Today we’re back with another review of the Klingon Empire Core Rulebook, looking deeply into the section on creating and running a Great House of the Klingon Empire. This is such an important part of the book and a change from a Federation game that I wanted to give it its own post.
Great Houses are a huge part of Klingon culture, constantly referred to on screen and clearly much more than family ties to Klingon characters. The wronged House of Mogh, the treacherous House of Duras, the ascendant House of Martok… Each of them has a huge place in Star Trek lore and a personality all their own. With the House Creation and Development chapter of the Klingon Empire core rulebook, Star Trek Adventures now has a way to include all of that in a manner that will make it both exciting and powerful in your campaign’s narrative.
Main Characters and Houses
How might the Great Houses of the Klingon Empire factor into your character’s lives and (more concretely) their mechanics? Well, the first answer is that they might not. Not all Houses are the important and influential houses of Klingon society and just what separates a House from a Great House is something that Star Trek fans and writers have been working on for some time. The route taken by Star Trek Adventures is this: every Klingon has a House but for most it’s just their extended family. Some of those Houses are powerful enough to be considered Great Houses and the most powerful of those are given seats on the Klingon High Council where they advise and argue with the Chancellor.
Though they don’t make reference directly to Star Trek: Discovery, the book does say that the Empire was barely held together in the Enterprise era and came together at some point before the original series when they are very much unified and at war with the Federation. In the 24th century the Great Houses struggle and vie with each other but it’s clear to see from the chancelorships of K’mpec, then Gowron, and then Martok that the Great Houses (and Klingons generally) are ready to follow the Chancellor and the High Council even if they disagree with their vision.
So in the game your Klingon character might be a common warrior from a common house and you determine your stance as described last time, pretty similarly to Federation characters. If you want to be from a Great House, though, you can create one ahead of time and use that as the direction of your Lifepath process. Mechanically, the Great House takes the place of the Environment and Caste (equivalent to Upbringing for Starfleet) portions of the Lifepath. This means your Great House will determine four points of the character’s Attributes, two points of their Disciplines, a single Value, a single Focus, and a single Talent. You also gain a Trait called “House of…” (with the right name, obviously) to denote your allegiance.
Klingon characters might also join a Great House later in life (as Worf joined the House of Martok during the Dominion War) or some act of service to the Empire (perhaps even the character’s!) could elevate a family to Great House status. If you become part of a Great House after character creation you don’t retroactively gain the Lifepath effects described above. On the other hand, we’ll see some other great benefits a bit later that you’d be eligible for, as well as House Talents.
There are three facets that determine what a House is all about: Status, Legacy, and Temperament. These aren’t directly parallel to the process of making a character or designing a starship, but they’re pretty similar and that makes them seem like a character unto themselves. This reminds me a lot of the Song of Ice and Fire RPG which spends a lot of time on the history and character of noble houses, but also reminded me of the idea in both Star Trek Adventures and the Firefly RPG that the character’s ship is it’s own personality.
A House’s Status is the current fortunes of the House including the trend of those fortunes. The House might be Old and Fallen, well-known but with its best days behind it, or they might have a Long and Prestigious History with respect that has held steady for some time. Maybe they are a New and Rising House which has just earned its place among the Great Houses or they might be Iconoclasts shaking up the traditional ways and not much caring for the old forms. There’s also Old and Resurgent as well as New and Eager, both Houses trying hard to improve their situation but maybe in need of a true warrior to do so. Whatever its Status, this facet provides gonuses to two different Attributes and a Value (with suggestions). Sometimes it also affects your Reputation if your House is on its way up or losing prestige.
The House’s Legacy describes what the House is best known for. The House’s ancestors might be well-known as leaders, warriors, spacefarers, engineers, scientists, or physicians. Each Legacy adds one to a Discipline and provides a Focus (again, with suggestions). Characters also get a Talent at this stage and can choose from one of the two Talents that come with each House Legacy. A House of warriors, for example, might give you an Ancestral Blade which is a bat’leth or mek’leth with a bonus Challenge Die of damage, or you might be Trained From Birth in the ways of battle and improve your Security rolls. I can’t go into the twelve (!) different Talents given in this chapter but I will say that none of them seemed lame or like they’d be out of place in a Klingon Campaign.
Lastly, the House’s Temperament is the mood or character of the House, how they engage with the larger Empire. Delightfully, the six Temperaments are given in Klingon which only increases their flexibility and your opportunity to interpret them. There are pIl Houses (enthusiastic and active), QeH Houses (hot-tempered and ambitious), and buS Houses (thoughtful and introspective) which is where I’d put the scheming House of Duras. You might also have a House which is jot (calm and stoic) or lurDech pab (traditional and unyielding) if you don’t want a House full of politics or a Duj ngaDHa’ House (audacious and reckless) if you want nothing but that. Each of these Temperaments gives you some personality for the Great House (which your character can go along with or push back on) and it provides +1 to two different Attributes as well as +1 to a Discipline of the player’s choice.
Once the Great House is made it can affect the Main Characters mechanics during Lifepath generation. It has value during the arc of the campaign as well, though, and not just with the enduring effect of the Trait for any members. Great Houses have Reputation scores just like characters and when Klingons of Great Houses meet, a d20 roll determines if there’s any bad blood or preconceptions just based on House. A high roll means a rivalry between the Houses but a low roll means they respect you immediately. Having a high Reputation makes both of those scenarios more likely, which I just love.
If you need assistance on a Task, and it makes sense, you can have the Great House assist you with a roll as if it were a character or starship. Great Houses have three different Attributes: Influence (as in political), Might (military power), and Wealth (their resources and holdings). When a House assists it rolls 1d20 with a Target Number of one of these Attributes plus the House Reputation. Trying to find out the secret plans of an enemy House, for example, could be something your character turns to their House for and so they get an assist on the Task with the Great House rolling Influence + Reputation. It’s not likely to sway things in a huge way (the Target Number is low and crits only happen on a 1) but it’s a great way to easily represent House power.
Lastly, the GM can use a House to introduce plotlines to the story but the players can also introduce Supporting Characters using their House. Once per mission, a Great House member can introduce an additional Supporting Character beyond the Crew Support pool, provided that member is a junior House member, bodyguard, advisor, or otherwise connected to their House. Houses can also change and advance, though (like starships) players have to use their own Milestones for that. You can even spend big to make your family a Great House or to make your Great House into a sitting member of the High Council!
Example: House of Malar
Years (!) ago I wrote up a Klingon head of a Great House named Qurek. I’ve used him a few times as an adversary and also wrote up a Mirror Universe version of him (which might be my favorite character out of the Mirror Universe series). Having Qurek as the joH (leader) of the House of Malar provides an opportunity to try out these House rules and see how they work.
Rather than roll, I’m going to pick out a Status for the House of Malar that’s Old and Fallen. Part of Qurek’s backstory is that he retired to his holdings after the war with the Cardassians (not the one before the Dominion War, the one started by the Betreka Nebula Incident). He’s eschewed political games until the ascension of Gowron whom he can’t stand. This makes the House of Malar a fading star in the Empire (for now) and provides +1 Control and +1 Insight, which aren’t high stats for Qurek but that’s alright. Characters also get a Value for being in the House (Qurek’s Value of “Revenge is a Dish Best Served Brutally” fits the bill) and they start with a Reputation of 2 rather than the usual 3.
I’m willing to leave the Hosue Legacy up to chance and got “Leaders” which is just fine by me. This provides +1 Command and a Focus (such as Qurek’s Leadership or Starship Tactics), and it also provides a Talent. You can pick from anything but Leadership Houses get access to two cool Talents: Commanding Bloodline (you ignore Complications when rolling a Command Task or assist) and Ancestor’s Mien (you look like an ancestor so when you succeed at a Command Task and spend Momentum to recover an ally’s Stress, they or another ally can get bonus Stress back).
Lastly, we have House Temperament, which I’m also willing to leave to chance. My first roll is QeH, meaning a hot-tempered or ambitious House, which doesn’t quite fit so I’ll just reroll. Instead I get lurDech Pab, a traditional and unyielding Temperament, which is an excellent fit. This gives +1 to Insight, Reason, and any Discipline of your choice. Again, I would likely take a look at Qurek’s stats after this creation process because he’s not a great example of his House but maybe that’s alright too.
For the finishing touches, the Reputation starts the same as my character (though it might change) which makes it 2, and the leader is already determined to be Qurek himself. That means I just have to decide on the House’s Attributes. Influence should be low so I’ll leave that at 6, but Might and Wealth are both important so they’ll get 3 points each. In summary…
House of Malar, led by Qurek
- Attributes: +1 Control, +1 Reason, +2 Insight
- Disciplines: +1 Command, +1 to another of your choice
- Value: Something to reflect being a damaged house such as “When threatened, fight!” or “If you must negotiate, watch your enemy’s eyes.”
- Talent: Any one, including Commanding Bloodline or Ancestor’s Mien (Klingon Empire Core Rulebook, p. 137)
- House Attributes: Influence 6, Might 9, Wealth 9
- Starting Reputation: 2
With that, we’re all ready to go! If I’m playing Qurek and others in the group want to be part of his House (maybe it’s a whole campaign for the House of Malar to redirect the future of the Klingon people!) then they can either use Environment and Upbringing to make their character stats or they can apply the stat adjustments above. I can also use this to modify Klingon NPCs to be House retainers that have a distinct feel and Supporting Characters on Qurek’s ship could be from this House and get these adjustments (I even get a free invoke of one during each mission). If nothing else, this House is out there now and could be a potential ally or adversary itself. Maybe the characters get into a rivalry with Qurek and then later their Houses are vying against the House of Malar in the Klingon High Council. We could have a Social Conflict scene or just roll House Attributes against House Attributes to take care of political capital. Or both! Feel free to use the House of Malar in your own campaign and let me know about your own Klingon Houses in the comments.