Superfan Bill Barbato Talks About the “Best Game Ever”

Submitted by Bill Barbato

Michael Dismuke, a contributor to the Continuing Mission STA, says about STA, “best game ever”. Even to a biased group like this, those might seem like strong words.

I have been a Star Trek fan and a role player (primarily GM) since I was a teenager. What I haven’t been, until two years ago, was a Star Trek role player. And it wasn’t for a lack of interest. My best friend–nay, my brother–Gene and I would “play” Star Trek in his backyard; his patio was the bridge of the ship, the cinderblock wall and wooden fence along one side of his property were the narrow catwalks and Jeffrey’s tubes in engineering, and the surrounding environment was any and every possible away team location. We came up with logos for our shows, wrote story summaries of what we played, and shamelessly copied every cool thing we saw happen in the TV shows. The only thing we didn’t have was a set of rules to frame how we played the game. We just played for fun and that’s exactly what we had for many years.

Star Trek: Last Unicorn Games & Decipher - Wayne's Books RPG Reference

Sometime during that period, we both started to get into RPGs more seriously. My biggest love back in the day was Star Wars and I was all about the West End Games version of the RPG well into my university days. I longed for the opportunity to let my imagination go wild and “exist” inside of the fictional universe that I loved. While I occasionally joined games from other systems if a friend would run one, I had no interest in starting any other game on my own. That was until Last Unicorn Games released the Star Trek: The Next Generation RPG. I had to pick it up the day it arrived at the local game shop near my university. At last, I had an official RPG for a setting that I desired to play in just as much as Star Wars. I was excited and eager to play a new game for the first time.

I read through the rules as quickly as I could and got in touch with Gene and the others in my game group. I announced that we were going to play Star Trek the next time we got together, and everyone was interested to try it. We planned to make characters together and I continued to read the rule book while writing an outline for the first adventure. The rules weren’t too complicated so it didn’t seem like it would be very difficult to get the game off the ground. But, even without that roadblock, something just didn’t feel “right”.

I remember finding the starship rules to be a bit more complex but, again, it was something we would be able to play around with until we were comfortable with it. Yet that wasn’t the problem; something else was nagging at the back of my mind, somewhere behind the excitement of finally having Star Trek in my hands. When the time came to sit down with my friends at the gaming table to introduce this game, I was filled with a strange sensation of doubt. I walked my friends through character creation and we hammered out all the details for the ship and setting. The idea for the first adventure was finished and ready to go. But it didn’t go. Even with all the excitement, we had originally felt, we never even started the game. The reason for this catastrophic failure to launch?

That game didn’t feel like Star Trek to us.

Sure, it had the images, the technobabble and even the official license itself slapped on the book, but the rules just didn’t convince us that we were in the Star Trek universe that we loved so very much. The more I looked at it, the more I saw a run-of-the-mill role-playing system with a very thin coat of TNG paint on top. It didn’t look like we would be able to recreate what we saw on screen with the rules that were in front of us. With a heavy heart, I put aside the Star Trek book and we went back to Star Wars. Later, when Decipher got the rights to the RPG line, I browsed through the core rules almost daily in the very same game store where I bought the LUG books. But I never bought a copy because it, too, did not convince me that it would feel like we were playing Star Trek. I came to the conclusion that Star Trek simply could not be accurately represented mechanically in an RPG.

Temporal shift nearly two decades later to an older (yet, somehow, less-wiser) version of me sitting at my computer in 2017. After a decade of being heavily into board games, I was currently experiencing a renaissance in role-playing, though it was being done online rather than face to face. The main game was Fantasy Flight Game’s “Edge of the Empire”—a Star Wars RPG. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

It was then that I read an article about role-playing games and I came across the information about a new attempt at a Star Trek RPG, this time being published by Modiphius. “Star Trek Adventures”. The article announced that it was being released in a Borg Cube collector’s box and I shook my head in dismay. Expensive box? Miniatures? Special dice? I was certain it was nothing more than an over-the-top cash grab to part unsuspecting Trekkers with their latinum. After all, Star Trek could not be properly represented in RPG form, right? I believed that whatever may be printed inside of the rule book could not justify the incredible price tag on the Borg Cube set. While I did acknowledge that it was a cool idea, I knew I wasn’t going to fall into their trap.

Bill loving the Borg Cube that contains more than everything you need to start a rocking campaign!

However, seeing that announcement reminded me of how much I had wanted to play a Star Trek RPG for years. The next time I visited my mother’s house, I returned with my old LUG books, determined to give them another look over and see if my more experienced GM brain might be able to make them work. Sadly, not only were the rules still as disappointing as they were before the turn of the millennium, but now the entire layout that I loved years ago felt extremely dated (and please don’t get me started on the GM screen). My dissatisfaction was such that I knew I wasn’t going to bother with it ever again. But I really wanted to play Star Trek… and there was a new version of it, after all. I thought that perhaps I should at least give it a glance. I managed to get my hands on a PDF of the core rulebook and started to read through it, hoping that it might have something salvageable. 

Immediately I was blown away by the design. It was gorgeous! I marveled at the beauty of it, page after page. The sometimes maligned often criticized LCARs layout and white text on black pages was PERFECT for me. It set the mood beautifully and I was instantly immersed in the setting of the Star Trek universe. I wasn’t sure what the rules would be like, but my first impression was spectacularly positive. Then I got to the meat of the system, something I was completely unfamiliar with: the 2d20 ruleset.  The rules seemed to indicate that the characters would be highly skilled and proficient right from the start and there really was no system for leveling up, at least not in the traditional sense. At first, I thought that would make the game far too easy. Where would the challenge be? But then I realized that all of the characters that we see in the TV series are highly skilled. The central characters of all of my favorite Star Trek series could always handle or overcome most situations they were put in. The characters in this system would be just like their on-screen counterparts.

Immediately I was blown away by the design. It was gorgeous!

Yes! This was what was missing from the LUG system.  No more lists of skills that guarantee the characters would only be experts in very little; in Star Trek Adventures there would be no individual skills at all. The characters would be highly trained to be able to handle every situation while having individualized proficiencies in certain focuses. This made so much sense to me and I started to realize that this was NOT going to be like the older games that turned me off of Star Trek as a role-playing game. That excitement I had felt 20 years earlier had returned. But this time, there was the promise of a payoff. The more I read the rulebook, the more I was certain that this was THE Star Trek game I had been waiting for my whole life and had erroneously believed could not exist.

Everything I discovered in the book—the lifepath system, task resolution, Momentum and Threat, assists, combat, starships—seemed perfectly tailored to fit the Star Trek universe. The rules even had a section on how to use the scientific method as a game mechanic! I felt as if I had fallen in love. I had never been so excited about a role-playing game before. Even more impressive, I had never been so excited about the mechanics of a role-playing game before, but I was in awe of what Star Trek Adventures brought to the table. This game was absolutely and unquestionably designed to perfectly allow one to create a Star Trek TV series in RPG form. 

I probably drove my game group nuts for months as I could not stop talking about how impressed I was with the Star Trek Adventures system and I told them that we were going to be playing the game in the near future. Without rushing, I brought the five-year-long Star Wars campaign to a suitable stopping point and immediately got started on writing the “pilot episode” for our series. I then went out and recruited as many new players as I could get to fill out the stations on our ship, taking each person through the amazing lifepath character creation process while explaining the basics of the rules. Finally, in August 2020, the U.S.S. DEGRASSE TYSON launched, and the adventure continues to this day. Since that time, I’ve managed to get my hands on nearly every physical book, PDFs of the other books, multiple sets of official dice, GM screens, and all of the Klingon material. I even ordered one of the Borg Cubes straight from Modiphius, flagrantly walking into the trap that I so smugly believed I would not fall for. 

But it was no trap. The Cube is everything a fan could hope it would be. It, like everything else in the Star Trek Adventures line, is made with a level of quality and care that proves to me that the people behind the scenes are putting their heart and soul into creating the best Star Trek role-playing experience out there.

“Best game ever”? Yes, Michael, I believe you are absolutely right. 

LLAP


Continuing Mission has done so much to support STA that Modiphius wants to give some love back, and so we are pleased to offer this discount code, CMISSION01, which is a 10% off coupon for the STA Starter Set, and usable on both the Modiphius UK site and the Modiphius US site.

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