Friday, August 5, 2016

40K-ish Friday: How I fell out of love with Star Trek Attack Wing

So back when we first got this game I was pretty excited. It played fairly fast, felt like Trek, and we had quite a bit of fun with it. The base game + a few more ships played better than the X-Wing basic set, probably because each ship has a little more personality than the fighters in X-wing.

As time went on though, I lost interest in it. Why? Well, there are two main reasons:

First, the ships have mediocre paint jobs and are not in scale. This wasn't a problem with the starter set so much but it gets weird when the Defiant is bigger than the Excelsior. The D-7 is as big as the Vorcha, the Bird of Prey is bigger (!) and the TOS Romulan Warbird is bigger than the TOS Enterprise! It goes beyond "loose" when it comes to scale and slides fully into "dumb".

I'd like to think I'm not that shallow but one of the major attractions to a miniatures game is the visual appeal and when it looks wrong it hurts. Plus these are designs I've been staring at for over 40 years in some cases and there's a near instantaneous "that looks wrong" thing that kicks in when models of them are not done right or not done well. The miniatures themselves are not really bad - there are some amazing repaints that demonstrate that the basic models are decent individually - but the scale thing really hurts my ability to enjoy the game.

I'm sure a lot of people don't care - I didn't either at first - but it's really turned into a problem that damages the game for me, and yes, the existence of that "other game" that is doing it right does have an impact. In X-Wing the ships are all in scale with each other, from A-Wing to Millennium Falcon to Tantive IV and they're all painted really well and they were that way from the start! Given that the price points for the games are about the same it's clear to me that the Trek game could be handled quite a bit better than they have been.

The Second major issue for me is this:
  • Star Trek Attack Wing launched in August 2013 and is releasing Wave 25 this month.  
  • X-Wing Miniatures launched in August 2012 and is on Wave 9
There was a Wave zero for launch, then 4 ships per wave through the 4th, then 3 ships after that, so Trek is probably over 90 ships now. Plus some of these are repaints. Plus there are many tournament prize ships that are repainted versions of existing ships with unique cards that are not available in stores and that may take the total over 100. It's a lot to keep up with and I don't think it's playtested and balanced as well as X-Wing which is important in a popular tournament game.  

X-Wing has 4 ships per wave plus some repaints in separate packages and the big ships and has a little over 40 ships so far altogether. X-Wing doesn't doesn't do prize ships - they give away cards with alternate art, medals, special dice, and special templates. Things that are cool but not mechanically different than what everyone can purchase.

The prize ship thing is particularly irritating - want the Enterprise-A? Its a prize ship! Same thing for the nifty borg-assimilated versions of the Galaxy, Bird of Prey, etc. Stuff like that is a huge turn off as I have no interest in playing in store tournaments but the only other way to get those ships is to wait for them to show up on eBay and pay 3 or more times the price for a normal ship. A repaint alone wouldn't bother me but the cards which include the unique ship, some unique crew, and maybe some other types of cards as well turn it into a different ship in the game, not just a different-looking ship. 

Compare this to X-Wing where anyone can pick up any ship in the game in any store but they still manage to give away unique items that let other people know you've won some games. 

Now WizKids has done some good things - the oversized Borg cube and the large Deep Space Nine model are very cool. The gameplay is solid. There are quite a few more factions to choose from than in X-Wing because that's just how the setting breaks down for each one and I'd say that's an advantage for Trek. 

But the game still looks rough, especially next to a game of X-Wing.

I don't hate it - I really like it, that's why I want them to do better! What I would love to see is some kind of a reboot with an announcement that they're going to re-launch the game with every ship in-scale and with X-Wing quality paint jobs. I know there are repaints of some older ships coming out and some of those do look better but I'm not a fan of silver on the federation ships. Heck, I'd just be happy with the scale fix and I'd handle the paint upgrades myself if I thought it was worth it.  

... and that's about all I have to say on the topic.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Building a Star Trek Adventure

So I feel like DoD had a great core concept and then lost its way.  We can build a new adventure using some of those same concepts and make it even better. One notable change from the original idea: I am resetting this to the Next Generation era to enable some specific things I like and want to do with this scenario. Let's start with the core:
  • We have an inhabited planet threatened by a natural disaster.
  • This disaster is not something we can alter with a reversed polarity tachyon beam. It's going to happen. The point of the adventure is dealing with the event and the consequences, not stopping it. Right now I'm thinking the star may be going nova.
  • This disaster is a short-notice event. We have days or weeks of notice, not months or years. This keeps the tension up. I'm thinking maybe two weeks from the kickoff.
  • The Federation is going to evacuate the population of the planet - because that's what the Federation does.
  • The population is not technologically advanced and has been under a no-contact policy due to the Prime Directive. That is being waived now in light of the looming extinction of the species. There was some debate within the Federation Council but the decision has been made. 
  • A rag-tag fleet of all available ships is being assembled at the nearest starbase. The PC's will lead this fleet to the target system. It will probably not be adequate to save 100% of the population but it is the best they can do within the time available.
    • I'm sketching out that the players are running a Galaxy class. There's at least a Nebula class available too, maybe an Excelsior, probably an Olympic class and an Oberth class too. It's really up to the GM as to how they want to compose the fleet to emphasize the scale and importance of the operation.
    • I'm going to go off-canon here and assume that large scale disasters are something that happen more frequently as your area of controlled space grows larger. I'm also going to assume that the enlightened Star Fleet of the 24th century is going to have planned for such things and that each starbase keeps some "Evacuation Ships" on some kind of low-level readiness at all time. 
      • Modern cruise ships can carry 2-3000 passengers on average while largest can carry 5-6000 so I don't think it's unreasonable to think that a 24th century purpose-built rescue ship could carry 10,000 passengers in tight but livable conditions. Something Nebula/Excelsior sized - Size Class 7 in LUG Trek terms.
      • In a disaster scenario speed is important so these can't be slugs. I think a cruising speed of warp 6 with a max of warp 8 is pretty reasonable. The ships of the fleet typically top out at warp 9.xx so this is hardly cutting edge.
      • That said I'd have them steer like drunken whales at sublight speeds - they're built for passenger capacity and warp capability, not racing or combat.
      • Lots of 20-man transporter pads and lots of shuttlecraft or else they need to be able to land on a planet.
      • Finally, let's say there are ten of these ships available at the starbase.
  • The refugees will be delivered to the starbase temporarily. Finding a suitable homeworld could be the focus of a sequel adventure. Especially if the best world is inside Romulan or Tholian space ...
OK, probably not the Dreadnought but the rest are good

Being called upon to lead a fleet of roughly 15 ships on a heroic rescue mission should make the players and their characters feel pretty good. Let them enjoy that moment as the entire fleet gets underway and goes to warp speed with appropriate whooshing sounds. It's a pretty big deal.

***The baseline assumption for this adventure is that the players begin at the starbase, lead the fleet to the system, make contact with the locals, inform them of the danger, rescue as many of them as possible, then evacuate the system before the event.***

While that would be somewhat interesting we can do a lot better - we need to decide on the complicating factors.
  • Complication Zero: The population has strong spiritual beliefs and not everyone wants to leave. There is a prophecy about a time of "ascending" and many sects consider the news that the sun is about to explode the beginning of that time. 
    • These sects - the ones who want to stay put - will vary in  their reactions. 
      • Some will graciously thank the rescuers as heralds of the change. 
      • Others will see them as heathen interlopers interfering in the holiest event in the history of the race and may become hostile rather quickly. If things start to drag go ahead and send in some assassins to give your security teams something to enjoy amidst all the talking. 
      • As the event approaches, the more fanatical sects may start attacking the heretical fools who are trying to escape the planet to the point that the player characters may feel the need to provide significant security. This is the most likely source of personal combat in this adventure so if your players are looking for that let it develop. 
    • Other sects, in a somewhat more literal interpretation, believe that the Federation fleet is the means of "ascension" and are ready to leave their world behind - enthusiastically so. These believers will view the rescuers as higher beings come to enlighten the lesser life forms that live here. Cue the counselor!
    • A small group is completely unconcerned about the religious implications and just want to live. They provide the panicky hysterics as they beg, plead, and threaten to be evacuated first. They're not evil, they're just scared. Should be a very different set of conversations than the prior group.
Let this unfold for a couple of days. The players can negotiate, threaten, bribe, call a mass-meeting, impose some kind of evacuation plan, let the locals decide who leaves first - it's a fluid situation so let your players drive the agenda based on how they interpret their mission and how they perceive the different local sects. Likely problems to solve:
  • Who gets evacuated first? The old? The young? By lottery? By location? 
  • Are the rescue ships going to make one trip or is the starbase close enough that a kind of warp speed bucket brigade makes sense, with a continuous flow of ships departing as they fill up, returning when they are empty?
  • Are the normal starfleet ships hauling passengers too or are they on watch? The Galaxy, Olympic, and Oberth ships might stay in system while the Nebula and Excelsior haul a few thousand more passengers out and provide an escort at the same time.
  • How much effort will you put in to trying to convince some of the uninterested sects? Do you have enough capacity to evacuate all of them anyway? 
  • How can you save more people? Let your players really strain themselves here as it is the point of the whole operation. Let them use their knowledge of Star Trek, spew technobabble, any contacts they have, and favors they can call in - anything. Saving a hundred thousand beings is really the minimum here given the transport capacity available. Can they double that? Can they save 500,000? A million? Reward creative thinking at the table in-universe with promotions and medals. 

  • Complication #1 - An Orion freighter arrives somewhat quietly on Day 2 after the initial contact and lands on the surface
    • This ship is captained by the most jovial Orion captain your players have ever met. I envision him being played by John Schuck  channeling some of his Klingon Ambassador role in the TOS movies, some of his Draal role from Babylon 5, and a sprinkling of Cyrano Jones from Trouble With Tribbles. He's a loud friendly guy. He says they came as soon as they got word and they want to help in any way they can. They just need to make some repairs on the ground first. Let's say they land in the largest/capital city.
    • The Orion crew immediately begins offering exotic food ("the Earthers call it pop-corn") and trinkets to the natives to enjoy their last few days before ascension in exchange for precious metals and cultural art objects. After all, this culture is about to become extinct just as it becomes open to offworld contact. There is serious money to be made here and if the locals think it's a fair deal, who is the Federation to judge?
    • The next day another Orion ship arrives. Then another. Then one leaves. If questioned, the Orion captain, in full Draal voice, answers 'He's going to get more parts'.
    • It becomes evident pretty quickly that something suspicious is going on but Captain Drall (see what I'm doing there?) always comes across as a somewhat put-upon guy who really wants to help and admits to nothing untoward. 
    • These Orions are not suicidal mercenaries - they're here to trade. They don't pull disruptors on Federation crewmen just for dropping by, they don't start massacring locals, and they don't try to sabotage the fleet while twirling their mustaches. They are about as straightforward as it gets for an Orion merchant operation. The players could certainly run them off if that's what they want to do but they are not a threat to the operation. 
    • The goal of this set of events is 
      • to inject a little humor into the otherwise pretty serious situation
      • to give the PC's someone else to talk to
      • to let security/intelligence types have something interesting to do while the diplomats try to talk some sense into the natives
      • future NPC hook!

  • Complication #2 -  An optional side quest:  Day 3 a Klingon bird of prey decloaks in orbit causing a bit of a panic in the rescue fleet. 
    • The Klingons are a small party looking for signs of an old exploration ship that was led by a legendary warrior and lost long ago. They have tracked the path of the ship to this planet and though surprised by the presence of a Federation fleet they have no quarrel and simply wish to search for clues on the planet. The coming nova fits perfectly with some prophecy they have about finding the legend so they are are very excited about what's going on. 
    • The commander of the ship is an older, cannier Klingon warrior, not a hot-blooded battleth-swinger. Think someone more like General Martok from DS9. In my mind he is best played by Brian Blessed in a slightly subdued manner who then goes full Vultan in our big finale - if called upon to do so! 
    • The signature scene here is "Klingons in a library" 
      • They are looking for historical records from 100+ years ago in a culture where data storage is still "books". Let's assume this is in the capital/largest city on the planet.
      • I figure as the end of the world approaches, people are going to walk off of their jobs. This means shops and factories and farms become increasingly empty as world spreads and the end draws near. This also means there are no librarians or professor-types to help them so picture a team of Klingons set up with translators and library computers desperately trying to figure out the local language and filing system as the clock ticks down. 
      • I picture lots of swearing in the background, angry shouts as books and cabinets are thrown across the room, and dak'tahg's thrown into walls as frustrated Klingon battle-scholars engage in glorious and challenging research. Give your players a reason to call them a few times - "Gah! (clang) Captain, why do you interrupt us?! (crash) MUCH SHOUTING IN KLINGON TO SOMEONE OFFSCREEN - Time grows short and we have many volumes to scan! (slam)"
      • Don't tell the players what the Klingons are looking for. It doesn't matter. It's a secret. That's the Klingons' mission, not your players'. If the players want to help let the warriors ask them if they have seen/heard of/scanned for some random unrelated things - a ruin shaped like a battleth/a tower made of red stone/a legend of a talking tree. Keep it mysterious, At some point, they're probably successful and make preparations to leave to continue on their quest. Plus I have no idea what it is right now and it only matters if we come back to them sometime in the future. Wait until you have a good idea for what a group of Klingons might be looking for that might require aid from the Federation and then have them show up again.
    • This could be simple background color or it could become a big side mission of the crew depending on how much interest the players take in it.It's also a nice hook for a future adventure as a distress call from someone you know is a lot more interesting than one from a stranger. Or, if this is too much to have going on at once, just drop the idea and leave the Klingons for another time.

  • Complication #3 - About 5-6 days after First Contact a Ferengi Marauder arrives in-system and begins offering transport out of the system for a price. 
    • The Ferengi see this as a real money-making opportunity. They begin by broadcasting their offer on the same frequency as local radio.
    • The captain is greedy but clever and not a complete coward. He's willing to take some risks as this is a once-in-a-lifetime to collect the wealth of an entire population.
    • Ferengi "consultants" beam down and appeal to the more well-off natives, touting their personalized luxury evacuation packages. 
    • This could very likely upset whatever system the players have put in place to determine evacuation priority. "No thanks, we're going with those guys"
    •  If challenged they claim to simply be offering a service and begin spreading rumors that the Federation fleet cannot hold everyone who wants to leave. This should force some interesting conversations and confrontations between the natives, the Feds, and the "entrepreneurs". 
    • If attacked in space it would certainly be in-character for them to run and not return but it might be more fun if they come back with two more marauders (3 total now) and announce that they intend to honor their previous bargains and offer a discounted rate to new applicants. This also livens things up for the finale. I'd say let it play out based on how your players deal with them. 
    • They are not connected with the Orions or the Klingons or anyone else in the system. No conspiracies here.
    • If one of the PC's has a background tie to the Ferengi then naturally he should be the captain of one of the ships. Familiarity, tension, the personal touch - all of these just add to the rich stew we're mixing here.
    • There's a chance for some humor in this but there's also a chance for some good old fashioned moral debates as well - who's to say the Ferengi are wrong here? Plus they are helping to get even more people off of the planet - people who clearly want to leave.
If you're running this across multiple sessions this is probably the best place to stop if you haven't already. The rescue operation should be in full swing, there have been some unexpected complications but it looks manageable with some work. Starfleet should be pretty pleased with things assuming your players didn't start shooting everything in sight.

There is a fair amount going on but I've tried to keep the three "outsider" elements fairly simple to make it easier to run. Beyond the size of the fleet conveying the importance of the operation, the presence of multiple alien groups with their own agendas helps emphasize that the player characters are in the middle of a very important situation.  I would suggest keeping a separate piece of paper or notepad file for each faction and keeping notes on how the players interact with each faction as you play. The Klingons and Orions land in the same location while the Ferengi mostly stay in orbit so there is a chance the aliens on the ground might cross paths if you want to go that route.

Remember that there's no wrong answer here. There's no set way this has to go. The star is going to explode and that's about the only absolute.  If the PC's blast the Klingons as soon as they decloak well, at least the tactical officer got to have some fun. Your players may figure out a way to combine all of these elements and save everyone who wants to be saved. They're tricky like that. If so, awesone! Everybody wins, drinks all around! The concept I'm working with is "here's an interesting, complicated, dangerous situation that your PC's are thrown into - let's see what happens" not "here's a detailed plot to follow to tell a particular story - make sure your players follow it". There's a story to be told here but it's driven by your players - their actions and decisions could make them heroes, villains, scapegoats, or legends.

The Big Complication: 

A few days after first contact, and after the Orions are discovered, the optional Klingons arrive, and the Ferengi begin auctioning off lifeboat seats,  three borg cubes warp into orbit, spacing themselves at equidistant points around the planet. Instead of attacking they announce that they offer everyone on the planet the chance to join the borg. They beam down a focal point, like Locutus or the Queen, to make a personal offer to the inhabitants. One of the "ascension" sects on the planet immediately declares that THIS is the true path of ascension and agrees to join the borg. Another ascension sect - one of those rescued by the Federation - begins to question their decision and requests a meeting between their leaders, the borg, and the Federation to make a decision. 

I am assuming that borg transporters and assimilation facilities are much faster than the other races and that those cubes have room for a lot of new borg drones. Far more room than all of the other ships in the system combined.

This should complicate the lives of the player characters more than enough to make for a memorable adventure. How do the players react to a)the arrival of the borg, b) the strange approach of the borg - voluntary assimilation? and c) having to debate the merits of joining the Federation of Planets vs assimilation with a bunch of primitive aliens who have no prior knowledge of either group. Also:

  • What do the Ferengi do? 
  • What do the Klingons do? 
  • What do the Orions do?
  • What does Starfleet do?  Do they allow the borg to become stronger by assimilating potentially millions of new borg?
  • Prime Directive? What if people want to be assimilated by the borg? It is saving lives that might not otherwise be saved, and they are making their own choice. If the UFP is willing to let the locals choose to die in a stellar catastrophe shouldn't they be willing to let them be assimilated if that is their choice?
As the initial group of refugees is assimilated the borg start sending down minor focal point characters created from the natives to convince others they need to join, just to up the pressure. 

Direct combat against the borg is not an option - or is it? If your players really want a huge fight then maybe the Klingons could be convinced to call in their house fleet, the Ferengi could be bargained into calling in their own reinforcements, the Orions could call in some "friends", and Starfleet sends in a bunch of Akira/Steamrunner/Defiant reinforcements and a massive space battle fires up on the eve of the star going nova. It's not my first choice for a resolution but if that's what your players want then give it to them! 

If you think this is likely it might make more sense to reduce the borg down to one cube as I made it three to ensure combat was not the first response. Perhaps once the fight begins it launches a sphere that continues assimilation operations - not all of them voluntary -over the planet while the fight goes on, giving a more interesting situation than  a straight-up fight. Maybe it goes for the rescue ships, assimilating the crew who then cause the rescue ships to warp out for later assimilation of the passengers - calling for a rescue mission within a rescue mission!

Without a fight, you could easily end up with an uncomfortably tense situation of refugees streaming onto the Federation rescue fleet, the Ferengi, a few onto the Orion ships, and a bunch onto the borg ships as the star stutters and staggers to its end.

Eventually, we have to have our nova. I would keep this uncertain until a few hours before. You can ratchet up tension by noting increased instability in the star without sticking a number on it until you're ready. It could go from 'we have days" at the beginning to "we have hours" when you're ready to up the pressure.  Give the players a final window of definite time - maybe 3-4 hours - and let them scramble to make any final evacuations or pleas to the people. Then let nature take center stage for a few minutes.

  • Here's a video that might work (I am open to additional suggestions if anyone has a good one). 
  • Boston's "The Launch" is an instrumental piece would make a good soundtrack if you can time it right and if you don't mind some guitar in your Trek finale.
Let your players think about what they've accomplished, all the souls they rescued. Maybe they get caught up in the number they failed to save - that's OK too. Maybe they develop a lasting hostility towards Ferengi or the Borg (well - a more personal hostility now). That's ok too - heck it's one of the reasons we play the game, right? To see characters change because of the experiences they have had. Other outcomes:
  • They're probably famous
  • They might be up for promotions. 
  • They might be up for court-martial proceedings. 
  • They probably made some new allies and/or enemies among the NPC's. 
  • They may have fought the Borg in a grand alliance
  • They may have died to the last man trying to hold off a Borg assault as their crew is assimilated all around them. Hey, not every story has a happy ending.
So - this is the general flow of the adventure. I have notes on the local aliens as far as how I would present them and some additional side plot options I will share in a separate post. 

I need a name for this thing too. Right now "Operation Starlift" is the leader in the clubhouse but it feels a little generic.  Feel free to share some ideas if you like this thing we're creating.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Denial of Destiny - The Star Trek RPG Adventure

I don't see any reviews or discussion of this adventure anywhere online via my googlematic and that's a shame. I played through it way back when it was new and it has had an influence on my thinking on adventures, particularly Trek adventures, ever since. Well, my experience playing it has had a huge influence, because I never owned it - until now! How does it hold up 30 years later? Let's talk ...

My memories of playing through this adventure were that it began with a distress call that a planet was threatened with destruction by a natural event and that the mission was to evacuate as much of the population as possible - simple, right? The complication is that once you get there there the people don't want to leave! It's a big religious thing and the one thing all of the different sects can agree on is that it's important to stay put for the big event. This is not a technologically advanced species so they wouldn't be leaving on their own anyway, but when we offered them the chance we mostly got a polite 'thanks but no thanks"! I remember a weird mixed feeling of being denied the opportunity to save the day, respecting their racial beliefs, and still making our best effort to fully explain the danger. I thought it was brilliant at the time and felt completely true to Trek. There were no Klingons or Romulans, no godlike aliens, no super-computers, and combat was not the high point of the adventure. The only combat that even occurred was that as we kept on trying to talk to the inhabitants about the danger we eventually ticked off one of the more radical sects and they sent some assassins after us so we did get one action scene in.

We managed to convince one group to come with us. The planet got pasted and our passengers became the only surviving members of their race. The hastily-assembled fleet we had thought to be way too small ended up being more than capable of holding them all which was a weird feeling, especially after they became the only survivors. We transported them to a starbase and petitioned to be part of the mission to find them a new homeworld but we never did much follow up on this one. We tended to have a very episodic game back then and with no obvious recurring villain springing out of this run there wasn't as easy a way to drop it back in. I can see plenty of ways to do it now, but things were different then.

So, 30 years, 4 TV series, 11 movies, and many games later I have acquired my own copy. That back cover text is probably too small to read so here it is:

He's stealing my soul!

While strolling down the street the party comes upon a beggar who appears to have only one leg. You may wish to put some Kopas (local currency) into his bowl at which the beggar will smile genially.
The medical officer decides to carefully scan this individual since he has not seen any other Alerian who does not seem totally fit.

As the tricorder is turned on it begins making its normal whining sound. The beggar hears the peculiar noise, sees the device and begins shouting in mortal terror. "Ayak! Ish Bendanaada ju erada megeni kra kra Johopo!" Which translated will turn out to mean "Help! This off-world swine is trying to steal my soul!"

The local merchants, who have become quite attached to this fellow as he knows just about the filthiest stories ever heard on Kembali, will come running to his aid and will insist that the party leave him alone. They won't become violent since after all, he is only a beggar and no one fights over a beggar.

The tricorder reading taken by the medical officer indicates something peculiar about the beggar's missing leg.

Remember, this adventure starts with "we need to evacuate a planet" - does it seem like they're missing the big picture a little bit there? These adventures used to come sealed in an envelope-like package so there was no way to flip through it - the above text is all you get. Does that sound particularly interesting? For an Edge of the Empire adventure this might be a reasonable hook but for a Trek adventure? Where the planet is going to be destroyed in a few days?

Part 1
The first part of the adventure is still good. A message comes in that the planet Aleriad is going to be wiped out by a collision with a debris cloud moving through the system. The PC ship is to head up a task force now being assembled with the goal of saving some of the population. There's a line in the message about only being budgeted enough resources to save 1% of the population - that is not a phrasing I would use, even in Star Trek as it sounds like some kind of corporate/government meeting note, not the introduction of a heroic rescue mission. There are also notes that

  • There's nowhere else in the system to settle them
  • There have been reports of Orion activity in the area
  • Ambassador Robert Fox (from "Taste of Armageddon") is going along to help
I don't remember Fox being a big part of our adventure so I'm not sure if he was dropped completely or renamed and de-emphasized, or if my memory is incomplete. He's supposed to be an annoying ally type NPC in this mission. I don't think we missed him much.

So the first part is pretty much as I remember - get to the system with a rescue fleet, meet the Alerians, educate them on the situation, and get as many of them off the planet as possible. The Alerians are divided into hundreds if not thousands of religious sects and do not want to leave. In fact none of them want to leave, and pushing the issue gets angry mobs surrounding you and potential assassins attacking while you sleep. The only group that might be interested in leaving is led by an undercover Orion operative who doesn't want to die and quietly pushes his people to volunteer. The rest of the population views the coming devastation as a religious event and figures they will finally get to show all of the other sects who is actually right. So they are not only unwilling to leave, they are looking forward to it!

As written, there's not a lot for the players to do here. They can get to know the Alerian people, learn about their culture, and then watch their planet die! There is the one faction who can be convinced which seems disappointing to me as even that one has the hidden offworlder influencing things from the inside. There is also a mystery sub-plot involving Orion tech smuggling but honestly the whole planet is about to die so who cares if the Orions have been sneaking illegal tech onto the planet? Why does it matter now?

The destruction of the planet is thoroughly described. The inhabitants really thought some of them were going to survive as they were the chosen of their god and the non-chosen would be the ones to die. The sect that takes the players' offer accepts it with the understanding that they will return to the surface after the danger has passed. Instead the planet gets pounded by space rocks, the oceans and landmasses move around. and much of the atmosphere is lost so what's left is baking in much stronger solar radiation and is no longer Class M. 

It is suggested that if you're going multi-session with this adventure that this is a good place to pause. It is.

Part 2
Part 2 of the adventure is what to do with the refugees. There is concern that if they find out the destruction is total they might riot and most of the ships in the force do not have adequate security to control them. There is room for debate on whether to tell them up front or make a run for the starbase and let them get the full update their once they are off of the ships. There are also dietary, atmospheric, and gravitational concerns with keeping the Alerians healthy so there is a lot for the players to consider. It's a little bit of a Battlestar Galactica feeling as the officers in charge try to keep a shocked and unsettled civilian population happy and healthy until they can get where they're going. This kind of scenario does seem like a cool thing for a Trek adventure and I like a lot of it.

Then it gets really stupid.

The refugees, manipulated by the secret Orion, take over the ship. These aliens have a tech level similar to 1900 AD on Earth. They have steam power, basic radio, and single-shot projectile weapons. Yet they somehow manage to out-think the crew and learn how to run the ship -in 2 days-  and use the anti-intruder knockout gas to take control. The author seems to know it's ridiculous and spends some time justifying it to the GM:

... but I freely admit I have a hard time buying it and I would have a hard time buying it as a player too. "Suspension of disbelief" is a poor reason include something in an adventure and it could be used to justify literally anything. It's not even that these people would try to do it - it's that it's tough to believe they could do it! The Orion supposedly doesn't remember a lot of details of his former life but as this happens is supposed to start remembering how ship systems work. His limited knowledge is supposed to be a big help to the takeover. Seems like we're wanting to have it both ways here and even if it's not the biggest hole in this adventure it still seems weak.

The stated goal is to take the ship then go off and find a planet they can settle on. Of course, this only covers the refugees on the main PC ship. There's really not much discussion of how the rest of the fleet reacts other than it can only sustain Warp 2 and the rebel refugees go to Warp 4 to get away. Do the on-ship refugees realize this? Do they care? how about those left behind? I didn't see any of this addressed in the text.

The big finale of the adventure, is the struggle to retake control of the ship. This is complicated when a distress call comes in from a ship full of cadets under attack by a pair of Orion ships. The players need to retake the ship and also rescue the cadet ship in a less than 100% state as the untrained Alerians have managed to crack some of the dilithium crystals and generally screw up various ship systems. The advice here is that if the PC ship starts to really lose then have a Loknar class frigate show up to help. A previously unmentioned Loknar ... that might have been useful in transporting more refugees ... that surely would have picked up the distress call as well and could have picked up a call from the players ship too theoretically. Sigh.

Other Elements
One of the sort of hidden factors in this is that the Alerians are psionic and a good part of their communication is tied up in the mental part of their exchanges and not the verbal. This allows them to plot to take over the ship without having to discuss it verbally  and yes the Orion secret agent is psionically active as well which is why he was chosen for the mission long ago. The problem here is that it's fairly typical to have at least one psionically active player character in a Trek game, particularly the FASA Trek RPG, and this seems like it might be a problem. Here's the author's advice on that:

OK, seems like we have it handled well here, right? Wait, there's more:

What?! I'm supposed to sideline a PC because their abilities are inconvenient to the plot of this adventure? You call that advice? These are from the designer's notes on playtesting the adventure which tells me that's probably how they handled it! It's like people complaining about having Paladins in D&D adventures that depend on a secret evil plot that could be revealed with a simple "detect evil". Hey, if your plot is that weak in a world where "detect evil" exists then it's probably not going to work there. Same idea here - if one halfway competent psionic PC blows up the whole second half of your adventure in a setting where psionic PC's are not uncommon then you need to rethink your adventure. It was bad advice in 1983 and it's bad advice today.

If things play out as projected your players will sail in, largely fail to convince the doomed populace to evacuate, watch as the planet gets destroyed, head back to a starbase with the few refugees they did manage to rescue, lose control of their ship to them, struggle to get it back, then attempt to fight off some Orions in a damaged state possibly needing help from another smaller ship to succeed.

Wow, that looks like your crew is incredibly incompetent. It should get your captain fired and possibly court-martialed. The rest of the crew should be broken up, reassigned, and some of them should be demoted and possibly court-martialed as well. There's no super-powerful alien life form at work here like with Kirk and the Enterprise. There's not even a comparably-trained and equipped force like the Klingons at work here - it's a bunch of primitives! Could a group of Amish refugees take over a modern aircraft carrier? Even if one of them was an amnesiac former Soviet sailor?  Allowing that to happen would (and should) end careers and destroy reputations.

Looking back ...
Clearly my GM back then took the parts of the adventure he liked, made something of them, and dropped the awful parts. He was a smart guy. Unfortunately this means my memories of this adventure are way better than what it is in print. I picked this up expecting to be able to showcase it as an example for someone who doesn't know what a Trek RPG adventure might be (besides shooting Klingons) and I just can't do that. It starts with a great concept and then the whole thing falls apart.

Star Trek RPGs deserve better and we can do better. I love the basic concept - confronted by an unalterable natural disaster what does your crew do?

So in the next post I'm going to start writing up my concept of what this adventure could be. More to come.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Star Trek - Vendetta

Did you know they were publishing TNG novels while the show was still on the air? They were! At least a few of us read them because according to the wiki this book went to #4 on the NYT paperback lists in 1991. I read this book later that year and it's the one TNG novel that has stuck with me over the years. I picked up a copy recently and re-read it and yes - I still like it!

The summary: The borg show up and start cutting up a planet. Something else shows up and destroys their cube ...

Yes! In the tradition of King Kong vs. Godzilla we have the biggest bad of the Next Generation meeting an improved and nastier version of one of the Original Series space monsters! The fight is on! There's more to it than that of course, but my inner six-year-old is highly pleased and entertained just by the concept here. Plus - Guinan backstory! Rehabbing a female borg years before Voyager! Picard in love! Picard's acadmey rival! Ferengi! More Commander Shelby!

The details are that the original planet crusher was a prototype launched during testing without all of the capabilities of the full design. Who were the creators fighting? Why the borg of course! Fighting and losing, they put a huge effort into building a massive superweapon that could take on the borg from a position of strength. It never launched though as the war was over too quickly, but the spirits of the builders remain on board - there's treknobable to explain it - but they remain impotent until a living being shows up to bring the ship to life. Enter Guinan's "sister" - someone who lost too many friends and family to the borg a long time ago, she comes across the story of the TOS doomsday machine and backtracks it to discover the final production version sitting there waiting to go. She jumps in, and well, the "Vendetta" of the title is her desire to see the borg wiped from the universe and now she has the means to do so. Also:

  • Picard is in love with Guinan's sister. It reads better than you might be thinking right now and it is important to the plot.
  • Picard's main rival from his academy days shows up in the course of the story. It does add something interesting.
  • Yes, the Borg will assimilate Ferengi. 
  • LaForge gets wrapped up in trying to rehab a human female borg they find and it is a nice little sub-plot that covered more than I expected.
  • Commander Shelby from Best of Both Worlds shows up here and does pretty much the same thing she did there but i feels right at home.
  • Beyond Picard I'd say LaForge, Troi, and Guinan have the most to do and there's a nice spread of sub-stories here.
One interesting angle reading it now is that this is pre-First Contact, pre-Voyager and all that so we only have the info on the borg through Best of Both Worlds. That means the borg aren't caught up in assimilating people - they're still really only interested in tech and resources. I suspect it would be a very different book if written today but this one still feels perfectly fine. It's also cool to see time spent exploring that whole "what do we do with a captured borg" idea before Seven of Nine was even a concept.

Obligatory RPG discussion: It's a heck of an idea for an adventure. Remove the Enterprise, replace with your players' ship. Make the academy rival NPC tied to one of your own PC's instead of Picard. Commander Shelby can still play a part and add a touchpoint to the show. The resolution would take some rethinking and you'd have to be careful to keep your PC's and their ship relevant when these titans are clashing but I think there's a very memorable RPG adventure waiting to be extracted here.  

One final bit of praise: It would have made an awesome movie.

I read a ton of TOS novels but I never read too many TNG novels. If you're a fan at all this is the one I would recommend from That Generation.

Monday, August 1, 2016

RPG-a-Day 2016

I see it is active at Brigadecon but after looking over the questions I'm just not feeling it this year. Posted to let others know if they're interested, but I'm out for this year.

Meme-tastic Monday