Long before I ever picked up my first d20, my older brother received permission from my parents to let me stay up late on Sunday nights so I could watch syndicated episodes of the original Star Trek with him. Whenever a new Star Trek movie would come out, my brother and I would make a point of seeing it together in the theater.
Because of these family traditions, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Star Trek. Despite this, I never owned a Star Trek roleplaying game until I picked up the PDF of the latest version, published by Modiphius.
As I finish up the review process, the hardcover of this game is currently available, but I am still working from the PDF version of the rules. The PDF is 376 pages, including five pages of ads, two page spreads showing the Star Trek galaxy at the beginning and end of the book, a four-page index, three pages of play tester credits, a character sheet, and a ship sheet.
There are several half and quarter page pieces of painted artwork from both the original series era and the Next Generation era, and most of the chapters start with a full-page schematic spread of a ship, station, or piece of technology from Star Trek lore. The entire book is laid out to look like the L-CARS computer display from the Next Generation era of the show. That is impressive adherence to theme, and it is consistent throughout.
The introduction has standard “what is roleplaying” and “example of play” sections. This chapter mentions what dice are needed for the game (d20s and d6s), and that special dice are available to make conversion easier. The special characters on the dice mainly apply to the d6s, and the number of special characters and alternate values is much less than in a game like Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars RPGs, as an example.
Some terms used later are mentioned in passing in this introduction, for example having tokens for momentum, the threat pool, and determination.
Chapter 02–The United Federation of Planets
The next chapter is on the United Federation of Planets. It spans pages 11-43, and is broken up into an overview, early history, the twenty-third century, and recent federation history. Initially this information takes the form of a Starfleet briefing, and starts with general galactic geography, and a summary of the powers at play in various regions.
The chapter then moves into Federation history. The different time frames mentioned correspond to the suggested campaign time periods, namely the time periods around the time of the show Enterprise, the original series time frame, and the Next Generation time frame–although the most attention is paid to the Next Generation time frame in this book. None of the material in the book presents information beyond the events of the Generations movie, so the history ends just before the war with the Dominion begins.
There are a lot of in-universe sidebars that show the perspective of characters from different factions on the major events of the setting’s history. Some of these are fascinating from a fan’s point of view, but I’m not sure that most them are providing gameable information. This section really seems to play to the diehard fan, and I wish there was just a bit more tailoring to make this section more functional at the table.
That’s not to say it isn’t well written or entertaining, it just isn’t as functional or focused as it could be. This is also probably a good place to state my preference that a ruleset with a default setting present basic setting and genre information up front, detail the game and how to play it, and then dive into the specifics of the setting later in the book.
Chapter 03–Your Continuing Mission
Pages 53-66 detail topics like Starfleet’s Purpose, the Prime Directive, Starfleet Academy, Duties, and Away Teams. There are illustrations of the various rank pips used in the 24th century, department colors, and sidebars showing in-universe perspectives on these topics.
This is the section I would have led with. Without getting too deep into history and perspective, this lays out in 13 pages what Starfleet stands for, what a member of Starfleet does before they start exploring space, their duties on a ship, and what they do planet-side in an unknown situation. It’s a much more succinct primer for what a Star Trek game looks like in action, and is a lot easier to digest for a casual fan that just wants to play the game.
The operations chapter includes the subsections to introduce players to the game, basic operations, and advanced training. This covers things like rolling dice, determining success versus difficulty, and defining terms. The final section is an introduction to some of the situational rules in the game.
To determine success, you add your attribute to your discipline, which determines the number you will attempt to roll under. You roll 2d20, and for each die that rolls under this target number, you get a success. If you have a focus, and you also rolled under your discipline range, you get another success in addition to any others you generated. Difficulty ranges from 0 to 5 for tasks.
In any given scene, you might have traits, advantages, or complications that can move the difficulty up or down. Rolling a 20 on one of the dice allows the GM to introduce a new complication to the scene, or to add threat to the threat pool.
What’s a threat pool? It’s a pool to track one of the currencies in the game, those currencies being threat, determination, and momentum.
- Threat is spent in the same manner by the GM to boost their characters
- Momentum can be spent on extra dice or effects when rolling or resolving tasks
- Determination can only be spent when a directive or a value is in play, but it allows for an automatic 1 on a roll, or the ability to reroll a player’s entire dice pool
- Players can also add to the threat pool to get the same effect that they would get from momentum
Directives are things Starfleet wants you to accomplish, and will vary depending on the mission assigned, and values are things that make up what has shaped your character and drives them. In some ways, traits, advantages, complications, directives, and values are like aspects in Fate, except that there are more specific ways in which they allow for changes in difficulty, rerolls, or other benefits and penalties.
That’s a lot of simple individual concepts, tied together in a moderately complex web, and a lot of that information comes at you in close proximity. None of this has yet introduced personal combat, starship combat, or discoveries. The advanced rules section does touch on challenges (multi-part skill challenges that may need to be done in a certain order) or extended tasks (which have two separate tracks to measure success). Extended tasks are noted as being optional, but there are several rules later in the book that relate to them, so optional is a bit of a fuzzy term in this case.
While each step of resolution is simple, it might feel like a bit much to take in all at once. One thing that I like about this resolution mechanic is that you can attempt a difficulty 0 task to gain momentum. You can’t fail, but you can introduce a complication. That immediately communicates to me that you can have those holodeck scenes or musical recitals, and those scenes can actually affect momentum, if the player is willing to risk a potential complication that might be generated.
Chapter 05–Reporting for Duty
This is primarily the character creation portion of the book, and introduces both lifepath creation, and creation in play. There is also a section on creating supporting characters, talents (special abilities that modify the existing rules), and character development.
Lifepath creation walks the players through each aspect of the character’s history, from where they grew up, their education, and early career. There are special talents that can be taken to reflect an inexperienced new character (Wesley) or a character with a long career behind them at the start of the campaign (Picard).
The range of ability between characters isn’t too broad, so everyone can contribute. At various points in the Lifepath creation, players are prompted to create a value based on that part of their lives, but values are very broadly defined.
Creation in play gives a set of numbers to use for attributes and disciplines, and characters can add values as they emerge in-game. I can see advantages to both ways of creating characters, but the GM is encouraged to use the same method for all players. One value should be reserved for a connection to another player or the ship they serve on.
Species is addressed in this section, and gives several attribute adjustments for Vulcans, Denobulans, Trill, Bajorans, Betazed, Andorians, and Tellarites. There are also species-specific talents that a character can take to show different aspects of a given culture, such as a Vulcan that has learned to mind-meld, or a Trill that has a joined symbiont.
There are a set number of “named” NPCs that the ship will support, and they have their own stats, which are just a bit less robust than player characters. Whenever a player’s character wouldn’t logically participate in a scene (like, if you are the captain, and your first officer won’t let you go on an away team mission), that player can play the “named” supporting character. This character belongs to the whole group, not just the player using them in that scene. They are created in a fashion not entirely dissimilar to the “Creation in Play” option, but with fewer choices to make.
Character advancement reminds me a bit of Fate. You have milestones, spotlight milestones, and arc milestones, that allow for different levels of changes in a character.
- Normal milestones allow characters to do things like changing a value or adjusting numbers between disciplines, but they can also “bank” that milestone to cash in for Determination in a later mission
- Spotlight milestones allow a character to swap their attribute scores around, switch out talents, or advance the ship or a supporting character’s stats
- Arc milestones allow for actual increases to attributes or disciplines, or new focuses or talents
Normal milestones involve just being active in a game session, while spotlight milestones are awarded to characters that “starred” in an episode, which can be voted on by the players. There is a minimum number of spotlight milestones that the group needs to have achieved before an arc milestone is awarded. All of this is perfectly functional, but as with a lot of elements of Star Trek Adventures, the simple elements can be a little complicated to follow, because there are so many options under each type of advancement. I do enjoy that advancements can be “donated” to supporting characters or to the ship.
Finally, the chapter introduces reputation, which is a means of tracking how well regarded a character is, and how successful their career is perceived to be by others. Reputation checks are resolved like other tasks, but the roll involves the reputation score, a privilege score (determined by rank), and a responsibility score (determined by rank as well).
Characters with higher rank are more likely to get more successes, but when they fail, they are more likely to accrue extra failures, or to potentially have a failure range that extends into their success range, robbing from some of their normal successes.
I understand the inclusion of the idea. The original series started with a court martial, Kirk has been in trouble a number of times, and a system like this is almost tailor made for fleshing out a character like Tom Paris. Despite this, it feels clunky, in part because it is “almost” like the rest of the system, but not quite. You may not be playing with this aspect of the system much, unless you have a lot of demotions or court martials in your game, or you really want to heap on the extra praise for extraordinary mission success.
Chapter 06–The Final Frontier
This section further elaborates on the types of things a crew will encounter during their missions. The sections in this chapter are Strange New Worlds, Alien Encounters, Stellar Phenomena, and Scientific Discoveries and Developments.
Strange New Worlds touches a bit on the kind of damage you can expect from hostile environments (and we haven’t gotten to the part of the book that explains harm to characters yet), but that section, Alien Encounters, and Stellar Phenomenon are really overviews of what a crew might encounter. This section really feels like it could have been rolled into the Gamemaster section and connected to the mechanics that appear there.
Scientific discoveries and developments are examples of extended tasks that the PCs might engage with to come up with specific outcomes. While noted as “optional” in the Operations chapter, this is only one of multiple times extended tasks get revisited.
I like how they explain that characters might create their own solution to a scientific or engineering problem, and the book lays out a specific procedure for how to resolve these situations. However, for everything they assign a rigid structure to, they leave a lot of nebulous area in the rules. This could be a bug, or a feature, depending on how much the players and the GM jump on narrative elements of the game, but I can’t help but feel just a wee bit more explanation could make these rules clearer.
This chapter is broken down into an introduction, social conflict, and combat. The introduction spells out the order in which structured scenes will unfold, with the logical initiator taking the first turn, and handing off between the PCs and GM characters until everyone has taken a turn.
Social conflict can utilize any of the previous rules for getting something done, but might have an opposed NPC taking part as well. In that case, the character with the most amount of successes “wins” the exchange, and counts the number of remaining success. This can come up when negotiating with a new species while Ferengi are trying to cut a deal with them, for example. Social conflict can also utilize advantages called social tools, which make it easier to score successes, and the process can even involve characters rolling specifically to create certain scene traits before attempting to “win” a negotiation.
Combat involves punching, kicking, shooting phasers at, or firing makeshift mortars at opponents. In Star Trek tradition, if you make a lethal attack attempt, you add to the threat pool. Characters have a set amount of stress.
- Being reduced to 0 stress, or taking too much stress at one time, causes a wound
- A character can spend momentum and determination to mitigate wounds, but if you have one that hasn’t been dealt with in some fashion, the character is incapacitated for the rest of the scene
- If you took lethal damage, you die if not treated before the end of the scene
This is a little reminiscent of the Fantasy Flight Star Wars games, where taking wounds doesn’t kill you, but taking critical hits can kill you. The GM is encouraged to not end a scene before other characters have a chance to treat a wounded character.
Characters get a minor action and a major action each round, and can get extra minor actions (such as moving or aiming) by spending momentum for additional minor actions. Determination can be spent to gain an additional major action. There is a chart showing other uses of momentum in combat, and if those expenditures can be made more than once, it is noted on the chart. Ranges are abstracted into areas rather than providing specific measurements, in a sort of hybrid of Fate zones and Fantasy Flight Star Wars range bands.
Chapter 08–Technology and equipment
Most of the technology amounts to narrative permission to do something. You can talk to people that are on the ship or the other side of the planet if you have a communicator. You can scan for things you can’t see, hear, smell, or touch directly if you have a tricorder.
There are some very basic rules for how many items a character can carry, and what they are assumed to have issued to them based on their rank and position on the ship. “Buying” extra gear that isn’t assigned to you isn’t done with any form of currency. If you look for something in an action scene, it may cost momentum or threat to find it.
Personnel that aren’t considered secondary characters are treated as equipment. They can provide minor boosts, like a tool that a character can requisition. Sometimes they will be wearing red shirts.
This may be a shock if you’ve been reading the rest of the review, but there are some really detailed, and yet somehow loose narrative guides for adding traits to existing technology. This can be done to add permissions in the story, beyond what is already assumed, or can be used to overcome scene traits that have developed during play.
While most of the game does a good job of giving as much detail to non-combat sections of the game as it does to combat sections, weapons do get a lot more specific details compared to other equipment. There are charts and lists of traits that various weapons have. Some weapons default to lethal damage, and are harder to use in a non-lethal fashion. Some weapons may knock someone out even if they haven’t done enough stress to normally incapacitate a character, and some weapons do extra damage when an effect is rolled.
The effect dice have been mentioned in the rules previously, in the extended tasks and combat section, but any place in the rules where more granularity is called for, the d6s get rolled. When tracking points (like the amount of stress done), 1s and 2s count as 1s and 2s, 3s and 4s don’t count for anything, and 5s and 6s count for 1 point and one effect. In the case of weapons, those effects rolled can be exchanged for special weapon abilities.
Chapter 09–A Home in the Stars
This section goes over Starships, Starbases, Colonies, Starship Rules, Starship Combat, Starfleet Ships of the Line, and Alien Vessels. The first three sections go into explaining how such things function in the setting, while the last three sections include more specific game mechanics.
Example Starships from various eras are detailed. Specific years that ships were put into service are called out, because older ships may still be in service. After several years in service, overhauls can add new items to that ship’s base stats. This means some ships from the 23rd Century could still be in service in the Next Generation era, but they are likely to have a few extras added to them as time and technology advance.
Starship combat seems to be the most involved subsystem of resolutions in the game.
- Ships have resistance (which reduces damage) equal to their scale
- Their shields function as stress does for a character in personal scale combat
- Damage that gets past resistance and shields directly damages various ship systems
- Depending on how damaged that system is, a ship loses some of its functions, certain starship actions may not be taken, or the ship may be on its way to a warp core breach
There is a list of what each station on the ship can do in combat, and there are details for repairing a system that has been damaged in combat, which can optionally use the extended task rules. NPC ships don’t need fully fleshed out crews, and they get a number of actions equal to their scale. Instead of tracking individual damage for NPC ships, the amount of punishment they take is determined by their scale, and instead of the specifics of system ramifications, they can lose one of their turns when they take serious damage, until they become incapacitated.
Several starships are given base stats in the section, with examples from the original series era and the Next Generation era, as well as a few Klingon, Romulan, Ferengi, Borg, Cardassian, and Jem’Hadar ships. There are stats for shuttle craft as well, but despite mentioning the Enterprise era a few times in the book, there isn’t really any support for it here.
Different ships have different stations, which allow for different actions in combat. Weapons have specific qualities for how they are grouped and do damage. Each individual resolution still follows the general rules, but Starship combat seems to be where more specific rules interact with each other than any other section of the game.
It’s a running theme with the more complicated parts of this game that the rules feel very Star Trek in what they highlight, but also feel very exacting. I would really want to make sure I either created some cheat sheets or considered the handouts that come with the GM screen before running Starship combat.
The gamemaster advice section has areas that highlight running and creating missions, gamemaster facing information on character creation, managing the rules, the differences between player facing rules and how those rules work for NPCs, experience and promotion, encounter building, and creating memorable missions, NPCs, and locations.
One big thing I would point out about this section is that a few of these topics are touched on in other sections of the book, and many of them would have made more sense to have been wholly in this section. In some instances, it feels like this chapter is calling back to previously touched on topics, which didn’t need to be touched on earlier. It feels a bit disjointed.
For players that might not be as comfortable with narrative rules elements like aspects from Fate, or Hard Moves from Apocalypse World derived games, there isn’t as much advice for using the more open-ended aspects of the game as there might have been.
Chapter 11–Aliens and Adversaries
This section contains some of the more commonly encountered “archetypes” of humanoids, aliens, and other creatures that a GM can adapt for their own use in missions.
NPCs are categorized as minor, notable, and major NPCs. This category determines which special rules that NPC can utilize. Minor NPCs can avoid injuries, for example, and Major NPCs have Values that let them spend threat in special ways to mimic how PCs can use of determination.
There are specific traits that different NPCs might have, such as invulnerable (the creature might be incapacitated for a time, but never takes injuries), or menacing (as soon as the creature shows up, the GM adds threat to the threat pool).
Some adversaries have special rules, like the circumstances that cause the Borg to adapt to weapons, or a Klingon’s additional resistance to non-lethal attacks. There are sidebars about stat adjustments for different species introduced in this section (so you could make a Klingon or Ferengi officer if you wanted to, but there are no species related talents in this section).
While most of the things detailed in this section are active beings, some powerful alien artifacts from various media are detailed here, such as the Guardian of Forever, or the Planet Killer doomsday ship from the original series.
The final section details animals or creatures that are either non-sentient, or don’t have a consciousness that can be measured by those that have interacted with the creature. Targs, Shelats, and Mugato make an appearance here, as does the Crystaline Entity.
Chapter 12–The Rescue at Xerxes
Note: I played in this adventure during the playtest for Star Trek Adventures, and this adventure serves as the first adventure for the organized play campaign created by Modiphius to support the game.
This adventure serves as an incremental introduction to Star Trek Adventures. Various aspects of the rules, such as Challenges and Extended Tasks, appear in the adventure, but they are introduced in a very simple, isolated way, making them more accessible.
The adventure has enough decision points to allow characters to challenge their values or debate over the right course of action. My medical officer was in favor of not risking lives in the present, just to potentially help people in the future, and that got to play out for a bit at the table.
Shore Leave on Risa
The book looks amazing, and that appearance does a tremendous job of keeping you in the mindset of the various series. The procedures for various tasks, such as starship combat, or using social tools, feels very much in keeping with the source material. The book spends a lot of time on resolving scientific and social situations, and avoids the criticism that falls on a lot of RPGs that want to promote non-combat scenes, namely, that there isn’t as much support for non-combat resolutions. The way the individual rules components work is quite logical.
Vacationing on Seti Alpha V
The in-setting information presented up front may be fun for a die-hard fan, but it may not be what a more casual fan wants to wade through when learning the game. The Shackleton Expanse is mentioned briefly and would have been great to detail in the book, making the setting more usable out of the gate, but the details of that sub-setting are reserved for the organized play campaign.
The resolution mechanics for various situations is very detailed, but the way that some of the narrative elements work within those mechanics is left vague. Information that seems as if it should be grouped together, isn’t.
Qualified Recommendation–A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.
The game has a lot of information that a die-hard Star Trek fan will likely love. It is definitely a narrative based game, but it is not a rules-light game. Because of the balance between more open ended narrative elements, and more rigid, procedural resolutions, it may be more difficult to get a good feel for the game.
The game does a good job of emulating the source material. Casual fans should probably keep in mind how much of the book is dedicated to a deeper look at the setting. Fans that may not be comfortable with broad narrative elements, or fans that are comfortable with broad narrative elements, but aren’t as enamored of exacting resolutions, may want to know what is in store for them before diving into the game. Given how well the game evokes the feeling of Star Trek, I imagine it will still work very well for a wide number of fans.
Let me know what you thought of the game and this review. If you have ideas for future reviews, I’ll be happy to see those as well! Looking forward to hearing from you.