How did the Star Trek Adventures Signals module rate?
The crew of the USS Pioneer (my player group’s Intrepid-class starship) just finished playing Signals, a mission included in Modiphius’ Star Trek Adventures Living Campaign. Writer Ian Lemke wrote a winner! Anyone can take part in the free Living Campaign by signing up here.
Before I get into the details of my review I have to say, in my opinion, this was the best module in the Living Campaign series so far. My players were literally on the edge of their ergonomically-appropriate seats the whole time.
SYNOPSIS (spoiler alert)
A month ago, Starfleet picked up an unusual alien signal emanating from the Seku system, deep inside the Carina Nebula within the Shackleton Expanse. The runabout Susquehanna was initially dispatched to investigate, but the crew failed to report and is presumed lost. Starfleet has asked the Player’s ship to investigate the source of the signal and locate the missing runabout.
Upon arrival at the Seku system, there is no sign of the missing runabout, but the crew picks up the alien signal emanating from Seku VI, as well as signals from active Starfleet comm badges. There is no response to any attempts at communication, so a team beams down to investigate. Soon after the away team heads down to the planet, the ship receives a faint distress signal from the Susquehanna from somewhere in the nebula.
While the ship enters the nebula to find the Susquehanna, the away team tries to determine what happened to the Starfleet officers on the planet and searches for the source of the mysterious alien signal. To do so, they must overcome the natural dangers on the planet while dealing with a group of Romulans who are also searching for the signal.
Meanwhile, the ship enters the nebula to search for the Susquehanna. Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones looking for the missing runabout. A Romulan warbird, lurking in the system, also picked up the distress signal. The nebula renders their cloaking device ineffective, but neither ship’s sensors work well in the nebula, so it becomes a game of “cat and mouse” as the two ships search the nebula for the missing runabout.
On Seku VI, the away team arrives at the source of the signal to discover a colony of Humans and Romulans at the location. The settlers in the colony are composed of outcasts: Maquis who fled the Demilitarized Zone, a group of Romulan dissidents, as well as other misfits. The settlers are not pleased to see Starfleet officers and initially react aggressively.
Back in space, with any luck, the Players’ ship outwits the Romulans and rescues the crew of the Susquehanna and returns to Seku VI to aid the planet-bound crew. Assuming the crew on the planet resolves the situation with the settlers, they learn about a recently discovered chamber buried deep underground where the settlers found an ancient stone and metal obelisk. The obelisk is emitting the signal that was detected and tracked by Starfleet. The away team descends into the mines to find the device and deactivate it before it attracts any more attention.
As a gamemaster, I can only base the quality of a campaign off of the reaction of my players. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a feel-good story. If the game evokes intense emotions, I’m good. The leader of our crew playing Captain B’Elanna Torres said, “This mission had me make decisions as a captain that haunted me days after they were made. Did I make the right choice putting the entire ship at risk to save three lives? I still don’t know the answer.”
Ian Lemke wrote a wonderful module in that he offered enough variables to force our team to choose between multiple dramatic choices. From the away team being abandoned on the planet’s surface with no backup and dodging Romulans to a harrowing runabout rescue in the Carina Nebula, Ian created an action-packed story that will keep my players talking for years to come.
“It seemed like an interesting rescue mission that quickly went off the rails,” another player commented. “I like seeing an interesting story, thinking I understand it’s shape, then realizing it’s a scarecrow. The real story was totally unexpected.”
One player had to step away during Act Two, but when he returned in Act Three he said, “I was away [for] a bit but whenever I was reading and active I would be like, ‘Okay, so we are, once again, staring down the end of a phaser.’ We are really bad at this away team thing.”
From the Romulan master strategist Commander Methra to Ero Drallen, the leader of the mining settlement on Seku VI (whom I made a Cardassian), the game allowed these characters to display mental prowess to dominate instead of sheer brute force. I threw in an augment for funzees.
Mr. Lemke’s well-designed threats kept my players on the ropes. Their negotiation skills were brought to the fore due to the nature of the characters that opposed their goals. Especially on the planet, the away team had to struggle with no support from their starship. Instead, they had to rely on their skills and wits to survive. One smart player created the Advantage of Starfleet Wilderness Survival Training. Good move.
The final challenge, a Timed Extended Challange to deactivate a self-destruct sequence was also brilliantly designed. My players failed and had to make a run for it or end up space dust.
As Gamemaster, I had as much GMing this game as my players had playing it. It flowed so well. I hope we get to see more of Ian’s work soon!
FILLING IN THE GAPS – An Idea Your Gaming Group Might Want To Use
So far, the Living Campaign has introduced a technology that can move planets. Now, Signals introduces the obelisk, an ancient artifact that is sending out an energy pulse that can kill communications and knock ships out of orbit. In our game, I also added a piece of technology called the galaxium device, which when used in conjunction with a warp core, enables subspace communications to travel instantaneously and limitlessly to any other similar device in the universe.
I like to leave puzzle pieces laying around for my players. World-moving engine. Obelisk. Galaxium device. How do all of these items have the same ancient alien technological fingerprint? How do they interconnect?
That is for my players to figure out. And it will be a race for the answers between space pirates, Klingons, Romulans, and anyone else who senses the potential benefits of unlocking the mysteries of the Shackleton Expanse.
(To see our entire play report, see Star Trek Pioneer, Season 1, Episode 5: Signals.)