A Trait Unused is Not a Useless Trait

You’ve got a great idea. You know just what your character would do. So you take your turn, you roll your dice, you spend your Momentum…and you add a new Trait onto the table. An Advantage! You’ve changed the game! Tipped the scales, raised the stakes, maybe even turned the tide.

But what if…that Trait never gets used?

Josh Allen is a software developer & role-playing game hobbyist living in California with his wife and two kids. He has been interested in tabletop role-playing games for a few decades. After playing and GMing a lot in his teens, he left the hobby for a while then came back to it when his kids had an interest. In the last few years, he has been running games in various systems for kids & adults. He fell in love with Star Trek Adventures. He loves the Trek franchise and 2d20 gameplay.

Continuing Missions thanks Josh for this contributed article.

As we know from the STA Core Rulebook(s), Traits – whether Advantages, Complications, or just
plain old Traits:

  • make actions possible (when they’d otherwise be impossible)
  • make actions impossible (when they’d otherwise be possible)
  • change the Difficulty of a Task by 1
  • (sometimes, it’s implied, increase the Complication Range of a Task)

But what if your Trait never does any of that? If you’re a GM, what if you Create a Dense Fog Complication, but your players never wander into it? If you’re a player, what if you Create a Transporter Lock Advantage, but never end up using Transporters? Most painful: what if you spend your precious Determination to Make it So that you once Shared a Roommate with the Captain you’re negotiating with – and then the topic never comes up?

Fear not: with the right understanding, GMs and players can ensure that anytime you spend from your hard-earned token pool to put a new Trait into play, your sacrifice need not be wasted: a Trait unused, is not a useless Trait.

Traits as chess moves

Traits, Advantages, and Complications can act like chess moves, sometimes threatening, sometimes protecting, and sometimes guiding characters down a particular path – all without factoring-in to a single Task.

Sometimes Traits are like pawns. As a GM, if I introduce Sensor Interference, sometimes players will remove it immediately: “we’ve got to find a way through that interference!”

Other times, Traits are like queens. When presented with a Trait, players back off, choosing to pursue other routes. “Guess we won’t be relying on sensors! Have to use the good old Mark 1 eyeball.”

In either case, even if the Trait never affected a Task, it has served its purpose, generating story. Which brings us to…

Traits in narration

Even if they never affect a Task, Traits represent a significant contribution from the player who created them, and are begging to be addressed in role-playing and narration. They can inspire humor, tension, heart—they might even become motifs in your story. “Good thing we’ve still got that Souped-Up Shuttlecraft! In case we need to…shuttle ourselves somewhere, fast…”

Everyone at the table can contribute to this. If you’re a GM, you can try to work the players’ Traits into your responses, even if only as world-building. As a player, you can riff off of your fellow players’ (or the GM’s) Traits, weaving them deeper into your shared story.

Dense Fog: “Captain, I recommend we begin our search towards the East.” “On what basis, Doctor?” “Because it’s…less foggy?”

Transporter Lock: She taps her badge. “It’s a long way down that crevasse…you got me, Number One?” “I’m not letting you fall, Lieutenant. You’ve got this.”

Shared a Roommate: “He’s lucky he agreed to our terms so fast. I was ready to tell everyone what he sings in the shower!”

Traits as armor

Sometimes you’ve got a plan so good, you want a fortress around it to keep it safe. Traits can build up armor for your ideas, making it cost-prohibitive to dislodge them. Traits can let you insist. Maybe you just don’t want your signal to be detected. Maybe you want to put together an unassailable case for the upcoming court-martial. If you care enough to slap Encryption 4 upon your secret data file, in addition to the psychological comfort it brings, you’re making your enemies spend so many resources to tear it down, that they may decide not to attempt to do so at all. In such cases, these dearly bought Traits might never play into a Task – and that’s just how you want them.

Make it So!

So Create Away! When you understand the effect Traits can have – just by their very presence – on character actions, role-playing, and the overall story, you’ll find that they’re well worth their weight in Momentum.

One comment

  1. I feel like this could be encouraged by listing traits in a prominent place during gameplay. That would encourage players to reference them. It could also lead to more narrative connections between momentum spends and roleplay.

    Thanks for the article!

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