The Scientific Method Perfected (Well, maybe)

EDStellarCartSince gamemastering my first Star Trek Adventures campaign, the scientific method confounded me. I wrote about my confusion in one of my first blog posts here at Continuing Missions. My players fumbled with it when we played Decision Point 2.0. By the time I reached the Tug of War module, I was intent on simplifying how this works.

The explanation contained the core rulebook Chapter 6.40, pages 157-8 never seemed clear to me. In fact, if I had to give it a Tribble rating it would be…

Tribbles 2-5
For more on the Tribble-Rating system, click here.

No offense, STA-writers. But I needed to do a rewrite to help me and my players understand the scientific method better. With the help of two of my astute players, Mephit James and Greg Galoska, I present…


For simplicity’s sake, the scientific method can be generalized into three steps:

  1. Observe

  2. Hypothesize

  3. Testing

With each of these steps, a character gains increasing insight into a scientific problem and a solution to it, or even a breakthrough that could have universe-changing consequences. Though the Scientific Method is similar to Gated Challenges, the updated method does not produce Threat or Momentum. Why not, you may ask? Because there is really no danger in hypothesizing. As a gamemaster, I will let my players observe (review) all available data to make a hypothesis to put them on the right path.

Now, testing a hypothesis is another story. That is where I would assign a challenge with a WORK TRACK. Since testing can either fail or succeed, then it makes sense that Momentum CAN be generated from testing. Likewise, Complications could occur. (More on that in STEP 3.)

You may have noticed the change I made. Testing is a WORK TRACK, not a DIFFICULTY level. I think the term “difficulty” creates confusion. You will see how that works in STEP 3.

STEP 1 -OBSERVE (No roll required)

When a scientist is presented with an observation that they do not understand or an event that is occurring that is not well understood, they must begin to ask questions. Initial observations by the characters will be able to determine which Discipline the observations fit into: Engineering, Science, or Medicine. Once this category is determined, a character with a high skill level in that Discipline becomes “Research Lead”. This character takes lead in further steps and makes any dice rolls needed.

Example:  U.S.S. Saratoga is scanning the whale probe as it approaches the Sol System when power begins to flicker. Amy is portraying Lieutenant Scha’ls, the ship’s science officer, and is told by the gamemaster that it is a Science problem. As Scha’ls is the highest skilled science officer on Saratoga, she becomes Research Lead.

STEP 2 – HYPOTHESIZE  (No roll required)

At this stage, Players are encouraged to throw out ideas on what might be happening while trying to fit them into the Focuses for the category of the problem. The Research Lead then chooses between 3 and 5 of these ideas to use. These are called Hypotheses and the Research Lead may or may not have the skill focus, but they then explain these ideas to the Gamemaster. If the Gamemaster sees a Hypothesis that fits the actual solution to the research problem, they regard that as ‘The Right Way’. They do not inform the Players which Hypothesis is correct. If none of the Hypotheses presented to fit the actual problem at all, the Gamemaster immediately gains a Threat and can tell the Players to go back to the drawing board and repeat the process.

Example: Amy comes up with three possible causes to the power disruptions: Quantum Mechanics, Biology, and Theoretical Physics. The Player then explains that it might be Quantum Mechanics because of disruptions to how energy moves, it could be Biology because the probe itself has seemingly biological components, and it could be something totally outside the realm of known phenomena with Theoretical Physics. The Gamemaster thinks two of the presented Hypothesis are possible but chooses Quantum Mechanics as ‘The Right Way.’ He informs Amy that the correct Hypothesis is indeed in front of her, but not which one.

STEP 3 – TESTING (Roll(s) required)

The Gamemaster now assigns a number of successes needed to determine if the Hypothesis is correct. This is a WORK TRACK between 2* and 10. The Research Lead then chooses a direction to focus the research on. Players may pursue the wrong path and, if they are pressed for time, they may need to decide if they should continue to work on the Hypothesis they have chosen, or switch to another (see Timed Challenges). This is to represent the unknowns of research and development.

All testing starts at Difficulty 0 (or 1, if a very bizarre phenomenon).

Once the Players reach a total number of successes equal to the WORK TRACK in the correct research path, the Gamemaster informs the Players of their success. If a character has a Discipline of 2 or greater in the category of the problem (i.e., Engineering, Science, or Medicine) they are allowed to be an Assistant in the research regardless of what Focuses they have. This is due to common training amongst scientists and the ability of ideas to cross-pollinate between Focuses.

What happens if players roll complications during the testing phase? The gamemaster can use the complication to introduce a Difficulty level to the current testing. Each difficulty increase makes testing the theory harder, symbolizing risks that can come from experimentation. The gamemaster should be creative is explaining why the testing is taking on a greater risk.

What happens if players roll momentum during the testing phase? Likewise, any momentum generated during rolls can be used to eliminate complications or to work against the work track.

Example: The Gamemaster informs the Players that the energy disruptions from the whale probe are causing life support malfunctions and time is of the essence. The Gamemaster assigns a WORK TRACK 5/Difficulty 0 to the Research (without informing the Players of the correct choice, or the number of successes needed to complete the WORK TRACK). The gamemaster says that they have three rounds to find the solution.

{NOTE: A round can be various intervals of time: minutes, hours, days, weeks, etc. In this instance, let’s assume that each round is fifteen minutes.}

Round 1: Leading the research, Lt. Scha’ls has the backing of three other characters that are in the sciences and needs a Target Number of 15. She chooses Biology(“The Wrong Way”) as the first hypothesis to run with. She has three assistants. One is a Medical Officer with a Science Discipline of 2 that feels they can assist because of the biological nature of the whale probe. The second assistant is an Engineer who has a Science Discipline score of 2 that feels they can assist because of their knowledge of EPS systems. The third is a newly arrived junior science officer with a Science score of 2 that has a fresh outlook and may see things the others do not. They all roll successes, totaling three successes. Amy rolls a 5 and 10, getting two more successes for a total of five. A great roll, but the Gamemaster says they have not found the solution. It was the Wrong Way after all.

Round 2: Seeing they have two rounds left, and the roll was as good as it could be, the Player of Lt. Scha’ls decides to change the research direction to Quantum Mechanics (“The Right Way”). Only one Assistant gets a success (the engineer), and Amy rolls a 10 and 17, for a total of two successes.

Round 3: With one round to go, Amy chooses to stick with Quantum Mechanics. Two assistants get successes and Amy rolls a 5 and 18, for three successes and a total of five successes over three rounds. The Gamemaster informs the nervous Players that Lt Scha’ls has discovered that the whale probe’s transmissions are interfering with energy transfer on a quantum level and that she finds a way to dampen the effects enough to get life-support back to minimal levels, allowing the Players to wait out the whale probes visit to the Sol System.

*Why did I change the range from 1-10 to 2-10? To me, there is no reason to have Scientific Method as a facet of the game if it can be solved in one interval. The method should symbolize time taken to gather relevant clues and data, analyze the facts, draw conclusions, and test theories. If it can all be done in one round, it is more of a task. My opinion.


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