I am a Star Trek Adventures superfan, gamemaster, and occasional player. I have learned quite a lot about how to get my players engaged. We are 22 episodes into the USS Pioneer storyline and, if there is one thing I’ve learned, it is to make the game about the players.
One of the best ways I have gotten great performances from my group of amazing players is by wrapping each story around their Focuses, Talents, and Values.
One of my regular players and a writer for Star Trek Adventures, Troy Mepyans, admits, “You make a point of reminding players to use their Values and Focuses during episodes and encourage them to think outside of the box when doing so.”
But just how do I make a concentrated effort to keep the story’s momentum while allowing my players’ characters to flourish and become as rich McCoy, Data, Sisko, or Seven? I will outline how and when I employ Focuses, Talents, and Values. I will give a few examples.
One of my players and creator of the Mephit James’ blog plays our ship’s Bajoran science officer. One of the Focuses he chose for his character is “Bajoran Religion”. Now, mind you, our ship is 13.7 million light-years away stranded in the Centaurus Galaxy far from the Bajoran Wormhole. However, I didn’t want this focus to go to waste. It took me a few months to design the game, but in the end, I figured it out.
Mephit James said, “Well, I definitely signaled that I wanted my Bajoran character to deal with Prophets and Orbs and you really leaned into that.”
How do I highlight Focuses?
- Select or write a module to play.
- Review each character’s Focus before the start of the session.
- Do any of the Extended Tasks or Challenges highlight any one character’s Focus?
- If not, can I introduce some different challenges or B story elements to highlight those Focuses? (Like most Star Trek episodes, I always write into a campaign a B story wherein we explore one or two characters in-depth.)
- Ensure that the character with the Focus is on the team to tackle the problem.
- Assign them to take the lead on the roll.
In the case of our resident Bajoran, we ended up writing an entire module based on him finding an Orb of the Prophets in the new galaxy. Eye to the Galaxies became one of my group’s favorite games yet.
At other times, I use the Focus for the games opening teaser or as a cut scene showing life aboard the ship. Euan, my youngest player and a Continuing Mission correspondent, plays Echo, our ship’s experimental computerized holographic officer. He commented, “I think the focuses don’t have to be relevant to the story, like with Echo playing the accordion. It never had a roll to go with it, but is fun.”
Focuses are pretty cut-and-dry. Things start to take a little more brain energy when it comes to Talents and Values.
Now, getting players to employ Talents is a bit more challenging. In the heat of the action, I notice that some players forget the talents they have. This is a shame since Talents offer an amazing edge in certain situations.
This is more about reminding the players to keep an eye on their Talents throughout the game. In preparation, I like to write out each player’s Talent and the full description of it on their character’s sheets. This saves time so that they don’t need to flip through a book or search a PDF for the details. Click this link to see an example of how our sheets look.
How do I highlight Talents?
- Select or write a module to play.
- Review each Act (including Social Conflict) and make a note of which character’s Talents might come into play.
- Remind players to announce any Talents they plan to employ before they roll. (As my team plays via Discord, I can easily send them a link to their character sheet.)
In my mind, Talents really highlight the expert application of Focuses. Talents set player characters apart and really let them show off their training and passions. This leaves us with what I feel is the most challenging—but rewarding—mechanic of character play…
When I first started running STA modules, I found Values to be the toughest to employ. The stories were new. The players were settling into their characters. Some had pretty vague and non-commital Values. I already addressed the issue of how best to write Values in a previous blog article. I wish I would have known this early on.
Perhaps this article will help new GMs or current GMs struggling to employ values.
Values are really about challenging the characters to confront the conflicts of their existence. That means that the GM needs to make a deliberate effort to have them work for or against their stated Values.
How do I highlight Values?
- Discuss the definition of each character’s Values with your players. Ask them ‘wherein doth the conflict lie?’ then push them out of their comfort zone.
- Review your current module and find locations wherein your player characters might face a Value challenge.
- Also, you can produce a side story that is not part of the module and create a challenge. (For example, we have a strict Cardassian engineer who is a demanding workaholic. I consistently highlight his assistant’s mistakes. He rails on her all the time and it has become a harassing environment for her to work. The captain is aware and is trying to make him soften his tone. He tries to hold his tongue but I constantly make her mistakes more impactful (any time a complication is rolled). This has become a pretty thrilling story arch that is starting to ruffle the feathers of other players who observe these uncomfortable confrontations. Value challenged!)
- Select only one or two characters to purposely challenge during any game. (Once the other players see how it is done, they will oftentimes elect themselves for positive or negative challenges to their Values. They get addicted to this mechanic really quickly I notice.)
- Watch the mayhem ensue.
Regarding how I employ Values in our games, Mephit James wrote, “I think you regularly offer opportunities to have Values cause trouble.” Danyal, who plays our Ops Manager and James Franco lookalike said, “And in between stories, I can recall when Franklin was considering leaving the bachelor’s life behind. We had a discussion over whether his Values should change to reflect that. Although, ultimately, it was a temporary interruption.” And our strict Cardassian engineer confessed, “You just encouraged me to use my value which caused an internal struggle. Star Trek is all about values and conflict resolution. It adds to the realism and Star Trek feel of the game.”
I can gush all day about how the mechanics of Star Trek Adventures truly encapsulates the real feel of the Star Trek genre. Just like in the TV and movies, this game centers around the development of epic characters. Using Focuses, Talents, and Values regularly and in creative ways will help your players invent characters that are memorable and provocative.