Rolling With Drama in Captain’s Log

Looking to raise the stakes in your Captain’s Log? Here’s a few tips on how to get the most drama out of the game’s simplified dice rolling mechanics.

A Simpler Ruleset

The rules of Captain’s Log are streamlined for solo, unguided play, as compared with the Star Trek Adventures core ruleset.

In STA, every die roll is a “bet.” It’s not just about the odds but about what you choose to spend and incur in order to improve them. Each Task involves a little negotiation with the GM about which Traits, Talents, Focuses, and Values might apply, swaying these odds even further.

In Captain’s Log, the rules are simpler:

  • Momentum and Threat are conditions, not a pool. You either have them or you don’t
  • There are no extra dice to buy. You just roll 2d20 for each Task
  • Advantages and Complications don’t change Difficulty, they’re purely narrative.
  • Values have an immediate effect, without tracking Determination
  • Focuses build on success to create Advantages; they don’t affect basic success.

Nothing succeeds like success

In Captain’s Log, your character may succeed at most of what they do.

Captain’s Log is about Starfleet officers, bold Klingon warriors, highly competent professionals of 24th-century society, and many more types of Trek archetypes. They’re good at their jobs and they’re the heroes of the show.

Mechanically, most of your Tasks are likely to succeed. Each Task has you:

  • Add an Attribute to a Discipline, often adding up to 10 or more, giving you a greater than 50% chance of success on a single die
  • Roll two of those dice…
  • …needing only 1 success, unless you have Threat

This may not match your experience. with other rules-light systems like those that are “Powered by the Apocalypse,” where failures or partial successes are more common. However, it does match my experience both of watching Trek shows and playing Star Trek Adventures. Characters are winning on the little things, most of the time. In STA, your parsecs may vary, but I see players often spending and incurring what they need in order to largely ensure success – then dealing with the consequences later in the story.

How to Find the Drama

Here’s a few ways to skew your Captain’s Log gameplay towards drama.


Yep, do the thing that’s sometimes pooh-pooh’ed on the RPG advice circuit: as you build your character, deliberately skew their stats towards specialization. Nobody will judge you. It’s a solo game!

What are your character’s signature ways of winning? Everything else can be considered an area where you’re more open to failure and growth.

Don’t just do this for your character. Min/max your ship as well. Consider not having a vessel that’s ready-for-anything: make specific choices about the purpose of your ship and skew its stats towards these.

With such a build, you can continue to flout conventional TTRPG advice. You can “power-game” and even “meta-game” against your own character (see the next point). Oh, the drama!

Play to your weaknesses

As the GM and player all wrapped-up into one, you get to choose what Tasks are asked of your player.

Story-wise, lean in to the things your character and starship aren’t good at. Humble science vessel? Throw it into Starship Combat. Shoot-first-ask-questions-later cowboy Captain? Place them in a delicate negotiation.

If you don’t mind a little meta-gaming, find those stat combinations that add up to 8s and 9s and call for such Tasks from your character and starship.

This will give your character more of a chance to fail. And when you succeed, it’ll be a real triumph, allowing your characters to shine in a way they haven’t before.

Spend Away Momentum on Advantages

In Star Trek Adventures, it’s tempting to hoard Momentum in order to content with increasingly Difficult Tasks that may lie ahead. Players are encouraged not to do this in order to keep the action lively.

This is even more true in Captain’s Log. When you gain Momentum from a roll, you are thereafter even more likely to succeed than under normal conditions.

Consider spending this away on an Advantage. Advantages in Captain’s Log do not affect future Task Difficulty directly. What’s the benefit? An Advantage gives you permission to introduce a major, lasting truth about the story. This truth can take your whole episode or campaign in a new direction, and might affect future Probability Matrix rolls.

Spending your Momentum to serve the story in this way will also restore the normal Difficulty level. Creating an Advantage is the bold choice for a Captain’s Log character: making the storyline go even more their way, while allowing their next Task to be at normal Difficulty.

Not creating the Advantage is the conservative approach, having a lessened story impact while leaving yourself more likely to succeed on your next Task. This is a better choice as you’re nearing the climax of your story and want to ensure that you can push through the crisis.

Use Threat to raise Difficulty

By contrast, when you earn Threat in Captain’s Log, consider not spending it on a Complication, but letting it increase the Difficulty of your next roll.

Just like Advantages, Complications represent new truths about the story unfavorable to your character. They might represent an ongoing challenge or adversary with which your character must contend. But they are largely narrative, not affecting your Tasks directly (though possibly factoring-in to questions you ask of the Probability Matrix).

Holding the Threat is the bold move, letting the odds worsen for your next action. Once you’re at the elevated Difficulty of 2, you have a heightened chance to fail again, leading to a “bad patch” of high-drama Tasks.

Creating the Complication is the safer move, allowing you to face a normal Difficulty on your next Task even while dealing with this new challenging story element. This is a better choice when you’re hoping for a plan to come together without a hitch, even while you’re making enemies in the process.

House Rule: Take Threat from Success at Cost

This next tip strays a bit from rules-as-written, but I think it’s very much in the spirit of the game.

When you fail a Task and choose to Succeed at Cost, instead of rolling on the Threat spend table, just hold the Threat to increase the Difficulty of your next roll. As the last tip described, you’ll get more high-drama die rolls this way.

Use the Probability Matrix to determine what’s Possible

In Star Trek Adventures, Traits such as Advantages and Complications move Difficulty along a sliding scale. In Captain’s Log, Difficulty can only be 1 or 2.

But that’s not the only thing that Traits do in STA. They also determine what is Possible, subject to GM guidance. A Task might normally be trivial, but has become impossible due to the events of the story.

Here’s where Captain’s Log opens up a whole new type of dice-driven thrill. Since you have no GM, you can. ask the Probability Matrix what’s possible, leading yourself into difficult and unexpected territory.

Suppose the logical next move is to perform a Sensor Sweep. But is the ion storm interfering? Instead of seeing this as a question of Difficulty, see it as an opportunity to see what’s Possible. Ask the Probability Matrix:

Does the ion storm prevent sensor sweeps (50/50)?

All of a sudden, this Task that your ship is quite good at simply isn’t going to bear fruit. You can narrate this in your journal as a failure. Then, you’ll have to take another approach: maybe venturing forth in a shuttlecraft or on a spacewalk. This might be the very thing that drives you towards your weaknesses, leading to more Difficult rolls.

50/50 is always a great coin toss for such questions, but consider asking the Probability Matrix even on more certain outcomes.

75/25 or other ratios might be even more thrilling:

Were the rendez-vous coordinates accurate (90/10)?

Starfleet wouldn’t have gotten the rendezvous point wrong, right? Right?? You’ll have a little thrill checking to see that everything’s copacetic, and a bigger thrill in those rare times when it isn’t. That can lead you into further Tasks which might fail.

Unbalance the Scales

It might go without saying, but keep in mind that the higher Scale of the adversaries or obstacles you oppose in Combat, Starship Combat, and Extended Conflict, the more chances you have to fail or fall behind as “hits” are tracked.

Happy (and Dramatic) Rolling!

Here’s hoping for some drama-rich Captain’s Logs for your characters and their crews!

One comment

  1. Thank you for your thoughts.

    “Characters are winning on the little things, most of the time. […] then dealing with the
    consequences later in the story.”

    I do not understand why you say that is not the expectation when playing PbtA games. That is exactly
    what PbtA games do. Characters are successful most of the time. A success (= 7+) result has a 58%
    chance with a not-great modifier of +0, jumping up to 72% with a ok +1 modifier, and 83% with a good
    +2 modifier). And a good portion of the time (~40%, when the result is 7-9) there are consequences
    or cost involved even though the character succeeds. There are really no “partial successes”, the
    better term is “success at a cost or consequence”.

    “Story-wise, lean in to the things your character and starship aren’t good at.”

    Hm, ok, though that means that I’d need to create a diplomacy specialized captain if I want an
    action oriented campaign. And how does such a captain end up with these assignments? And why would
    such a captain not try to find a solution that plays to their strenght? I see that it could work
    once in a while though, and once in a while it could be interesting to figure out how a captain
    finds a solution that plays to their strength regardless.

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