Redux: Fate of the Federation

Originally posted to Google+ in September 2014:


+Lex Starwalker asked me to talk about my Star Trek series that I’m running. So here’s some info in general, on starships, on FAE, on crew, and scenarios.

General
I’m taking a lot of inspiration from Fate of the Alpha Quadrant, a set of guidelines that have mysteriously vanished from the internet. Primarily, I loved the way it suggested handling the primarily non-lethal sort of combat that occurs in Trek. It turns out that phasers are the perfect weapon for Fate’s conflict system — you’re ducking and dodging (burning stress) and lining up shots (with advantages), occasionally getting a serious burn or other complication (consequences) and when you finally get blasted, you’re knocked out (Taken Out with stun setting). Want to kill someone? Well, hey, nothing changes, but the Taken Out is now more serious. There’s nothing fiddly about it, it plugs directly in to how Fate already handles conflict.

Starships
I handle starships and starship combat simplistically. I gave my players a starship sheet with three consequence slots (a 2, a 4, and a 6). Depending on the tone of the Trek game you want, you might want to change out what consequence boxes you use! In a straight up TOS game, you would probably go with only 2s or 4s… something much more short lived, because the Enterprise doesn’t ever carry damage from one episode to the next. For a more DS9 tone (or an 2009 trek tone, like my game) you might want damage to persist a little longer.

The PCs’ ship has no stress boxes. I think this idea is also borrowed from Fate of the Alpha Quadrant (or it might be from elsewhere…) but the crew can mark off their own stress boxes as consoles explode and they’re thrown around during a conflict. It’s assumed, in the fiction, that raising shields/taking evasive action is the equivalent of resisting an attack (ie, normal defense rolls). If they didn’t, for whatever reason, then we would just deal damage or just let the enemy roll against 0. This does open up the door for uses of Create Advantage like Oscillating Shield Frequency to add to defense rolls, or Attack Pattern Alpha to add to attacks. I wanted to keep it all simple for me and my players.

Enemy ships, however, do get their own stress tracks if their crew isn’t relevant enough to exist as statted out characters. Consequence slots vary… I figure the PCs ship gets the full 3 because it matters and it ought to last the whole series. Enemy vessels of similar importance would also get 3 standard slots… smaller vessels might get saddled with a couple 2s. I would probably not even give shuttles any consequence boxes: characters can soak harm with their stress, but once they’re out, down goes the shuttle. Quick and hair-raising, like it’s usually presented in the show. Big ships like the Narada, the Vengeance, a Borg Cube, and the like can sit on a pile of extra consequence slots I imagine.

Fate Accelerated
I am specifically running my game of Star Trek with Fate Accelerated. So, all of my PCs and NPCs are built off of the six standard approaches — I know some people like the idea of using Starfleet departments as their approaches (ie Command, Security, Science… “I Defend with Security…”) but I decided against that. It’s not that Kirk is good at Command or good at Security… Kirk is flashy! Scotty is clever! You could shuffle them around, find an alternate universe where Spock commanded the ship but he would still be Spock. That approach, to me, also needlessly compartmentalizes the PCs away from one another. Having a Sciences +3 person and an Engineering +3 person feels like a bummer when you could instead have an Engineer and a Scientist both with Clever +3 putting their heads together to solve a problem outside of both their fields!

(The only exception to this is the players have statted their crew’s capabilities in the various fields as a whole, reflecting their Helm team, their Scientists, their Engineers, Security, Sensors, and Command. We use these stats if we need to roll on behalf of the crew for something dramatically relevant, and there is no main PC to lead the roll.)

So, Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick, Sneaky are the approaches. I didn’t want a long skill list. Funnily enough, though, we’re considering switching over to Atomic Robo for our second season of play. When that happens, we’ll use the normal Action/Banter/Science/Intrigue modes and create custom modes to represent our Vulcan crewman and our Orion captain, not to mention our Klingon antagonists.

Alien Stuff
Psychic powers and other species’ adaptations are just a matter of Aspects giving permission. We know Vulcans can mind meld, so it happens. We know Orions are susceptible to pheromones, so it happens. Efrosians can see more deeply into the EM spectrum, so our comms officer can visualize energy patterns — it just happens. Stunts improve on all this stuff, but I run it simple and loose with a lot of weight on the powers of permission that Aspects provide.

Main Staff/Away Team
I’m handling characters in a couple different ways. Firstly, the players are each portraying a single staff officer of their own creation. We have a Captain, a 1st Officer/Security Officer, a Science Officer, and a Medical Officer. We have NPCs to fill in the slots of Helm, Comms, and Engineering. We are not portraying different characters as the Away Team. Our game is rooted in the new TOS timeline created by the Abrams movies, and like TOS, the away team is usually just the most senior staff. When I build my sessions, though, I use an A-plot/B-plot structure to run an away mission and personal story in parallel… the players know it’s okay to not leave the ship, story will still happen to the characters.

Secondly, if for whatever reason a player wants to, they can choose to portray another crewman. These Extras are not fully statted out characters and take 30 seconds to make. They receive a last name, a rank, a high concept (“we need an Archaeologist, so…”), and a trouble aspect (by finding an interesting inversion of their high concept, ie ‘she’s an Archaeologist, buuuuuut she’s not bookish, she’s a firebrand who wants to overturn all the hacks in the field’), full consequences/stress boxes, and a 2/2/1/1/0/-1 to assign to their Approaches. All of this is meant to make them extremely quick to make, and to stack the odds against them; making the lead cast look more like heroes by comparison.

Thirdly, I’ve permitted the players to spend their Refresh on creating Ship Extras. Specifically, they can spend Refresh to create Relationship Stunts. A Relationship Stunt, as I’ve defined it, is a normal FAE stunt (break a rule, or do a thing with an approach with a +2) that connects a particular PC to a particular NPC. You might play Hockey on deck 5 with the Helm NPC, or you might be dating that crewman in Engineering — whatever the case, they’re important enough to you and the story that when you bring them into play, they bring a stunt with them to help out. The catch is that, now that I know this NPC is important, I feel free to threaten them or build up stories around them that threaten the status quo of your relationship. This is a minor variation on +Topher Gerkey‘s Relationships in Princess Drive.

Scenarios
I’ve been using +Filamena Young and +David Hill‘s Directives out of Apotheosis Drive X, wherein the Director rewards themselves with bonus Fate Points as they follow their agenda as game runner (in ADX, these are things like Leaving Survivors, Holding Back, Making the PCs Feel Important, and the like). I’ve made my own list of Star Trek directives, and they include things like There’s Always Time to Talk which means my antagonists should always be willing to listen if the PCs have something to say, or more likely to monologue than detonate their warp core. I give myself a Fate Point every time I follow this Directive. Another Directive is to Make Starfleet Feel Amazing (they’re always getting contacted about medical summits, or strategy meetings) — I also have Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations (aliens are also cool, and the PCs aren’t better than anyone; everyone gets dignity and depth). And so on.

Those are the big broad strokes of how I run my Fate campaign, Lex! If you, or anyone, wants to ask me specific questions about how I run things or prep or whatever, let me know. I also have a wiki for my campaign if you, or anyone, want to see specific content for my ongoing game.

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