We had five players taking part in the adventure, which stretched across 6-8 sessions but could probably be played in a shorter time, as this group is happy to make even the most routine of encounters stretch over a couple of hours. There's no bad thing in that, but some groups which are more focused will probably play through this adventure in a shorter time span.
I was a relative Star Trek newbie and started watching the first couple of series of Star Trek - the Next Generation while we were playing the game in an effort to familiarise myself with the background. But our GM and most of the other players were well versed in the canon, which was lucky. I played Lieutenant Commander Liang Zhang, the Chinese helmswoman / con of the USS Armstrong, which was dispatched to deal with a distress call from a Federation research vessel, uncomfortably close to the Neutral Zone.
|You need to be a dab hand with the phaser in this game.|
The introductory adventure is a good one, featuring a range of roleplaying and combat encounters, and which gradually introduces the GM and players to the rules systems and to the 2d20 system generally. For example, the away team quickly gets caught up in a battle with Romulans early on in the adventure, which helps players to get their heads around the combat rules.
I found the combat rules as played a little too abstract for my tastes, as they are even more light than Dungeons & Dragons. The game uses the somewhat quaint approach of players deciding among themselves who gets to go next, with the bad guys alternating with the crew, and it still feels a little odd to me. IIRC the third edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, from Fantasy Flight Games, used something similar. It tends to result in a standard turn order, with occasional changes when it suits the players. Encounter areas are divided into zones which regulate weapon ranges and movement.
It is a very simple system at its essence, with an additional layer of crunch in the form of special abilities which allow crew members to provide each other with re-rolls, extra actions, and so forth. Additional dice can be gained through using Values and Determination points. Damage is a little more involved, as it requires these black, proprietary dice (don't they love those in RPGs these days?), with special Star Trek symbols which can have special effects, or do nothing at all.
|Space battles can quickly turn into TPKs.|
Every science fiction game which involves starship combat needs a system to resolve what can be a vital part of the plot. After all, mess up here and you could quickly find yourself in campaign ending, total party kill territory. I recall d20 Star Wars simply grafted its tactical combat system into space, itself raided from third edition D&D, but that did not look satisfactory by a long stretch. I've done some reading of the starship combat system for Ashen Stars, but again, this looks highly convoluted. Star Trek is no different. For some reason games designers start to inject massive levels of unnecessary complexity into a separate rules system which is only occasionally going to be used.
On the upside, the starter set comes with a nice radial map which allows for combat between ships to be tracked around a planet, possibly with multiple moons and maybe an asteroid field. A lot of encounters in Star Trek take place in the vicinity of planets, so I can see how this makes sense. Usually only 2-3 ships will be involved. There are no hordes of fighters in this universe.
As helmsman my character was particularly useful during a space battle with a Romulan cruiser, but I did feel that she was out of her depth in many other situations. We had several firefights on ships, space stations and planets with frequently tough and well-equipped opposition, and my character was less valuable than, say, the medical officer. All I could really do was snipe away with my poxy phaser and hope for the best.
|The crew of the Armstrong busy 'interacting' with new friends.|
Star Trek characters are not routinely equipped with the sort of hardware that, say, Judge Dredd can call on. Perhaps this is the fault of the setting, but certainly, I noticed that our security officer, who was a blue alien that carried some kind of traditional melee weapon, was killing bad guys quicker by thumping them with it, than the rest of the away team kitted out with phasers.
Ultimately, phasers are pants in this game - you are better served by hitting the bad guys with rocks. We did forget at times to use the aiming rules, which might have made them more effective. But still, I was rolling 4D for my damage, versus a security officer who was rolling 6D by hitting things with a glorified spatula.
It may be that Star Trek Adventures should be less combat focused than perhaps the starter adventure would indicate. Watching ST:NG on Netflix, my impression was that in many episodes violence is either never resorted to, or if so, only reluctantly. In the RPG it happens regularly. Maybe players just want to work off some latent aggression by shooting things rather than seeking to talk to them? Maybe after the first couple of attempts to negotiate lead to conceding initiative to the opposition, the temptation is to shoot first and ask questions later?
|It always helps to have a muscly, blue security officer to kill stuff.|
We were aided by the fact that the ship's NPC captain was not interested in micro-managing the away team. Our on-site PC commander, the first officer, was more inclined to enforce some level of civility on the part of the crew, and in most cases we tried to keep phasers on stun, although it was noticeable that in the climactic encounter, when we could have used stealth and diplomacy to resolve the situation, we went in with phasers blazing and killed everything we could. Perhaps we'd had enough of the opposition, which had been running us ragged for weeks.
The actual core rules for Star Trek Adventures is badly written. It takes a long time to find what you need in it, we all found it hard to get our heads around some of the many moving parts the game has. I'm not sure whether this is the fault of the 2d20 system, or the fact that there are several additional systems grafted on to it to provide the flavour of the setting...but I was finding that each time we returned to the table, we were either re-learning things, forgetting things, or simply missing things altogether.
Would I play 2d20 again? Yes, I think so. I think the core mechanic is a good one (I believe it is going to be used for the next edition of Achtung Cthulhu), but the presentation of the rest of the game needs work, especially as far as Star Trek Adventures is concerned. I think you could run a good Star Trek game with this, and it would feel like Star Trek, but it would need adventures that challenged other aspects of the characters other than their combat skills. Too many RPGs are still firmly rooted in their wargames origins, and combat still takes up too much of the bandwidth in my view. Rarely does a session seem to go by without someone trying to kill something. Star Trek feels like it has the potential to support a good scenario where a phaser is never actually used, but it would require adventure designers and indeed players to step up to that plate.