Star Trek Adventures – Modiphius Entertainment

I’m going to admit that I initially had reservations when I heard that Modiphius Entertainment were going to release a Star Trek RPG.  I was also excited.  My reservations stemmed mostly from the fact that this is certainly not the first time there has been an attempt to do this.  The most successful to-date is probably the FASA Star Trek RPG back in the ’80s.  Other than the FASA product I have been mostly disappointed by subsequent attempts to rekindle the franchise. Worst of all  I’ve always found those other games that were “so obviously Star Trek” but lacked the backing of a licensing agreement to be very disappointing –  it is after all such a rich and well known setting, players are likely to have absorbed hundreds of hours of TV and movies and a game that doesn’t really factor that in just isn’t delivering.  What excited me most though was that I genuinely believed that if anyone was going to pull of a comprehensive licensed product it was going to be Modiphius.  Their experiences with Conan and Corvus Belli’s Infinity meant that they have real experience and understanding of the challenges that adopting such an established setting and storyline can bring. They also have the experience of getting the materials reviewed and approved by real experts in the field and if you look at the work that went into Conan or Infinity, that review and attention to detail certainly both shows and pays dividends.

So like everyone else in the roleplaying world I placed my pre-order and waited…

Of course like a fool I ordered both the core book and the “These Are The Voyages” scenario compendium together, so inevitably I waited for both books to be available before my order arrived and whilst the PDFs arrived  way ahead of time I really don’t like basing my judgements on a work from the PDFs alone.  In a PDF many of the beautiful graphics that will make a book a pleasure and joy to read can make it a complete basket case of a PDF which destroys your reading pleasure with each seemingly eternal page refresh. (That’s not the case with Star Trek Adventures, but it is why I always wait until I have the real thing before I put finger to keyboard).

The book is a really nice, beatifully illustrated hardback running to around 364 pages, it is laid out in an LCARS (Library Access and Computer Retrieval System) style, familiar to Trek fans everywhere.  I do find white on black text to occasionally be a bit of pain – its probably my poor eyesight and advancing years but there are times when I yearn for nice crisp black on white text – yup, just been confirmed, its my age…

The book basically sets you up to play in any era of the Star Trek universe (with the exception of the latest “alternate timeline” movies – which I presume is a licensing  limitation. Also the Netflix series Star Trek Discovery has slipped through the net).  With such a wealth of material to deal with, there is a lot of background text, lots of little gems for Trekkies to coo over – I suspect that all told, roughly a third of the book falls into this category.

The rules are a streamlined version of the Modiphius in house 2d20 system.  Now I’m familiar with 2d20 from Mutant Chronicles, Infinity and Conan and as such I’ve probably already got my head around the intricacies, nuances and peculiarities of 2d20 quite well – and there are some.  However, a streamlined version was promised and thats what was delivered.  I think Modiphius have a done a great job of retaining those elements of the system which lend themselves to the cinematic style of play required for such a game.  (I’m not going to go into  detail on the rules changes – but if you are interested there is an excellent walkthrough of the fundamental differences over at The Infrequent Gamer – a brilliant blog).

The things that do work particularly well are the Momentum and Threat pools.  Players build up Momentum by “over-achieving” on their tasks, this contributes to a group pool which can be spent to roll extra dice to succeed and it really helps build the team “ethos” necessary in the game.  The check and balance to this is a Threat pool which is a similar mechanic owned by the GM and used to introduce complications for the players.

I’m also a big fan of the character creation process and in particular the “life path” mechanic employed during creation.  It really forces you to think about your character and results in a more fully fleshed out background where you have a good understanding of your characters drivers and motivations..

The bits that I was less happy with were perhaps the rules for starship combat.  These are ok  but are an obvious abstraction. In most role-play games such a step change between personal combat and something as complex as starship battles either results in a fudge based solely on characters skills and broad brush outcomes, or the game flips into what feels like a completely different rules system (I always felt this to be the case with old FASA system). It’s a fine balance and I think that Modiphius have possibly been a little cautious in their implementation.  On screen these are moments of high tension and dramatic action and for me this doesn’t carry over into the RPG.

Beyond that, there are a couple of things that I think are missing – firstly with the book covering such a vast timeline I think its a shame that they don’t really present one – it would also be good if alongside such a timeline there was clearer guidance for the differences in the eras and how this may affect play.  Secondly, the index is weak, again so much to cover, so many times you recall reading something, can’t find it and resort to the index before realising that it really isn’t going to help.  I know from first hand experience that indexing an RPG is a painful exercise, but in this one I wish their pain threshold had been higher.

The Star Trek Adventures product line has come in for quite a bit of criticism online for the prices that it carries. The core rulebook is £44.99 which in truth I don’t think is too excessive (I’d love it to be less, but compare it with other big Franchise RPGs and it sits comfortably on that shelf).  If you put to one side the limited editions, the collectors bundles such as the Borg cube then in reality the core products are realistically priced for todays market.  I do think that the accessories, dice and tokens are a bit pricey – but if they are your thing then I suspect that you will soon get over your qualms.  In my opinion only the momentum/threat tokens were really a disappointment, they are light plastic and feel cheap – and whilst I hate expensive wasteful packaging they arrived in a plastic bag looking cheap too.  There are plenty of alternative pieces of Star Trek  merchandise available online which I would suggest you could use instead.

In summary, at the beginning I said I had reservations, but that I was excited.  In the main I needn’t have had any reservations.  Modiphius have delivered an excellent product and have done a really good job in tailoring their 2d20 system to fit the “material” of Star Trek.  Its a gorgeous book to read through, even if it skips around the Star Trek universe at a bit of a pace.  I haven’t played it in earnest yet, its one of those games I want to play rather than run and I think that just shows that my initial excitement was well placed.  If we did ratings on our reviews this would be a solid 9/10 – but we don’t do that here…  Star Trek Adventures is available from the Modiphius Store.

Live long and prosper.

Derek.