Sunday, 13 July 2014

WIP House Rules: Star Trek Next

(This is a work in progress, which will change as I get to test it. I'm definitely happy to receive suggestions and constructive criticism.)

[EDIT: This has now turned into a 30-page document, and I don't feel it's even half done. Still welcome further input.]
Under construction... in SPAAAAAAACE!

A few months ago, I realised the CODA system we'd been using for our regular Star Trek roleplaying was breaking down under stress from over-experienced, over-skilled player characters. Balance was becoming impossible, both in space (two junky old 23rd century Constellation- and Miranda-class starships were able to slaughter an entire Dominion squadron, including battleships) and on the ground (where even the frail Trill doctor eventually had no real worries about charging into Jem'hadar positions). On some common skill checks (like sensor scans and transporter operation), I knew it was basically impossible for certain characters to fail. But I didn't want to just start over totally from scratch, so I decided a conversion to a new system would solve things best.

I didn't want to go back to the older, also-not-great Last Unicorn rules, and instead decided to purchase the Prime Directive d20 rules. But when we spent an unscheduled evening doing character creation, I found that not only had I not yet fully studied these rules sufficiently, but I also didn't really like what I was learning about them. D20 is generally a clear, user-friendly basis for a roleplaying system, but Prime Directive had piled its own complications on top of the d20 Modern variant's complications, and the end result (especially the dependence on D&D-style classes) just doesn't feel right to me. It's not simple or clear, and it's not very Trekkie.

By happy random coincidence, enter 5th ed! We (well, some of us, the group composition has varied) were among of the 170 000 playtesters (I am nearly 0,006% of the creator of that game!) and we've already tried a few interesting things with it. And most importantly, I really like it. It's a good system, with the efficiency of 2nd ed. and the clarity of 3rd, and nothing of bloody 4th. So, I thunk to myself, why not wangle a 5th ed. conversion to Star Trek use? (Apart from the difficulty and likely failure.)

My group may be a little annoyed that we have to do character creation all over again now, but I'm convinced by a charming and handsome young man that it'll all be worth it.

I'm aiming relatively low to start:
1. Take the Basic Rules pdf as our starting point.
2. Until we can get the new PHB, borrow things that aren't in the Basic Rules (like Feats) from the last release of the playtest rules.
3. Make up new Species stats to replace the fantasy Races; focus more on reflecting what's seen on screen than on games balance, because these are once-off modifiers (mostly) which affect the flavour of the setting a lot.
4. Scrap classes. See below.
5. Adapt Skills list, replacing fantasy stuff with scifi stuff, aiming to keep the total number of Skills constant, to help keep #4 more balanced. (I think?)
6. Add new setting-relevant Backgrounds. Not tricky, just adminny. Borrowing the rough forms of existing Last Unicorn and CODA analogues will be handy.
7. Add new equipment. Lament the awkward clash of energy weapon canon vs. gaming. Because of this issue, I'm borrowing the Wounds/Vitality split from several d20 variants. I'll do a bigger starship combat mod next, also using stats I've already generated for the older Spycraft adaptation.

I've sort of partly got #3 worked out, with some custom d20 Species modifiers that I assembled myself years ago in an earlier (abandoned) attempt to figure out a Spycraft/Star Trek hybrid. I'll post a link to those with some 5th ed. modifications in a couple days, when I've had a chance to tweak them.

#5 is quick and easy. Replace the Basic Rules list with these:

 - Athletics

 - Acrobatics
 - Sleight of Hand
 - Stealth
 - Piloting (added; covers controlling any vehicle)

 - Technology (replaces Arcana; building, fixing and operating devices)
 - History
 - Investigation
 - Science (replaces Nature; understanding of why things do things)
 - Cultures (replaces Religion; understanding of why people do things)

 - Animal Handling
 - Sense Motive (renamed Insight)
 - Medicine
 - Perception
 - Survival

 - (removed Deception, it's too similar to Persuasion)
 - Intimidation
 - Entertain (renamed Performance)
 - Persuasion

#4 is the real challenge, but my initial stab at a conversion looks like this:
300 XP needs to buy a Star Trek character as close to the same number and scale of upgrades that a prepackaged step up to level 2 brings. 900 XP needs to be worth as much as level 3, 2 700 XP should equate to level 4, etc. But a pure point-buy system would take some work to reconcile with that; not impossible, but not something I can spit out in a rush. For now, I'm happy to compromise on a classless leveling system (to represent the Federation's classless society?). I also like the Tiers of Play concept (fully qualified Starfleet officers should probably start in tier 2?), and keeping parallel to the D&D levels makes it easy to retain that.

Non-Class Class

  • Wounds: Always equal to Constitution score (maaaaaybe modified by some new Feat?)
  • Vitality Hit Die: d8 (max at level 1) plus/minus Con mod
  • Starting Armour Proficiency: Light
  • Starting Weapon Proficiencies: 2 out of Simple, Martial, Energy (hand and rifle phasers, disruptors, etc.), Heavy (purple space bazookas and starship weapons).
  • Starting Tools: By GM's discretion, tied to skills not class.
  • Saving Throws: Pick any 2 Ability Scores.
  • Skills: Pick any 3 2 Skills.
  • Equipment: Entirely at GM's discretion.
  • Features: Pick 2 at character creation, then pick 1 more at every new level. Full list of features will take some further writing, but assume any from the Basic Rules that the GM doesn't declare "Irrelevant Fantasy Drivel" are acceptable for now.

General To Do list:
  • Feats
  • Species (pretty much done, except maybe Delta quadrant species)
  • Features
  • Backgrounds
  • Equipment
  • Ships
  • Tribbles
  • Telepathy (mostly done) 
[EDIT: Update 1 is here.]