Player’s Guide Review, Part 1

Last month the Player’s Guide dropped and it’s pretty exciting. In case you’re weighing whether to pre-order the book or get the PDF when it’s out, here is what’s in store!

The Player’s Guide is 258 pages of awesome content for being a more engaged, more confident, and more capable player in Star Trek Adventures. As the game line’s project manager, Jim Johnson, says in the book’s forward, STA has been out for four years now and the development team has had a chance to reflect on the game, they’ve released other 2d20 games with new ideas in them, and read lots of feedback from fans. I’d like to think it’s all been positive feedback but I think we all know it’s probably a mixed bag so I’d like to offer a big “thank you” for that emotional labor at the top of this review.

The Player’s Guide is divided into seven chapters that I’ve grouped then together slightly here in the interest of succinctness. Like its counterpart, the Gamemaster’s Guide, the Player’s Guide is very much oriented into practical advice and useful mechanics to let you immediately use this book in your game. So let’s get into it!

Image © Modiphius Entertainment

The Star Trek Universe

The first two chapters of this Player’s Guide are something that a lot of my friends (unfortunately, shockingly) need and that’s an introduction to the universe of Star Trek. It starts off with the source material, going through each of the series and films currently licensed to Star Trek Adventures (TOS, TAS, the original movies, TNG, DS9, Voyager, Enterprise, Discovery, and Picard) to provide a few sentences of summary and some choice episodes that newcomers should check out.

The authors also offer ten things to know (a format I appreciate) about the Star Trek franchise. This is sure to bring out some griping but, as the book makes clear, “perhaps you have your own perspectives about what Star Trek or what it means to you; if so, be sure to mention them to your group and, together, develop your own definition…” In this book they summarize Star Trek’s core ideas as the franchise having a science fiction setting; it has a positive and hopeful forecast; it makes diversity, equity, and inclusion paramount (fight me on this, I dare you); the characters build and nurture relationships; it focuses on character over plot; the characters live in the Federation; the characters blaze a trail (don’t love the phrasing but I agree with the sentiment); it examines the human condition; it explores the wonders of the universe; and the characters have some fun along the way. It’s so hard to sum up everything in Star Trek and I think this list does an admirable job.

We also get our first taste of new material in a sidebar as the authors describe how this all applies to “Non-Federation Characters and Campaigns,” whether a Cardassian crew on a Galor-class warship or a Romulan Tal Shiar strike team. And that brings us to the next section here: What is Star Trek Adventures? Again, we get a ten-point list summarizing the game and this includes making your own unique crew and story; having rules for every Star Trek era; light or complex rules as needed; characters made via lifepaths; having a role for everyone; having a concern for the greater good; collaborative problem-solving; creating dramatic events; having story-driven gameplay; and creating a safe space in which to explore (another point I dare you to challenge).

Image © Modiphius Entertainment

From here we get into a 30-page guide to the Star Trek universe, a primer to the setting for players old and new. At Continuing Mission we’ve tried the same task ourselves and so I know that this was a very difficult part of the book to write and I think the end product is great. We get a discussion of the hopeful vision of Gene Roddenbury and the guiding concept of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations (IDIC). I’m thrilled to see a full-page sidebar on religion and spirituality in Star Trek, my central focus for my character in Michael’s campaign during his time there. The complexities of weaving together hundreds of species’ cultures, running a post-scarcity and supportive economic system, and keeping time with stardates (what a minefield of a topic).

In-universe technology like cloaking devices, communications, the universal translator, hologram technology, propulsion (sublight and warp), equivalent terms between eras, sensor technologies, shuttlecrafts, shields, time travel, weapons (personal and ship), transporters and replicators, and technobabble. After technologies, we get a view of what it means to be in Starfleet including standard operating procedures for different conditions (do you know what “blue alert” is? I didn’t!), different types of orbits, the Prime Directive, and naval terms used in Starfleet. Plenty of information to start sounding like an expert even if you’re just sticking your toe in the Star Trek universe.

Star Trek Eras, Play Styles, and Staying Engaged

The third chapter of the book delves into two related ideas: what sort of story do you want to tell and what sort of character do you want to play? The first, group-level idea is the Era of Play that your campaign will take place in, the chapters in the thousands of years of story that Star Trek currently boasts. The book points out that “the various eras can generally be mapped to specific series, though as the franchise continues to grow, there are overlaps where multiple series fit into the same general era.” In this book there are multi-page discussions of the following:

  • The Foundational Years: humanity’s First Contact, Star Trek: Enterprise, and beyond from 2063-2199
  • The Federation and Empire: the original series, animated series, and Star Trek: Discovery when the Federation and the Klingons were clashing from 2200-2299
  • The Allies and Adversaries Era: the diplomatically complicated time from Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and the later movies from 2300-2379
  • Post-War and Reconstruction: following the Dominion War as seen in Lower Decks and Star Trek: Picard from 2380-2399
  • The Temporal Cold War: elements from across many series but stemming from a conflict in the 27th century
  • The 32nd Century: seen in the third and fourth seasons of Star Trek: Discovery

Obviously these are more eras than seen in the core rulebook and I think this is an indicator of future Star Trek Adventures products. We have plenty of material supporting the first three eras and some for the Post-War and Reconstruction era, and while I appreciate the final two eras’ information in this book I don’t feel prepared to start a campaign in those time periods right this minute. I guess we’ll see.

Image © Modiphius Entertainment

The second idea is Style of Play, what you want to be doing on a character or player level. This comes down to play styles and this Player’s Guide discusses Admiralty Campaigns, Cinematic-Style Campaigns (larger than life battles), Season-Long Story Arcs, Political Campaigns (specific regions), Deep Space Exploration (including non-Starfleet Missions like the Hansens’),  Far From Home games (flung across space like Voyager), “Spice of Life” episodic games, Station- and Colony-Based games, and Unsanctioned Missions where you’re out on your own. Each of these has suggested focuses and values for characters in these sorts of stories and they also discuss these styles from a Klingon perspective for those using the Klingon Core Rulebook.

After all of this, the book’s fourth chapter is entitled Engage! It’s clever but the chapter is about being an engaged, contributing, and resourceful player at the table. First off is recommendations for a Session 0 which at this point should be the start of anybody’s RPG campaign/adventure regardless of group or game. If you are still on the fence about this for some reason, this section makes a compelling case for a Session 0 in Star Trek Adventures and even provides a checklist of things to cover with a group before launching in. There are discussions of reaching consensus, picking a story length, making a crew and ship, and then launching into the story. At the table you’re encouraged to “always ask ‘why’” and be confident to just try stuff out. There are pacing tools for scenes, which is fantastic as everyone at the table should be helping a scene play out, and some tips for gauging expectations and including supporting characters to keep the story from stalling.

Image © Modiphius Entertainment

The Engage! chapter ends with two sections: Maximizing Your Player Experience and Supporting the Gamemaster. The first one has some excellent advice for getting the most out of your STA experience including upping your risk tolerance in the name of drama, being a good team player for your crew (yes, even as Klingons), modelling what you want in the game, sharing the spotlight with others, avoiding metagaming to keep the story genuine, avoiding micromanaging to keep others engaged, and embodying your member of Starfleet (or another organization). One section I found particularly interesting is entitled “Understand the Difference Between Disagreement and Insubordination.” Very often in Star Trek Adventures, I’ve seen people struggle with crews that just ignore the captain or otherwise act in ways that are both counter to the in-universe expectations of Starfleet and the tabletop expectations of friends trying to play together. I’ve also seen people struggle with voicing their opinions because they’re a “lowly ensign” or they’ve been given an order. This section really helped me understand that “chain of command” aspect to STA crews of all stripes.

There are tons of character prompts, discussions of how crews operate on screen, and ideas for advancement but I’ll admit that I first viewed the “Maximizing Your Player Experience” section with nervousness until I saw the Supporting the Gamemaster section right after. A lot of RPGs have bands of warriors off to conquer the world and the GM is the “enemy” in an honestly not very fun way. Star Trek Adventures can first read as having some of those vibes but it’s a story game and this section shows how that works. It encourages you to immerse yourself in the mood alongside the story, play along with the GM’s plot instead of poking holes in it, learning the system, asking for clarification… In all, it’s five pages of player advice that makes a career GM like me feel very seen and supported.

Image © Modiphius Entertainment

Conclusion

This is the first half of the book and so the end of this part of our review. Coming up we have all the crunchy stuff but hopefully you’ve seen how even the “fluff” of the Player’s Guide has actionable, specific advice for players to hone in on their own desires at the table and collaborate on even better Star Trek stories. It’s also got a section that’s a godsend for GMs and players alike who have friends and even gaming groups who just feel out of their depth in the Star Trek universe. The first half of this book is a firm grounding in both Star Trek and Star Trek Adventures all while making the case for why both of these are very different than other things you might have engaged with.

The optimistic futurism of the Star Trek franchise is surprising to many who have only seen sci-fi universes with grim, foreboding tones, and the Star Trek Adventures RPG is a breath of fresh air for players who have only carried broadswords into dungeons to kill goblins for the crime of looking and acting differently. If you’ve got an STA game underway, are hoping to start one up, or want to make sure you put your best foot forward on an upcoming campaign, there’s plenty in this book to help you with that… And we’re only halfway through!

7 comments

    1. Definitely! This first part of the book really gives players the tools to be an active part of the storytelling. Star Trek stories on the screen are very character-driven and the RPG stories should be too!

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