Star Trek Adventures – Core Rulebook
Set phasers to bad puns and be ready to warp into trouble – or should I say, tribble? Okay, okay, I’ll give a serious review.
|Authors/Artists:||Dave Chapman, Jim Johnson, Patrick Goodman, Ross Isaacs, Bill Maxwell et al|
|Type of game:||Tabletop RPG|
Concepts: Star Trek may be the biggest science fiction franchise on the planet. It’s certainly had its fair share of tabletop RPGs in its time, ranging from FASA’s Star Trek the role-playing game to Starfleet Voyages and Prime Directive. But much like the show, the games wound down eventually, and it was almost a decade and a half since the previous game based on the franchise before the current iteration, Star Trek Adventures, emerged.
This new game by Modiphius Entertainment is an entirely new take on the franchise, deeply rooted in the lore of the series. It allows for gameplay across a wide variety of the franchise’s eras, ranging from the original 1960s series to the 1990s The Next Generation era. My personal choice is to run the game in a post-Nemesis era. Whichever era of the franchise tickles your communicator badge, you’ll find that they all use the same core system.
Mechanics: Star Trek Adventures makes use of Modiphius’ in-house 2d20 system, one that is fairly unique to the RPG hobby. It’s fairly simple, using elements of dice pool mechanics – a PC who intends to accomplish a task is given a target number that they need to roll below. Their target number is based on the sum of two of their statistics, a discipline and an attribute. This means that you will want the sum of your stats to be high, and the result of your roll to be low. Doing so will earn you one success, however the total number of successes that you need is determined by the difficulty of the task – routine tasks need only one, whilst increasingly difficult ones could demand up to five. You will typically be rolling two 20-sided dice (although rolls of 1 will earn you a bonus success, whilst rolls of 20 act as critical fails), but you can add to the number of dice that you roll by using the game’s next component – tokens.
There are two types of tokens that can be generated during gameplay. Momentum is beneficial to the party, and is generated by scoring more successes than is required at a task. It can then be immediately spent to improve on the roll, garnering a greater success, or it can be stored for later. A maximum of six points can be stored between the party at any time, and can be spent to add a single d20 to a roll, with further additional dice costing progressively more. Alternatively, the players may opt to purchase a d20 by giving the GM a Threat token – the GMs version of Momentum which can be used to empower enemies, boost the danger of the situation and complicate the situation for the characters.
There are additional rules and systems, including Focuses and Determination, all of which are directly connected to and have an impact on either the economy of Momentum/Threat or shifting the number of d20s to roll or the difficulty number of a task. For a rulebook that is upwards of 350 pages, this feels like a very rules-light system – and that is not a bad thing.
Character Creation: So let’s talk about the character creation system here, because it uses a lifepath system. Or, more accurately, let me tell you why I love the lifepath system.
When I run Star Trek Adventures, I have great fun in walking my players through the process of character creation. I do this by asking them a series of questions about their character, starting from their birth and leading right up to their days immediately before their adventure begins. “Where did you grow up? What did your parents hope for you to be? What did you study at Starfleet Academy?” Each of the answers will impact on the characters core statistics, boosting them up. The system is built to avoid min-maxing because it keeps a cap on the maximum stats that you can have – a cap that you’ll typically hit anyway during creation.
The final stage of the lifepath system is one in which the player rolls a dice, revealing two life-changing events that happened to them since their graduation. This is the only random factor that I incorporate into the character creation process, because such events in someone’s life often are truly random. However all of the points leading up to this can be randomly generated as well, should you desire to do so. The lifepath system feels extremely satisfying to use, creating not only a character who is always capable at their respective field but also one with a developed backstory that is directly and intimately tied into that.
Design: The book itself is a good volume, with a cover that feels good. The interior pages, though, are a black gloss with white fonts, which could be very harsh on the eyes especially if you suffer from visual impairments. The gloss also seems to attract fingerprints from across the room, which means that although I like the book itself I tend to leave it on the shelf and opt for the PDF version instead. Although having said that, it is my understanding that later editions of the rulebook changed this, so please bear that in mind. The binding, however, is pretty solid and secure for a book of its size.
It includes several very nice art pieces, and some that are somewhat less so. I’ve tried to highlight some of the best in this review, however there are several that do appear to have a lot of negative space and several characters have faces that cross into the uncanny valley. The good pieces, however, are fantastic – bright and exciting and vibrant. In addition the book uses excellent fiction excerpts to illustrate how the ruleset can apply, almost all of which utilize characters from the show itself. Their depictions are never out of character, and this strongly roots the game in the universe that it is set in.
Playability: So we’ve discussed the mechanics and character creation, but the big question remains – does the game feel like Star Trek? Well the answer is… it can be, if you run it in the right way.
You see, the system has the potential to create a real ebb-and-flow to the dramatic tension throughout a session of the game. By using the Momentum and Threat tokens well, a GM can easily let the resourceful players push through most of the challenges that are set before them, only to struggle at the most exciting of moments. If you’re a GM who can handle the flow of narrative tension that this system allows, then you can create some exciting adventures with this. That’s not something that any GM can manage – you really need to enter into this game in a mutual spirit of understanding and cooperation in order to get the most out of it, so if your GM is the type to be more punitive and obstructive to their players then it may be better to find a different game. But, and here’s the big part, that doesn’t make these adventures feel innately like Star Trek.
A canny GM for this game will ensure that every session that they run has a core underpinning of a moral dilemma. One of my favorite that I have written for my players included their encounter with a race of sentient androids. The androids were unaware of their mechanical heritage, and only discover it when the party aided one who was injured. They then had to decide if they wanted to reveal their discovery to the people and weather the impact that such a revelation would have to their culture, or work to conceal it through trickery and deception. Star Trek Adventures lends itself extremely well to games like this – with a system that is fairly rules-light and works well with episodic gameplay, you can easily create entire seasons of the show. But if you’re wanting to create something different, well, you’re going to struggle.
Conclusion: So let me close this by asking you – should a Star Trek game appeal to an audience wider than dyed-in-the-wool Star Trek fans? I basically grew up with Star Trek, it defined much of my teenage years and still to this day holds an extremely fond place in my heart. Star Trek Adventures is basically a sandbox that lets me recreate that to my hearts content, allowing me to create stories that are impactful and fun all at the same time. My players love the game, and I love playing it.
But, well, if you’re not already a Trekkie then you might find this to be a little light on the ground. The combat system is serviceable, but lacks lethality – you’re not going to be mowing down hordes of Jem’Hadar warriors. Similarly, there’s rather little in the way of character progression – your character’s outlook and personality can change, simulating development over the course of the season (a process called Milestones), and your character can always earn a promotion in rank (similarly called Reputation), but none of those have the same tangible net benefit that you would gain by leveling up and gaining a new bunch of feats and spells.
But then, if you had those types of things, it wouldn’t really be Star Trek, would it? I think that ultimately that’s what makes this a hard game to judge. As a game that gives you everything that you could want to create your own episodes of the show that you love (so long as that show is Star Trek – anything from the original series through to Discovery) then this is a fantastic game that will keep you trekking on for many years. And no, I don’t apologise for that pun.
FINAL THOUGHTS: You have my permission to throw this rulebook at anybody who starts singing the theme tune from Enterprise.