A Question about Threat

New STA GM here, going by the Starter Set box set and I have a question. :slightly_smiling_face:

Spending 2 Threat for a Complication for example (in the box set, to upgrade enemy weapons) - in most other systems, wouldn’t these just be written in to the story as a challenge to overcome? Why spend in game Threat/resources to add them, rather than just having it already be written up in the adventure or adding it in response to player actions?

Sometimes the design almost feels like a board game more than a story telling game. Not a criticism, just a comment. I’m excited to get this started. :slight_smile:

Spending threat on complications is an immediate revision to the story. You need more guys in the moment, you need to slow down progress of the players just enough so they run into your villain. You need to make your player’s lives more interesting as they spent very little time on a particular event.

Threat spends are designed to alter what you already have planned. In certain situations it is a required part of the mechanic (borg threat protocols for example), but largely it is used to make adjustment.

Personally, I mainly use threat for conflict purposes or to bump the complication range, rather than to introduce reinforcements etc

I guess I just don’t understand why there is a mechanic/resource for it. In other RPGs, if something needs to be tougher I just make it tougher. Having a resource to spend makes it sound like “I’d like to make this tougher, but I don’t have the threat to do so, so I guess you’ll breeze through it”.

It’s easy to ignore if I choose to I know, but I’m wondering if I’m missing some benefit to the game or mechanical influence or something?

I do like the idea of having it to activate abilities or protocols. I agree, I think I’ll be using it more for complication range and that sort. :slight_smile:

The reason i think it is built like that is because the whole game has an element of resource management. Difficulty 5 tasks are considered near impossible, but are extremely do-able if the players are willing to spend enough resource on that task. It makes sense that the GM should be seen to be doing that as well.

The planning goes both ways too. A lot of equipment has an opportunity cost to add to a scene, but if the players plan and took that equipment with them in the first place then they don’t have to pay that cost. Similarly, if you want a scene to have dense fog and put it in from the start, then its there. If you want to add it part way through, then spend some threat (goes for other things as well)

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That’s the part I don’t get. It’s like it takes power away from the GM. Just a different approach to gaming, I guess.

Possibly, but you also start the game with as much threat as you want (theres a suggested amount, but you can change that), so you can just have that threat put aside ready if you are planning on adding something like that?

But if you’re changing the initial amount, it makes Threat arbitrary doesn’t it?

I have minimal exposure to this game, but for some reason I am all in. LoL I’m already thinking of suggestions for the 2nd edition - and I’ve been gaming 30 years, and I never do that. :smiley:

Threat is supposed to be a visible indicator of the danger in the current situation. And gives permission to the GM to up the actual danger in the current scene.

It’s not clear from the writing, but that pile of red tokens (or whatever) needs to be sitting in front of the players, right next to the momentum, so that they can see it build. Basically, it represents the additional danger they’re putting themselves in with their current tactics. If the GM spends some, it’s because the players gave it to him or her to spend.

If you run with visible die rolls and no GM screen (which is my default these days), then it helps contribute to the feeling that the players and GM are cooperating on a story, rather than adversaries. Which is weird when you thinkg about it, since the Threat keeps the GM honest!

It’s not a new concept, a number of other games (Fate, Savage Worlds, 7th Sea) have been doing this for years, and it originates with a series of 90’s Indy games. It came from the idea that the GM should be operating on the same level as the players.


I can get behind the Savage Worlds usage easier because it’s modifying numbers, and spending it shows the players the scene has higher stakes. I suspect that’s what I’ll be using it for in STA as well.

It’s the modifying of story/situation that gets me. To me, as a storyteller, I am often modifying things on the fly for the better story. The GM and players - in my play style - are not on the same level. Honestly I feel like that’s in influence from 90s gaming that I’m not fond of (I blame D&D LoL).

But again, to each their own. I better understand the intention, at least, even if I don’t agree with it. I’ll just focus on the other uses for Threat. :slight_smile:

I appreciate the responses!

@cosmic55, it depends on why you are changing the amount of threat.

If you start with 6 threat per player because you just decide that would be fun, then yes that defeats the point. If you take 2 threat extra because you have planned in an element that makes the situation more threatening (but requires threat to activate) then that is exactly how threat is meant to be derived.

@Astronut, thats an interesting set up. I can certainly see why that could work, but I equally wouldnt deploy that on my table. It’s group dependent, but I know for sure that I would have players who would change their approach to take advantage of GM limitations, which can negatively affect a scenario. I equally wouldnt change what I throw at them based on how much momentum they have, thats what my threat is for.

On the other hand, they do know that 2 is standard, i will let them know if im starting with more (but not how much), and they know when I spend and gain threat, so they always have a rough idea of what I have available.

I agree that many Thread spends seem arbitrary and that the players will never know that the encounter originally had fewer enemies.

However, Complications for Threat means you can directly impact the player characters and don’t have to wait for them to screw up. For example, if the situation is right, you can say that a player drops a piece of equipment or slips while climbing. In other systems, such outcomes require a failed skill test or something and just saying “you slip” is very unfair towards the players.

In Savage Worlds for example, you might have a cool situation in mind in case a character fails a Notice roll, but you have to wait until they actually fail the roll. Now you can of course ask for Notice rolls every few minutes and impose penalties in the hopes that one will fail, but that’s not very exciting. Here you don’t have to wait. You can just summon misfortune by spending Threat.

My players have rarely used threat. I haven’t found that their conservative approach has broken or derailed the game at all. They do a lot of other stuff to try to gain momentum, and they seem happy managing that without giving me threat. That said, I do think viewing the game a bit more like a Star Trek novel/tv show/movie than a simulation helps everyone not go too deep into simulation-ist thought experiments of “why does this work exactly?”

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I personally really like the Momentum/Threat system. To me it feels fairer. Yes the GM can write more difficult situations, but if the player’s are having a run of good luck and have destroyed the ship before it could even do anything, no-one feels cheated when the GM spends threat to say “Oh no! Another ship warps in.”


Honestly, it’s there because you as the GM are not free to willy nilly change whatever and that’s OK. This isn’t the first game to do it. It’s a constraint on the GM. It’s not a “protection against jerk GMs” mechanic. Those GMs would get turned off by the mechanic and not play the game. The GM is one of the players of the game though. It’s OK for their side to have some game in it too.

For a new GM it offers help in the form of a structure for introducing more challenge into the game and a big pile of threat can be a nudge to turn things up a notch. An experienced GM who can handle that well without a mechanic for it won’t have any problem using the mechanic because they’ll have threat to spend when it’s right time to introduce those extra challenges and won’t when it’s time to lay off anyway.

It can’t be a secret pool. Keep the pool visible to the players. It belongs in plain sight. Like not optional. I would argue that the threat pool cannot function properly if it is hidden. In Conan the book specifically refers to the players seeing the doom pool, even if it doesn’t say “the GM must place the doom pool in the center of the table, adjacent to the momentum pool” I’d be surprised if Star Trek doesn’t similarly expect in the writing that the threat pool be visible.

Spend it in front of them. Tell the players when you do. The players see it building up and know things could get hairy soon. If they see the pool low then they can relax a bit. There’s nothing actually wrong with that meta element. The characters aren’t aware of it, although somebody could “have a bad feeling about this.” Clearly Han’s player saw George’s threat pool piled up on the table.

The threat economy ties the player and GM sides of the game together and can be a source of fun once both sides engage it. It creates a lever for the pace of difficulty in the game that the players can have a hand on too. A lot of elements of the game are tied into it. It’s as much a core mechanic as using two twenty-sided dice and rolling under a target number. Let the threat (or doom) flow. The most fun sessions of Star Trek or Conan that I have run have been the ones where the thread or doom ebbed and flowed because both sides interacted with the system. The players had fun and I had fun and the challenge felt right.

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I disagree with you there. Yes, the players should know that there is a threat pool, but knowing it is there and seeing exactly how much is there leads to (in my opinion) players actively not taking risks that would be great for RP/gaming because they know there won’t be any negative effects or repercussions.

Those situations, and the meta gaming of knowing how much threat is in play can lead to stifled games. Granted, that might not be the case with every group, but neither is the ‘visible threat in the middle of the table’ way of dealing with it. It should be handled however your group would like it.

Another possible scenario of the threat in the middle of the table is that players won’t actively add to the threat pool because they can see how much is there, and might not want to give the GM more ‘ammo’ as it were if he is low.

As I said, I think it should be based on your group. If you have had a similar mechanic before it worked fine with everyone seeing it, then go with that. If you haven’t had this type of thing in play before, maybe for the starting game have it sitting visible for them to see for the first session, then keep it hidden the next session (while still letting them know you are spending it). See which method provides the most fulfilling RP for the entire group, then go with that.

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I believe that meta element of being able to see it is an intended function of the game mechanic just as much as adding your skill to your attribute to get your target number. If adversarial game play is disrupting the game by causing friction with the way the mechanics function then resolving the root cause—the issues in the gaming group dynamic that are causing the adversarial game play—is the best long term solution.

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That is where I disagree. The best GMs - to me - are the ones presenting an exterior of calm while internally shuffling about story elements and difficulty. From the players perspective what the players experience is what was planned all along. :slight_smile:

But again, people run and play differently. As long as we’re all having fun, right?

I do like Threat to use in a Savage Worlds approach, though. It’s nice to emphasize dramatic situations with some mechanical modifiers.

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Put another way, in a strategy game or a board game you want both sides to have mechanics to make things fair. Some RPGs also do that. My preferred approach is to think of it as a storytelling game. The GM can technically do anything - they’re the ones creating the story, and can wipe out players if they so desire… but that would be poor GMing. The GMs difficult job is to balance the story, atmosphere, and challenges to be difficult but not too difficult.

On that note, I LOVE the mechanic where players can succeed at a task but give 2 Threat to the GM (I think it is?). The story suffers when a necessary roll is failed, with the character getting by with the skin of their teeth but the player knowing it’s going to come back to bite them later - excellent mechanic.