Article submitted by Rob Rypka
I recently ran a game of Star Trek Adventures at Tabletop Central [http://tabletopcentral.com/], a local convention. This isn’t the first time I’ve run Star Trek Adventures at a con, but it’s the first time I wrote it myself instead of using a module. TLDR: it was more successful than I had any right to expect, and everyone walked away happy. I learned some things and will run it again.
My goal was to create a game I could have ready to run at various conventions that would have a framework for teaching the game to new players while being interesting/new enough to be fun for experienced players. I wanted to provide pre-generated characters (although I’d be open to others if somebody brought one), and eventually develop some nice minis, maps, handouts, etc.
I called the adventure “A Timely Escape” because I needed a title to register for the event. I settled on a 4 scene structure fairly early and had a general idea of which mechanics to introduce in each scene. The plot would involve a setup and a sort of time loop (which may come as a surprise to the players), but I wanted to leave the specific cause and ending to the players, with the ultimate explanation depending on which parts of the investigation the party engaged in and what explanations they came up with. The location would be fairly constrained on an away mission in a small research base. I wouldn’t prevent the party from leaving the primary map, I’d just need to come up with some things to do if they did.
I gave myself months to prepare, and I had all kinds of grandiose plans. I would not come close to a number of those plans. I’d been in a kind of rut for the summer, and every time I’d try to sit down and focus on prep, I’d lose focus or energy and accomplish next to nothing. On top of that, I’d also signed up to run a game of Gaslands (with a Mario Kart theme), for which I needed to 3D print and paint a whole bunch of terrain, so it was easy to get distracted by the other project.
I will not make the mistake of prepping 2 new games at the same time again, but I have to remind myself that now that I’ve run them both, I can build on them a little bit at a time to improve the experience. It didn’t have to be perfect the first time around. That said, I was still up until 3 am the night before (for a 9 am game) finishing character sheets and notes. I told my wife that evening that I would feel some relief if my players didn’t show and I didn’t have to run it. They did show, so I have something to write about.
Here are some things that happened during the writing/prep:
- I had planned on having my daughter draw character art for use on the sheets, and to build standees (acrylic if I had time; I did not). In addition to my own rut, she had some health issues to contend with, so I used the STA MiniMaker [http://www.crowstuff.co.uk/MiniMaker/] to get a consistent art style. I did end up changing one of the characters because the species I planned wasn’t available.
- Staples refused to print my characters for me on card stock for standees because of copyright (even though they were custom characters not using official assets). I was allowed to print them on the self-serve, but then I couldn’t use card stock. My wife had a brilliant idea of double laminating them with black cardstock on the backside, and they came out looking pretty good.
- I built characters using the standard creation path [https://sta.bcholmes.org/] with some form of backstory, but then I simplified them – taking off 2 talents and 2 values. I left the names blank and a space for an additional value. For that value, I asked players at the table to fill in a reason their characters would have joined Starfleet.
- I had wanted to write up a mission briefing to hand out to players, but I had to cut that for time. I just made sure the basics were listed in the Captain’s log I read at the start. But I think this could really help drop some hints for things to investigate, especially if there’s any downtime during setup. It could also be sent out ahead of time when people register for an event.
- I got some whiteboard poster paper for the map. Since Star Trek Adventures uses zone boundaries and not squares, I prefer not to have maps with squares. I drew the map the morning of while I was waiting for people to show up, but the whiteboard meant I could make a point of drawing in the zone boundaries when we switched to combat (and draw in hidden stuff when it was discovered). So, even though it was a backup plan, it seemed intentional, and if the group left the main room, I could draw up something new.
- For the combat encounter, I pasted in some basic Romulan stat blocks into my notes that had nothing to do with the actual encounter (which involved robot drones), and I didn’t even end up really referencing them.
- I ended up having absolutely no notes for my final scene. I just went to bed.
Notes from actual game day:
- Two players were signed up. That’s low, but I can do it. Two more asked to join that morning – one was a guy I knew who had expressed interest in the game, and the other was a player from when I ran the starter set mission the previous year, although I didn’t realize it until about halfway through the game. One player was unfamiliar with Star Trek, another was playing a character of a species with which they were also unfamiliar.
- I absolutely murdered my voice within the first hour with pre-game rules explanation.
- It was great when players rolled complications at times when I already had something planned (or had planned to spend threat on), it felt tied to what they were doing.
- I am not great at NPC roleplay. I can’t do that on the fly, and I did not spend enough time developing the key NPCs. I tend to revert to simply explaining what the NPCs are doing, rather than speaking as them. There is room to improve here.
- The combat encounter was sufficient to introduce the mechanics, but I went too easy on them. And I completely forgot to force melee combat, which I intended to to show off opposed rolls.
- Similarly, when doing a social encounter, I forgot to make it opposed.
- I hit some good commercial (bathroom) break cliffhangers, and we ended right on time.
I’ve gotten some additional interest from people who weren’t in the game via word of mouth for the future. And I’ve got a list of improvements for that next time. So in the end, I’m glad I went through with running the game, and I hope to have the experience to share with new and experienced convention-goers alike!
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