Star Trek is tricky. You can’t just reskin any old science fiction scenario and expect it to feel like Star Trek. There are conventions unique to the Final Frontier. For our October gameday, I decided to run an Original Series era Trek adventure. To begin planning, I made a short list of certain elements that appear repeatedly in the episodes. In this article, I’ll share that list with you. Some of the points may have been made in the various rulebooks over the years, but hopefully we can bring something new to the discussion (or at least collect them in one place.) Even if you wouldn’t touch Trek with a ten foot pole (30 g.p.), there may still be some food for thought in these points. Here they are:
COLORFUL NON-PLAYER CHARACTERS (NPC’s) – Harry Mudd, Elaan of Troyius, the Squire of Gothos (my favorite): love ’em or hate ’em, you can’t forget ’em. Now, in a game, we don’t want the NPC’s to overshadow the player characters (PC’s). However, that doesn’t mean they can’t have a little flair or harass the PC’s a bit. Don’t be afraid to overact a little or make them flamboyant. That’s Trek.
SPECIFIC ADVERSARIES – While the crew occasionally fought a giant space blob or floating pancake creatures, the most memorable episodes included more specific villains. They didn’t just fight Klingons, but Klingons led by Kor. The same was true for the Romulan commander in “The Enterprise Incident.” Whenever possible, give a group of adversaries a specific, named leader. If you don’t want the PC’s to encounter them too early, consider having them communicate on the viewscreen or have the crew intercept a transmission. Get them onstage early if you can. Why waste the money you spent on a guest star?
SPURRED ACTION – Starfleet officers have to behave according to regulations. They can’t just bust down every door and start shooting. This doesn’t mean that your games must be devoid of combat, you just may have to spur it on. Give your crew an excuse to shoot those phasers or bust some chops. Have the mugato attack or the drunken Klingon take the first swing. Now, you may have to remind them to keep the Prime Directive and general regulations in mind, but there were still plenty of fights in the Original Series. This doesn’t mean that PC’s should never plan a first-strike. That was certainly the case in “The Savage Curtain” and “Errand of Mercy.”
HIGH STAKES – Starfleet personnel prevent wars, protect entire species, and save planets. Don’t be afraid to think big.
MORAL CHOICES — In other games, sessions often end with a big battle. In Star Trek, you are perfectly free to talk the computer to death or mind meld with an alien rock. However, this may leave some players with little to do. My current thinking is to have a big action scene (combat, chase, etc…) at the end, but leave things open for non-violent resolution. The enemies may surrender, or can’t be killed because they have valuable information. Also, Starfleet doesn’t condone starting shooting wars at random. Allowing for non-lethal endings is clearly in the spirit of Old School Trek. Plus the bad guys can come back again as a guest star.
Planning a Trek session can be more challenging than other genres. There’s also the Prime Directive, the rank structure, and the ethical themes to consider. Hopefully this list provided some food for thought: it certainly helped me fine-tune some elements for my own game
What other things are essential for Old School Trek? Which ones might you change for the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, etc…? Has Trek worked for your sessions or campaigns in the past? Let us know below.
I didn’t watch much of ToS, but what I did see make me think TNG had a much stronger exploration theme, maybe just because there was a lot MORE TNG (and I’ve watched every episode multiple times).
DS9 had a completely different feel, but still had all of your points. Again, though, I think exploration should be included because we are exploring a whole new quadrant with DS9. I LOVED TNG, but I liked DS9 maybe a little more because we had mostly the same “NPC” cast. Quark, Garek, etc., and I absolutely loved Morn who had an awesome running gag (Morn NEVER spoke on camera during the entire run of DS9, but they frequently made reference to him talking your ear off or laughing hardily at a joke that Morn had JUST finished telling). Also, the Grand Negus was an awesome recurring “NPC”.
Voyager, again, follows all of your points but needs to add exploration. Not only is that crew forced into exploring a new quadrant, they’re also exploring new technologies and ways of getting home. I think they maybe handled “Specific Adversaries” the best because of their long plotline with the Borg, and specifically the Borg Queen.
Your main comment about Trek being different than any other sci fi is totally valid. You can’t just reskin any old thing into Star Trek. It just has a different feel than anything else. Han Solo on the Enterprise would not work. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series would not work with a Trek skin (IMO). Stephen R. Donaldson’s Gap Cycle has no place in the Star Trek universe. A ship full of smugglers avoiding the federation in a Firefly class ship MAY belong on the fringes of trek. The closest that MIGHT work is Babylon 5 (but, I have to admit, I only watched about half a season of that).
Well, I guess I’ll go watch the entire run of Firefly again…
Great point about adding exploration. There should be a sense of the unknown, of perhaps not knowing how to exactly approach a situation or new alien (“Darmok and Jalad, at Tanagra””)
Thanks for reading and commenting. Go boldly!
Thanks for this; I am running a TOS game of Far Trek for my monthly group.
In the past, Trek games (for me) have foundered on coming up with plots that aren’t the standard action events, or that there is (usually) a powerful ship and large crew at the disposal of the PCs, or the rather organized and safe Federation, with a strong Star Fleet and its regulations, around them.
I’m not a big fan of Trek due to not being able to buy into the future humanity being so perfect and contented. I much prefer things like Babylon 5. But that’s another discussion.:)
I agree the exploration is a key factor of Star Trek and a big part of that is the isolation. In TOS they could not send a message back to Starfleet Command and expect an answer quickly. So much like the 19th century sailing captains they had to folllow orders the best they could while using their initiative to solve the unexpected problems that came up. Like cutting the Federation in for a piece of the action on the mafia world. This limits the help they can get from Starfleet and the regulations limit when they can use that powerful ship to solve problems.
For example, the crew find out the Romulans have created a staging area in the Neutral Zone to invade a planet. By the time any message reached Starfleet it would be too late to stop it. So it’s up to the PCs to disrupt the Romulan’s plans, without any immediate help from the Federation and with the Romulans having more ships, so they can’t go in blasting.
That’s a great example you used. I may steal it!
I agree that it can be a bit tricky to put in standard action events. A dungeon crawl is WAY easier to design.
And I’ve had players try to go off course and not behave in the Star Fleet manner. Not sure that I have always done the best job dealing with this.