How did the Star Trek Adventures Psi-Shift module rate?
The crew of the USS Pioneer (my player group’s Intrepid-class starship) finished playing Psi-Shift, a standalone PDF adventure wonderfully created by ELH for the Star Trek Adventures Roleplaying Game. This was a horror-themed adventure. This module was orginally included in the Mission Compendium, Pandora’s Box, rather than as a standalone mission. However, ELH decided to re-release Psi Shift in a new, handy format!
I was happy to inflict a scary story on my crew. Not so sure they were jumping for joy inasmuch as jumping out of their skins.
Now, mind you, since my Player crew are currently stranded 13.7 million light-years away in a distant galaxy, I had to take some creative liberty with the characters and places portrayed in this module. Still, I kept the mechanics and storyline so it all worked out in the end.
SYNOPSIS (spoiler alert)
The Player Characters are scanning an unexplored area of space when a Code 1 distress call diverts them to a Federation Research Outpost with the designation “Psi” in unclaimed space. Upon arrival, the Player Characters find that the outpost and its crew are perfectly fine aside from a problem with the communications array.
When the players invariably begin to delve into this malfunction, they learn that there is something very wrong going on in this outpost. Systems that should be working fail, the number of life signs fluctuates, and the main computer is providing eerie answers to any
queries. Throughout it all, the crew of the outpost act like nothing is wrong.
The psyches of both the Player Characters and perhaps the Players themselves are tested when these gremlins start to manifest in bigger ways. Ways that cannot be explained by any sane or rational mind. When confronted with these events, the station’s crew mentions that “Doctor Bertruger” was working on something odd. However, no one knows exactly what it was, only that he got absolutely furious if they went into his lab.
They also don’t know where his lab is since it was “before their time.” Computer records have no record of this Doctor, and his species changes depending on which member of the outpost’s crew is asked. The rapidly-deteriorating situation culminates when the Player Characters discover Doctor Bertruger’s lab. They find it horrible disarray, complete with a corpse that reads as both “deceased” and “alive.” The barely flickering consoles provide audio logs that explain that the strange events began after the Doctor bombarded a spatial anomaly with exotic particles. Since then, the crew of the outpost imposed their own reality on both station and crew alike. This led to everything the Player Characters have experienced thus far, including the horrific state of the Doctor himself.
Time, and perhaps sanity, is at a premium. Can the Player Characters fix everything before they too end up like Doctor Bertruger?
This was my first time playing a module written by ELH. But, it won’t be my last! I felt that the time and effort ELH put into the module’s design was great. It was extremely fun poking at my players with elements of horror. Though I don’t like blood and gore, I was able to let the players’ imagination run wild by tossing in a couple of gross elements to make them itch and squirm.
I gave this module 3 our of 5 Tribbles. Here is how it rated:
Canonicity – I had to drop a Tribble on this facet of rating for one sheer fact: Star Trek does not easily lean into the horror genre. At least one of my Players was vocally less-than-thrilled to lose the “feel” of Star Trek. About halfway through, they figured this was not a normal mission and I had to encourage them to see it through to the end.
To be fair, ELH warned as much saying at the beginning of the module, “This is essentially a horror/thriller mission. It is important to talk with your group beforehand to make sure everyone is prepared for this. Otherwise, players might wonder why the tone is so different from other missions!”
Oop. I guess I should have given fair warning.
Relatability – I don’t go see horror movies. However, from many trips to Comic-Con and the plethora of gory shows and movies out there, I know it is a popular genre. My players picked up on the tone. Some dove in and started having fun with it whereas others walked trepidatiously through each scene. With that stated, I think the story was relatable to this generation of movie-goers. The module would please a group willing to be spooked.
The same player who was spooked, however, still managed to catch wind of what was going on and managed to create some solutions that saved the away team and some additional scientists. I thought that was cool.
Likability – As I said, my crew was love-it or hate-it. I like controversy. So I found this an interesting test of what my players are looking for in a Star Trek game. Like so many of us long-time Trekkies, we want to walk away with a little bit of feel-good after an episode. This translates to gameplay I now see. This rating really gets a half-Tribble, but since my scoring system doesn’t saw Tribbles asunder, this Tribble is lost.
Accessibility – The module is free. ELH made it even more accessible by breaking it out of the Mission Compendium, Pandora’s Box. As such, I didn’t have to feel like I had to play the entire compendium to utilize this adventure.
Quality – For a homespun module, I think ELH made a fantastic game design. I am impressed by how much time ELH takes on designing and releasing mission compendiums. This is a truly dedicated fan/creator. Hopefully, Modiphus rings them up to do some side work.
If you want a spine-tingling and scary adventure, Psi-Shift will suit you fine.
I hope ELH produces more stand-alone modules for the benefit of the STA community. This one was easily adaptable and provided a turn from the normal feel of a Star Trek episode.
(To see our entire play report, see Star Trek Pioneer, Season 2, Episode 5: Dilemma at Outpost Pse.)
Here’s his playthru from YouTube: https://youtu.be/TNMS83LUrJ8
I was one of the players in this game, (Probably the one who wasn’t too thrilled about horror. I have…. opinions.) This was certainly not for me, and on a personal level, I strongly disliked it. Not to mention that I don’t feel horror really works in RPGs. However, that is a matter of taste.
Stepping back from my personal opinion, I think it’s pretty clear I’d Bat’leth the Canonicity Tribble. To me, I feel like you have to circumvent both the feel of Star Trek and the Star Trek Adventures system to make horror work. That said, the underlying ideas are interesting and definitely something I could see Trek taking on. (Socially constructed identity, people getting god like powers, ect). Just not with a horror feel to it.
I’m not a horror person. That said, I feel like if this was a standalone episode type thing (not Trek) it could certainly be something that my friends who enjoy horror could like. It doesn’t fit me, so I’m a bad judge of how good it is within it’s sphere. I’d Bat’leth the Relatability Tribble, but others might not. YMMV.
Like Michael said, this is love it or hate it. I could certainly see sparing the tribble if I loved, it, but no the Likability Tribble gets wounded by my Bat’leth and eaten by a glommer.
It’s free, it’s out there, and the Accessibility Tribble is living happily away from any Bat’leth or glommers and making entirely too many babies.
While I don’t care for the genre, I didn’t detect any major problems with it as a module. This might be Michael’s GMing or the core of the module it’s self, but the Quality Tribble escapes to Deep Space Nine.
Haha. Thanks for your feedback. I didn’t want to speak in detail about your perspective. Totally valued.
I’m curious what you thought of episodes like TNG: “Remember Me”, “Schisms”, and “Night Terrors”. All of them have similarities to this module. Frankly, though, I feel like you’re too quick to write off horror as not being something that works in TTRPGs. You need only look at things like the World of Darkness, Call of Cthulu, and Warhammer 40k to see horror thriving at the table, virtual or otherwise. There’s absolutely nothing preventing horror being explored in Star Trek Adventures other than stubborn preconceptions. Indeed, the three episodes I listed above are definitely times where horror was explored by Star Trek. And in my opinion they worked well.