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DS9: Elseworlds Edition

In my last post I talked about Star Trek: Deep Space 9. One of the strengths of DS9 is that it knew when to reference the greater Trek canon and when not to. That allowed them to have fun with old ideas, such as the delightful episode Trials and Tribble-ations, without getting bogged down in a history that is at best inconsistent. By keeping the main story arc more self-contained it gave it greater strength and weight.

Still, as Star Trek fans, it’s our Prime Directive to wonder what might have been. Given that it is April 1st, I thought I’d have some fun and throw out some of the story ideas that came to my mind. Who knows? They might make good adventure fodder for a Starships & Spacemen campaign. Or my next foray into Call of Trekthulhu.

As a side note, I don’t read fanfiction. I’m not averse to it, it’s just not something I’ve ever gotten into. However, if any of these ideas have turned up in fanfiction already I would be interested in reading the stories.

A Tangled Web: The Federation Alliance is outnumbered. Even with the Romulans entering the war, the combined forces of the Dominion and Cardassians is too large for the allies. To compensate, a diplomatic team has been trying to organize a joint fleet composed of ships from several smaller empires. Tensions are already high as they try to forge an understanding among Gorn, Ferengi, and Kzinti warriors.

Then the Tholians arrive.

Tholian technology and tactics prove to be so alien that they put their allies at risk, and their motives for participation are suspect. Why have they emerged from their jealously guarded isolation? And are they really allies against the Dominion?

Before you Go: Keeping with the “alliance seeking” concept, a Star Fleet ship is dispatched to seek aid from the First Federation, the child-like alien beings encountered in The Corbomite Manuver. The Federation and the First Federation have maintained distant but cordial relations since Lt. Bailey spent time serving on board one of their vessels. It is Star Fleet’s hope that they will consent to bring their powerful and hyper-advanced ships into the war against the Dominion.

The First Federation welcomes the Starfleet delegation, but are reluctant to provide aid. Their species is on the cusp of apotheosis, and soon they will begin the process of transformation. Once complete, they will leave behind the mortal realm and explore the universe as cosmic beings. It is the culmination of millions of years of development and they are eager to proceed.

The Starfleet delegation needs to convince them to delay their ascendancy in order to join the fight against the Dominion. Or, failing that, maybe they could be convinced to leave behind a few of their gigantic starships.

Doomsday Revisited: Their search for a new weapon has driven Star Fleet to a desperate gamble. They have thrown all their resources into reverse-engineering The Doomsday Machine. They have installed living quarters, a bridge, secondary systems, and bolted on controls that they hope will allow them to manually direct the planet-shattering vessel. However, they admit that they cannot completely understand the mechanisms and there are those who warn that the ship might revert to its original directives, complete with the knowledge of how it had been stopped previously.

Still, the Alliance’s lines are crumbling under the Dominion’s assault. Thousands are dying, planets are falling, and all that remains is to rekindle the Doomsday Machine’s blazing heart.

The Ultimate Reboot: A variation on this theme would be Star Fleet revisiting the M5 system, seen in the episode The Ultimate Computer. As bad as the loss of starships has been, the loss of veteran crews is even worse. Ships can be rebuilt, but training new crews to command them takes years.

Decades ago the original starship Enterprise was able to engage three Constitution class battlecruisers while under control of the M5 computer system. The system was scrapped after it malfunctioned and became an uncontrollable killing machine. Still, advances in artificial intelligence have made some think that corrections to the technology are now possible. Adding elements from positronic brain designs should allow for a new generation of M5 systems to be mass produced, complete with enough mental stability that they can be trusted to control starships once more.

Unfortunately, there are only two positonic brains available to the Federation, and Commander Data needs his. That only leaves his brother Lore’s brain…

Plato’s Grandchildren: A mysterious team of specialists arrive at Deep Space 9 and Dr. Bashir is called in to tend to their needs. The team wear sealed encounter suits at all times, with the exception of when they are in verified clean rooms. The reason for this is that their immune systems have been completely destroyed.

This is the result of massive doses of kironide, an element that grants them amazingly powerful telekinetic abilities. This is the same substance found in the episode Plato’s Stepchildren, only more refined. The specialists are reaching the point where they can crack a starship open with their powers, but the toll it is taking on their bodies is destroying them.

Each of them is a volunteer, someone who knew the risks when they signed up, but the self-destructive process is difficult for the Doctor and the DS9 crew to accept.

Where Few Men Have Gone Before: Star Fleet has assembled a group with powerful ESP potential. This group will soon leave from DS9 on a specially designed starship. Their destination is the barrier at the edge of our galaxy.

In its first mission under command of Captain Kirk, the Enterprise made contact with the mysterious barrier. The results badly damaged the ship, but more importantly gave godlike powers to two of her crewmembers, people with a high rating for ESP potential.

The powers grew at an exponential rate, but their minds were overwhelmed by the transformation and their humanity slipped away. In the end they destroyed each other.

Now, faced with defeat by the Dominion, Star Fleet plans to replicate those events. With luck, the rigorous psychological training the volunteers have gone through should let them hang on to their humanity, if they survive the transformation. At least, long enough to win the war.

As a bonus, one of the team members would be played by John de Lancie, and recognized by members of DS9’s crew. Is this really Q? Is he observing? Sabotaging the mission? Or is this the birth of the Q Continuum?

————–

Well, those are my flights of fancy. What have you got? I’d love to hear more ideas.

Deep_space_9

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2016 in Science Fiction

 

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Star Trek: DS9

I finally finished watching Star Trek: DS9.

I always liked the show, but it was in a bad time slot for me and I never got around to watching the later seasons. Now, thanks to Netflix, that isn’t a problem. I can see why it’s such a popular show, with Trek fans of every flavor.

Even with Voyager fans! Which I’m told really exist!

I kid! I kid!

Mostly.

Anyhow, there are plenty of good episodes to rave about, one of my favorites being Sisko’s dream of being a pulp science fiction writer, but I also found tons of small moments that really hit home. These little things would let an episode punch above its weight class and caught me off guard. My favorite was when Sisko explains to Kasidy Yates why he doesn’t like going to the Las Vegas nightclub holosuite that everyone else loves so much. They have a brief but powerful conversation about race, history, and fiction, then went on with the rest of the plot.

That ability to tackle an important, timely social issue in a strong way, and not even make it the focus of the episode? That’s art.

Then came the finale. Quick warning, there will be some spoilers below.

SpoilerSpoiler

*Insert Rimshot*

The last several seasons revolve around the brutal war involving the Dominion and its allies against the Federation and its allies. The war drags on, lives are lost, ships destroyed, and ideals are compromised among the most noble members of the cast. Everything finally comes down to the Dominion’s last stand over Cardassia, which results in the slaughter of millions of Cardassian civilians in reprisal for the Cardassian military changing sides. It’s a long, emotionally tiring story and the audience can feel the toll it takes on the characters and when they finally do stand victorious, it’s a subdued celebration at best.

But there is a second story running underneath the main one, a war going on between the cosmic beings called the Prophets and the imprisoned Pah Wraiths, who are looked at as gods and demons by the Bajoran people. The chosen one of the Prophets is Captain Sisko, revealed to be the child of a Founder who had merged with a human host. The champion of the Pah Wraiths is Gul Dukat, a war criminal, megalomaniac, and one of the most wicked villains in sci-fi. Dukat further twists the already corrupt Kai Winn, high priestess of the Bajoran people, convincing her to help release the Pah Wraiths.

During the alliance’s final victory celebration Captain Sisko receives a vision and immediately runs to face Dukat and Winn, sacrificing his corporal body to defeat them and lock the Pah Wraiths away for all time.

At first, I was a little let down by this ending. It felt rushed because so much had happened behind the scenes or in short asides. But the more I think about it? The more I love it. The more I realize what a brilliant ending it is.

We have a grand clash of galactic empires, including the shape-shifting Founders who are looked upon as gods. We have drama writ large as planets burn and millions die. Lives are changed, societies are shattered, the history of two galactic quadrants will never be the same.

And yet, on the cosmic scale, it means very little. In the end, the war between the Prophets and the Pah Wraiths was a far more important conflict. Had the Pah Wraiths been victorious then the entire galaxy would have burned, regardless of which side had won the war on the prime material plane.

It was a war waged on another level of existence, fought by three individuals who could barely perceive the battlefield or comprehend the stakes. And in the end there is no one left alive who knows what happened. At least, not alive in the conventional sense.

Those are some serious Golden Age science fiction ideas. That ranks up there with the concepts in Doc Smith’s Lensman books.

Well done DS9. Well done indeed.

Deep_space_9

 

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Considering House Rules for Star Trek: STCS

Following up on yesterday’s post, I’ve been thinking about some house rules for Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator.

First, I did find the excessive damage rules. It’s specifically for sub-systems that get hit, like shield generators and sensors. These systems have damage tracks, from one to five, with each point on the track being harder to make repair rolls on. The excessive damage means that for every full five points of damage done to the system, another box on the track is marked off. Thus a four point phaser hit counts as one on the track, while a 12 point hit would mark two boxes off.

There is no corresponding rule for weapons. Those have a different track with the statuses Operational, Damaged, Repaired, and Inoperable. Repaired weapons are limited to half power. I am considering something similar for excessive damage, maybe making damage of 10 or more points automatically destroying the weapons.

Regarding my dissatisfaction with shields I’ve been considering two options:

  • Double the amount of shield points you get per power point. For example, instead of a 1-to-4 ratio, make it 1-to-8. My concern with this solution is that part of the tactical aspect of the game is trying to get the firing angle on your opponent where they have light or no shields. However, in our previous games we’ve never been able to maintain very strong shields. Even in my Excelsior, I never had a single shield facing up to maximum strength. I only had all my shields powered up on the first turn, and then at a minimal level. Combined with how often we’ve dropped shields completely to power weapons and movement, and how quickly a salvo can strip off a ship’s shields, I don’t think this would unbalance the game or reduce the tactical aspects. I’m leaning towards this solution.
  • The other idea I was thinking about was reducing how much damage weapons do to shields, say 1/2 rounded down. A five point shield would still stop five points of damage, but the shield level would only be reduced to three instead of being completely stripped off. This has more of a Star Trek feel, but adds one more step of math to the game, and while not a complex equation by itself it will still slow the game down. It also doesn’t address the power allocation issues that often lead players to run with few or no shields at all.

Combining the two is also a possibility, but that would be a significant change. I think trying one at a time would be better. I also don’t want to increase the length of the game too much and by improving the shields I run the risk of doing that, so caution is best.

1000px-USS_Exeter_remastered

 

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2015 in Gaming, Science Fiction

 

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Star Treken Across the Universe

This past weekend we pulled out the old FASA Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator again, and this time we tied something a bit different.

An Excelsior class battleship was thrown back in time and space, landing deep inside the Klingon empire. Alarmed by the appearance of this unknown and very large ship, the Klingons scrambles a fleet of six D-7A Painbringer class cruisers. These ships were top of the line for the time period, but obsolete by the standards of the mighty Excelsior class. The question was if their numbers would make up the difference.

The Klingons split their forces, threading their way through the system’s planets and asteroids to close the distance with the Excelsior. One brave ship crossed the center line into the open, hoping to draw their target out. It was a challenge that the Excelsior was happy to accept, lumbering forward and managing to get two of the D-7’s into sight. Hoping to score two quick kills to thin the herd, the Excelsior opened fire at long range. One ship was damaged, but survived. The other vaporized under the big ships assault.

The Klingon pack then descended, with three of their ships closing to point-blank range and pouring fire into the Excelsior. The battleship took significant damage, but was still in good shape. However the proximity of the three D-7’s meant that further engagement was risky. The Excelsior boosted strategic shields and decided to ride out the fight, throwing the rest of her power into her weapons.

Her aft torpedoes vaporized one of the two ships that had held back, whose explosion damaged the other ship sitting at range. Then her forward guns ripped another D-7 apart, and the cascade of death began.

The exploding ship caused damage all across the Excelsior, damaging systems and tearing at her hull, but she survived. The D-7 behind her did not and it exploded. This second explosion smashed into the Excelsior, knocking out her engineering grid, savaging her warp and impulse drives, and further tearing apart her superstructure. Unfortunately this also destroyed the third D-7.

The Excelsior was unable to endure any longer. The third starship explosion finally broke her hull and the great battleship erupted like a supernova. The blastwave reached much farther than that of the small D-7’s, far enough to hit the one remaining Klingon cruiser. The blast nearly wiped out the last vessel, but with three hull points remaining the Painbringer was able to limp home with news of their victory.

Songs are still sung of this battle in the Klingon warrior’s halls. The fate of the Excelsior class ship remains unknown to Star Fleet.


It was a great battle.

By the numbers, the sides balance out with four and a half D-7A cruisers to one Excelsior Mk I, but I bumped it to six considering that a single torpedo from the Excelsior could destroy a D-7 with a clean hull hit. Given the results, I think the sides were fair. We picked sides by random draw, with the Excelsior coming under my command.

The Klingon player quickly realized that he was out gunned and chose the Mutually Assured Destruction strategy, which is probably the best tactic for the circumstances. I was hoping to score more kills in the first round, but ended up damaging sub-systems instead of landing killing blows. In the end I probably should have dumped power into my engines and torpedoes, trying to get some distance and pounding away with the massive 20 point weapons, but the greater numbers and speed of the D-7’s made me decide to try trusting my ship’s durability instead.

Things learned:

This game was again great fun. The pounding the ships take makes you feel like the starship is being battered apart. It feels very Star Trek and plays quickly. There is a sweet spot on range, and it’s farther out than you’d think. The weapons in the game are brutally accurate, even at a longer distance, and the optimum range for engagement is more distant that the mobility of the ships would lead you to believe. Though in this case the Klingon commander was correct to go hull-to-hull with me instead of risking me picking him off.

However the shields still don’t feel right. It’s hard to power all six shields and have them make a difference, meaning you routinely leave some sides completely unshielded. Even a fully powered shield only takes the edge off an incoming salvo. This feels decidedly un-Star Trek. I haven’t come up with a good solution for this yet. Also it’s frustrating when you fire a massive torpedo at a target, something powerful enough to wreck the ship, and the result is a single beam weapon being knocked out. I believe there is an optional rule in the book regarding this, I’ll have to look it up.

It’s been a lot of fun re-discovering this old favorite. We’re hoping to play it again, and next time with a third player. A good Klingon, Romulan, Star Fleet battle would be epic.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2015 in Gaming, Science Fiction

 

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Boldly Going

This past weekend a friend and I cracked open a game I haven’t played since the 1990’s, the Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator by FASA.

This is the space combat game that FASA released to go with their Star Trek role playing game and it was a favorite of ours back in the 80’s and 90’s. The FASA Star Trek line was an excellent example of a licensed game. FASA never created a set of role playing rules that I cared for, but they excelled at world building and the Star Trek universe they created was a beautiful melange that combined the original series, the animated series, the movies, and most of the book timelines into a working whole. It was a more complete and solid continuity than what the shows actually provided.

And while I was not a fan of the RPG rules, the Combat Simulator played to FASA’s strengths. It’s a solid and versatile set of light wargaming rules that convey the feel of starships slugging it out in deep space. We found the rules far more accessible than the venerable Starfleet Battles, and for the time period the production values were excellent. The counters are on thick cardboard with full color illustrations. They are so nice that over the years I’ve used them for other space games.

This is a game I’ve been wanting to get back to the table for a while now and for our first combat I picked a battle between classic foes; two Starfleet Constitution class cruisers named Hawk and Broadsword and two Klingon D-7M Deathbringers named Blood Penguin and Wilhelm. We used a moderate sized map with several planets, asteroids, and moons to thread through and set up on the far sides. By random draw I took command of the Starfleet forces and my friend marshaled the Klingons.

Federation ships are tanks, less maneuverable and with fewer weapons, but those weapons are more powerful, have more complimentary firing arcs, and longer range. Klingon ships are faster and more maneuverable, with more weapons and a penchant for rear firing guns. While Starfleet would rather pound targets at range, Klingons prefer to over run their enemies and fire weapons where their targets have lower shields.

With this in mind my Constitution ships came out at a cautious pace hoping to get a long range alpha-strike in, while the Klingons came fast and dodged through the sensor shadows of the planets. This proved to be a tactical mistake on my part, as I severely underestimated how much distance a starship can cover. My slower speed also gave the Klingons a tactical advantage, letting them move after I’d moved my lumbering cruisers. Before I knew it, the D-7’s had overflown me and opened fire.

The Broadsword was lucky, taking evasive action and avoiding harm. Hawk was not so lucky. The Blood Penguin came in behind her and unleashed all her forward weapons at point-blank range. The Hawk barely survived, her hull savaged by the attack.

I realized I needed to up my game to have any chance of survival. Throwing caution to the wind I dumped my shield power into the engines, trying to match the D7’s. The Hawk surged across the sector, the Blood Penguin in pursuit and looking for the kill. Broadsword broke off from the Wilhelm and moved to provide long range support for the Hawk, while Wilhelm dodged behind a planet. Hawk turned to make a last stand, damaging the Blood Penguin, but the ruthless Klingon ship unloaded again. The Hawk exploded, however the Blood Penguin had miscalculated and was too close. The D7 was smashed by the explosion, barely surviving, but too weak to endure the Broadsword’s avenging salvo.

A running battle ensued as Broadsword and the more nimble Wilhelm danced for position. In the end Wilhelm was able to win position over Broadsword and deliver a killing blow, but again the captain had miscalculated and was too close. The combination of the Broadsword’s final attack and her death explosion was too much for the D7 and she also exploded.

It was a lot of fun to bring this game out of retirement and it was fun to see that even though the game is more fiddly than modern designs, it’s still a lot of fun. In fact I think it still fills its role well as something that can introduce players into more complex wargames.

I’m looking forward to bringing the Starship Tactical Combat Simulator out again soon, perhaps with another player or two. Maybe add some Romulans, pull out the cloaking device rules, or maybe write up rules for a Doomsday Machine.

 

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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!

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

 

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Battlestations!

Greetings Programs, and welcome to the first of a feature I call;

Spaceships Going Foom!

The two ships were dancing through the asteroid field, each trying to transform the other into a cloud of plasma.  The Tentac-built cruiser was a ring of doom sending out destruction from all sides, but the Terran-built ship was nimble and slipped through the debris field, breaking weapon locks and evading torpedoes. 

Engineers ran through the corridors, pumping every last bit of energy from the engines as marines manned the guns.  Scientists angled shields and tried to teleport bombs through the enemy defenses while pilots strained to pull the ships through tight maneuvers.

Suddenly a torpedo found its target, but instead of exploding it pierced the hull and opened up, marines leaping out with guns blazing.  Prepare to repel boarders! 

I love science fiction and I love space battles.  Combine these into a game and I am a happy geek.  For this inaugural installment of SGF I’m going to review one of the most impressive examples of the genre, Battlestations, by Gorilla Games.

Released in 2004, Battlestations is a game for 2-8 players and is billed as a hybrid board and role playing game.  The game does have role playing elements, such as character creation and advancement, but it definitely skews more to the board game side of things.  You won’t be having in-character discussions with alien beings or meetings in a tavern to find a quest.

What you will have is a unique and engaging game that juggles simultaneous ship-to-ship combat, boarding actions, and additional mission goals all the while keeping characters from each profession actively participating.

One player takes the role of the game master, selects the scenario, and runs all the opponents.  The rest of the players create characters who form the crew of a starship, taking on the roles of pilots, scientists, engineers, or marines.

The game has several species to choose from, each with their own special abilities and talents. These include beings like the tumbleweed-like Canosians who are able to quickly roll down corridors, or the Silicoids who are one armed rock piles with natural armor and great strength.  There are six species in the core game and more in expansion sets.  Starships are also differentiated by what species built them, with different ship layouts and special abilities based on their points of origin.

The size of the players’ ship is determined by the number of players, with larger ships having more capabilities and requiring more crew members to function.  Crews may also be augmented by robot assistants who are not as capable as an actual character but able to fill in gaps.

The playing field is composed of three parts.  First is the space map, a hex grid field on which the starships will maneuver and fight on.  Next is the control board where you keep track of the ships’ energy allocation, speed, and hull status.  Last is the layout of the ships and the location of the crew members.

Ship layout is one of the ways that Battlestations is both unique and fun.  The players’ ship is laid out using ship modules, which consist of 5×5 grid heavy cardboard squares.  Each module is a control room of some kind, such as a science bay or missile battery, and the size and configuration are defined by the species who built the ship and the number of player characters.  Characters are placed in different locations on board and will spend a lot of time moving through the ship doing everything from assisting other crew members, to damage control, to repelling boarding parties.

Characters gain experience and prestige for completing missions.  Experience brings new special abilities while prestige brings rank and access to better equipment.  The game has a novel take on this by giving players an unlimited supply of clones, allowing characters to progress even if they are killed.  Characters who survive and succeed gain both experience and prestige.  Characters who survive but fail a mission will only gain experience.  Characters who die on a successful mission gain no experience, but their new clones will have more prestige.

Battlestations is a long game, averaging around four hours, but it is not a slow game.  Players will have their hands full, no matter what role they are assigned, and this is one of the game’s brilliant design elements.  Gorilla Games has done an excellent job balancing the crew positions.  Each role has several things they can do within their primary field or they can use secondary skills to fill in or assist other crew members.

The other unique aspect of the game is boarding actions.  There are several ways to get crew members from one ship to another, including teleportation modules and my favorite, the Boarding Missile.  This weapon allows two crew members jump into a torpedo and launch themselves at the enemy vessel.  This leads to situations where the crew is trying to juggle maintaining their ship, fighting ship-to-ship, and repelling invading marines at the same time.  It’s a delightful level of chaos.

Battlestations is well supported by Gorilla Games and there are currently six expansions to the game, including campaign books.  However the core box set is more than enough to keep your gaming group occupied for a long time.  The components are overall very good, with the ship modules printed on heavy cardboard and a generous number of character stand-ups of each species and profession.  The only complaint I have is that the ship counters for moving on the space board are uninspired, but that’s a minor complaint.  The game’s artwork is fun, evoking a Star Trek feel and a good sense of humor that doesn’t cross into goofiness.

Battlestations is a unique and multifaceted game that should be in any aspiring fleet admiral’s arsenal of space games.  For more information check out the following links:

The official Battlestations website.

The Gorilla Games website.

Battlestations on Board Game Geek.

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Posted by on October 29, 2013 in Reviews, Spaceships Going Foom!

 

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Star Trek, the Old Timeline

Let’s talk about Star Trek movies.

I have been a Star Trek fan since I was a little shaver, sitting on beanbag chairs with my older sister and watching as Kirk and company faced off against cosmic beings, interstellar empires, and planets full of gangsters, Romans, and space Nazis.  The three seasons of the original series holds the same place in my heart as late night episodes of Dr. Who on PBS and the original Battlestar Galactica (but not Battlestar 1980.  Even a kid has limits)  Later I remember being frustrated that the animated series never aired on any channels I could see, leaving me with tantalizing glimpses through magazines and the occasional episode caught on vacations.

When the movies came out, I was there.  Despite its disappointments I was blown away by The Motion Picture, a movie I still say isn’t as bad as its reputation would have you believe.  I was exalted when Wrath of Khan set a new bar not just for Star Trek, but for science fiction in general.  Through high spots (The Voyage Home, The Undiscovered Country) and low (The Final Frontier) I was there.

Over time the movies changed and declined in quality.  With the shift to the Next Generation we no longer had the peaks and valleys of the old days.  Instead we had a steady descent into the realm of mediocrity.  This slide began immediately with Generations, a movie I still think is underrated, and continued through First Contact, which I find overrated.  Then there was Insurrection, a movie so mediocre that all I can say for good or ill is that it wasn’t as bad as The Final Frontier.  By the time we reached Nemesis my enthusiasm for Star Trek was so low that I didn’t go and see it.

By all accounts Nemesis isn’t that bad a movie, and the parts I have seen were certainly watchable.  The problem is that the movies had lost the ability to excite me.  They were bland and predictable.  The humor fell flat, the stories felt forced, and characters who we’d spent years watching grow and change had their development rolled back instead of being presented with a new series of challenges.  It failed to inspire.

Star Trek had gone stale.  If the series was going to continue, someone had to do something to shake things up.  In 2009 they did that and more.  Far more.  They didn’t just shake up the  franchise, they hit it with a bomb so big that even the most die-hard Trekker was shaking their head in disbelief, most of us convinced that we were about to see the most colossal failure in science fiction movie history.

And it worked.

(Hailing Frequencies will re-open next time, as I talk about the 2009 movie)

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2013 in Movies & TV, Science Fiction

 

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