Welcome to an Era of Play article, detailing other time periods you can set a Star Trek Adventures campaign.
While the Star Trek Adventures Core Rulebook name-drops the era of Star Trek Enterprise, the default assumption of the rules is that you’re playing in the late 24th Century, not the mid-22nd Century. Playing two hundred years prior with the same rules has a few problems, and this blog offers some advice on running a campaign in the eras of the Earth-Romulan war or Rise of the Federation.
Campaigns set in the second half of the 22nd Century (2150 and onward) feature significantly different technology from other eras in Star Trek: deflector shields did not exist and ships made use of plasma cannons or phase cannons rather than phasers.
This article provides a few options for handling these ships.
In the mid-22nd Century, ships of the United Earth Starfleet lacked defensive shields, and polarized the ship’s hull plating to ward off radiation as well as hostile energy weapons. Spatial torpedoes were still a common armament, with the NX Enterprise only acquiring “photonic torpedoes” a couple years into its mission, which were a less refined form of photon torpedoes. Similarly, handheld phase pistols were the typical sidearm.
In theory, ships from this era should use weaponry with different statistics than a regular campaign, with phase cannons dealing less damage or having shorter range than phasers, perhaps having a harder time inflicting breaches as ships of the era are functionally unshielded. But this adds a layer of complexity, while impacting the expected math of the game.
(Edit: Since the time of this writing, the Command Division Sourcebook was released offering official rules for using polarised hull plating, but it doesn’t address inter-era conflict.)
For Gamemasters wishing more verisimilitude in their games, with ships that are mechanically inferiour to ones from the default era, it’s easiest to reduce both the damage and the shielding of ships, similar to how small craft have different numbers.
22nd Century starship weapons deal damage equal to half the total of the ship’s Scale plus Security, rounding down. Similarly, 22nd Century starships have a Hull score in place of Shields equal to half the total of its Structure plus Security, rounding down.
This change means ships will deal less damage overall, but require less damage to bypass their polarized hull, theoretically keeping combat roughly the same length. However, because damage is reduced, breaches will also be less common and harder to inflict with energy weapons. It will take more hits in total to disable or destroy a vessel, increasing ship combat length.
This easiest method for running Rise of the Federation campaigns is changing names rather than the mechanics. The intent is that ship from that time frame shouldn’t be ineffective against other ships of that era or take longer to destroy said ships. An NX-class ship should normally be able to hold its own against 22nd Century Klingon warbirds.
As such, it’s simplest to use the base rules of the game and rename & reflavour the core options: phasers become phase cannons, shields become hull plating, and photon torpedoes become photonic torpedoes. Things play normally with those different names. (It’s also possible to have spatial torpedoes use the statistics for photon torpedoes, while photonic torpedoes use the mechanics for quantum torpedoes.)
This option works fine provided all the starships in the campaign belong to the same era, but doesn’t work as well when mixing ships from different timelines. However, if an older starship never encounters a vessel from a different time period, it doesn’t matter if they’re using weapons with inaccurate statistics.
A consideration for a campaign set solely at an earlier timeframe is the limited size variation of ships: all ships would be Scale 1 to 3.
While the Ganges, Intrepid, and NX-class starships are all slightly different sizes, all are significantly larger than typical Scale 2 vessels, such as a Runabout. These should probably all be Scale 3. However, this makes the ships unvaried and diminishes the NX-class, which was meant to be sizeable compared to contemporary vessels and an accomplishment for humanity.
Mechanically, it also means the starships have fewer Talents, penalising the player’s options and the character’s abilities because of the flavourful choice of era.
(As a design note, this is why I placed the Intrepid and Daedalus at Scale 2 despite being fairly large; it should simply be less formidable than the Enterprise.)
For a campaign set entirely in the 22nd Century, an alternative is to revise the Scale system, increasing the effective Scale of the larger spaceships. Under this method, an NX-class might becomes Scale 5, while the Intrepid-type is Scale 4 and the Ganges is Scale 3. This allows the relatively smaller ships of the era to feel larger, while also being differentiated from each other. It also offers more customisation in terms of Talents and permits more crew support, allowing ships like the NX-class to be comparable to ships from the default era.
Mixing eras get tricky. An NX or Daedalus-class starship facing a more advanced ship, such as a a Constitution-class ship, should be at a severe disadvantage, if not entirely ineffective. However, even having a NX-class’ weapons inflict a couple fewer dice of damage wouldn’t accurately reflect the difference in technology: with some good rolls and a competent crew, an NX-class could theoretically defeat a much more advanced vessel, even one they should logically have little chance of defeating in-universe. This sounds implausible, but is something the base rules of the game just don’t handle particularly well. As written, a player-operated 23rd Century Constitution-class starship is able to hold its own against a GM controlled 24th Century Galaxy-class starship.
Because the rules don’t handle inter-era conflict well, it’s easiest to deal with a large difference in in tech narratively rather than mechanically, with the obsolete ships weapons just being wholly ineffective regardless of rolls. The phase cannons just fail to penetrate the advanced shields. This works best if the players are in the more advanced vessel, because it’s not particularly fun (and somewhat humiliating) to be defeated by an inferiour opponent. Narrative resolution can work if the players are in the less advanced ship, provided they trust their GM; it can seem somewhat unfair if players cannot affect their enemy, toeing the line of railroading. But it can be fun if done correctly, where defeating the overpowering enemy requires creative tactics or unorthodox strategy. Such as in 2009’s Star Trek, when Kirk used a cunning ploy to defeat the Romulan mining ship Narada.
Firm rules can work if necessary, but it takes some tweaking. Some Gamemasters prefer the neutrality of hard coded mechanics and some players just feel more comfortable with established rules, making it worth the extra effort. Mechanics work best when the players are in command of the less advanced vessel, which might be the case if the players are piloting a recovered antique ship, are facing a much more advanced alien species, or are confronting a ship from another era.
The default rule presented with the Star Trek: Enterprise era spaceframes on this site, is that the less advances ships are considered to have 0 Shields, reflecting the ineffective nature of polarised hull plating against more advanced energy weapons. Pairing this with weapons that do 1 or 2 fewer Challenge Dice of damage can certainly reflect the technological disparity. (Alternatively, when more advanced vessels are not the norm, adding a couple Challenge Dice to their damage would also work.) While disadvantaged, the ships can still potentially win a space battle, owing to Player Character’s higher Attributes and greater number of Talents, as well as careful use of Determination. Cunning tactics, such as an ambush or trap, could also lead to victory.