Anyone who plays Star Trek Adventures RPG has probably stumbled across the work of the clandestine talented writer ELH. It took me months to track down this craftsman but I finally found him. And by the end of this interview, I still didn’t know his real name!
But that didn’t matter to me because what I was able to pick from this geniuses brain will be enough to keep me going for years to come. Here is a tip-toe into his vast body of work. There a few surprises along the way that have endeared me to this guy even more.
Michael: First of all, I take my hat off to you. I think you might be the most prolific writer of Star Trek Adventures modules. What inspired you to start pumping our story after story?
ELH: You’re too kind. I’m but a simple man with far too much time on his hands and perhaps just a wee bit of insanity mixed in. Simply put, I’m rather passionate about roleplaying in general. My goal behind writing each mission/story was to enable interesting roleplay at tables, virtual or otherwise. They also serve as a means to record and share especially memorable adventures I’ve run with my own STA groups.
What was your favorite part of doing a gaming module for Star Trek Adventures? How many have you done so far? (please list them)
My favorite part of any module is coming up with a common theme. Pandora’s Box, for example, is all about the secrets and the dark side of the unknown. Hurricane is all about patrolling the Tholian border in a Defiant-class. And so on and so forth. To date, I’ve produced the following:
Pandora’s Box (Mission Compendium)
Hurricane (Mission Compendium)
Rig for Red (Mission)
Andromeda (Mission Compendium)
Deep Space 24 (Mission Compendium)
Dark Mirror (Mission Compendium)
Which module(s) have received the best response? Why do you think that is?
That’s a good question! Comment-wise, Psi-Shift is definitely up at the top if only because of how different it is. It’s a horror-style mission, which, while semi-common in the actual TV series, isn’t all that common in the tabletop realm.
In terms of engagement, that’s hard to qualify. According to DriveThruRPG metrics, it seems that Pandora’s Box, Hurricane, and Andromeda are the clear choices with each hovering around 900 downloads each. That may simply be because they have been out longer. That’s also not accounting for Continuing Mission clicks nor Patreon ones. Of course, all of this has been for free. Modiphius doesn’t have an OGL for STA like WotC does for D&D, unfortunately.
Open Game License. It basically means that you can make content for and even sell content for a given copyright. It’s how people can sell their D&D modules on DriveThruRPG.
Aw, man. I wish STA did that! If you are a prolific writer, does it make for extra fun money?
If you’re good, most definitely. For example, I’m sitting at about 5k downloads across all DriveThruRPG releases. Had I been able to charge even one dollar per download…well, you can do the math. Otherwise, it’s just what I get through my Patreon.
Maybe we can convince Modiphius to go the way of OGL?
That would be ideal, but I get why they likely never will. CBS and Paramount are fiercely protective of their IPs.
(Head dropped in sheer sadness.) Okay. I will move on. Where can I find all of your modules?
My crew—USS Pioneer—played Psi-Shift. Was there any particular geopolitical situation you were referencing? What inspired that story?
Believe it or not, the inspiration for the story came from a conversation on 4chan’s Traditional Games (/tg/) board. Yes, you read that right. Even 4chan can lead to good things sometimes.
Anyways, there wasn’t a focus on any geopolitical situations when developing the story. The original goal was to develop an original horror “episode” while keeping with the Trek theme. Hubbard—the person from /tg/ who helped with the writing and who has their namesake as the station chief—and I went back and forth on whether something would work on the tabletop in a system like STA. We deliberately settled on an open ending, that way GMs could craft their own narrative as to how the adventure would end to suit their table.
That’s something I’ve done with all my modules, really.
Do you play STA on the regular? If so, what is your crew like? What character do you play?
Thankfully I have the privilege of being in two STA games as a player.
The first is the Hope Campaign where I’ve played Lieutenant Isha (a Tzenette Chief of Security) and now Major T’lisse (Vulcan Jack of all Trades, master of none). The premise of the campaign is more or less a Hospital Ship (see: an Olympic Class) operating post-Hobus on a mission of mercy. I won’t spoil anything here, as I feel it’s definitely worth a watch if only because GM Josh is far better at spending threat than I am. What I can say is that for a Hospital Ship we have an awfully large amount of spies, silver bloods, and senior staff positions opening up.
The second is the Cerberus Station Campaign where I’ve played Master Chief Ember (a Khornette Chief of Security), Commander Aeira (a Ceratodraco who’s both Chief Medical Officer and an Intelligence Officer), and Dusk (a Chameloid Strategic Operations Officer). This one’s also worth a watch, if only for the payoff when the tension between Ember and another PC hits the breaking point and everything spirals out of control. Can’t say more due to spoilers, though!
Now on the GMing front, I’m currently running (and streaming) two STA games: Fenrir and Dark Royal. Fenrir is set in STO aboard a Cerberus-class, and I’m fortunate enough to have a group that really meshes well with one another. There are also players from the Beyond Trek Podcast. Dark Royal is a bit of an experimental campaign set aboard a Khornette vessel in the same “canon” as Cerberus Station. It’s way more combat-focused and explores the angle of how a non-Starfleet ship operates.
You also run a YouTube channel dedicated to STA. I perused some of the shows. You use Roll20. How do you like playing on Roll20?
It’s not just STA! I have other Actual Plays on there as well. But yeah, it’s mostly STA.
I’ve been using Roll20 for seven years now, and I’m still learning neat little tips and tricks. It offers up dynamic lighting, a nice GM layer to hide Talarian Hook Spiders, easily concealed Handouts meant for a specific player, and more. What I can say for anyone interested in running on Roll20 are two things:
1. Get the VTT Enhancement Suite. It saves you so much time and heartache.
2. Learn how Macros work, if only on a basic level
It seems like you have some customized characters on Roll20. Who drew those? How do you think customized art changes the game for your players?
Oh boy. So, long story short, I do a LOT of commissioning. That means I have a pretty good grasp of who can do what style in the most efficient (time and money) manner possible. Most of the custom art comes from one of three sources. Keep in mind that these artists run NSFW twitters so view at your own peril:
As far as players are concerned, the general feedback I’ve gotten is that they feel more attached to their characters. There’s a unique feeling in seeing your character concept brought to life. It also looks better when everyone’s token is done up in the same style, which is important when running streamed games.
Do you prefer tabletop, Roll20, or playing online (like using Discord or PBem)? Which do you prefer?
I definitely prefer Roll20 with either Zoom or Discord for webcam or voice respectively. Text-based and Play-by-post type games aren’t really my thing. And while IRL tabletop is fun, I personally think it’s more anxiety-inducing than the online option(s).
When did your passion for Star Trek first develop? What was your first exposure to Star Trek?
The earliest I can really recall is around when I was 12 and I happened to catch an airing of “Data’s Day”.
It’s no secret that I’ve been autistic since day one on Earth, and to say that my pre-teen/teenage years were troublesome would be an understatement. What I saw in that episode really spoke to me on a base level. For the first time with any media, I felt truly connected to a character. Here was Data, essentially an observer of Human behavior, doing his best to emulate it to be more Human. I wanted to know more about him. Thus began the almost ritual-like watching every day I came home from school.
You seem like an avid RPGer, not just STA but others too. Where does STA stack up in comparison to other RPGs?
STA is the first system I’ve felt truly comfortable with on many levels. Prior to STA, I ran D&D 4e, D&D 5e, and Warhammer 40k RPGs like Dark Heresy. While I have extensive knowledge about 40k, the systems were so complex that I constantly felt out of my depth. Not to mention that all of those RPGs prior to STA had a tremendous focus on combat, almost to the point of favoring roleplay over roleplay.
Data was a perfect analog for how I felt as an autistic individual trying to interact with my peers.
STA doesn’t have that. It’s narrative-based and gives both player and GM alike means to engage in the time-honored improv tradition of “Yes, and…” Even today, I deliberately seek out similar systems when considering what game(s) to run. Hell, I even combined some elements of STA with Cyberpunk RED and made my own system!
Who is your favorite character in Star Trek? Why?
If the above answer wasn’t a big enough indicator, it’s Data by a long shot. Spock is nice and all, but Data was a perfect analog for how I felt as an autistic individual trying to interact with my peers. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Brett Spiner in person, but I have so many things I want to thank him for.
What is your favorite part of the Star Trek canon? (TV, movies, book) Which series do you like the best?
To keep in short and sweet: TNG = DS9 > VOY > TOS > ENT
I never got into the books, strangely enough. And the movies I try not to think about, if you know what I mean.
What advice would you give someone eager to start writing RPG modules?
Read and Write. That may seem obvious and simple, but that’s because it is. The absolute best way to learn what sort of details and narrative is required for a RPG module is to study how both developers and homebrewers alike have done so already. On the writing front, you want to focus on getting your big ideas down first, even if they seem silly or stupid. Only once you’ve done that can you go back and start asking “Why is this the case?” or “How do the Players get to this point?” Then you have to commit to writing at least a little each day until you’re happy with it.
What would our readers find you doing if it isn’t writing/playing RPGs?
Well, I am trying to get everything set up to be a part-time Variety Streamer in addition to all my other streamed TTRPGs. Aside from that, I’m buried in a book more than likely.
You really inspire me to keep pumping out content, ELH. I think our readers appreciate your passion for RPGs too. Where can we find the entire body of your work?
Homebrew-wise, everything I’ve ever posted can be found on my Patreon, even stuff that hasn’t made it to Continuing Mission for some reason or another. You’ll also find non-STA modules there for systems like Wrath & Glory and Lancer.