This is reposted with permission from Over the Hill Gaming (Raymond Ford)
Let me tell you about the RPG campaign I’m running!
It’s been a while since I’ve run any kind of tabletop game for a group. The last one was canceled in 2020 and starting a new one didn’t happen for a variety of reasons. Remote gaming didn’t appeal to my group, but we did keep in touch over Discord. A number of folks in our group were holding down medical or public-facing service jobs, so in-person gaming kept getting pushed back.
That all changed recently when we decided to get the band back together.
The idea of returning to in-person gaming came up over Discord and shifted over to pick out a game. The field got narrowed down to Star Trek Adventures, 13th Age, and Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of. The majority of the players are involved with an ongoing Dungeons & Dragons 5e campaign, so any form of F20 seemed redundant to them. Conan was ruled out since I didn’t have a firm idea for a campaign other than a series of “throw stuff at the players and see what they like” adventures. With everybody being a Star Trek fan, the emergence of a variety of new content for that franchise coming out over the past few years, and my ability to come up with adventure ideas, Star Trek Adventures seemed like the best bet.
Now, I know what you might be thinking: “Star Trek Adventures? That’s Undiscovered Country for the Over the Hill Gaming Blog!” That’s a fair point. After all, I’ve only written about a couple of dozen posts concerning the game. I’m clearly not primed to run the game, but I’ll just have to do my best and muddle through it somehow.
Session Zero (And Change)
The next step was getting together – in person – for Session Zero. The actual Session Zero got cut short due to scheduling issues. So we actually had Session Zero and Session Zero and Change. I usually run Session Zeroes with two major topics in mind – campaign discussion and character generation. Star Trek Adventures adds a third – starship generation.
The first Star Trek Adventures campaign I ran for this group was strongly influenced by DS9. It was placed along the Cardassian border. The Bajorans, Cardassians, Maquis, and Dominion all featured regularly. The themes revolved around the kinds of conflicts and dilemmas depicted on DS9. It all worked well overall, but the darker tone and untangling complex issues fatigued the players. A change was in order.
The next one was a soft reboot of the first. Certain plotlines and characters carried over, but the campaign was set on another starship with a mostly newly introduced crew. The location was moved away from the Cardassian border. The themes and tone was shifted over to exploration and frontier diplomacy. Unfortunately, that campaign was canceled shortly after it started due to the situation in 2020.
We briefly talked about alternatives to the standard Star Trek Adventures set up of the player characters being a Starfleet bridge crew. Star Trek Adventures does support other campaign concepts such as running a stationary installation. The Klingon Empire Core Book presents the nuts and bolts of running a Klingon campaign. However, this would be our first time back out in awhile, so we decided on the well-worn path of flying Federation colors.
This campaign is a fresh start – a hard reboot with no connections to our earlier Star Trek Adventures campaigns. We’re starting over in the default year of 2371, a period with plenty of opportunities. Things are kicking off in the Beta Quadrant – the familiar realms of Klingons, Romulans, and Orions. The initial themes are exploration and diplomacy, but things are expected to change as the timeline moves forward.
Most of both Session Zeroes were spent on discussing character ideas, making choices along the lifepath system, and filling out the details of each player character’s background. I prefer to have all of players handling character generation as a group activity. It’s handy to have a group to bounce ideas off of and brainstorm with when a player gets stuck when coming up with a character concept or element of their back story. It also helps to insure that everybody – gamemaster included – is on the same page.
In Star Trek Adventures, I start things off by listing the seniorofficerpositions on a whiteboard. The players divide them off however they want. I also reminded them that Supporting Characters exist as an option to cover any gaps or for a player to use when their character isn’t in a scene. Once things got rolling, I took a backseat – answering questions and helping when requested, but otherwise letting the players work at their own pace.
The NPC Captain
None of the players really wanted the role of the captain. I’d rather not force a role on somebody – myself included – and diminish their enjoyment of the game. I had a couple of issues with the idea of a NPC captain, but agreed after ways around the issues were found.
Making the authority figure a NPC potentially takes decision making away from the players. With a NPC calling the shots, they may end up dragging the player characters through the story as spectators. The most direct way of avoiding this is a passive captain, but that doesn’t make much sense for an experienced professional in a leadership position. Our solution involves stopping the game during key decision points to allow the players to discuss what direction to take things. When play resumes, the NPC captain then proceeds as if they made a decision that matches what the players decided on.
Most iterations of Star Trek have the commanding officer as the series lead. Authority figures tend to pull focus. It’s one thing to have various NPCs pop up and depart as we move through an adventure. Even NPCs who show up regularly don’t present a problem. It’s another matter entirely to have a NPC with authority over the player characters show up in almost every scene. It’s just too easy for such a NPC to overshadow the player characters in the context of Star Trek. If aliens call the ship, they’re going to want to talk to the captain. That can easily cut the players out of participating in the conversation, making them passive observers. Most players show up to play the game, not watch it unfold. Fortunately, Star Trek canon provides a partial solution – the captain doesn’t go on Away Missions. I’ll be designing the adventures to take place off the ship as much as possible.
The Cool Starship
We turned to one of the few canon starships that’s a blank slate outside of its only on screen appearance – USS Phoenix (NCC-65420). The ship disappears from canon after showing up in “The Wounded” (TNG 4×12). Not even the comics, novels, video games, and other beta canon revisits the ship. This is unusual since Star Trek writers regularly reuse ship names to tie the story they are telling to earlier episodes. For example, USS Cairo is introduced in “Chain of Command, Part I” (TNG 6×10). It is stated to still be in the area and responding to the current crisis in the following episode “Chain of Command, Part II” (TNG 6×11). Much later, USS Cairo is believed to be destroyed in “The Pale Moonlight” (DS9 6×19).
USS Phoenix played a part in both of the previous campaigns. One of the player characters in the former campaign was an officer aboard USS Phoenix during the events of “The Wounded” and had a black mark on their record as a result. The ship was to be featured in the latter one, but didn’t get far due to that campaign’s cancellation.
For the purposes of this campaign, USS Phoenix was moved away from the Cardassian border after the arrest of Captain Benjamin Maxwell. The ship was repaired while the senior officers were investigated for their roles in the incident. USS Phoenix was eventually reassigned to the Beta Quadrant and served under a different captain for a couple of years and was pulled in for a refit. The newly refitted starship is now ready for duty under a new captain and crew.
With Session Zero (and a half) done, we’re ready to get started. I’m in the process of putting together my ideas into something halfway coherent. The first adventure will likely start in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I hope that this post has been entertaining and offered some handy ideas and insights.
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