Sunday , May 26 2024

RPG Review: ‘Star Trek Lower Decks’ from Modiphius

The Star Trek: Lower Decks Campaign Guide from Modiphius Entertainment adds a whole new dimension to the Star Trek Adventures roleplaying game. Much of Star Trek, and the original Adventures core rulebook, is more serious in its exploration of the galaxy and focuses on the groundbreaking exploits of the command crew. The acclaimed Lower Decks animated show gave a new perspective to the sometimes too-polished world of the Federation, showing the adventures of the people who swab the decks to make them shine. Yet it is not all work and no play: in Lower Decks, space is “the funnest frontier.”

The Undiscovered Fun-try

Like the Lower Decks show, these are the adventures of the next line of defense for the Federation. They complete supply runs and take up the slack on second contacts long after the glory of first contact has faded and illustrious ships like the Enterprise and Defiant have moved on. The stakes are arguably lower, like the decks, although there are still massive space explosions and transporter malfunctions. This makes for lighter play and chances for players to explore more of the galaxy outside of Federation-mandated tasks.

The Lower Decks campaign guide is an expansion from the original system, so playing requires the Star Trek Adventures core rulebook. Gameplay is based on the 2d20 system, modified for the science fiction genre and specifically the Star Trek universe. The core book sets aspects of conflict, whether social or combat, as well as how to build character sheets for ships. As Gene Roddenberry wrote in the Star Trek: The Next Generation Writer’s/Director’s Guide, “a major hero of Star Trek has always been the Starship Enterprise and her mission. The ship is not just a vehicle.”

The system boils down actions to Tasks, which set the goals of scenes of play much like in screenwriting. Traits sum up important aspects of characters or settings, and Advantages and Complications can affect how easy the Task is to accomplish. As in Star Trek itself, characters work to achieve their Tasks through creativity and a bit of luck, simulated on the tabletop by rolling dice.

Star Trek: Lower Decks – Gameplay in Space

The Star Trek Adventures system translates smoothly to the Lower Decks campaign guide since it is the same gaming universe, merely a different aspect of it than what is often thought of as “Star Trek.” One of the key aspects of the character-building system is establishing Values, which fit with anyone of interest within Star Fleet since we all have our own personal goals no matter our rank. Rather than gaining levels or amassing treasure, the goals of many fantasy roleplaying games for developing characters, Star Trek Adventures focuses on improving player characters by getting promoted along a career track. This makes sense for a society with replicators making personal ownership an outdated ambition. Lower Decks gives players a chance to work with characters newly starting out or working hard to finally achieve their big break.

The Star Trek: Lower Decks campaign guide pulls much of its material directly from the Lower Decks show. It takes as its time AD 2380, a few years after the main bulk of Star Trek (with Next Generation, Deep Space 9, and Voyager all taking place within a couple of decades, from 2364-2378).

The Dominion War is over, Voyager has heroically returned from the Delta Quadrant, and the galaxy is looking toward a new equilibrium, with the Federation seeking to explore in peace. Whole chapters of the campaign guide are dedicated to the Federation’s once-powerful enemies, the Klingons and Romulans, now both in new eras with numerous factions seeking to forge their own paths.

Lower Decks also highlights other powers taken from obscurer old episodes of previous series, such as the seemingly dimwitted Pakled and the piratical Orions. The rulebook gives an interesting analysis of the Pakleds, suggesting that a spacefaring society ruled by whoever has the biggest hat may actually be hiding distinctive cleverness for a long con that may unfold over numerous gaming sessions.

Expanded player options also allow for characters from different species, like the fearsome Gorn or the often-confusing Tamarians, whose language is built on historical and mythological metaphors.

A Wider Scope

Along with adding diversity to the space setting, the Lower Decks Campaign Guide also features thorough descriptions of life in Starfleet. Players and game masters will earn a deeper understanding of Starfleet policies, transfers to other ships or the unnerving Starbase 80, the complex relationship with death and individuality in a universe of clones, mysterious rebirths, and even more mysterious reappearances. With families being allowed on board many of the longer-range starships, players may well be related to each other or face making rolls on the Random Family Events table to deal with an NPC family member. There is also the eternal question of what to do with off-time, especially with ready access to a holodeck.

Much of the Lower Decks Campaign Guide is loaded with adventure suggestions and stats for new starships and NPCs, broadly expanding what is available in the Star Trek Adventures core rulebook. Characters may now battle Pakled Clumpships or debate feline Kzinti characters. The flexibility even allows players to make characters in non-Starfleet settings, like the second-season episode “wej Duj” showed with its juxtaposition of Vulcan science and Klingon warship crews. Players might be Borg attempting to build an interplexing beacon to establish contact with the wider Collective, or Ferengi dealing with missing spare parts that may have been sold on the black market.

Hilarity at the Table

The hilarious vibe of Lower Decks comes through especially well in callouts and asides that appear on nearly every page, with first-person comments from Lower Decks characters. Ensign D’vana Tendi cheerfully laughs about manually pumping an injured person’s heart, “Because it’s funny, right?” Captain Carol Freeman vents about the hardest things about working with family, and planning sweet revenge with reassignments. Overly helpful hologram Badgey gives lessons on carnage with psychotic enthusiasm. Laughing out loud while reading roleplaying game campaign guides is a rarity, but it is guaranteed with Star Trek: Lower Decks.

About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.

Check Also

Photo of Brent Spiner

GalaxyCon Richmond: Brent Spiner on Playing Data in ‘Star Trek: Picard’ and More

"There wasn't a real precedent on how you play an android."