The Speed of Plot

by Mark L. Compton

Let’s take a moment to talk about Warp Speed and how the television series completely ignored actual Warp speeds, and why you as a Gamemaster should as well. 

It has always been my contention that Warp Speed moves our players along at the ‘Speed of Plot‘. There are several examples in the series of how they do this. Let’s look at a few.

In “Broken Bow” (ENT S01E01) the NX-01 Enterprise travels from Earth to Kronos. Most published maps [Star Charts, Stellar Cartography] put that distance as 106 light-years. Okay, so now we have our distance. The Enterprise‘s maximum speed was warp 5.2, and the NX-class was the first Earth vessel to achieve warp 5.06. (ENT: “Babel One”, “Affliction”). Her standard cruising speed was warp 4.5. (ENT: “Broken Bow”). 

So, let’s say the Enterprise traveled at her standard cruising speed of warp 4.5, which means the trip from Earth to Kronos would have taken 1.16 years (424.85 days). Even if the Enterprise was able to maintain the top speed of Warp 5.2 for that long, it still would have taken 275.35 days to deliver Klaang home. 

Now, I can hear some of you saying “But Mark, the speed of the NX-class was based on the TNG scale.” You know what, you may be right. So, let’s say that it was based on the TNG scale of Warp, at her standard cruising speed of Warp 4.5 it would have taken 257.36 days to make the trip (or 158.9 at Warp 5.2) 

But the Warp Speed inconsistency doesn’t stop there. Fast forward to “Deep Space Nine“. In the episode “Tears of the Prophets” (DS9 S06E26) set in 2374, Captain Sisko and Jake took the Danube-class Runabout Rio Grande to Earth, a distance of 67.17 light-years, after the death of Jadzia Dax. The runabouts have a maximum speed of Warp 5 which would take the trip 3 months, 24 days, 17 hours, and 13 minutes. Can a Runabout maintain that speed for that long? I mean even a Galaxy-class with a maximum warp speed of 9.6 (for 12 hours) would take 12 days to make the trip. The Runabout’s normal cruising speed is Warp 2 (a travel time of 6 years, 9 months, 2 days, 17 hours, 54 minutes). 

Now we know for a fact that DS9 didn’t spend anywhere from a quarter of a year to 6 years on that trip. It was just Zip and they were there. 

At the end of the day, my overall point is to not get bogged down in this minutia. If your players ask how long it takes to get from point A to point B, I advise telling them it takes however long they need to run to the restroom and get a refill of their drink and snacks. I.E. a commercial break.

Special Thanks to Laurie Brown and Matthew McMahon’s Star Trek Travel

Star Trek Minutia’s Warp Speed Calculator:


  1. A wonderful and helpful article for all of the GMs and potential GMs who worry too much about the technical side of things. Star Trek was never about the science being 100% foolproof; it has always been about the exploration of humanity and morality among the stars.

    Technology in Star Trek Adventures should be used exactly as it is used in the TV series: as a tool to tell compelling stories, not as a barrier to hinder the imagination.

  2. As both gamers and Trekkies, this is almost bound to bug us. My justification is that while a higher Warp Factor is always faster than a lower Warp Factor, the specific speed of any given Warp Factor depends on the prevailing conditions along the route. Between sensors and a the computer, I assume the characters know how much time a given trip will take at a given Warp Factor, but that we can’t expect even that same trip to take the same amount of time at the same Warp Factor on another occasion, let alone a different trip of the same distance even at the same Warp Factor.

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