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Call of Trekthulhu

Space, the final frontier.

These are the voyages of the starship Exeter, whose five year mission is to seek out new worlds and new civilizations.

And probably blow them up.

Last year I decided to run a few Star Trek games and I recently came across my notes. They were meant to be episodic one-off games, allowing us to drop them in whenever we wanted a break in our usual routine and it worked out quite nicely.

In designing the game I took a lot of inspiration from Where No Man Has Gone Before, an excellent little rules light home grown game you can download from the author’s blog. There are a lot of good source ideas packed into the tight rules set. I also made good use of the free paper Star Trek minis you can download from the page. The figures were designed by David Okum of the Okum Arts Tumblr and it was my first exposure to his work, but not the last.

While I raided the document for source, I decided to go a different direction for mechanics and kit bash Call of Cthulhu for my rules set. I chose CoC because my players are old hands at the game, because the percentile based skill system is flexible and easy to bolt on to, because the magic point system is adaptable for special abilities, and because I wanted the sanity mechanic it offered. Sanity was important not because I would be putting the crew up against the Elder Gods, though I didn’t rule it out, but because in the old series we often saw characters pushed past the breaking point. My game was set in the Original Series era and I wanted to make sure that this was part of the game’s feel.

Because we are all Star Trek geeks I wanted to base the game in Trek lore. So the back story is that Starfleet recovered and refit the U.S.S. Exeter, a Constitution class starship that was left adrift after the episode The Omega GloryYes, that horrible episode where the writers must have failed their Sanity roll more than the Exeter’s captain did.

“Ay plegli ianectu flaggen, tupep like for stahn.”

-The Omega Glory

When we began character creation I had the players draw a card at random, each card had one of the department heads listed on it. This made short work of deciding who would be captain, science officer, etc… I also allowed players to choose any established Federation races from the Original or Animated series.

Soon we had our crew; an Andorian weapons officer, a Vulcan chief engineer, the requisite human Dr. McCoy analog, and an Iotian science officer (the gangster culture from A Piece of the Action. His uniform had pin stripes). The crew was under the leadership of Captain Ivan Kirkov.

Acts like Kirk, sounds like Chekhov. You’ve got to love it.

I wrote up several new rules for the game. One area I didn’t get into was starship combat. Before Wrath of Khan, starship combat was not a major factor in Star Trek and I figured I could wing it if needed.

 

Fractalbat’s House Rules for Star Trekthulhu

RolesThese function as Occupations from Call of Cthulhu. New skills are listed in italics.

Science Officer

Astronomy, Biology, Chemestry, Computer Programing, Library Use, Other Language, Persuade, Physics, Psychology, Sensors any two of the following skills; Antrhopology, Archaeology, Geology, History, Medicine, Natural History, Subspace Communications, one other skill as a personal specialty.

Medical Officer

Biology, Chemistry, Computer Programing, First Aid, Latin, Medicine, Natural History, Pharmacy, Psychoanalysis, Psychology.

Engineer

Chemistry, Computer Programing, Electrical Repair, Geology, Library Use, Mechanical Repair, Physics, Sensors, Starship Engineering, Subspace Communications, Starship Shields, Starship Weapons, one other as a personal specialty.

Security/Weapons Officer

Climb, Conceal, Dodge, First Aid, Grapple, Handgun, Hide, Listen, Martial Arts, Punch, Sneak, Spot Hidden, Starship Shields, Starship Weapons, two others as personal specialties

Starship Captain  

Bargain, Fast Talk, Handgun, Persuade, Psychology, Spot Hidden, Any four New Skills and any two additional skills as personal specialties.

 

New Skills:

Computer Programing – Base 00%  This is the ability to program or reprogram computers. It is not needed for operation of computers. This skill may be unnecessary if a friendly artificial intelligence is involved.

Starship Engineering – Base 00%  This is the skill of repairing and modifying the large and complex systems that run starships, starbases, and other large scale systems. It may also be used to boost power to other systems such as shields, sensors, and weapons.

Subspace Communications – Base 15%  This is the skill of operating and monitoring subspace radio messages. It may be used to jam transmissions, to break through jamming, to send encoded transmissions, and to conceal or detect subspace radio activity.

Sensors – Base 15% This is the skill of using and interpreting the results of sensor scans. It may also be used to operate a scientific tricorder or a medical tricorder with a -15% penalty.

Medicine – Base 05%  Same as normal. If the user has access to a medical tri-corder or other medical supplies the medic can heal 1d10 health. This skill also allows use of a medical tri-corder which acts as a portable med-bay for all but the most serious conditions. A scientific tri-corder may be used for diagnosis at -30%, but gives no additional treatment abilities.

Starship Weapons – Base 10%  This skill allows the use of a starship’s weapons systems, including phasers and photon torpedoes. It may be used for various special maneuvers, such as using phasers for targeting specific systems or to stun entire city blocks.

Starship Shields – Base 10%  This skill is used to adjust and reinforce shields. On a successful roll a player may restore a shield’s score by 1d10, if the player rolls under half their skill the boost is 2d10.

Starship Manuvering – Base 05%  This is the skill of moving a starship at sub-warp speeds. It may be used to gain an advantage in combat, avoid hazards in space, stabilize a ship, or any other tasks that require steering the ship.

Starship Astrogation – Base 05%  This is the skill of plotting a course through warp. It is also used to boost warp speed and maintain the warp field at emergency speeds, and any other tasks involving the warp drive.

 

Aiding Other Stations:

A starship operates based on the quality of a crew’s teamwork, not on the individual prowess of its members. An officer in one department may use their skill to boost the skill rolls of another department. To do this the player gives an explanation of how they wish to help out and make a roll on the appropriate skill. A successful roll gives a +5% bonus. Succeeding by half or more gives a +10%. An impaling roll gives +15%.

For example, a Federation starship is in combat with an Orion pirate. The chief engineer increases power to the ship’s shields, giving the navigator a +5% to boost shields. The captain uses his own targeting skills to boost the weapons officer’s targeting skill by +5%.

 

Special Abilities:

Special abilities are used by characters to pull off amazing feats within their specialty. They rely on a character’s force of will to achieve success and cost magic points to use. Failing any special ability roll shakes a character’s confidence and costs 1d4 SAN. Use of a special ability has a base 10% chance of working with an additional +10% for every magic point spent on the roll. The player must describe what they are doing. Each crew role has one special ability associated with it.

“This is the Captain Speaking.” Starship captains are a rare breed, with a wide breadth of experience both technical and social. A starship captain’s words can snap a person out of shock, direct the actions of an entire crew, persuade a mass of people to a different course of action, and seduce a high priestess. At its core it is a super communication skill. The ability must be based on a reasonable line of thought. For example, it could be used to persuade a torch bearing mob to pause and listen to new evidence that a monster is innocent of the crimes it is accused of. It could not be used to convince the mob to jump off a cliff. It could be used to trick a Klingon captain into being overconfident and making a bad move, but not for him to break off hostilities and depart peacefully.

“Invert the Polarities in the Tacyon Wave” Science officers have a gift for coming up with amazing solutions in a short amount of time. They find ways to punch holes in unbreachable barriers, scan unscannable objects, and disrupt powerful streams of energy. This ability is how they do that. The player must come up with the technobabble to make this ability work.

“I’m Giving Her all She’s Got!” Engineers are miracle workers. This is the ability to accomplish the impossible in a short amount of time. Examples include reinforcing the hull when the ship is about to break up, restarting the warp drives when they’re offline, or getting one more blast out of the phasers even though the banks have been destroyed.

“I’m a Doctor, not a Floor Wax!” Chief medical officers have astonishing powers of healing. This ability is a hyper-version of the Medicine skill. It could be used to revive someone recently killed (but not disintegrated), find a cure for an incurable disease, or discover the vector used by a plague.

“Respect the Red Shirt” You don’t get to be a chief of security in Starfleet without some amazing resilience. Using this ability allows the player to soak one damage point per magic point spent. This ability may be used after the damage roll has been made.

 

Other Abilities:

Vulcan Nerve Pinch: On a successful grapple a Vulcan can force a target to make a resistance roll between the Vulcan’s POW and the target’s current HP. If the Vulcan wins the target falls unconscious. The target must have a physiology reasonably similar to Vulcans and each use costs four magic points.

Vulcan Mind Meld: The ability for a Vulcan to read minds. The target must be restrained or otherwise not physically resisting. A target may mentally resist, in which case a POW vs POW roll is required for the Vulcan to force its way into the target’s mind.  The Vulcan may read the target’s mind and may plant information there. Using a Vulcan Mind Meld costs the Vulcan six magic points and both the Vulcan and the target lose 1d10 SAN if the target resists and 1d4 SAN if the target is willing.

 

Equipment:

Phasers:  Phasers are beam weapons that use the pistol skill to fire. They do 1d6 damage per level of power and if they reduce a target to more than -5 HP the target is disintigrated.

A phaser may also be set to stun. A target can resist being stunned by making a resistance roll using CON against the phaser’s damage roll.  A phaser set to stun may also be set to wide dispersal in order to stun multiple targets. Divide the total damage done by the number of targets hit and have each target make a resistance roll.

Phasers set to a tight beam may be used as a cutting tool or with wide dispersal it may be used to warm rocks for heat. A phaser set to overload will explode in 1d6 rounds doing Xd6 damage where X is the weapon’s maximum power setting.

There are two types of phasers. A phaser I is easier to conceal and is often carried when subtlety is needed. The maximum power of a phaser I is five. A phaser II is larger than a phaser I and has a maximum power setting of 10. Disruptors are effectively the same as phasers, only without the stun setting.

Tri-Corder: A tri-corder is a portable scanning and tool device. There are two variations, the science tri-corder and the medical tri-corder. Using a tri-corder is almost like having a full ship’s station at your disposal.

Communicator: A communicator is capable of reaching ships in orbit and other crew members anywhere on a planet. They may be used as a homing beacon.

Transporters: Matter transporters allow the teleportation of individuals and equipment over long distances. If there are transporter pads on both sides of the transport it improves the chances of cutting through any interference. Transporters cannot go through shields.

Starship Phasers: These are powerful and versatile beam weapons. They may be used for general ship-to-ship attacks, to target specific systems, and may be used for orbital bombardment. Phasers cannot be used at warp speed.

Photon Torpedoes: Starships carry a limited supply of photon torpedoes. They are not as versatile as phasers and are unable to target specific sections of a ship. They do large amounts of damage in a single hit and may be configured for use at warp speed.


These rules haven’t been extensively play tested, but they got the job done. If you use them, in whole or as inspiration, I would love to hear about it. If you’ve ever kit bashed your own rules for Star Trek I’d love to hear about that too!

1000px-USS_Exeter_remastered

 
3 Comments

Posted by on May 7, 2014 in Gaming, Science Fiction

 

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House Rules – Spellcasting

One of the things that classic Dungeons & Dragons receives a good deal of criticism for is its magic system, and rightly so.  On the one hand I love the wide variety of the spells, but on the other hand the memorization system is highly limiting.  Having read Jack Vance’s Dying Earth stories I have more appreciation for this approach now, but still the allure of playing a spell caster is in the casting of spells, and the limits of spell memorization detracts from the fun of playing a wizard or cleric, especially during the early levels.

This is one of the areas where I can sympathize with newer editions of D&D, though they take it to the other extreme and make casters more like superheroes than spell casters.  I want magicians to have the ability to cast more spells, but I also want there to be a definite cost and risk involved.  For most classic D&D settings magic should have a price and casters should have to weigh their choices carefully.

To that end, here are the house rules we use in our Lamentations of the Flame Princess game:

Recasting Spells:  It is possible for a wizard or cleric to recast a spell previously memorized but already cast.  The spell must have been cast within the last day and there is a price to be paid.  For a wizard, the effort of recapturing the mental and metaphysical energies of an already cast spell is taxing and they take 1d4 points of damage per level of the spell.  Clerics suffer the same penalties, but in addition they may incur the wrath of their god.  A cleric who recasts a spell faces a 20% chance that they will receive one fewer spell from that level the next day.

Wizards may not attempt to recast a spell a third time, the energy being scattered too far.  Clerics may continue recasting, but the chance of incurring divine anger increases by 20% each time.  Incurring divine wrath for these repeated castings carries the risk of receiving no spells at all the next day, for the cleric is meant to spend a full day in atonement.  At the end of the day of atonement the cleric rolls again to see if their deity has forgiven them.  

A spell caster may still memorize a spell more than once and doing so will avoid the recasting penalty.

So far this system of recasting spells has served us well.  A few times it has aided the party, several more times the option was considered and discarded for fear of the price.  It’s that debate over the risk that I enjoy with this method.  It remains to be seen how well it holds up at higher levels, where a magic user may have fewer qualms about dropping 1d4 hit points to recast a Sleep spell.  We will see.

Another aspect of spells that is a staple in fiction, but which is poorly reflected by the classic D&D rules, is the casting of powerful magic through rituals.  Scrolls help with this and powerful spells on scrolls can be the goal of an entire adventure, a concept I like quite a bit, but this still doesn’t capture the feel of a magician standing before a spellbook and performing great magics.  Or the lowly apprentice attempting mighty deeds from a grimoire recovered from a forgotten vault.  AD&D allows for casting magic from a spellbook, treating it the same as using a scroll and risking the destruction of the entire tome, but this doesn’t capture the feel of ritual magic.

To better emulate this we have the following system:

Ritual Casting: A spell caster may use a ritual to cast a spell that they do not have memorized.  This process will also allow them to wield magic that is beyond what their level allows.  If the spell is beyond the caster’s level, then an additional sacrifice of 1d6 hit points must be made per level of the spell.  This sacrifice may be made by the caster, by sacrificing a living being, or spread out among other participants in the ritual.  There may be no more participants in the ritual than half the caster’s level, including the caster, and they must all participate for the entire ritual.  

The process requires suitable ritual tools and takes one full turn per level of the spell.  If the caster or any participant is interrupted during the ritual it will spoil the entire ceremony.  If the ritual is over half completed, the disruption will have a a detrimental effect on the caster, at minimum the damage of the ritual will be vested upon the caster.  A sacrificial being is considered a participant and can disrupt the ceremony themselves unless charmed, drugged, or otherwise restrained.  

Details of the ritual, including if a sacrifice is permitted or not, and the nature of the victim (animal or sentient), are at the discretion of the dungeon master.  

So far the ritual magic system hasn’t come up in our game, so it remains to be seen how well it will play out.

Both rules are perpetually works in process, but work towards the goal of increasing the flexibility of spell casters while adding an edge of risk to using their reality-altering powers.

Do you have any favorite house rules?  Particularly for magic, but I’d love to hear any other systems you’ve given an overhaul.

 
6 Comments

Posted by on January 9, 2014 in Fantasy, Game Design and Mechanics

 

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