Now that we’ve already had a chance to check out the setting and the purpose of Starfleet in Star Trek Adventures, let’s move on to the discussion of the game side of the equation with a look at the mechanics.
This section is the primer for the most basic concepts of the game. Star Trek Adventures runs off the 2d20 system, which uses 2 kinds of dice: 20-sided and six-sided dice. The d20’s are used to determine successes, while the d6’s are used mainly to determine effect or to roll on tables.
Like in other 2d20 games, the d6’s are also called something else to denote their use when determining damage. Called Challenge Dice in Star Trek, rolling a six-sided die is read according to the following table:
Bit of a typo on the title of the table there.
So, when rolling 6 Challenge Dice to determine damage, and you end up with a roll of: 3,5,1,4,1,2 then that means you score 5, plus 1 Effect (from the 5). Effects can be used to trigger all sorts of things, but are most common in triggering Weapon qualities.
To make life a little easier Modiphius sells challenge dice with blank sides and special notation to show Effects. Plus they look really spiffy.
Moving on, we get to discuss some basic concepts of the Star Trek Adventure RPG:
Scenes and Encounters
Scenes are the first thing introduced in this section. Pretty appropriate given that the game is supposed to approximate the nature of the TV shows, scenes are a pretty vague slice of time where the characters interact in a way that has a significant impact to the plot. The players and the GMs are encouraged to gloss over the “boring” stuff and cut from scene to scene to keep the pace nice and punchy.
Encounters are defined as a special type of scene where a conflict between two or more parties is broken down into rounds and turns. Combat is the most common example of an Encounter.
Traits are a concept that will be familiar to gamers who have played games like Fate. Similar to Fate’s Aspects, Traits are single word or short phrases that describe a single significant fact about the subject that the Trait pertains to.
That said I’m much more partial to the Traits as they deal in objective facts as opposed to a phrase that can be re-interpreted in various ways.
Star Trek Adventures gives four rough categories of Traits:
- Situation Traits are traits that state a fact about a (usually) temporary condition that affects a scene. Darkness is cited as an example.
- Location Traits are traits that define the nature of a location that the characters currently occupy. Klingon Technology would be an example of a Location Trait if a team were trying to escape from inside a Bird of Prey.
- Personal Traits are traits that apply to a given creature, and denote some innate quality. Human, or Vulcan are both examples of Personal Traits.
- Equipment Traits describe a single piece of equipment and are in effect for as long as the character has it. This means, of course that the Trait can be passed on to a different character if they hand the equipment over.
But why are traits so important? Traits also help establish the Truth of a setting in three ways:
- The Trait has no effect on the tasks being performed and is solely descriptive.
- The Trait is beneficial, and can enable an action that would normally be impossible, or reduce its difficulty. These Traits are also known as Advantages.
- The Trait is detrimental, and can prevent an activity from being performed, or increase its difficulty. These Traits are also called Complications.
One last thing about Traits that it’s possible for particularly powerful Traits to count as multiple versions of itself. The book uses Subspace Interference 2 as an example of a particularly strong form of interference that will take quite a lot of effort to overcome.
The basic resolution of a situation is called a Task, and Star Trek Adventures breaks Tasks down into the following variants based on the resulting outcome of success or failure:
- Tasks to succeed or achieve an objective, or one that could be used to generate an Advantage or Complication Trait for the situation.
- Tasks to avoid hazards or danger. Success means avoiding harm, while failure means taking some form of damage.
- Tasks to succeed but with something at stake. Instead of being a simple test of being able to just succeed or fail, failure here comes with a hazard.
Attributes, Disciplines and Focuses
Characters in Star Trek Adventures are described by their Attributes, Disciplines and Focuses.
Attributes in the game are: Control, Daring, Fitness, Insight, Presence and Reason. These range in values from 7 to 12.
Characters also have six Disciplines: Command, Conn, Engineering, Security, Science and Medicine. These range in values from 1 to 5.
Characters also have Focuses, which represent specialized training within a specific field. Focuses do not have a rating of their own.
Attempting a Task in Star Trek Adventures is a fairly straightforward affair:
- The GM determines the combination of Attribute and Discipline to add together. This forms the target number of the roll, as well as any applicable Focus.
- The GM also determines the difficulty of the roll. The difficulty is the number of successes that need to be made in order to succeed at the task.
- The Player then rolls 2d20, and tries to roll equal to or below the Target Number. Dice that do are considered to be successes.
- Players may also add more d20s to the dice roll by spending Momentum, adding to Threat or using Determination (More on those later)
- Rolling a 20 is causes a Complication. (we’ll tackle this one a little later on too)
- If a Focus is applicable, then any die that rolls a result equal to or less than the Discipline being rolled counts as 2 successes.
- If no Focus is applicable, then any die that rolls result of 1 counts as 2 successes.
- If the number of successes rolled match the difficulty of the roll, then the character is successful. Otherwise the character is considered to have failed the attempt.
- Any successes rolled that are over the Difficulty then become Momentum.
Traits and Task Difficulty
Standard Difficulty for most tests is 1. But Traits can come in to modify that difficulty, by either lowering it or raising it depending on the circumstances.
Improving the Odds
As you can tell, succeeding in a Task with a Difficulty of 2 or higher is going to be very difficult with just 2d20 as a basic roll. Because of this, characters have some means to add dice to their roll to a maximum of 5d20.
- Spend Momentum – Momentum is a special resource generated by rolling successes over the difficulty of a roll. This is then banked in a special pool that can be used by all Player Characters in a group. The first die bought this way costs 1 Momentum, the second costs 2 Momentum and the third costs 3 Momentum.
- Add to Threat – Threat is a GM resource that increases as players add to it at the same rate as Momentum.
- Talents – Some talents bestow a bonus d20 to a roll where the Talent applies.
- Determination – In certain situations, a character is allowed to spend Determination. Each point of Determination spent adds a d20 to a roll, except that this is assumed to have rolled a 1, therefore automatically adding 2 successes to the Task.
Rolling a 20 on a task generates a Complication. This is a Trait that is detrimental to the situation and can make success more difficult or certain actions impossible to do. If a player doesn’t want to take a Complication, this can be bought off at the cost of 2 Threat.
Success at Cost
Sometimes, a GM may allow for a roll to succeed at cost. In these cases, the player still rolls, but a failed roll can be turned into a success at cost of one automatic Complication. This is on top of any 20’s rolled in the attempt.
Momentum is one of the key mechanics that I enjoyed in Conan, so I’m happy to see it back here. As mentioned earlier, rolling more successes than the difficulty translates those successes to Momentum.
In addition to buying more dice to add to a roll, Momentum can also be spent to:
- Create an Advantage – By spending 2 Momentum, a player can produce an advantageous circumstance relating to the action taken. This can also be used to remove a Complication in play, or generate a Complication for an opponent
- Create a Problem – A player can declare that they are spending Momentum to make a task being performed by an adversary more difficult, at the cost of 2 Momentum per level of Difficulty increase.
- Obtain Information – By spending 1 Momentum, a player performing an investigative or research task can ask the GM one question relating to the situation, or item, object or creature being studied.. The GM is compelled to answer truthfully, though not necessarily with complete information.
Threat is the GM counterpart to Momentum and is usually spent in a similar way to empower opponents. The difference is that Threat can also be spent to add reinforcements to the bad guys, or to trigger environmental effects that could create Complications for everyone in the scene.
Determination is a rare resource for characters of Star Trek Adventures. Each Player Character begins a game with 1 point in Determination with a maximum of only 3 points of Determination at any given time.
The use and gaining of Determination relies on a Player Character’s Values.
Values are short phrases or statements that describe the attitudes, beliefs and convictions of a character.
Should a character find themselves in a difficult situation where their Values can come into play, they may spend Determination to do any of the following:
- Perfect opportunity – Grant a Task a bonus d20 that counts as having rolled a 1
- Moment of inspiration – Reroll all the dice in a dice pool
- Surge of activity – Perform a second Task immediately after the first
- Make it so – Automatically create an Advantage in the scene
Values are core components of a character however, and as such they can be tested as well. If a character is put in a situation where their values would make a situation more difficult, the GM may offer a point of Determination to compel the character to act in accordance to their Value, at the cost of a Complication. This is an optional offer, and it is up to the player to accept it.
Once per mission, if a character is put in a situation where their Value negatively impacts the situation, the character may choose to challenge it, striking it out of their character sheet and rendering it useless for the rest of the mission. In exchange they get a point of Determination. At the end of the mission, the player may then replace the challenged Value with something else that reflects their new worldview.
The Advanced training section introduces Challenges and Extended Tasks, two optional subsystems for emulating long-term or multi-step tasks, such as “Reach main engineering and shut down the drive core.”
These are presented in terms of structures for tasks, including variants for timed, linear and gated challenges that I can see use for in Engineering sections of Starfleet just to keep a ship going.
Okay, that was a long read. Star Trek Adventures is clearly sitting on the Rules-Medium end of the spectrum, but the rules are clearly well thought out and have a place in the world. While I was worried about Momentum mechanics making them feel too pulpy, in the end the altered Momentum Costs, and the necessity for the Values to come into play before enabling spends of Determination help adjust that to a more human level of play.
I’m seeing a lot of influences from Fate’s Aspects and even a couple of ideas from Exalted Intimacies in play here and I really like what they’re doing. Star Trek isn’t about the phasers and neat space ships alone after all, but the struggle to do the right thing in difficult circumstances with little to no support.
Next up, we’ll finally start getting busy by building our first Starfleet character with our Let’s Study of the next chapter: Reporting for Duty.