Posted on March 25, 2019
Modiphius Star Trek Adventures Starter Set
We just got done running through A Star Beyond The Stars, the starter adventure (in three parts) from Modiphius for their Star Trek Adventures game. I like the idea of Starter Sets because I think they worked pretty well for Numenera and Pathfinder and at best they can provide players with sort of a tutorial and introduction to the game.
I think it was a qualified success, some of which was helped along by the Starter Set and some of which was actively hindered. During this we had the use of the Main Rulebook in hard copy and pdf, which I suppose technically you wouldn’t need to run the Starter Set. Since we were also playing with experienced, wily players in a relatively known universe, they were more apt to go “off-script” and do things more complicated than the Starter Set easily allowed. I mostly just rolled with these and then tidied up our collective understanding later. During the first few sessions I spent more time than I would have liked actively reminding players that they can’t commit war crimes or extra-judicial executions just because they face opposition. But by the end of the adventure they were arguing amongst themselves about whether or not their actions might count as a genocide. And they successfully navigated their way out of the situation in the best possible way (i.e. no genocide).
What sort of worked:
- Tests are made by combining one of your PC’s personal qualities (Attributes) with one of the appropriate Star Fleet Training packages (Disciplines): E.g. Daring and Security, or Reason and Science, etc. This in itself is a good idea and saves you from having a large list of skills to track. Buuuut, who the fuck can easily keep track of all the different standard permutations? Melee is always Daring & Security, shooting phasers is Control & Security, similarly, medical tasks and sciences stuff with your tricorder tends to be the same thing, but not a particularly easy to remember list. The Rulebook itself badly needs a cheat sheet for tasks and their appropriate combos. The Starter Set has (on the reverse of the character sheets, which is handy, but in practice not ideal) PC appropriate summaries, but still nothing close to exhaustive. Either the system should be flexible (allowing a thematically appropriate substitution of Attributes/Disciplines e.g. someone who melee attacks with Fitness and Security) or rigid and well supported.
- The PC and NPC tokens were good quality with enough that they could be useful if a bunch of other tokens are available. There aren’t. So that’s that wad blown. The map sections are less necessary (and a bit small) but at least Modiphius is releasing more map tiles if you wanted to buy those.
- The rules themselves. This kind of game dumps all the rules on you at first level and there’s no way that a Starter Set can reasonably slowly introduce the rules. This doesn’t seem to be a game that gets gradually more complicated like levelling-up games. Instead, you are hit with a wave of crunch and if you survive that, well, you might just enjoy yourself. The central mechanic – roll 2 or more d20s and try to roll under the combination of your stat and your skill – is sound and you can make the dice rolls explode into more successes if you roll 1s or roll low enough to trigger a focus. You can make things worse with rolls of 20 or succeed at cost. You can help buddies out or even better, have the powerful starship help you out. All this is good and easy to wrap one’s head around. But then there’s Momentum and Determination and Threat to make life more interesting – in and of themselves, not bad; then there are Values and Stress and Injuries, there are situational Advantages and Disadvantages to track and situational/environmental Traits, then Challenges and Extended Tasks. None of these are bad things, but there is A LOT of pretty good, but not great, working parts.
What didn’t work:
- The Rulebook, the Starter Set and even the reference sheets are formatted to seem like they’re being displayed on LCARS, and oh holy balls it makes things difficult to read. In general, I found the pages of the Starter set badly organized, with important information to a scene over a page or stat blocks for combat split over pages, necessitating page turning. None of this is unsurmountable, but it’s also completely avoidable and prevents on the fly or even quick reading by the GM. In this respect I’m spoiled by the Quick Adventure format by MCG, but it also seemed like a unnecessarily old-fashioned way of doing things, more like an 80s RPG than anything that might have benefitted from… decades of improvement.
- The Index in the Rulebook is real bad. Like, Paragon of Sloppy Indexing bad. Want to look up what Transporters, one of Star Trek’s signature technologies, do? Good luck! Turns out that info about Transporters is on p224 and 225 of the main Rulebook under Internal Systems… which is also not in the index as its own entry. And is nowhere near an exhaustive description of what they can and can not do.
So, with all that mumping and griping: What Does Work?:
- The setting, as presented in tone and text is absolutely spot on Star Trek. If you enjoyed the good seasons of Deep Space Nine and Next Generation, I really think you’d be hard pressed not to love this game and the way it is presented. The writing (rather than the layout) of the adventures I’ve read so far has been excellent. It is the quality and obvious sincerity with which Modiphius has attempted to create an authentic Star Trek experience that overcomes all my other grumbles and will keep me playing this RPG for years to come. Even if you abandoned the rules system and used some other system for a Star Trek homebrew you’d still find value and direction in the bulk of the writing.
- It’s really well supported. There is A LOT of extra material for this game and it hasn’t been out that long. You could play and play for quite a while without ever running out of material created by Modiphius. And with the standard set by the Rulebook and Starter Set, you can be assured that the stories and feel will have the same authentic feel.
- While it creates rules for lots of things, some of the things it creates rules for are ambitious and awesome. For example, having the ship be its own kind of character is thematically appropriate and also mechanically means that even characters who aren’t physically present at a scene can participate in play. Either because their characters are working their stations on the bridge or just rolling for the participation of the ship. Similarly, having bridge stations with unique roles in starship combat and hazard navigation and characters assigned to those stations and those roles is pretty rad. It seems like a good way to do ship-to-ship combat when one player is deciding the approach, another is keeping the ship intact, another is maneuvering to advantage and another is planning attacks.
- The GM takes a fairly active role in modifying the written storyline based on the PC’s actions. With reckless/lethal play or too much reliance on buying dice, the Threat pool grows and the GM can upgrade enemies or insert complications as a reaction to that.
- It is a game in which you have a boss: not just one boss, lots of bosses. Or maybe you are a boss. From Starfleet High Command, to local Admirals, to your Captain, to your XO, to your section chief… there could be a lot of people above you. You could be a lowly Ensign. You could be a Captain. These people will tell you what they want done and to certain extent how they want it done, the PCs have to balance getting the job done, with getting the job done the way they should do it and being true to their own values. They’re a member of an organization that has prospered by coming in peace and their continued survival rests on walking that walk, not just talking the talk when it suits them. Their scientific prowess has meant that they have tremendously powerful weapons and incredible responsibilities to the UFP, but these are always a fringe-cost/benefit of their scientific advance, not their raison d’etre. Balancing these often competing pressures lets you decide who your character is loyal to: Their Captain? Their team-mates? Starfleet’s higher principles? Principles beyond Starfleet and the UFP?
- You play hyper-competent, nerdy, good guys. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all. Doing things the right way almost always causes more conflict and turmoil than doing things the easy way – its just that you take that conflict and turmoil on yourself rather than foisting it off on someone else. The buck stops at the idealistic botanist, xenolinguist, particle physicist et al. Chaotic Neutral is always easier to play than Lawful Good, because it is mostly about avoiding repercussions. In Star Trek, you’ve got to boldly take it. That’s the inherent nobility in the Roddenberry vision and the game does a great job of recognizing and facilitating that.
Verdict: Will happily play again, with a bit of work.