#StarTrekAdventures RPG – What Do You See?

In the most recent Star Trek Adventures RPG living playtest email from Chris Birch at Modiphius he wrote, “Hope you like this new image!” I usually don’t have any real opinion of art in RPG products. Honestly, I rarely even think about it. But this time I did and I definitely have a reaction to it. But before I tell you what  I think about this picture a little of my Star Trek RPG history may help you understand where I am coming from.

My Beginning – FASA Star Trek

Courtesy Grognardia

My first Star Trek RPG was Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game (FASA, 1983). The art in this product consists mostly of screenshots taken from The Original Series. In later products FASA commissioned artists for original artwork and by that time Paramount had released several Star Trek movies which heavily influenced the look. For instance, the first sourcebook, The Klingons,


had a “new” Klingon on the cover. The art content fell broadly falls into two categories; people and ships. The people art was generally staid with little dynamic action; what I term “poser” art. Then, like now, I find the artwork very neutral – indeed almost too neutral – and not exciting or deeply inspirational.

Call to Action – Prime Directive

Courtesy RPGGeek

As I was a fan of the board game (and miniatures) of Star Fleet Battles, when Task Force Games brought out their RPG for that universe I scooped it up – with mild disappointment. But looking back on the artwork of Prime Directive, I see a few things that I like. For instance, the cover has action. Here I see what is likely a Federation Prime Team, with jackets on and phasers ready, in a temple-like structure being attacked (?) by an alien wielding a long spear with a bladed end. Take note that the team is facing the threat. Later versions on Prime Directive, especially the more recent d20 and d20 Modern variants, went to a style of art that I am not a fan of, but still harken back to core themes of the Trek universe. Like this cover from D20 Modern.


Here I see another Prime Team with each character acting in an iconic fashion; the blue-shirted scientist is pointing out something, the red-shirted security guy is getting ready to die, and the gold-shirted commander is leading. Not a lot of action, but each character captures (inspires) a role to play.

The Vanguard of My Imagination

Courtesy readstartrekbooks

There is another influence on my “expectation” of a Star Trek RPG, coming from the Star Trek Vanguard series of books. This series appeals to me because it is an Original Series-era setting but with a more confrontational and mysterious adventure. In terms of their book covers, they all consist of ship art and are full of action. I especially like Reap the Whirlwind which shows off the small USS Sagittarius daringly passing in front of a much larger (and dangerous?) Klingon ship. Now that is adventure inspiration!


A Call to New Star Trek Adventures

Modiphius Games

Which brings me back to the new Star Trek Adventures. Much like FASA Trek before, the art shown to date consists of ships and people. In this case the ships are trying to evoke a nostalgic reaction as they portray the iconic Enterprise across the TV series’ and movies. But it is the people art that catches my attention. To me, the people art shows how the writers and publishers of this game see their own game. Through those images they show me, the player (and customer), how they think the game should inspire me to play.

Courtesy Modiphius Games

The first people image I saw was a crew on the bridge of what appears to be a Original Series ship. I like  that it is Original Series and that it is full of action. But to me it is the wrong action. I see a Federation ship that has been boarded by Klingons with at least two injured (dead?) already. The Captain is desperately fighting another ship even as the Klingons board his ship and threaten his bridge. This doesn’t look like it will end well. Indeed, this image reminds me what I see as an overused trope in too many Star Trek movies; Abandon Ship! How many times has the Enterprise now been destroyed? I personally am tired of the trope and it infuriates me because I see it as lazy writing for it has been used too many times to do nothing more than generate emotions (nostalgic longing for the ship) move the adventure off the to a different location.

Courtesy Modiphius Games

The next image very different. It changes eras (to the Next Generation) which I am only “meh” to (except if we are talking about the alternate Federation found in Yesterday’s Enterprise). There is a lot of action going on here; from an exploding planet above to collapsing towers in the background to explosions. I also see a blue-shirted scientist studying a mystical hologram while two gold-shirted security guards are near a mysteriously glowing obelisk. A red-shirted officer is pointing, probably commanding the group since she is the only one wearing the red-shirt of command. On the far left we see a second blue-shirt scientist racing towards the group. That is a lot of action, and I see this as the moment the plan has gone sideways and the PCs are faced with a choice. It is the classic “Oh, Crap!” moment.

Image 3-17-17 at 8.34 AM
Courtesy Modiphius Games

This picture, the one that that started all my ramblings, appears to take place shortly after the previous “Oh, Crap!” moment. The scientist previously seen racing towards the group is now racing away. He is being followed by a somewhat acrobatic gold-shirt security man. Our intrepid red-shirt leader is also on the run with the blue-shirt scientist previously studying the hologram(?) now also sprinting away. In the right top, two more characters not seen in the previous image are visible; a red-shirt being rescued by a gold-shirt. There are also at four characters in the left background; two (?) gold, a blue and a red-shirt.

There’s at least ten people in this scene. I’m going to assume the blue-shirt hippie dude, the acrobatic blue-skin gold-shirt, red-shirt leader and blue-shirt hologram scientist are player characters. A fifth PC may be the other gold-shirt security in the previous picture. That means this scene has a PC party of five with five supporting NPCs. To use the words of the man in the White House, “That’s yuge!” I have to wonder if Star Trek Adventures is playable only by large groups. Is there something in the game mechanics that makes this necessary or desirable or is it optional?

In a bit that I find very important all the characters seem to be running away from the threat. This runs (no joke intended) counter to what I see as a core tenet of the Star Trek universe; characters always face the threat. I am not saying that a strategic withdrawal is never in order but to show me a scene where everyone is running away – it makes me think of Doctor Who where the characters are always running. If I want to play game with running, I’ll play Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space (11th Doctor) which I already own.

I can already hear some critics saying, “It’s your game. Play it like YOU want to play!” I heartily agree, and will do so, as long as the mechanics of the game allow me to!

“How do you like this image?”

Sorry, Chris. I don’t.

I don’t like it because although it looks Star Trek (the uniforms and alien species) it doesn’t look like the heroic Star Trek I expect – and want – to play.


RPG Thursday – Five Rounds Rapid (Doctor Who and UNIT)

Courtesy Cubicle 7

If you recognize the quote in the title then this RPG sourcebook is for you. Defending the Earth: The UNIT Sourcebook is a supplement for the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space (DWATS) roleplaying game. The book provides background for playing members of the United Nation Intelligence Taskforce – or is it the Unified Intelligence Taskforce?  Either way you can be a member of U.N.I.T!

For a sourcebook that basically lays out the how-to of a military-style campaign, I find it a bit humorous to see a text box titled “Guns are Still Bad!” DWATS tries to get away from guns; hence the order of actions (Talkers, Runners, Doers) that keep with the Doctor Who feeling where guns are often a last resort. Or at least they were in the older series; the more modern versions have way more gunplay than the past. But since Doctor Who is filled with TV tropes, there has to be a way to play “Five Rounds Rapid.” To explain, I will reference the TV Tropes website (I have purposely left all the crosslinks here to show just how awesome a resource the TV Tropes website can be for RPG adventure development):

When military personnel or the police encounter the Monster of the Week, they invariably attack it with small arms fire. Unfortunately, this never works. The monster is always Immune to Bullets. This gives our heroes an opportunity to save the day with some Applied Phlebotinum. 
An important part of this trope is that, in almost all cases, the good guys will only ever use small arms fire. Rockets, tanks, air support, artillery — all the things the military is known for — are hardly ever involved (unless the monster is a KaijuRobeast, or similarly gigantic). Not only are they more expensive for the producers to incorporate in to the film/show, in most cases, they might actually work, thereby stealing the thunder of the heroes of the story. 
If the monster in question is absurdly slow moving, expect the soldiers to remember what their mommy told them about how you Do Not Run with a Gun. If, after they discover their guns are useless, the good guys still won’t stop wasting ammo shooting the baddie, it’s I Will Fight Some More Forever.Very often in instances of this trope, a Technical Pacifist will urge the army/police/whomever to try and understand the monster before trying to kill it. Depending on the attitude of the series, they may either be considered a naive idiot or a paragon of virtue.If the army just wants to Nuke Em, the heroes’ job will be to find a solution with less collateral damage before it’s too late.

Named for a line in the Doctor Who episode “The Daemons,” where Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart orders a UNIT soldier to shoot the Monster of the Week five times, quickly.

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart: Jenkins?
Jenkins: Sir!
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart: Chap with wings, there. Five rounds rapid.

Defending the Earth has eight chapters. The first two are background and a history of UNIT. Chapter 3 is modern UNIT and has rules for making a base of operations. Chapter 4 is the chargen chapter with many example characters (named and generic), and Chapter 5 has new rules for firearms and mass combat. Chapter 6 is the MIB chapter –  or how to cover up all that alien action. Chapter 7 is gamemaster advice for a UNIT campaign and Chapter 8 is a pre-made adventure.

The book very good. The production values are very high. I like the page edges that make it lok like you are flipping through a government file folder complete with stapled, paperclipped or taped pictures and notes. Very evocative of the setting and effective at setting the mood. Not good for a home print job, but beautiful in the hardcover deadtree edition!

For those looking to add a bit of Torchwood to their campaign, this book will be a slight disappointment. Cubicle 7 obviously has a license limited to the Doctor Who TV series so where Torchwood has been mentioned in that series it can be tied in. An enterprising and resourceful GM will find this book useful, but if one is looking for pre-made Torchwood then this sourcebook is only inspirational.