What Do I Know About Reviews? Back to Reality (Star Trek Adventures)
Star Trek has been consistently calming my nerves in several ways over the last six or so months. I love the optimism of the franchise, and even at its most grim, it’s often more positive about the future than many other properties. Rewatching Star Trek The Next Generation and Star Trek Deep Space Nine have been great for my nerves, and Star Trek Adventures has been a great system to emulate the stories told in those series.
On the blog today, I’m going to look at the Star Trek Adventures product Back to Reality, a mission based adventure that is, by default, set in The Next Generation timeframe.
Disclaimer: I was sent a review copy of this adventure by Modiphius.
This is just a quick sidenote about how this adventure is formatted, from an accessibility standpoint. I often have my PDFs read aloud to me so that I can take notes while I am consuming the product’s content, and I’ll admit, it helps keep me focused when my attention deficit kicks in. While all of the Star Trek Adventures PDFs have fully readable text for all of the PDF readers I have tried, there is one quirk of the documents that might make them challenging for people using accessibility functions.
The random numbers that appear in various places on the page, to help emulate the look of an LCARS display, are not background art, they are text. That means that the long streams of numbers meant to emulate readouts will read every one of those numbers when someone is using the read aloud function of a PDF reader. This doesn’t bother me too much, because I’m usually looking at the PDF as it’s being read to me, but for someone that is visually impaired and doesn’t actually see the page being read, I can imagine this could be much more confusing.
Back to Reality is a 17 page PDF. The formatting is similar to the other products in the Star Trek Adventures line, with a simulated LCARS computer display two column layout for the pages. The headers, sidebars, and sub headers are all bold, obvious, and easy to follow. Although the LCARS display itself is an artistic flourish, there is only really one half page illustration to supplement the standard formatting of the product.
There is a cover, a full page ad for other Star Trek Adventures products, as well as a full page credits page, and a table of contents, with the rest of the PDF comprising the adventure proper.
It may be obvious when dealing with a review for an RPG adventure, but I’m going to dive into the plot of this adventure, which means there will be some spoilers. If you might be playing this adventure, you may want to steer clear.
The default setting of the adventure is during The Next Generation timeline, shortly after the Generations movie, and slightly before the Dominion War. The Borg figure into the plot of this adventure, but in a unique manner that examines their impact on the Federation. The adventure suggests that you can adapt this for other timeframes, such as The Original Series timeframe, by recasting the Borg elements with Klingons or Romulans.
I’m going to argue that I don’t think that substitution would have as much impact. While the Federation was at war with the Romulans, and had an ongoing cold war with the Klingons, the long term damage of the Borg, as well as the existential dread that they seemed to instill in the Federation, feels unique among Star Trek antagonists. I’ll touch on this a bit more when we look at the overall plot of the adventure.
The crew is sent to take some samples from a dense asteroid belt that is emitting strange quantum readings. That’s the primary mission, but it gets complicated pretty quickly.
The team gets shifted into a different quantum time period, meets up with a version of themselves from yet another quantum string, and finds an ancient alien space station that contains a machine that can edit realities.
The alternate version of the crew wants to edit the Borg out of existence, since in their reality, the Borg have devastated the Federation. Minor quantum edits aren’t overly taxing, but something big like removing a species, tends to have long and short term consequences.
The tightrope the group needs to walk is how to edit reality to get home, without letting the alternate crew do too much damage to other realities that touch theirs.
One of the reasons that I love RPGs that do a good job of emulating existing IP is that there is kind of a challenge to creating a scenario that feels like the source material, without directly copying any single plotline from that IP. I really like that this calls back to the TNG episode Parallels, which featured multiple Enterprises from alternate realities, including one where the Borg destroyed or assimilated most of the Federation after Wolf 359.
It also mixes in the “ancient, long gone aliens with impossible technology” tropes found in stories like The City on the Edge of Forever, and every story where there has been an alternate version of the crew, from Mirror Universe stories to various transporter accidents.
The adventure includes an optional encounter that isn’t needed for the story to advance, but which gives the theme of alternate versions of the crew a little more gravitas, as well as cluing in the team before they are confronted with alternate versions of themselves.
I like that when the characters shift to the “limbo” universe that isn’t theirs or their duplicates, the game calls for a threat spend. I appreciate that the adventure is committed to “playing fair” with the paradigm shifting mechanics already inherit in the game, as well as giving examples of how to use these spends in play.
There are some “linear tasks” that are part of the resolution of the adventure, and I almost worry that “linear” in an RPG adventure takes on negative connotations. All that means in this case is that there are a few things that obviously need to be done before the next phase of the adventure, but what the player characters do in order to engage that hurdle is wide open, as long as it feels like a “Star Trek” solution.
For example, when reaching the alien space station, they will need to power the station up if they want to use the archives or the big quantum editing machine, but unlike some RPGs, what they do to power the station up is up to the player characters. None of their approaches are “wrong,” there is just a difficulty to performing the task. They can scavenge parts from their shuttle, they can create a phaser based power transfer, etc.
The fun is for the players to let their imaginations run wild within the confines of the setting’s conceits.
Eventually, the alternate reality crew either wants to wrest control of the quantum editor from the PCs, or to enlist their help. One of the reasons I think the Borg have more weight as the downfall of this alternate reality is that in this point in Star Trek canon, a lot of people lost people they cared for at Wolf 359, which may create a lot more sympathy for the alternate reality crew.
Helping the alternate reality crew ends up screwing with multiple connected realities, and severely harming one of their crew members, but the temptation is completely understandable. Ultimately, the PCs can get some warnings about how far to push their editing depending on how much they interact with the station’s AI.
I like how much this adventure has some set goals that need to happen, but is very flexible in how those goals are accomplished. That said, there are just a few places I would have liked more details.
For example, it’s assumed that the team needs to collaborate with the duplicates to overcome the quantum interference that prevents long range scanning and transporter use, but I would have liked to have had some guidance for if the group decides to go it on their own to develop this, rather than saying that they option is cut off without collaboration.
There is a narrative frame in how the adventure is presented. The away team performs most of the action, but in discussing the next part of the adventure, there is a cutaway showing the starship and discussing how they have been out of contact with the away team. Since the game is very good at providing alternate characters to play, I almost wish the ship had a few short scenes reinforcing the quantum changes outside of the reality where the shuttle is located. They don’t need to be long, but it could be fun to have the rest of the crew have to react to something, especially without the context of what the away team knows within the alternate reality.
I appreciate callbacks that are strong, but not overly heavy handed, and I think this adventure manages that kind of homage.
Any time you give me a story about multiple realities resonating across to other realities, I’m pretty much in. Additionally, I love the little touches in this adventure, like the alternate encounter to provide more context, or the chart of customizations to differentiate the alternate universe versions of the crew. I appreciate callbacks that are strong, but not overly heavy handed, and I think this adventure manages that kind of homage.
Most of my complaints are relatively minor. In addition to the plot points I mentioned above, I kind of like the idea of assigning tasks an interval. Most of the time, outside of a complex task, you won’t need to know what interval (the time it takes to make a skill check) is at play, but I think there are enough rules that brush up against the concept that it might not be a bad thing to at least mention, even in passing.
Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
Not only is this a good adventure for Star Trek Adventures, it’s a solid plotline to follow if you are using something else for your Star Trek needs, and would even be fairly easy to “drift” to other science fiction franchises without too much effort. If you are already a fan of Star Trek, or other exploration-based science fiction, I think you’ll be happy with this