Tuesday, 15 September 2020

The First Mission - Our new STA campaign!

Captain's log, star date 44853.2. On route to the Yindar system to rendezvous with our guests from the Vulcan Science Directorate, long range sensors have detected a faint subspace distress beacon from a nearby main sequence system; the VSD cursory details list it as Yel-Okuh-Naukuh-Dahleh or 8-9-20. The beacon appears to be of Terran design but does not match any known registry in the computer's database. I have requested that Cmdr Onovren take charge of any investigations and subsequent operations.

The Briefing Room

As with many other adventures in Trek, the game started in the ship's briefing room following delivery of the details available. As this was the first game of our campaign I was keen to ensure that ample time was given for players to 'establish' their character's look and personality. I didn't want to chuck em in at the deep end as we're all still getting to grips with the system and a good briefing room discussion seemed perfect.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Interest was clearly piqued by the fact that we had a distress beacon from a potentially very old ship in an otherwise fairly innocuous system. The Star, effectively 'uncharted' and known by its Vulcan catalogue number in the system as 8-9-20 was a late phase main sequence star orbited by two class J planets, both of which had a significant number of moons. Heavy prominence activity resulting in extreme solar flaring caused ongoing disruption to scanning attempts but thankfully the crew had access to the Franz Boas' newly refurbished state of the art array.

The players decided that this would be an ideal time to test the capabilities of the prototype shuttle-craft onboard (as a Miranda Class ship, the crew have access to extensive shuttle bays and larger vessels. The time line is a touch early for housing a Danube so we decided it's going to be an early prototype and in line with the ones seen in the old Enterprise technical specs. This also means I get to use warp sleds!)

Preparation for departure

So the plan was to prep the new shuttle for emergency operations and allow the ship to continue on route to rendezvous with the Vulcans. As a modular protoype, the shuttle could be refitted with different modules to allow for more specialised mission objectives. This also fits in well with the rules system as it can work in the players favour with regards to opportunity spends and having the correct equipment to hand without the need for lengthy bookkeeping!

There was questions over detouring the USS Franz Boas to investigate the beacon as it was effectively a distress call, but given the perceived age of the signal, a decision was made that the ship could continue on route and the shuttle would be fine for investigating. There was however the puzzling point that if the Vulcans had swept the system hundreds of years prior, why wouldn't they have picked up the signal? A bit of pride in the new sensor array, couple with the distorting effects of the solar radiation were believed to be the likely culprits.

Away team away

The distance to the star system allowed more time for player interactions and it was great to hear players making small quips which started to reveal bits about their personalities and backgrounds. 

I always like running Trek in an episodic fashion similar to the shows. This allows players to bring forth information or quirks that we wouldn't have seen before. It also allows players to develop their characters without heavy changes or lengthy downtime. So you decided that you'd quite like your science officer to be musically gifted? Sure. Just because you haven't stated that to begin with doesn't mean it can't be so. Its just like in the show when we don't know that Riker can play a mean trombone until we do.

Anyways, back on route to 8-9-20, the crew encountered some serious power drains on the new shuttle as the shield systems kicked in to cover the increasing solar activity. Nothing dangerous, but it meant manoeuvring became a little sluggish. Not having the sensors of the ship to help, the away crew had to rely on the shorter range scanners and getting up close to discover the source of the distress beacon.  One of the moons orbiting 8-9-20-A was large enough to sustain an environment and at the lower bounds of L class (under standard Federation planetary classification systems). Dense cloud cover and a high rotational speed give rise to significant electro-magnetic shielding. It was noted that the aurora were spectacular! Orbiting this moon was the source of the beacon - a very old, and significantly damaged, not to mention considerably sized, command module from the old Terran styled colony/seeding ships...

Looking forward

The group seemed to really enjoy the first session and comments of, "it felt very much like Trek", were very reassuring for me; particularly given that some of the players are very much died in the wool Trek detail nerds (not that this is a bad thing by any stretch!). It does mean that one needs to spend a bit of time managing expectations in the details and technobabble. The system works well overall but I have misgivings about momentum and threat and how I, personally, manage this. I'm a GM that normally tries to avoid rolling whenever I can. The downside here is that this prevents the players from opportunities to generate momentum. In the short term I've made it clear that I'll try to allow rolls when it doesn't break the immersion of 'roleplay' to keep the game flowing. Longer term I might just start to pepper in momentum gains when it feels appropriate. Either way, I've got high hopes for the game going forward.

Friday, 21 August 2020

Star Trek Adventures Ship Creation

 Taking a break from generating crew and auxiliary crew for the upcoming Star Trek Adventures game, took some time to focus on perhaps the most important NPC; the ship!

The core rule book has a system for creating a wide range of vessels in a simple and effective manner. Much like the life path system for characters, there's a number of simple steps to take your ship from either San Francisco or Utopia Planitia to the borders of explore space, and beyond!

Starships in Star Trek Adventures

Acting much like characters in their own right, vessels have a spread of stats split into systems and departments. Systems are the plasma conduits and monitors. The physical nuts and bolts of the ship. Departments then, being representative of the crew who voyage in her.
There are essentially four key stages in the creation of a new vessel. You'll need to know what year your game is set, the class of ship you want, and its mission profile. To round this off you'll then need to consider refits and any finishing touches. 

I've already discussed the idea behind the name of the USS Franz Boas and that my game will be set in 2365. As I also know that the ship will be a Miranda class and have a rough idea of what it's mission profile will be I'm off to a good start. Modiphius provides form fillable character sheets as a free download which also includes one for ship details. Its a nice sheet but has default art. A big thanks then to Corey Belote and the folks at the Continuing Mission blog for doing a pretty impressive collection of sheets covering all manner of classes. I'll put up a copy of the finished version at the bottom here.

What's in a Frame?

With service date logged, I scroll through the data files and look up the Miranda class entry. I confirm the initial service entry date, 2274, and jot down the base systems and the bonuses to the departments. Whilst the core systems of a ship will always be the same, the department profile is determined by the current mission parameters. This makes broad sense in so far as a Galaxy class hull is a Galaxy class hull regardless of whether its on deep space exploration or border defense. Sure, you'll want to do some modifications but that's covered later.

I also note down the ship's scale and the basic attacks that it comes with. Scale is used to derive certain characteristics later and gives a sense of size for those who might not be intimately familiar with the ranges which have graced the screens over the years. There's also a note of the fact that the Miranda class gains the talent Extensive Shuttlebays. Without getting too bogged down in the rules, this essentially means that this ship will be able to support twice as many shuttles as a normal ship of its size, and it will also be able to house larger scale vehicles than normal. An interesting thing to consider in later missions.

Mission Profiles

Once you've settled on a ship, you also need to have a think about what kind of mission profile the ship is kitted out for. In the main, one would expect that mission profile will be relatively straightforward. You'll have the kind of game you want to play in mind, and then you simply pick the most appropriate. For example, if you are playing in the Original Series era you'll probably default to something like the Multirole Explorer. A jack of all trades crew ready to deal with anything that might come their way. Alternatively, one might want something a bit darker. Maybe you're playing at the height of the Dominion War and want something more like Tactical Operations. Of course, you could spice things up and have a game similar to the events of Voyager. Maybe the ship has a designated role but circumstance has thrown them out of their 'comfort zone' and you now have a crew at odds with their original mission?

As we'll be playing in the spirit of the Next Gen era with all the diplomacy and scientific techno-babble that entails, I decided upon Scientific and Survey Operations. The Franz Boas will be well suited to "seeking out new life and new civilisations". The players are not particularly combat minded so a science vessel with plenty of specialists seemed just the ticket. I didn't feel that 'diplomacy' was the right focus for the spread of characters so hopefully it'll work well.

The mission profile gives a nice spread of stats in the department section and access to the talent Advanced Research Facilities which will give them the edge in extended study. The Security department has to take a bit of a back seat here but with one of the players taking on the role of a more than competent Caitian Security Chief, I'm sure they'll be able to handle it when things inevitably go sideways...


As the Miranda class entered service a good whiles before the start of our game, the Franz Boas has undergone a number of refits during it's long service history. The creation system says that for every 10 years between the frame entering service and the start date of the game, add a refit bonus to the ship. As we're talking 80 years in this case, that's 8 bonus points to distribute around the ship's systems. I sprinkle these where they seem most appropriate, and then head to the finishing touches. There's some simple mathematics involved to obtain derived values but nothing more taxing than adding a few low numbers together. The ship also gains another two talents and I plump for Advanced Sensor Suites and Rugged Design. Top of the range sensors seems a legitimate choice for a dedicated science vessel and the rugged design fits with this being an old workhorse of the fleet; still proudly serving after over eight decades.

I really like the idea of the refits for both a simple mechanical design as well as opening up potential for roleplaying flavour. Discussing this with a couple of friends its easy to see how you can bring a lot more life to a ship when you consider it's history. If the vessel has gone under so many refits its fair to say that it might not have always been a science vessel. Maybe it served as a troop carrier in the early days of the Cardassian conflict? Maybe it even helped in diplomatic duties in the wake of the Khitomer Accords. With such a long history there are no doubt little quirks and traditions that have been passed down throughout the crew. Maybe the current crew doesn't even know the significance of why there that empty bottle of Andorian wine sits above the replicators in the mess. Whats the significance of the bronze dice hanging in engineering?

After all these years, it kept the roll bar!

A lot of the detail and excitement about this system and the upcoming game will no doubt be influenced or biased by the group's, and definitely my, enthusiasm for all things Trek. We grew up on the possibilities the Next Gen offered on the back of the exploration and fisticuffs that ToS pioneered. I've still a fair bit of history to write for this, and her current NPC crew but nothing in the system has hindered my enthusiasm; only served to help.

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Lifepaths - A Star Trek Adventure Character Generation Overview

For my upcoming Star Trek Adventures game, I thought it would be a good idea to get as many of the players together for a session zero chat and some character generation. Unfortunately a player had to step back due to increasing commitments elsewhere, but as fate would have it another became available. On top of that, I got word back about two auxiliary players who would love to drop in and out where they could.

Just needs some crew...

Star Trek games have the benefit of bringing convenient excuses for players that can't always make games sessions. You can be on leave, working on a different project, or maybe your character just didn't feature in the script for that episode. Whatever the reason, there's less chance of having to worry about missing a session as you're unlikely to be half way through a dungeon delve or what have you.

We gathered virtually around the briefing room table (my Discord gaming server) and had a bit of a chat about the high level details of the setting and what people wanted. At this stage the key things for the group were to know when and where we'd be playing. I don't mean online every Tuesday, but at what point in Trek's canon. The group has a mix of players with some dyed in the wool, ardent Trekkies, and some who enjoy the show well enough but might struggle to tell the difference between their Bolians and Benzites. On one end of the spectrum you have those that like the added detail of knowing its 2365 and they'll be serving on a Miranda class outfitted for research. On the other? These players know it's Next Gen and they've seen a picture of the ship. It might be a tricky balancing act to keep everyone happy but we're a fairly mature bunch who've played together on and off for almost twenty years.

So how does one create a character?

There's a lot of chat in the online social media bubbles about how easy/hard/quick/long it should take to create a character. If we are all honest, there isn't a straightforward answer as it'll be heavily influenced by the type of game you're playing, as well as the system. For something like Star Trek, where the perceived intent of a Next Gen style game, I think it's reasonable to expect character gen to take a bit of time. In a setting where discourse and team work is the order of the day, you want a character you have developed an attachment to and can feel 'lived in', rather than a bunch of numbers you've checked out on some Reddit build optimisation thread...

For me, Star Trek Adventures strikes a great balance. The majority of character creation, for four players, including chat and time to discuss individual details took less than two hours. The life-path system can be rushed through to generate stats and abilities quickly but can also be used as a tool to help players shape some characterful details.

Species and Environment

It's a big galaxy out there and one of the two key decisions about your character comes first. What species do you want to play? I'm aware of the recent social media commentary on the use of species modifiers etc., but I think STA deals with it well. There's no downside or negative penalty to any species, other than the obvious social implications, and the overall effects from your choices are far outweighed by the factors which follow. Your environment, either chosen or randomly assigned, gives an indication of where you grew up and helps shape your values and adds to your attribute and discipline progression. core book only contains a handful of playable species, by the time you add in all the supplements there's plenty to chose from; with all the major players from the franchise represented. If you wanted something different and super niche, it wouldn't be that hard to beg borrow and steal from the existing framework. I'm fairly easy going but to prevent too much extra work on my part, I simply asked the players to stick to something from the bundle.

Its a big galaxy out there

Upbringing and the Academy

In the lifepath system, the upbringing adds a really nice touch which I think manages to be both brilliant and simple. Again, you can pick or roll randomly to determine the overall type of upbringing you had. Were you a Starfleet brat moving from position to position, or perhaps you might have been raised by a collective focusing on artistic endeavour. The clever part is that for each of these you can either embrace or rebel. This led to a scenario where one of my players chose to rebel against his Starfleet upbringing. But wait, if he rebelled against that, then how did he end up as a pretty straight-laced chief of security on a renowned Starfleet vessel? These little prompts can really help players focus on aspects of their characters and trigger ideas to round out what could otherwise be a flat bundle of numbers.

Your time at the Academy is where you'll gain the majority of your focuses and effectively shape your character into the specific branch of Starfleet that you'll play in game. You can continue to generate randomly but by this point I would expect a lot of players will have at least an inkling into the career they'd like.

The Career so far...

Putting me in mind of the Traveller random events (although *spoiler* no one can die in character creation), the lifepath creation element comes to a close with each character experiencing two career defining moments. In a larger group of players this might mean that, from the table available, there will be some duplication but that's not a bad thing. Shared experiences, whether by virtue of them being present together, or simply coincidental occurrences might actually lead to interesting in character discussions and relations.

If you were to approach this cold, you could easily generate a character in less than 15 minutes. What our group really latched onto, was the idea of going through the process together but then taking time to think about specific values and talents. How did each of these events and circumstances shape them into the officers they are today? Everyone went away with lots of thinking to do but energised and excited by fleshing out the details. The setting has a big part to play in this but I'm glad that the character creation segment didn't stifle or bore anyone. Everything made sense and for me running the game, provided plenty of potential plot hooks and challenges to throw them down the line...

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

To Boldly Go! - Star Trek Adventures from Modiphius

 Along with many hundreds of others no doubt, I recently picked up the Star Trek Adventures bundle from Humble Bundle and Modiphius. Based on their 2d20 system, this was an opportunity to pick up a huge volume of reading material as well as the rules for a new campaign I'm kicking off.

One of the great things I really enjoy about starting a new game or, hopefully, a campaign, is the time I get to spend designing the background set dressing. Locales and non-player characters really let me get into the 'design' space and fashion things to my liking. For established franchises like Trek this can seem more restrictive but far from it. Here I get the chance to design and name a new ship as well as important crew positions that need filled. I got the players to give me a couple of lines of character ideas so that I knew specifically what gaps would need a fillin'. 

Then with classic Next Gen episodes running in the background thanks to Netflix, I was able to grab a cup of tea (Earl Grey, hot - obviously!) and set to work.

The Players' Characters

In an effort to ensure that the characters still had the spotlight, but also avoiding them from being directly in control of the ship, I asked for some input so I could build around them. If someone was super keen to play a Vulcan xeno-medical specialist, I wouldn't want to then have a Vulcan CMO to steal their thunder. In this way I'd have a captain and first officer NPC but allow the characters their own agency whilst still being able to guide in certain directions.

The first to get back to me stated they were always playing aliens so really wanted to play a standard human engineer type. Within ten minutes this had changed to Denobulan... Absolutely no problem.

Second was a human science officer. They thought specialising in Archaeology and Anthropology would be something they'd like to try out. Again, no issues.

Our third player knows they are leaning heavily into security but undecided on whether to play standard human or go with Caitian. They played a bit of STO and had a similar character as part of their bridge crew. I'm never one to shut down player choices but was wary that my background knowledge was a sketchy here. Still, a perfect excuse to do more reading and on the face of it, nothing which would cause any conflict.

The fourth player, being fickle as they are, is still undecided. This isn't a problem in Trek as in all the previous iterations, I've ran it much like the TV shows, and games are episodic. Characters can duck out, and join, more easily between games as they're on leave or stationed somewhere else for work that week to help out. It's also a neat trick to allow characters to gain skills without needing lengthy downtime. I didn't know that science officer was such a good shot? Sure, they spend a lot of time in the holo-deck running classic spaghetti western programs. You just didn't know it because we hadn't reached that episode yet...

The Ship

Ah, probably the best part; the ship! 

For early(ish) period Next Gen games, I'm thinking around 2365, my default is always the Miranda class. Apart from looking cool, its big but has a small crew complement. It's heavily convertible with examples of troop carriers, escorts, and long range science vessels in canon. It ticks all the boxes for me running a Star Trek game. I can stat out all the important ranked crew and then introduce specialists that are on board as and when needed. This isn't Enterprise or ToS era so I don't need a hefty number of bland red shirts to expire to highlight the danger of what's occurring!

Miranda class | Memory Alpha | Fandom

The concept of xeno-anthropology or archaeology got me thinking and I settled on the idea of naming the ship after a notable scientist in that field. The difficulty then becomes narrowing down the choices. I do like throwing in some Scottish flavour into my games when I can and James George Frazer, author of the Golden Bough ticks both of those boxes. The tone of their work doesn't really ring with Roddenberry's vision of the Trek future though so discarding the Scottish influence, I was able to find a much more suitable candidate in Franz Boas. With this, the USS Franz Boas was commissioned. (The full registry can come later...)

Despite a low crew complement she's a hefty vessel with a displacement in the region of 150,000 tonnes. I've decided to keep the iconic roll bar look as well as the four main decks. Converted to support, principally, anthropological and diplomatic missions, the USS Franz Boas will have additional support personnel to draw from and well equipped labs and research facilities. Capable of a top speed of ~ Warp 9.2, she'll also have an experienced team of engineers to keep everything running smoothly. Whilst internal security is maybe not the first on the list of critical features for such a vessel, diplomacy isn't always easy and in carrying out long range missions, a good, solid, tactical mind and overseer of such things means that player will still have lots of input.

For those of you interest in such things, I'll put up a copy of the full Star Trek Adventures stat block for the USS Franz Boas when I've worked it all out. I'll also add up here some of the NPCs I come up with and try and keep a wee log of how the game progresses. They can either serve as inspiration, or more likely warnings of what to avoid!

Monday, 17 August 2020

The Kingdom of Fib - Dux Bellorum with Pendraken

Osprey Publishing have always been a mainstay of historical wargamer's collections. Whether its for an easy dive into a specific period or to seek out conversion fodder and paint schemes from the wonderful plates, there tends to be something for everyone. Going back a fair few years now, it was a bit of a welcome surprise when they started to publish the Osprey Wargames line. These books in the traditional Osprey format were fairly simple games from a host of different periods. As it stands, there are now over twenty five different titles, with no signs of stopping.

One of the first to be released was Daniel Mersey's Dux Bellorum (having just checked my copy it was actually the first OWG1). With fantastic illustrations from José Daniel Cabrera Peña, this was a straightforward unit based battle game for early dark age conflicts in the British Isles. Anyone who knows me, knows I have a penchant for this period so it was no surprise that I took this wee game to heart at the time.

If you haven't seen the rules before a very brief summary is to say that they are command and control based with figures organised in units. The idea is that all units will have the same footprint throughout the course of the game allowing gamers to utilise elements that they might already have around. Units can be activated and moved singly or as part of larger groups and cover horse, regular infantry, and skirmishers.

At the local club, we played a fair bit but it wasn't long before a couple of individuals started to introduce house rules and change things to better suit their tastes. As these were the folks organising the majority of the games the rest kind of followed on. When the house rule document was almost as big as the core rules, I knew it was time to step back. I'm not saying I disagree with the rules that the folks suggested; in many cases they were sensible and made a lot of sense in the bigger picture. For me though, it took away from the simple idea of this game at its heart. Fast forward a good few years and I'm taking another look.

With a young family and a wandering interest for new things, I enjoy when I can have what is often termed, "a game in a box". I'm a fan of a quick and easy way to get a project off the ground and finished so that I can actually game with it. If I can do this cheaply, all the better!

Using the Dux Bellorum rules and sourcing figures from the wonderful Pendraken Dark Age Picts and Late Roman ranges (not to mention some bases), I picked up what would be one half of my game in a box. Clocking in at under £25, this is a big thumbs up as I could have two forces assembled for this side of £50 (not including paints and such which I have anyway). Settling on a warband hailing from near where I grew up, these would be men from Fib and Gododdin.

Below are pictures of what I received along with some in progress build shots. Hoping that I should be able to get these based and painted pretty speedily. I've been out of painting practise for a while and I'm normally a 28mm gamer. I had considered painting these individually and then basing but I thought that would lead to even more procrastination than usual. As such, get em all on their bases and get a lick o paint on them.

Here are the horse - heavy cavalry from the halls of Gododdin and lighter cavalry from the Pictish Kingdom.
The bases here are 60x30 mm and I think give a great balance between cost effectiveness and visual impact on the table. They are also handily scaled back from the Warband rules which means they can pull duty elsewhere.

And here are the infantry - warriors from Fib and skilled bowmen and slingers.


Finally, a shot of the warband coming together. You'll note that I've also added some of the Minibits diceframes. These are great for keeping these wee dice in place as wound trackers for the units. The dice can pull double duty (or more) elsewhere so I just need to pick up more frames as and when. I use these for other games including the appropriately named Warband from Pendraken as well as for pin markers in things like Bolt Action. Simply take a base with appropriate gubbins, frame, and voila.

For Dux Bellorum, this should give me all the options I'll need for a 'standard' game. Once I've got these painted I can then add some more Late Roman and early Saxon types for the surrounding kingdoms giving me the opportunity to play bigger battles or to have everything I need in a single box for games with a mate(s) at mine or in the club (if we ever get back!)

The First Mission - Our new STA campaign!

Captain's log, star date 44853.2. On route to the Yindar system to rendezvous with our guests from the Vulcan Science Directorate, long ...