Noisms’ comments about games he’s wanted to run, and Jeff Rients’ Shatnerday collided in my brain to remind me about my own love affair with Star Trek. I also reminded me of the last time I had tried doing something with Star Trek as a role-playing campaign.
This was about six or seven years ago. I had run some D&D 3.0 and found it overly-engineered and my players were something of a mixed bag. So I decided I needed something different – something that would bring the group together. And then I decided that Star Trek would be a good way to do this. I had always wanted to run a Star Trek campaign. It would be fun – everybody knows the background, the language, and it would provide a sturdy frame for a kind of dramatic role-playing that could be really engaging for the players and for me as the referee. Or so I thought.
What – or more precisely, who I forgot about were Rick Berman and Brannon Braga. Berman and
Frankly, I really didn’t like some of the changes they had made in the Star Trek universe – the Ferengi were painfully close to negative stereotypes of Jews (right down to the exaggerated facial features), the Klingons were changed from an implacable but honorable foe to a band of “Vikings in space”, the Romulans took the place of the Klingons, and I never found the Cardassians to be all that interesting. But if those things were the only major problem, I wouldn’t have had much difficulty. Telling my players that Voyager was in a different timeline so they ought not to expect to encounter the Dominion, the Jem’Hadar or the Kazon (or anything from “fluidic space”) would likely have been met with cheerful relief on their part.
What I hadn’t expected was that we would have radically different ideas of what, exactly, the “Star Trek universe” was. To me, the Star Trek universe was the wild frontier of TOS, in all its four color simplicity. James T. Kirk was a Jack Aubrey in space, with Spock and McCoy as his Stephen Maturin stand-ins. Star Bases were not unlike Gibraltar or
My players, however, had different ideas.
My first clue we might be operating asynchronously came when one of my players said to me rather emphatically, “yeah, I don’t like the later shows, either. I prefer the classics – you know, like Next Generation.” I knew that was a danger sign, but I figured that since I was busily retooling various minor details of the universe, such a perspective could be easily bridged back to my own. But the second clue came about when I mentioned wanting to set the campaign in the period after Star Trek: Wrath of Khan and just before The Search for Spock. I had intended to play with the Star Trek movie “continuity” just a little – I liked David Marcus as a character, and thought that his immediate elimination in Search for Spock was more expedient than warranted. And I definitely wanted to preserve the Klingons as antagonists, so I wanted to bypass Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country altogether. (The Undiscovered Country, with its dubious premise of a moon explosion somehow crippling an interstellar empire, was profoundly unsatisfactory structurally and dramatically.) One or two of my players became visibly uncomfortable with an “alternate universe” cast to the campaign. “So what happens afterwards?” one of them asked. “You’ll have a chance to figure that out” was my answer, which was accepted with deep hesitation.
But when it came to considering the start of the campaign, there were more problems. Which rules set to use? I had thought about GURPS, as a system I knew and liked – but the Star Fleet Universe offerings were geared more towards Star Fleet Battles and a decidedly militaristic cant to any campaign. I looked at, and invested in, the Last Unicorn RPG – lavishly produced, but lamentably out of print, and focused more on Next Generation than TOS. I had then settled on the Decipher line, as it was fairly balanced and not (quite) out of print. The straw that broke the camel’s back and sent the campaign back into the editing room was the discussion I had with my players.
They simply did not like the original Star Trek series. What I saw nostalgically as a brightly colored background just aching for the interesting fine detail work of an unfolding campaign story arc written by the players themselves, they saw the TOS setting as cartoon-ish and corny. While they thought Next Generation and Deep Space Nine were fascinating and full of background detail, I found them to be largely complicated without being really interesting (particularly DS9), and suffering from attempts to over-use the “double-talk generator” as a substitute for maintaining dramatic continuity.
Past that, my players (or at least, the group of people I was gaming with back then) were dubious about a different rules set than the D20 system they knew from D&D 3.0. And the idea of a home-brew rules set struck them as tinkering with the very fabric of the universe (okay, in a sense that’s true – but they weren’t happy with the idea).
When these differences in perspective surfaced, I realized I needed to rethink the entire basis for wanting to run a Star Trek campaign. I’m still thinking about that. I love my Star Trek, but oh, you kid.
 I am almost embarrassed to use that term in relation to Star Trek – a show infamous for the cavalier attitude shown to continuity by the production teams of the various series. Even so, while there might not be a precisely-definable continuity and “history” there is certainly a commonly-held (and defined) sense of what that might be. I knew I would have to wrestle with that in whatever game I ran.