Chris McCarver Drops the Mic in This Exclusive Star Trek Adventures RPG Interview

One of the books Chris has co-written for Marvel, the Marvel Cinematic Universe Guidebook: The Avengers Initiative. Cover art by Stephanie Hans.

Once again, I stumble upon a treasure in the form of a human being of whom I am so impressed. I am consistently astonished by the creative team that Modiphius has assembled to propel Star Trek Adventures RPG into the realm of greatness. And as a big fan of both Marvel and Star Trek, I was thrilled to land an interview with writer Chris McCarver!

Sit back and relax as we delve into the mind of McCarver.

Michael: How did you get involved in writing for RPGs?

Chris: I’ve been writing freelance since 2010, mostly doing reference guides for Marvel Comics such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe Guidebooks and the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, but I’ve been into RPGs for about half my four decades-plus of corporeal existence.

While I’ve done a fair bit of RPG writing on the non-professional level—mainly home campaigns and translating one IP or another to one rules engine or another as mental exercises—working on STA was my professional debut as an RPG writer.

base raiders
Chris contributed illustrations to Ross Payton’s Base Raiders.

I have had prior RPG credits as an illustrator. First, on a fan-made Cardassian sourcebook for the Last Unicorn Trek RPG. Secondly, on Ross Payton’s Base Raiders, a superhero dungeon-crawl module for the FATE system.card2.JPG

How did you get involved with working on the Star Trek Adventures game specifically?

Modiphius announced that they were doing a new Trek RPG immediately grabbed my attention. I’d previously GM’d and/or played both the Last Unicorn and Decipher Trek games previously and was very interested in how they intended to translate the franchise. When I saw they were soliciting writing and art, I immediately contacted them to voice my interest.

I was first contacted by Chris Birch who asked in which areas of the franchise I had the most knowledge and interest. Then Sam Webb offered me my first STA job, namely the Operations Division Supplement.

How would you compare STA to other games you have worked on?

I’ll have to qualify this one a bit, since STA’s the first RPG I’ve professionally worked Compared to other rules engines I’ve worked and played with, STA seems like the best example of any Trek RPG that truly nails the flavor of the IP.  While, as much a nerd I am for fictional technology, I do like the crunch of the two previous Trek systems. I also appreciate the more narrative approach that Modiphius has taken. The system is very immersive. Every time I’ve played and/or seen it played it feels like I’m experiencing an adventure right out of the TV series and films.

When engaged in the development, what’s your process for working out rules and such? Do you playtest everything yourself?

Most of what I’ve done for STA falls under the category of lore and setting material. The bulk of the rules material in the Ops Division book was written by my co-writers on the book. So I’ve only written a small portion of actual rules for the game. I haven’t had a chance to playtest what rules material I have written, but I tried to keep it largely to just how to implement the rules to situations pertinent to the theme of the supplement.  I did develop a few new combat actions in a sidebar I wrote on Trek-era martial arts that I tried to keep to a level of utility equal to those in the core rulebook.

Which were your favorite elements of the game? Why?

I absolutely love the core dice mechanic of the game.  I’ve come to really appreciate RPG systems that simplify dice mechanics while still adding a level of complexity.  I also appreciate how you can tailor the game to any era of Star Trek with minimal adjustment to the system.

What room for growth does the game still have, in your opinion?

The franchise in and of itself is still growing.

Discovery is heading into its third season. Picard debuts in January. We have new animated shows, films, comics, and novels on the way. I think the game range has a lot of potential longevity.  The last two Quadrant books are on the way and the roster of talent Modiphius has amassed just for adventures alone makes me very confident about the range’s future.

My dream project would be to do a game-focused series of guides about specific classes of starships, sort of like Mr. Scott’s Guide to the Enterprise, but admittedly I may be in the minority on the demand for something like that.

What was your favorite part of working on Star Trek Adventures? What specifically did you contribute?

I’m really big on Trek’s level of world-building, so crafting heretofore unseen lore material was a major thrill, as was the chance to write log entries and such for canon characters.  I really enjoyed writing the SCE log entry regarding the Regula excavation as an opportunity to inject a smidge of humor into the book.

I hope I did justice and the proper emotional weight to the canon characters for which I wrote logs. A couple of which reference tragic events in Trek history, such as Tasha Yar’s death and the Wolf 359 massacre.

Oh! Let’s take a peek at those!

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For the Operations book, I wrote the sub-chapters on Starfleet Operations and the Starfleet Corps of Engineers and the chapter on plot components.  I was very excited to write the SCE section as I’m a massive fan of the Simon & Schuster Trek novels, which heavily influenced that bit of the book, even though the SCE books take place after STA’s default 2371 timeframe.

What drew you to Star Trek?Star_Trek_Annual_Vol_1_2

I’ve been a comic book fan since I was in grade school, and it’s through comics I first gained an appreciation for Trek, specifically through Star Trek Annual #2, published by DC Comics in 1986.

The story was an account of the Enterprise-1701’s last mission prior to her refit in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I remember being hooked by the cover art depicting the entire crew walking away from a docked Enterprise with duffel bags on their shoulders and Kirk giving her a salute on the way out.

The book had one of my favorite Trek exchanges, wherein Scotty tells Uhura upon hearing her approval of the TMP uniform re-design, “Are ya daft, Uhura? I for one do not fancy zippin’ ’round space in a pair’a pajamas!” To which Uhura shuts him up with “Well, maybe you’d feel different about it if you’d spent the last five years in a miniskirt.”

It snowballed from there. I started watching the original and animated series, seeing the films. (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock was my first with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home following as the first I’d see theatrically.) I read the novels and comics. I became as much a hardcore Trek fan as I had been and still am of comics.

Do you play STA on the regular?

I’ve only had the opportunity to play STA once in a Roll20 campaign that sadly didn’t continue past the first session. If I recall correctly, I played a Trill medical officer. My girlfriend and I had signed up to play a demo session of the game this past year at Gen Con, but I suffered a medical episode at the con and spent the day of the game in the emergency room.

I do intend to begin running an STA campaign sometime after the end of the year at the urging of a friend of mine (someone after whom I’d actually named a character in the Ops book). My group and I haven’t gotten into major discussions yet apart from deciding to set it in the TNG era.

coreengineersWhat have you noticed about public reaction to the game? What about STA struck a different chord with the public do you think?

I think STA has really resonated with both the gaming community and Trek fandom, because, at least in my opinion, STA serves both communities simultaneously. Trek fans who aren’t necessarily gamers will find a game that nails the feel of the franchise and truly does a great job of placing player characters on the bridge of a starship exploring the uncharted reaches of space. Gamers who aren’t necessarily Trek fans will find an easy-to-learn rules engine with a level of complexity that adds to the experience while still making the intricacies easy to grasp.

Who is your favorite character in Star Trek? Why?

Whoo, big question. Think I’ll cast a wide net here and name my favorite character from each series. 

  • For TOS, it had to be Scotty; I loved his strength of personality and his genuine love for his work. 
  • For TAS, I have to say Arex, inasmuch that I was fascinated by him and was eager to know more. I was definitely glad Peter David chose to include him and fellow TAS mainstay M’ress in his New Frontier novels.
  • Where TNG is concerned, I have to say Worf; his loyalty to the crew and his dichotomy as both warrior and explorer made him a fun character to watch. 
  • For Voyager, I have to name the Doctor as my favorite. The sass was strong with that one. 
  • Sadly, I’ve yet to watch Discovery (I plan to, just haven’t jumped in on CBS All Access as of yet.) So I’ll have to take a mulligan on that series for now, though I’ve loved what I’ve seen in promotional clips of Sylvia Tilly and Jett Reno.
  • I’m saving my DS9 favorite as “last but not least” in light of the recent loss of his performer René Auberjonois —but of course, I have to say Odo here. His unwillingness to compromise his integrity in the face of authority and his sardonic wit was utterly delightful.  While I’m sorry that we’ll likely never see Odo make a return to Trek TV or film, I’m very thankful for the seven seasons we have.

(Gulp.) I think we all agree with you on that point, sir. What is your favorite part of the Star Trek canon? Which series do you like the best?

titanI’m a big fan of the Trek novels as I mentioned earlier. I love the interconnected saga that they’ve built onto the ends of the various TV series.  I’ve been especially elated to see many of the book’s authors, particularly Christopher L. Bennett, pen adventures and material for STA. 

My favorite of the book series is the Titan novels. I love the diversity of the crew and the way they play off one another. I’m especially intrigued to see more of the new dynamic they recently introduced with Riker having been promoted to admiral and having to live and work on Titan but ceding operational command of Titan to his successor and former XO, Captain Christine Vale. I’m hoping the book’s beta canon will continue in some form following the premiere of Picard next month, but the literary saga thus far has been satisfying and, as they say, “All Good Things,” right?

As far as primary canon goes though, my favorite of the TV series is DS9 with TNG a very close second.  While I love TNG for how it expanded the mythos, I love DS9’s layered and nuanced storytelling and its deep examination of the franchise through outsiders’ eyes.

What would our readers find you doing if it isn’t writing/playing RPGs?

When I’m not at my day job as a medical insurance billing specialist or spending time with my girlfriend and 10-year-old son, I’m continuing to craft reference works for Marvel Comics. The latest of which, the six-part miniseries The History of the Marvel Universe, will be releasing its sixth and final issue on Dec. 18.  While the bulk of the series was written by one of my favorite comics scribes, Mark Waid, my fellow Marvel Handbook writers and I have been contributing as researchers and annotation writers.  A collected treasury-sized edition of the complete series will be coming out in February.

On December 20, 2019, two days after the release of the final issue of The History of the Marvel Universe, ABC will be airing a tribute special honoring Marvel creator Stan Lee. My Handbook colleagues and I were invited to attend the taping of this past October, and while we had no direct part in it other than as spectators. It’s definitely something worth seeing.

I’ve also had the opportunity to keep up with my artwork, having done some pieces for the comedy music duo The Library Bards (comprised of Bonnie Gordon and Xander Jeanneret of the STA web series Shield of Tomorrow).  I’d previously done fan art for Shield of Tomorrow and the appreciation I’ve received from the cast and community of fans for it has been immensely humbling. And yes, I’ll likely be doing more art in appreciation of Shield’s upcoming spiritual successor, Clear Skies.

chris art
Chris’ fan art of the cast of Geek & Sundry’s STA actual-play web-series Shield of Tomorrow. (L-R: Lt. Commander Veth Zhiv [NPC played by GM Eric Campbell], Dr. Throlo Sh’shirros [Amy Dallen], Captain Rafael Martinez [Hector Navarro], Commander Junil Rue [Sam de Leve], Lt. Commander T’Lan [Aliza Pearl], Ensign Lark Sage [Bonnie Gordon])
If you were a component on a starship, what component would you be? Since I like to make sure those I care about have everything they need and I’d like to consider myself not the worst cook, I’d have to say the ship’s replicator system. Need a parametric scanner? Need a peppercorn-crusted tuna steak? I’m your guy.

Chris, you have blown my mind with your creativity and involvement in Star Trek Adventures RPG. We look forward to seeing more of your work debut with both Marvel and STA!

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