Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday 2 November 2019

A Scientific Approach

One of the interesting aspects of the treatment given Star Trek as a roleplaying game by Modiphius Entertainment is that it examines directly the role of crew and positions aboard ships and at postings in Starfleet. No other Star Trek roleplaying game has done this, but to date, there are three supplements for the Star Trek Adventures: The Roleplaying Game which focus on the six departments of Starfleet. These are organised division by division, so The Command Division supplement focuses on the Command and Conn departments, The Operations Division supplement focuses on the Security and Engineering departments, and The Sciences Division supplement on the Science and Medical departments. Each supplement details the various branches and departments within each division, their role in Starfleet, an expanded list of Talents and Focuses for characters within each division, plots and campaigns which focus on characters within each division, supporting characters from within each division—including canonical NPCs, and more.

As with much of the Star Trek Adventures line, The Sciences Division supplement is presented as an in-game—and in-world—briefing to members of both the Science and Medical departments. It quickly sets out the roles of members of both departments, the Science officer a generalist as much as a specialist in particular fields, investigating and explaining phenomena of all kinds, from astronomical to anthropological, whilst the Medical officer—and in the twenty-fourth century, the Counselor, see to the physical and mental well-being of both members of Starfleet and civilians. Both conduct research also, this often being conducted alongside whatever tasks involved their ship or starbase’s current mission. The primary purpose of the Sciences Division—and of Starfleet itself—is one of exploration, so the supplement examines the two types of mission undertaken by Starfleet Exploratory Division (part of the Sciences Division), general survey and specific examination of a phenomenon, before discussing the protocols both survey, first contact, scientific mystery, lost starship, and temporal missions. It also looks at potential errors that go wrong on such missions and the means of mitigating them, altogether providing a solid overview for the Game Master wanting to run these types of missions. 

It does the same for Science missions, as well as looking at other exploration organisations, like the Vulcan Expeditionary Group, and other Federation science organisations, such as the Daystrom Institute. Notable members of the Daystrom Institute are listed, including Doctor Leah Brahms and Vash from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but sadly no NPC write-ups are given for either. In comparison, the examination of the Medical department is less extensive, with an emphasis placed on Medical ethics as much as medical missions. It covers the role of the Counselor too, but not in as much depth.

The Sciences Division supplement is actually more useful when it gets to specifics, and like The Command Division supplement, it starts with the beginning of careers for both Medical and Science officers. So both Science officers and Counselors specialise at Starfleet Academy before graduating, whereas Medical officers go on to Starfleet Medical Academy. Another path into Starfleet for scientists and medical doctors is to complete academic studies before joining, for example, as Doctor Leonard McCoy did. These options are included in the guides to creating Science and Medical characters, along with discussions of what the ratings mean for both the Medical and Science Disciplines and they work with the other Disciplines. These are nicely supported by examples from the various television series, so Captains Jean-Luc Picard and Kathryn Janeway with high Command and Science Disciplines are described as natural leaders and skilled researchers, whilst Doctor Julian Bashir obviously has a high Medicine Discipline, his experiences with Section 31 meant that he has a high Security Discipline too. 

Numerous Talents and Focuses are listed for both Science and Medical characters, expanding upon those given in the Star Trek Adventures core rulebook. Pleasingly, those for the Science department cover a range of disciplines, so the Chemistry and Astrophysics Focuses as much Archaeology and Galactic History. One of the more mundane Focuses for the Medicine Discipline is Dentistry, which the authors suggest is really useful for treating Klingons, Ferengi, and Nausicaans! (If a player decides that their Medical officer character not going to take this Focus, it certainly should be given to an NPC.) One set of options given is for Cybernetic and Genetic Enhancements, not just a Sensory Replacement like the visor worn by Geordi La Forge, but also the Augmented Ability Genetic Enhancement which grants a character the Augment Trait. This requires the Game Master’s permission as genetic manipulation is frowned upon by the Federation. 

The Sciences Division supplement covers a range of scientific topics, including the creation of truly alien beings, in particular spaceborne and non-corporeal lifeforms, with stats for the Dikironium Cloud Creature and Organians; scientific mysteries such as parallel universes, psychic powers, and subspace corridors and rifts. It also includes The Q Continuum and time travel, providing background on both and running adventures involving them, the section on time travel also including Starfleet Temporal Regulations, the nature of El-Aurians and their ability to perceive temporal eddies, and the Department of Temporal Investigations. This is perhaps the most entertaining sections here are devoted to  as much because the authors find them both subject matters more interesting and entertaining themselves and they do have more specific source material to draw from. Similar sections cover spatial and planetary phenomena, but more of the former than the latter. So nebulas, nova and supernovas, and black holes, neutron stars, and pulsars, but only terraforming, which feels rather unbalanced. The balance is redressed with guidelines for creating alien species and hostile environments and hazards. 

Rounding out The Sciences Division supplement is a chapter of luminaries, personnel, and NPCs. The first includes such notables as Doctors Richard Daystrom, Carol Marcus, Lewis Zimmerman, Noonian Soong, and Zefram Cochrane. All major NPCs, all complete with full stats, backgrounds, and notes on bringing them into play. This does feel like a rather limited selection, really only suited to Star Trek: The Original Series and the default period of 2371, that is, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space 9, and Star Trek: Voyager, which means that Star Trek: Enterprise does miss out here. The personnel and NPCs cover everything from specialists from across the Federation and Starfleet, including a Terraformer and a Vulcan Science Academy Professor Emeritus, Xenobiology Department Head, Nurse, and the Emergency Medical Hologram II. This is a very serviceable range, ready for the Game Master to add a name and personality.

Unlike The Command Division supplement, The Sciences Division supplement does not include any new starships. This seems a little odd, given the focus of the Science and Medical department, as well as Starfleet Exploratory Division, that they have specialist vessels, like the Olympia-Class hospital ship and the Oberth-class science ship, as well as scouts and survey ships. Their inclusion here would have made much more sense, especially given that both vessels are illustrated in the supplement, rather than being crammed into The Command Division supplement.

Physically, The Sciences Division supplement is again a decent looking book. Notably though, whilst the artwork is decent, it often feels bland and not really relevant to content it is placed alongside. There are fewer in-game reports, diary entries, and so on, and in many cases, they are not all that interesting or inspiring for the Game Master. The reduced in-game content also means the layout does not feel as busy and has a bit more room for its contents to breath. 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 whilst it is not always easy to find things on the page because of the book’s look, it is easier in The Sciences Division supplement because it is less cluttered than in other supplements for the line. Also the book does feel like it could have been better organised, for example, the advice and rules on using a Ship’s Counselor in play comes sixty pages after the half-page overview of their role in Starfleet, almost as if it were an afterthought—which it is not, the rules and advice being useful. 

The Sciences Division supplement is at its best when focusing on specifics. Whether that is creating Science and Medical officers, detailing pieces of medical equipment and drugs, the Q Continuum, or building blue, gold, or red plot elements, the supplement provides solid support for a Star Trek Adventures campaign for player and Game Master alike. Yet away from these elements, the writing feels broader and more general in nature as if there was less to write about. Further, the writing is better when it comes to the role of the Science officer than the Medical officer, with the role of Ship’s Counselor coming in a very distant third. Overall, The Sciences Division supplement is far from a poor supplement, but often the treatment of its subject matter is too broad.

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