Saturday, August 18, 2012

Biblical reference, part five

If you have just tuned in, I have been writing a series of articles regarding the creation of a new Star Trek game and taking the cue from how some television producers create a "bible", a guideline for the creation and production of their series.  We have our ship, our tone, our captain and some guidelines regarding the creation of NPCs.  What is next?

The adventures.

There are three sorts of narratives: man vs man, man vs nature, man vs himself.  The definitions themselves are open to interpretation.  For example, some might say man vs society is a fourth sort of conflict but for the purposes of this article I am lumping that in with nature in that nature encompasses a force that cannot be reasoned with in a conventional manner.  Nature can be manipulated to some extent (i.e. damming a river or seeding clouds to cause rain) as can Society (i.e. election campaign ads), and just as often Society and Nature can run amok regardless of a person's best efforts.  There are instances where the lines blur between conflicts, or there are stories that combine one or more.  For example, the Deep Space Nine Episode For The Uniform has Captain Sisko hunting former Starfleet officer and now Maquis rebel Eddington.  While on the face of it the story is a straightforward contest of wills, throughout the episode we see Sisko dealing with what he perceives are his personal shortcomings and his growing obsession with capturing Eddington.  The internal conflict is every bit as compelling as the external.

For the purpose of this article we are going to ignore man vs himself and focus on the other two, in large part because man vs himself is largely in the hands of the players.  The GM might produce situations where man vs himself comes up but such a circumstance is far easier to write in than to force someone to role play in a game.  It is entirely possible that players and GM both can collaborate and do some excellent role playing creating circumstances where man vs. himself is appropriate, but I am just saying that where role playing games are concerned mvm and mvn are the norms, mvh might arise from them and you should not push it.  Let mvh happen if the circumstances arise and everyone is cool with it.

So let us begin with man vs man. IO9 produced an excellent article about ten things they wanted to see in a new Star Trek series and this is a good place to start.  Number ten suggested we seen new aliens and this is a valid point, but at the same time we are dealing with an established universe and players do like to see some familiar faces, or at least faces with a canon background.  Are there any in it that are suitable?  Romulans?  Klingons?  Cardassians?  Borg?  Kazon?

 ...Um, no.  No, I think the Kazon are unsuitable.

However, Voyager did introduce one interesting alien race: The Vaadwaur:
The episode Dragon's Teeth was about an alien race that had employed a series of "underspace corridors" that allowed them to travel hundreds of light years in minutes.  They used the corridors to create an empire and ultimately their various enemies united to defeat them.  A contingent of Vaadwaur placed themselves in suspended animation and were awakened centuries later to a very different universe.  The episode ended with them fleeing in their small ships into the corridors, their fate unknown.

Imagine this.  There are reports of pirate raids on core Alpha Quadrant worlds, small vessels appearing suddenly, stealing industrial grade replicators, dilithium crystals, even possibly hijacking a starfleet vessel!  Records of these attacks identify the vessels as Vaadqwaur.  But how does this tie in with new aliens? What if there is something...different about them.  Their vessels have received upgrades.  How did they receive these upgrades?  Have the Vaadwaur found new allies?

Yes.  Yes, they have.  The Ukkoa:
Last year I criticized a GM named Drew due to his lack of creativity.  He ran an adventure with an alien race who was essentially like just about every other alien race seen in Star Trek: they either looked like humans, or they had funny foreheads.  One of the advantages a GM has in running a Star Trek game is they are not limited by this.  Your aliens can truly look alien.  One of the (very) few things I liked about Enterprise was one of the five Xindi races were aquatic, resembling manatees.
It was a bold creative idea, which shows that where Berman and Braga were concerned the blind squirrel really does sometimes find the nut.  The aquatic Xindi were not the first inhuman CGI aliens shown in 'Trek: there was Species 8472:
Species 8472 was a great idea; an alien race from a different dimension, they were introduced in the Voyagers episodes Scorpion parts one and two. The Borg discovered and provoked them, and in retaliatioin Species 8472 (their Borg designation; you never discover their real name.) proceeded to enact a war of extermination against all of 'Trek space.  They were utterly alien and could not be reasoned with.  Then Berman and Braga ruined them in their third appearance, In The Flesh, by having them adopt human form.  It turned out they were very reasonable fellows after all.  Everything that made them interesting was flushed because Berman and Braga played it safe.

Well, we aren't going to do that with The Ukkoa.  Who are they?  What are they?  What are their motivations?  Hailing from a different dimension, the Vaadwaur came across them by accident.  The Ukkoa have all but enslaved the Vaadwaur, are using them to test the Federation and Starfleet.  They have upgraded the Vaadwaur vessels with new technologies, possibly new and more dangerous weapons and wish to see how Starfleet will respond.

What other sort of villain could we introduce?  How about a good old fashioned pirate?  How about a pirate queen? Natalie "Nat" O'Malley is known as The Wicked Witch.  An Orion raised by human parents, independent trader captains, Nat had a difficult childhood growing up. She was always caught between two worlds.  When the Dominion War hit her parents had volunteered to help with the war effort by volunteering their ship to help ferry supplies and troops in non combat zones.  However their vessel was destroyed by a Dominion raiding party.  Embittered, blaming The Federation as much as The Dominion for the deaths of her parents for being unable to protect them in what was supposed to be a safe sector of space, Nat has turned pirate.  Over the past couple years she has stolen a wide variety of weapons and equipment, from a Romulan cloaking device to a Breen energy dampener.  She is smart, resourceful, someone who can match wits with the Lionheart crew.  And who knows?  Perhaps a dashing Starfleet officer might catch her eye and she may try and seduce him...or her, depending on the sensibilities of your players.

This goes to number eight on the list, cat and mouse games in space.  One of the things I hated about Deep Space Nine was their handling of space battles.  DS9 decided to ape Star Wars and turned majestic star ships into little better than fighter craft, easily blown apart.  Does anyone remember the most awesome battle in all of 'Trek, Khan vs. Kirk in Star Trek II?  These ships are supposed to be able to take a great deal of punishment.  The only ones that could were the ones that had major characters on them.

So when it comes to combat things should be a bit more interesting than point and shoot.  Creative uses of cloaking devices, decoy drones, electronic-counter-measures should be employed.  Make the tactical officer work at his job!  'Trek should be more about simple point and shoot.  Heck, watch the original series and see how Kirk used bluff in his encounters, trickery.

What else can we throw at the players?  Ethical dilemmas and failed utopias are on the list.  Push the players into wondering if supporting the Prime Directive is truly the best course.  See if you can get players to sit on opposite sides of the fence.  A planet not part of the Federation requiring help?  Is there some way to provide the help without violating the PD (By the way, I find the Next Generation era's version of the Prime Directive to be moral cowardice.  I much prefer Kirk's era's interpretation.  In fact, I prefer everything about the Kirk era of 'Trek and would gladly run a game in that environment if I knew I could find enough players to do so.).  Failed Utopias?  What if you combined both?  What if a planet had been a Utopia but a Federation vessel crashed, spilling antimatter through the air. Combined with the ship's photon torpedoes exploding and causing a massive tectonic upheaval the planet's environment and population have been devastated.  Survivors found a runabout, heavily damaged but it's power cells still functional, and it's replicator still operational.  Now a religion has grown around The Provider and all that keeps these people alive is what the replicator provides them.   Oh, but it gets worse.  According to scans the runabout's power cells are dying and within a few weeks The Provider will no longer function.  Taking the replicator, not replenishing the cells consigns hundreds of thousands of the last of this race to death.  On the one hand the Prime Directive says "Let them die!".  On the other hand, this entire mess is The Federation's fault.

Number three.  Diplomacy.   The reason you often see the two sides cliche is Star Trek is usually presented in hour long self contained episodes so things cannot be too complicated.  However this is a role playing game and things can be a bit more complex than that.  The difference is how you make it complicated.  Drew's game involved two sides of a humanoid race, which was a cliche.  He decided to spice things up by adding space angels, the Jem Hadar, and Section 31.  Add to that his inability to understand his role as GM and to handle all encounters by role playing all the NPCs and his attempt at a diplomatic crisis turned into a mess.

Look at the American political system and the numerous lobbyists and special interest groups that influence both parties.  Look at countries like Great Britain, Canada and Germany and their multi-party systems.  Things can get messy in quite a hurry.  Add religion into the mix and things can get seriously out of hand.  A diplomatic crisis can be role played with multiple factions getting involved.

And things can take a humorous turn as well.  Babylon 5 had a race call The Drazi and their elections consisted of the adults reaching into a barrel and pulling out green or purple sashes.  What followed was green and purple beating the snot out of one another until there was a winner, said winner running things until next election.

 Nice to see the costume designers went the extra mile and had them wearing different kinds of clothes.  In the 'Trek universe all too often aliens of the same race seem to wear the same outfit.

Imagine Lionheart coming to a planet to arbitrate a dispute, only discovering that it's the season of Glarn!  Now in the middle of negotiations the rules have been completely changed and the away team needs to learn what the hell the new rules are before someone gets killed...

Finally, there is the number one on the list and that is artificial intelligence.  With Data and Voyager's Doctor in existence how else can artificial intelligence be incorporated into the game?  What if a rogue AI had a mission to make every Starfleet vessel self aware?  What if Lionheart's computer became self aware?  Would removing it's awareness be killing it?  What are the moral implications?  What if the robots from the episode I, Mudd were responsible?  What if a twin of one of those computers Kirk tricked into self destructing was coming after The Federation for revenge?  What if the Lionheart's Emergency Medical Hologram acquired full self awareness and demanded his rights as a sentient being to not be the EMH?  What if she wants to paint?  Is it a glitch in the system?  Sabotage?  What do the PCs do?

There are a great many potential plots available to the GM, from straight up combat to other role playing opportunities, from one-shot adventures to expansive story arcs.  All that is required is a little pre planning and trying to anticipate what the players want as well as how they might react, and how to compensate when they do what you do not expect.

Next week we wrap up Biblical Reference with some errata.

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