My Trek – Part 2

I’m finally getting this post up on the cusp of a new year. In this post, I discuss the foundations of my non-existent Star Trek campaign.

First things first – My Trek is all about me. What I like, what I enjoy. It’s not a matter of opinion – of what is objectively good or bad or right or wrong. It’s just about what I like in my Star Trek. The point – you don’t need to argue with me here. Arguing with make what I’m writing way more important than it is or deserves to be.

So – what is My Trek – what elements shall make up my little campaign?

Star Trek (1966-1969)
If it is in Star Trek, it is in my campaign. Star Trek is the basis of the whole campaign, but it’s not the entirety of the campaign, and in fact, some of it is not technically in the campaign. My campaign would start in 2265, as Kirk and crew are blasting off for adventure. Heck, the PCs might even beat them to a few adventures in my campaign.

Star Trek (Animated; 1973-1974)
Since the animated adventures shared many key people with Star Trek – and since they’re fun and I love them (and wouldn’t think of running Trek without the Skorr and a 20-ft tall Spock), they’re in My Trek.

Star Trek Phase II (1977 … sort of)
Although there isn’t much material in the planned sequel series to Star Trek that one could use, especially since it would all take place 7 or so years after My Trek starts, the Klingon material from The Kitumba is all valid for my purposes.

Star Trek Continues
I just love this web series, so I treat it as mostly official in my campaign.

Side Trek I
I’ll put a few of these asides into the My Trek posts. The Klingons in My Trek are the Klingons in Star Trek – sans bumpy foreheads and maybe with a little more individual personality than the later honor-and-war-is-all-we-know Klingons (not including Kheylar from Next Generation, who was fabulous). The Klingons live in a military dictatorship, with ten subject planets under their control. In one of James Blish’s novelizations of Star Trek, he notes that the Klingons are descended from Asian peoples – maybe dropped on their home planet, Ultar, as the Native Americans were dropped on Epsilon Beta.

So that’s the stuff that is definitely in the campaign, but there are other sources as well. Two key sources are James Blish’s novelizations of Star Trek episodes, and Alan Dean Foster’s novelizations of animated Star Trek episodes. They often add in little details and bits of color that I like. I also like the Spaceflight Chronology – with some work done on the timespan it covers – some other early Trek books like the Federation Reference Series, Star Fleet Technical Manual and U.S.S. Enterprise Officer’s Manual, and even some of the FASA material. These are mostly used for gathering little details, like some names of Klingon D-7 battlecruisers, rather than as key pieces of the puzzle. Again – my campaign starts when Star Trek starts, so PCs could create their own legends alongside Kirk and crew.

Outside of these sources, not much enters into my campaign. Just as old school gamers explored the early days of Dungeons & Dragons before so much new material was added to it in the 1980s and afterward, I like the idea of getting to know Star Trek before the Next Generation/DS9/Voyager/etc. rewrote substantial parts of it. This isn’t about not liking the later series, but rather treating them like the pastiches of Conan written by folks other than Robert E. Howard. I want to get to know what the show’s original creators and fans saw in Star Trek.

Side Trek II
I thought Deep Space Nine was okay – didn’t love it, didn’t hate it – until they got into the Dominion War stuff. I just didn’t give a rip about grandiose story lines about fictional people and places. I was reading about the making of the show recently, and came across the idea that the main bad guys in the show were originally going to be the Romulans, rather than Cardassians. That got me thinking about a 60’s era Deep Space Nine, with the Romulans as the antagonists and the Orions replacing the Ferengi as the mercantilists. It might be a location to use in my campaign – Deep Space Station K-9, near the Romulan Neutral Zone.

The key thing about My Trek is the overall vibe and ambiance. The campaign is very 1960’s in terms of its design aesthetic and “New Frontier” exuberance. It’s about hope, promise, adventure and exploration, of an alliance of free worlds trying to find new friends in the cosmos while dealing not only with the aggressive Klingons and the xenophobic Romulans, but also their own tortured past – overcoming the unknown as well as the less attractive aspects of what it means to be human.

Side Trek III
Some of the FASA Star Trek material is really useful, in terms of the starships and what they can do. One thing that struck me, though, was the number of space ships they imagined being built by the different entities. Hundreds and thousands of the things! I prefer to make spaceships a little less numerous, for a couple reasons. First, there is some reason from Star Trek to believe that the Federation’s resources are not unlimited. According to Kirk, there are 12 Constitution-class (or Starship-class) vessels active. Franz Joseph’s lists of other vessels lean towards more limited runs of vessels as well. There’s also a dramatic reason to limit the number of ships. If there are only a few big bad starships defending the Federation, losing one really means something. I like that. When devising how many vessels these various space fleets include, I’ve actually used the size of Earth navies in 1965 as a guide. Works great!

With the “Star Trek feel” in mind, there are some non-Trek works that I think work within the overall scheme. The 1959 TV series Men Into Space, for example, has a very similar feel to Star Trek in terms of its emphasis on exploration, engineering and science. If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to give it a shot.

So that’s My Trek. It’s about exploration and overcoming our own personal demons and it’s about having fun. It’s colorful and lively – no Beige Trek, no Lecture Trek.

Up next, I’ll talk a bit about the supplemental rules and guidelines I have devised for the My Trek campaign to cover promotions and spaceship battles.

My Trek – Part 1

A couple months ago, I was nearing burnout in terms of writing and publishing game materials – and I didn’t even know it. I was working at my normal pace, and although there were a few indications I was hitting the wall, I was still getting things done. When I started goofing around with Star Trek, though, I was soon to diagnose my coming burnout.

It started with my daughter wanting to watch all the Star Trek that had been made in the order in which it was set (more or less). She started with Enterprise, which I watched with her (still frustrated at the close-but-no-cigar aspect of the show), and then we watched Star Trek. Yeah – I just call it Star Trek, because that’s what it is. When you’re the “original series”, you don’t need an amendment to your title. We followed up with the animated Star Trek, the Star Trek Continues (because I like it and think it was worthy of inclusion), then the movies and now on to Next Generation – we’re on season 3 I think.

In the midst of this, I started getting the Star Trek bug, and found a copy of the first Star Trek RPG, which I reviewed on this blog a while back. This got me to designing a Star Trek campaign (hence, My Trek) that I knew I would probably never play, but wanted to do anyways. And here’s where I discovered my potential burnout. I started having so much fun goofing around with Trek, that I just plain stopped working on my writing. I have an issue of NOD that is written, edited and ready to go … and I’ve just let it sit there for a couple weeks. I could publish it today … but I don’t think I feel like it. The writing and publishing, as much as I enjoyed it, was becoming work, and so messing with Star Trek became not just a vacation, but really more like playing hooky. When writing game materials for myself feels like playing hooky for writing game materials for others, you know you’re heading for burnout.

To avoid that burnout, I’ve indulged myself with good old Star Trek. I followed up my Star Trek RPG purchase (and I do love that little game dearly) with an old Star Fleet Battles rulebook (which I found overly complicated – so I wrote my own version, which will appear in future posts), and then the Spaceflight Chronology, Star Trek Concordance, the book about Star Trek Phase II and a bunch of the novelizations of the animated series (though if I’m honest, I prefer Blish’s novelizations of the old episodes to Alan Dean Foster’s animated episode novelizations). I have created massive databases of star systems and starships for my probably never-to-be-played campaign, created my own map of the Star Trek universe, made a nice little time line graphic of Starfleet, Klingon and Romulan vessels (at least, the one’s I think are cool) and have written a handy little campaign guide for prospective players.

The lesson here: Watch for a burnout (of any kind), and deal with it before you suffer it. That way, you don’t lose a thing you really love and value, plus maybe you pick up a new thing to enjoy along the way. That next issue of NOD will be published, and next year I’ll do my Deities book and maybe my Nodian Cosmos book and some issues of Nod, and I’ll do them because I gave myself a well-deserved break.

Next Week on My Trek: I’ll discuss some challenges and solutions to turning Trek into a playable campaign – specifically how you deal with tons of material that contradicts and conflicts (and, honestly, just doesn’t always fit into the same milieu despite being called Star Trek).

Good advice if we’ll only take it

Yes, But …

treasure-chest11It’s been a long slog through a dangerous wilderness and then a devilish dungeon. Henchmen have died, PC’s have bled, but in the end, Law triumphed over Chaos (with an assist by Neutrality) and the dragon is dead.

Yes, but …

The PC’s have “won” the game. They’ve completed the adventure. They’re done. Or are they? Since the name of the game is adventure, the end of a particular adventure can be a temporary thing. I draw to your attention Mr. Edgar Rice Burroughs and his planetary romance set on Barsoom. If you haven’t read about old John Carter and his incomparable princess, you should, and in between the Martian sight-seeing you might also pay attention to how ERB paces the books and ends them, at least how he ends the first one because it’s a great way to run adventures.

220px-Princess_of_Mars_largeIn A Princess of Mars, every success by John Carter is a doorway to a new challenge that must be faced (and must be faced NOW!). Once John Carter gets used to the red planet, it’s pretty nonstop action – challenge followed by resolution followed by complication or new challenge, etc. When the book finally ends, the adventure does not. Like all of us wide-eyed kids who saw Han frozen in carbonite and Luke get a rough lesson about his family tree, readers of the first Barsoom novel are left hanging, waiting for the next installment.

The Notion

Almost every success in the game drives the adventurers to a new challenge, and the end of each “module” leads directly into the next for at least three “modules”. After every three, the adventurers have a chance to rest.

The idea here is not a story-driven piece, in which the players are led by the nose. The players can always choose to give up. They just have to face the consequences. They intrude on a dungeon and decide not to face the dragon – fine – but the dragon is now awake and cranky and everyone for 100 miles is suffering for it.

Moreover, when they kill the dragon, a new challenge arises from that now moldering corpse. Think about some of the classic module series of AD&D and how they linked – you finish the slavers in the under city, but now you’re led to their stockade to strike another blow against their evil.

When you design your adventures, think about how to turn one adventure into a trilogy (or how to break a mega-adventure into a trilogy of smaller adventures).

This might involve:

  1. Foreshadowing the trilogy in its first two stages – not in ham-handed way, but in such a way that as new things are revealed, the players get that light bulb moment and start making connections. It might make sense to make sure the players know there’s more in store. If the group is heading off to deal with some kobolds in the woods, an old man in the tavern might mention that he thinks the kobolds are being put up to it by the weird cult in the hills. Another might scoff and say something like, “Oh, I suppose next you’ll tell us the dragon beyond the mountains is causing the drought.” Now they know there’s more out there than just some kobolds in a 1st level dungeon.
  2. When you write the adventures, figure out how they link together, and how each is a separate adventure in its own right. Give the players bite-size chunks – bring the courses of the adventure meal out one at a time rather than all at once. The best way to do this is to make the end of one the beginning of the next one. Each adventure needs a beginning (“You all meet in a tavern …”) a middle (the delve) and an end (“… you open the treasure chest and find …”). The end holds the key to the next beginning, “… but as you fill your packs with treasure, the ground shakes and the giant diamond falls into a crevice … it looks like there’s another dungeon below the one you’ve just conquered.”)
  3. The big idea here is about transitions from one state of play to another. You might think about this in terms of PC level. The trilogy that drives PC’s from 1st through 3rd level will be different from the one that drives them from 4th to 6th level. When the PC’s move from the “basic” levels to the “expert” levels, they leave who they were behind in some ways and must enter a larger, more complex and more dangerous world. The old game had this in mind with the idea of hitting name level and building strongholds – the old life of wandering adventurer would end, and the new life of settled ruler begins. In play, this was also a transition from RPG to wargame.
  4. alternatefuturesHere’s where consequences come into play. In our own lives, there are moments where we have to choose about moving forward – say from childhood to adulthood. We can choose not to, but there are consequences. Choosing to reject adulthood does not mean the world of your childhood lives on. Things still change, and often not for the better. When the players choose to ignore that next challenge, the campaign world they inhabit changes because of their choice. This doesn’t have to be a severe change designed to force them into tackling the next adventure, but it should involve loss and a noticeable change. If in the end the players decide not to follow up, they have to live in the world they’ve created and you can embark on a new trilogy. They just have to accept that the campaign world is different and move on.

Just a notion – do with it as you will.

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