Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Star Trek Homebrew RPG

Guys, I love Star Trek and roleplaying. In the past, I've been unimpressed with the complicated system used for many Star Trek (and other ) RPGs. They possess a certain technical fidelity, but suck in general. My dissatisfaction stems from the belief that Star Trek is a morality play set in a science fiction universe, not a cohesive, hard science fiction setting. I would love to play a Star Trek RPG, but I can't; anyone else running Star Trek would get it wrong. This leaves the creation and execution of a Star Trek Roleplaying Game in my hands. 

If you've ever run a roleplaying game, you know that roleplayers are dickbags who generally don't get Star Trek (or at least my very narrow interpretation of the franchise). I've adopted an approach which accepts that players are dickbags who at least want to learn how the Star Trek universe works. Keeping that in mind, the best pitch I've got is: Ten years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis, aka Star Trek 10, aka Star Trek: Franchise-Killer, the human race began vanishing, removing the backbone of both The United Federation of Planets and Starfleet.

Over the next ten years, The Klingons, Romulans, Ferengi, and Cardassians rushed to take advantage of the weakened Starfleet, igniting a series of devastating wars. To stem the chaos, the interested parties formed a puppet Federation and a paper tiger Starfleet to maintain order while they vie to emerge as the dominant force in the quadrant. These empires often use Starfleet for costly, dangerous, and unpopular missions. Missions like exploring new worlds and new civilizations.

By asking players to take on the role of "bad guy," they can (ideally) come to understand the principles that underlie Star Trek, and integrate them into their characters.

First and foremost, characters are defined by their Classification. Starfleet officers are either Science, Medical, Engineering, Line, Operations, Diplomatic, Soldier, or Line officers (There are also unclassified officers, aka "Red Shirts."). The characters can have training from any number of Departments, but only have one Classification. For example, a Medical Officer may have training in another Department, like Engineering, but remains a Medical Officer. The Departments they're trained in will determine their Skills. For example, the same character trained in the Medical Department, will use that training in tests governing first aid, identifying symptoms, using medical equipment, or anything else the Storyteller deems relevant to their field.

There are also ancillary skills to represent hobbies, trade skills, or cultural backgrounds a character may have, which may or may not be related to their careers in Starfleet.

Characters may also gain Features. Some are disadvantages, some are drawbacks, and others are neither. Not all disadvantages are bad things; they simply complicate the character's life and give the Storyteller hooks for stories. For example, all characters start with Drawback: Family of three. Family isn't a bad thing, but for the purposes of the story, they are generally rarely-seen relatives who have a genuine bond with the character, but whose appearance will none-the-less harbor a complication in the character's life.

One of the more noteworthy features is the addition of Features related to ship quality. Borrowed, from ideas like the Mutants & Masterminds headquarters system, it allows the players to give their characters the ability to improve the vessel around which the series revolves. The base quality of a crew's starting vessel is up to the storyteller, but the players can buy features that all count towards enhancing the ship. If the characters are interested, they can make their ship the best in the fleet. If they don't, they better be ready for a lot of garbage scow jokes. 

Story Ideas
In accordance with ancient tradition, stories should be in-hand before a serious campaign pitch is made (which I cannot emphatically state enough; this is not).

Remembrαnce – The information repository at Memory Alpha was encrypted on the eve of the new Federation's creation, but now Starfleet cryptographers are on the cusp of unlocking it. Who remains to stop them? What secrets—or traps—will they find inside?

Ask Not—The ship approaches a shuttlecraft emitting a distress call. Just as they beam aboard a Cardassian Operations officer, power and computer systems fail catastrophically. Is this officer truly on a secret mission to root out traitors? Or is there another reason their crew seems to have turned on the party?

Fair Trade—As thousands die from a hemorrhagic fever on Alkada Prime, the ship must get a cure from a world with its own problems.

Timeless Flight—When another Starfleet vessel comes to their rescue, the crew are shocked to learn it comes from twenty years in the past!

99 Problems—The ship responds when a civilian transport comes under fire from rebels. But can they survive when Starfleet Command is playing a larger game?

The Union—When a rogue Cardassian regiment lays claim to the Curas System, the crew must pacify a sympathetic Cardassian settlement. The situation escalates when it's revealed that there's a saboteur on board.

FΩoresight—The test of an experimental cloaking technology gets awry when the Captain orders the ship into the heart of Romulan space, putting the ship and crew at risk.


SkilTao said...

First thought: oh shit oh shit he's making the same game I am

Second thought: no, wait, he's only mentioned the "classes and backgrounds as skills" mechanic, and the other stuff is stuff he's discussed before

I don't know how complicated Star Trek RPGs get, but your homebrew seems aimed at the right level of detail, and the setting has some parallels to Ashen Stars which seems well-received. Star Trek does look easy to run "wrong;" for instance, I'd probably do it as a semi-serious reskinning of Paranoia. Tricking/guiding players into emulating the "morality play" quality typical to Star Trek seems like it would take more careful (or at least a different kind of) planning than I'm accustomed to.

Related: I'm watching "Lost" for the first time ever. At first glance it seems like it'd be easy enough to translate into an RPG: fairly standard combat, survival, and anarchic social challenges. Thing is, the show is driven by characters keeping unnecessary secrets. It would fall totally apart were they to ever stop. If Star Trek is a series of morality plays then Lost is a morality epic on the importance of sharing information. The characters seriously have an overwhelming, almost desperate aversion to sharing even the shallowest and most transient facts with each other. So running Lost "correctly" would require having a stat or mechanic to limit how much information players could share openly with each other; they'd have to communicate largely through implications, inference, and coincidence. (Except Hurley. His stat would compel him to overshare secrets.)

Unrelated: Remember Tasha Yar's half-Cardassian daughter? I'm idly wondering how to use her in a hypothetical alternate version of Deep Space Nine, as a tidy way to wrap YarRoKira into a single character with bows on, but the best I've come up with is to have her replace Gul Dukat as villain. And losing Dukat is just no good at all.

VanVelding said...

It's not hard to trick my guys; they're just brimming with repressed moral outrage. Give them a clear outlet, and they'll jump up to Janeway's level of righteous bitching.

I never saw Lost and I was never really interested in...well, anything J.J. Abrams has done. Nothing against him, but "meh." If you need them to not disclose secrets, then just have a definitive system that penalizes them harshly for disclosing them.

I think Tasha's daughter was half-Romulan, but losing Dukat is rough. He's space Hitler, and what do you do after Hitler? He's a hard act to follow.

SkilTao said...

Not sure why I called her Cardassian; I pictured her correctly, and sure she'd *need* to be Cardassian to fit the show, but I'm usually more precise than that. Anyways, yeah, "the Adventures of Space Laden and the Maquis" would be a let down after space Hitler. (Speaking of let downs, yeah, JJ Abrams is not impressive or essential; I do find him watchable though, despite Lost's Big Season o' Plotholes.)

Agreed, disclosure penalties can be handled like any other compulsion mechanic.

Hey, how does Mutants & Masterminds HQ system compare to Vampire's Lair system? Similar, but with concrete rules for use in play?

VanVelding said...

You pretty much got the M&M system. You spend your HQ points on a few attributes that define your headquarters in broad terms: size, science facilities, training rooms, etc.

Wait. Did you say I already discussed this?

SkilTao said...

Yeah, I don't know if it was on this site or a previous one, but I'm pretty sure you've at least touched on all these elements in past posts. Probably the last time you were talking about setting up a Star Trek RPG, but possibly in connection with Aberrant instead.

I remember you added a couple different color shirts to Star Trek's departmental color coding, but I'm not sure if you talked about classes-as-skills at that point.

SkilTao said...

Probably more accurate to LOST to use secrets as HP, or like how vampires use blood in VtM. Would probably make for a frustrating game.

If you were to do Star Trek as a WoD skin, I wonder what the blood/mana equivalent would be- idealism? Indignation? Technobabble?

VanVelding said...

Idealism is about believing something about the outside world. "Integrity" seems more apropos for StarFleet, though I don't know how you would spend it like a V:tM blood pool. "Clues" might be better for that. You get them for scanning things and then you spend them to overcome obstacles or move the plot forward.

I do like the blood pool/secrets thing though.