Klingon Empire Review, Part 1

So last week, Modiphius surprised the Star Trek Adventures community with a brand new core rulebook! Periodically gaming companies will release new core books with mechanical tweaks and the same fluff or a little extra. This is the opposite, though: mechanically identical but designed to be played with Klingon crews!

This post originally appeared on my site, Mephit James Blog.

The authors explain their reasons for a new core rulebook in the Introduction of the book. “This core rulebook was designed to provide another point of entry into the game and to offer an alternative style of play, one focusing on the Klingons, arguably the most popular non-Human species in all of Star Trek. The design team also took the opportunity to review the existing ruleset and to clarify certain areas that have proven challenging for gamemasters and players since the game’s launch in 2017, to provide more detailed example text, and to revise specific sections of the rules, notably the sections on Reputation and character advancement.” While the mechanics may be repeated, there are plenty of new rules and some great improvements.

Image © Modiphius

The Klingon Empire

The book starts from the very beginning setting the stage for Klingon characters and campaigns. It does it in small ways, from replacing the Starfleet symbol with the triangular Klingon symbol for Challenge Dice, and also in large ways like the distressed-looking page graphics, Klingon-style headers, and abundant Klingon text. If you’d never seen the Federation core rulebook, I think this would read like the game was always intended as a Klingon RPG (if you missed the sidebar quoted above).

The first real section of the book (after the “What’s an RPG” stuff) is an in-character overview of the galaxy from the Klingons’ point of view. The powers of the Alpha and Beta Quadrant as well as (briefly) the Borg and Dominion are discussed. With all of the Klingon words and phrases thrown in, I’d really appreciate a pronunciation guide (I know the generalities but not everyone does). The timeframe is also a bit confused: the Introduction says that it’s “Earth year” 2371 (same as the original core rulebook) but the galactic discussion is written from after Voyager‘s return to the Alpha Quadrant so… Again, not a problem with a little research but it’s a barrier to new players.

Next comes a brief (14 pages) on the history of the Klingon Empire from the founding of the Empire by Kahless and the invasion of the Hur’q, through their first contact with Earth and the Organian Peace Treaty, and finally to the Klingon Civil War and the Dominion War. Since Modiphius’s license with CBS doesn’t include any of the newer shows still in production the events of Discovery‘s first and second seasons aren’t included here, but the attitude of the author in this section meshes well with that show’s depiction of an Empire threatened by the hegemony and expansion of the Federation. You can easily fold Discovery lore into this narrative.

Image © Modiphius

They also embrace the explanation for the difference in Klingon appearance offered by Star Trek: Enterprise: an attempt at genetic engineering gone wrong led to “smooth-headed” Klingons during the period of the original series. These ridge-less Klingons, the QuchHa’, are viewed with some disdain by their still-ridged compatriots, the HemQuch. This is a distinction that we’ll get into later in more detail.

Culture, Society, and Worlds

An awesome chapter (six pages) outlines Klingon Culture from familiar topics like honor and the different Klingon rituals seen on the shows, but it also includes interesting deep dives into Klingon women’s role in society and Klingon religion. Next there’s another short chapter (seven pages) on the politics of the Klingon Empire covering the role of the High Council, the responsibilities of the Chancellor, the Rite of Succession, the rights of councilors, changes by Martok when he becomes Chancellor, and the Council’s advisors and diplomatic relations.

The next chapter (five pages) deals with Klingon Houses and their function in the Empire. The Great Houses are discussed (no set number is given) and brief descriptions of the House of Duras, the House of Mogh, the House of Sompek, the House of Gorkon, the House of Martok, the House of Klag, the Hosue of K’mpec, the House of Klag, the House of Kruge, and the Houses of the legendary warriors Kor, Kang, and Koloth. There are also some invented Great Houses, both past and present, that can be inspiration for your adventures including the ancient House of Budlesh, the fallen House of Mow’ga, the House of M’Rek (in power during the events of Star Trek: Enterprise and remembered poorly), the diplomatic masters of the House of Kamarag, the Hosue of K’Tal who led the rebuilding after Praxis, the House of K’nera heroes of the Dominion War, as well as the “House of one” that is the House of Kahless including only his clone. Lastly, there are ten Minor Houses (five “through history,” though not gone, and five currently influential ones) to give an example of how “a grishnar cat can still have a mighty roar,” which I just love. I won’t go into them here but suffice to say that you could easily make a dozen campaigns from the plot hooks packed into this short chapter.

Image © Modiphius

A chapter on the Klingon Defense Force goes over the military of the Klingon Empire including various honorable orders, soldiers’ training (Mok’bara is in there), a comparison chart between Klingon ranks and those of other galactic powers (Federation, Romulans, and Cardassians), and the all important function of landing parties (surveying but also occupying and boarding parties) for warriors seeking glory. There’s a lot in these eight pages and while we could always use more info I think this will revolutionize your ability to depict military life in a Klingon campaign. Lastly, there is a survey of some of the prominent worlds of the Empire classified according to the Klingon system: Chargh-class worlds (conquerable), Yan-class worlds (exploitable), and Toq-class worlds (habitable). Qo’noS is covered (of course) as well as Boreth, Khitomer, Narendra III, Praxis, Rura Penthe, Ty’Gokor, and nearby sites such as Ajilon Prime, the Delta Triangle, and Organia. Tribble Prime, that pit of horror, is also mentioned for those with steel in their spines.

Core Rules and Character Creation

It’s been said before, but the core rules in this book are the same as in the original core rulebook. The only notable exception is the alternate Reputation and Advancement system (discussed below), though there are plenty of useful clarifications of rules after three years of playing. There are some Klingon dictates listed to replace the values of Starfleet and yes, you do still generate Threat for lethal combat as a Klingon. I have some strong opinions on this. A lot of people disagree with the idea that if your Klingon character makes a lethal attack it shouldn’t add 1 Threat, and even that weapons shouldn’t have Escalation costs for Klingons.

Image © Modiphius

The thing is, though, that adding to Threat isn’t “doing something bad” or “helping the bad side.” This game doesn’t have bad sides, it has principles and risk. Doing something risky generates Threat, and if you think Klingons don’t think combat is risky then I think you should go back and watch some Klingon-centric episodes. On the other hand, if you want to circumvent that there’s a Klingon Talent that lets you make lethal attacks without adding to Threat and blocking other’s lethal attacks by giving to Threat.

In any case, we can skip on to character creation at this point to look at what’s different! This core rulebook has Main Characters, Supporting Characters, and NPCs just like in a Federation game and the eras are the same as well (Enterprise, Original Series, and Next Generation). Characters have Traits, Values, Attributes, Disciplines, Focuses, and Talents still but here we start to see things written out in Klingon after they’re written in English. I might have written, then, that Characters have Di’onmey, Ghobmey, Di’onmey (same as “Traits”… a typo?), Sunmey, buSchoHghach, and Lahmey. Again, some help with language here would be excellent but I’ll help out you, dear reader, by letting you know that “-mey” is the plural ending for pretty much anything (except thinking beings which are made plural with “-pu’ ” and body parts which are made plural with “-Du’ “). Attributes and Disciplines are also provided in Klingon and I’d love to get to the point with a group that I can tell them to make a “meqlaHchu’ + QeD roll to scan” and have them get it, but you’re probably just going to use these for color. It can be pretty hard, though, to know the words since capitalization is critical in Klingon and the headings are in all caps… Sigh.

In this core rulebook your Species is limited to Klingon (subject species might come up in future books, and many are available on Continuing Mission) but there are two versions of Klingons. The stats from the original core rulebook are for a HemQuch Klingon, the kind with ridges seen in nearly all the series. On the other hand, then smooth-headed QuchHa’ Klingons from the original series are an optional alternate which get bonuses to Control and Insight instead of Daring and Fitness (Presence is the same). They have some specialty Talents as well called Cruel and Superior Ambition that amp up their cunning as they were portrayed in the original series.

Image © Modiphius

Environment is the same as in the Federation (although there’s “Qo’noS” instead of “Homeworld”) and I very much appreciate the notes on changing up the monocultures protrayed in Star Trek (and nearly every other sci-fi). Instead of Upbringing there’s Caste which fills the same mechanical function but reflects your level in Klingon society: Warrior, Merchant, Agriculture, Scientific, Artistic, and Academic. You can still accept or reject so you can have a fierce warrior strong in Science, for example. It should also be noted that you can alternatively choose to be from a Great House and have that replace your Environment and Upbringing respectively. This is such a big part, though, that it deserves its own post so watch for that soon.

Your Training, likewise, is different than Starfleet and can be Command Officer (high Command), Technical Officer (covering Medicine, Conn, Engineering, and Science), Enlisted Warrior (high Security and Conn), or Laborer (a more flexible version of Technical Officer). Career is the same (though the levels are Young Warrior, Experienced Warrior, and Veteran Warrior for flavor), and Career Events are also similar with a few changes and substitutions. Your Finishing touches include calculated stats, a list of suggested names (transliterated and in Klingon phonetics), notes on appearance, and on relationships.

There are new Roles too which I just love. Some of them have virtually the same name (like commanding officer, science officer, or engineering officer) but some have benefit abilities. The helm officer, for example, gets a bonus Momentum when making a Conn check to control their ship. This is much more useful for a Klingon vessel on the attack than the technical expertise of a Federation flight controller. My favorite role, much to my surprise, is the ship’s cook. This seemed like a silly thing to include at first, but Klingon crews are often shown sitting down feasts of gagh together. Once per mission, the ship’s cook gets to organize one of these feasts to automatically add one Challenge Die worth of Momentum. This is a cool idea (similar to the morale officer role that I wrote) but it really comes together with the inclusion of bloodwine. With the captain’s permission, the cook can break out the bloodwine which adds three Challenge Dice of Momentum. Because you’re getting a bunch of Klingons lit and rowdy, though, so any effects rolled will add a Threat. This is game mechanics bordering on art in my book.

Image © Modiphius

The name of the roles as well as rank are given in both English and Klingon, then you work out Equipment. Klingon characters get uniforms (with Resistance 1 body armor), a communicator, a tricorder, a d’k tang dagger, and a disruptor pistol when assigned to a boarding or landing party. Other things are purchased with Opportunity or Esalation costs like in the original core rulebook.

There is a whole chapter on Talents, mostly repeats but a few new items too. There are five species Talents for Klingons, some of which I recognize from the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook. The biggest change, though, comes with Character Advancement. This probably also deserves a longer post but people have often been underwhelmed by the advancement in Star Trek Adventures, mostly because there’s a lot of to-do after each mission but not a lot of increase in power. You shuffle points between Attributes or Disciplines, switch out Talents, etc.

In this new set-up, though, each mission features a Log Entry where you do that sort of thing but when you continually test your Values you earn Milestones. Like the Arc Milestones of the original core book, these let you actually up the power of your character, adding points or gaining more Talents or Focus than you had before. String along some Milestones and you get a Character Arc which really lets you increase your character’s abilities. This really reminds me of the advancement system for Invisible Sun, which is an unexpected and awesome surprise. Reputation gets a similar overhaul and there is a companion pdf for using these rules with Federation characters.

Image © Modiphius

Next Time…

Next time I’ll be looking at the remainder of the book including equipment and technology for Klingon characters, spaceframes and ships, mission briefs (a great new tool), conflict, adversaries, and the introductory mission. See you then and qapla’!

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