Shackleton Expanse Campaign Guide Review

I’m here to talk about the Shackleton Expanse Campaign Guide, the much-anticipated setting book for STA‘s sandbox region of space. Mark Compton already gave his thoughts on the book and Jim Johnson gave us an interview as well.

This review originally appeared on Continuing Mission.

The book starts off with a discussion on how this book relates to the Living Campaign of Star Trek Adventures. Basically, Jim Johnson lays out very nicely the behind-the-scenes perspective of the opening months of the game’s rollout. Modiphius from the start wanted a reactive campaign and they laid out the Living Campaign, but almost immediately the realities of managing all that while the game was being written were too challenging not to mention getting things approved by the franchise. With the Klingon Empire core rulebook they also wanted to take a new look at the sandbox area of the Shackleton Expanse and how it could fit into Star Trek Adventures.

A big part of this book, though, is setting secrets. On page 6 the Shackleton Expanse book makes this pretty clear by declaring Players: Stop Reading Here! I’m going to try and respect that and skirt around spoilers in this book. I can only go so far, though, so when I need to get a little more specific I’ll mark a section out with Spoiler Images. These won’t fully spell out things that are better left secret but if you want to find out everything yourself during the exploration of the Shackleton Expanse then stop reading when you see them.

Introduction to the Expanse

The first few chapters of the book are pretty fair game so let’s go into those in detail! The first question you might have is What is the Shackleton Expanse? followed by Where is the Shackleton Expanse? The map below shows the general area where you can find it, on the far side of the Klingon Empire. There are a lot of comments online about why the Federation is divided and how the distant part that’s “cut off” can keep in contact with the “main part.” You can look up some of the technical details online but the upshot is that this part isn’t cut off. This is a two-dimensional map but a three-dimensional model can show the UFP going up and over the Klingon Empire, as well as the Klingon Empire shifting underneath and the Romulan Empire in a little ball…

There’s no question, though, that the portion of the Federation shown in this map, the portion with Narendra Station, is more remote than other parts. This is the “distant borderlands” of the Federation and the Shackleton Expanse is the “wilderness” beyond. Like all wildernesses, this isn’t really the blank slate that it’s painted as but instead a region that isn’t known to “civilized” folk and holds a lot of questions. The Expanse is full of lots of spatial issues like gravimetric shear and navigational barriers so neither the Federation nor the Klingon Empire spent many resources exploring it until the 2340s (just before the Next Generation series).

As a result, the Shackleton Expanse is a massive sandbox setting for your Star Trek Adventures game. You can set your course out into the Expanse and see what you find, or you can be part of the systematic exploration of the Expanse on behalf of whichever polity your crew serves. It’s also possible for GMs to pick and borrow from this book to put it into other parts of the galaxy, though that removes some of the amazing connections in this book. For campaigns focused on the Shackleton Expanse, Starbase 364 (the so-called Narendra Station) is a starbase jointly run by the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire. Some information about the Expanse and about Narendra Station already appeared in the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook but the information here takes that and runs.

We get stats for the station (following the starbase rules from the Command Division Supplement) as well as level-by-level descriptions of the layout. This is especially important because there’s been a major shift for STA since the initial Beta Quadrant Sourcebook description and we now need a lot more information on what the Klingons are doing on Narendra Station for those gaming groups playing Klingon crews in the Expanse. I’m with Mark that some more descriptions of the Galleria including some storefronts would really be interesting, but keep your eye here for some Continuing Mission contributions in that vein. Lastly, and in another part of the book, we get full stats for the command staff of Starbase 364: Admiral April Hebert, General Kargan of the KDF, the Betazoid CMO Dr. Helena Taliaferro, the Klingon doctor Commander N’Ria, the Zakdorn security officer Lt. Commander Sar Doveli and her Klingon counterpart Lt. Kahbel, the station’s Klingon chief engineer Lt. Olok, and the Denobulan CPO Tiene in charge of cargo and flight operations.

Skipping to the very back of the book, I’m also excited to report a four-page section for randomly rolling up star systems. It’s pretty fun.

Image © Modiphius Entertainment

Options for Exploring the Shackleton Expanse

There are lots of options that you can take and use in your Star Trek Adventures campaign in the Shackleton Expanse. If you’ve already been playing around in this part of the galaxy and making up your own story then you can make use of all that awesome stuff in here. There are write-ups of factions interested in the Expanse, each of them several pages, so that you have details and plot hooks for what the Federation, the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star Empire, and the Orion Syndicate have in mind, as well as a few native alien factions that I’ll talk about in a minute. There are also smaller sections detailing what the Borg, Breen, Cardassians, Gorn, Miradorn, Ferengi, Nyberrite Alliance, Talarian Republic, Tholian Assembly, Tzenkethi Coalition and even the Dominion might pursue in the Expanse.

There’s a lot more here and I’m hiding most of it behind the spoiler image below but before we get there I’ll say that this book also sports an official Orion species lifepath option for the first time. I really love the inclusion of the Orions on a more galactic scene and would love to see the “bit players” of Star Trek get more air time in this way.

The two major alien factions within the Shackleton Expanse are the Akaru, the Cal-Mirrans, the Qofuari, and the VinShari. The Akaru are a pointy-eared, technocratic humanoid species that is unified by the rule of a mysterious, seemingly-immortal alien named Iryax Nadaon the Ageless. They have goverend the Akaru’s home planet for 4,500 years and have only recently directed their people to develop warp technologies and head out to meet the visitors from beyond the Expanse. Even more alien to the human mind are the Cal-Mirran people, a crystalline and water-based species held together by electrical impulses. They are deeply spiritual, which makes sense as they look like stained glass windows, and operate in a pacifistic Cooperative which has not yet been formally contacted by the Federation.

The Qofuari look like otter-centaurs and it only gets more interesting from there. Their planet features scatterings of island chains which are politically independent from each other, though peacefully coexisting. With a planet that’s around 85% ocean the Qofuari ride its waves in wooden tall ships and appear to be rather primitive… except that they have theorized all sorts of advanced tech. They just don’t want to bother. Lastly, the red-skinned VinShari are masters of organic technology and have a xenophobic streak that would make a Romulan pause. Much of their society depends on the capture and harvesting of spaceborne entities, though a growing movement opposes the practice.

All of these species are ready to be thrust into your STA campaign and there are ample opportunities for both Federation and Klingon crews to find reason to interact with them. They also all include lifepath species templates so that you can easily make supporting characters when your ship takes on a Neelix-like guide… or maybe you’ll be the first VinShari in Starfleet after petitioning for asylum. It’s all up to you!

The Shackleton Expanse Campaign

If you don’t want to create your own missions from the material in the Shackleton Expanse book, or you just want to try something different, you can try the prewritten campaign that comes with it. As mentioned at the top, the Shackleton Expanse was created as a setting for the original living campaign that launched with Star Trek Adventures at the beginning. Many of the missions from that living campaign are reprinted here with slight revisions and details for Klingon crews.

The first mission (re)written up is “Bacchus’s Irresistible Call,” an Original Series Era rescue mission that requires the crew’s ship to verge just into the Expanse. Next comes “Punishment and Crime” which happens just after the last one and has the ship headed to a system just inside the Expanse following the orders of an admiral who’s secretive, paranoid, or both.

Image © Modiphius Entertainment

After that, the missions move to the 24th century and the Next Generation Era. Like all STA missions you can change the era of these if you like or you can bridge the gap through time travel, long-lived officers, stasis chambers, or a number of other technobabble suggestions that the book outlines. Personally, I like the idea of just rolling up a new crew, perhaps with some family connections or mentorship ties for the players to feel good about. That way you can bring them back like those TOS cameos on The Next Generation!

It starts with the renamed “The Assessor Gambit” which has a scientific and strategic meeting aboard Narendra Station to set the stage. Then on to “The Displaced” which brings the concerns of the Dominion War to Narendra Station. That’s actually the end of the refurbished Living Campaign missions but certainly not the end of this campaign. From there we get the “second season” of the saga but it’s worth noting that you could really draw out the earlier story with the missions from the Living Campaign. In fact, the other missions from the 23rd century Living Campaign (“Adrift,” “Abyss Station,” “Fury of the Hive,” “We Came Forth…,” and “Simplicity”) are presented as Mission Briefs along with four new Briefs (“Splinters of Fire,” “Into the Heart of Murasaki 312,” “Return to Beta Niobe,” and “Piece of the Puzzle”). Of special note is a fifth new Mission Brief that has the crew coming to the aid of the U.S.S. Enterprise directly after the events of Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan which is just so fun.

The next step of the campaign’s arc follows directly off of the revelations from “The Displaced.” In “As Many As Six Impossible Things” the crew starts to learn some of the deep secrets of the Shackleton Expanse and I think it’s a really awesome mission (though I’m also a sucker for any Alice in Wonderland references). It’s a tumultuous experience (hence the title) and afterwards there’s an opportunity for some “straightforward” Starfleet work with “Joy’s Soul Lies in the Doing” when the crew makes official First Contact with the Akaru and their strange leader. It’s mysterious and requires care but the last mission had lots of danger and explosions so it feels like a breather.

Continuing in the new aliens vein, “The Needs of the Few” brings the crew face-to-face with the VinShari and their questionable hunting practices. There’s less mystery this time but still some moral high stakes as the crew finds themselves in the middle of a cultural war which will make a pretty sour first impression of the Federation for some large portion of the VinShari people. The same clues that led to the Akaru and VinShari next lead to the alien Cal-Mirran in “Prism” where the crew has to help the water-crystalline natives and prevent the threat that has been growing since “The Displaced” from coming to a head.

I really, really want to write about the incredible metaplot here but lets just say that it’s definitely epic in scope and ties into Star Trek canon throughout the eras. By the time you’ve finished “Prism,” though, what’s at stake in the Shackleton Expanse should be painfully clear. The next mission, “Envoy,” ties those back into the first mission with gravimetric distortions that were encountered in 2269 (the Original Series missions’ timeframe). Those clues from a century earlier will get stitched together as Starfleet (or the Klingon Empire) makes sure it’s the one to investigate and not someone with fewer scruples. A prime candidate for that “less scruples” role is the Romulans and when a vital system near their borders is explored in “Deliverance” there are a number of different dangerous outcomes that need to be avoided as the saga comes to a climactic end. With the end of the metaplot, the book provides some general guidance for continuing on as the implications of what’s been revealed are teased out and more distant groups in the Delta Quadrant potentially learn what has been uncovered.

We also get a number of different mission briefs for the 24th century. A number of them (“Decision Point,” “Doomed to Repeat the Past,” “Fading Suns,” “Convoy SE-119,” “Tug of War,” “Signals,” and “We Are the Stars…”) are rewrites of the missions from the 24th living campaign, while others (“The Orion Heist,” “Second Contact,” “Disunification,” “Cleft of the Rock,” “The Machine,” “Defending Narendra Station,” “The Fallen,” “The Qofuari Conundrum,” “A Picture’s Worth”) expand your campaign options amid the other events in the book.

Interestingly, other Mission Briefs involve the Shackleton Expanse but are connected more to Star Trek events that you might remember from series and movies. The missions “Strategic Location” and “The Chimes at Midnight” focus on the fallout around Narendra station when the Klingon Empire withdraws from the Khitomer Accords and attacks Cardassia at the start of the Dominion War. “Safe Passage” and “War Torn” take this a step farther as former aliles are pitted against each other around Narendra Station as hostilities erupt in full. The mission “Unintended Consequences” actually doesn’t involve the Shackleton Expanse at all but features the events of Star Trek: First Contact and the Battle of Sector 001. I think it was just an idea that was too good not to publish and fair play to that… Likewise, “Early Warning,” “The Fight for Betazed,” and “Viral Battlefield” are full on Dominion War missions without mention of the Expanse, probably stuff that would have gone in the Gamma Quadrant Sourcebook if Mission Briefs were a thing then. Lastly, “Strange Bedfellows” and “The Expanse Initiative” follow the impact of Star Trek: Nemesis and the supernova of the Romulan sun respectively on the power dynamics in the Shackleton Expanse.

Conclusion

There’s some NPC and starship information at the end of the book (mostly ships and folks that are either generally around the Expanse or appear in multiple missions) but I can’t really talk about any of them without giving away parts of the spoiler sections. Plus, I think you can imagine what they might entail. I will say that there are quite a few Orion generic NPCs to round out the Syndicate’s roster in the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook so that’s a cool bonus. Also, one of the first things to do when you open this book is check out the “Order of ______” on page 267. You won’t be disappointed.

But enough of that nudge-wink, business. You’ve sat through spoiler labels and “I wish I could say more” for a whole review. What’s the bottom line, Mephit? I hear you say, Is this book worth the hype? Well, luckily here at Continuing Mission we have the Tribble Rating System (Revised) with which to determine this sort of thing. As far as Originality, Sci Fi Concepts, and Social Conflict Potential, I hope I’ve clearly indicated that these are big wins in all three categories. This region is great and there is a mix of science- and tension-driven plots throughout. For Comprehensibility I have to give the book another tribble as it’s so well designed and tightly written. Everything is easily accessible and a lot of thought has been given not only to what makes a good story here but how the authors of this book can assist you in making those stories the best possible version at your own gaming table. Lastly, the Adaptability of the Shackleton Expanse itself to other parts of the galaxy might be tough but so much space is given to making Starfleet missions into Klingon missions, shifting the mysteries of the Expanse to other remote regions surrounding the UFP, and shifting the era of different events and missions.

Another great accomplishment and a perfect 5/5 Tribble rating. Get this book now!

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