Today I’m looking at a pair of products that are joined like a Trill and their symbiont. Or maybe they’re like the two halves of a Starfleet captain when they get split into two different personalities in a transporter accident. Either way, what I’m looking at today are two books from the Star Trek Adventures RPG line from Modiphius, in this case, the Player’s Guide and the Gamemaster’s Guide.
In other product lines, the Player’s Guide and the Gamemaster’s Guide form 2/3rds of a core product line. In this case, neither one of these books replaces the currently available core rulebooks. Instead, these are supplemental books meant to enhance the play experience of those playing or running the game. So just to reiterate, you’ll need the Star Trek Adventures: Core Rulebook, Star Trek Adventures: Klingon Core Rulebook, or the Star Trek Adventures: Tricorder Collector’s Box Set.
I purchased both the Player’s Guide and the Gamemaster’s Guide on my own, but I have received products from Modiphius for review in the past. I have not had the opportunity to use any of the material from these products in play, but I have experience both playing and running Star Trek Adventures.
Because most of the Star Trek lore in these books is described at a high level, and the rest of the book is focused on player and GM rules and best practices, there isn’t too much that requires a content warning, but I wanted to point out the safety discussions in the books.
Both books have a “game preparation” section, which outlines using a session zero to begin the campaign. Part of this procedure includes establishing hard and soft nos, asking about pronouns and special accommodations, reading players, checking in, and handling emerging discomfort. It even addresses what to do when someone might say that safety tools aren’t needed.
It, rightly, points out that while Star Trek may not often involve “Mature Only” content, it does touch on difficult topics, and not everything that will be uncomfortable for players will be graphic depictions of different actions. I really appreciate how this addresses safety for a game that probably could have coasted without addressing the topic.
Before we completely move on, I also wanted to address something that I have had a problem with regarding other licensed games. At times, RPG products have a hard time addressing problematic content that is part of the license. Even some of Modiphius’ other product lines, such as Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of, which has been slow to challenge some of the issues with Robert E. Howards’ work.
These books, however, discuss how early Star Trek, while trying to address topics that weren’t easy to address in its day, sometimes still didn’t have the sensitivity it should have had with these issues. It also discusses how Roddenberry was much less open minded about religion versus some of the other aspects of Star Trek, and how this may be hurtful to some Trek fans.
Put It Up On the Viewscreen
This review is based on the PDFs of the books. The Gamemaster’s Guide is 256 pages, and the Player’s Guide is 272 pages. Unlike the other products in this line, the interior of these books doesn’t attempt to emulate an LCARS display, or the Klingon computer displays. Instead, we get white pages, with headers and sidebars that are highlighted in the same purples and oranges that show up in the LCARS emulating pages.
There is full color art in these books, some of which is reused from previous Star Trek Adventures products. This is the first Star Trek Adventures book where we get references to Discovery and Picard, and there is some artwork from those shows included as well.
One of the reasons I wanted to cover both books at the same time is that the format of these books is very similar. There are sections of these books that mirror one another, and I wanted to address what that looks like, and why.
The Player’s Guide has the following sections:
- Star Trek Defined
- The Star Trek Universe in Play
- Star Trek Eras and Play Styles
- Character Roles
- Character Creation Options
- Advanced Operations
The Gamemaster’s Guide has the following sections:
- Star Trek Defined
- The Star Trek Universe in Play
- Star Trek Eras and Play Styles
- To Boldly Go
- Star Trek Storytelling
- Main Engineering
- Additional Rules and Tools
The chapters with matching titles are almost the same. There are also parts of the Advanced Operations and Main Engineering sections that mirror content, mainly the deeper dive into what attributes and disciplines mean in context of the game’s narrative.
The Kolvoord Starburst
Star Trek Defined is a nice summary of some of the big themes of Star Trek in a list of ten concepts, with a few paragraphs expounding on those concepts. It examines concepts like the importance of diversity and equality, a hopeful future, examination of wonder, and exploration of the human condition. This includes a nice sidebar that points out you can play Tal Shiar agents or Cardassian Obsidian Order members, but outside of the mechanics being able to support it, this may be outside of the tone and feel of Star Trek.
This transitions to another ten concepts with similar summaries, but this time, the ten points are calling out what Star Trek Adventures, as a game, was designed to highlight. This includes ideas like supporting multiple Star Trek eras, modular rules that can turn the knobs of complexity, creating unique roles for player characters, providing collaborative problem solving, and providing a safe space to explore. This final goal is a discussion on how the game is meant to be enjoyed by a wide range of people and should be free from judgements based on marginalized identities.
The Star Trek Universe in Play is a section about what people in the setting would understand about concepts like economics, technology, and weapons. There are sidebars that summarize when some signature Star Trek technology first enters the setting, using the general timelines established by the television series. For example, you can see when protein resequencers give way to replicators, and when transporters become ubiquitous.
This wraps up with some common naval terminology still used in Starfleet, as well as the terms for different Standard Operating Procedures. This explains the differences between Yellow and Red Alerts, including the state of weapons and shields at different levels of alert. It also calls out the differences between a Klingon Yellow Alert versus a Starfleet Yellow Alert.
There is a whole section about different types of orbits, and why you would put a ship in each type of orbit. I had never really thought about any of these, and I loved it, because it reinforces what this section is aiming for—its letting you sound like you know what you’re doing when you put the ship in polar orbit for a quick sensor sweep of the planet, versus a synchronous orbit, where you can save on the power used by the ship for propulsion.
The stated goal for this section is to introduce people with less Star Trek experience to commonly understood aspects of the setting, but I’ll be honest, some of these things I “kind of” knew but couldn’t have explained as well as this section does. For example, the Federation doesn’t use money, and covers all the needs of a citizen, including what they could make with a replicator, but there are still credits that allow for obtaining non-replicated items or trade with other cultures.
Star Trek Eras and Play Styles
This is another section in common with both books, but there are a few slight differences. The first thing this does is to section off the eras that Star Trek Adventures supports. These include:
- Foundational Years (Essentially the Enterprise era)
- Federation and Empire (Early Discovery, The Original Series)
- Allies and Adversaries (Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager)
- Post-War and Reconstruction (Post Nemesis to Star Trek Picard)
- Temporal Cold War (Mentioned in Enterprise and Discovery)
- The 32nd Century (Current Discovery)
In each section where these eras are discussed, some of the major events are summarized, and some of the ongoing threats and themes of that era are noted. I would argue that some of these eras are a little trickier with the level of support in the current rules than others. The most important aspects of the Temporal Cold War that we know are when it touched on other series. The 32nd Century is rapidly taking shape as current seasons of Discovery unfold. But I do like the quick overview of history in this section.
The next part of this section include styles of play. The styles given as examples include the following:
- Admiralty Campaigns (Flag officers and support staff)
- Cinematic-Style Campaigns (Linked one-shots with movie style larger stories)
- Season-Long Story Arcs (Discovery or Picard style closely Connected sessions)
- Political Campaigns and Core Worlds (Limited scope maintenance of political maneuvering)
- Deep Space Exploration (Long term missions without many extended contacts with home worlds)
- Far From Home (Separated long term from home society, like Voyager)
- Spice of Life (Doing important by more standard jobs within the Federation or the Empire)
- Station-Based Games (Games based on space stations and outposts)
- Unsanctioned Missions (Story arcs where characters are operating without official support of any government or major galactic faction)
This is where we start getting divergent material, although mainly in the sidebars. In the Player’s Guide, each style of play has examples of what focuses and values would be good in the style of campaign being described. In the Gamemaster’s Guide, the sidebars give examples of what a given style of campaign might look like in different eras, as well as topics like selecting a suitably cinematic villain for those style of campaigns.
From the time I spent running Star Trek Adventures, I know that players appreciate having examples for focuses and values. Many of these work well for the campaign style where they appear, but they also work as general examples of these character elements as well.
All Good Things
Some of the other shared content appears in parts of the book that aren’t in parallel with the section names, so I wanted to touch on those here. One shared section between these books includes a description of the attributes and disciplines. This isn’t just a broad rehash of what the attributes and disciplines are used for, it dives into what the numbers might mean from a roleplaying standpoint. In many of these cases, it provides a means of explaining that characters that have lower Reason, for example, aren’t less intelligent than other characters, but that they may not immediately default to thinking through a problem first.
There are charts that show examples of what a 7, 8, 9-10, and 11-12 mean for an attribute. This also leads to a discussion about how these attributes aren’t absolute measurements, meaning that a fitness 10 for a human isn’t a fitness 10 for a Klingon, and that character traits and talents are meant to help further define these differences. Considering a lot of discussion on bio-essentialism and character scores in RPGs, I appreciate how these are framed as where a character puts their intensity, versus absolute measurements.
Both books also have some common material when presenting Session Zeroes at the beginning of a campaign. This is another area where some of the main text is the same, but the sidebars have some customized sections on things like making the GM’s life easier for the Player’s Guide and more detailed checklists summarizing the session zero process in the Gamemaster’s Guide.
Player’s Guide Material
The Player’s Guide introduces additional mechanical options for players. There is a recap of all the character roles as they appeared in the Core Rulebook and the Klingon Core Rulebook. There are some differences in similar roles between the two Core Rulebooks, but this section explains how some of the Klingon versions of roles may be appropriate in different campaigns. There is a section at the end of each role citing reasons for why a player may want to choose one role over another, based on what they enjoy playing.
After it summarizes the existing roles, it then introduces new roles:
- Armory Officer
- Civilian Bureaucrat
- Intelligence Agent
- Political Liaison
- Ship’s Doctor
- Spiritual Leader
Each of these has a special ability, just like the existing roles. These are meant to flesh out options that include non-Starfleet or non-Klingon Defense Force characters. It also allows for characters like Lwaxana, Guinan, Quark, Neelix, Odo and other important characters that were adjacent to Starfleet, but not members themselves. This would have definitely gotten some use in my Star Trek Adventures game, where the crew had taken on Reman refugees, one of which would have fit the Bodyguard role very well.
Just to take a moment to explore, what, may you ask, is the child’s special ability? Add two threat to the threat pool to be present in a scene, and force anyone that wants to directly attack you to spend a threat to do so. Honestly, I kind of love the chaos of the potential uses.
There are also alternative events for every step of the lifepath system presented in the core books. In some cases, these add more civilian options in the later stages of the lifepath, including non-Starfleet military careers, ambassadorial training, civilian jobs, and even cadet events. There is a set of alternate upbringings that deal with a character’s aspirations rather than their literal childhood. Like the new roles, these help model characters with wider backgrounds, like Kira from Deep Space Nine.
There are special rules for the attribute and discipline limits for cadet and child characters. These characters have special advancement rules that involve older characters mentoring the character, which allows them to “level up” to the usual starting statistics for characters more rapidly.
There are example focuses organized by disciplines and include some special skills that players may not normally think of giving their characters, like journalism, pickpocketing, or parapsychology.
Our final mechanical options presented are more talents. These are organized by general talents, Command talents, Conn talents, Engineering talents, Security talents, Science talents, and Medicine talents. Many of these talents do what you are probably accustomed to seeing from other STA sources, like adding additional d20s in certain circumstances, adding additional momentum at specific times, etc. The new talents that are the most interesting to me, however, are the esoteric talents.
Esoteric talents include ESP, psychokinesis, and telepathic projection. Unlike some of the other telepathic/empathic talents that have been tied to different species, these all have the requirement of “Gamemaster’s Discretion.” Effectively, these allow you to do things like asking for hints from the GM that add to threat, move items with your mind (including throwing objects in combat), and having more precise control of telepathy, including a mental attack. None of these are wildly out of scope for what players can easily do with gear or other talents, and they are meant to help model characters like Kes from Voyager, characters that may have psychic powers beyond what can be expected for their species.
Gamemaster’s Guide Material
The mirrored content for session zero that is presented in this guide does something that I really appreciate. In addition to explaining best practices for a session zero, it adds checklists of things to address during campaign planning and session zero, making it a lot easier to remember the individual points that the text makes. It also talks about where and how to recruit players, as well as taking a stab at the GM Guide standard of quantifying character types to help the GM meet their needs.
While we’re talking about meeting needs, I really appreciate that this section touches on things like character sensory issues, attention span, and education level. Touches like this move this from doing the bare minimum for modern inclusion in RPGs to really engaging the topic.
There is a whole series of questions that are designed to be asked when a player takes a particular option in the lifepath system, adding more detail to the character’s backstory and using these choices to help build future campaign events. For example, probing for more information on that officer whose career you might have damaged and what they might be up to these days.
It devotes a lot of space to adventure structure and scene framing. Not only does it discuss the importance of scene framing for pacing and storytelling, but it also emphasizes getting player buy in for how and when to cut scenes.
More Stuff for NPCs
There are some random charts for goals and tactics when you may not have a good idea about customizing an NPC. There are also NPC special rules, which are special rules that can be applied to a stat block to change the NPC capabilities. Some of these are more for emulating species, like Amphibian or Aquatic, but others like Martial Artist or Tough X are ways to beef up a stat block without playing with too many of the PC facing talents. One of the most interesting ones is Initiative X, meaning that the NPC can act X number of times per round.
There are a few ways to make situations more dangerous and dynamic. It quantifies falling damage, and the process for drowning. It also establishes a threat to damage conversion that can be introduced in hostile environments.
There are a wide range of optional rules presented in the next section of the Gamemaster’s Guide. Some of these options, like separate mental stress, fatigue, and extended injuries I recognize as porting in some of the rules present in Achtung Cthulhu. These make combat a little more granular, and can make characters a little sturdier, while also tempting them to stay in the danger zone longer than might be wise.
There are optional rules to make starship combat less deadly, and to give PCs more of an active defense against ranged attacks. Additional rules address converting the game’s standard zone-based abstractions for combat into set ranges and movement rates.
In addition to these alternate rules, we get another progressive tracking system not unlike extended tasks or the scientific method systems. In this case, it’s an extended consequences system, allowing for incrementally ramping up how bad a situation is, and how long the PCs have until everything finally falls apart. Think Kirk fighting Kruge on the Genesis planet as it was falling apart.
The final section of the book has some modular tools and charts for the GM. This includes encounters for Starfleet campaigns, Klingon Campaigns, and Unsanctioned Encounters. There are also charts to randomly generate types of government, polities, religions, and societies for the players to encounter. My favorite set of tools are the example extended tasks. These are arranged by Command, Conn, Security, Engineering, Science, and Medicine, and give some broad examples of extended tasks, many of which are broad enough that these extended tasks can be plugged into an ongoing game with few changes.
These include situations like negotiating a hostage situation, escaping a gravity well, participating in a trial, modifying a transporter beam, deciphering a new language, or running triage after a major disaster. There are more where that came from. One new aspect introduced to extended task rules involves guidelines for what the work track, magnitude, resistance, and difficulty should be when an extended task affects many life forms, from under 100 to all the lifeforms in a star system.
Final Thoughts I am all for supplementary books that dig deeper into the hows and whys of the design of the game. I love any game system that will spend time examining campaign styles and how the rules work in a manner to support those styles
I like the way these books are structured. I know there may be some people that don’t appreciate two separate products where maybe half the content is in common between them, but I understand the concept of this product line. I think a player that wants to take the time to invest in the game is going to get a lot out of the Player’s Guide. If a Gamemaster isn’t interested in addressing the new player facing rules in the Player’s Guide, they will still get a lot of functionality from the Gamemaster’s Guide, but I think Gamemasters may end up getting the most from owning both volumes.
I mentioned earlier that some of the explanations of Federation society was much clearer and better presented than I’ve seen in other material. I like that there are suggested episodes to get highlights of the genre, and even after running the game for a year, I think I understand some of the role abilities better after reading these books.
I know that books like this, that have tons of advice on campaign structures and deeper insights into the game rules and how they work, usually need to add some mechanical options to make it more tempting to buy. In this case, I think most of the mechanical options are solid additions to the game experience. They also don’t feel like they push the assumed “power level” of the character so much as address the wider roles that have been introduced.
Some of the material gets a little thin. I don’t think the example encounters are as strong as some of the mission summaries that have appeared in the mission briefs. I’m also not sure that the optional tactical rules add a whole lot to the game, as an example.
I would love to see more books that had so much discussion of safety and consent just naturally woven into the advice on how to plan campaigns and interact at the table. I also really appreciate some plain-spoken discussion on what a property has done right and where it could do better.
I am all for supplementary books that dig deeper into the hows and whys of the design of the game. I love any game system that will spend time examining campaign styles and how the rules work in a manner to support those styles. I don’t know if I can speak for everyone, but I would pay for this for other games systems as well.