Gamemasters’ Guidance: Star Trek Picard and the Attack on Mars Can Trigger Players for Various Reasons

So chatter got started on the STA Facebook page about the Attack on Mars that occurs in Star Trek: Picard. Various GMs who are playing in 2385 are tackling it from different angles. Is your crew dealing with the Mars event? How are they doing? In addition, what caution should GMs take when dealing with mass casualty events and player characters?

The Chatter

STA GM Chris Sham started the dialog. He wrote, “Just had easily the roughest ending to an episode I’ve ever seen. We played out the 2385 Synth attack on Mars, from PIC. The players got their specific away mission done, and that was already far more vicious combat than we’ve ever done (this is an exploration and diplomacy campaign, after all). Then I rolled to see what happened to the rest of their crew back on their ship. Two-thirds of 125 crew dead. Established support characters gone. Planned long-term plot hooks gone. Friends and lovers, gone. I intended it to be a grim low-point for the campaign, but wow, it felt rougher than I’d expected.”

This elicted quite the response from the Facebook group. Continuing Missions contributor Mark Compton responded, “So it is an exploration and discovery campaign, but you intentionally ran an attack-based mission…… ?”

And other viewpoints have been bubbling up in different Star Trek forums.

Many people don’t like how Picard handled the Mars attack. Some question if the Federation would have really abandoned the Romulans after the destruction of the Mars rescue fleet. (Some question why the entire fleet would be on Mars in the first place.) This seemed in direct conflict with how the Klingons were saved at the Khitomer Accords.

Others called out how illogical it would be to ban all synthetic lifeforms based on the action of a few malfunctioning units in one corner of the galaxy. One of my players may have summed it up best with this hilarious meme.

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The purpose of this blog post is not to shoot holes in Picard’s storyline. Instead, it is to ask: What are various gaming groups doing to manage such a huge Trek event? Accept it? Change it? Revise it? Pretend it never happened?

Before we jump into that though, we must remind GMs about an important point when dealing with the death of players or NPCs.

GM beware!

Freelance Writer for Star Trek Adventures, Al Spader, may have posed the question best when he asked Chris Sham, “Did your players enjoy it? Did you prep them for the emotional toll?”

Players are encouraged to play in character. This means trying their best to embody the emotions of characters who may be dealing with anger, sadness, fear, or revenge. Many times, players call on real-life experiences to tap into the scene.

Gamemasters should make sure to check in with players before dealing with heavy subjects like mass casualty events, terrorism, family issues, drug addiction, death, etc. For the most part, Star Trek Adventures is meant to be a happy diversion and a relaxing pastime.

So, GMs, be conscious and concerned.

How I handled it in the USS Pioneer game

As many of you know, I have a game that is four-and-a-half seasons in. Our most recent episode was “Secret Ingredients“. The attack on Mars was revealed in chapters 10 and 11.

I had to do a check-in during my game after the admiral in our game announced the attack on mars during a mission briefing. My players dove right in and did some excellent role-playing. Fortunately, I have a mature and trusting group who voice when things get emotional or borderline uncomfortable. I am proud to say one player did just that admitting that the scene was bringing back feelings from 9/11, which personally affected him.

“As someone who lives in NYC and was in Manhattan on 9/11,” he wrote, “then volunteered for the Red Cross for the next 2 days at Ground Zero, this is hitting me a bit more than I expected. More so than when I watched Picard. I am trying to not put myself back in my old shoes so to speak.”

This made the game really real to us all and reminded me of how careful a GM needs to be when writing games around death and loss.

I immediately called for a pause on the game to check how everyone was feeling. That level of consideration between players helps keep the game fun and not traumatic. In the end, the episode worked out.

Why I wrote this blog

I felt compelled to write this blog due to the very nature of Star Trek as a show. It is famous for tackling social issues and repackaging them into a sci-fi format that is more digestible for viewers.

In a world beset with colonialism, racism, religious persecution, discrimination, equity issues, lack of equality, injustice, genocide, ultra-nationalism, murder, drugs, crime, and a plethora of other horrible things, GMs must be careful when introducing these ideas.

GMs should refrain from trying to make—or force—a lesson on the players. Different people will get different things from the game based on their personal life experiences. Things that are easily dismissed by one player may trigger the next.

It is the role of the GM to make sure everyone has fun. It is also the role of players to do the same and foster a community of mutual respect and empathy.

Just needed to get this off of my chest. I would love to hear your advice too.

2 comments

  1. I feel that the Picard episode in question was trying to make a point about real-life events that are going on in the world.

    Nonetheless, I agree that it could be triggering and feeling out players as to how they would recieve such an event is, absolutely, a must. When dealing with people it is important to be empathetic and compassionate. Games are meant to be fun and having a player or players express negative feelings about a session is the exact opposite of its function.

  2. Games are meant to be fun, sure, but they also should place the character (and thus the player) into realistic events for the setting. So a dragon burning a city in D&D is equivalent to the crystalline entity destroying a colony. The borg attack at Wolf 359 was 10 times worse than the events of 9/11, and while difficult they were realistic.
    That being said, player expectations should be for the world you are playing in and bad things will happen or the good things can’t happen. Life is about the good triumphing over the evil of any world you take part in… be a hero! Stand up and fight! In a game…and more importantly… in real life.

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