A Trek through the Stars
Star Trek Adventures. So... I love Science Fiction.
All Science Fiction.
As such I have no stake in the eternal Star Wars vs Star Trek vs Doctor Who vs Babylon Galactica’s in the world. To bring this to a fine point, when asked to choose between Trek and Wars (this happens a lot) I'll say “Dune”. But all that aside, I do love Star Trek. And I have seen it all. All episodes, films and cartoons. I have also played the old Star Trek RPG's. First from FASA, may they rest in peace. The next by Last Unicorn Games, cut down before their time. But now there is a new game out, produced by Modiphius. (Let's hope they don't get killed shortly) I have been running this for the past month and I thought I would share my initial impressions of the game.
This is not meant to be a truly comprehensive review. There are already some that go into all the game mechanics. Including some fine ones on RPG.net. Once again I am just giving you my impressions. And since I have been only playing this for a few months, it's not really the time to see how well it holds up in the long term.
First off there are two books, a standard and limited editions. Both have the same contents but the covers are different. The limited edition also comes with three bookmarks color coded to the three department colors in Star Trek, red blue and gold. But the real reason you might want to spend the extra $20 is the map/poster included. The map shows the Federation, Romulan, Kingons and other location from the shows and movies. Great for newer players who might not be fully familiar with their Star Trek.
I should also bring up that the art in this book is lovely. Everybody in my group has enjoyed thumbing though just to look at the pictures, coming up with titles for some of the best ones.
The real meat of the game of course will be the mechanics. And the question you might ask is "does this game stand up". Is it fun and is it effective? And the short answer is yes. Whoop, all done! Of course you will need more information then that. And, as a slave to your desire, I will provide.
Star Trek Adventures, or S.T.A. for shor...(you know, that does not really work. Let's just call it Trek.) Trek uses a game system called 2d20. In it you use two twenty sided dice, so an accurate naming convention then. All task are done by rolling a number of d20's while trying to roll a target number or under. The number is decided purely by the character's stats and abilities, while the amount of successes is decided by the GM. Right away this makes the system very flexible since the GM can adjust difficulty easily while the players have many options to increase the chance of success.
But when you roll more success than you need is where things get interesting. You can use or keep the surplus in the form of Momentum. Momentum is spent in a verity of ways, including more dice and reducing difficulty. One of my favorite ideas though is the use of momentum to ask questions. Thematically, here is where the game really get Star Trekie.
Star Trek is not a show about violence. The players are not fighting an evil empire or carving out a piece of space for conquest. At it's heart the game is about mystery. What is that strange obelisk? Can we push the engines harder? Why is that cloud of gas pursuing us? All these questions and more can be answered with Momentum. In game, the players can spend Momentum to ask the GM a question based on the task rolled. The GM than must answer truthfully. This makes for a great system where the players all think about what questions to ask and where a certain path of research might lead. Best to go broad, then narrow it down to specifics.
This is easily my favorite aspect of the game. Yes there are fist fights and Phaser battles. And yes, mighty starship's fire Photon Torpedoes at each other. But even theses can be helped by other players spending Momentum. Someone could use their tricorder to adjust a computer to fill a room with gas, making it harder for a compatriot to get attacked. The sensor operator can scan for shield fluctuation to help the ships gunner do more damage with it's Phasers. It's this sense of full cooperation that makes this game feel so...Trek.
Character creation lets you to chose from quite a few of the classic Federation races like the Vulcan, Trill or Andorians. But if you really want, in the back of the book are a number of the other races like Romulans and Ferengi, so yes you can play as a Klingon. Also, if you like, you can play a Borg. Though I really would not recommend it.
A particular nice touch is the small amount of skills. Your characters get 6 attributes and 6 skills, and that does limit your choices for options somewhat. But while that is a surprisingly small amount for a skill based system, the game makes up for that with Bridge Roles. These are the closest the game has to classes and they really are huge in defining what the player can do. That way everybody knows what they are building towards and each position gives special bonus that relate to the Role.
I should point out that this game is a more than a little FATE like. For those who are not familiar with FATE, that is a game system that relies on phrases of description instead of numbers for your stats and abilities. These are called Aspects. This leads to enormous potential for role playing, but leaves some players confused as to exactly what their character can accomplish. Trek Adventures uses the FATE Aspects, but proscribes them for specific concepts. For example PC's have some Aspects called Values that are used to get bonus in game and improve the characters. And then there are some called Focuses are used increase your chance to get extra successes.
In all this makes a game that is incredibly flexible while still making combat fast and dangerous. Not sure what higher praise there is for a game system As for the setting...well, you know it all already don't you. (Don't you?). But if you don't, the book does have a short history of the setting. A nice bit is all the notes and messages that hint at events from the shows and movies. That and Starship combat has rules for console explosions. Hah!
And that is the newest Trek RPG. The same company has a John Carter of Mars RPG coming out that will use the same system. So I am looking forward to checking that out. But in the meantime we got a very good Star Trek game to play. If I had a complaint, it would be how some of the abilities that make characters powerful tend to be very situation specific. Or so FATE like that some players don't fully understand what makes their characters special. But this is a common problem with skill based games.
But that is about it. I am falling in love with the over all tone of the game. While not built from the ground up for the setting, they managed to create a game that feels Trek. If your players can grasp the somewhat abstract rules of a FATE like game, I feel that everybody can enjoy boldly going where no one has gone before.
Music Note: Was listing to a large variety of Star Trek music while working on parts of this. Seemed appt.