Several of the authors here at Continuing Mission are focusing on Star Trek: Discovery for the month of December. Jester’s publishing new species for the 23rd century (starting with Orions last week) as well as some Discovery-inspired spaceframes (starting with the Walker class). I’m taking a more oblique approach with new species to bring a spirit of discovery to your 24th century games. Today, though, I want to directly address Star Trek: Discovery by presenting a campaign framework that the period needs: Star Trek during wartime.
Making Wartime Characters
The good news is that there are wars in Star Trek already so a war story can include typical Star Trek characters. You don’t need to make a special “soldier character” any more than the episode writers needed to invent a new character for episodes during the Dominion War. There are a few things to consider, though, when writing a story that takes place during a time of war.
The Lethal Question
One big thing to settle with a wartime campaign is how you want to approach lethal combat. In the normal course of Starfleet missions there is often no need for lethal force but wartime is different. On many missions into enemy territory your Player Characters will need to kill their opponents, much to the dismay of the philosophical foundations of Starfleet.
The issue in Star Trek Adventures, however, is that any lethal action immediately adds to the Threat pool. As discussed on page 174 in Making an Attack, any time someone makes a lethal attack the GM adds a point to the Threat pool. This can feel like an unfair situation, so how do you approach this in a campaign? There are two easy answers.
- Don’t change anything. Some people seem to view this facet of the rules as Starfleet squeamishness which has no place in the grisly business of war. I would push back against that, though. Threat doesn’t increase when someone does something they don’t like, it increases when something happens that means the situation is getting serious. When a character adds to the Threat pool to jump out of the way of damage or gain an extra die to roll, they are doing that because the situation is dire and they want to live to see another day. By the same token, adding to Threat with a lethal attack is just a measure of how serious a firefight is. Leave it in and accept the risk.
- Get Threat in other ways. There are already lots of other ways that Threat is generated in Star Trek Adventures so you can rely on those. You might get less Threat this way but you will also have more opportunities to force players to Avoid an Injury, etc. In a typical mission, lethal attacks probably only come up occasionally so it will only be a slight impact on your Threat pool. After all, situations are more likely to be threatening in wartime so your baseline might actually be higher anyways. If you’re really worried about it, consider the options below.
Other Methods of Generating Threat
Other 2d20 games have different mechanisms to generate Threat (or, more specifically, their version of it) and you can add those into the mix to keep your Threat total up without the points earned by lethal attacks. The following Threat-generating options are particularly appropriate for a dangerous, high-lethality story such as a wartime campaign. You can use them to replace the Threat from lethal attacks or just add them in as new “wartime options.”
- Reactions: Player Characters are already able to immediately counterattack when a foe makes a melee attack and loses the Opposed Task. You can extend this to any Opposed Task by making it cost a Threat outside of melee combat. When a Player Character successfully opposes a sensor jam, maintains a deception, or resists intimidation they can add a point of Threat and treat the situation as if they were the ones initiating the Opposed Task and that they one. The Player Character’s iron face actually intimidates the enemy or they hide their lie and also see through the other person’s.
- Voluntary Failure: This is a new option for players to consider, a way to mess up before a crisis in order to improve their odds later. Players already have the option to add to Threat instead of an immediate Momentum spend (see Star Trek Adventures p 281) but with this option they can voluntarily fail a roll early in the mission to gain Momentum for later. When a Player succeeds at a Task, they can choose to instead fail and gain one point of Momentum and add one point of Threat to the pool. This is a failure in every way so if they would have gained extra Momentum from the successful roll those are lost as well.
Outside of Starfleet
One staple of wartime stories is the clash between armed forces on the same side. In a war film about Vietnam, you might see an Air Force commander demands resources that make the Army protagonists’ unit undersupplied. During World War II films there is always a shortage of resources and a rivalry between different nations’ forces to see who will achieve what goals. Modern stories are often more concerned with tensions between military organizations and intelligence agencies like the CIA or NSA.
Can this be part of a Star Trek campaign? Everyone’s either Starfleet or they’re a foreign group, right? Well, not entirely. The Federation relies pretty heavily on Starfleet for nearly every sort of task in their systems from scientific surveys to tactical engagements to diplomatic missions. Starfleet isn’t the only group around, however, and here are a few options outside of that to create rival storylines.
- Andorian Defense Force: The Andorian military is an aggressive and effective force in the era before the founding of the Federation, as seen in Star Trek: Enterprise, and it stands to reason that it remains strong into the 24th century. Star Trek novels and RPG sourcebooks show it operating in Andorian space and some also show the Andorian Marines as a ground force on Andorian worlds.
- Bajoran Militia: With the Dominion War on the horizon in the default Star Trek Adventures roleplaying game, the Bajorans are natural allies. They aren’t a part of the Federation, though, and many of the episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine show that this distinction is important and deep. The Bajorans are willing to take actions that Starfleet won’t tolerate and it’s easy to see how this divide could jeopardize a mission.
- MACO: Another force seen in Star Trek: Enterprise, the Military Assault Command Organization was the special forces of the United Earth government before the Federation. There’s no mention of what happens to them after that but it’s easy to imagine them remaining a special forces unit of Starfleet into the 24th century. Alternatively, they might be the ground military forces of Earth under the Federation. You can choose what you want in your campaign.
- Naval Patrol: In the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Thirty Days,” Tom Paris mentions his desire to join the Federation Naval Patrol before his father pushed him into Starfleet. The Navel Patrol operates on the oceans of Federation member worlds, mapping and exploring in the same way that Starfleet does. A joint operation between the two organizations would surely lead to problems of jurisdiction.
- Section 31: Technically a part of Starfleet Intelligence, Section 31 is either Starfleet’s deniable black ops division or a rogue organization that works counter to Starfleet’s interests depending on who you ask. While it’s easy to imagine them as antagonists (and that’s mostly how they appear in the series) they do work for the safety of the Federation so Section 31 also makes a good ally in a strained and singular way.
- Trill Defense Ministry: This organization only appears in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novels but it presents a great opportunity for a “difficult ally.” Trills have a life expectancy similar to humans but their symbionts can live for centuries. What happens when an ancient intelligence approaches a dangerous threat to its homeworld? On joint missions between Starfleet and the Trill Defense Ministry, it’s almost inevitable that differences of opinion would start to threaten the partnership.
- Vulcan Defense Force: This group, also called the “Vulcan Expeditionary Force” in Star Trek: Discovery, is dedicated to the protection of Vulcan and its colonies. It works with the Federation but is not part of Starfleet and ultimately answers to the Vulcan government rather than Starfleet Command. LIke the Trill, the Vulcans make an excellent set of allies who might have the same goals but very different ideas of how to get there. They also have the advantage of being a well-known quantity to Star Trek fans.
Aside from these, of course, there are many other foreign powers (from the Romulans, Klingons, and Cardassians to the Kazon, Breen, and Vaadwaur) that could have temporary alliances. The tensions in these situations are likely to be even higher as the Klingon brawls on Deep Space Nine during the Dominion War show in the series. Even if friction between organizations isn’t a central part of your wartime missions, it makes for interesting background that can deepen the sense of military service for your Players.
A Soldier’s Choices
Making characters for wartime campaigns doesn’t need to be any different than a more peaceful period for Star Trek Adventures. It might seem that every Player Character needs to be a hardened soldier with high Daring and Fitness as well as a strong Security rating. These characters will find more to do in a wartime campaign than they will in other campaigns but they aren’t the only appropriate characters by any means. Every Ability and Discipline has its place in times of war and Players should build their characters accordingly.
Physical Attributes like Fitness and Daring will be useful for combat-focused characters including front-line soldiers and combat pilots. Control and Presence are more useful for commanders giving orders or seeking allies but they’re also good for keeping cool under fire and facing down the enemy respectively. Characters with high Reason will be great tacticians or analysts while those with high Insight can read the tactics of the enemy and ferret out spies.
By the same token, most characters will want some Security rating for combat but this will only be a focus for dedicated security officers as in a regular Star Trek Adventures campaign. Ship captains and squad leaders will need high Command but it also works against coercion and when a group is separated and trying to regroup. Pilots will need Conn in space battles, and others will need Engineering to stay on top of Breaches or to modify weapons against the enemy. Science will help find clever solutions to exploit enemy ship’s weaknesses and Medicine can do the same for the enemy themselves as well as patching up wounded soldiers.
Organizing a War
In most cases, wars seen in Star Trek are background events that happen while the main characters are doing something else. For instance, one of the biggest battles in the history of the Star Trek franchise, Wolf 359, takes place entirely offscreen (later appearances in Deep Space Nine notwithstanding) as the crew of the Enterprise deals with their technical and tactical problems.
Wars in Star Trek Adventures should operate in much the same way. Player Characters will deal with individual missions that involve the war effort, engaging enemy outposts and staging rescue operations, but without the large-scale battles of a wartime movie. When the enemy is engaged they are fought in small groups through a series of battles that show the shape of the larger fight. You can see these sorts of stories in Dominion War episodes such as “Dogs of War” and “The Siege of AR-558,” both of which feature plenty of fighting and a wartime feel without a single trench or artillery unit in sight.
Of course, huge battles are seen in the Star Trek series in some cases. In “Redemption, Part II” Starfleet launches a massive armada against a joint Klingon-Romulan force during the Klingon Civil War and at the First and Second Battles of Chin’toka there were dozens of ships on both sides. The best approach here is to use narrative license to describe what’s going on in the larger battle and focus on what’s going on with the Player Characters’ ship. They fight one or two ships at a time, perhaps with a nearby ally, and when their targets are disable or free another target comes into view. Hand out control of allied ships to players to reduce the burden on the GM and feel free to have new opponents mid-battle engage the players’ ship at three-quarters or half Power level, reduced Shields, and with 1d6 Breaches.
Making Wartime Scenarios
Wartime scenarios are much like other scenarios but they always have something to do with the larger conflict going on. Below is a formula that can easily create a military mission during a time of war, but feel free to include other stories as well which focus on the “homefront” side of things. If the Player Characters complete a mission to destroy an enemy weapons depot, the next mission might involve meeting a diplomatic party from a potential ally or locating a saboteur aboard an important space station. This sort of variety is what makes wars in Star Trek stories different from the sort of grim conflicts that mark other sci-fi series.
To construct a wartime military mission, start with an objective. What is the crew expected to accomplish? Unlike other sorts of missions, the crew will know what danger they face ahead of time and possibly in exacting detail depending on Starfleet Intelligence’s information. They might need to capture a piece of technology or a person, disable or destroy an enemy resource, prevent a besieged colony from falling, or any other objective the GM can think of.
In military situations, the crew is not operating as a lone vessel on an isolated mission. When Starfleet gives them their objective they also probably deliver the set of tactics that Starfleet Command expects. This might involve working with a second vessel, achieving a particular objective but leaving another opportunity behind, or even concentrating on a mission of distraction while another ship does the more glorious work. These tactics are part of the massive, complex machine of war and the brass can take a dim view of crews that ignore the plan. For crews that are used to autonomy, that can be a difficult reality to get used to.
“No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy,” as the adage goes so even knowing their objective and being handed a set of tactics the crew is going to have to think on their feet. It might be that Starfleet only has a plan up to a point and they expect the crew to fill in the gaps. The mission tactics might be to use a stealthy approach to reach an enemy base, beam an away team down, take the command post and download the data, then leave the system. This is great, except that the details of taking the command post are left unsaid and there is sure to be at least a few snags. Likewise, there might be a finely crafted set of battle tactics built on faulty or incomplete information so that when the ship arrives they have to throw it all out and improvise.
Once the GM creates the objective and tactics for a mission, they come up with this dilemma to keep things interesting. This is a fine line: it needs to be a big enough dilemma that it disrupts the plan that the crew received but not so disruptive that they lose confidence in Starfleet and feel like they’ve been set up. Even if the mission involves abandoning the predetermined plan, it’s best of the solution is to try a completely new tactic in order to get back to the original plan that they came to do.