#RPGThursday – Wendy’s Guide to the Fleets of the Cascadia Subsector (Gypsy Knights Games)

 

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Courtesy RPGGeek

Wendy’s Guide to the Fleets of the Cascadia Subsector (aka Wendy’s Naval Weekly 2: The Journal of Fighting Ships in the Cascadia Subsector) from Gypsy Knights Games is a sourcebook for the Clement Sector setting. It uses Clement Sector: The Rules, GKG’s customized version of the Cepheus Engine RPG. The book is the second in the “Wendy’s Naval Journal” series, the first one being dedicated to the Hub Subsector.

What’s Inside

Wendy’s 2 delivers 76 pages of content divided into four broad parts. There is a short intro, fleet listings, a System Navy Career path, and a new ship – the Alfred Thayer Mahan-class Heavy Destroyer.

The short intro (2 pages plus the obligatory subsector map) provides in-universe text explaining what Wendy’s is along with a few paragraphs explaining the major players in the Cascadia subsector. Within these few paragraphs there are numerous adventure seeds and story hooks presented.

With the fleet listings each system has it’s naval forces described. These entries can be as short as a half-page with just a few paragraphs and the fleet list. Larger fleets have expanded entries that add details such as uniforms, fleet organization, and a table of Hull and Command Classifications.

The last table is very helpful for filling in details of the fleet since describes the ships of the fleet in broad detail. Some of the fleets in the Cascadia Subsector use ships found in the Ships of the Clement Sector series but for the most part the fleets in Cascadia use designs not detailed to date. Those who want to design the rest of the fleet – here are the bare-bones!

The System Navy Career Path is similar to, but not identical with, a career path previously available in Career Companion. That book is no longer available because it was published in support of Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition, and – no thanks to Mongoose – is no longer legally for sale under their onerous licensing rules. It is nice to see the career path updated and brought forward into the Cepheus Engine version of the Clement Sector.

The last 20 pages of Wendy’s 2 is dedicated to details of the Cascadian Navy’s 1800-dT Heavy Destroyer, the Alfred Thayer Mahan-class. Provided are design background and deck-by-deck description and plans. Artwork for Mahan and elsewhere is provided by the ever-dependable Ian Stead with contributions by Michael Johnson and Bradley Warnes.

Buy or Not?

If your Clement Sector adventure leans towards more naval affairs then this is a definite BUY. Even if that is not your thing you should still seriously consider buying this book as it helps with ship encounters and pirates and the like. Since Wendy’s 2 is focused on the naval forces, it should be used in conjunction with Subsector Sourcebook 1: Cascadia (2nd Edition) which provides background for the entire subsector. I personally like that GKG has given me a peek into their setting but has left much of the definition up to me. There are a few details here, but it really is the skeleton to hang adventures on or to go off and be that System Engineer-style Traveller player.

Absent Friends

As I looked through this book I was touched to find the CNS Loren Wiseman in the Cascadian Navy listings. For those who may not know, Loren K. Wiseman was one of the original authors of Traveller who passed away February 15 this year. As Jeff Zeitlin wrote in Freelance Traveller #80 (Mar/Apr 2017), “He was undoubtably one of Traveller’s larger-than-life figures, and he will be missed.” Naming a ship after Loren is a small honor for a great man in the history of the Traveller RPG and it shows me the deep respect GKG has for the forefathers of Traveller.


A Note on Links – You may notice that I linked several products to the OpenGamingStore. This is not because I don’t like DriveThruRPG – I have been a customer there for over a decade – but John at the OpenGamingStore takes only 20% versus the 30-35% at DTRPG. This may seem like a very small amount but it could be a big difference to small publishers over time. The OpenGamingStore catalog is not as deep as DTRPG, and it takes John a  few days longer to get new items added (I think he is a one-man operation), but he takes a bit less and passes on a bit more. That’s worth my support – I hope it can be worthy of yours too.

#RPGThursday – My new Top 10 RPG (March 2017)

I was updating my RPGGeek collection and noticed that my Top 10 was way out of date. Made me start thinking again about which games I like and why.

#10 – Star Wars: Edge of the Empire

pic1545989_mdAt first I was confused by all those fancy dice with their crazy symbols. Now I see this system as one of the best matches of narrative gameplay and setting. I don’t see any other way to play a cinematic science fiction adventure. The nearly-identical Age of Rebellion and Force and Destiny round out the trilogy of adventure just like the original trilogy of movies did. Although low on my list, I am the GM in a campaign for the RockyMountainNavy Boys using this system.

#9 – Mindjammer: The Roleplaying Game (Second Edition)

pic1972069_tI always thought I would not enjoy transhumanism settings in my sci-fi RPG adventuring. At least, that was until I found the FATE Core-driven Mindjammer. Another exploration into narrative-driven RPG systems. (Avoid the Mongoose Traveller version.)

#8 – Traveller5

pic1550426_tMore a guilty pleasure than a game I play. Many people deride the rules but this is my go-to version of Traveller when I want to do some hardcore setting creation. Actually, as long as one avoids Melee Combat the rules hold up surprisingly well. It’s a shame this one gets so much bad press, the game is actually very good – its the bad reputation the first rulebook got that I think makes people stay away.

#7 – Firefly Roleplaying Game

pic1978226_tDriven by the Cortex Plus system, this is another game that shows my tilt towards more narrative-driven games. The setting is also in keeping with the Original Traveller Universe (and not all that far from Edge of the Empire either). The production quality of the books are so shiny!

#6 – FATE Accelerated

pic2026320_tStrictly rules, this slimmed down version of FATE Core is the best rules set I have found to introduce new players to narrative RPG gaming. Some people accuse this game of being too simple; I disagree and say it is the ultimate “rules-lite” system.

#5 – Atomic Robo

pic2005630_tAtomic Robo is a fine example of what happens when authors and game designers are of the same mind. The rulebook is one of the best I have ever seen, effortlessly taking source content and marrying it to game system and examples. The Brainstorming Rules are absolutely essential to ANY narrative-driven game played.

#4 – James Bond 007

pic532310_tGoing old-school here, but James Bond 007 has stood the test of time. The Chase rules, where one bids for initiative is very cinematic. I now recognize that this was the first RPG I played that had a Game Economy in the form of Hero Points. There is also the best-ever Example of Play which puts iconic scenes from the movie Goldfinger opposite game play.

#3 – Cepheus Engine System

pic3217788_tCepheus Engine is the modern 2d6 Sci-Fi RPG system that is the natural evolution of Classic Traveller. Except this one uses the Open Game License and not Mongoose Traveller’s much more restrictive legal obstacles to third-party publishing. Though a youngster, there are several great settings that take advantage of they rules including the awesome The Clement Sector, Orbital 2100, and the brand-new These Stars are Ours!

#2 – Diaspora

pic536195_tDiaspora uses the older FATE 3.0 engine, and could probably use an update to FATE Core. But the designer’s don’t have to be in a rush because Diaspora is a great game as-is. Occasionally called the Traveller version of FATE, I love it for many of the same reasons I love Traveller; it is a sci-fi adventure RPG with moderate rules overhead. The Space Combat rules are a unique take on vector-combat using range bands (and should be retrofitted to Classic Traveller).

#1 – Classic Traveller

45b96a0a8845ed78b2958bc87f1b6b58_largeIt was 1979 that I first discovered roleplaying games, and my gateway game was the three Little Black Books of Traveller. Who can ever forget the simple text on the box cover:

“This is Free Trader Beowulf, calling anyone…Mayday, Mayday…we are under attack…main drive is gone…turret number one not responding…Mayday…losing cabin pressure fast…calling anyone…please help…This is Free Trader Beowulf…Mayday….”

Now known as Classic Traveller, the rules are still a model of “complex simplicity.” Complex in that all the tools for making your own adventure are there (there is no default setting or Third Imperium in the original LBBs) and simple in terms of rules. Maybe a bit too simple, as shown by the modern rules version in Cepheus Engine. It really doesn’t matter to me what today’s version is called, Classic Traveller will always be the one dearest to my heart.


All images courtesy RPGGeek

#RPGThursday – “These are the voyages….” Star Trek Adventures Starship Shakedown

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http://www.ex-astris-scientia.org
The latest version of the Star Trek Adventures RPG Living Playtest from Modiphius includes Alpha Shakedown Cruise – Starship Operations v1.1. This is the first glimpse into the rules for starships in STA. Given the very prominent role starships have in the Star Trek universe these rules will likely be a major part of any adventure.

Going through the rules, several parts jump right out at me:

  • STA uses the “Ships as Characters” approach; i.e. ships are described much like characters
  • In keeping with canon sources, Power is a vital starship commodity that is limited but can also be used in support of actions
  • Crew support gives the PCs a version of an “on-call” NPC that can be used to Assist, as an Advantage, or as an Alternate PC; this is a great GM tool
  • Starship Combat has several very loose definitons (like ranges); does this empower a more narrative approach?
  • Crew Roles are an attempt to ensure that all the PCs have a role to play (i.e “share the narrative”) in starship combat
  • Power can be used in combat to create Momentum but at the risk of a Complication
  • The Attack Task may require three (3) die rolls
  • Inflicting Damage may require up to three (3) die rolls.

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Mangledduk (Photobucket)
Without starship construction design rules it is hard to see how scaling will work. The lack of the rules also make some of the ship designs appear suspect. For instance, my beloved Constitution-class cruiser (for the 23rd Century missions) has a Power of 7 and Independent Phaser Power which means the phasers can’t use ship’s power for firing (and cannot be boosted with extra Power either). A 24th Century Galaxy-class starship has a Power rating of 6 although the phasers can use power, cause more damage, and have several additional attributes that the Constitution-class phasers don’t have. At first glance this seems counterintuitive; surely the Galaxy-class has far more power than an old Connie, right?

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http://www.ncc-1701-a.net
The number of rolls in combat also concerns me. When making an attack, the ship can Assist (just like a character) which is a separate die roll. Then the PC makes the Attack die roll and if successful then the System Hit table is consulted. That’s already 2-3 die rolls. THEN, to inflict damage, Challenge Dice [CD] are rolled with a possibility that another [CD] roll from Soak is needed and, if necessary, yet another [CD] roll if there was a Crew Breech hit.

The ship Assist condition is concerning, and actually reveals a deeper potential conflict from the “ship as a character” approach. The Assist Rule on p. 14 of the v1.36 states:

In combat or other situations with pressure, assisting a Task is considered to take up a character’s turn.

So, does the ship get a Turn like a character or not? This gets to a deeper question; is the ship really just a character or a tool? Reading the v1.1 Shakedown Cruise rules, it seems that the designer has firmly concluded that ships are characters and not tools. The problem is that the ruleset needs to reflect this clearly with how and when the ship acts as a character and when (or if?) it is simply used as a tool.

Playtest Example – Lexington vs. Klingon D7

To try out the rules, I ran a small scenario. The Federation starship Lexington (the 23rd Century Constitution-class from The Original Series) is investigating a colony that suddenly stopped sending messages.

As Lexington drops out of warp, Captain Moore Directs, “Science Officer, make a sensor sweep.” This lets Captain Moore Assist on the task using his Command skill. Captain Moore’s roll is a Success. Mr. Shelor, the Science Officer, attempts the Sensor Sweep. First we have to roll the Starship Assist, which ends up as a Complication (interference?) which increases the Difficulty of the Sensor Sweep to 2. Mr. Shelor (finally) makes his task roll, rolling 2d20 and getting a Success and another Complication. Given the Assist from the Captain, the Sensor Sweep (barely) detects a Klingon D7 at Long Range (2 Zones), but the GM notes the Complication makes it a poor quality sensor lock which will add +1 Difficulty to any other sensor or combat operation for the rest of this turn.

The Klingon D7 gets their first of three actions this turn. The GM spends one Threat in place of Power and Warps the ship two zones, or into Close Range (0 Zones).

At a glance from the Captain, Lt. Niemec, the Communications Officer, Opens Hailing Frequencies. Maybe the Klingons just want to talk! Once again the ship can Assist, and rolls a 1 on 1d20 adding two Successes. Lt Niemec’s task roll of 2d20 gives her two more Successes which translates into Success with three Momentum. The channel to the Klingons is open. Lt Niemec decides to immediately spend one Momentum to Obtain Information. Stating the channel is open but the Klingons are apparently unaware, the question asked is, “Are the Klingons going to shoot?” The GM truthfully answers, “Yes.” With two Momentum left, Lt. Niemec could Keep the Initiative and pass the action to the Navigator for a Tactical event (i.e. firing) but knowing the Federation would never fire first, instead adds the two remaining Momentum to the Momentum Pool. The GM rewards Lt. Niemec with a point of Determination as she has upheld the values of the Federation in the face of a sure threat.

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http://www.ex-astris-scientia.org
The Klingon D7 acts as expected and Fires Weapon. The D7 fires their Disruptor Cannon. Given the range (Close) the Difficulty is 2 (actually it is Difficulty 1 but since this is the second action by the D7 this turn the Difficulty is at +1). The Klingon Weapons Officer gets lucky and scores two Successes getting a Hit. Rolling on the System Hit table, the damaged system is the Lexington’s engines. Disruptor Cannons roll 7 Challenge Dice [CD] for Damage and thanks to their Vicious quality each Effect is an extra point of damage. The [CD] roll is 3, 4, 5, 6, 6, 6, 6 (wow!) for 5 Damage and 5 Effect or a total of 10 Damage! The Lexington’s Soak value of 3 reduces this to 7 Damage. This reduces the Shields from 10 to three and causes a Breech against the Lexington’s communications systems, adding +1 Difficulty to all future tasks involving that system.

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Captain86 (DeviantArt)
Having been fired upon, Lt. Cmndr. Varg at Navigation makes a Tactical action and fires the Lexington’s Phaser Array. This is usually a Difficulty 1 task but remember the bad sensor sweep makes this Difficulty 2. Once again the ship can Assist and gets a Success. Lt. Cmndr. Varg decides to use one Momentum from the Momentum Pool and rolls 3d20, getting Success with Momentum (two Momentum counting the extra Success from the ship). Since the Lexington’s Phaser Array is Versatile, two extra Momentum are added from the Success for a total of four Momentum. The System Hit is Structure. As Lt. Cmndr. Varg prepares to roll the 6 [CD] for damage, he declares that he will use one Momentum point to make the hit a Penetrating hit which will ignore two Soak. The [CD] are 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 6 for 4 Damage with two Effect. This is a horrible roll, so Varg spends another Momentum to reroll the two 3’s and the 4. The new [CD] roll is 1, 2, 5, 5, 6, 6 for 7 Damage with four Effect. A single Soak reduces this to six Damage against the shields (from 9 to 3) and a Breech against the D7 Structure. The Breech reduces shields to 0, life support is failing and the ship is crippled.

The D7 crew immediately tries to repair the Structure. This would usually be a Difficulty 1 task because of the single Breech, but given this is the third action this turn it is attempted at +2 Difficulty. The GM spends a Threat to add an extra d20, but the task attempt fails. The GM immediately spends his last two Threat for another action and announces the  D7 self destructs.

As the Lexington spends the next few hours rebuilding the damaged communications system, questions remain. Why were the Klingons here? What were they doing? What was so important they would die for?

As you can hopefully see, there is much “roll-playing” and not so much “role-playing” in the above example. It continues to appear that the rules of STA favor mechanics over narrative play.


Star Trek Adventures – Alpha Shakedown Cruise Starship Operations v1.1, ™ and ©2016

Star Trek Adventures – Alpha Shakedown Cruise v1.36, ™ and © 2016

#RPGThursday – Wonders of Wondrous Menagerie (Gypsy Knight Games, 2017)

In my science fiction RPG adventures,I often have alien characters or NPCs. The Star Trek universe is full of aliens, most of the “rubber-forehead” variety; i.e. an alien species only one or two facial features away from humans. Star Wars got a bit away from that trope and brought on humanoid aliens that look like humans in shape but are nothing like us. The Third Imperium setting for Traveller RPG introduced a version of humanoid aliens with the Vargr. Playing Classic Traveller was where I first ran into the concept of an uplifted species. As much as I read about them, I never actually played an uplifted character.

In several Ships of the Clement Sector stories, one can find uplift characters so I understood that they were part of that setting. Gypsy Knight Games has now released The Wondrous Menagerie: Uplifts in Clement Sector. This lavishly illustrated 82-page sourcebook lays out the good, and the bad, of uplifts in the Clement Sector. Wondrous Menagerie provides background for how uplifts are treated or dealt with in the four Clement sectors and the colonies. Many uplift species are detailed with some more suitable for NPCs while others could be used as Player Characters.

When generating a character, the player is immediately forced to deal with three broad legal status’;is the uplift a slave, free but segregated, or totally free (living in a mixed community)?

Yes, your character may be a slave. There is even an Uplift Slave Career detailed within the book.

At first this bothered me; I don’t want to play a slave! However, as I read on I was challenged by the author. John Watts very thoughtfully added an Author’s Note at the back of the book. Within this note, Mr. Watts makes observations as to how he has seen uplifted characters played in the past. He talks about uplifts as comic relief and uplifts as combat driven characters. He then talks about uplifts in the Clement Sector, and the opportunities the setting gives players to explore “more serious undertones” of racial bias and prejudice. He also offers the challenge of playing uplifts through method acting.

Few games offer a “series undertones” approach like GKG is offering here. Even Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game, set in the (now decanonized)  Dark Times -era with its speciesism mostly avoids that element of the setting in the core book.

For some, the good news is that you can play uplifts in Clement Sector without the serious undertones. But if you want a challenge, then take the one Mr. Watts offers. 

#RPGThursday Retrospective – Mouse Guard (1st Edition, 2008)

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Courtesy RPGGeek

Sometime in 2009 I stumbled upon the Mouse Guard illustrated stories, and about the same time heard of a role playing game based on them. Seeing the RPG in my FLGS, I picked up the beautiful hardcover book.

I was not ready for what I discovered in Mouse Guard Roleplaying Game (1st Edition). Using the Burning Wheel system, Mouse Guard was unlike any other RPG I had ever experienced. I mean, there are turns in this RPG! There was also a difference in that characters are not just defined by stats, but by statements. Even more, the statements are used to role-play the characters actions. I was familiar with Assets/Hinderances and the like but these statement uses were different. Eventually, I have come to understand that Mouse Guard is closer to a truly narrative game.

As much as I enjoy narrative RPG systems, Mouse Guard goes a bit too far in the narrative direction for my liking. I love Mouse Guard; it’s beautifully illustrated and a system that makes for a unique roleplaying experience. But because it is so different a system (almost as far from F20 or 2D6 OGL Sci-Fi as one can get) it is also harder for myself and other players to grok. Because of this it is hard to get a group together. I have read that many people play Mouse Guard in a 1-on-1 setting (GM plus Player) but, once again, the rules learning challenge makes that difficult. As a result this game spends a lot of time on the shelf and does not get called upon very often.

This is sad considering how wonderful the system promises to be. More recently, I have listened to a few episodes of The Mouse Guardians, an actual play podcast using the updated 2nd edition rules. The podcast has renewed my interest in the game, and maybe I will get it out onto the table in 2017.

The Mouse Guard Roleplaying Game, Game content ©2008 Luke Crane. All rights reserved. Illustrations and comics content ©2008 David Petersen. Mouse Guard is a trademark of David Petersen. Burning Wheel is a registered trademark ® of Luke Crane. Printed by Archaia Studios Press.

#RPGThursday Further Thoughts on “Star Trek Adventures” RPG Alpha Rules

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Vanguard Station courtesy artstation.com
I have been playing around in the Alpha rules version of Star Trek Adventures (STA) from Modiphius Entertainment. Being the Alpha rules, the playtest focus at this point is obviously the Core Mechanics of the 2d20 System as adjusted for the setting. After my last blog post, the lead designer, Nathan Dowdell (@N01H3r3 on twitter), reached out and welcomed me to provide direct feedback. I appreciate the offer, and have submitted feedback through the Playtest Survey sent on Dec 14.

Although the playtest requires one to sign up, there is no non-disclosure agreement to date, and given the forums are publicly accessible I “guess” public comments on the game system are also acceptable. Even so, I am going to be a bit cagey with my comments to avoid going beyond a line that I am not so sure even exists.

This is not the first setting to use the 2d20 System. I have not played the other Modiphius 2d20 games, and I understand that Modiphius modifies the game engine for each setting. That said, I am of mixed emotions as to balance between simulationism and narrativism in the core engine and the ability to create adventures evocative of the Star Trek Universe. I am not quite as negative as JP Chapleau (and it almost sounds like his group doesn’t fully grok the rules) but…he has got many good points.

Setting Evocative?

One of the feedback questions concerned Attribute names. More directly, the question was if the Attribute names are evocative of the setting. I find the names evocative, but the application of each Attribute is a bit confusing. I think this is because each Attribute seemingly has a physical and mental aspect. Whereas in Classic 2d6 Sci-Fi (like Classic Traveller or the more recent Cepheus Engine) attributes such as Strength and Intelligence are distinctive and obviously different in application, in STA you get Resilience (“…physical and mental strength…resisting hardship…employing direct methods such as brute force”) and Reason (“…applies to the rational mind…applying theoretical knowledge…making observations and deductions”). Once players are more familiar with the system nomenclature this may may more sense but at the start it’s a bit confusing.

When attempting a task, one must use a combination of Attribute+Skill. The rules state that this combination can be defined by either the GM or players (a rare nod to narrativism). This is a positive thing and I believe rules for “sharing the narrative” should be encouraged. That said, the flow of my games at this point suffers because players are unsure what each Attribute fully means.

Without character generation rules I can only see Focus and Talents as mechanical effects. I look forward to seeing how CharGen uses (hopefully) Focus and Talents to assist in further defining a character and not just enhancing a stat block.

I find Momentum in the core engine useful for creating mechanical effects. Momentum can create a cascade of successful outcomes. It is also VERY powerful; a single Momentum usage can reroll an entire task! I find Threat a useful counterbalance, although I note that – once again – the effects are usually more mechanical than narrative. I see how Values can introduce some narrative-flavor, although in the Alpha rules – with no character generation given – they act (once again) in a more mechanic vice narrative manner.

Extended Tasks are also mechanically clumsy. Having to track three factors (Progress/Magnitude/Resistance) seems a bit much and at this point the challenge seems purely mechanical.

I do not like the Difficulty 0 Task. Using the rules as written, one can attempt a Difficulty 0 Task for the simple reason of creating Momentum. I find this too gamey; a character could perform a simple – and possibly unrelated – task check just to gain advantage for themselves or the group. I can foresee an Engineer running a systems diagnostic check just to roll some dice with any successes automatically becoming Momentum. Unless somebody can show me how this is Really A Good Thing I hope Difficulty 0 Tasks go away.

I am also somewhat doubtful of the Challenge Dice [CD] mechanic (or is it Combat Dice…that’s what the playtest survey asked). In the Alpha rules, the main use of [CD] is determining damage. To determine damage, one adds the damage rating of the weapon AND the Security Skill of the character and arrives at the number of [CD] to be rolled. Although this captures the flavor of how a more skilled character can get more out of a weapon I fear this “narrative advantage” (i.e. a better trained character is far more effective) may be too powerful. Oh yeah, the [CD] is really Fate Dice where the “minus” is read as a “1,”, the blank sides don’t count, and the “plus” sign indicates success and Effect.

The Alpha rules are very lean and give little insight into how flexible – or not – the rules are going to be in making a Star Trek adventure setting of interest to me. Even the playtest adventure is railroading the GM and players to showcase the rules and ensure they get exercised. I really didn’t like the adventure premise – newly minted cadets on their way to a first assignment – because it evokes too many nightmares of Whinny Wesley Crusher. So when I first read the rules heading, So Crazy It Might Work, I had hope. Alas, the section is not any sort of rules, just advice to the GM to encourage the trope but mostly to beware about letting the PCs get carried away and derail the story. Extremely disappointing, especially when there are rules like Brainstorming in the Atomic Robo RPG that are a wonderful example of how those crazy technobabble solutions can be made to work within a game system (and the Fate SRD for Brainstorming is available online).

Indeed, the main problem I have with the rules is that they almost, but not quite, capture the Star Trek feeling for me. For example, the three classes of NPCs are Troopers, Elites, and Nemeses. Elites and Nemeses I can see, but Troopers? Almost, but not quite Star Trek to my ears.

Vanguard to Adventure

I purposely signed up to playtest in TOS era not because I love the adventures of Kirk and the Enterprise, but because I really enjoyed the Vanguard-series of Trek books. Frankly, part of my evaluation of the game will be if I can even come close to recreating a Vanguard-like adventure with smaller starships (like the Archer-class USS Sagittarius NCC-1894) or the civilian Rocinante (no, not the Rocinante from The Expanse). For that matter, I wonder if the game will even support non-Starfleet characters like Cervantes Quinn. I guess I have to wait until at least early next year; upon submitting my playtest survey there was a note that the first wave of ship adventures will be released then.

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USS Sagittarius (NCC-1894) courtesy masazaki.deviant.art
Star Trek Adventures is ™ & © 2016 CBS Studios Inc. STAR TREK and related marks and logos are trademarks of CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

#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.