This is going to be a one part review, unlike the last one. The reason for this is that the first half of this book is the same as the first half of the Player’s Guide. The first two chapters, the introduction to the Star Trek universe and the overview of the Star Trek Adventures game, cover all the same information and almost all of the text is identical (though rephrased in the Gamemaster’s Guide to reference running a game instead of playing a character). The third chapter, covering Eras of Play and Styles of Play, is similar though there are a few new sections and some notes about how to create new plots in these eras.
Ultimately, though, this chapter provides the same information as the Player’s Guide from a different perspective. There’s different information on the Earth-Romulan War, the fall of the Romulan Empire, and different timelines to visit, but the broad strokes of the Eras of Play are similar to the Player’s Guide version. In the Styles of Play chapter the different campaign models cover player roles for the different approaches, structures of planning out a campaign, and practical setting-creation advice, though the sections are the same.
So if the first 57 pages of the book are the same as in the Player’s Guide and the following 46 are half and half, is this just a rehashing of the Player’s Guide? Not really, for two reasons. First of all, the total amount of material that’s shared is only about 30% so this is much more than just the same thing with a new cover. Secondly, you might want to have both books in your own collection but the intention of the books are very different. Personally, I don’t like having a bunch of stuff (especially setting stuff) locked behind a “GMs only” label so I think it’s essential that you have it for both players and GMs. Still, if you are on a budget then you should weigh out which one to purchase with this in mind. Still, let’s keep going to the new stuff!
Prepping and Running a Game
The fourth chapter of the Gamemaster’s Guide is certainly new and certainly intended for gamemasters. The first section covers game preparation, how to figure out what sort of game you want to run, how long that game might be, whether you’re using prewritten missions or original missions (or both), negotiating canon content, etc. The next section talks about how to find, engage, and manage players, followed by a section on setting up your Session 0 (very pleased with this) and your first full session.
Each of these sections also has checklists to summarize the information and keep you organized. There’s also very practical advice from a sample advertisement for the internet or a gaming store to attract players, case-by-case advice for different career events in Lifepath generation, and handling conflicts in schedule and personality. While it’s entirely Star Trek related, this is a wonderful chapter for any GM of any game. Lastly comes some advice on being a GM through mission after mission, continuing to keep up engagement and interest, responding to player feedback, and effectively using virtual tabletops. All of it is excellent advice.
Star Trek Storytelling
Being a GM, of course, isn’t just about scheduling (although that’s a critical part that doesn’t get enough attention in my book). In addition, though, there’s the creation of stories that are compelling and that channel the spirit of Star Trek. If you’re using prewritten missions there’s some practical advice on using and modifying those, a real artform if you ask me. There’s also good advice on giving characters the spotlight and providing fun for different player styles.
The three other sections of the chapter cover mission-scale stories, season-scale stories, and campaign-scale stories in turn. Going mission-to-mission can be jolting so the advice here is on creating fast action and fun storytelling in a limited frame. A lot of the advice can be used in other frameworks so this is the longest section, but I especially love the Tasks and Extended Tasks sections (short though they are). Season-scale storytelling starts with seeding plot hooks throughout a campaign season, plus using subplots and “sidebar scenes” to create an overarching story. You can run an episodic season, a “serialized season” with a long story, and hybrid seasons in between. This is the case for campaign-long framing too and the final short section sets this up nicely.
Chapter six of this book is about the nuts and bolts of the Star Trek Adventures game mechanics. It runs about fifty pages and covers Tasks, Extended Tasks, Momentum, Threat, Attributes and Disciplines, Values and Determination, Traits, Conflict, the Scientific Method, and Creating and Using NPCs. Some of these are clarifying different mechanics that can be tough (like the Scientific Method or using Determination) while other sections are deeply practical and useful information.
The notes on making different sorts of Conflict interesting and organized are particularly fantastic while the Scientific Method section makes this awesome part of the game more accessible and clear. Probably the section that’s best for new GMs, though, is the part on Creating and Using NPCs. There is basic advice on writing up backgrounds and personalities, as well as using NPCs in your game, but the section is also tables of random goals and random tactics to jog your imagination. The last of this section is on different alien species traits for making your own, unique species that have interesting physiologies with game mechanics attached. The sidebar on swimming and drowning seems especially fun.
Additional Rules and Tools
After going through the rules of the system with helpful suggestions, the Gamemaster’s Guide has a handful of new rules to try out in your Star Trek Adventures game. First is the optional rule for extended consequences, the flipside of extended tasks. While extended tasks represent work to fix a problem, extended consequences represent work to avoid a growing problem. They have tracks and magnitudes but use setbacks instead of breakthroughs, repurposing the existing rules and tweaking them for a new situation. You can use these rules side-by-side to have a ship adjust its warp signature (an extended task) to enter the Neutral Zone without being detected (extended consequence) and install a relay satellite (extended task) in a remote system.
There are also advanced rules for Traits to allow them to create automatic advantages or complications, stress and injury variants if you want to track physical and mental stress differently or include fatigue or specific injuries, morale rules, extended healing rules for injuries, and a host of advanced combat rules like using squads and squadrons or bracing for impact. I can’t prove it but I think we can thank Michael Dismuke for the Casualty Report sidebar and the other sidebar for randomly generating evasive maneuver terms seems like a fun addition.
The following sections have sample encounters to get you thinking and sample extended tasks to showing off some of the variations possible with the 2d20 rules (such as Negotiating to Free a Hostage or Restoring Life Support). Last of all the section on cultural structures can help you brainstorm new civilizations by discussing government systems, groupings, types of religion, and societal frameworks. Do you know your oligarchies from your monarchies and how an alliance is different from a federation? You will after this!
Just like the Player’s Guide is an amazing resource that will quickly and immediately build up your abilities as a Star Trek Adventures player, the Gamemaster’s Guide is a fantastic tool to give you plenty of tools and support as a gamemaster. I recommend these two books to every STA game group, in fact I’d call them nearly essential. I know that not everyone will have the means to get their own copy but do yourself a favor and borrow your fellow player’s when they get it. You have the Mephit Guarantee™: reading and using the material in these books will immediately and profoundly improve your experience with Star Trek Adventures.