Recently I had the chance to talk with Eric Campbell, GM of the new Star Trek Adventures streaming show Clear Skies at QueueTimes. You may have seen Eric and many of his fantastically talented players on Geek and Sundry‘s show Shield of Tomorrow. That show ran for fifty three awesome episodes that explored the diversity, moral questions, and deep emotion that Star Trek is known for. With a new show on the horizon we wanted to check in with Eric and see what it might involve!
Let’s start with the basics. What is Clear Skies?
Clear Skies is the new LIVE play of the Star Trek Adventures tabletop role-playing game, brought to you by the players of Shield of Tomorrow! The name comes from a phrase we repeated on our previous show and represents our theme of hope and adventure that we as a gaming group like to focus on. It’s also a new chapter for us as a gaming group. We’ve become a fully independent ensemble, charting our own course with nothing between us and our story. The name fit perfectly!
So why return to Star Trek? Not that we’re complaining, but why not try a new setting like Doctor Who or another custom world like Callisto 6?
The main reason is because I was just hungry to tell a new story in the Star Trek universe. It was the birth place of my love for sci-fi and it was also our most popular endeavor as a gaming group. After Callisto, I could see how seasoned we had become not only as role players, but as performers. We’ve truly grown comfortable with each other, trust one another and inspire one another. I was so eager to see what we could do as a crew, one more time. I was pretty happy to find out I wasn’t the only one excited by the idea, once I pitched it to the group!
So what will the characters on Clear Skies be getting into? Will the adventures be homebrew, or are you planning to use some of Modiphius’ published adventures?
I love the Shackleton Expanse! Modiphius created a juicy slice of real-estate in the Beta Quadrant and it’s been so much fun playing with the possibilities! I like taking settings from games and making them my own, so right now Shackleton is my stage and like my other games, everything will be home brewed. I’m not sure I have the attention span to run a published adventure! It’s been years since I’ve managed it. Just about everything I run is my own take on something, in collaboration with my players.
Any Easter eggs for long-term fans? Will there be any returning characters? Or do legal reasons prevent that?
Yeah, this is always the biggest question I get asked! It’s true: Shield of Tomorrow is Geek & Sundry‘s (and rightfully so). I had hoped to come back to Shield again, but honestly? We wrapped that story up so well, I love that it will exist forever as a completed campaign. This new campaign honor’s that by being its own thing. A new story to tell that’s all ours. There’s a new galaxy of characters to discover! though you may see many familiar faces, as I was using a lot of established characters from the TV Shows and of course, Modiphius publications, while running Shield!
The episodes so far seem to be pretty focused on Starfleet politics. Are you planning on introducing any darker themes or retaining the optimism of Shield of Tomorrow?
Since we were starting our campaign on Earth, I wanted to use that as an opportunity to establish the challenges that will be awaiting them in Shackleton. But I didn’t want to revisit the themes we had in Shield. In many instances, encounters with Starfleet in Shield of Tomorrow was quite adversarial. And repeating what we have heard Sir Patrick Stewart hint about Star Trek: Picard, it would appear this will be a theme in that upcoming series as well. I want to move away from that and put focus on the mystery and the danger that is waiting on the edge of the Beta Quadrant. My endeavor with Trek, will to always be to retain that optimism. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be all happy kitten fluff and sun shine, though. It’s dangerous out there. “It’s wondrous…with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross; but it’s not for the timid”.
How do you make Star Trek your own? With characters from the shows and using Modiphius’s Shackleton Expanse there’s a lot of stuff from other authors coming out. How do you create your own voice within canon?
In truth, I don’t think there’s another way to create or run a Star Trek game, than creating your own voice in the canon. I think it happens on its own, if you just let it. Each of us finds something we love about Trek and inevitably, our stories take root there. What this means is that it’s very difficult to ever get Trek “wrong”. All Trek requires of us, is what any good story asks for: love, a sense of adventure and an invitation for everyone to come along. Commit to your story in that spirit and your voice will find you before you have chance to worry about looking for it.
In the pilot, much is made of the diversity of the crew and the need to show a Starfleet which lives up to the promise of the Federation and resists “homogeneity.” Is this something you think needs more stressing in Star Trek?
You caught that! Starfleet is overwhelmingly Human. Leaderships positions are largely Human. Captains are almost all Human. Now there could be some obvious reasons for things like this (such as show budget and actors not wanting to be in make-up, etc etc) but whatever the reasons, creative or otherwise, that’s the way it is. Sam de Leve and I had long conversations about how much fun it would be to actually point a finger at this fact. The U.S.S. Ross is such an unusual ship, not only because the group wanted to take the Technical Test Bed mission profile. The group also all selected alien races (and of course, a hologram)! Instead of fretting whether or not this might “break” what we commonly see in Trek, we thought “let’s actually use this to launch the story as to why this ship and crew exists”. If the Federation really is an alliance of worlds and Starfleet is a place where all people can serve and represent their worlds, it’s time for Starfleet to put its latinum where its mouth is. That is the reasoning of Admiral Naulis, a rare Benzite Admiral who envisions this crew as a turning point for the Federation, still recovering from the wounds of the Dominion War half a decade later.
Do you have any tips for STA GMs on working with players’ wishes? Roleplayers are used to the bizarre D&D parties and divergent player styles but that doesn’t seem very Star Trek. How did you meld together all these very different Player Character ideas into a crew that seems not only a team but a completely planned one.
I think the first thing to do is make sure the group knows what kind of game you’re looking to run, right off the top. Create parameters for them to create in. It will help them get a better idea of what might be “jumping the shark” in terms of coming up with their characters. Gina’s character is by far, the most off-the-map character we’ve had so far and that’s saying something considering this crew! But Star Trek and indeed, all storytelling, should continue pushing the boundaries of what we know and giving a space for all of us to explore! You can find synthesis in to your game by simply applying a circumstance that points at what is extraordinary about a character. So for example: a Holographic first officer? There’s SO much potential for that to be a controversy in Starfleet, giving rise to fantastic role playing experiences and exploration of what makes us living people. We saw this in “A Measure of a Man” (the TNG Episode) and so many episodes after it. Be open to the fantastic potential of something new! You’ll know when you need to draw the line in order to protect the integrity of the group (no half-Horta/half-Q rescued from the Collective… that’s where I draw the line).
Are you getting any support from CBS, like you did with Shield of Tomorrow?
No, not this time around. We’re a much smaller operation on this endeavor, though we’ve been watching the show’s audience expand as more and more of the audience is becoming aware that we’re back. Sometimes that can mean we eventually end up on their radar (in a good way, I hope)! There’s always potential for something to happen in the future! But right now, we’re enjoying our Partnerships with Star Trek Online and Modiphius Entertainment, and we are grateful for their support.
In the pilot you mentioned getting some new buttons to push on your controls (whether you deserve the responsibility or not). What streaming effects are you most excited about in this show’s setup?
Honestly… the overlay. This time around our overlay was designed by Thomas Marrone, the same creator who designed the U.S.S. Ross for Clear Skies (which you will be able to get in Star Trek Online). I am so impressed with that guy. He has made us look so good. And the overlay? Well you’ll just have to wait and see!
What can you tell us about the U.S.S. Ross? There’s a lot of buzz about its appearance in Star Trek Online and I think a lot of people might want their own Ross-class ship.
From the beginning, I let the crew pick what kind of ship they wanted. Then it was Thomas Marrone and Mike Fatum of Star Trek Online who said, “Waaaait a minute… what if we did this thing”? It’s been such a gift. STO has really been so good to us and our partnership has been something that we’ve deeply valued. They’ve been our biggest supporter and we’re lucky to be able to collaborate with them. Star Trek Online will give details about how the Ross presents herself in the MMO (if there are any new abilities, etc etc). In our game, she is a variant Galaxy class with experimental technologies developed during the Dominion War as well as a test bed for new technologies brought back by Voyager from the Delta Quadrant. She is likely going to be the only one of her kind, since at this stage in its history, Starfleet is committed to development of the Sovereign class and Intrepid class vessels, as well as the next generation of starships hinted at in TNG and Voyager.
How many pencils do you expect will give their lives each episode?
A MOMENT OF SILENCE FOR ALL THOSE PENCILS. Yah know? Sam’s Captain is a totally new breed for them to be playing and I am not certain you will see any pencil’s destroyed. Which is a relief because as a writer and a GM who is constantly looking for a pencil, a little piece of me died every time a pencil did. Of course, now that I have said this…