Starting at Gen Con, return to the continuing mission of the starship Enterprise. The last Star Trek roleplaying game was released nearly fifteen years ago, and fans of the classic sci-fi series have been clamoring for a return to the universe of the United Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans. And none too soon; with Star Trek’s 50th anniversary on the horizon, as well as both a new film and a new television series nearing release, this is—if you’ll pardon the pun—the next generation of Star Trek.
The new Star Trek RPG, titled Star Trek Adventures, is being produced by UK game studio Modiphius Entertainment, which you may recognize as the creators of the recent Conan RPG, John Carter RPG, and the multi-Ennie Award-winning Achtung! Cthulhu setting for Call of Cthulhu. Needless to say, Modiphius and its founder, Chris Birch, is no stranger to transforming iconic fantasy and sci-fi series into top-notch tabletop games. We had the chance to sit down with Chris to get the scoop on what’s going to make Star Trek Adventures so amazing, and to learn when we can get our spacefaring hands on it.
Geek & Sundry: Modiphius created the “2d20” system, and have used it with plenty of your games, like Conan. Are you planning on using that system for Star Trek? What will that bring to the game that another generic system might not?
Chris Birch: So 2d20 came about for Mutant Chronicles, and…we wanted to make a sort of house system. We had all these cool ideas and we thought, let’s get someone involved who really knows what they’re doing. I went to Jay Little who had just had big success with Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, and he took a look at it and polished it up and said “here you go.”
And [the system] has changed for each game, because you can’t just use the same cut-and-paste rules system. Mutant Chronicles was crunchy, with hit locations and loads of guns and lots of gear. In Conan, we stripped out some of the hit locations and simplified combat, and so on.
[We can gather that the 2d20 system is a consistent underpinning to all of Modiphius’s games, but certain game mechanics fit certain stories better than others. Unique game mechanics tell unique stories, and Star Trek will be no different.]
CB: We work hard to tailor each game to each new world that we create. We try to bring out something about the universe with the system, which is what we’re doing with Star Trek. The 2d20 system is getting an overhaul to do different things. In Star Trek, you have weapons that kill you. Dead. I shoot you, you’re dead. Because I’ve got [the phaser] on the “kill” setting. It’s a bit like the problem they have with Doctor Who, with the Daleks; you know, they don’t just exterminate you a bit. And the other thing about Star Trek is that it’s not just about shooting people. You don’t see people rattling off with chainguns in Star Trek, it’s a lot about people.
G&S: It’s always been about exploration and discovery. We’ve always had the undercurrent of war, with the Klingons and the Romulans, but it was about that five-year mission.
CB: Yes! And so you’ve got your classic series, which is real two-fisted, do-what-you-want. Then you’ve got Next Generation which is more about people stories and mysteries and conspiracies and about traveling and seeing all these awesome sights across the galaxy. And then you’ve got Deep Space Nine where suddenly diplomacy and the threat of war is the big thing. And then there’s Voyager where anything goes [laughs]. So, the great thing is through the game, we want people to experience different things. With the playtest, when you sign up, you’re going to be able to pick your ship. So there’s an Akira-class, an Intrepid-class, a Galaxy-class, and a Constitution-class, for example.
G&S: And for people who don’t have their Star Trek ships memorized, what are those ships more-or-less like?
CB: Your Constitution-class is basically the Enterprise from the old series with Captain Kirk. It’s like the old days of Trek, with red, blue, and yellow uniforms. Then you’ve got the Galaxy-class, which is [the kind of ship from] Next Generation. The Intrepid-class is like Voyager, which has a very science-led mission—and our Intrepid ship is called the Bellerophon, which fans might recognize is the name of the ship from the movie Forbidden Planet, which inspired early Star Trek. If you’re on that ship, you’re going to have a lot more science staff, a lot more ancient mysteries and strange sights and natural phenomena to deal with. If you’re on the Galaxy-class, it’s a bit more of everything. And then you’ve got the Akira, which is a fighting ship, and you’ll be up against more dangerous threats. Ultimately, you’ll be able to pick the experience you have [based on what ship you pick].
We’ll be running the playtest as a living campaign. All of your experiences will be running in one big plotline…and the actions and events of that campaign which the players lead us through are going to directly influence the plot.
G&S: So let me get clear on the details, you’re going to have a living, organized-play campaign going on, you’re also doing a playtest?
CB: Yes… At Gen Con, people are going to be able to sign up for the first time to playtest the Star Trek RPG. At Gen Con, they’ll be able to pick up these cool miniatures, choosing between one of Kirk or Picard. We’ll see who’s more popular [laughs]. Once you’ve signed up for the playtest, we’ll launch the playtest in September and you’ll be able to pick which ship you’re on.
So it’s not a standard playtest where we hand you a little pack of rules… go off and play a fight scene, tell us how it went. No, you’re actually in a story, so you’re part of a big, ongoing campaign. You’ll get the pack of rules and a story, and depending on which ship you picked, that story’s going to be different. And at the end of about a month, you’ll report on what happened and then that will influence the creation of the next playtest kit and the next storyline which will have changed based on what all the players on that ship did.
The playtest is starting early September. The sign-up, as I said, will be at Gen Con, but will continue online from the middle of August at our website.
G&S: And would a group of players playing the game take the role of the bridge crew, or would this organized play setting require them to play all different roles throughout the starship?
CB: They can choose. Obviously, lots of people want to be the bridge crew. They make big decisions, and as we know from the show, it always seems to be the bridge crew to go on away missions… leaving no one on board in control! But some people might want to be…a team of specialists. They might want to be department heads. There are different angles of the story we can explore, and we are using the game rules to bring out the important thing about Star Trek. Your beliefs, they often get challenged.
[Beliefs seem to be a mechanic in the game.]
So many people have the belief that the Prime Directive is never wrong. Well, as we know in many episodes, you have to learn that you have to be willing to bend the rules sometimes. Your character may have a very strong belief that technology will always save us, but that will probably get challenged through the story, and maybe through you resolving that or changing that belief is how the story will progress. We’ve done a lot of work to integrate people and their beliefs and issues into the gameplay; it’s as much about dealing with puzzles and problem solving and dealing with people, as it is about pulling your phaser out and blasting seven holes in the nearest Klingon.
Oh, but you can still do that, of course! [laughs]
G&S: You talked earlier about Star Trek’s legacy of exploration and diplomacy over straight-up fighting. And you’ve got all these different ships that cover all these roles. How do the core rules support this Star Trek feel, instead of like a Star Wars feel?
CB: And it’s not just about what ship you’re on, you can be on any ship and have any kind of mission. But we’re going to be giving the [Game Master] a lot of guidance, but we also have some quite simple mechanics within the 2d20 system to have people go through problem-solving. Perhaps to utilize Star Trek-speak. Providing explanations for how things can be changed is part of the system as well. It’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card, I can’t just spout anything and I can do anything I want, there’s always a limit. But we’ve worked quite hard and people will see this in the playtest. You’re not going to be punished for just shooting things, but there are going to be consequences for just shooting an alien without good reason. You have the Prime Directive, you have consequences to the actions that you and your crew will take, and that will take you down different paths.
Speaking of different paths, the core book is about being in the Federation. It’s about playing humans or aliens in the Federation, but then we’re going to have a book about running a Klingon campaign, if you don’t want to follow the Prime Directive and instead want your story to be about honor and rocking around in a Bird of Prey, raiding and pillaging. There will be quadrant books that shed light on the Romulans and Vulcans and types of creatures and stories you’ll find in the different quadrants.
What we’re going to keep doing is showing, for example in the Federation, what’s important about being in Operations? Or being in Security? If I’m wearing a red shirt, does that mean I have to get killed? Well no, there’s quite a lot of stuff that’s really important about your role. There’s a lot of cool stuff in Command, but it’s not just pointing in a direction and saying “let’s go that way,” or “let’s kill that ship.” We’ve really worked hard to make sure each player feels like they have lots of cool stuff to do no matter what department they’re in.
G&S: You have a lot of Trek to draw upon for this. Years and years of it. And not only that, but new Trek, too. New movies, new series… What are you looking most at right now, as you design the game?
CB: The Next Generation is one of the most popular aspects of the series, but there’s huge amounts of love for classic Trek. The whole team has been watching and rewatching the shows, and then we talk about a certain episode and all go and rewatch it to pick up on specific details. We’re covering everything up to, but not including, the new films. Everything in the books, all the art and so on, is based on the classic shows and Next Generation shows. We have all this stunning graphic novel art throughout the books and CG art for all the ships, using some of the best artist—if you know the Ships of the Line calendars—we have a lot of the guys who worked on the shows doing all this art that will bring alive the ships and sights.
We’ve said you can be any Kirk you want to be, whether it’s classic Trek Kirk or new movie Kirk [laughs]. But our angle is: “Starfleet needs a new crew.” It’s all about you guys now. Of course you could play Kirk or Picard… Wesley, if you want. But people want to create their own heroes, their own characters in the universe. We’re making it very open.
G&S: Your team has done a whole lot of research, looking at as much material as you can. What is one episode of Trek, or one bit of Trek media, that has been super influential?
CB: It’s actually the [Next Generation] episode where the Enterprise-C gets destroyed. And Tasha Yar—
CB: You remember that one? In fact, that episode is quite important to the whole storyline. The events of that show lead to the Federation and Klingons’ peace treaty. So we’ve set a space station in that system, which is where the playtest ships are based. It’s a bit like Keep on the Borderlands for D&D [laughs], it’s a place where you’re all based out of and a launching point for this big plotline. All the story about the Enterprise-C, the Klingons, and the Romulans is all going to come to a head in that station. We’ve been going back to that episode over and over again.
[The Battle of Narendra III as seen in TNG Season 3, Episode 15 “Yesterday’s Enterprise” was a precursor to the Khitomer Accords that secured an alliance between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire.]
G&S: Very exciting! Can you share details on when the game will be officially released?
CB: The game is going to launch with a preorder at the end of this year, and then will come out in the spring next year. There’ll be an organized play and living campaign in stores and in gaming conventions and online. It doesn’t matter where you are! If you’re in a backwater with just a dirt track and an internet connection, you’ll be able to play. And if you’re in big cities, you’ll be able to play in person in the campaign. The idea is to build up to quite climatic finishes. There’ll be huge prizes and we want to involve people at every level.
G&S: Thanks so much for talking with us, Chris. Best of luck!
CB: Thank you!
Are you excited about a new Star Trek RPG? What kind of character do you most want to play, or what era do you most want to play in? Let us know in the comments or tweet to @GeekandSundry!
Image Credit and Featured Image Credit: Modiphius Entertainment