Way back in 2002, I had picked up the new Decipher Star Trek RPG. I had liked the Last Unicorn Games version, but we hadn’t played it. The same team had moved on to Decipher, which had made their name in card games in the 1990s. I had a couple of friends at the time that were die-hard Trekkies, and I decided to run a post-Dominion War campaign for them. I had anticipated a short mini-campaign; nothing extended or extravagant. It wound up being a game that ran for almost four years in different “series” that built one on the other.

The company had issues and eventually the RPG folded around 2006. (As usual, it seems every Star Trek RPG collapses as soon as they do a Klingon sourcebook.) It was a quick collapse, leaving fans of their CODA system wonder WTF? If you look around the site, you’ll find a lot of the fan-made stuff, including a lot of my earlier work on Artilects and other aliens not included in their Species book.

About six months ago, I wanted to take a break from the 1930s game we’ve been playing for about a year. I really wanted to get back to some space opera and it was down to Battlestar Galactica or Star Trek. I had already run an epic (in the classic sense of the word) BSG game that last five years and was one of the better bits of GMing I’ve done in about 40 years of gaming. About the same time, one of the players got me access to Star Trek: Discovery — which I was unenthused about, but liking the idea of a series not based on the captain, I figured I’d give it a try.

I loved the aesthetic of the show (which I see as a reboot and not a prequel, no matter what the producers say), and saw some potential in a modernized Trek universe. When season two rolled around with the fantastic portrayal of Captain Pike by Anson Mount (and tip of the hat to the writers for getting the character right), I was in. I picked up a few of the Eaglemoss models for the series’ ships. I was originally doing the old-time fanboy thing and rejecting the Klingon aestethic, but my young daughter’s excellent critique of the look of the vessels, and the desire to break away from the Japanese samurai in head makeup, led me to go all in on the look and new style of the Klingons. I did, however, keep the Andorians with the moveable antennae from Enterprise.

With that lengthy intro, what’s Decipher’s CODA like and is it a better option than the 2d20 system that Modiphius has been using for the setting? Right off the bat, I’ll start with this: I despise the 2d20 system. We were on the playtesting for John Carter and found the rules badly written to the point of the game being unplayable. There were simply too many moving parts for the players. CODA ain’t perfect by any stretch, but it’s much easier to play.

The basic mechanic is simple: roll 2d6 plus a character’s attribute modifier (like D&D, the actual attribute rating is meaningless) and the skill level added together and try to beat either a similar roll if opposed by another character or NPC, or a target number. This basic mechanic holds true throughout the game, including the ship combat. There are also class and race traits, features, etc. to modify your rolls. I’m not a fan of the race/class thing, but Decipher was under the thumb of the mighty Wizards of the Coast from the start, and at least they didn’t force them to go d20 — which I understand, at the time, was what WotC wanted. There’s an option for randomly creating attributes or picking them; skills and other character elements are chosen during a short background and career package build. You can build beyond the basic starting character with advancements. I’ve found for basic department head level characters, you want to give the players about 5-6 advancements to get started.

Combat is fast and can be pretty deadly. The weapons of Star Trek are pretty damned deadly. Firefights are over and there’s not a lot of leeward for characters. The old Star Trek game we had saw most of the players lose a character or two over the course of play. Hand-to-hand and melee combat, on the other hand, takes a while — especially if you have a tank of a character. First aid and medical attention is pretty good in the future, and if you survive, they can usually fix you up. (With the Discovery aesthetic, a lot of this is cybernetics. I went with the idea that if it was something they could organic 3D print, you would get a skin graft or organ replacement using your own DNA, but for major limbs or other complicated structures, it’s easier to just have engineering whip up a robotic part in the manufacture lab.)

Starship combat was pretty good in this game. It was designed to give everyone on the bridge something to do. Certain maneuvers required the helm, tactical, and operations guys to hit targets, and the commander to do the same to pull something off. Engineers were busily jury rigging repairs, medical teams were aiding injured. the ships were fairly evenly matched — which is something we see even between largely mismatched sizes and capabilities in vehicles in Star Trek — hell, a Bird of Prey killed Enterprise D. It’s how good the characters are that matters. The basics of Trek are there, as well. So long as the shields hold, you’re golden. You still take damage; the shield absorb some, but not always all of the damage; if you lose shields, you’re dead and pretty quickly.

By today’s standards, save for D&D, there’s a lot of fidlly bits — off-hand modifiers that are a bit ridiculous, heavy mods against you for extra actions, in the name of game balance, but overall, it’s a serviceable and clean system. You can find the PDFs around the web with ease, and the books turn up from time to time.

Is it worth it? Yes, if you want to play Trek and don’t want to pay the premium prices that Modiphius is charging for the 2d20 system. (Don’t get me started on their sourcebooks — just hit up the Memory Alpha site online. That’s where most of it came from.)

On another note, I’ll have up more CODA versions of Discovery ships in the next few days, I hope.