do have some common elements, and one of those elements is that the process for creating the story tends to be a bit more collaborative, which actually would work pretty well with a Star Trek game.
Songs of Stars and Trek
One system I have been threatening for a long time to convert Star Trek to, is Green Ronin’s Song of Ice and Fire rules system. This system is very much about maintaining the house your PC’s are part of. There are a lot of rules built around realm maintenance. Tehre are rules about managing the different aspects of the house, its military and financial resources.
It doesn’t require a lot of imagination to see how that could be converted to rules about maintaining a starship, or a space station. Shave the serial numbers off some of the warfare rules and suddenly they cover ship to ship combat. Instead of keeps, you use shield generators. Instead of towns folk, you might have a crew rating of some sort, and bio neural circuitry, or variable geometry warp nacelles. it is a doable conversion, and changes how the players approach the ship in the game.
Part of the rules involve the players creating the noble house as part of the character creation process. These rules would be converted to defining the starship instead. Is it a pure research vessel with minimal weapons, or is it a frontline warship. Is it a Federation ship, or is it a Ferengi trading vessel. What makes this particular ship unique? What role will each player take on the ship? Each role effects the qualities of ship. By making the ship creation a group effort, it makes it gives the players more of a feeling of ownership.
It is an idea I have poked at a few times in the past, but I have not actually sat down and made it a reality. Perhaps writing this little essay will drive me to actually do it. It will take a fair amount of effort to lay down the groundwork.
Anyway, those are my rambling thought on role playing in the world of Star Trek. I would be interested if anyone reading this actually had a lot of experience in playing in a Star Trek setting. I did some back in the early 90’s but no actual campaigns.