I took it to the next level, people! During our recent mission, I pulled my main mission, “Bacchus’s Irresitable Call”, from the new Shackleton Expanse Campaign Guide. I created a B plot using Al Spader’s “The Order Beyond” from the Anomalies Mission Brief Pack #3. That’s right, folks! Two crazy adventures packed into one episode for the stalwart crew of the USS Pioneer.
This deserves a special, first-ever, DOUBLE REVIEW! I will first review “Bacchus’s Irresistible Call” then “Anomalies”.
However, I think I may have struck on gold. Since there are SO MANY campaign guides, standalone modules, and mission briefs pouring from the wonderful well that is Modiphius, this will satiate my group’s desire to play them all! That’s right! You can do the same thing too. Find a more comprehensive STA module as your main plot and pull a B plot from a mission brief!
What an idea! Double the mission! Double the pleasure! Double the fun!
How did the Star Trek Adventures “Bacchus’s Irresitable Call” module rate?
For more on the Revised Tribble Rating System 2021, click here.
First a History Lesson About “Bacchus’s Irresitable Call”
“Bacchus’s Irresistible Call”, written by Shawn Merwin, was originally released as part of Star Trek Adventures Living Campaign back in 2017-18 to the general public. “Bacchus’s Irresistible Call” was reworked and included in the Shackleton Expanse Campaign Guide.
The crew of the USS Pioneer (my player group’s Intrepid-class starship) finished playing the module and loved it! One of my players said, “This episode was one of the most fun times I’ve had with Star Trek Adventures.”
One of the biggest challenges I as a GM had was morphing the content to work with my storyline, which launched in 2018 with the Living Campaign. I had to patiently wait until 2021 to get more details about the Shackleton Expanse so my players’ characters could wrap up this mystery. Given that, a player said, “I think you did a really great job weaving all of this material together, Michael—the TOS stuff, the Shackleton stuff, the backstory already established on Pioneer, etc.”
Whether playing this module as its own mission in the TOS era or whether you are adding it to your Shackleton Campaign, there are some real gems in here that your players might enjoy…if you tweak them just right.
SYNOPSIS (spoiler alert)
In “Bacchus’s Irresistible Call”, the crew is ordered to the Bacchus system to investigate anomalous sensor readings, and also determine if several escaped criminals are hiding there. The strange ruins on the planet provide evidence of a powerful race that once dwelt there, a mystery that could advance Federation technology in breath-taking ways.
- Comprehensibility – 2 Tribbles. I admit, I did a lot of reading and rereading of this module to understand the catalyst behind the characters being yanked from here to there through some means of transportation. I understand that this is one of the very first STA modules EVER! So the ryhthm of how things work mechanically were still being worked out when Merwin wrote this module.
However, the sheer power of the technology not only summons mind-controlled people to the planet, but it also projects force beams that can hold starships in place, transports people here and there, and sets off a solar system wide cataclysm.
With powers like this, why do the antagonists (the Tilikaal) need our help at all? Big spoiler since the new guide explains that the Tilikaal are trapped and need help escaping some subspace prison of sorts. In other words, I spent a lot of time understanding the entire Living Campaign as presented in the guide to come up with a reasonable excuse as to why the Tilikaal need help. I propose that Bacchus IV (the planet-sized machine), is just that—a machine, a computer. Pre-programmed, and without its former masters to guide it, it goes haywire once the player characters start messing with it.
- Originality – 3 Tribbles. I suppose a solar system wide killing machine is a cool concept. I think what was original about this module—what set it truly apart—was how different species from different polities were drawn into the adventure. Trill. Vulcans. Romulans. Klingons. Members of Starfleet.
In our game, we added the fact that our main characters had been transported by Q from the year 2385 back to 2269 to help unravel the mystery of the Tilikaal. But they weren’t transported as Federationcharacters. They were dropped into the bodies of Romulans who were on a secret mission to explore the Shackleton Expanse. I also swapped out the Lexington with the Enterprise, giving my players (now stuck in Romulan bodies on a Romulan spaceship) the opportunity to mix it up with the original TOS crew. Heck! I even tossed in two TAS crew members, M’Ress and Ensign Walking Bear, as the two Starfleet officers who were mind-controlled and stole the shuttle in the module.
- Sci-Fi Concepts – 1 Tribble. I have a personal beef against stories whose plots are primarily pushed forward by time travel, dimension hopping, or—in this case—mind control. I much prefer when the problem itself forces the players to take action and get involved. I mean, think about, you mind-control some crew members and have them hijack a shuttle. Of course the players are going to go after them. But that seems like railroading to me.
The other concepts in the module were fine; but again a lot of super-powered mechanics that to me felt like the characters were being shoved here and there a lot against their wills.
I was able to distract my players due to a pretty intrinsic story arch wherein Q sent them back in time to discover a clue that could help them save Romulas in 2387, the year the star is supposed to go supernova. (Our captain is a Romulan who serves as a Starfleet captain.)
Under different circumstances, I think my players would have called out my railroading.
- Social Conflict Potential – 1 Tribble. I have to say, this module didn’t leave much room for social conflict. It didn’t offer you the opportunity to reason with the mind-controlled individuals. It forced conflict between the Federation and Klingons. Even if someone did manage to succeed in a Presence + Command to force the Klingons to back down, it isn’t nearly as satisfying in having your players do it without rolling dice.
This module forces confrontations.
Again, this was one of STA’s earlier modules and I think the game and players have evolved a lot since then to be more like Star Trek on television. Less fistacuffs and more diplomacy. (I have to admit, though. Our female first officer slapping Kirk for being a chauvinist pig was a highlight of the adventure. Oh! And our captain was mighty proud that he got to knock out a Klingon.)
- Adaptability – 2 Tribbles. This is not any fault of the writer, but Modiphius left GMs all over the planet with quite a conundrum in 2018 when the Living Campaign was shelved for other projects.
I, for one, was expecting to get a general answer as to what it all meant—world engines, obelisks, artifacts—only to be left to my own devices. No complaints. I made it work.
However, with the release of the Shackleton Expanse Guide, I find myself having to dissect each story to make sure it does not conflict with anything canon in my story. That is four years of gameplay I have to track. Thank goodness I write out each game in mini-novella format and keep notes on all the technology my crew discovers and how it works.
In other words, for long-time STA players like me adapting might be a chore; a pleasant chore, but still a chore. I mean, I love the new guide. It is an epic achievement, just a long time coming.
For people who are new to STA, I think this module is very adaptable as a standalone or wrapped into a larger campaign.
FINAL SCORE: 1.8
Written early in STA’s development, this module tends to railroad instead of allowing for free play. Easily workable and a great place to start for newbies, long-time players of STA need to really study the module to make sure it does not conflict with previous Living Campaign Missions and what GM’s played during the nearly 4-year hiatus from the Shackleton Expanse arch.
“The Order Beyond” Mission Brief
The player characters’ ship is sent to investigate a newly formed white hole that opened relatively close to a settled system. Upon arrival, the ship is bombarded by subatomic particles, overloading its systems. With engines down, the crew must navigate shifting gravity fields, discover what or who caused the white hole to open, and determine the impact it is having on this area of space.
How did the the Star Trek Adventures Mission Brief “The Order Beyond” rate?
It only makes sense that a Mission Brief should have a shortened version of a review. After all, mission briefs are just skeletons for adventures and the enjoyment to be derived from them is a lot due to how good the GM is in developing encounters and tasks from the outline.
I have to say, the third set of Mission Briefs written by Al Spader is amazing. I had the privilege of writing the first set of mission briefs, Growing Pains. After I saw Al’s, I was kicking myself in the butt. He had such wide-open concepts that could be dropped into any game.
Specifically, “The Order Beyond” is the gold standard for a plot involving strange astrophysics. He included an alien race. So, first contact potential, though you could completely eliminate the aliens and purely use it as a scientific challenge for the crew.
I admit, the pseudo-science was a little over my head and I had to look up “entropy” several times to remind me of how that might affect a crew. I person new to Star Trek might be scratching their heads.
I encourage GMs to spend threat on disabling multiple systems on the players’ vessel to express the true enormity of the energies with which they are contending. Also, make communicating with the aliens extremely hard (an extended task) if not impossible. I also enjoyed using this module to test out an ensign who had to take command of the bridge while the captain and other superiors were on an away mission. This gave the opportunity for the ensign to shine. Also, the group activated support characters that rarely get a chance to shine, so that was a fun option.
“The Order Beyond” could easily make for a fun A plot. But it is a superb B plot while the main characters are on an away mission and a good excuse as to why they cannot make contact with the ship.
(To see our entire play report which includes “Bacchus’s Irrisistable Call” and “The Order Beyond”, see Star Trek Pioneer, Season 4, Episode 6: Q & A, Part I.)
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