Reversal (threat spending)

Do you use Reversal threat spending at all? Threat cost is enormous - it is 2 per player character, so it is like everyone is getting a Complication (while it may be cheaper to set up situational or location traits, which work for all team).

I have used it once. The characters were on DS9 and did some off-book investigations, much to the annoyance of the local security chief. They investigated several areas and I collected Threat from their rolls. Once I had enough Threat and once they uncovered what I intended them to find, I did a reversal and the security chief arrested them all.

It’s a nice tool to prevent a senseless and prolonged firefight and let the “bad guys” win to move the story forward.

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The main reason for it, really, is to provide a release valve for a large amount of Threat at once, if you’ve been building it up too quickly or the players have been feeding you a lot (willingly or by chance). As it’s a purely narrative spend, it can’t really harm the player characters, so it helps avoid the “lots of Threat = we’re dead” fears common in players who are overly-wary about Threat, and lets you set up a new challenge that might not otherwise have come to pass.

But I don’t expect it to be used often. It’s there if you need it, but it’s certainly something to use sparingly, either in emergencies or as part of something you’ve planned for.


Good to know.

I have some doubt because I plan to kidnap player characters with a transporter, which is a major disadvantage for them (changing environment + they do not have any defense against really) and I was wondering if normal threat spend is sufficient for this (as in: a NPC is doing something threating to you) or should I use reversal (thus, accumulate proper amount of threat to be able to pay a cost).

I just re-read the rules to find the Reversal threat spending. I completely overlooked that one. Thanks a lot for even raising my attention to it! :slight_smile:

I now read that the rules specifically declare the costs to be “two Threat for each Player Character present in that scene or encounter”. In other words: Its a cheap, but devilish tool to discourage splitting up the party too – since going alone can turn out to be quite dangerous.

I am, on the other hand, perfectly aware of the fact that this should definetly not used on a regular basis since it would probably reduce fun on the players’ side…

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It’s also worth noting that there’s also a Threat spend to forcibly split the party (say, everyone’s moving through a tunnel or down a corridor, but a cave-in or a force field or something cuts them off and separates part of the group), but the more uneven the split, the more it costs.

I think one of the key elements of the Reversal spend is that the scene is now over for all characters and they all start fresh in a new scene. So if you want to kidnap all PCs then Reversal seems to be fine.

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I obviously overlooked that one, too. Could you please give a hint where I can re-read that one? Sounds very interesting!

Ah, on inspection of the rulebook, that might be something I’m remembering from a different version of 2d20. Doesn’t mean you can’t use it in your own games, though (paraphrased version below for Star Trek):

Dividing the group can complicate the player characters’ plans like nothing else. Perhaps a door slams shut or a forcefield appears behind part of the group, or a section of floor collapses beneath them, or a means of climbing like a ladder or staircase breaks. Whatever happens, some circumstance has contrived to separate the group temporarily. When used, the gamemaster splits the group into two, choosing how many and which characters end up in which part of the group. The gamemaster then pays Threat equal to the number of player characters in the larger of the two parts of the group. The two parts of the group cannot directly interact with one another while divided – though they may still be able to communicate by shouting or using communicators – and reuniting the group will require some time and effort.


Another idea is just to introduce a Location Trait (Complication) a big wall/impassable fire/forcefield barrier at a cost of 2 threat.

True, though that tends to be better for shorter-term obstacles that can be overcome by the group right then and there.

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Dividing the group was in the STA Playtest. It wasn’t in the release.

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Old Skool GM here: It seems to me that Reversal is just GM’s fiat with an veneer of civility by paying some Threat points for the privilege of moving the plot forwards (well, “forwards” in the eyes of the GM).

Wether the dramatic scene change is defined by the adventure script (“After three rounds of combat a sonic pulse disables the combatants”), or on the GM’s whim (“It’s really inconvenient for them to win right now, I’ll have them incapacitated and captured instead, by a… a sonic pulse!”) is really not for the players to know or even care about.

My instincts tell me this is a Threat spend that is ultimately harmful to play since it teaches the players that the GM can only radically change the scene if he can afford to do so, which in turn undermines the GM’s option of having a living game world where things happen even if the player characters are not driving the action.

GM: The pirate takes your blow right on the chin and staggers backwards into the dabo table, spilling chits and dice. He’s out cold. His friends jump to their feet to join the brawl.

Lt Gran: I step up, back to back with Cmdr Rust, and enter a Vulcan defensive meditative stance. “We are, as the humans say, in this together. The man impugned the honor of the Hussian Princess Tyona, and we swore to protect her.”

GM: To your surprise, all movement in the bar stops as if frozen in time. All, except for one figure that rises up beside the bar, revealing himself to be Huml, the Royal Family’s Chief of Security. He-

Cmdr Rust: Hey, wait a minute! Aren’t you going to pay for that?

GM: What?

Cmdr Rust: We were in a seedy bar at the waterfront getting into a fight with some local pirates, and suddenly this just some sort of test in a holo simulation! You are clearly pulling a Reversal on us!

Lt Gran: And you sure was keen on having us talk to that Hummer guy earlier.

GM: Huml!

Lt Gran: Whatever. We said we’d get back to him! I think you owe us some Threat, screen-monkey!

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If the players aren’t driving the action, then the GM is free to use NPCs to move them…

The rules are quite explicit:

This is a fundamental element of the 2d20 system.

The end of scene is by agreement… or by reversal spend.

I used it wednesday… to put an NPC escaping, so the fight didn’t turn into a chase.

So when a sudden earthquake forces the PCs to stumble and allows the villain to make his escape, that’s a Reversal, but when the off-screen crew of a hitherto unmentioned starship uses their tractor beam to cause a sudden earthquake that forces the PCs to stumble and allow the villain to make his escape it is an NPC driving the action and just the natural flow of the game…

No, C171, the hitherto unmentioned starship has a cost equal to its scale…

“Veneer of civility” or “acknowledgement that the GM is a player too, rather than someone who is above or outside the game”. Largely a matter of semantics.

Here’s probably the point where the difference of opinion is most clear.

Star Trek Adventures isn’t, strictly speaking, meant to simulate existence in the Star Trek universe. It’s meant to emulate adventures akin to those from an episode of Star Trek. There’s a fair difference between the two, but the biggest one is that in the latter case, the player characters are very much the protagonists, and the events of play do revolve around their actions and their decisions. It’s why the game refers to scenes as a structural element.

Now, the distinction between world simulation and story emulation is one that’s somewhat controversial in some RPG circles, and the latter doesn’t necessarily sit right with some players and GMs who prefer the former, but you can’t make a game that caters to all tastes.

Within the context of 2d20 System games like Star Trek Adventures, the GM’s capacity to alter a scene in progress is finite.

At the start of any scene, the GM can establish whatever they like and whatever makes sense, and do so freely. During the course of a scene, once the players have started taking action, the GM is limited to influencing the scene in one of two ways: through the actions of NPCs, or through the expenditure of Threat (which can include introducing new NPCs who weren’t present at the start, like reinforcements or ambushers). This is by design: the game keeps focus on the players’ choices in part by applying conditions to the GM’s ability to direct things, which in turn means that the players drive events along with the GM throwing up obstacles, complications, diversions, etc., along the way. I know that in my case, using Threat has made my GMing more interactive and more circumspect than it used to be…

Just as importantly, Threat is a resource accessible to the players. This means that the existence of Threat must be impactful to the players. If the players add to Threat, but the GM ignores the Threat pool and just does things by pure fiat, then the players may become inured to the idea of Threat and will add points too it without fear of consequences (because those points won’t get spent, and anything that happens will happen anyway). In order for Threat to be a meaningful resource option for the players, it has to be part of a dynamic where adding to Threat causes other things to happen.

And, dirty little secret, when you set up a new scene, you can introduce things that will just add to Threat regardless (and have NPCs generate Threat too). The example I tend to use is an alarm panel that enemies can activate (adding to Threat) which then gives an in-game justification for you to spend Threat to call in reinforcements. To an extent, there are aspects of Threat which are more theatrical than practical - the stack of tokens gives the players a visible ‘tension gauge’, the potential consequences make players consider adding to Threat as a matter of calculated risk, and the players have an indicator that bad things are happening for reasons other than GM whims - while also abstracting together a number of things that’d be fiddly for a GM to track separately, giving the GM an additional tool to nudge and tweak things as play unfolds.

As aramis points out, the hitherto-unmentioned ship’s arrival is technically reinforcements, so spending Threat to bring that in would also be customary.

The general point is: if you want to introduce a shocking twist, spend Threat. If you’ve got Threat piled up, the players should be expecting a twist, a reversal, or some other challenging development to arise, because that big pool of Threat literally communicates “I’ve got a bad feeling about this…”.

I think you may be addressing a different issue. Sure, ST:A is focused on what would happen “on screen”, and as such the minutiae of how the universe works is out of scope. How does a Federation homeowner get a plumber to fix his pipes? Do plumbers exist? What motivates them to rush out and fix a broken main at 04:00 hours in a money-less culture? Does the homeowner actually even own his property? We can brush over that sort of thing.

But it seems a mistake to suggest that no action takes place off-screen. In TNG 0406 Legacy, Ishara Yar and her commander conspire behind the Enterprise crew’s back to further their own agenda. The big reveal that Ishara chooses loyalty to the cadre instead of following in her sisters footsteps and break away from the dystopia of the colony is pretty much the entire point of the episode. The twist leaves the crew wondering about the nature of trust and loyalty.

So, why shouldn’t NPC actions surprise the players? Surely the game is more interesting when the NPCs have their own motives and respond to the opportunities and obstacles the PCs present them? Having all NPCs go into “idle mode” once the PCs have left the room seems… ill-advised.


I’m not sure where you’ve seen me suggest that NPCs stop doing anything off-screen… but I am saying that there should be a little bit of screenwriter in the process when you’re GMing Star Trek Adventures, and part of that comes with how you handle suspense and surprise, which lines up what Threat does.

The main point here is that the GM is not free to pull twists and surprises completely out of nowhere whenever desired. The GM is playing the game as well, and that means that the GM doesn’t always get to have things their way, even if they’re notionally benevolent to the players. When I’m GMing ST:A, this means that if I want something to happen in a scene, either I foreshadowed it at the start of the scene, I made an NPC make it happen, or I spent Threat to make it happen (or some combination of the three). Sometimes there’s a fourth option: failed tests and complications are good for foreshadowing stuff too, but that tends to be smaller stuff.

NPCs will have their own motives and agendas, certainly, but keeping those secret varies between “pointless minutia only the GM knows about”. It’s much more interesting if those motives and agendas are somewhere where the players can engage with them. NPC motives will direct how I choose to make things happen - the less foreshadowing something should have, the more likely it’ll be that I spend Threat to make it happen.

In a way, it’s similar to the Apocalypse World notions of soft GM moves and hard GM moves. A soft move is like describing a group of Klingon Warriors beaming in: a new problem’s here, how do you deal with it? A hard move is one of the Klingons stabbing your Science Officer in the chest. Hard moves don’t happen by themselves - they happen if the PCs didn’t or couldn’t deal with a soft move you set up.

Threat is a limited (but not too limited - remember, there are lots of ways to generate Threat) budget for making harder moves.

The corollary is that the GM, given the threat system, can be fairly well unconcerned with the fairness after the initial setup. And there is a guideline on that buried in the book,

So, my fair encounter, looks too easy? Throw some threat as the leader calls for reinforcements, No guilt,

Now, there is a glitch in that Nausicaans are essentially free, their arrival gives as much as they cost…