Last week I picked up the Humble “Star Trek Adventures” Bundle. For a minimum of $15 I got over a dozen PDFs including the core manual, one manual for each of the central disciplines (Command, Security, and Operations), character sheets from 80% of the franchise installments (only Discovery is missing), dossiers on several galactic locations, and a handful of pre-packaged adventure modules. It’s a lot.
Like any episode of Star Trek (admittedly post-TOS), the system focuses on two things: Tasks and Encounters.
In STA, Tasks are how the character sheet models the way characters interact with the world around them. A basic task has a difficulty number from 1 to 5, and this number is how many “successes” a character must achieve in order to obtain his or her goal. The determination of success is based on rolls of standard d20 against the sum of a character’s most applicable attribute and discipline values. Attributes are things like “Control”, “Fitness”, and “Reason”, while disciplines encompass Trek-like jobs such as “Command”, “Security”, and “Engineering”. By rolling lower than the sum of these two stats on the pool of d20s, the character has succeeded, and if their number of successes meets or exceeds the task’s difficulty value, then everything works out. There’s a whole lot more to this system, but the task mechanic is nicely compartmentalized to serve as a stand-alone one-off, or as a building-block for more complicated, possibly more tense scenario.
Encounters, as you might understand, model the interactions that characters have with each other and with NPCs that they encounter. STA’s best feature, in my opinion, is it’s decidedly “anti-murderhobo” approach. There is a lot of content in the rule book dedicated to reminding players that Starfleet officers should abide by the Prime Directive and the Spirit of Star Trek at all times: Observe, learn, understand, never shoot first, and diplomacy is always the better option. Players should never go in guns blazing. Players should rarely fire their weapons, and in fact the rules support this by giving GMs many mechanics to keep players on the Star Trek path, and to air-quote firmly nudge air-quote them back onto that path should they decide to leave it. With the wrong group this could be construed as “railroading”, but if that’s the prevailing sentiment at the table then it is the “wrong group” for a Star Trek setting. STA is a game for people who want their RPGs to foster creative decision-making that doesn’t involve a blood-bath, their ability to work out a situation, and their love of Star Trek and what it means to them.
From a “behind the screen” perspective, STA has one other feature that I appreciate, and that is its belief that the GM and the players are working together (even though the GM in STA does more to actively hamper character progression than most RPGs). Not a few times does the rule book state that nothing the GM does should be a mystery to the players. This is explained in context by reminding everyone that the characters are Starfleet officers. They have made it through the rigorous course-work demanded by Starfleet Academy and have earned their comissions. Even though they may had been rolled as relatively new officers, they are still the top of their class, and therefor every situation isn’t a “black box” the way it might be in other RPGs. When faced with problems, characters in STA are assumed to have assessed the situation, collected their tools and their wits, and are focused on a desirable outcome. They know how they must approach the task, so things like the difficulty number, advantages gained, and complications suffered, are to be revealed up-front, or decided upon between the participating player(s) and the GM. This is keeping true to the spirit of Star Trek, where everyone seems to have an answer (often stated in “Treknobabble”) to every problem; the rules state that all situations can be resolved if given enough time, the right tools, and with a minimum of interruption. The difficulty, then, is changing one or more of these ideal parameters, and having the characters, players, and GM accept any potential fallout as well as any achieved success. This is all part of being a Starfleet officer.
STA does have a few issues, from my perspective. STA can get as obtuse as a positronic brain once the surface mechanics have been explained away. Almost every rule has exceptions and conditions based on circumstances at the time of resolution, and the fact that conditions can change while the resolution is being determined thanks to advantages and complications, I feel that a cheat-sheet is very necessary in order to ensure that the flow-chart of benefits and detriments are applied. As someone who likes his games as rules-lite as possible, this setup was giving me a headache. STA also commits the “cardinal sin” of TTRPGs, and that’s the use of custom hardware in the form of a Star Trek branded “challenge die”. As everything in the core rule book refers to the use of this die as if you had a stack of them next to you it can be rather distracting, despite the inclusion of info on how to use a basic d6 should you not be dedicated enough to have purchased these special items. As I prefer (actually, require) the use of VTTs to play my RPGs these days, it’s actually less of a problem, except that there isn’t full, widespread support for Star Trek Adventures in any VTT system at this point. Thankfully, someone made a STA Discord bot which can handle many STA-specific aspects, including the rolling of the challenge die.
I think running STA would be fairly complicated, as its branching situation resolution system might be hell for me (personally) to keep track of. Also, as the game has firmly planted its flag in the soil of “less shooting, more talking”, creating interesting NPCs and engaging interactions seems like it would take more time than any other game-prep tasks. Still, I think this system and setting could be very rewarding, specifically because the low-level rules are very straightforward, and especially because the legacy of Star Trek is one which elevated intellect and problem solving over brute force. STA is a thinking-person’s RPG which rewards well thought out approaches and downplays the usual “kill em all and let the gods sort it out” approach that other systems just shrug at.