About 4 years back now, I tried starting up a Star Trek campaign using d20 Modern/d20 Future and a few house rules (mainly for playable races). I even made up a spiffy, spiral-bound handout (one of the benefits of working for Kinko’s at the time) that included the background on the ship the players would be serving on, the extra rules, the time period, and so on. There were at least two players that were very excited about the prospect, but then I heard from the other potential players that they felt a bit intimidated… they weren’t as fanatical, and afraid that their lack of Trek knowledge would show through, especially to the players who were more into it. That didn’t end up being the reason I didn’t run the campaign (real life issues would see to that), but it stuck in my mind as being a problem with a Star Trek campaign, and one that could now be fixed by setting it in the “new” ST universe.
Years before that, in my college days, I was heavily involved in a large Play by Email/Play by IRC Star Trek organization, specifically handling things in various Romulan games. (And I count that time as the geekiest thing I’ve ever done, which is really saying something). I enjoyed being able to determine the direction of an entire galactic power via what happened in the games. Plus it had the sandbox feel of being able to develop new ships, new technologies, new alliances, and so forth. Only it too demonstrated what I consider a problem in trying to run a Star Trek RPG.
Let’s look at TNG for an example. You have a “party” in the main cast- Picard as Captain, Data as Science/Conn, Worf as Tactical and later Security, Geordi as Engineer, etc. Each one has a specific role in the area they cover, and in any kind of, say, episodic crisis situation, you can count on them to cover that area, in addition to their own personal issues that happen to come up. Perfect recipe for adventuring, right?
Only, many of those things are difficult to relate in the context of an actual roleplaying game. Scanning for life signs might involve a die roll, but isn’t anything else involved. Same with scientific scans and whatnot. There’s not much in the way of decision making or creativity in that aspect of things. Unfortunately, the same can often be said of Engineering, which should be more about coming up with crazy solutions to problems in true Scotty-esque fashion: the players just don’t have enough information about how “actual” starships work to be able to do more than some rudimentary miracle working. This is all on top of the usual RPG issues of non-clustered parties spotlight sharing and whatnot.
There are plenty of solutions to this problem, and one that I’m not alone in recognizing: the Star Trek MMO specifically talks about having mini-game/puzzles for science and engineering officers to do. One thing that I’ve been tempted to try also tackles another solution at the same time: the Captain.
What if the GM were the Captain, and when the GM’s attention is on a particular player or group, it’s because the Captain had asked for a status report? When weapons are fired, it’s because the Captain ordered it? Away teams… well, depends if the Captain is a Kirk or Picard, I suppose, but could work either way. That makes it so the spotlight is on the players doing the acting, and there’s no quibbling over who gets to be the Captain. There’s also immediate feedback when doing science scans or engineering tasks, and possibly some more back and forth. It doesn’t entirely address my issue, but might provide enough of a framework to keep things flowing. Or it might get really annoying! I’m not sure.
As usual, the point is somewhat moot since I wouldn’t be running this theoretical game for a while, unless it’s a playtest one-shot. Still, any time a movie compels me to make a campaign about it, it gets bonus points from me (even if I did already want to do something similar).