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.


Miguel de Rojas said...

I think there are too many elements in there and I'll probably drop at least the Borg, keeping the Orion/Ferengi plot, which is a very interesting dilemma. However, the idea Barking Alien sugested in the previous post (a godlike being comes to save the aliens) is a great twist, the fanatics were right!!

Anyway, your adventure showcases how interesting and how different Star Trek adventures are. You don't always need villains to battle when you can fight natural dissasters and social prejudice!

Blacksteel said...

Well that's one reason I like to have some things written up in advance - if the players get really wrapped up in the rescue and seem happy with it, maybe I don't need the Ferengi, or the Klingons or whoever. On the other hand, if the recue part seems too routine I can start mixing in some outside elements. It lets me shift focus in play to whatever the players dig into.

Changing up the Ferengi and removing the Borg would also allow you to set the adventure in an original Series campaign too.

I like BA's idea for the godlike alien but it changes the whole scenario pretty dramatically. I was more interested in the disaster evacuation and dealing with the consequences. I like it, and I think you could have a ton of fun with it, but it is a very different flavor of adventure after the "god"shows up.