Star Trek Adventures: The Role Playing Game. RPG review

Star Trek Adventures: The Role Playing Game, Modiphius Games, £44.99, Website

Review by Rick Hudson

Although I despair at individuals who learn Klingon, or paint their faces blue and stick antennae on their heads, or engage in other such ‘Trekie’ activities, I do like Star Trek – in fact I’ll go as far as to say I am a Star Trek fan. My heart truly belongs to the first 1960s series, the more recent reworkings of the programme vary greatly in my view – ranging from the rather splendid to the awful. Nevertheless, overall, I vote ‘Aye’ for Star Trek. I’m also a role player who’s been a role player as long as there have been role playing games, and seen several attempts by a number of companies to create a Star Trek RPG, all of which have – in my not-so-humble opinion – failed. This is either because they have been merely science fiction RPGs that have rather clumsily attempted to retro-fit themselves to the Star Trek universe, or have focussed on the minutiae of the show with autistic fervour. Consequently, these previous attempts have failed because they have missed or miss-understood what makes Star Trek actually Star Trek. As the first serious attempt to create a science fiction tv show for an adult audience, Star Trek distinguished itself by placing believable, very real human beings into its science fiction setting, and the adventures are centred on human interaction as well as exciting adventure situations. Star Trek has always chosen to represent a complex future in which politics, romantic escapades, personal conflicts and foibles of character are very real and powerful forces. Star Trek is Star Trek because it is a drama.

The programme’s emphasis on character as well as it employing a narrative model which pits a small group of individuals with differing talents and temperaments – say, a gifted but reckless senior officer; an intelligent and inquisitive, but strangely dispassionate scientist; and a skilled but emotionally erratic medical officer, for example – make Star Trek ideal RPG material. Add to this the fact that the show’s plots are centred on numerous and varied problem-solving scenarios, and that it comes, not only with a complex and detailed fictional universe, but that every inhabitant of the Earth who has a television has a relatively comprehensive knowledge of that universe. Star Trek has always been a RPG waiting to happen.

To cut to the chase, Modiphius have succeeded with Star Trek Adventures where other game companies have failed for the very reason that they have directed the game towards character and dramatic conflict, rather than get absorbed in distinguishing between different types of phaser, how warp drives work, or what particular type of knife a specific sub-clan of Klingon warriors prefer. The rulebook does include an extensive section detailing the Star Trek universe, and this is absolutely jammed with information. However, this part of the book is very readable for the non-obsessive and – crucially – aimed at providing background and adventure hooks for games. What it is not is a tiresome exposition of trivia or pseudo-fact-porn so beloved by certain sections of the Trek fan community (yeah, I’m sorry – but you had it coming).  

Star Trek Adventures allows the game to be played in the programme’s different eras, although its default setting is the Next Generation / Deep Space Nine / Voyager period. While I personally prefer the original series on TV, I think this is a wise move on Modiphius’ part. In this Next Generation phase of Star Trek history, the backstory and political situation is far more established in people’s imagination and has both a coherence and consistency that the original series can sometimes lack. Also, the tone of newer Star Trek is easier to create in an RPG than the original. The original series could be quite odd, if not surreal, at times; something quite hard for a GM to pull off in a convincing manner.  Next Generation era episodes – by and large – follow a constant narrative logic which I’d suggest is far more satisfactory in a gaming environment.

In terms of game mechanics, Modiphius have once again utilised the 2d20 system. One strange attribute of this system – and I have alluded to this already in my review of Modiphius’ Conan RPG – is its ability not only to operate as a game engine, but to help recreate the feel and atmosphere of a game world. I cannot imagine any two fictional worlds that are more different from each other than Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek universe and Robert E. Howard’s Hyboria, and yet the 2d20 system somehow lends itself to evoking an authentic feel of the particular world in question. I’m playing Conan: the 2d20 system is making this game feel particularly Hyborian, it’s contributing to the doom-laden, yet exotic atmosphere. I’m playing Star Trek: and the very same system somehow evokes an atmosphere equally suitable to the Star Trek Milieu. The rulebook concludes with the scenario ‘The Rescue at Xerxes IV’, which does a good job of introducing the players to the game mechanics and evoking a convincing Star Trek ambiance.

I will at this point point my finger at flaw in Star Trek Adventures, just in case you were wondering whether this was a review of the game, or a love letter to it. Although the background information and basic rules of the game are clear and well presented, this game does suffer from a problem that does seem to plague Modiphius’ games. Similar to Conan, as soon as the rulebook turns to more advanced rules the articulate and intelligible writing style vanishes, and the explanations become rather awkward and ambiguous. I’m not alone in thinking this, it’s a matter that arises again and again on internet forums. It took me a number of viewings of fan produced tutorials on YouTube to understand some aspects of the Star Trek Adventures rules.

Still, let’s not get downhearted. Star Trek Adventures is a very good game indeed, and lives up to the high standard that Modiphius has established both in the games they produce and the material quality of their books. The company are to be congratulated for succeeding in producing a Star Trek game that is Star Trek in feel and character: something that many games companies have previously failed to achieve.