#RPGThursday #StarTrek Adventures Alpha Playtest Initial Thoughts

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Courtesy Modiphius Entertainment

I am participating in Modiphius Entertainment’s Star Trek Adventures (STA) living playtest campaign. Over the Thanksgiving Weekend they released the first playtest package, Alpha v1.2. According to their email:

Attention Crew! You have a short journey ahead of you to Narendra Station where you’ll be assigned to one of several ships…
This email includes a link to download the very first Alpha test of the Star Trek Adventures Living Playtest. For this adventure player characters are newly deployed cadets heading toward Narendra Station on a shuttle for assignment to their various vessels. During the trip, they receive a distress call from a science outpost on a planet that’s been struck by a highly irradiated ion storm. The shuttle crash-landed on the surface and the crew was attacked by primitive hostile humanoid creatures wielding clubs and rocks.
This first adventure is set in the 24th century (TNG era) and is for all crews regardless of which ship they picked. You are assigned cadets as characters for this very first mission but in subsequent missions you will be playing aboard your chosen ship with a wide choice of bridge crew. This first mission is to introduce you to basics of the rules however the results will affect the on-going Living Campaign plot. Additional rules will be introduced with each new playtest pack.
The Rescue at Xerxes 4 (by Shawn Merwin) is the first adventure in the Star Trek Adventures Living Campaign playtest series. This adventure is meant to be played by a Gamemaster (GM) and 3-7 player characters, using the pre-generated characters provided.
We will be asking for feedback in December so get testing as soon as you can!

The download package includes Alpha Rules v1.2, 12 playtest pregens, Playtest Summary sheets, the above referenced adventure, and a short background document.

I was a bit disappointed with the Alpha package because I specifically signed up for a Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS)-era playtest campaign. After reading the Modiphius Forums I understand the intent to use a single Alpha playtest package to introduce the basic rules before getting into era-specific adventures, but it still was disappointing to not start off like I expected.

Exploring the (Warp) Core

STA uses Modiphius’ 2d20 system. This is a core mechanic I am not previously familiar with so I am really entering the playtest as a newbie to the system. To put my Bottom Line Up Front, I feel the 2d20 mechanic generates limited narrative opportunities at the cost of somewhat cumbersome mechanical implementation.

Starting off, the Alpha Playtest document is hard to read. I know this is the Alpha version and not supposed to be fancy, but the layout/format is not friendly to a flow of reading that helps to understand the game. To get a better understanding I got the free Modiphius Robert E. Howards CONAN Roleplaying Game Quickstart from DriveThruRPG which I found explained the 2d20 system better. The Conan Quickstart and STA Alpha are not identical, but the game concepts are similar enough to assist in understanding the system.

Mechanically, in the 2d20 System, each Task is given a difficulty rating from 0 to 5. The player adds the character’s Attribute and Skill to get a Target Number. When rolling 2d20, each roll under the TN is a success. The number of successes needed is the difficulty. Skills can also have a Focus, and rolling either a 1 or the Focus or less equals two successes. Damage is expressed in terms of Challenge Dice [CD] which is a d6 read with 1 and 2 equalling that number of successes, 3 and 4 meaning nothing, and 5 and 6 meaning a single success and an Effect.

Narratively, the players have Momentum (extra successes beyond the difficulty level) and Determination to spend. The GM has Threat. To mechanically or narratively effect a Task or the outcome the PCs use Momentum, Determination, Teamwork, or pay Threat. The GM has NPC Momentum, Teamwork, and Threat. Values can also be used by the players or challenged by the GM to influence the action.

Send in the Redshirts

All this sounds straight-forward; that is, until I actually tried playing it out. To resolve a task the player may be rolling up to 5d20 (2d20 baseline plus up to 3 additional when Improving the Odds) to determine success with options to narratively/mechanically intervene both before an after the Task Roll. Then, a pool of Challenge Dice are rolled (often to determine damage).

One of the Playtest Pregens – an obvious combat build – has a Control Attribute of 10 and a Security Skill of 4 with a Ranged Attack Focus of 4. Shooting a Type 2 Phaser, the basic attack  for this character has a Target Number of 14, meaning each d20 that rolls 14 or under (70% chance) scores a success, and any one rolling 4 or under (20% chance) scores  two successes. Remember too that a natural 20 (5% chance) is a Complication (and even that can grow up to a 25% chance given the right conditions). Assuming success against the basic Difficulty 2, this character now rolls 7x Challenge Dice (Basic Weapon Factor of 3 plus Security Skill 4) to determine damage. Any attack scoring five or more in a single attack (or when the Stress Track is depleted ) can cause an Injury. Characters look to have from 8 to 14 Stress. Note also that any successes beyond the basic needed (in the case of here beyond the 2 Difficulty) generates Momentum, and each character has between 3-4 Determination at the start of a session.

My gut reaction is that there are too many “fiddly bits” going on here. When reading the d20 one has to look for three factors; success (TN or less), Complication (natural 20), and extra success (natural 1 or Focus or less). The Challenge Dice also require careful reading too (1 = 1x success, 2= 2x success, 3 and 4 are nothing, 5 and 6 = 1x success plus Effect). I feel that assembling the dice pool will slow the game down.

GM: It’s getting dark, but as you look across the clearing, you see a team of Jem Hadar troopers leading the prisoners away. A reminder; the Momentum Pool is now 2.

PC: Might lose them the dark; gotta act now. [Head nods from other players] I shoot the squad leader.

GM: You both are in the same Zone, so you can make the shot, but given the poor lighting I think it will add to the Difficulty. Make it a Difficulty 3 shot. What is your TN [Control Attribute + Security Skill] and do you have a relevant Focus?

PC (Consulting Character Sheet): Uh…I have Control 8 plus Security 2 for a TN of 10 and I have no Focus I can use. That’s not too good. [Pause for thinking] I need to improve my odds, so I am going to pay one Determination [player puts a d20 on the table with the 1 face-up] which gives me two successes, and I will roll my other 2d20.

GM (Interrupting) Is your attack Stun or Kill? How many Charges are you using?

PC: Uh….They’re Jem Hadar but my Value “Mr. Nice Guy” means I use Stun. Do I get anything for that?

GM: You get one point of Momentum.

PC: OK…I think I am going to only use two charges for the Vicious setting because I really want to take this guy down quickly. [Rolling – 18 and 7]. Whew! The 18 is nothing but the 7 gives me a third success! I don’t get any more Momentum and I don’t think I will use my one earned now to improve the quality or scope of the success.

GM: OK…how many Challenge Dice do you roll?

PC (Again consulting Character Sheet) I’m carrying a Type 2 Phaser so that’s 3[CD] plus my Security of 2 for a total of 5[CD]. [Rolling – 1, 2, 3, 6, 6]. Uh…that’s 5 damage plus two Effect. The Vicious effect means I add 2 damage for a total of 7. That should be enough for an Injury…Stun means a knockout, right?

GM: Given that you surprised the Jem Hadar squad they don’t evade your attack nor will the Squad Leader resist the injury. They also aren’t wearing armor so there is no Soak. The 7 damage is enough to injure the squad leader…stunned he falls over unconscious. There still is that other guard though…and he turns your direction and raises his rifle….

PC: Well, I’ve taken my Major Action for this round. I am going to add my earned Momentum to the pool making it three, but [looking at fellow players] I think we need to spend 2 Momentum here to keep the initiative and take down the other guard, right guys?

Need more narrative, Scotty!

Having played Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars RPGs with their unique dice mechanic and Destiny Points, or even Savage Worlds or Cortex Plus with Bennies and Plot Points, this reading of multiple dice and managing a game economy should not be a problem. But it bothers me. I think the difference is that those other systems use a single dice throw to determine success and impact. The Modiphius 2d20 system uses at least two throws for each attack. A small difference to be sure. There are also three game economies to be managed (Momentum – both individual and group, Determination by individual, and Threat). I am also not convinced that Momentum or Determination and Threat are powerful enough narratively; indeed they really come across as more mechanical in effect than narrative in nature.

Another part that bothers me is terminology. In parts the system has a very Star Trek vibe to it (like Skills named after departments) but in other places the language seems forced (like the “Vicious” setting for a phaser – never thought of a phaser as vicious). The ned result is that  I’m just not getting that Star Trek adventure feeling yet.

Maybe after the running through the first adventure I will have a different perspective.

#RPGThursday Retrospective – Prime Directive 1st Edition (Task Force Games, 1993)

In terms of my RPG history, I now refer to the the time between Traveller:2000 and Prime Directive (1st Ed) as my “RPG Interregnum.” Although there were seven years between he publishing dates of the two products, the reality is that I didn’t buy PD1 earlier than the 1994-5 timeframe (and possibly even later) after an interval of at least eight years. PD1, along with Traveller 4 (T4) and The Babylon Project were to be my only 1990’s RPG purchases.

Prime Directive (1st Edition) was the first official RPG for the Star Fleet Universe (SFU). The SFU is not “true Star Trek” and instead focused around Task Force Games’ flagship Star Fleet Battles. This meant the SFU was much more militaristic than the “official” Star Trek setting. PD1 reflected this difference, but at the same time tried to bridge it with, IMHO, only limited success.

PD1 starts off with a short story. For those familiar with the SFB support zine, Captain’s Log, the style is familiar. The story itself is a hostage rescue mission and, honestly, is a bit cheesy in dialogue.

The rules start off with an introduction to the SFU, important background material and probably very confusing to mainstream Trekkies that came in looking for Kirk and the Enterprise.

Character generation is an 11-step process that starts out with selection of race and recording initial characteristics. Each character is then assigned to a Service Division and gains associated “basic” skills. To this point, I was comfortable because chargen was very Classic Traveller (CT)-like. The next steps reflect the military aspects of the setting, with Seniority and Professional/Heroic Reputation being determined. I found it interesting that the designers worried about the impact of Seniority and ranks, to the point they added a sidebar note:

A VERY IMPORTANT NOTE TO PLAYERS

Prime Directive is a Role-Playing Game set in a military situation, and as such, the concepts of rank and chain of command are important to establish the “feel” of the Star Fleet setting. However, something to remember is that YOU ARE PLAYING THIS GAME TO HAVE FUN! After a hard week of class or at the office, the last thing that someone wants during a game session is to be ordered around by his “Superior Officer”. The point of rank and chain of command is to structure the relationships and responsibilities of characters, not to give one player the right to control every  situation, responding to every argument with the stock phrase, “Hey, who has the highest Seniority Rating, anyway?” No player character will every bring another player character up on charges of insubordination. (Of course, mouthing off to superior Non-Player Characters, like the Briefing Officer or the Ship’s Captain, is another matter entirely.) – p. 25

At this point, the PCs are very “stock” and not very different from one another save for some Service Division skills. The players can now breathe life into their characters by purchasing skills. Once complete, the final step is to derive characteristics. To assist in understanding, a comprehensive example is provided.

The next section is the core mechanic discussion. A basic Skill Task in PD1 requires the player to roll a number of d6 equal to the average of their Skill + Characteristic. A natural roll of 6 is rerolled with the reroll -1 ADDED to the original 6. (I think this was the first time I ran into the concept of “exploding” die rolls.) Each die roll is compared to a series of “Tricodes” for the skill attempted, which in turn give a Success Level (SL). To assist in understanding, the following (not so short) example is given:

For example: Peltier is tracking renegades across a wilderness hillside. His tricode for Tracking is, after all mods, a 3/5/9. Peltier rolls 5 dice and gets the following numbers: 1, 2, 3, 6, 11. [My note – that last roll is only possible with an exploding die] His roll of 1 and 2 do not meet the tricode for Minimal Success, and if they had been the best he rolled, then he would of Botched the task, probably with disastrous results. His roll of 3, however, DOES meet the tricode for Minimal Success, so he escapes the horrors of Botching. If this had been the best Peltier had rolled, then he would know that the renegades HAD been by that spot, but he would have no idea how long ago it had been nor any idea of the direction in which they had continued. But, his roll of 6 meets the tricode for Moderate Success, so he finds out even more. If these had been his best rolls, then Peltier would know that the renegades passed this way within the last hour and they were headed up the slope. However, Peltier is an expert tracker, and so it comes as no surprise that even in these difficult circumstances he manages to completely succeed in this task. His roll of 11 is well over the tricode of 9 that he needs for Complete success. With this level, he also learns that only TWO of the renegades passed by here, and that one of them is slightly wounded. Knowing this, he can follow the pair up the hill or back to track to (hopefully) find the spot where the group broke up and start to trail the others. – p. 39

The next section, Actions and Initiative, goes hand-in-hand with the core mechanic. PD1 asks players to determine a Level of Action, which is a test that results in a SL determining WHAT the player can do. Once the LoA has been determined, player determine Initiative, or the WHEN of the action. Finally, players and the GM must figure out the “Time in Combat” (TIC) or “Time out of Combat” (TOC) which tells them HOW LONG the action took.

At this point, PD1 tries to be more dramatic. With a COMPLETE success for the Level of Action test, the players can make a Complex Action.  As defined by the rules, a complex action allows for more dramatic choices:

A Complex Action is just that, a complex series of actions that can be considered as several linked simple actions. A Complex Action is anything that can reasonably be summed up in a simple phrase like: “I run up to the Klingon and kick the disruptor out of his hand.” or “I activate the (already armed and sequenced) self-destruct module and run to the transporter pad.” or “I grab a new power pack from the satchel and slap it into my phaser as I turn to face the buckling door.” The pro forma limit is ‘I do something’ and then ‘I do something else’ (usually while someone else stands by, astonished that you could get away with all that before they could react). These two actions do NOT necessarily have to be directly related, as do those in Simple action, although they could be if you wished.

A Complex Action lets you grab the Ambassador’s daughter and swing from the chandelier, sweeping just beyond the reach of the Orion Pirates below, to the safety of the balcony beyond or make two attacks on an opponent before he can react at all! All in all, Complex Actions let you get away with murder, completely baffling those poor slobs who are slogging along at Minimal or Simple LoAs. – p. 42

Actions and Initiative ends with another important sidebar:

IMPORTANT NOTE TO BOTH THE GM AND PLAYERS: The spirit of the Action and Initiative rules in Prime Directive are not meant to be a meticulously detailed series of minutely considered “war game moves”. Rather, the designers hope that the players (and the GMs) will paint their actions with a wider, more colorful brush. Instead of thinking: “Hmm, could an Olympic athlete REALLY do all that in four seconds,” you should think “Have my favorite SF/Adventure movies ever had someone doing this?” – p. 45

Skill are very combat-focused, as expected in this very militaristic setting.  I find it interesting that Leadership skills include what is these days are commonly called “social combat” and that Discipline-related skills is where the psionic skills are collected. Overall, there are 11 Skill areas with 85 skills!

The combat section is complicated; so complicated that it actually has two examples and an alternative combat system over 27 pages. Part of the combat section bloat is that it also includes weapons (commonly found in other RPGs in an equipment or ironmongry section). At its heart, combat is broken down into four steps: Time, Position, Attack, and Defend. The first combat example, 5.2, is presented in a highly narrative manner with little reference to actual die rolls. The second example, 5.27, is presented as an Advanced Combat Example which replays the first example but with all the die rolls included. Finally, and most interesting to me, is rule 5.28 SIMPLIFIED COMBAT SYSTEM:

The combat system in Prime Directive is often both intense and complex. There are a great many things which the players can do, and the rules must account for all of these. Veteran players of RPGs will easily adapt to the system, while new players may find it hard to deal with all at once.

To make the entire game more accessible to new players, we have included a simplified system for combat. The entire rulebook is written for the more intense Veterans Combat System (a term you will not find anywhere in the rules except on this page). The ‘Simplified Combat System’ or SCS is contained entirely on this one page of the rules, and the designers have chosen not to clutter the game with hundreds of references (one in virtually every rule) defining how that rule would work if the Simplified Combat System was in force. It will be obvious, in each case, what to do. – p 93

Buried within the SCS is one of the few narrative play elements found in this entire rules set. Simplification #6: HEROIC DAMAGE SURVIVAL, allows the players to spend one point of Heroic Reputation to reduce the damage in a Lethal attack to one point less than it takes to kill them outright. So intense is combat that Healing gets it own section.

Advancement and Awards is another interesting section, where players are evaluated and reviewed. Buried within this section is one other narrative element which allows character to use a Heroic Reputation feat to convert an ordinary result into an Extraordinary Success. I also like the section on Wheedling for points.

The rules finish off with an Equipment sections more racial backgrounds and NPCs, and two adventures. There is also a SFB scenario that (amazingly) can be linked to an RPG session:

(SD1.47) LINK TO PRIME DIRECTIVE: Do not use the SFB boarding party system. Simply transport the Prime Team (SD1.49) to the derelict using transporters and conduct actions inside the derelict as per the Prime Directive game system. Each “action” in Prime Directive consumes two impulse(s) in Star Fleet Battles. This scenario cannot be played without Prime Directive. – p. 172

For the even more masochistic, a variant rule was given:

(SD1.62) Have the Prime Team play their battle in a separate room, with the Game Master advising each group when it can proceed to the next action/impulse (keeping the two groups at the same time-point, with the Prime Team moving first in each case). Because of the jamming, there is no communication between the two groups except notification that the “beacon” has been activated. – p. 172

What I Thought of It Then – Given I was a huge SFB player, I really wanted to play Prime Directive in the SFU. However, I remember finding character generation to be a real chore, and the limited scope of play (the military setting with characters in Star Fleet) seemed to reduce adventure options. Most importantly, I couldn’t wrap my head around the whole task resolution system of nD6 versus a Tricode. Finally, I totally missed the Simplified Combat System and instead tried to make sense out of the Veteran Combat System, even as I struggled with the core mechanic or how Levels of Action, Initiative, and Time interacted.

What I Think of It Now – These days I pay a lot more attention to the core mechanic and actually study them. Today I see, and understand, the PD1 task resolution system. I can see how the designers tried to make die rolls determine a Success Level. I now understand how Level of Action is the WHAT can be done, Initiative is WHEN the action happens, and Time is HOW LONG the action takes. With this understanding, I can better grasp the Veterans Combat System. At the same time, I now see (and prefer) the alternative Simplified Combat System.

That said, the Tricode approach is a hot mess. Each skill has a unique tricode demanding it be noted or easily referenced. This in turn demands a detailed character sheet clearly noting Characteristics and Skills and nD6 to roll and Tricodes. The GM needs easy access to the many Tricodes and numerous modifiers and…well, I think you get the point.

These days I also prefer to have more narrative elements in my RPG, and in that way PD1 is weak. While Level of Action determines WHAT can be done the player influence is subject to the whims of  die rolls (i.e. less player agency). Indeed, there are only a few areas where player agency is given any attention, and those usually revolve around a very limited use of the Heroic Reputation points. Heroic Reputation could of been PD1‘s game currency, but the designers don’t take the concept to the natural limits of that thought.

From an RPG-perspective, I give Prime Directive (1st Edition) Totally Subjective Game Rating (Scale of 1-5):

  • System Crunch = 4 (Crunchy, especially for combat)
  • Simulationist = 3 (Wants to be dramatic, but rules don’t often support)
  • Narrativism = 2 (Few rules support narrative play)

Prime Directive (1st Edition), Copyright (c) 1993, Task Force Games.

#RPGThursday Retrospective – Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game 1st Edition (FASA, 1983)

At the risk of making many enemies, I admit that I am not really a Star Trek fan. No, it’s not that I am a rabid Star Wars fan (especially in light of what Disney/JJ Abrams is doing to the franchise these days) but in my early wargaming days my view of Star Trek was shaped by a little wargame called Star Fleet Battles (SFB)

SFB takes place in what has eventually come to be known as the Star Fleet Universe. As noted on Wikipedia:

The Star Fleet Universe (SFU) is the variant of the Star Trek fictional universe detailed in the series of Star Fleet Battles games (board-, card-, and role-playing) from Amarillo Design Bureau Inc. and used as reference for the Starfleet Command series of computer games. Its source material stems from the original and animated series of Star Trek as well as from other “fan” sources, such as The Star Trek Star Fleet Technical Manual. In addition, it also includes a substantial number of new races and technologies, such as the Hydran Kingdom, the Inter-Stellar Concordium and the Andromedans.

Star Fleet Battles was based on the Star Trek universe as of 1979 and includes elements of Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Animated Series. Federation elements were heavily based on concepts from The Star Trek Star Fleet Technical Manual. Unlike the mainstream Star Trek universe, Star Fleet Battles seems to consider some, but not all of The Animated Series, as being a canon material source, thus leading to the inclusion of aliens such as the Kzinti, which had originally been created for a non-Trek story series.

Since the first publication of the game, Star Fleet Battles and the Star Trek universe have diverged considerably as the authors of the game and those of the films and television series have basically ignored each other. The resulting divergent world of Star Fleet Battles is known as the “Star Fleet Universe”. – Star Fleet Universe Wikipedia

The SFU did not get a RPG until the publication of Prime Directive in 1993. But in 1982, FASA published Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game. The game release was at an interesting time in the history of Star Trek, coming a few years after the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the same year as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Although FASA has a license from Paramount, it appears that the studio pretty much left FASA on their own. As a result, the game designers were able to pick-and-choose what “canon” they wanted:

It was left to us to determine what was the “essential” STAR TREK material, leaving it to gamemasters and players to add whichever specialized material they preferred on their own. – Core Rulebook 2001A p. 126

In terms of game mechanics, ST:RPG was published by FASA only a year after their award-winning Behind Enemy Lines RPG. ST:RPG is another interesting game where the differences between an RPG and wargame get murky.

ST:RPG is composed of three major game systems; Character Generation (Chargen), Combat, and Starship Combat. The Core Mechanic rolls Percentile Die (2d10 read 10’s-1’s) compared to Attribute or Skill – roll under for success.

Character Generation and Advancement is very RPG-like. Chargen uses a career path system after generating Attributes (Strength, Endurance, Intelligence, Dexterity, Charisma, Luck, and Psionic Potential). Luck (LUC) is the most interesting because this attribute first introduced me to a more narrative way of playing RPG’s:

LUC saving rolls are used in this game when the gamester believes situations may be affected by pure chance and coincidence. The object of this game is not to kill off player characters, and setting up a total adversary relationship between players and the gamester limits the enjoyment of the game. Therefore, the gamemaster should use a LUC saving roll attempt at times to give a player a chance to bail himself out of a tricky situation. A saving roll of this type should always be given to a player character ( or a non-player character who is an established STAR TREK character) who is in imminent danger of death or other tragedy. Temper the use of saving rolls with common sense, but do use them when necessary. Sure, it hampers realism, but STAR TREK should reflect television realism, not reality. – Core Rulebook 2001A p. 12

ST:RPG includes rules for skill advancement. This was a whole new world to me; Classic Traveller is famous for NOT having a skill advancement system! Even so, the skill advancement system in ST:RPG is very simplistic:

Once play has begun, skill may increase with use. After each adventure scenario, or each major mission of a continuing campaign, the gamemaster should have each player who saw action make a saving roll against his character’s INT [Intelligence] score. If the roll is successful, the player may roll 1D10 and add the resulting number of hits to his skill level in any one skill he possesses that was used during the course of the adventure.

Gamemasters are encouraged to give a few bonus points (maximum of 3) in a skill to a player who pushes his skill to the limit in the course of an adventure (that is, makes a difficult saving roll), thus learning something in the process. Extra points should also be awarded to anyone who has the opportunity to closely observe someone of a higher skill level engaged in a skill-related activity of a more routine nature. To get this bonus, however, the person who is teaching (not the one receiving the extra skill points) must make a saving roll on his or her own INSTRUCTION skill. If the saving roll is failed, no skill is gained by watching. – Core Rulebook 2001A p. 38

As simple as skill advancement was, it was still a more narrative-flavor of RPG that was very new to me at that time.

As much as Chargen with LUC and skill advancement was moving towards a more narrative RPG experience, Combat was a firm step back into the realm of wargames. Indeed, in the Tactical Combat Notes section of the Designers Notes they unabashedly proclaim:

When trying to decide how to design this section, we remembered one old adage – when something works well, use it! And this is exactly what we did. We had been playing GRAV BALL (by FASA). We enjoyed the movement and action system. It worked well, giving the feel of simultaneous movement while retaining a simple system. Most si-move systems require paper plotting of moves in advance. While realistic results can be obtained, the system is slow and cumbersome….

Combat evolved from our working knowledge of almost every game published on tactical combat. From the action list and character system we had it was a simple matter (although lo-o-o-o-ng!) to develop this aspect. Again, we just”worked through” what really happens in a combat situation. We drew on our own and other’s experience (you should see the looks we got from neighbors) and worked out situations live. – Core Rulebook 2001A p. 128

As a result, the Combat system is (once again) a very wargame-like, skirmish-combat system using facing and Action Points on a gridded map for range and movement. When rereading the rulebook, I found it interesting that the Combat Examples (which is really just one example) starts on page 55 and ends on page 59! Admittedly, there are a few moments in the “wargame” example where role-playing is invoked, but it certainly is a rare exception and NOT the rule! Like this moment:

Wagner moves as shown, coming through the door (which opens automatically), stepping over the fallen Klarn, and moving towards the door. The gamemaster stops Wagner and requires a normal saving roll on DEX [Dexterity] be made to step over the fallen Klingon without tripping (since Wagner is moving fast under stress). Wagner’s DEX is 76 and he rolls a 31 – no problem! – Core Rulebook 2001A p. 57

The third game system is Starship Combat. Here is where the designers attempted to balance the need to role-play with a tactical wargame:

Where STAR TREK is different is in the approach to combat. A simple boardgame could have been used, but STAR TREK as developed here is intended as a role-playing experience. Unlike other tactical space combat systems, STAR TREK offers the opportunity to “role play” during ship combat as well as during ground or ship based adventures.

In the system presented here a number of players will interact, cooperating in an attempt to defeat an enemy ship (or a number of ships). The atmosphere of a game session then becomes much like that on a bridge of a starship, with each player having a responsibility to control one part of the ship’s functions.

To keep track of ship functions in play, each player uses a control sheet or panel. These players will communicate vital information back and forth during combat, using their panels to record the turn-by-turn changes in power levels, ship’s weaponry status, crew casualties, and more. – Core Rulebook 2001A p. 102

To assist in world building, rules for creatures/animals and world characteristics were also included. These systems are very Classic Traveller RPG-like in their mechanical approach and don’t stand out in any way to me.

What I Thought of It Then: As a Star Fleet Battles/Star Fleet Universe fan, the different canon of ST:RPG confused me. I remember always trying to “fit” ST:RPG into the SFU. I also remember our gaming group really trying to play the starship combat game (again, a need to make it more SFB-like). As an RPG, the game didn’t really attract our attention. We instead focused on the starship combat module. We played the wargame and not the RPG.

What I Think of it Now – Looking at FASA’s Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game today, I realize I missed a great opportunity in 1983 to play an RPG that was starting down the path towards a more narrative game. All the clues I needed were in the rules – I just had to read them and embrace the concepts. A good example of play is often helpful, and in ST:RPG there is a short example of play that unfortunately is buried just before the Designers Notes. It doesn’t even have its own header. When I read it now, I “see” the RPG game within ST:RPG. That said, the example also makes me cringe a bit at the “state of the RPG art” in 1983. References to pocket calculators and a very lopsided sharing of narrative were the norm:

GAMEMASTER: Your ship is two days out from Calvery IV, proceeding at Warp 3, on a routine call to deliver a Federation diplomatic pouch and other official greetings. Unexpectedly, your communications officer picks up a faint subspace signal from the direction of that system, calling for Federation assistance. The message is too faint to make out much else, and it is unlikely in this part of space that any other Federation vessel will intercept the signal.

CAPTAIN: Can the communications officer pick up anything else?

GAMEMASTER (to communications officer): Make a standard saving roll on Communications Procedures.

COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER (rolling): I made it! What do I hear?

GAMEMASTER: There’s lots of interference, but by switching antennas you get a bit more. The voice is male and human-sounding. You catch a reference to “the insect plague” and another to “Government House” being “besieged by the horde.” Abruptly, in mid-sentence, the message stops and you pick up no further transmission.

CAPTAIN: That sounds urgent! And we’re three days away at Warp 3! How far at Warp 6?

GAMEMASTER: Warp 3 is 27 times lightspeed and Warp 6 is 216 times lightspeed. That’s 8 times as fast.

CAPTAIN (consulting pocket calculator): That’s…nine hours or so. (To navigator and helmsman) All right Mr. Devareux, Mr. Wickes…increase our speed to Warp 6 on the same course. (Turning to communications officer) Mr. L’rann, send a message to Star Fleet Command detailing the situation and tell them we’re on our way.

GAMEMASTER: Just so you’ll know, it will take six days at this distance for a message to reach the nearest starbase.

CAPTAIN: So we’ll be on our own. Very well, The science officer will consult the library computer for information on the planet. Department heads will meet in the briefing room in thirty minutes for discussion.

SCIENCE OFFICER: Captain, a computer file search on insect life on Calvert IV might be appropriate…

CAPTAIN: So ordered, Commander Levine. (Dropping out of character) Everybody check with the gamemaster on your own departments. I’m going to grab a snack! – Core Rulebook 2001A p. 125

From an RPG-perspective, I give Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game Totally Subjective Game Rating (Scale of 1-5):

  • System Crunch = 2 (Simple Core Mechanic but mostly combat-focused)
  • Simulationist = 4 (“Wargame” combat systems)
  • Narrativism = 2 (LUC to overturn events)

#WargameWednesday Retrospective – Starship Duel I & II (FASA, 1984)

In 1984, science fiction movies were big. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi had come out in 1983, and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, premiered that summer. During this time, a small game company, FASA, had the license from Paramount to create games based on the Star Trek universe. In addition to a role playing game and a starship combat game, FASA also published Starship Duel I and Starship Duel II.

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Courtesy BoardGameGeek

These both were “pocket” games and used an innovative wheel to show relative facing of the dueling ships. Each ship had its own wheel and status card. The idea was that one could play duels between different ships based on the FASA Star Trek universe.

What I Though of Them Then – At the time, these were very inexpensive games – meaning a poor high school kid like me could afford them. Their portability also lent themselves to travel, and they could be played with a very small footprint is a relatively short time. Unfortunately, with only two versions ever published, there were only four ships to play with meaning the replay value was low.

What I Think of Them Now – These games are still fun to play. The innovative window wheels are a bit fiddly but nonetheless fun. I have played these games a few times with the RockyMountainNavy boys. Like before, the games are highly portable, short, and interesting the first few times played.

Miniatures Monday – Star Trek Heroclix Tactics

Star Trek Heroclix Tactics - Kobayashi Maru Map (Figures.com)

I really want to like this game. After all, it has Star Trek and miniature ships! Just imagine, the Enterprise dueling with a Klingon D-7! But the sad reality is that if you are looking for a dueling starship game, look elsewhere.

Out of the Box

The components of the game are fairly nice. The Starter Kit comes with four pre-painted miniatures; two Federation and two Klingon with “character cards.” Also included are two double-sided poster-size maps in nice full color. The kit also includes the Heroclix 2011 Core Rulebook, one laminated Powers & Abilities card, and two dice.

The miniatures themselves are decently painted. If you are used to the Star Fleet Battles/Federation Commander Starline 2400 series color schemes you will be a bit thrown off here since these paint schemes follow more along the movie/newer series painting guides. These are also smaller than the new Starline 2500 series supporting A Call to Arms Star Fleet. Be careful when selecting your kit off the shelf; of the four kits I selected from two had obviously deformed figures due to shifting during shipping.

The maps are really beautiful and evocative of space combat. There are four maps; Kobayashi Maru which has mines and a ship in the middle, Wolf 359 with derelict spaceship and debris, The Mutara Nebula with a nice piece of cnter terrain, and Deep Space Nine featuring the station. All four maps are done in nice colors and go well with the theme of the game.

The Rules – or Super Hero Space Brawling 101

Heroclix Tactics draws directly from the Heroclix line of duels featuring superhero characters. So does Heroclix Tactics. WizKids elected to use the Core Rules for Heroclix but instead of superheros one uses starships. The result is starship brawls in space.

Heroclix approaches combat by thinking each ship is a character rather than a weapons system. In addition to the basic combat values found on the clix base (Speed, Attack, Defense, Range, and Damage) each ship also has a “character card” with special abilities. For example, the Enterprise-A in the Starter Set has seven special abilities. My problem here is that the translation from superheros brawling in the streets of Gotham or Metropolis does not in my mind translate to ships fighting in space. To further complicate the matter, in order to use the special power you have to understand the translation. For instance, Enterprise-A has the special power/ability called “Deflector Shields (Toughness).” In order to use this power, you have to look up Toughness on the Powers & Abilities Card. This same Toughness ability is known as “Deflectors 100%, Captain” on the USS Rhode Island card but is not the same as “Deflectors to Full (Invulnerability)” on the IKS Bortas card.

Confused? If you are already a Heroclix player you are probably not; indeed in all likelihood such a person has already mastered the game. For those of us drawn by the theme the chance for disappointment is very high.

Is There Any Worth Here?

If you are looking for a starship battle game go elsewhere. Even the rules for set up reflect the brawling nature (pick a map, pick a team, fight). I will keep the basic game around because I can play it with the kids. I maybe even will enjoy it as I push the ships nicely painted ships around beautiful maps. Maybe enjoy it, but more for playing a game with the kids than playing a game of space battles.

To Boldly Go. . .on a STAR TREK Expedition!

STAR TREK Expeditions (Courtesy BGG)

My Father’s Day present to myself was to purchase STAR TREK Expeditions. After a quick read through the rules I set up the game board and daughter G joined in to play a learning game.

What I Like: THEME. Star Trek is all about the team. What better theme for a cooperative mission game? The clix sculpts are nice and add to the setting. The game plays very much like an episode for TV with a good amount of pressure to get it done now! The three sub-missions have enough variety that replay value is not lost too quickly.

What I Don’t Like: The rulebook is not clearly written and downright difficult to follow at times. This is a game that really does require a demo or play-to-learn session followed by more consultations with the rulebook. I see WizKids already has errata up on their website too.

Bottom Line: I am a late-comer to co-op games but it is a game genre that I have quickly warmed up to. I am sure STAR TREK Expeditions will get a heavy workout this summer!