Monday, June 3, 2013

USS Carter 1

1: Analyze Source Material

Given that the new Star Trek movies have decided to basically ignore any canon I think it’s time for canon to fight back. The next month is dedicated to my Original Show style Star Trek campaign.


Star Trek, Like Harry Potter, should be popular enough that I don’t need to do much by way of analysis, but it does help to go into it a little to make sure we’re all on the same page. My problem with the current movies is that they focus entirely on the chrome of the setting (Klingons, phasers, transporters, etc) and not on the settings thematic core. Star trek, especially original show Star Trek, is:
·         Optimistic: humanity has overcome prejudice, internal war and economic hardship. Space is not without its challenges (and in this era colonies are dangerous) but it is something we have the willingness to face head on.
·         Exploratory: Star Fleet’s jobs are exploration first, defense second. The opening monologue doesn’t mention defense at all. They are explorers of space, culture or humanity. Combat is a second order concern.
·         Ethical: The prime directive means they don’t interfere with less developed cultures…right up to the point where not doing so would be worse. Star Fleet crews will struggle to do the best, right thing rather than be expedient.
If you’re not catching those points you’re not, IMAO, doing Star Trek. Prime Directive, for example, is the RPG based on the Starfleet Battles game – it has all the same chrome as Star Trek but it prioritized conflict over exploration and the setting lacks the optimism and open ended nature of Trek. Its Federation is hemmed in on all sides by hostile powers and has to make dangerous trade-offs for security vs. growth. There is nothing in Prime Directive that is untrue to the original show canon except its spirit. (Which makes it better than the new movies….)

My goal is to present a series of Trek adventures that captures that feel. While the original series didn’t have an overarching plot my campaign will, based on these ideas
·         A Human historian has postulated that the eugenics wars diaspora (responsible for the Botany Bay) might explain the high number of ‘human’ extraterrestrial races in the alpha and beta quadrants, and the USS Carter has been tasked to explore this theory.
·         The USS Carter makes first contact with the Betazeds, who are still (as per canon) overseeing their Terabain neighbors to prevent another war. Betazeds and especially Terabians make great candidates for the aforementioned theory.
·         There are remnants of an ancient star-faring society of silicon life forms throughout the area in which the Carter is operating. These tie to the Tholians and Sheliak.
·         There are agent provocateurs of the Klingon empire in the area in which the Carter is operating, trying to destabilize Federations space and pull resources from their borders.
Many of the plots of individual episodes are driven by one or more of these ideas, giving the campaign a unity that the original series lacked but hopefully not at the expense of its themes.

This is a somewhat idiosyncratic campaign design, however, so I am picking the episodes from the game that had the least amount to do with the Betazed plotline. I still think having a betazed – either an ambassador, someother non-starfleet person or the first such in Starfleet if you’re setting it in the Christopher Pike era  as I did – is a good fit, but if no one wants to play one  then a Vulcan will suffice for any of the psi-necessary plots, and the slowboat humans can just be regular old humanoid aliens, or their origins can be left undiscussed. If I have space at the end of the month I might include the Betazed specific plots,

The USS Carter Crew

This campaign was the first time I made use of the primary and secondary character concept, letting me populate an 8 person cost with four players. Using the Decipher Star Trek rules (thought he Last Unicorn Games ones are just as good, and the old FASA ones are serviceable, and to be honest you can probably mock out a FUDGE set in about 4 minutes) the players got 16 Advancements that they could split between their PCs. Some people chose one really skilled PC and one less skilled one, others had two more balanced characters, but it made sure all the players (if not all the characters) had the right amount of skill and spotlight potential. It also made it very easy to have away teams as each player would have one PC on the planet and one on the ship, so everyone had a voice at both locations.

The character breakdown was as follows
Asha - Captain Demyoshi Sakhet: a Star Fleet campaign with a diplomatic background, she is a skilled diplomat with solid tactical chops and wicked poker face.

Also Asha - Doctor Elissa Mark: a doctor and xenophile who spent her youth ship hopping around the federation both as a paramedic and a torch singer she both breaks and heals hearts.

Stephen: Commander James Funk: child of a Maine lobsterboat family the first officer doubles on tactical and security. He distinguished himself fighting Klingons and loathes them.

Also Stephen – Lt T’Prin: a fumble fingered engineer on loan from the Vulcan Science Fleet T’Prin is trying to clear the deaths of some Vulcan shipmates from her conscience.

Kris – Lt. Cmdr. Mattais Pelski: Having walked away from a career in professional soccer to join Starfleet, Pelski is never more at home than when performing astrogation research.

Also Kris – Dr. Surya Knox: a non-Starfleet member, she is the historian whose theories about the eugenics diaspora the Carter is testing. She's also a Belter, having grown up in the colonies in Sol's asteroid belt. 

Jason: Ambassador Darius Rossad: a Betazed diplomat he ends up on the Carter to test the Federation’s adherence to their stated principles as a first step to opening diplomatic relations.

Also Jason – Cadet Bernie Liefson: in his cadet cruise from the academy he is a junior astrogator who is destined to be the captain of the Next Generation Carter.

I ran this campaign over two ‘seasons’ and in the second season we had a 5th player, so eventually you’ll see reference to
Karen – Lt Fujita Daiki: a junior engineer with a clear head and a background in mercantile shipbuilding.

Also Karen –Xian Coy Mahn: chief petty officer in charge of security; most badass redshirt ever.

Obviously when and if you run these adventures you’d swap out these characters for your players’. A nice thing about Trek is that the ship command structure means there are clear niches that provide preset spotlight time. That should make inserting your own PCs a painless process.

In play Asha would often have Dr. Mark beam down with the initial away team, which was commanded by Funk, letting her and Stephen split the “person in charge” duties a bit; Sakhet would sometimes beam down on the second expedition but T'Prin was almost always in engineering. Kris and Jay would use whatever character felt most appropriate for the mission, but it was often Knox and Rossad beaming down, leaving the star fleet PCs on the bridge. Your mileage may vary, of course, but we found this to be a very useful technique. This is the game were we demoed it, which is why I feel comfortable offering it in other campaigns so far this year. 

The Decipher trek rulebook has some good ideas as to how to handle the standard ship command structure without the captain being a massive Schwarzschild, from the captain having a lot of meetings with his command staff to solicit advice prior to making a decision to everyone breaking out of character to offer their advice, after which the captain barks out a command that happens to mirror the OOC group consensus. These are nice, and for this sort of game mandatory, table rules to keep all of the players engaged in the ship’s decision making process/

NCC 1684, USS Carter circa 2254

To give our series a clean break from the TV and movie versions I let the players design a new ship using the Decipher rules and they came up with the following:

Third of four Champollion-class scientific cruisers (designation given to Champollion class light cruisers), the NCC 1682 USS Carter was first launched twelve years ago. It has served two 5 years tours of rather mundane escort duty and scientific exploration, looking into ruins on several of the Orion planets. In those ten years one of the others was destroyed in an encounter with an ancient defense system, and all ships of the class suffered technical flaws.

Specifically, the Champollion-class ships were outfitted with highly advanced sensor systems. The prototypes proved to be a trifle too advanced for acting ships and were notorious for simply cutting out under system stress. While many attempts were made to modify these systems in the field, Star Fleet decided that in light of the recent destruction of the Carnarvon, the Carter's 10 year maintenance would become a major 21 month refit, replacing the prototype sensor systems with more reliable conventional models. In addition, the Carter would be outfitted with top-of-the line shield grids and weapons to mitigate the chances of another ship-loss incident. The Fourrier and Champollion would remain doing light scientific duty until they too could undergo such a refit, while the Carter would have its duties expanded to include diplomatic/first contact situation and more active scientific scouting. 

Currently the Carter is 3 months into its 5 year mission, and is in many ways unique: she lacks the sensory capabilities of her sister ships, but is more nimble and far more combat capable. In fact, she stacks up favorably against the much larger Constitution class heavy cruisers, though she certainly can't take as much damage past her shields! She also sports more advanced Phaser and Shield systems than her sister ships, as the 12 years between her original construction and now have been contained rapid advancements in ship technology. A well balanced, well rounded ship, she is a surprisingly scrappy warrior as well as a capable scientist.