Making Adversaries

The Star Trek Adventures rulebook comes with a good host of adversaries, but there’s always room for more. There are guidelines for making supporting characters in STA but none so far about making more adversaries. I tried to reverse engineer Modiphius’s strategies for making NPCs, and today I’m going to outline my guidelines for writing them.

Type of Adversary

The first thing to establish when making an adversary for Star Trek Adventures is what you’re trying to make. Is it an alien beast, an established species, a new enemy, or something wholly unknown? The easiest thing to do is pick something from the TV series (or Star Trek Online or novels… whatever you like) and try to recreate that using the rules of Star Trek Adventures. That’s what I’ll be modeling here and what I imagine most people want to accomplish. If you’re looking for fresh ideas on adversaries, check out Memory Alpha, Memory Beta, the Star Trek Online wiki, or sourcebooks from Decipher’s Star Trek RPG.

You’ll want to also pick what sort of adversary you’re making, following the guidelines on page 311 of the Star Trek Adventures book. As discussed, Minor NPCs are throw-away characters, Notable NPCs are good for a few scenes, and Major NPCs can be multi-scenario enemies or just the big threat of a game session. This is probably the biggest decision of this process as it affects the rest of the steps here (and effects them, for all my fellow grammarians).

Example: A major adversary missing from the core rulebook is the Breen. I’m going to put together a Minor character, and going off the Star Trek Online wiki I’m calling this a H’ren after the lowest-ranked Breen enemies in that game.

Star Trek Adventures - Romulan Attack
Image © Modiphius Entertainment

Attributes

Adversaries have the same six Attributes as PCs and you can create them in much the same way. First, put 8 into every Attribute and then add more points depending on what you want the NPC to be good at. Analyzing the NPCs in the core rulebook, Minor NPCs should get 9 more points (for a total of 57) while Notable and Major NPCs should both get 12 more points (for a total of 60). Some of the NPCs have Attributes below 8 if they’re particularly bad at something (Borg are terrible with Insight and Presence, which makes sense, and Jem’Hadar have trouble with Reason) but for the most part NPC Attributes run from 8 to 12.

Not all of the published NPCs fit these guidelines but the majority do and those that don’t trade points here for other bonuses. For instance, the Minor and Notable Starfleet NPCs all have three fewer points in their Attributes and instead have two extra points in Disciplines (see below). The other exception is the Borg but… well they’re an exception throughout this list.

Example: Our Breen H’ren is going to have strong Daring, Fitness, and Presence to show off the Breen strength and intimidating air. In the end, the Attributes will be Control 9, Daring 9, Fitness 11, Insight 8, Presence 12, Reason 8.

Disciplines

This works similarly to Attributes above: NPCs will have values in each of the six Disciplines that run from 0 to 4. Minor NPCs will get 6 points distributed among their Disciplines, Notable NPCs will get 9 points, and Major NPCs will get somewhere between 13 and 15 points depending on whether they are a scenario-level threat (like a Ferengi Daimon) or a campaign-level threat (like a Vorta Overseer or Tal Shiar Major). You can also balance between Disciplines and Attributes: if you gave your adversary NPC a few extra points in Attributes maybe give them a point less here. As discussed above, Starfleet NPCs (except the Major ones) all have three fewer points in Attributes than they “should” while they all have two more points in Disciplines than they “should.” You can use this 3:2 ratio as a rough exchange rate to balance Attribute and Discipline totals.

Example: The Breen H’ren needs to be good at Security, obviously, and the rest are all just nice to have but not ciritical. The H’ren’s Disciplines will be Command 0, Conn 1, Security 3, Engineering 1, Science 0, Medicine 1. This guy’s even more of a one-trick enemy than the Klingon warrior!

Star Trek - Klingons
Image © Paramount Pictures

 

Stress and Resistance

These categories were much easier than I thought it would be. Normally Stress is calculated as a character’s Fitness plus their Security rating, and for the most part that’s what the NPCs in the book have. The Cardassian Gul and Major Verohk of the Tal Shiar have a few extra points while the Jem’Hadar First is (surprisingly) one below. So the moral of the story is that you should stick to the standard way of calculating Stress and call it a day.

Resistance is similar, there’s really only a few options seen in the Star Trek Adventures book. First of all, most characters (including some combat NPCs like the Starfleet security officer and the Romulan uhlan). Those NPCs who do have resistance usually have 1 (Armor), although the Jem’Hadar are suped-up with 2 (Armor). The worst is the Borg drones with 2-3 (Exoskeleton) so do go up to three unless you think your NPC could take a hit like a freakin’ Borg.

Example: The Breen have environmental suits so I think they should have 1 (Armor) like Cardassians and Klingons. For stress the H’ren would have 11 + 3 = 14 and that seems just fine.

Values, Focuses, and Talents

This is another category that was simpler than expected: Minor NPCs have nothing extra, Notable NPCs have one Value and two Focuses, and Major NPCs have two values and four Focuses. The only exception to these are the Ferengi, none of whom have Focuses, but I really think this might be a typo or there was one developer working on that section who didn’t get the memo. As for Talents, only one NPC (Moq’var, Son of Koloth) has Talents and I think these are just a simple way to get the special rule abilities described below.

Example: As a Minor character, the Breen H’ren gets nothing. If I was going to make up Values for him I would likely design something about keeping the secrets of the Breen or not trusting outsiders, and Focuses would have to do with intimidation, fighting, and controlling prisoners. For now, though, I can skip this all!

Star Trek - Borg Ship
Image © Paramount Pictures

Special Rules

Here’s the point in the process with the most hand-waving. I can let you know that average number of Special Rules for the Notable NPCs and the Major NPCs is around three for both. There are some with a lot and there are some with just two but you can start with three in mind and adjust up or down a bit as you like. The Minor NPCs are a little weirder but if we discount the Borg (who all have seven or eight special rules) and the Starfleet officers (none of who have any) then the average there is two which sounds just fine.

Now, what are these special rules going to be? Well, that’s a question only you can answer. There are some special rules provided on pages 312-313 of the Star Trek Adventures rulebook and you can definitely use those for your designs. Some of them appear in the published NPCs (Jem’Hadar are immune to fear and pain, and Borg drones are part machine) and one NPC (Moq’var, Son of Koloth) has Talents that fill in but most of the special rules abilities are new. This means they can all be inspiration, though, so we can use them as templates for new abilities. The broad-strokes version of these abilities are as follows:

  • Easier Tasks: The Difficulty of some particular task is reduced by 2, or the NPC gets an extra die for that task. Examples: Ambushes and Traps (Cardassian), Free Advice is Seldom Cheap (Ferengi).
  • Extra Resistance: The NPC gets +2 Resistance against certain kinds of attacks. Examples: Brak’lul (Klingon).
  • Hamper Enemies: The NPC can spend Threat to make enemy actions tougher. Examples: Guile and Cunning (Romulan).
  • Improved Attack: Some attack always gains an extra quality such as Vicious or Accurate. Examples: Brute Force (Jem’Hadar).
  • Increase Threat: Something the NPC does will increase Threat. Example: Victory is Life (Jem’Hadar).
  • Leadership: The NPC can spend Threat in specific situations (or its automatic) to allow themselves and their subordinates to reroll d20s. Examples: Ambush (Romulan), In the Name of the Founders (Vorta), Supreme Authority (Romulan).
  • Rerolling d20s: When the NPC gets additional d20s with Threat for something specific, they can reroll d20s. Alternatively, they might just get to spend Threat to reroll. Examples: Cultured (Cardassian), Greed is Eternal (Ferengi), Manipulative (Vorta), Warrior Spirit (Klingon), Wary (Romulan).
  • Teamwork: When the NPC succeeds on a particular activity they can spend Momentum to assist an ally with the same kind of thing, or they can assist a subordinate so that they at least Succeed at Cost. Alternatively, they might get a bonus d20 when someone helps them. Examples: Expects Success (Cardassian), First Into Battle (Klingon), Loyal and Disciplined (Cardassian).
  • Threat Conversion: The NPC can spend Threat as some other resource, like Momentum or Determination. Examples: Ruthless and Determined (Romulan).

If you’re making a new adversary that is the same species or team as another, carry over special rules from one to another to make that link mechanical. In the published material, each group has a Minor NPC with around two special rules, a Notable NPC with one or two more, and a Major NPC with one or two more than that. Repeat this for any large groups you’re crafting.

Star Trek Online - Three Factions
Image © Cryptic Studios

In addition are special rules like the Borg Adaptive Shielding and Assimilation or the Jem’Hadar Shroud abilities that are just so particular that you have to strip them down pretty far to use them for something else. At the same time, there are special abilities like the Borg Threat Protocols, the Vorta Overseer’s Termination Implant, or Daimon Skel’s “You Can’t Make a Deal If You’re Dead” that are detrimental or at least not wholly positive and you should add these for color but don’t worry about the balance issues (unless they are likely to come up in every round).

Example: The Breen H’ren should have around two special rules and I want to make sure they aren’t both purely combat-related since I want to be able to use this NPC in a variety of situations. The first will be combative, though, and I’m just going to lift the Brute Force ability from the Jem’Hadar NPCs. We also see Breen guarding prisoners a lot so the second ability will be Watchful which will be a Hamper-Enemy-type rule, increasing the Difficulty of enemy Tasks to distract them or sneak past them.

Finishing Touches

At this point the NPC is pretty much set. You need to add a Species Trait, but that’s straightforward enough. Remember that it’s not enough to just write the species’ name and move on, you’ll want a short paragraph that describes what they’re like. If you’re looking in the book you may think I’m a liar, but on those pages there’s a sidebar for characters of that species which details what the Trait involves. Feel free to do that for batch creations as well.

Lastly, you need weapons and you can really just include whatever you want since they can only use one or two at a time. Make a list of what weapons (including Unarmed Attack) you want available to the NPC and jot down the details from “Chapter 8.3: Weapons, Gear, and Other Items” in Star Trek Adventures. If your NPC has more than one melee or ranged weapon (or more than one of both), you’ll want to mark the more powerful one of each of those as Escalation items. These are what the NPC will have if the GM escalates the situation (see page 184) instead of the lesser weapons: the Klingon warriors will have bat’leths instead of d’k tahg daggers and/or disruptor rifles instead of pistols, etc. If you find that you really wanted the NPC to definitely have that stronger weapon, take the lesser one off the list and just give them what you really want.

Example: The Breen use disruptors so I’ll put down disruptor pistols and (for escalation) rifles. I don’t think they’ve ever had anything but rifles in the series but we can excuse this. They don’t usually have melee weapons so I’ll just put Unarmed Attack down, but it’s more powerful thanks to the Brute Force we gave them above.

Star Trek - Breen
Image © Paramount Pictures

Conclusion

That’s it, you’re done! For completeness, here is my example Breen H’ren for your home campaigns:

Breen H’ren (Minor Character)
Control 9, Daring 9, Fitness 11, Insight 8, Presence 12, Reason 8
Command 0, Conn 1, Security 3, Engineering 1, Science 0, Medicine 1
Stress: 14 | Resistance: 1 (Armor)
Trait: Breen. The Breen are a secretive and xenophobic species, shrouded in mystery and typically hostile to outsiders. They dress in environmental suits, purportedly because their homeworld is so frigid, and no confirmed reports can say what Breen look like under their masks.

Attacks:

  • Unarmed Strike (Melee, 3d Knockdown, Size 1H, Vicious 1).
  • Disruptor Pistol (Ranged, 5d Vicious 1, Size 1H).
  • Escalation Disruptor Rifle (Ranged, 6d Vicious 1, Size 2H, Accurate).

Special Rules:

  • Brute Force: Breen add the Vicious 1 effect to their Unarmed Strike, and remove the Non-Lethal Quality.
  • Watchful: When standing guard over prisoners or to secure an area, a Breen may spend one Threat to increase the Difficulty by one of enemy Tasks to distract them or sneak past them.
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