In my first post about Star Trek Adventures, I went over just the basics of the game: the orbital view of what you can expect from a campaign with this game line. This already gave some people a good idea of whether they were interested in buying the game (now available on Drive Thru RPG!) but others will be looking for a little more detail. If you want a real blow-by-blow you should check out the Philippine gamer‘s in-depth Let’s Study series but today I’m going to talk generally about one of the most important aspects of this game. The focus of every story, whether on the screen or in the mind’s eye, is always the same: the characters.
Methods of Creation
There are two ways to make characters in Star Trek Adventures and, surprisingly, I really like both of them. The first option is a lifepath system which involves tracing your character’s way through their youth and Starfleet Academy to see what their skillset is. This is the one I’ll be going through in this post so I won’t go into much more detail at this point. But the alternative is an in-game method of building characters during the first mission.
When using the Creation in Play method, you choose a role on the ship (such as “Chief of Security” or “Ship Counselor”) and create some of the barebones statistics. You assign your Attributes from an array, choose a species (which gives you some Attribute boosts and a Trait), assign two Disciplines, then choose a single Value for your character. Then you start play and as situations come up in the first mission you add in four more Disciplines, three more Values, four Focuses, and all four Talents.
This is a great way to introduce people to the setting and game mechanics and there are some guidelines (wish there were more) for doing it in ways that create characters that are generally good rather than custom-built for the initial mission. Because it involves gameplay, though, I’m going to go with the other way to create a character.
Step One: Species
The first decision for your character, just like the first thing to happen to a character in their lives, is what species you are. Your species gives you a Trait (don’t get too excited, it’s just the name of the species), +1 to three different Attributes, and a Talent. That Talent can be from any list (the general one or the Command, Conn, Security, Engineering, Science, or Medical lists) but your species also gives you access to two unique Talents that you can pick from. For some, like Humans and Denobulans, these Talents are cultural touchstones that describe the sort of characters often found in that species. For others it’s deeper details about their character: Trill characters can choose to be joined with a Talent, Vulcans can gain the famed nerve pinch, Bajorans can have an orb experience, etc.
The full list of species available to characters is pretty good: Andorian, Bajoran, Betazoid, Denobulan, Human, Tellarite, Trill, and Vulcan, as well as some guidelines for hybrid characters like Spock or Tora Ziyal. There’s a lot of room there but if you want more Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, Ferengi, Jem’Hadar, Vorta, and even the Borg are given short species write-ups in the Adversaries chapter (more on that next time) for making NPCs. These are missing unique Talents for the species (maybe we’ll get those in a future sourcebook) but that’s all that they are missing from the PC-approved species. Likewise, it’s very easy to build your own species (the Gamemaster section has a few quick bits of advice), especially if you don’t worry about unique Talents.
Let’s start with my first Star Trek Adventures character right here in this post. I’m going to roll randomly on the chart provided (broken down by era) and see what I get. A human! I can live with that… Humans get +1 to three Attributes and I’m going to pick Daring, Fitness, and Presence since I’m planning on being a security officer. I add the trait “Human” and pick a talent: Resolute, a human talent that boosts my max stress for better fisticuffin’.
Step Two: Environment
Next, you determine where your character grew up, rolling on the following list or picking their favorite: Homeworld, Busy Colony, Isolated Colony, Frontier Colony, Starship or Starbase, and Another Species’ World. Your Environment gives you a Value (something from their youth), +1 to an Attribute, and +1 to one Discipline. This means your Vulcan could be from Vulcan itself, raised on a traveling starship, or even on Earth and each of these grants different abilities. It’s a short list but pretty good; I have a hard time coming up with missing concepts.
Rolling randomly for environment I get “Frontier Colony” which works just great for my rough-and-tumble human officer. I pick a Value (“Loyal to the Captain”) and add +1 to Control and Fitness which sits just fine with me. Lastly, I choose Conn, Security, or Medicine to get a +1 boost… Obviously Security.
Step Three: Upbringing
If Environment is where you were raised then Upbringing is how you were raised. Your Upbringing provides three +1 bumps to Attributes (not more than +2 to any one), +1 to a Discipline, a Focus, and another Talent. Again you can pick or roll for this and the list is as follows: Starfleet, Business/Trade, Agricultural/Rural, Science/Technology, Artistic/Creative, or Diplomacy/Politics. Each of these gives you ability bonuses and there are different ones for whether you embrace this upbringing or rebel so there are really twelve instead of six.
Combined with the Environment above, I found this an excellent method for starting a character in Star Trek Adventures. I challenge you to roll on this table and not start to imagine a fully-realized character, whether or not you already have a species picked out. If you grew up on a starship with a Starfleet upbringing you can be the classic Wesley Crusher military brat but a starship environment and a Science/Tech upbringing would be someone more like Annika Hansen. There are a lot of tweaks here and you should have a pretty clear idea at this point what sort of character you’re rolling up.
And then you actually enter Starfleet!
My upbringing roll is “Starfleet” which makes me think that this guy grew up on a Federation colony with parents in the local Starfleet contingent. He’s got big shoes to fill and lots riding on him. You can pick whether to resist this upbringing or not but as he’s leaning into Starfleet I’m going to pick that one and add +2 to Control and +1 to Fitness. He also gets to boost one Discipline (Security), and gain a new Focus (I’m picking Hand Phasers) and a Talent (I’m choosing Bold for his Security Discipline).
Step Four: Starfleet Academy
No matter what the first part of their early life was like, your character ended up in Starfleet and that means they went through the Academy. While this is a shorter period of time compared to other steps in this list it’s very formative, and that’s borne out in the number of additions you make to the character sheet: another Value, three more points to spend on 2-3 Attributes, +2 to a Discipline (probably your main one) and +1 to two others, three Focuses, and one more Talent.
You can roll randomly to determine whether your character will be in the Command Track (commanders or conn officers), Operations Track (security or engineering), or Sciences Track (medical or science). The Discipline bonuses represent your major and minors at the Academy and the Value, Focuses, and Talent are lessons learned and skills honed. All in all, you have a short amount of time to make some crucial decisions where every year feels like a lifetime in terms of where your life is headed. So, you know… college.
I don’t really want to roll randomly since I’ve already decided he’s going to be a security officer. I’m just going with the Operations track here. I add a Value (“Legacies Weigh Heavy” for his Starfleet parents), three boosts to Attributes (I’m adding +1 to Control, Fitness, and Presence), boost some Disciplines (+2 to Security, +1 to Command and +1 to Conn), three Focuses (Espionage, Hand-to-Hand Combat, and Infiltration), and a Talent (Close Protection to protect others in battle).
Step Five: Career
This is a short little step but it determines what sort of role you’ll be playing on the ship and in the story. Basically, you’re deciding whether your a Young Officer (someone like Ezri Dax or Harry Kim), an Experienced Officer (most of the characters from Data to O’Brien to Torres), or a Veteran Officer (someone with decades of experience like Riker, Sisko, or Chakotay). You get a new Value and a new Talent for this choice.
If your character is a Young Officer they get a new Talent called Untapped Potential which lets them use Momentum more effectively. If they are a Veteran Officer then they get the Veteran Talent which lets them use Determination more effectively. These are both cool ways to reflect different experience levels without shifting power too much and I like it a lot. Experienced Officers just get a bonus Talent of their choosing.
I’m going with an Experienced Officer for my career, which means a new Value (“Crew Comes First”) and a new Talent (Collaboration (Security) for better teamwork).
Step Six: Career Events
Now that you know what stage you are at in your career, it’s time to see what happened in that career. You’ll roll twice on the Career Event table to determine two pivotal moments in the character’s Starfleet career (or during their time at the Academy if they are a fresh-faced Young Officer). Events on this table range from the exciting (Discovers an Artifact) to the tragic (Death of a Friend) to events that could go either way (First Contact or Called Out a Superior). Whatever the result, you’ll increase an Attribute and a Discipline each by +1 and gain a new Focus from the experience. In two cases you’ll also gain a new Trait: Lauded By Another Culture (which can give you a Trait like “Friend to the…” whatever culture) and Serious Injury (which can give you something like “Prosthetic Heart”).
For my two Career Events I roll Mentored and Solved an Engineering Crisis. The first is what it sounds like and I get to increase an Attribute by +1 (choosing Reason since I haven’t touched it yet), increase Conn by +1, and get a new Focus (“Starfleet Command Structure”). Solving an engineering crisis is somewhat out of his wheelhouse so I’ll say he was in the right place at the right time and managed to pull through (classic Star Trek). He gets +1 to Control, +1 to Engineering, and a new Talent (“Transporters and Replicators”).
Step Seven: Finishing Touches
This is the clean-up step where you add your final Value, make sure your Attributes and Disciplines are below the cap (and add one last +1 boost to one of each), double-check that you did everything right, calculate Stress and Damage bonus, come up with personal details including rank and name, and get your standard issue equipment (more on that below).
For this guy’s finishing touches I’m going to give him a new Value called “Not Everything Can Be Shot” to reflect his experience with the engineering crisis. I also need to double-check that his Attributes are all 12 or lower and his Disciplines are all 5 or lower (yep and yep) then I add +1 to two of each category: Insight, Daring, Command, and Engineering. His name is going to be James “Jim” McMurray, he’s a Lieutenant Command serving as the ship’s Chief of Security. I calculate stress and damage bonus (both dependent on Security so good for me!) and give him standard-issue equipment.
Equipment in Star Trek Adventures
At the end of this post on characters in Star Trek Adventures, I thought I would touch lightly on equipment. This can be a strange matter in Star Trek games since you typically don’t pay for your stuff. In this game, pieces of equipment have “prices” listed as Opportunity X, where X is the amount of Momentum you spend to get that item. Lots of times the GM will give you stuff for free, either as standard issue (all Starfleet officers get a set of uniforms, a communicator, a phaser, and a tool kit if they’re science or engineering) or because of a mission (“You’re going to a Demon-class planet so here are your environmental suits”), but otherwise you use your Momentum as story-credits to say you find or replicate what you need.
Some items have Escalation X instead which is like Opportunity but instead of Momentum you give the GM X points of Threat. This is usually for serious weaponry (like a bat’leth or phaser rifle) when the situation is ramping up or it’s for dangerous, experimental tech that could backfire.
There’s a full list of weapons in there (though melee weapons are generalized into “knife/dagger,” “blade,” and “heavy blade” rather than specific weapons) as well as different armored suits and tech devices. The really interesting part of this for me, though, is the section on scaling up or down technology and innovating new devices. Your character could find a strange alien ship or a 29th century tricorder left by time travelers, but they could also time travel themselves or try to use an old rust-bucket ship. To simulate this you scale up or down the capabilities of the technology using these guidelines. It’s a smart way to expand the usefulness of this list.
Edit: I realized I wasn’t going to this anywhere else and it’s too cool not to mention…
There are two sorts of character advancement in Star Trek Adventures. The first is the normal sort of experience, called Milestones. If you participate in a mission you get to change a Value (if it makes story sense), increase two Disciplines, replace one of your Focuses, or save it for later. You can also use a milestone to improve the abilities of a supporting character which I think is a really neat idea.
The other sort of advancement is Reputation, which is your legacy in Starfleet. You start out neutral and doing questionable things will lower it while doing exemplary things will increase it. There are all sorts of ways to affect reputation, as outlined in this chapter, but the idea of pulling off something awesome and getting a medal or having a risk blow up in your face and have the potential of a court martial hanging over you are both really awesome options for a campaign.