Plot hooks, plot seeds, modules, encounters, etc

The idea being that the plot hooks and encounter seeds presented in various STA books being helpful or not, and in comparison with adventure modules such as D&D modules. Spinning off from a comment in the Alpha Quadrant sourcebook thread:

Among my thoughts on this matter drive down to the fact that your average Star Trek adventure (in whatever system) is going to be fundamentally different than your average D&D adventure (in whatever edition). Even most fantasy RPGs, I’d imagine, not just D&D in particular, but D&D being the 800 lb behemoth, let’s stick with that as the comparison.

Most D&D modules assume you have some mix of fighter, rogue, wizard, cleric or some alternative combination of classes that’ll go into the module and hack and slash their way to victory or death. Whatever their alignment, whatever the class spread, the adventure is written to a baseline assumption that some adventuring group is going to adventure within the parameters of the module.

It’d be up to the DM to take that module and modify it for use with their specific game group, adding in subplots, NPCs, setting elements, and other details to drop it into their campaign and make it relevant to their group of characters. Though I’ve also seen DMs take their group of PCs and just drop them into a published adventure with little to no pre-prep or work ahead of time, just running the PCs through the published module and seeing what happens. All valid forms of gaming.

We do this with STA as well, in our published adventures available in PDF and/or in the mission compendium books. We set up a story and present scenarios and NPCs and things for the PCs to do, with the assumption that a GM will tailor the presented adventure for their specific group of PCs. No publisher can hope to make every published adventure work for every game group without some form of modification–the number of variables are too high.

Star Trek Adventures is somewhat more complicated too in that, at its best, Star Trek stories are about characters and relationships. It’s one thing to pit a random crew against the monster of the week at the planet of the week, but it’s another thing to pit a crew against the monster of the week that just so happened to have wiped out the colony one of the PCs hails from and which remembers the event and is penitent about it but can’t communicate that to the PCs without some effort but really wants to before the PCs inadvertently harm it.

The plot hooks in the division books and the encounter seeds in the quadrant books are designed to be tools to spark imagination and ideas, and ways to get the GM and players thinking about how to adapt specific situations and campaign ideas (a Maquis campaign, a front-line war campaign, a Borg-focused campaign, etc.) to their specific set of PCs. We also provide full-length adventures, and I’m working on some additional materials that are something between an encounter seed and a longer adventure for future products.

Anyway, just some thoughts. Would love to hear comments about pros and cons of using full length adventures written for a baseline, or plot hooks, encounter seeds, and the like, or whatever else related to the topic. :smiley:

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So far, I’ve borrowed and modified missions from the living campaign (Adrift and Abyss Station both played well) and from the first mission compendium. They went well, and as random inserts, they served as good episodes of the week. That is, chances for the player characters to simply do their thing in an open environment, free to play on values, but also not bound to character backstory and ongoing plots.

I’ve found that most of the missions I get inspired to personally develop play into longer arcs, or very tightly tailor to particular character arcs. (One of my players is running a Vulcan character with Romulan sympathies, which led to a mission in which the Tal Shiar tried to use his background to turn him into an asset.)

That being said, it’s great having the easier, minimal set-up missions and plot hooks to play with. A.) there are weekends when we want to play STA but I haven’t had time to write up anything of my own or prepare materials, and B.) detours serve to reinforce the nature of Starfleet- that it is rare for any crew to enter a long term, super focused mission. Even sitting at the mouth of the Wormhole during the Dominion War, DS9 participated in numerous tangential and completely separate missions from the War.

The plot hooks have given handy bits of inspiration when I was looking for a path in to a story. Sometimes, you know where you want to go, but it’s not clear where to start off from. The hooks can help give a little direction when composing a storyline.

So far, I haven’t used much of the material from the encounter seeds from the Quadrant books, though I’ve stolen a few NPCs from there.

Anyway, that’s my thoughts/observations for now.

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When I hear “random encounter tables” I think “the GM doesn’t want to do any advanced planning”. While certain games can be lots of fun with the seat-of-the-pants approach (did it just recently with Astraterra and had a blast!), I don’t think that Star Trek is one of those games. I think that typically you’re going to need at least a solid-ish outline of a story beforehand. A game like this takes more prepwork than some other types, I just embrace that.
That being said, I’m happy to have as many tools as possible for sparking ideas that lead to new adventures!

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It is a little offtopic, but since you mentioned it at a beginning: if you think that character or relation-driven story is good one for Star Trek, maybe you should consider creating some help for players to build connections between their characters.

I do not know a lot of systems, but there are some, which mechanically support strong connections between PC. I know that we have Values that we may use, but it is very non obvious choice, especially for beginners.

Which character from your team do you like the most? Why do you disliked captain Rogers? Why are you hesitant about your colleagues?

Honestly I do not know how it might work but after I saw people actually playing with connections, this set a new level of our game experience.

Many a great adventure is prepped for using random tables then figuring out What the Bleep this all means.

I keep an eye on the OSR movement, especially the Trek games therefrom (most of which are free; the ones that aren’t are obfuscated just enough to avoid lawsuits); the adventure generation tables are quite handy for generating an adventure to prep, and can, at times, be particularly useful in game when players do something totally unexpected.

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I am a GM by the “seat of my pants” type of person, with the events in my sessions being almost as much a surprise for me as my group - Improv GMing if you will. Despite that approach, I can’t stand random encounter tables. Never use them. The stuff they have have never makes any sense to me.

I do what makes sense in the context of where my group takes the session, following whatever they show me to be the story that interests them.

If I am looking for adventure ideas, generally, I find the best inspiration from everyday News - there is more out there than just all the biased political garbage being spewed.

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So, first: STA already has fabulous random tables. With this, I mean the tables originally from the Command Department Sourcebook, giving hints on focusing different plot-types on different divisions/departments. I compiled these in a small generator script for my personal use. I just invoked it two times, receiving:

“Deep Space Exploration Plot focusing on Engineering-Department” and “Near Space Exploration-Plot focusing on Medical-Department” as results.

So, obviously, the script recommends that a strange anomaly out there entraps the ship, crippling warp-drive and impulse propulsions so the engineers have to save the day (and the ship, for that matter). It also recommends that there is a system nearby where people are falling for a strange illness that has its origins in outer space. In order to find a cure, the crew has to identify the source of the illness and, after that, means to turn newfound knowledge into a vaccine/medicament.
Those plots could also be interconnected, meaning that not only the ship is affected by the phenomenon but also the crew / population of a nearby colonoy suffers from radiation/gravimetric waves/twists (insert technobabble here).

So, this was work of two minutes, a half spent on an online-dictionary searching for translations to english. :slight_smile:

This is also the way how I normally use prepared adventures: To draw inspiration from them. I now GM for about 15 years or so and 80% of the time I am improvising like hell because I either lack the time for preparation or my group completely derailing the adventure. STA will actually be the first RPG where I try to just use without much alteration the pre-generated adventures, from the Mission Compendiums as well as from the Living Campaign and the Stand-Alone Adventures.

So, when I wish for more adventure seeds / plot hooks / etc. I am looking for a short idea I read, making my head go “Oh, this is cool and then … happens, so … generates drama while … struggles with … before all is resolved by ….” Most of the times, I have a general idea where I want to go with an adventure, like this.

Another thing would be the “oh, I could use … now!”-scenario, meaning that the crew just started a bar-fight for whatever reason with those Nausicaans burtes urging them to play dom-jot – and now I need stats for angry Nausicaans.(thank you for providing them within the Alpha Quadrant Sourcebook). I would draw from pre-generated encounters for this.

Last, but not least, I use random encounters for that “hey, why not”-sort of ideas. While I would say that I can be creative, naturally, my creativity is limited. For D&D, for example, there are certain monsters that are very iconic to my campaign-themes. So, I have no problems creating a not-so-random random encounter with them (meaning a short fight in case I need one to wake people up from hous of in-character-play or get them back into game quickly after we had a lunch break). But I would never think of using others, were it not for the random encounters. Why not create a cool encounter around 1d3 harpies (or with Horta, for that matter)? Random encounter tables can be creative challanges. Also, they can give directions on balancing; this is another ‘inspiration’ I tend to draw from them.

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I know we need to provide more non-mechanical advice for players to develop their characters, plan milestones, think about growing their character in a system that doesn’t ‘level up’ like a lot of players might be used to in other game systems. I’m working on how to present that and in what future supplement. The Gamma and Delta sourcebooks include detailed sidebars about how to integrate non-Starfleet and non-Federation PCs into a primarily Starfleet group, so that’s a start. I’ll keep at it. :slight_smile:

Focuses are one way to build connections among characters; another way is through talents. Some talents specifically help characters when they work together in the best tradition of the various series. Advisor, Follow My Lead, Pack Tactics, are all examples of talents that you could build some character connectivity with. There are others in the various supplements too.

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Something that I’ve always liked was a linked character-creation. I tried this out a little bit within my D&D-group and it worked out quite well. It could be adapted within the lifepath-system very easily, The basic idea is that every player character has to have some kind of backstory with another character. This can be either conflict, friendship or just “I served with her on the Titan under Riker. We never really met, for she was in the engineering department in the alpha-shift and I in the science-labs in gamma. Heard, she’s an incredible talented engineer, though.”

Those connections are an ultimate source for plot seeds, also. My entire D&D campaign’s side-plots revolve around the back-stories of the characters. Everyone is getting their side-adventure. Adds a lot of fun.

Coming back from slightly off-topic: I would love to see some ideas on how to generate plot-hooks from certain lifepath things. With most of the career-events, that’s easy. But what about upbringing etc.?

Before I start please keep in mind our group has fun playing STA and I find it to be a unique and interesting game system and I respect the staff of Modiphius and their efforts.

While I do believe random encounters has a place in STA, my point in the example I gave was that more information was provided to GM’s then just story suggestions. The developers tried to provide game specific mechanics and stats to assist GM’s and make their jobs easier. Plot lines are interesting but the hard part is fleshing them out.

So far, I’ve created some games from scratch and some are heavily adapted prewritten modules. All have taken considerable effort (more then any other rpg) but worthwhile. What I’m looking for from Modiphius are tools to help with that process.
I’ve used variations of the Romulan Bird of Prey numerous times. That stat block alone has been very useful and made my job easier. Plot seeds, etc, briefly translated into STA game mechanics are invaluable.

If your plot line involves a rogue planet, give me the skeleton of that with possible inhabitants, resources, possible reasons for game conflicts, random encounters (on planet or from space), etc. Give me a stat block. It can be adapted numerous times to many situations and cuts down on my prep time as a GM.

So, to sum up, a plot seed or story idea that is not directly translated to STA rules and mechanics is imo, incomplete.

Cheers.

I think the Cortex life path system (originally used in the Smallville rpg and now part of the generic Cortex Prime game) could be hacked to do this really easily.

Or st least steal one of the basic ideas from it - you do character creation all together at the table, and at each stage of the life path when you make your choice (species, home world, etc) you add one detail to the setting and connect it to one of the other players.

I’m right there with Mister X. Rolling on the division random tables focuses my creativity into creating stories. What kind of political intrigue? What kind of medical emergency? And of course, let’s not forget our job of tying these to the values of our characters to bring forth the personal dramatic moments. I like to think which of my characters haven’t had much primary roles in the recent adventures, and I go to that division book and roll something up. Repeat with a second character. There I go. An A and B plot for an adventure.
Garrett

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I’m interested in something in-between: a sort of “Mission Tropes Book”. Something that breaks down a lot of archetypal mission/encounter types and offers some general guidance about how to structure an adventure around those mission/encounter types.

Example types might include:

  • Disaster in Space!
    • an accident has happened in engineering. Crew members are injured. The warp core is in danger
    • the ship has encountered a previously-unknown subspace phenomenon
    • the ship has hit a multi-phasic mine
  • First contact
    • traditional “this species is about to succeed at Warp Drive so it’s time to introduce ourselves”
    • a ship of unrecognized configuration has been detected. Who are these new travellers?
  • Distress call
    • Deception! It’s really Bad Guys!
    • Especially difficult rescue (e.g. the ship is trapped in a high-pressure gas giant atmosphere)
    • “Forget us! Just save our cargo! Please!” What’s up with that?
  • Escorting a Vulnerable Ally
    • Protecting a trade ship from raiders
    • “Nothing must happen to this planetary delegation!”
    • “Everyone hates these prisoners, because they did that thing. So people want them dead.”
  • Unusual visitor
    • A delegate of a relatively unknown species is being transported to a nearby starbase
    • The universe’s worst guest has come aboard
    • An NPC from a PC’s past is being transported to a trade delegation
    • The visitor claims to be from a parallel universe or another time
  • Hostage Negotiation
    • The PCs have been called in to negotiate the release of hostages
    • Making it personal: maybe a hostage includes a PC’s friend (or enemy!). Or maybe the hostage-takers include the friend/enemy
    • The “hostages” involves an entire Starfleet starship and its crew
  • Revolution is in the Air!
    • a Federation-friendly world is undergoing revolution and the government has asked for assistance
    • perhaps the government is awful and the revolutionaries want justice/democracy/etc.
    • perhaps the revolution is backed by Bad Guys (the Orion Syndicate, the Breen, the Gamesters of Triskelion), for their own nefarious reasons
  • Medical Emergency
    • a Very Important Person has contracted an unknown condition (an important diplomat, or an important NPC)
    • an outbreak of an unknown disease has broken out (on a Starfleet ship, or a world)
  • Armistice negotiation
    • the crew is called upon to held broker an armistice between two rival factions
    • perhaps the armistice is a ruse as part of another nefarious plan (possibly to get the faction leaders in a known location)
  • Diplomatic mission
    • perhaps a less fraught example of a negotiation.
    • an independent world wants to join the Federation
  • New technology experiment
    • a scientific team has designed a new piece of technology (drive system, computer AI, shields) and the crew’s ship has been chosen to test it out
  • Shore leave gone wrong!
    • Ruffians have taken all the communicators and left the PCs in a bad part of town
    • “Dude, where’s my shuttle?”
  • Scientific Mission
    • an important astronomical event is taking place
    • an archaeological survey on a dead world has uncovered some interesting finds
  • The investigation!
    • the crew has been called to investigate the cause of a murder or a terrorist attack or the destruction of a starship
  • Space wedding!
    • the ship is due to host a wedding. Perhaps two (or more) members of the crew are getting hitched! Or the wedding is part of a diplomatic process.
    • suddenly there are a lot of wedding guests roaming around on the ship. Is this a security concern?
  • “I Can’t Control These Newfound Abilities!”
    • an NPC has suddenly developed major Psionic abilities but can’t control them
    • “I am like a god!” / “Absolute Power is kind of neat!”
  • Training Exercise
    • the crew is called upon to take part in an exercise simulating one of the above scenarios
    • War games!

The book could cover a number of broad suggestions for each trope:

  • Suggested variations for each mission type
    • include suggestions for complicating factors (for example, if there’s a disease, provide some suggestions for why the transporter biofilter can’t be a cure-all)
  • Era-specific guidance
  • General suggestions for upping the ante in each mission type
    • key story beats
    • suggested threat spends
    • using a race against time
  • Some preset rule numbers
    • for example, for the Medical Emergency, a preset research track for investigating the disease
  • Guidelines for twisting expectation
    • For example, while a lot of drama comes from complications that go wrong, I’d love to see guidance on how to create challenges even when things are going right (e.g. you don’t have much time to study this stellar phenomenon, so you need to get through this research track in this amount of time).
  • Random complication tables
  • Mixing and matching tropes to really throw off the characters
    • “It started as a space wedding, but now it’s a hostage negotiation!”

Anyway, that’s my idea for something somewhat in between “published module” and “plot hook”.

BC

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That would be quite useful!

Maybe you could turn it into a full-fledged book by adding some discussion of the tropes and of campaign arcs, then round it off with a set of stand-alone example scenarios? Putting the theory into practice kind of thing.

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That one could work just as well in reverse…

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Here’s a thought for a campaign supplement: what ifs.

Take a major event from one of the TV series or movies, and give it a little twist to change history so that the Enterprise (or whichever ship/crew) never gets involved and now there’s a new campaign for a PC ship and crew.

As an example…Star Trek II. What if Captain Terrell did the minimum due diligence and counted how many planets were actually in the Ceti Alpha system before beaming down?

Or for TNG, what if Kurn is murdered by the Duras family before he ever makes it to the Enterprise to tell Worf about the machinations in the Klingon High Council in “Sins of the Father” ? The whole Klingon Civil War might play out very differently, and it can be a PC crew that winds up in the thick of it rather than Picard and the Enterprise.

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I’m quite keen on using some random generation tables to inspire me. Which OSR trek-style games were you thinking of? Stars Without Numbers? Something else?

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