Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Star Trek Model of Campaign Design

1) The World is Not Known: In contrast to the Rangers or Star Wars, exploration is the focus and that means the setting is a major player in the campaign. Compared to the Rangers campaign where the setting is really just wallpaper behind the big action, in this style of game everything from geography to races and civilizations to even the weather can play a big role in the campaign and any of those could be the focus of a session. Compared to Star Wars the physical layout of the setting and the cultures are largely unknown, and while both can feature interaction and combat, this concept adds in the whole getting-to-know-them stage. In short: In Power Rangers you don't need a map, In Star Wars you just look up the map, in Trek the campaign is about the people who make the map!

2) Travel will be common and interesting. The PR game characters might never leave their hometown. In Star Wars travel is common and mundane but not typically a focus other than as a rest period between adventures. For this style of game travel is how the campaign advances. It may well involve a craft of some kind.  This could easily be ship based, even a flying ship or an airship if you're going in that direction fantasy-wise. A literal interpretation of the source material could lead to teleportation circles and flying carpets as supplementary travel options.

3) Character Diversity: This one is not as essential as the first two but in keeping with the source of the inspiration the concept can easily handle a wide range of character types, classes and races. It also makes some sense to start above 1st level if you're so inclined. Think those flying races are overpowered for a traditional campaign? Not so here. Always wanted to play a locathah or merman or sea-elf? This might be the place to do it. Reluctant to include the Drow character in your usual game? This is where you can "Worf" in your Drizzt wanna-bes. Steal justifications and explanations from the source without remorse.

4) Steady State: Unlike PR there is not necessarily a strong character progression here, making it more suitable for non-level-based games. That said it works fine with a level progression, and an expedition into distant planes of weirdness can be a good explanation for why your former frontier farmboy becomes a demigod. Unlike Star Wars there is not typically a huge amount of social change going on, and adding that in can distract from the exploration theme and change the campaign, moving it towards a Star Wars style game. In general the home social situation stays the same, and the characters may or may not progress a great deal, but the discoveries made by the players can certainly stir things up back home.

5) Open Ended: Also unlike PR and SW there is no requirement that characters defeat a world-threatening evil or change the state of the world. Individual characters may come and go but the exploration can continue for years. It might be different quests, different missions, or one really long Odyssey, but there is no inherent limit on it.

I did something like this with a Rifts campaign years ago described in this post. Here's how it breaks down as far as the elements in this post:
  1. In this version the only information available were a few scattered reports from other travelers and some pre-apocalyptic maps.
  2. Travel took place via a giant robot with room on board for everyone. They stomped across the post-apocalyptic US and had to deal with various challenges
  3. It was Rifts, so character diversity is a given. Wizard? Check. Ninja? Check. Cyborg? check? Dragon hatchling? Check? Power armor guy? check. Not a problem.
  4. They started at first and made it up to about 6th by the end. They were not in regular contact with the home base so it didn't really figure in the campaign. The world itself was not in the middle of a war or an invasion, just the usual Rifts stuff
  5. Some characters died, some dropped out, others dropped in, and at least one underwent a racial transformation. There's plenty of room for change, even with a seemingly limited crew.

So running this in Trek or Traveller is easy enough, and I've given a Rifts example above, how about D&D? It's not difficult as it's a fairly traditional sandbox/hexcrawl game at heart. I think I will save that for a separate post - check back tomorrow.


Lead Legion said...

Will do. I need to go back and look at this Rifts article now as well.

Barking Alien said...


This is my favorite kind of campaign, which should come as no surprise since I'm a huge fan of Star Trek and Trek gaming.

I'll be honest though, I couldn't do it in RIFTS.

Aside from not liking that game so much, I find RIFTS to be a setting that should be expansive but feels limited in a Lord of The Rings/Middle Earth way. Too much of its unknown is known thanks to an overabundance of splatbooks.

Every time I've played (which not very often I'll grant you) we encountered something that I either had no clue about or thought I knew only to be corrected by one or more players who knew exactly what these things were and what they were like in the RIFTS milieu.

Kinda takes the discovery out of it if you know what I mean.

Blacksteel said...

Oh i wouldn't expect everyone to embrace Rifts - I just wanted to show an example of a game that might not spring immediately to mind when thinking of this type of campaign. One thing to remember is this game was a long time ago so there was less world info out there then.

Dariel Quiogue said...

Nice. Also very applicable to an Age of Sail or Al-Qadim based island hopping campaign.