For today’s review I am taking an opportunity to cover something that has been sitting on my shelf for a couple months now. Unlike a lot of the books there, this one has seen a lot of use. I bought this when I was talking to one of my groups about Star Trek. We thought it would be fun to play in the Star Trek universe, and they are the friends I would be able to easily do that with as fellow Trek fans. That being said our campaign was 2 years deep and we didn’t want to end that. For those who don’t know I had a solution and they spent the last 11 session in that world, using the rules from Modiphius‘ Star Trek Adventures rules. I have written about STA before and you can find that in my For The Love Of XP series: here, then here, and finally here. Today is for reviewing the game, though, and I will stay away from my tweaks to the system for that group.
In case it wasn’t obvious, this game takes place in the Star Trek universe. The question that you should be asking is when? For anyone who is a fan of the franchise there are a number of times in which the game could take place, as well as a number of places the campaign might center around. The wonderful thing about STA is that Modiphius has considered this, but has not gone too crazy with the material. The core rules extend to the two era that most people are familiar with: that of the original series and that in which Next Gen, DS9, and Voyager take place. Technically speaking the majority of the book has chosen a specific moment to take place in, and it was a great idea for handling the book. For all concerns when reading the book it take place during DS9 and right before Voyager‘s mission into the Badlands. This grants a table the most about of Federation conflict, history, and future stuff from which to draw off of directly. You could still play future to that, in the past a bit, or even way back during Kirk’s era but for the sake of the reader having that specific time is ideal.
Beyond the placement and coverage in terms of time, there is also a TON of setting information within this book. Unlike many of the reviews that I have done, this is an established and known setting. As such we need to consider it is handled, rather than what it is. In my opinion, it is incredibly well handled. From the different classes of planet to different organizations and races to the way in which crews and ships are handled, this book is jam-packed with all the stuff you would expect to see in a Star Trek game. You might wonder how the book can fit so much but there are two way they do this. First, its closer to 400 pages than 300 and, second, they are already planning supplements for the quadrants and more. Whatever you don’t see and things you might not have ever heard of will be coming.
Finally I want to mention the way in which the story of Star Trek is revealed in the book. Sure there are stats, descriptions, and the other expected parts of an RPG text that describe the setting. There is also, however, lots and lots of side bar and insert text. From images of logos to intercepted reports, personal logs to portions of speech transcripts, the book is full of stuff. In fact, a whole section of Chapter 2 is dedicated to this type of material with almost 30 pages of it. Alongside these showing up throughout the book, there are also side bars for hints on how to handle things in, say, the Enterprise Era.
This is my first experience with a Modiphius game and with the 2d20 system. Let’s start with the basics. The 2d20 system, for those who don’t know (and as long as it maintains in other games), is based on rolling a dice pool made up of d20s. This is unlike any other dice pool game I have ever played, but the way in which it works is really awesome. You have attributes, just like other games, that represent different aspects to you such as Reason or Fitness. Along side those are more skill-related stats called disciplines that work similarly but have lower maximums, such as Engineering or Medicine. Now, instead of having tasks set targets for rolls or having a standard for which sides are successes, this game asks you to add an attribute and a discipline. You then have to roll below that number (yep its a low roll system!). Difficulty still determines how many successes you need but there are a great number of ways to adjust your pool size, the difficulty, and more to help you with that. What is magnificent about this system is that random ideas and events can be custom rolled for by combining any attribute with any discipline. Even better, the book gives examples for ALL of these so that you have better ideas of what these concepts and combos represent.
The game is very scene based, working much like a TV episode rather than a continuous series of events like other games assume. This works great for Star Trek, but I don’t know how well it will work for other settings. I imagine it works fine, but it certainly feels right for Trek. As such, the mechanics center around that concept. Stress is similar to things like HP, but it is a low number and it can be taken out through all kinds of events and situations. A character, much like the series, might easily be knocked out during a scene and unable to help until the action is over. Alongside this is the concept of Momentum. This is earned through rolling extra successes with players even being able to roll for guaranteed success tasks. This gives you the opportunity to add momentum, but also might add complications if any natural 20s are rolled. Hint: it is worth the risk! The thing about momentum is the best way to earn it is often is by spending it, but spending it wisely. Another thing is that saved momentum caps at six, but reduces by one during a scene shift.
The other thing we should talk about is advancement. Essentially advancement requires various spotlight moments for characters. This means doing important things, or at least trying to, and challenging your character and their beliefs. The system puts part of the onus on the player to take part, to try things, and take risks. The other part is on the GM to make sure there are moments available to everyone. Depending on the type and degree of spotlight, the advancement takes a variety of forms. Some are minor and others really helpful, but only those that might come from the end of an arc will grant you MORE than what you already had. This is something I really like about the system. Advancement involves opportunity to manipulate your stats more than just adding to them. As your character changes, so to can their stats to reflect it.
Now, there are tons of mechanics I haven’t mentioned: focuses, values, starship rules, supporting characters. All of these manipulate and work with what I described above and they all do great things, but I don’t want to spend too much time on mechanics. If you want to see these at work and a group that will explain much of them (with Modiphius noted corrections) go watch Shield of Tomorrow on Project Alpha. It is a great show and really informative. All in all, my take away is that this rules system is very well done with tons of room for homebrew focuses, values, and other such things. It is flexible and fun, but it is different in many ways from something like D&D. Not just in the obvious numbers bits, but in feel. It might take some getting used to, but I think if you embrace the way it is meant to tell stories you will benefit.
Production & Design
Currently I have only the core rule book, but I do have it in a hard copy. The book itself is fantastic quality with heavy duty pages, like most high production RPG products these days. I have mentioned the sidebars and other such things that really boost the value of this book, but on top of that is the general usability. There are bulleted lists, numbered lists, headings, tables, and changes in color to all denote things. The table of contents is pretty impressive as well. Each chapter has its sub-chapters and, while the chapters are titled less explicitly, those sub-chapters tell you what you will find in those pages. Luckily each sub-chapter is not much more than 30 pages long and many are a mere 5-15, meaning you won’t be digging through a heap of pages when referencing something from there. The index is also thorough and got me out of some jams when I played, helping me look things up. Still, it isn’t perfect. Looking up character advancement is challenging as it isn’t under spotlight, character, or advancement. I have a hint for those who have similar troubles: it’s not always the index but the way you expect to use it. The word you need for character advancement in the index? Milestones. I’d appreciate more games including something like character development…see milestones.
As for the deign of the book, the entire thing is in an LCARS style and it looks really pretty. I am not used to it, but I am pretty sure the white on black background is actually a little easier on the eyes. Aside that, it makes the whole book look like you are reading it from a computer screen in-universe. Beyond that it allows for some great color coding of the side bars and other aspects of the book. Finally, let’s talk art. There isn’t a ton in the book, despite its size. There are plenty of logos and symbols and wire frame images, but not a ton of art. What art there is though? It is gorgeous. There are bridge scenes, starship battles, and away missions. Certain sections of the book have more art than others, but they all do a great job of presenting the adventure of an RPG and the setting you’ll be playing in. There are a mix of original series era uniforms and Next Gen era, as well as a wonderful mix of characters from andorians to tellarites. Evocative only begins to describe the art in the book and the world deserves more Star Trek art like this. I cannot wait for the supplements.
The TL;DR of this review is that Modiphius has given us a system that evokes the feeling and pace of Star Trek and a book to present it that way. There is enough here to adventure in the Beta and Alpha quadrants for years. I couldn’t be happier with my first foray into the Star Trek universe at an RPG table. If you are a fan of the franchise or even the idea of the universe, this is a fantastic game to add to your collection. As for the cost, like most games these days, it is expensive. However, at over 350 pages of gorgeous it is well worth it.