Posts Tagged ‘Star Trek’

Star Trek and Sci-Fi conflicts with Cortex+

Officer Howard secures the area

In developing our Star Trek/Forbidden Planet/Polaris style space opera game for Cortex+, it’s necessary to re-examine the conflict mechanics.

Cortex+ Action Roleplaying provides a mechanism for multi-round conflicts called Contested or Fight Actions. For our hack, we want conflicts  to start with ideological disagreement, then escalate to blows. To do this, we’ll borrow a few ideas from Dogs in the Vineyard and create an escalating conflict mechanic.

Conflict Actions

Conflict Actions are extended struggles between two parties, generally matters of ideology or violence.

The first part of a Conflict Action is determining what it’s about, and on what moral and intellectual basis the parties involved are going to try and get what they want.

First, you need to declare each party’s intent. The intents need to be roughly in opposition, and it’s better if they both involve something happening. (If only one side’s intent involves something happening, maybe it’s not time for a Conflict.)

We’ll call the character who starts the contest the “attacker,” and the one who respond the “defender.” Obviously, though, Conflicts can be situations other than fights.

The defender’s dice pool is:

  • The most relevant Value

  • The most relevant Attribute

  • A relevant disadvantageous Distinction at d4 (gain a Plot Point)

The attacker’s dice pool is:

  • The most relevant Value

  • The most relevant Attribute

  • A relevant disadvantageous Distinction at d4 (gain a Plot Point)

After intents are declared, the defender rolls their pool to set the stakes. The attacker then attempts to raise by rolling their own pool.

The total for the stakes and the raise are the total of the respective players’ two highest dice.

(Some threats don’t have conventional Values and Attributes. In that case, the GM should improvise two equivalent traits, perhaps based on what the threat represents.)

If the attacker successfully raises, the defender can either give in, ending the Conflict on their own terms, or attempt to raise themselves.

In order to raise past the initial round, the player may escalate, bringing in an additional trait like a Department or Asset, or a Complication affecting the other character. They may also pay a Plot Point to bring in an advantageous Distinction at d8. This must be accompanied by description of an action that brings the new trait into the conflict. The trait die is rolled and added into the player’s total.

A trait brought in in this fashion may bring other traits with it. A Department automatically brings a Specialty, if relevant. A combat trait (like Security) can bring in a weapon Asset. (See below.)

Each time a player attempts to raise, they can’t re-roll any dice (unless a Talent permits it). They simply add the latest rolled die to their running total.

If the player still can’t reach the total necessary to raise, then their character is taken out.


Complications are generated as for a Basic Action, but only at the end of the Conflict, examining all the 1s rolled.

Weaponry Assets

If a character possesses an Asset which represents a weapon, it defaults to d6, which provides covering fire and such, but does not directly harm the target. Turned on an individual, the character can choose to use the weapon as d8 (stun) or d10 (kill).

A weaponry Asset may be used multiple times, provided its size and consequences are stepped up each time.

If a crew member wins a Conflict with a weapon used as d8 (stun), the adversary is stunned. If the crew member wins a Conflict with a weapon used as d10 (kill), the adversary is killed.

If a non-player character wins a Conflict with a weapon used as d8 (stun), the crew member is stunned, and acquires a d6 Dazed Complication for the next scene after recovering. If a non-player character wins a Conflict with a weapon used as d10 (kill), the player may choose for their character to die, or to persist with a d8 Wounded Complication, which lasts until the crew member receives medical attention in a well-equipped facility.

Challenging Values

If a character chooses to act against one of her Value statements, the player may roll that Value twice rather than the usual once. A single Value may not be rolled more than twice as part of a single Conflict Action.

For the remainder of the session, the Value is stepped back by one. By the end of the session, the character must address the Value challenge in a personal log or a tag scene with another character, and the player must rewrite the Value statement.

Taken Out

A taken out character can no longer participate in a scene. They may be injured, unconscious, or captured. The other character gets their intent.

Giving In

A player who doesn’t want to see their character taken out can choose to give in, accepting a Complication and yielding to the other character’s intent. This generally allows the character to escape or reach some other kind of safety.

Star Trek-style gaming with Cortex+

United Worlds Starship Polaris

The urge to run space opera game in the vein of the original Star Trek has bitten me again. I’m aiming for something you might call Forbidden Planet: The Series. Or Starship Polaris, if you’ve been following United Worlds’ indie sci-fi project. Big ships, responsibility to your crew, and adventure around every corner.

This time, I’m looking at Cortex+, Cam Banks and Margaret Weis Productions’ excellent family of cinematic and television-styled roleplaying games.

Specifically, I’m looking at Action Roleplaying, the engine behind Leverage. Action Roleplaying provides a key element for this genre: characters with distinct specialties who are, nonetheless, capable in a wide variety of fields.

The Hacker’s Guide (released to KS backers) is an invaluable resource here, providing lots of tools for customizing the various families of Cortex+ games.

Let’s look at the decisions we have to make.


The core of humanistic space opera are Values. I’m picking Ambition, Compassion, Curiousity, and Duty. (One might find alien crews with different Values, but these make a good core.) These will get customized Value statements for each character, as in Smallville and its broader version Dramatic Roleplaying.

Then we need action traits. The first category are Attributes. I’m stressing mental and social traits: Bravado, Ingenuity, Fellowship, and Perception.

Second, we need the areas our crew are trained in. I’m using the various departments of starship operations: Medicine, Science, Security, and Operations. With a range of attached Specialties, these can cover the needs of a crew far from home and all alone in the night.

Finally, there are Distinctions — those traits that can cut both ways.

Character Creation

Character creation is done using a lifepath — a vastly simplified version of Cortex’s Pathways system. I’ll publish that in more detail later. Essentially, you pick an Origin and move through three stages of your career, creating an action-ready crewmember.

Here’s a sample lifepath chart, with most of the instructions.

Next: Tuning the Action and Conflict systems

A Different Space Combat System

In the thread on my previous space combat system, Morten asked about something more in the vein of Mouse Guard. Well, here’s just such a system.

These are rules for any conflict, but mainly space combat. Dice pool system, vaguely nWoD.In any conflict, there’s a leader and a crew. The leader decides two things: the crew’s order of actions, and how to distribute his leadership dice.

These are the main actions:


A crew’s Disposition is the leader’s Leadership skill, plus something else. If it’s ship combat, it’s the ship’s defense rating. If it’s a surface firefight, it’s the number of people in the landing party.

Actions are decided privately a set number in advance, based on the range:

Close (2)
Medium (3)
Far (4)

After Disposition drops below half, characters have to make Saves after a successful attack. The character with the lowest save is taken out of action for a number of turns equal to the attack success. (This represents consoles blowing up or lasers hitting people.) (NPCs roll only one die, and may suffer fatal damage immediately at the GM’s discretion.)

If action A counters action B, subtract the successes of action A from those of action B. Action A’s effect occurs unmodified.

“Attack approach. Fire all batteries.”
Counters: Maneuver
Countered By: Evade
Roll your attack dice. Reduce the enemy’s Disposition by the number of successes.

“Bring us about, ensign. Mark 2 point 2 8.”
Counters: Evade
Countered By: Attack
Roll your maneuver dice. Your next action gets a bonus equal to twice your successes. If you have any successes, you may choose to increase or decrease range.

“Evasive action. Get us out of his fire!”
Counters: Attack
Countered By: Maneuver
Roll your evade dice. The successes add to your Disposition, which can’t increase beyond its original size.

“I’ve rerouted power to the main batteries / from the thrust controller.” (2)
“You’re all brave officers, / and my days serving with you have been a privilege. / Let’s make sure there are many more to come.” (3)
No Counters
Make a short speech, Wushu-style. 1 die per detail/salient point. For each success, you have dice you can add to any future action. The leader may add these dice to the action of any member of the crew..

Storytelling Star Trek: Space Combat

Enterprise Firing

Here’s a first pass at a combat system.

Ship Stats

Initiative Bonus/Penalty (Maneuverability)
Weapons and Weapon Arcs
Forward Shield Boxes
Aft Shield Boxes
Structure Boxes

The Map

Combat takes place on an eight-space, one-dimensional map made of range bands. Tokens on this range band face either forward or backward along the band.

Start of the turn

Each ship starts with two Maneuvers.


Players roll the helmsman’s Helm Control Skill plus the captain’s Leadership Skill, plus any ship Initiative bonus. This is their ship’s Initiative. Before the Initiative roll, the players can trade any number of dice for extra Maneuvers in the Movement or Action phases.

Movement Phase

Ships move from lowest initiative to highest.

On a ship’s movement turn, the helmsman may choose to spend a Maneuver to:

  • Move their ship one range band.
  • Change their ship’s facing. (Backwards or forwards.)
  • Move an opposing ship one range band.
  • Change an opposing ship’s facing.


Action Phase

Ships move from lowest initiative to highest. Ships may take two actions.

The tactical officer may choose to spend a Maneuver to:

  • Fire a weapon. (See Weapons.)
  • Make a Speech. (See Speech.)
The engineer may choose to spend a maneuver to:
  • Repair a shield without the two-box limit.
  • Make a Speech.


Weapons have different ideal ranges. They suffer penalties based on being fired at targets outside ideal range. Some ideal ranges are close in, like the disruptors on a Klingon Bird of Prey. Others are further out, like Federation phasers.

Weapons are fired with an Intelligence + Tactics roll.

Phasers and other beam weapons give a bonus to the attack roll. All successes on the attack roll which are damage.

Photon torpedoes and other missile weapons do not provide a bonus to attack. They deal a flat amount of damage on a successful impact. Missile weapons come in limited quantities. The quantity of missiles available to the player represents the total number of salvos the launchers can fire without need for ammunition resupply or launcher repair.

Firing Arcs, Shields

All weapons and shields are marked fore or aft. A ship may only fire weapons on the arc that directly faces the opposing ship, and may only hit the arc facing it.

Shields block damage. When a ship is hit, and it has shields remaining on that arc, check a number of shield boxes equal to the damage taken. Any leftover damage is applied to the ship’s system the attacker was targeting..

A player may trade one Speech die (see Speech) to recharge one shield box. You may do this as many times as you like. Alternatively, a repair roll (see Repair) can be made.


If a ship suffers three points of damage or more, and the shields don’t soak up all of it, the ship is Rocked. Each important crew member must make a Dexterity + Athletics check or be knocked prone. A prone character cannot take any action (moves, attacks, repairs, Speeches) on their next turn.


A character may make a Speech related to their job for bonus dice on the next turn. For each salient point in the Speech (up to five), they receive a bonus die to be allocated to a future, relevant action.

The player whose character made the Speech gets to distribute the dice. Speeches can help players who otherwise have a limited role during combat to get their due spotlight time.

A Speech does not cost a Maneuver, but only one player may make one per turn.


“You’re fine officers. / Every day I’ve served with you has been an honor. / Let’s make sure there are many more to come.” (3 dice)

“I’ve rerouted power to the secondary junctions. / That should free up the main batteries to give you more power to the impulse engine.” (2 dice)


Ships’ crews can make remarkable repairs in the heat of battle. Once per round (without necessarily spending a Maneuver), a player may pick a damaged system and roll his character’s Wits + Engineering.

If repairing the ship against Conditions, the repair roll counts as an escape roll against one current Condition.

If repairing the ship’s Structure, the ship recovers one box per success on the roll. However, unless a Maneuver is spent, no more than two boxes can be repaired at a time in this fashion.

If repairing the shields, the shields recover one box of protection per success on the roll. However, unless a Maneuver is spent, no more than two boxes can be recharged at a time in this fashion.

Doing Other Things

During a single ship’s Action phase, up to three normal character actions can be taken by the crew, and three by any opponents. These can include arguments (such as social checks), repair attempts (if the character is qualified), making escape rolls for Conditions, and engaging in personal combat.


If a ship takes two or more damage boxes while unprotected by shields on the appropriate arc, the ship receives a Condition.

Condition Consequence Escape Roll
Venting Warp Plasma The ship begins each turn with one less Maneuver, and cannot spend Maneuvers to move. Wits + Engineering
Unstable The ship’s inertial dampers are malfunctioning, rocking the ship back and forth and causing every hit to Rock the ship. Wits + Engineering
Weapons Down The weapons in one firing arc have been disabled. Wits + Engineering
Crew Panic The crew are panicked and demoralized. -3 dice to every dice pool associated with a Maneuver or Repair. Presence + Leadership
Sensors Malfunctioning The sensors are malfunctioning. Weapons are harder to aim, at a -2 penalty. Wits + Engineering to fix, Intelligence + Tactics to ignore for one turn
Listing The ship’s drive systems are out of control. On each attempt to move, roll one die. On an even number, the ship moves as intended. On an odd number, the opponent makes up to two moves for the ship. Wits + Engineering
Casualties Key ship personnel are injured. All rolls for ship-level actions or repairs take -1.This condition may be taken multiple times, with cumulative penalties. Wits + Medicine
Questions, comments, penguin jokes?

Storytelling Star Trek: Space Combat Wishlist

The most famous Star Trek battle

Here’s my wishlist for the space combat system:

  • Most shots are called. (Star Trek is usually “target their nacelles; we don’t want them going to warp.”)
  • Significant situation change in every round. (Most TV engagements are resolved in a couple of maneuvers.)
  • Everybody on the bridge has the potential to contribute.
  • Shields take an important role, but a typical engagement results in at least temporary systems damage.
  • The primary effect of damage is to take key systems offline.
  • A lucky or unusually strong hit can fry systems all over the ship. (Scatter damage?)
  • Maneuvering is entirely relative.
  • Desperate repairs can be made in combat, but repairs out of combat (permanent repairs) take much longer.
  • Damage can “shake the ship” and cause trouble for crewmembers on the bridge. Shaking, exploding stations, and so on.


Storytelling Star Trek: Willpower

Willpower is an important part of my vision for running Star Trek. I’m a big believer in players having pools of magic beans that give them some control over when they succeed. Willpower is also a powerful feedback mechanism in the Storytelling system. In our conversion, it will provide reinforcement for following your character’s Values and Nature, as well as fuel for the Aspect system.

The Name

I considered renaming Willpower “Action Points,” as we did in the Storytelling adaptation of EVE Online. In that game, the goal was to make Willpower an entirely metagame resource, getting rid of the flimsy mapping between the idea of “willpower” and an increased ability to succeed.

However, I think I want to keep a flimsy mapping of that sort. Therefore, I’m going to follow the Last Unicorn Games version of Star Trek and call Willpower “Courage.”

Starting Courage

Characters start each new episode with five Courage points.


 Courage points will have a few more uses than in the World of Darkness.

  • Flash of Insight: Spend a Courage point to get the familiar three die bonus to a roll.
  • Use Aspect: When one of your character’s Aspects is relevant, spend a Courage point to gain a five die bonus to a roll.
  • Lucky Break: Your character finds a clue, such as one accidentally left behind by an antagonist.
  • Spirited Defense: After someone has successfully attacked your character, roll three dice. Your successes are subtracted from the incoming damage.
  • Escape Condition: Shrug off a Condition (like being stunned) without making the necessary Escape Roll. More on Conditions in a future post.

Getting points back

  • Once per scene, you can get a point of Courage back by fulfilling one of your character’s Values.
  • Once per session, you can get a full Courage refresh by fulfilling your character’s Nature.
  • You also receive a point of Courage when one of your Aspects is activated against you.


As per Stew’s recommendation, these replace Merits and Flaws. Aspects are a concept borrowed from Evil Hat’s excellent FATE system. They’re character traits which can be positive, negative, or, frequently, both. Aspects cost a point of Courage to activate in a character’s favor, and give a point of Courage when used against the character.

Coming Up

I’m working on starship combat. While I don’t intend it to be a central feature of my chronicle, I want to have a distinct and fun combat system that imparts the feel of big, heavy starships crewed by specialists.

I think FASA’s system was really good, and easily the slickest part of their Trek RPG. However, I don’t want to use their hex-based positioning, or give two players (the science officer and the communications officer) heavy bookkeeping to do even on turns where their characters don’t take any action.

I’m starting from two places: first, an initiative and tactical positioning system inspired by AGON. Second, Ben “Bailywolf” Baugh once designed a neat starship combat system that split each “ship turn” into several “crew turns.” I like the idea of mixing lots of crew-scale actions in between large-scale ship maneuvers. As usual, I’m interested in any suggestions.

I’m kind of stuck on lifepath rules. I like the idea of charting out your character’s academy history and tours of duty (something that was cool in both FASA and LUG), but most Star Trek characters are specialists and I’m using a short skill list, which means each tour of duty would be something like “yeah, another helm job, pile on one more dot.” I’m thinking of taking a look at Traveller‘s most recent High Guard book and seeing if there’s anything inspiring in there.

Storytelling Star Trek

The U.S.S. Enterprise

Some assembly required...

Lately, I’ve been wanting to run a Star Trek game. I spent a lot of the nineties doing one kind of Trek roleplaying or another. I still have binders full of starship and equipment blueprints, mostly focused on the Next Generation era.

For this game, though, I want to go back to the show I watched every day after school (six o’clock, channel 45) — the original series. Bright colors, fast pacing, the final frontier. I’ll also snatch some of the action-adventure from the recent movie.

Setting-wise, there are a lot of important questions. How much autonomy do the player characters have? What are my Klingons like?

There’s also the matter of system, which is what I want to focus on today. I’m tentatively using the Storytelling system, which powers the new World of Darkness. This’ll require a bit of hacking, though. Let’s walk through the character sheet.


Morality goes out the window. While Star Trek definitely has a code of values, the gothic degeneration cycle of the World of Darkness makes no sense. Your conscience doesn’t need hit points this time out.

Values and Nature

Virtue and Vice are similarly off-tone. I could just do Virtue only, but that still doesn’t seem right. First of all, let’s give characters three Values, each of which are good for one Willpower point every time they’re fulfilled. These are common to all characters from a given alliance. Federation characters get Curiosity, Compassion, and Duty. A Klingon chronicle might use Ambition, Heroism, and Ruthlessness.

Each character also gets a Nature. Once per session, fulfilling the requirement of Nature can get you all of your Willpower back. We’ll use a list derived from Exalted.

  • Bravo: Make someone else back down.
  • Bureaucrat: Resolve a crisis by following correct procedures.
  • Caregiver: Receive tangible proof that you have helped another.
  • Conniver: Lead someone to do what you want, against their initial inclination.
  • Critic: Point out a significant flaw that would have caused harm if overlooked.
  • Explorer: Make a significant discovery.
  • Follower: Help your friends succeed by fulfilling your duty.
  • Gallant: Perform a great deed that is inspiring or attention-drawing.
  • Hedonist: Have an amazingly good time and bring others along for the ride.
  • Jester: Lighten the mood of a dark or tense situation.
  • Judge: Lead others to a just resolution.
  • Leader: Others follow your decisions without significant dispute.
  • Martyr: Make a significant sacrifice for a higher goal.
  • Paragon: Accomplish a great deed for the greater good.
  • Rebel: Defy a powerful authority.
  • Savant: Use rationality and calm to resolve a crisis.
  • Survivor: Survive a dangerous situation through your own cunning or determination.
  • Thrillseeker: Escape a life-threatening situation… that you got yourself into in the first place.
  • Traditionalist: Accomplish a goal using a tried-and-true method.


Split 7/5/4 between Mental, Physical, and Social. Keep in mind that the setting privileges Mental and Social Skills.


You could make a case for keeping the World of Darkness Skill list almost intact for Star Trek, but I think I’ll take the opportunity to do a shorter, more setting-specific list. Players get 15 points to split among the following:

  • General Skills
    • Academics
    • Athletics
    • Close Combat
    • Diplomacy
    • Investigation
    • Leadership
    • Ranged Combat
  • Department Skills
    • Communications
    • Engineering
    • Helm Control
    • Medicine
    • Navigation
    • Science
    • Security
    • Tactical

Players may also assign two Specialties. An unskilled attempt for any skill under pressure is at -1. For a starship crew member, an unskilled attempt at any Department skill, given ample time and resources, may be allowed to pass with one success. So Kirk may not easily be able to coax more power from the engines himself when the ship is falling into a singularity, but given enough time, he can repair a shuttle stranded at an abandoned star base.

Merits and Flaws

I’m tempted to leave these out, but instead I’ll leave them to come back to later. A lot of the existing lists don’t really apply to this kind of chronicle, and they raise a lot of questions. Since this is mainly a non-template chronicle, should alien species be Merits?

Next Steps

So the next steps are whatever I’m doing with Merits and Flaws, plus expansions to what you can do with Willpower. Then maybe a lifepath system, and a starship combat engine. Any recommendations?