Thursday, June 6, 2013

Online Inspirations: Star Trek Online

As a follow up to yesterday's post I thought I would point out that there are options and resources out there beyond just fantasy and superheroes. I've been getting back into Star Trek Online, working my way back up through the levels, and there is a ton of useful material there.

In contrast to some of yesterday's examples where the setting was the attraction, that is not the case here - it's Trek! Even a casual fan of the movies or shows is already going to know a lot about the setting. Now the era of the game specifically is interesting - it's about 30 years after Nemesis - but it's not terribly different from any other Trek era. It's basically a Next generation era game with Ferengi, Borg, Klingon Honor, and the Tal Shiar all running around.

The best material here is the missions themselves. A lot of fantasy games focus on dungeons and combat, MMO or tabletop, so the "things you do" are largely familiar activities. Star Trek can be quite different in the details - space encounters, ground combat, diplomacy, exploration, first contact - any of these could be the focus of an adventure and many will involve several of them. STO's basic mission structure tends to be:

  • Travel to an area
  • Deal with issues in space
  • Beam to surface/ship/station, deal with issues there
  • Interact with some NPC's along the way
  • Return to space for final thanks or a climactic space battle
  • Arrive at satisfying conclusion

Now there are missions that deviate from this outline but that's a pretty good summary of some of the TV episodes too. This kind of structure can be useful if you're running or planning a Trek session and need an idea of how to "build" it. Start with this, then as you become more comfortable, you can start making changes as you see fit. There are also longer story arcs in STO that take multiple missions to play through, also a good guide for a new Trek GM. They usually look something like this:

  • A problem is discovered with some deeper mystery behind it
  • Several missions involve investigating clues or tracking down NPC's that can shed light on the problem
  • Eventually the source of the problem or the truth behind the mystery is revealed
  • The Big Finale: epic confrontation or battle to solve the mystery or remove the threat of the Federation/reality/Earth/the universe/etc.
Some of it is more routine star fleet stuff but there is also the more exotic stuff: time travel, aliens from other dimensions, secret genetic manipulation - and the STO missions can give you an idea on how to introduce and structure those as well.

FInally, even if you have a head (or a notebook) full of ideas and know how you want to run them, it is a nice source of images. We do have many hours of TV and many hours of movies to draw on, but another, more customizable source of images is a nice thing to have when running your own game. There is some Original Series stuff, from ships to races to uniforms, but a TNG era game will find the most utility here. The space stuff is particularly good. It does have a character creator with uniform options and very customizable body and facial details. That part is a little bit cartoony but it's not terrible. Beyond screenshots one could also make some nice "opening sequences" with a demo record to kick off new adventures too. Add your own music and you have a pretty slick production of your own.

That's about all I have to say on this, but I will note that a)  it's another useful tool in the DM toolkit and b) it's free! If you're at all interested and if you've considered running a Trek game but weren't sure how you would sustain it past that initial idea in your head, well, take a look. It may open that right up for you.


Barking Alien said...

Well done and thought out with a much more direct and perhaps less high concept approach than another Star Trek GM might advocate (Ahem-cough-ahem).

Reading your post was very interesting to me as it really did point out how create adventures for Star Trek and get ideas and inspiration for a continuing campaign.

I think that far too often I talk around that part, focusing on overcoming the parts of running Star Trek that may snag those used to D&D or games similar to it.

An eye-opener and a great read.

Blacksteel said...

Thanks BA - I've burned some hours on STO over the past few weeks and this struck me while playing so I thought I would share. I think everyone who runs games most of the time is at risk for "focus-drift" and if something like this helps us re-focus then hey, that's a good thing.

Barking Alien said...

Agreed. Although it may not be so much focus drift with me as I am focusing on everything but the basics.

Reexamining how I post, I think maybe its like someone teaching a student to paint by going into all the esoteric uses of color and light and shade and having the student go, "So...what kind of paint do I buy and where do I get a canvas?"

I jumped far beyond the basics in many cases whereas you provided them in an easy to relate to format.

Again, nicely done.