Well, it’s been bit of a break between entries, but I am happy to report the first session of Star Trek campaign was a success.
This means a couple of things. Firstly, with great games come great responsibility – I now need to do it again and again! So I’m now pouring through old sci-fi favourites, watching old Trek episodes, and generally muttering strange things like ‘yes... this would be the perfect thing to give my friends PTSD.’ But there are worse problems for a writer and GM to have.
But what it means, most importantly to the dozen or so folks actually interested in this, is that I can finally talk about the process of writing, and discuss the actual plot – and how it ended up being executed, without spoiling anything for my crew.
Space... the final... something
One of the things I love about The Original Series of Star Trek was just how lyrical a lot of the episode names were. They’re all so evocative, from Balance of Terror all the way to For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky; a lot of Next Gen went for simpler names, and it wasn’t until DS9 that episode names started getting flowery again. I’ve always preferred that approach, so one of the first things I thought of my first session was the name.
Beyond the Farthest Star.
To my mind, it pretty much does what it says on the tin; it suggests a narrative, but is broad enough to mean anything, but is also somewhat grandiose. And it sounds like it could have been an actual episode. It also pretty much encapsulates the sense of exploration and wonder which embodies Trek at its best, and so by choosing such a name before writing the session, I had a good blueprint to stick to. A guiding star of my own, if you will.
It’s not a trick that would work for every writer, but it worked for me.
There are some interesting challenges when you’re writing for a truly open and interactive setting. Even in the most open of open world computer games, there’s still usually an end-point in mind, even if there are lots of branching options that can impact how that ending is reached – and who might be alive (I’m looking at you, Mass Effect 2!). In a good roleplaying game, you still need a good, robust plot, with enough of a hook that’ll make every player want to get involved; but you also need something that is, in a lot of ways, only half written. You need to rely on your players to write the final act, otherwise you’re really just rail-roading your players through something they have no real control over.
Thankfully, a Trek game has hooks a-plenty, and the most basic of them is the fact that someone above the players in the chain of command can tell them to go and do something.
So, to recap, the ship in my campaign is called the USS Ballista. She’s a small escort, a Saber class, with a small crew, and her main duty is patrolling the Cardassian border. At the beginning of the first session, which is the ship’s first voyage after being released from Starfleet R&D (and the players have no idea what she was doing there – hello session four or five!), I’d decided to have some players already onboard, and the Captain and a few other officers coming on board for the first time.
Getting characters to meet for the first time is a great trick in any game. It’s pretty standard in video games, too, because then you have an excuse for these characters to tell their story, or make an interesting first impression.
So, the Captain comes on board, with the new Counselor and Helm officer. The Captain calls his new command crew to a briefing, and starts to lay down how he’s going to run the ship; and the Engineer, best described as an eager over-achiever that would make Geordi la Forge look lazy, pretty much talks everyone’s head off. The Counselor gets an idea of what people are thinking on the ship (she got a special cheat-sheet that listed all the players and major NPCs, and what they might be thinking about), and is a little overwhelmed, and the new Tactical officer – an ex-Andorian black-ops specialist, is generally staying quiet and eyeing everyone up.
Importantly, though, at this point, there’s no real plot, but thanks to the setting, heaps of structure. The Captain calls a meeting, so everyone has to come. Everyone in the game has watched Trek, so they know what these meetings should look like, and how to respond when they’re asked if their department is in order. The players have time to explore their characters, every other character, and how they’re going to fit in within the larger crew dynamic.
Of course, some plot is necessary eventually...