June 2009

The Groknard blog had a recent post which links to the a series of essays on running Star Trek games by Uncle Bear.

The first of these is basically an outline for structuring the campaign. It has some rather interesting ideas and to me they illustrate quite well the tough line between RPGs and Star Trek in media. Uncle Bear suggests a small ship on patrol, allowing the PCs to take major roles and allowing for the home base and sector to be heavily detailed.

I go back and forth on this sort of idea. For whatever reason, I love ships of the Age of Fighting Sail. I live near Boston and am a member (well, need to renew that overdue membership) of the U.S.S. Constitution museum. My daughter Vicki and I go watch her annual July 4 cruise. So to be frank, my heart has a tough time handling the idea of a campaign based around a small vessel where the main (if not all) roles are handled by the PCs in a predefined area of space. I want a big ship of the line. I want that big huge bridge. I want conference rooms, the officers’ mess, torpoedo bays.

But as I give it some thought, that model does fit better into your typical gaming group. It is tough to stereotype gamers and I’d rather not go into the whole categoriztion process of narratavist, gamist, etc., if for no other reason than I don’t fully grok them. But in my own personal experience (and this may be more indicative of who I am and who I tend to game with) it seems that a small group of adventurers is the way to go. People who make their own decisions, who don’t send others in their stead, and don’t go back for orders. And they tend not to have massive resources to fall back onto. A Constitution-class starship at your call really breaks down this whole idea.

At the same time, if you’re gaming in the Star Trek universe there’s certain things to expect – battles with Klingons, odd civilizations, etc. If I want to run a game with the characters as being out for themselves I’d set it in a different universe – Traveller, Star Wars, and Firefly all come to mind. This isn’t a knock against any of those settings – indeed I think I’ve had more Star Wars than D&D games.

So how would I reconcile this? First, I’m going to assume we are looking at a Federation/Starfleet game. Now I’m going to delve into a brief discussion of technology, but I’m doing so for campaign reasons. Let us talk about warp speed. In the original Star Trek universe, your typical ships cruise around Warp 5 or 6 which is 125 to 216 the speed of light. They changed the scaling in the TNG universe so that cruising speed is still around Warp 6 but that is now around 392 times the speed of light. But the Federation is supposed to be pretty big meaning it takes decades to cross it at those speeds.

My own hypothesis (and I’m far from unique in this) is there are regions of space that are “thicker” or “thinner”, where a warp speed at a given warp factor is either slower or faster. So if you have accurate charts a journey might take a tenth – or even a hundreth – of its normal time. A starship in unknown space would not be able to take advantage of this without trade or exploration.

So in my own mental Star Trek universe I envision the Federation expanding along the routes of some “Warp Speed Highways”. Indeed, one could posit that in additional to strategic considerations, Starbases could be located at junctions of some of these highways. This would give you something like a river upon which you have initial settlements and then begin exploring outward from those, away from the highways. (Sorry about mixing land and water references).

So let me visualize the Federation expanding. I’m going to go for the TOS period but it would be easy enough to imagine this as fitting for others just as easily. The original Star Trek took place in the years 2266-2269 (200 years after broadcast). One of the original RPGs from the 1980s, designed by FASA, posited a war between the Federation and Klingon Empire in the years 2255 to 2259. I’ve always liked that idea. So suppose after the war the Federation discoverd one of these highways in disputed space. The Federation and Klingons both explore along it – from the episode “Errand of Mercy” it is clear the border was not fully settled. As they explore along it they find a junction point which seems to lead coreward. Something like this..

borderSo in this handy-dandy map, blue is the Federation, red is the Klingon Empire, and purple is disputed. I doodled a pair of warp speed highways which intersect in this disputed space. Now this is a 2-d map so it is perfectly possible that there are lots of complexities to this border. For example, is is generally assumed the Federation, Klingons, and Romulans all border each other, so perhaps this region of space is above or below what you’ll find in most Star Trek maps.

Anyways, it is at this junction that the Federation has built Starbase 24 (mentioned but not seen as being near Khitomer in Star Trek VI and Star Trek: The Next Generation – this also fits with the Romulans perhaps being above or below this map).

The Federation has setup a few colonies in this region but has not explored it deeply. Ditto the Klingons. While it is important, it is far enough along the frontier not to warrant a major presence. I could see Starfleet stationing a few individual frigates to patrol the area and to keep an eye on the Klingons. (You can visualize a frigate however you want – perhapsĀ  something like one of those Saladin-class destroyers one sees in the Star Fleet Technical Manual to a Loknar-class vessel popularized by FASA – which looks an awful lot like NX-01).

So what I could picture is being based at this Starbase and assigned to a small scout ship – something like the Runabouts that were seen on Deep Space Nine. Big enough to have a few rooms – they could even serve as a courier for an important passenger. And powerful enough to hold off a small Klingon ship like a Klingon Bird of Prey. A bigger ship and it is time to run. FASA created a starship class called the “Mission-class” which would be perfect for that. So would the scout ship Raven as seen in Voyager. The Starbase is like the town that seves as the base for D&D adventures prior to a dungeon crawl. The sector (and adjoining sectors) are largely unexplored but there are Federation and Klingon colonies to visit. There may even be opportunity for a first contact. The larger starships are there for something to aspire to – but they don’t show up all that often. I’m not picturing more than two or three of them based off the Starbase. And maybe like four or five of these smaller ships going on specific missions and/or patrols. “We’ve lost contact with Colony Beta Five, go check it out”. “Conduct a survey of sector 7-G”.

And if one decides it is time to upgrade to a bigger ship, those vessels are available. It would make a good “season opener” to transition to one of those larger starships. “Wow we’ve just been transferred to the frigate U.S.S. Arkadelphia. Pity the captain is insane and is about to start a war against the Klingon Empire…”


Well we kicked off our D&D campaign last week using the 4th edition rules. Not a full house but enough for a quorum.

The campaign was set in Eberron and I guess I’m old-school enough to want to start the characters off at 1st level despite my earlier thoughts of possibly starting a level higher. One thing I’ve noticed in my games some of the most ineresting characters have been made with initially minimal or no background.

Our characters consisted of:

  • A drow bard originally hailing from X’endrix but who was effectively raised at Morgrave University.
  • A gnome warlock from Morgrave University, bit older than the other characters who has stumbled into a pact with dark powers.
  • A genasi (genie-like race) swordmage (for the player who was not present).
  • A dwarf wizard who responded to a call for adventurers from Morgrave University.

A few oddities came right out. The first was everyone in the group was an arcane spellcaster. And the other was the fairly common association with a university – a university renowned for its mediocre at best ethics when it comes to grave-robbing…

I tend to view the first session or two as something like a television pilot, with big opportunity for changing things. The player of the wizard lives in Connecticut and we connect him via webcam and Yahoo voice chat. He wasn’t all that happy with his wizard and is going to try out a half-elf surfer-dude paladin. (One concept of paladins being they do not choose the path but instead are called, leading to some unlikely folks answering the call). In the interests of keeping a “controller”-type character (someone who can to damage, albeit not a lot at once but to a lot of individual foes) the swordmage will most likely be recast as a wizard.

The first adventure was an expedition to the Mournland. I’ve not talked too much about Eberron. The best way to think of it is a low-magic potency, high-magic frequency world. It is not a world of archmages but rather one of people who use minor to medium levels of magic to accomplish everyday tasks – mass transport, espionage, detective work, etc. The main continent on Eberron, Khorvaire, was once ruled by the Five Kingdoms of Galifar – five distinct kingdoms ruled together. About a hundred years before the start of the game a civil war broke out over the rights of succession to the throne of Galifar. A century-long war of shifting alliances, massive national upheavals, and lots of death took place. Every side lost. Every nation lost territory – either to rivals or to indigineous groups which declared their independence int he war. And the nation of Cyre was destroyed in a magical apocalypse of unknown origin known as the Day of Mourning. Cyre is now known as the Mournland and is surrounded by a greyish mist. The area within is a dangerous place where the laws of physics and magic are not as universal as they are outside the Mournland.

Our heroes were sent to investigate a crypt dedicated to the Blood of Vol within the Mournland. The journey to the crypt allowed our first combat against ambushing elves from a nearby land. It also led to a bit of inraparty conflict that briefly led to an exchange of blows between two characters. GMs love that sort of stuff – “you guys sure you’re doing this?” I wound up cutitng it short in an in-game manner – a foe who had fled witnessed their infighting and doubled back in the hope of regaining some of his honor.

Despite that, we had a good time. I checked with the players involved the next day and they were all cool with each other, making the comnflict between the characters. I’d rather not that either but we’ll see. Next adventure will have tons and tons of zombies. All my zombie research will at last payoff…