My Trek – Part 3

If I’m going to have a Star Trek campaign, I need some Star Trek rules. Fortunately for me, I discovered a pretty groovy set of rules a few months ago … in fact – the very first set of Star Trek RPG rules, Star Trek – Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier, by Grenadier in 1978. I reviewed these rules a few posts back (LINK here).

As I said in the review, it’s a very lean set of rules, and in my opinion pretty nifty. The rules are divided into basic rules, which permit you to play the game using the Star Trek characters we all know and love (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu, Uhura, Scotty, Chekov), and advanced rules that introduce character creation and other enhancements. For my campaign, the rules need just a little bit more.

Who’s in Charge Here?

Commodore Gray and Captain Kirk from Star Trek Continues

One interesting thing “missing” from the game is the idea of rank and command. You get a group of players together, they roll up characters … and so who is the captain. Who is an ensign versus a lieutenant commander?

Here’s my idea for solving this little issue:

First and foremost, each player can decide whether their character is going to be an officer or enlisted crewman, and which division they wish to be in – Command (green shirts*), Sciences (blue shirts) or Operations (red shirts).

At the start of campaign, starting rank is assigned based on the raw ability of the characters. Total each character’s ability scores. The character with the highest total score who is in the command division is given the rank of captain. The new captain is put in command of a scout-class starship of his or her choice.

Using the other character’s total scores, assign them their starting ranks in the following order. Note that whether players choose to be officers or enlisted, there is only one character at the highest rank (commander or chief petty officer), and so on.

  • 2nd highest: Commander / Chief Petty Officer
  • 3rd highest: Lieutenant Commander / Petty Officer
  • 4th highest: Lieutenant Commander / Petty Officer
  • 5th highest: Lieutenant / Crewman (1st grade)
  • 6th highest: Sub-Lieutenant / Crewman (2nd grade)
  • 7th highest, etc.: Ensign / Crewman (3rd grade)

Side Trek – Gold or Green?

According to the William Theiss, who designed those original Star Trek uniforms, the command shirts were indeed avocado green. Apparently, the texture of the fabric and the lighting on set made them look gold. Speaking as someone who is color blind, I honestly could never figure it out. Hell, I only just this year asked my daughter whether Spock had a green cast to his skin or not – when you’re red/green color blind, it’s a tough call. So – command wears avocado green in My Trek.

Advancing in Rank

The Star Trek rules I’m using mention the idea of character advancement, but offer no rules for it. Now that’s what I call old school.

Since a campaign is supposed to represent numerous games with the same characters, it makes sense to allow those characters the chance to advance in rank a bit. Of course, we see very little rank advancement for the characters in the original series – I think Spock goes from lieutenant commander to commander at some point in the series, but poor old Chekov remains an ensign until he got an off-screen promotion to lieutenant. This means, no rank advancement might actually be the way to go, but I know players and what keeps them interested … so here’s my take on the subject.

The simplest way I could have handled character advancement was to introduce levels and experience points of some sort. I decided to try something different. For accomplishments during a mission, a character is awarded a decoration:

For specific acts of heroism, the following commendations may be awarded:

In addition to the commendation to decorate your chest, the newly decorated character may roll once on the following table to receive an upgrade to his or her abilities.

D6 Bonus
1-3 +1 bonus to one skill (tricorder, medikit, psionics, etc)
4-5 +1 bonus to combat ability
6 increase one ability score by +1

After completing five missions, characters are eligible for an increase in rank. The chance of a promotion is 1 in 20, plus 1 per commendation earned since the last promotion. Thus, a character that has earned two commendations during those five missions has a (1+2) 3 in 20 chance to earn a promotion.

This scheme would mean quicker promotion than was seen in the TV series, but oh well – nothing’s perfect. I suppose, using the show as a guide, we had seven principal characters on 79 missions with one rank promotion … giving characters a 1 in 553 chance of promotion even when saving the universe multiple times. If we assume everyone got a promotion at the end of the series, then we’re down to a 1 in 69 chance.

I’m okay with that, though. I’d like to see the players earn higher rank and better starships as they explore the galaxy. I think it would be fun. I like fun.

A master chief that earns a promotion is offered a commission as a lieutenant commander.

Captains earn better starships instead of rank promotions. New captain command scout ships, and might then be promoted to better ships in the following order: destroyers, light cruisers and then heavy cruisers. Naturally, the captain can take their crew with them to their new ship.

A captain that has earned a heavy cruiser can be promoted to the rank of commodore. A commodore can choose any vessel as their flag ship, or can retire to commanding a starbase. A commodore promoted to admiral is retired from starship command (unless they’re Captain Kirk, of course).

Side Trek – The Medals

Viewers of Star Trek will recognize those medals up there, as I got the names and designs from old Star Trek episodes. Naturally, I just had to make up what name went with what emblem, and since my graphics skills are not super strong, I made the emblems the best I could. I’m sure there are better representations of them out there on the web. I thought it would be fun to have a square on each character sheet colored in with the uniform color of the character’s chosen division, with the sleeve stripes of their rank on the bottom and their collected medals above those stripes – thus I took a stab at drawing the medals.

The corollary to the “captains get better ships instead of higher rank” is that captains that violate Starfleet rules (especially that darn Prime Directive) or who royally screw up missions might be assigned lowlier ships. Using Franz Joseph’s deigns (plus one), the chain of ships would start with the Ptolemy-class transports (which I actually think look pretty cool) and then go through the Hermes-class scout, Saladin-class destroyer, Miranda-class light cruiser, Starship (i.e. Constitution)-class heavy cruiser and finally the Federation-class dreadnought. I would start my players in a Hermes-class scout, leaving the transport available as a punishment.

Next Week – Starship Battles!

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

Aliens I Have Known

I love lo-tech aliens. I don’t mean aliens who wield sticks and stones, but rather aliens from old TV shows and movies who look goofy (or often look goofy). I love the creative work done by make-up artists and folks working with rubber and shiny polyester on these creatures. I’ve always appreciated old time special effects with technological limitations – nothing has taken the magic out of sci-fi and fantasy for me more than computer graphics. I used to wonder how they did it … now I know, and I wonder why with the ability to do virtually anything, they did what they did.

But let’s get back to those old sci-fi aliens – here’s a little chart of aliens I have known (or “watched” would be more appropriate). I’ll include a link to download it below. This could be used for rolling random alien encounters in a gonzo fantasy game, or just for inspiration when doing your own thing.

Oh – and those aliens from a galaxy far, far away who are too stuck up to come visit the Milky Way Galaxy – I left them out. Enjoy!

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD

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