Space travel procedure + random space encounters

Accidental review of Star Trek Adventures

I’ve run Star Trek Adventures a couple of times now. Its core system is feels like a bespoke mechanism for treknobabble and dealing with sci-fi problems, which is pretty much exactly what I need for a trek game.

It’s space combat system feels like playing FTL: Faster Than Light, where either you wipe your enemies or you engage in a manic struggle for survival. The ground combat system is similar, but without the threat of ejection into the void or a warp-core breach.

It’s relatively difficult to find the information you need when running the game, so much so that I created this google slides doc to ease the running of combat when I was prepping my second campaign. Even then, combat took a while.

The game also has a great online character generator.

The characters pick several beliefs and then receive meta-currency for engaging with them. I struggled to make that work in my games, just as I struggled with Burning Wheel’s meta-currencies and belief system.

Star Trek Adventures has lots of material about the federation and trek-stuff in general, and I wonder what it’s for. I assume most people buying the core book know a reasonable amount about Trek already or they wouldn’t be buying it. But if you didn’t know much about Trek, the best way to find out is to watch a few episodes or movies, not read a dusty tome.

There is even a series of missions available for free on their website which I used when I was getting started. TOS and TNG eras supported.

The biggest problem I had was with a total lack of procedural tools. The game assumes you’re playing in an episodic fashion and provides no support for a sandbox. And I wanted to run a sandbox.

So I made up a space travel procedure. Below is a modified version based on what did and did not work.

Optional musical theme for this post. I used to play it at the start of every session. In the second campaign I ran I used the opening and closing credits from The Orville.

Sagittarius, by Sidney Hall and Richard Rouse Bloxam

Actual Space Travel Procedure

I’m assuming the use of a hexmap, and that each hex corresponds to a star system. Hexes can also be empty, and there are space features which span several hexes such as nebulae.

Your ship has two main actions when travelling: Scanning and Moving.

When your ship Scans, choose one option from below

  • Detailed Scan: receive detailed sensor information on any one adjacent hex (the star’s class; along with an estimate of how many space ships or other constructed space entities there are; and how many planetary bodies there are, divided into small (roughly Earth sized and smaller) and large (ice giants and gas giants))
  • Rudimentary Stellar Scan: receive sensor information about two adjacent hexes. Rudimentary sensor information just gives the class of the star (if there is one).
  • Detailed FLT trail Scan: receive detailed information about faster-than-light trails in any one adjacent hex. This might detail the number and direction of any trails, and information about the size and speed of those ships. The information may be up to a week old.
  • Rudimentary FTL trail Scan: receive information about faster-than-light trails in any two adjacent hexes. This is just an estimate of number and direction, and only pertaining to travel from the last day or so.

When you Scan you should make some sort of roll or check that will determine the quantity of information revealed.

When your ship Moves you go from your current hex to an adjacent one. Choose one option from below

  • Cruise: Travel at your ship’s standard speed. You can Move to one adjacent hex
  • Sneak: Travel at half your ship’s standard speed. You can Move half of a hex’s length and it is much harder for you to be spotted by FTL trail scans (get advantage or something)

Each day your ship can choose two actions from the above list.

  • If your ship will Cruise twice, you can go an additional hex. This is called Maximum FTL. Sustaining Maximum FTL for more than one day will require an engineering check.
  • If your ship will Scan twice, then you can scan not only adjacent hexes, but also hexes adjacent to those (ie not only the nearest 6 hexes but also the 12 hexes surrounding that.
  • Your ship can also spend its actions repairing but that is probably too system-specific to get into here.
Infrared image of the Andromeda Galaxy

Random Space Encounters

I would use a hexmap that’s about 10×10 with star systems no further than 4 hexes from each other.

Once per dey, roll on the Initial Encounter table. If you get an encounter as the result then also roll Complication table.

d6Initial EncounterComplication
1Interior EncounterInterior Encounter
2AnomalyInterior Encounter
3Exterior EncounterExterior Encounter
4No encounterExterior Encounter
5 No encounter No encounter
6No encounterNo encounter

If you want to have less encounters, keep the table the same but use a larger dice (d8/d10) and make all results above 6 result in ‘No encounter’.

If you want to have more encounters, roll for an initial encounter twice per day instead of once.

d6Anomaly
1A ripple in space-time: ship’s dog Rover is replaced with a cat from the mirror universe that acts like a dog, answers to the name Rover.
2Beachball sized orb follows the ship: Whoever looks at it sees a minaturised version of their homeworld.
3Ion storm causes a momentary lapse in holodeck safety protocols: A historical figure from a holodeck program is made material and sentient.
4Gaseous mind-parasite sneaks in through an exhaust port and infiltrates replicators: Crew’s food becomes hallucinogenic.
5A rapaciously hungry tar-like blob attaches itself to the hull causing minor damage: It will grow and devour the whole ship if left to itself. It is psychic and is very open about its desire to consume the entire universe.
6Wormhole: Takes the crew back to stone-age earth where aliens are trying to mess up the future. The wormhole will collapse in 3 hours.

As I used up events on the Interior Encounter table below, I added more events based on the actions of the party. These are intended to mostly be short social encounters which emulate day-to-day life on the ship.

d12Interior Encounter
1Cultural celebration for one of the less prominent species/cultures on the ship
2Ship’s pilot is challenged to a simulation race
3Physical poetry recital
4Barcrawl of 20th century pop-culture bars and pubs on the holodeck
53rd grade’s production of the first ever FTL flight – Senior officers are invited to performance
6Safety Drill – how to handle a virulent space-plague
7A live-action production of The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan, performed by engineering
8An attempt to add obscure alien cuisine to the replicators has succeeded and the crew are invited to Exotic Food Night
9Film night and munchies after
10Chief historian interviews senior crewmembers
11Security Chief puts senior officers through a hand-to-hand combat refresher course
12Judging a contest to name a new species of space-whale
Edmund Hillary, namesake of the ship in my second campaign, the USS Hillary. In my first campaign the ship was the USS Ibn Battuta.

In the Exterior Encounters table below, roll d12 twice: the first result is the encountered ship, whilst the second is the mood/motivation of the ship. You may need to roll another ship to interact with the first one for it to make sense. I took inspiration from the random encounter tables in Hot Springs Islands which are fantastic.

The first 8 entries in the table were universal no matter which part of the hexmap the players were in. The last 4 entries changed depending on which inhabited star system they were nearest to.

Because the actual encounters were so closely related to the setting the players were exploring, I’ve genericised them below.

I also used the table below when players scanned a region of space and wanted information on the ships that were travelling through there (or had recently travelled there).

d12ShipMood/Motivation
1Merchant VesselIn distress
2Pleasure craftRepairing
3Insane raiderPatrolling
4Prospector/Mining shipAid Mission
5Archeological/Geological research vesselHunting/Gathering/Mining
6Astronomical research vesselFleeing/Pursuit
7Mind Vampire Psychological warfare frigateIn Combat
8Peacekeeper patrol cruiserCritical Emergency
9Local Merchant VesselSurveying
10Passenger ShipTrading
11Carrier GroupDiplomatic Mission
12Scout ShipEspionage

It would be perfectly possible to re-order the Mood/Motivation column and use 2d6 instead of a d12, knowing that the middle results will be weighted towards much more than the outer results.

Design Notes

I designed the above system for encounters to make it the game feel like Star Trek TNG. Some great bits of sci-fi happen in the less action/diplomacy centered moments of the show, for instance: Data’s excellent poem about his cat, Spot; Worf discussing Klingon mating rituals; and Picard Day. Moments that let us see the characters in a more relaxed setting, or that illuminate and flesh out elements of their cultures.

In my own game the internal encounter table became radically different as play went on and it was increasingly influenced by past actions of the player characters. We had a simulated paintball deathmatch to settle a point of honour; a fashion show to introduce the new ships uniforms; and holographic Steve Irwin examining the ship’s cat, Rover. Our last session had that characters playing a holonovel where they played as their characters playing characters from Robin Hood. It was very meta, very hammy and a great send-off.

The format of the new ship’s uniforms, and probably the best thing to come out of Discovery Season 2

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