Friday, 23 December 2016

Star Trek Conception: A Narrative & Puzzle-driven Roleplaying Game

I've been kicking around ideas for an alternative Star Trek roleplaying game system for years now, with little solid progress. Work keeps getting in the way of my train of thought. But this time, I think I've really got something solid. Find below version 1 of the rules booklet, standard blank character sheet, and introductory adventure (for GM's eyes only):

Star Trek Conception (The rules, 15 pages)
Standard Character Sheet (1 page)
Sample Episode, titled "Keep It Down" (2 pages, Spoilers, do not read if you're not the GM)

"I cast Magic Missile!"

The rules might make more sense if you know the background process of how they came to me.

Step 1 is that I've stolen some ideas from Fiasco. Specifically, the bit where the game is divided into scenes, and that's about as low as the game's resolution goes. No rolls for individual actions, no splitting hairs about exactly how awesome your stats are. Just the story, unpredictable and organic, yet still clearly made from the players' choices.

You could run a totally GMless Star Trek game with little more than this loose structure, but I think an important part of any Star Trek episode is the central mystery or puzzle to solve in each episode, and it's useful to have an impartial GM who can prepare these ahead of time. I tried coming up with an automated mystery generator, but it didn't seem like a satisfying solution. I may add that in future updates, if I ever find a good way to handle it.

So instead, step 2 is acknowledging that this is a GM-led game, though hopefully it leaves fairly little for a decent GM to do, beyond initial setup and verbal description.

There are some dice rolls to be made, and I'll admit that they aren't as elegant as the plot-generating rolls of Fiasco. They're just simpler plot-resolving rolls, pretty similar to the Warhammer speed combat house rules I proposed back in June. In the case of Conception, I think I've gone even further, with just a single roll representing the whole scene, rather than a condensed number of rolls per character, as in the Warhammer.

And then the other big thing I noticed (let's call this step 3) is that Star Trek is always about ideas, concepts, beliefs, points of view. Sure they've got piles of technology, but that's not what the show was ever really about. We mock the episodes that use easy technological solutions to deus ex machina a major problem away, and we venerate the episodes that dig deeply into human emotions, ambitions and principles.

To reflect this, I've made personal ideology a major part of the rules. How things turn out is directly affected by what your characters believe. This was something we originally played around with in a Planescape game, years ago, where each player was required to formally define with their character's core beliefs, and these served as both roleplaying guidelines and a way to add dice modifiers. I have something similar in mind for Star Trek, except that where belief literally reshapes the universe in Planescape, in Star Trek it should be viewed more as shaping personal intention and action in a more abstract way. On the other hand, where personal beliefs were just modifiers to normal gaming statistics in our Planescape rules, for the Conception rules, personal ideology effectively is your major set of gaming attributes. It's much more qualitative than quantitative, which is something new for me.

We've tested the rules out once, using that sample episode I prepared, and it seemed to work well enough. Character depth was lacking, but this is not surprising whenever a new game starts up. Of course, I know this wasn't a perfectly fair test, since I already knew both the outcome I wanted and how to play that to my very familiar group of players. Blinded testing would probably reveal some useful flaws I could correct, so if anyone does have feedback after trying these rules, please do let me know.