The new(ish) game group has settled in nicely over the last two years. We started as a 5th ed D&D group — that was my sales pitch for two of the gamers — but they have tried out Hollow Earth ExpeditionTales from the Loop (which was very popular with the gnag, as most of them are of that particular late ’80s childhood.) I introduced them to a house rules version of cortex to run our end of Roman Britain campaign, swapping for the high fantasy of Dungeons & Dragons. I floated the idea of a new science fiction campaign; I’ve been getting the itch to do sci-fi, and particularly space opera again.

The ideas I threw out were a Star Trek campaign in the reboot (and let’s face it, it’s a reboot) Discovery universe (minus the awful spore drive McGuffin). I like the aesthetic of the ships and gear of the show, and the more gritty tone fits me well. And I would get to use the Eaglemoss starships for battles. (The Discoverse ships are gorgeous! and I’m warming up to the Warhammer 40k aesthetic of the Klingon designs from first season (which I initially didn’t like…) I’m thinking of either busting out the old Decipher Trek rules set, or porting it to classic Cortex, which remains a house fave for rules mechanics.

The second choice was to try and catch lightning in a bottle one more time with Battlestar Galactica. I miss the old campaign, loved the universe we had created, and think I could do a nice variation on the themes without repeating myself. And I would get to use the Eaglemoss models for combat scenes.

Something tells me with the current crop, Trek would fly better.

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I’ve been kicking around a few ideas for a sci-fi campaign for our Saturday group, and started working on a Star Trek campaign.  Trek represents a particular problem for the GM that wants to fiddle with Roddenberry’s universe due to the canon-thumpers in its fandom, but fortunately, I don’t have those in this group.  We’re going back to the original show period, and keeping elements from both the Original Series and the new Abrams movie, but this will be its own universe.

One thing that has to be fleshed out:  the United Federation of Planets… How does it work?  What are the politics?  Is it federal, confederacy, or a unified government?  Working from the Abrams movie and the first six or seven episodes of the show, I’ve chosen a very loose federal system:  most of the worlds and their colonies are ruled from their respective planetary governments, but overall security is handled by the UFP and Starfleet.  Poverty, hunger, energy allocation — that’s all been handled in a post-scarcity economy…on the home worlds.  The colonies are another story.

Most of the colonies are either outposts struggling to get the ecologies of their respective worlds wrestled into shape, or are refusniks — worlds where the settlers are moving to escape the new government, or to preserve their particular culture.  (Remember how often people weren’t happy to see Starfleet in TOS?) One of the players is particularly interested in exploring the identity issue of colonial worlds.

To make things worse, there’s a shortage of usable real estate out there in space; plenty of rocky, desolate worlds to land on, but not too many “Class M” planets.  This gives more reason for the respective great powers of the ST universe to need to squabble over those places that can support humanoid life.

Gone are the “head of the week” aliens.  Our imaginations have a bigger budget than Abrams had, so less head prosthetic and more weirdness.  Most of the TNG and later alien races are aced  — I’m keeping the big boys from the show and a few from the movie — but the gangster and Nazi planets..?  Gone.  So Klingons (with ridges), Romluans (without; they’re a nation of Vulcans that refused the precepts of Sarek), Andorians (Enterprise-style), Tellarites (same), Deltans (not Betazoids — which I might have as human/Deltan hybrids), and possibly Ferengi.  A central theme will be why there are so many humanoid races in this particular area of space, and why some are genetically compatible.

On the trappings side:  the new movie uniforms.  Keeping them.  The gear didn’t go far enough.  Our communicators will be, in essence, smartphones capable of most of the features (with access to a network) of TOS tricorders.  Tricorders will be full-blown sensor platforms and computers.  Phasers have two settings: stun and kill…and no you can’t dodge light.

For the ships — keeping the look of the show, but using some of the fantastic reimaginings that artists on scifi-meshs.com have been turning out.  The Constitution-class is the laters bad boy for the fleet, is roughly the size of the original ship, and the interiors will be closer to the original movies, but with some of the trappings of the new movie.

Right now, the characters’ vessel with be a slightly older frigate, USS Shenandoah.  The player character ideas are coming together:

A super-smart scientist type that comes from a human colony.  His only way off the rock was Starfleet, but his family and community see him as a sell-out (What?  This dirt farmer’s life isn’t good enough for you?)  He is top in his class, but surprised to find he actually has competition here at the academy.  He was raised with the idea that aliens weren’t any smarter/stronger/better than humans, and is finding that to be the case.

An Orion communications/cultural specialist who came to the Federation because she wasn’t quite sexy/dangerous enough to be enslaved (see Enterprise season 4.)

An Andorian security/tactical chief who has been posted on Andorian-only ships to date.  This is his first tour on a primarily human ship.

In Mongoose’s 2nd edition of the Babylon 5 Role Playing Game, the designers added an interesting mechanic which my players found fun to use:  influence.  Since the B5 universe involves intrigue and politics, the players are assumed to have to wrangle, call in favors, etc. to find out information or influence people they do not have direct contact with.

The character has a certain number of influence points in various fields — military (their own or other), society, media, political organizations, or criminal ones.  This is added to 2d6 and any modifiers to beat a set DC.    You can use influence to gain access to equipment and resources, or to pressure groups to aid you in some way.  This latter bit is particularly fun:  say your an agent from the Earth Intelligence Agencyon assignment in the field and you have to find out who is the Narn agent in charge in your location is, and get him to give you information on a group you’re after.  You tap your Earthgov influence of 12, roll 2d6 (7):  the difficulty to get this information is not hard, but the exerting the influence through the Narn government might be.  The difficulty to get aid from Earthgov is 10 — easily passed.  EIA pressures the Narn government for the contact — DC12, since you are are going a step further from your initial contact, you take a 5 penalty on the original roll…and still pass the test.  The Narn AIC is alerted to your presence and need for aid.  He has the information you need.  Now if say, you had needed the Narn to get information from the group, itself, and the GM had set that difficulty at 10, the cumulative penalties (two steps from your EIA contacts) would have provided a 7:  the Narn does not have what you want, but does have some of the information you need to point you in the right direction.

We liked this mechanic, so I ported it over to my Cortex games:  Battlestar Galactica and Serenity.  Here, your test roll would be Intelligence+Influence (Bureaucracy, Politics, Business, whatever…)  If you have Contacts that are applicable, add that die (this is “Friends in High/Low Places” in Serenity, or “…in Strange Places” in BSG.  Political Pull might also be applicable…  Set the initial difficulty, with a step up the difficulty ladder per faction you must go through (another route to go would be to add a die step difficulty per faction…)  So if your trader in Serenity needs to get hold of a smuggler working for the 14K Triad for get access to his supplier of X, he would tap his own contacts — say the Brotherhood of the White Chrysanthemum.

He rolls his Int d8, Influence d6 and Friends of d4 for a 7+3+3: 13.  Tapping his friend in the BWC is an Easy (3), who talks to a frienemy in the 14K (Average, 7), who talks to the smuggler (Hard, 11), who does give you the name of the purveyor of X…you needed a Formidable, 15 to get his assistance and failed.  What you don’t know — the smuggler does want competition and informed his supplier you were coming…and that he should dispatch you with haste.

This mechanic would be easily replicated in most game systems.  In the Decipher Star Trek game, a Negotiate or Investigate test might start with tapping Starfleet agents on a world, have them talk to Romulans, then to whatever group/faction they needed to talk to.  Set the initial TN, then add +2 for each step the request goes through (with possible additions for interaction stance, etc.)  Or have the degree of success moderate how many groups can be influenced in a chain.

For Hollow Earth Expedition, you would use the Bureaucracy or Streetwise skill (plus whatever bonuses for Ally, Contact, Mentor, or Fame) to make these remote influence tests:  each step away from your Ally/Contact/Mentor would be a step up the difficulty ladder.  (Say your connections to the Council of German Jewry give you a Easy task of asking your friends in the CGJ to contact their people in Berlin about the disposition of a friendly agent.  That Average to get information from Germany.  But say you need them to get a message to the agent, who is currently under surveillance by the Gestapo…that might be Tough, as the CGJ needs to go to a Jewish sympathizer in the polizei to get past the SS.

It’s an interesting mechanic, and one that my players seemed to find a lot of fun.