27 October 2017
To boldly roll where no-one has rolled before
In Star Trek Adventures, Modiphius has come up with probably the best way to recreate the feel of the iconic TV show at the tabletop – no mean feat considering the many ways in which Star Trek differs from other sci-fi settings.
After all, while they certainly had lasers, tentacled monsters and everything else needed to keep things exciting, the episodes' focus rarely fell on explosions as much as diplomacy, exploration and science – even if that last one amounted to little more than babbling about deflector dishes and neutrino beams.
This is reflected neatly in Star Trek Adventures; while there are extensive rules for combat, they aren’t the focus by any means. Exploration and diplomacy are just as important as shootouts, brawls and ship-to-ship engagements, with an entire chapter dedicated to solving problems through futuristic science.
Indeed, Modiphius has made a real attempt to replicate the approach of the show and accommodate the various spanners the format would throw into the works of a more typical RPG. For example, a player taking the role of the chief engineer as their primary character can hop into the shoes of a literal redshirt for missions where there’s more call for steady aim than technical skill, allowing everyone to participate without having to contrive a reason for the entire command crew to take on every excursion.
Beyond this, the impressive breadth of systems on offer means that it’s possible to reproduce virtually every aspect of a Star Trek episode, whether you’re romping around with alien princesses pulled from The Original Series or confronting the ethical dilemmas posed by the Borg or Dominion. However, this does come with a few downsides.
While a typical check in the game will have relatively simple core mechanics – roll a few d20s, then gain successes for each one that comes in under a value determined by your character’s attributes and skills – there are a number of extra systems bolted on that can muddy up an otherwise simple interaction. None of them are particularly unwieldy on their own, but that hardly matters when they stack up so quickly.
Opening a locked door can require management of momentum and threat counters, a complication range, advantages and disadvantage traits, and a few others depending on the exact nature of the situation. All this can sometimes slow the pace of the game to a crawl, with the need for both players and the GM to be highly focused and extremely familiar with the rules to keep things zipping along.
Still, even if you do need to keep the rulebook on hand, you probably won’t mind all that much. It’s a genuinely lovely piece of work, crafted with obvious reverence for the Star Trek universe.
The background and setting sections are incredible primers for the universe and are enjoyable to read entirely independent of the rules – the section on how each class of Starfleet vessel is designed is a favourite. There’s a wealth of information on offer, supported by countless extracts from in-universe reports, letters and logs. Much of the art is exceptional and does a good job of showing everything from the campy pulp of space castles to the clean curves of Federation starships.
Ultimately, this highlights perhaps the game’s greatest strength and weakness. Most RPGs licensed from major properties are relatively streamlined affairs that try not to burden more casual gamers with too many complications but, for better or worse, Star Trek Adventures doesn’t seem to share these concerns.
For some this will be off-putting, but if you’re familiar with both crunch-heavy RPGs and 3D chess, it may well be just what you’re looking for.
An incredibly wide-ranging ruleset with plenty of options for exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life and new civilisations, but probably not an ideal first step into the world of tabletop RPGs.
This review originally appeared in the October/November 2017 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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