There are tons of Star Trek games out there and one of the most popular (for good reason) is Star Trek Timelines, a mobile game that’s pretty addictive. The storyline isn’t my favorite (and hardly enters into playing for me) but all the characters are fun to level up and assemble. There’s also missions which are a great tool for Star Trek Adventures Challenges.
These maps are similar to a type of diagram used in computer science and graph theory, something called a directed acyclic graph (DAG) which is shorthand for “a diagram that has a start and end, and that has only a certain number of points.” Knowing that helps you to look for generators and there are some good ones out there (including DAGitty which people seem to like) but I think you’re easiest generation option is either just freehand or Creately.
You can plan out your Challenges with a map just like Star Trek Timelines does, a flow chart of one Task leading to the next. As Timelines just has four skills (Security, Diplomacy, Engineering, and Command) you might picture more varied maps for Adventures, but projects that involve every single Discipline will likely be few and far between. More likely you’ll have a few Disciplines represented and those players with suboptimal Main Characters will take on Supporting Characters for this Challenges instead.
Using the maps from Star Trek Timelines helps you to keep progress straight but also to mark down Task nodes that are important. It’s simple to write under the Discipline for that node (or the symbol if you’re feeling fancy) what the Difficulty is and any Traits that would apply. Noting whether a Task is easier (or harder) for a particular Species, for a profession, for someone Determined, etc will help your crew decide who should take the lead on a given Task and it makes the whole Challenge more exciting. You can note Focuses ahead of time but there are likely fewer Traits at your table and players can be responsible for Focuses themselves.
In addition to noting which Tasks are Important (see below) you can also note whether a particular Task is Gated or not. Do you need to successfully overcome the Task before this to attempt this one or can you attempt it regardless? Can you only attempt a particular Task if you have a specific Trait? For instance, only a Klingon can attempt to win support from the Great Houses with a ceremonial duel. This also works for equipment and might make those characters who have invested in having the right tools feel more appreciated. There’s also the possibility of a Soft Gate, something the core book doesn’t present but which I think is a natural extension: if you have the required success, Trait, equipment, etc then the Task is a normal sort of Task. If you don’t, you can still attempt it but the Task is somehow much more difficult: you take Stress doing it, you have to destroy a piece of equipment, you anger an NPC, or the Difficulty just gets bumped up to 5.
One thing that’s interesting in Star Trek Timelines is that you get stuff along the way. This means that you don’t just plod along through an Away Mission until you get a reward at the end, and that you’re sometimes willing to take riskier pathways to get greater rewards. In Star Trek Adventures you can make this prizes as well but there are some more appropriate options instead.
- Information: After passing some of the Tasks in a Challenge, the crew can get some specific bit of information. Maybe isolating the virus on the way to a cure gives a clue to who produced it or it might partially reveal the answer.
- Momentum: Certain tasks might provide a boost of insight, represented by some bonus Momentum. You can stipulate how this Momentum must be used (for Obtain Information is a good one) or they can be saved or used as normal. This works best when attached to a Task that is a moment of clarity or a significant hurdle.
- NPC Support: Tasks that involve public works or efforts to sway an NPC group might gain that group’s cooperation when completed. This could be recruitment (after “Contact the Maquis” the crew gains the help of a cell), collaboration (once the crew figures out the genetic sequence the Vulcan Science Academy is able to help with its databases), or even just a prominent figure (after proving their ability to formulate a battle strategy, the Klingon general will work with the crew).
- Reputation: Sometimes the right path is also a more difficult one. Choosing a Task that is more moral or follows regulations can earn the characters a bonus to Reputation at the end of the mission and potentially gain them more in the long run.
- Trait: When completing a specific Task, the characters might gain a Trait that lasts for the rest of the mission or that is even permanent. This often works for social Challenges (winning the trust of the Talaxians, for example, might earn you the Trait of “Trusted by Talaxia”) or for experimental medical procedures (getting to a certain point might make you “Innocculated” even if the cure isn’t ready for mass production).
A major reason to do things this way is to make certain Tasks more attractive than others. With the crew at their disposal, the Player Characters might have a strong character option for any combination of Attribute and Discipline you throw at them. Varying the Difficulty will present easier and harder pathways, and giving rewards along the way will make those higher Difficulty Tasks still interesting.
When you fail a step during an away mission in Star Trek Timelines (assuming it isn’t the final step) you can keep going and the last skill check is just made more difficult. You can do the same for your Star Trek Adventures Challenges, adding a level of Difficulty to some future Task for failing at an earlier one, but you can also try some more creative options. For instance, here are some ideas you can run with.
- Dangerous Situation: A straightforward consequence is damage, either Stress characters involved or a breach for the ship. Obviously the first of those is more of a big deal than the second so even when the crew is working on volatile ship systems I recommend only one breach consequence per Challenge (the other consequences could be radiation leaks or exploding EPS conduits, dealing Traits or Stress).
- Enemy Action: Failing at a particular Task means you don’t shut out your opponents, you don’t secure your base, or some other exposure of weakness. This can mean that a future Task goes from being a static Task to an Opposed one as described on pages 89-90 of the core rulebook.
- Lost Time: Failing a Task might not mean failure, it just might mean you aren’t terribly efficient. If your Challenge is a Timed Challenge (as described on page 90 of the core rulebook) then failure might mean loss of an additional time interval.
- Threatening Circumstances: This works especially well in Extended Tasks to repair a failing system or stop some calamity. Failure means you can potentially keep going but that the situation gets more tense and dangerous, partially because the Gamemaster gets 2 (or more) additional Threat in their pool.
Challenge Map Example 1: Mining the Bajoran Wormhole
In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “A Call to Arms,” the crew of DS9 is searching for a way to keep the Dominion from using the Bajoran Wormhole to send reinforcements to the Alpha Quadrant. After some discussion they come up with the idea of cloaked, self-replicating mines that will swarm together to destroy large Dominion ships coming through. Obviously this is a huge endeavor and one that runs into problems in the show even though they hand-wave most of the development process. If you wanted to have your crew do the same thing, here’s what it might look like.
In this Challenge, there’s the path that we saw in the episode: designing mines, then using DS9’s industrial replicators, then deployment by the U.S.S. Defiant. There are other options here, though, including coordinating with Bajor to make the mines (which earns you an Advantage going forward of an engineering team from the source) and going to the Klingons for help with their military replicators. Going with the Klingons’ aid is a harder path but it gets you the Trait of “Klingon Ally” which can last as long as the GM wants it to (potentially a permanent Trait if that fits your campaign) and the deployment Difficulty is easier.
Challenge Map Example 2: Stopping the Soliton Wave
Another Star Trek episode with excellent material for a Challenge is the Next Generation episode “New Ground” when Dr. J’Dar’s experiment with his soliton wave generator leads to a runaway disaster. The U.S.S. Enterprise-D is damaged when the experiment goes awry and then the energy wave released starts accelerating like crazy towards a vulnerable colony world. If you want to include this in your campaign, it might look something like this.
In the episode the crew gets the ship working again, calibrates some photon torpedoes, caught up to the wave, and used the torpedoes to scatter the wave’s energy. The options above include an alternative option to use the deflector dish (naturally) to disperse the energy. In order to use the torpedoes or the disruptor dish you need to have the correct Ship Trait which is how you can control which path they are following. There’s also some incentive for taking each path to get commendations.