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We are about to start a Star Trek campaign and I'd like some suggestions on avoiding the obvious plot pitfalls that exist in canon Star Trek. I want the players to think through the plot points and focus on interactions.

Here are some examples of things I want to avoid:

  1. Using the transporter to save the day, like restoring the characters back to their original pattern, or putting the bad-guy directly in jail (or in solid rock, etc)
  2. Allowing the tricorder or sensors to give away everything
  3. Asking the computer for the answer to the issue at hand (parodied beautifully in Galaxy Quest)
  4. The Chief Engineer/Scientist/Doctor suddenly thinks up (i.e. rolls up) a brilliant solution from thin air.
  5. The non-human crew member suddenly finds a previously unknown special ability (Spock was the worst offender in this) that renders the plot point meaningless
  6. Time travel in any form
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Most of these aren't "pitfalls" they're "features," to a Trekkie... – mxyzplk Oct 15 '12 at 13:35
up vote 15 down vote accepted

You can't prevent many of these. They're a major part of the genre. Taking them in turn...

1 Using the Transporter to Save the Day

You need to clearly define your allowed limit on transporters. "Decanonize" certain episodes to prevent "repaterning" people. But, once those limits are set, further nerfing simply makes you a bad GM, and is not indicative of bad roleplay.

I run trek with a pre-pattern-buffer timeframe and a "No messing with the matter within" caveat. It's not that I won't have malfunctions happen - I simply won't let players replicate them.

2 Sensors

Set your limits clearly. The shows don't, but don't need to; Gaming does need them set. Pick them, stick to them, and accept that within those limits, you as GM need to suck it up.

3 Computers

Simply enough — restrict to yes/no/maybe answers, or "which of the given methods works best" type questions, and "how long" type questions. And accept that general reference data and probability matrices are areas where they should be using the computer, and they should get valid answers out.

Nerf the computer too much, you lose the trek feel.

4 Brilliance Out of the Blue

If it's a good idea, it's a good idea. It's best to let them run with it.

You may need to have the appropriate character be blamed for it within the context of the fiction — not every brilliant idea put forward by the Doctor's player is suitable for the Doctor to think of, but if it is an engineering solution, and the Engineer's player thinks its the solution, then simply have the two play out the discussion where the Doctor and the Engineer come up with it together.

But also, keep in mind that, in theory, most PC's in Starfleet should be amongst the top 1% intellectually (and those are the dumb ones, Starfleet's top 1% are the IQ 200+ crowd), and many have extensive cross training. So, the "shouldn't be thinking of that" bar is pretty hard to cross, anyway.

5 Special Racial Powers

Stick to what's been established. If they come up with novel uses for those powers, great. LET THEM No "new powers" just new uses.

And make certain to note these new uses for future reference.

6 Time Travel

Is usually imposed by the GM. Just simply state ahead of time that you don't allow it. If they try it, kill them. "...harmonic reality vibration shatters the warp core - KABOOM!!!"

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+1. Also, I'd suggest to allow for creative ideas from players... and to build up from there. Maybe if they consistently use the transporter's buffers to "save/undo", they'll run into an increasing chance of messing with their own personalities ("soul" is a fuzzy thing) ;) – Erik Burigo Oct 12 '12 at 22:40
thanks for the good reminder to me to keep in mind the players' creativity. I want the creativity, but not the lazy tropes rehashed. – SteveED Oct 13 '12 at 1:12
Well, to play devil's advocate, if you didn't want "lazy tropes rehashed" you wouldn't be playing in a rich established milieu like Star Trek. Play a generic SF game if you want to be free of setting/genre expectations - by leveraging Star Trek you are setting the expectation that there WILL be these things. – mxyzplk Oct 15 '12 at 13:37
o.k. I'll accept this with thanks and thanks to the commenters too – SteveED Oct 17 '12 at 1:59

In the canon Trekverse, all of those brilliant things have risks and consequences associated with them. You never see any of the main characters fail catastrophically, but they do take those risks. The "always successful" rule in the movies should not necessarily apply to your characters. They should risk terrible outcomes when they attempt such things.

Montgomery Scott may be smart and bold enough to push the ship to Warp 11 but is your player's character the legendary Scotty? Probably not. Then he runs a serious risk of damaging the warp core, and dropping out of warp in the middle of nowhere with only the impulse engines to limp to the nearest piece of rock in about 40-100 years, assuming a core breach doesn't destroy the ship first.

So I'd say, let them try such things, but make success difficult and the risks great. And if they are bold enough to try, have no mercy. They will be much more careful with their next batch of characters.

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this is a good comment – SteveED Oct 16 '12 at 3:11

What system are you using? I agree with @aramis that you should embrace these tropes of the game, they're what make Star Trek - trekky. The set of Star Trek games from Last Unicorn Games embraced them - there was a holodeck sourcebook, a time travel sourcebook... The corebook had a Random Technobabble Generator. It was a great example of embracing genre emulation.

Now if you want to not embrace genre emulation, and run a "realistic game in the Star Trek universe," you should probably be prepared for more or less trouble (if playing Old Series, most...). ST is very much not hard sci-fi so some degree of fast and loose will be required. Let things work once but not again (transporter saved the day last time... this time there's some BS reason it doesn't).

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we are using the original FASA rules, with a little home-brewing. Our group works well with 'fast-and-loose' as long as the plot stays more or less logical and we don't get trapped in cannon arguments. – SteveED Oct 13 '12 at 15:30

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