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Sunday, 7 July 2019

A Beta Supplement?

The Beta Quadrant Sourcebook is the first setting supplement for Modiphius Entertainment’s Star Trek Adventures roleplaying game. It covers the quarter of the Milky Way Galaxy where the Federation was founded and expanded out into, encountering species like the Orions, the Nausicans, and the Gorn, and of course, coming up against the major powers, the Klingon Empire and the Romulan Star Empire. Over the course of two centuries, relationships between these powers have waxed and waned, sometimes escalating into outright war, sometimes entering periods of peace and diplomatic relations. Currently, the Federation has ventured out past the Klingon Empire into a region of virgin space known as the Shackleton Expanse. Here in co-operation with the Klingons, the Federation has established the Narenda III starbase—named after as the system where the USS Enterprise-C came to the defence of a Klingon colony under attack by Romulans—and is beginning to explore the region. This is the default setting for Star Trek Adventures and is supported by the publisher with an ongoing ‘Living Campaign’. This is in the roleplaying game’s default period of 2371, during the era of  Star Trek: The Next Generation, the middle of Star Trek: Deep Space 9, and before Star Trek: Voyager—just like the Star Trek Adventures core rulebook. Of course, advice is given throughout n how to use supplement’s content during the time of both Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: Enterprise, but what it does mean is that the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook has a lot to cover, both geographically and chronologically.

The book’s introduction sets everything up, explaining how the exploration of the Beta Quadrant has been primarily politically driven given how it is dominated by a number of major powers, how the supplement focuses on the quadrant’s major powers, and how its contents can be used as part of a campaign. Here it highlights the differences between the default period of 2371 and those of the earlier periods of Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: Enterprise. From the outset though, the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook is written as a briefing to a prospective ship’s captain being posted to the Narenda III, and when not directly addressing the players or the Game Master, this voice is carried throughout the book.

It gets down to its remit proper with an examination of the Federation, from its founding, astrography, and political structure to its culture, new word economy, and science and technology. It highlights its particular executive agencies such as the Federation Archaeology Council, Federation Science Bureau, and Department of Temporal Investigations—all of which should interest the Star Trek Adventures Game Master and provide her with some potentially interesting allies and a source of possible missions. The culture section showcases how not just how the Federation embraces a wide variety of cultures, but also how cultures mix, thus both the Klingons and Andorians enjoy ice hockey, Klingons appreciate Moby Dick, Vulcans and the Japanese have swapped tea ceremonies, Risan event planners are engaged everywhere, and so on. Other sections cover how a post scarcity, moneyless economy works, where and how free traders and cargo ships operate, how various planets control their weather using satellites, and more. Throughout, there are commentaries from luminaries such Doctor Carol Marcus and speeches from Andorian General Shran, whilst various reports from various Starfleet officers, Tal Shiar operatives, Klingon captains, and others all serve to give an array of different points of view. They also serve to add a lot of colour alongside the description of the Federation.

This is followed by descriptions of various Federation planets within Beta Quadrant, some of them obvious, others less so. So Andoria, Earth, and Vulcan are covered in quite some detail, as you would expect, whilst Benzar is an odd choice for such treatment. As with the previous section, these descriptions are accompanied by extra sections which focus on particular subjects, like the Kolinahr for Vulcan and the Ten Virtues of Andoria, though there are not as many. Lastly, minor worlds such as Risa, Corridan, and Nausicaa are given a few paragraphs each. One obvious omission here given that Andoria, Earth, and Vulcan are three of the four signatories of the Federation, is that of Tellar Prime, the homeworld of the Tellarites. This is easily explained by Andoria, Earth, and Vulcan all being in Beta Quadrant whereas Tellar prime is in Alpha Quadrant. This of course highlights the fact that the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook is not the Star Trek Adventures Federation Sourcebook. Yet even for the Beta Quadrant, this is an odd mix of worlds. The inclusion of Andoria, Earth, and Vulcan makes sense, whereas none of the others really quite do. 

Fortunately, the treatment of both the Klingon Empire and the Romulan Star Empire, feels a little more balanced, with more information and fewer of the boxed out sections. Both cover each empire’s astrography, history, conflicts between other powers, political structure, military and culture, and science and technology, as well as various worlds within each empire. So for the Klingon Empire, it covers its founding by Kahless the Unforgettable, how Qo’noS was invaded by the Hur’q, the empire’s Great Houses and High Council, along with aspects of Klingon culture such as marriage ceremony, followed by good write-ups of worlds including Qo’noS, Boreth, Khitomer, Narendra III, Rura Penthe, and Ty’Gokor. For the Romulan Star Empire, the section explores its origins lie on Vulcan and focuses on its labyrinthe politics and the role of the Tal Shiar. Only two worlds are covered here—Romulus and Remus.  In technological terms, the Klingon Empire and the Romulan Star Empire are of course, linked by their use of the Cloaking Device, and full rules are given its use by either Klingon or Romulan foes.

Rounding out the first section of the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook are two shorter write-ups of the Orion Syndicate and the Gorn Hegemony. Part of the pleasure of reading these two sections is seeing what both are doing in eras other than when they appeared on screen, so the Orion Syndicate seen in Star Trek: Enterprise and Star Trek: The Original Series, has both expanded and made greater efforts to keep hidden its criminal activities, so the Gorn Hegemony seen in Star Trek: The Original Series have continued to reinforce its borders. Nothing particularly radical, but the Orion Syndicate is probably easier for the Game Master to use than the Gorn Hegemony, given the isolationist nature of the latter and the fact that the criminal  and conspiratorial nature of the former means that the Orion Syndicate can be encountered everywhere. 

The second section, ‘Species of the Beta Quadrant’, adds several new species as New Lifepath Options, broken down by particular television series and era in which they appear as playable character species. Thus the Ardanan, Deltans, Erfrosians, Rigellian Chelons and Rigellian Jelna are from Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation; the Benzites, Bolians, Klingons, the Xindi (Arboreal, Primate, Reptilian, and Insectoid), and Zakdorn from Star Trek: The Next Generation; and the Risians are from all eras of play. It should be noted the Klingons are here intended to be Starfleet officers rather than soldiers of the Klingon Empire (and similarly, the Romulans are not included because none of them join Starfleet like Worf does). This is a good mix of classic and new species, although some like the Ardanans, are likely to require the Game Master and or her players looking them up before bringing them into play, as they are really quite obscure.

The selection of starships in the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook provides support for the Game Master rather than the players, presenting a mix of vessels from the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star Empire, the Gorn Hegemony, and the Orion Syndicate, as well as civilian craft. So no Starfleet vessels, but really most of the Starfleet starships the Game Master and her players are going to need are to be found in the pages of the Star Trek Adventures core rulebook, and anyway, the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook is neither the Federation Sourcebook nor the Starfleet Sourcebook. The starships include the D5-class cruiser, Raptor-class scout, K’t’inga-class battle cruiser, and Negh’Var-class warship of the Klingon Empire; the Romulan Star Empire’s Bird of Prey and Scout Ship of Star Trek: Enterprise, Star Trek: The Original Series, and Star Trek: The Next Generation respectively; whilst for the Orion Syndicate, a Scout Ship, Interceptor, Blackguard, and Pleasure Barge are given, and for the Gorn Hegemony, just a raider and a Varanus-class battleship. Lastly, civilian ships such as generic freighter, transport, colony, and survey vessels are given, the sort of working vessels that fill the space routes, whilst the inclusion of a Vulcan Science Academy vessel is a nice addition for the Game Master running a campaign in the Star Trek: Enterprise era.

Lastly, the ‘Encounters and Adversaries’ chapter provides the Game Master with a new cast of characters and NPCs and adventure seeds. These are arranged area by area, so for the Romulan Neutral Zone, the NPCs include the Tal Shiar Saboteur, Lead Scientist, Warbird Commander, and more, either minor, major, or notable NPCs. The encounter seeds have the player characters’ starship answering a distress call within the Neutral Zone, making contact with the Romulan underground, and hosting a diplomatic event involving the Romulans. They are accompanied by potential plot developments, but the Game Master will need to develop them further herself. Then the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook does the same with the Briar Patch, a rough area of space inside the remnant of an ancient supernova, giving stats for Orion NPCs (and potential player characters) and multiple notable NPCs, though only player character stats for playing Gorns! Then it does the same for the Klingon Border—though not quite to the same extent, before exploring the Shackleton Expanse in much greater detail and with much better support for the Game Master.This includes lists of colleagues, allies, and adversaries, as well as plot components broken down by Starfleet department—Command, Operations, and Sciences, which although far too brief, is an excellent way of handling this information.

Physically, the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook is a decent looking book. There are some inconsistencies in the layout, but otherwise the book is generally well-written and decently illustrated with a fully painted images. The layout is done in the style of the LCARS—Library Computer Access/Retrieval System—operating system used by Starfleet. So everything is laid out over a rich black with the text done in soft colours. This is very in keeping with the theme and period setting of Star Trek Adventures, but it is imposing, even intimidating in its look, and it is not always easy to find things on the page because of the book’s look. The other issue is that the none-more black pages are easy to mark with fingerprints. 

Ultimately, considering just how much the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook has to cover—and it is a lot—it is not quite up to the job. The problem is that any one of the governments and organisations, from the Federation and the Orion Syndicate to the Klingon Empire and the Romulan Star Empire could have had whole sourcebooks of their own devoted to them, some of them much bigger than the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook. Then there are the locations detailed in the last section, the Briar Patch and the Shackleton Expanse could have had whole campaigns devoted to them rather than the few scant pages here. So it is not difficult to come away from this supplement and feel slightly disappointed for many different reasons—because it does not cover a particular aspect of the Star Trek universe in more detail, does not mention a particular planet, event, or species, and so on.

Yet there is no denying what is in the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook is solid, much of it useful material, whether that is descriptions of certain worlds, stats for particular starships, details of a new species, and so on, all of which can be brought to a Star Trek Adventures campaign—depending upon era of course. The Beta Quadrant Sourcebook does not though, amount to more than a broad overview of each of the subjects it covers and doubtless, most Game Masters are going to want more information.

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