What Do I Know About Reviews? Shackleton Expanse Campaign Guide (Star Trek Adventures)

Picture2Way back when Star Trek Adventures was ramping up, the organized play campaign that Modiphius started specifically mentioned the Shackleton Expanse, a region of space between the Klingon Empire and the Romulans. This region wasn’t canonically detailed and was specifically created for development in RPG products. The Star Trek Adventures core rulebook mentioned the region but didn’t go into great detail.

While the Expanse was referenced in the interconnected adventures released for the organized play campaign, the first year or so of Star Trek Adventures releases were based on Starfleet divisions (Command, Sciences, Operations) and on the quadrants of the galaxy (Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Gamma). The quadrant releases also served as de facto series sourcebooks, with the Gamma Quadrant book tying into Deep Space Nine, and the Delta Quadrant tying into Voyager.

When I began running my Star Trek Adventures campaign, the Shackleton Expanse really appealed to me, even though there was only a sparse outline of the location in the books available at the time. I liked the idea of a home base with join Klingon/Federation operations. I liked a region of space between two stellar empires, with a built-in excuse to introduce weird spatial effects to nudge players in a particular direction or to cut off external help so that the crew needs to be the heroes that solve the problem in front of them.

I ran that campaign for a year, and near the end of that time, I heard about the future release of a Shackleton Expanse sourcebook. While I knew my campaign would be over by the time it came out, I was still very interested to see what it finally looked like. That’s what we’re exploring today.

Disclaimer

I haven’t used any of the material in this product, but as I mentioned above, I’m very familiar with the core Star Trek Adventures game, having run it for over a year, and having played some of the organized play adventures. I’ve also utilized the sourcebooks for the game system for campaign ideas in the past. While I have received Star Trek Adventures products from Modiphius in the past for review, I purchased the PDF for this product on my own and was not provided a review copy.

The PADD Display

This review is based on the PDF version of this sourcebook. It is 320 pages long, including galactic map endpapers, a credits page, a table of contents, a three-page index, three pages of ads for other Modiphius products, and two pages of end papers showing the layout of Narendra Station.

This is a full-color product, and the PDF is available in a standard format or a printer friendly form that uses a white background instead of the default black background. Like the core rulebook, the pages are formatted to look like Next Generation era LCARS displays. This includes borders that include schematics and numerical measurements that aren’t specifically meant to portray usable information. Because Narendra Station is a joint operation with the Klingon Empire, there are occasionally pages presenting information from the Klingon standpoint, and the formatting of those sections switches to the red and orange Klingon styled faux-computer displays.

While all of the Star Trek Adventures products have featured color paintings of characters, locations, and ships from the Star Trek franchise, because the Shackleton Expanse introduces many new species, more of the artwork is referencing species and starships not drawn from existing Star Trek media. If you have ever wondered how a centaur would wear pants, you may even get an answer to that question.

Accessibility

I just wanted to take a moment to call out a recurring issue with the Star Trek Adventures products. I use a PDF reader for most of my reviews, because it frees me up to take notes, and because it actually helps me stay focused on reading through longer products. PDF readers will read out every one of those decorative numbers added to the faux-displays that exist as part of the LCARS formatting. In other words, depending on the page, you may have to sit through lines and lines of the PDF reader reading out numbers that don’t mean anything, because they aren’t formatted as part of the page, they are formatted as part of the text.

The Lineup

The Shackleton Expanse sourcebook is set up with the following sections:

  • Introduction
  • The Shackleton Expanse
  • Factions Within the Expanse
  • Player Options
  • The Tilikaal
  • The Tilikaal Saga
  • Exploring the Expanse
  • Allies and Adversaries
  • Starships and Vessels
  • Stellar Cartography

This means that the book has new species to play, several species that are new to the game, new starships, several adventures and mission briefs, and tools for generating new regions within the Shackleton Expanse for exploratory campaigns.

The Setting

Narendra Station, a joint Starfleet/Klingon star base, exists just outside of the Expanse and serves as the home base for both governments to strike out into this region, which isn’t claimed by any of the primary galactic powers. The region has gravimetric shears that can damage ships, impede communications and transporters, and has made the region less explored than many other regions of the galaxy.

There are four new species introduced that are native to the Expanse, as well as an ancient, super-advanced culture whose ruins are heavily concentrated in the area. In addition to these new species, because of where the Expanse is located, there are Orion pirates and criminals, as well as Romulans that also poke around this region.

One of the species introduced in this region has all the hallmarks of the traditional Star Trek trope of a species that is antagonistic when first introduced, but who have a deeper culture to explore. In this case, that species already has a rebel faction that is working against some of the more aggressive actions of the primary government. Additionally, the other new species introduce some Star Trek conundrums. One species isn’t humanoid and has different perspectives because of their unique physiology. Another can potentially cause questions about the Prime Directive.

The lost, ancient civilization that left artifacts in the region allows for lots of “this technology is way too advanced for us to use safely” stories, as that species managed to create machines that could move stars and planets into specific configurations based on their own specifications. These ancient artifacts also give the PCs good reason to worry about the Orions and Romulans exploring the region, and may even put some stress on the Klingon/Federation alliance, based on what kind of artifacts might be unearthed.

There are a lot of solid tools in the setting information that will give GMs the opportunity to merge existing Star Trek elements with unique setting details.

Statblocks, Great and Small

The Shackleton Expanse introduces lots of new stat blocks, from examples of the species found in the expanse, to various animal species found on native planets, to additional stat blocks to represent existing factions and their specialized members active in the region.

The starships include ships used by the local cultures, but some of the ships that excited me the most were the additions to Klingon and Orion vessels. In my campaign, the characters had a Nova Class starship, and I would have loved to have had smaller Orion raiders for some encounters. For the portions of the game that took place during the Dominion War, I would have loved to have had stats for heavy Klingon fighters. Both of those are detailed in this section.

The organized play campaign utilized four different ships as player character options, the original series Constitution Class Lexington, and the Next Generation era ships, the Bellerophon, the Thunderchild, and the Venture. These ships get stat blocks in this book, as well as the service record of each ship during key moments in Federation history, for example where the ships were during the Dominion War or the Borg attack on Earth.

Player Options

This section includes the following options for player characters:

  • Akaru (Extremely efficient humanoids with Vulcan/Romulan traits)
  • Cal-Mirran (Crystalline species with minor time distortion powers)
  • Orion
  • Qofuari (Otter centaurs that can mentally model and test concepts without computers)
  • VinShari (Potentially aggressive species with vocal sonic powers)

The species that are native to the Shackleton Expanse work best as species not available at the start of the game but made available as their ships and planets are encountered.

I’m personally happy to have Orions show up on the player character options. We’ve seen more and more Orions appearing in background shots as crew members on Starfleet ships, as well as their role in Discovery, and I love Tendi from Lower Decks. While most species can be played just using what’s available with general species descriptions, player character options provide additional talents that can help to play specific archetypes from the series. Also, the artwork of the example Orion reminds me more of The Chain than previous other Orion depictions.

GM Tools

There are several items that I see as broad “GM Tools” for the Shackleton Expanse. The first set of these tools is in the general description of the Shackleton Expanse, as it gives mechanics for various spatial phenomena in the Expanse and what they can do. In addition to the traits at play in the Expanse, there are binary stars that can send out pulsed fusion reactions, areas of space that limit how fast ships can travel, and planetary chains “protected” by coruscating waves of energy.

The other broad tools in the book are in the Stellar Cartography chapter. This has random tables for star systems, stars, spatial phenomena, planets, and moons.

Starbase 364

The Beta Quadrant Sourcebook gave broad details on Narendra station, listing the major Federation and Klingon staff, as well as giving the statistics for the station itself. The information in this book fleshes out these NPCs, giving them more description, statistics, values, and a section on roleplaying tips for each of them. In addition to fleshing out the NPCs referenced in the Beta Quadrant, it also adds some new characters operating in or around the station.

These additional characters include the joint Starfleet and Klingon heads of security, the master chief in charge of the stations flight operations, a Section 31 agent hiding in plain sight, and an Orion merchant operating on the station.

The extra detail on the station makes me want to try out a Deep Space Nine style, starbase oriented campaign with this setting. I’ll talk about this more later, but there isn’t as much support for that as I would have liked. There is enough information to make it an intriguing concept.

 Adventure Time

Over 150 pages of this sourcebook are dedicated to either the updated adventures from the organized play campaign, or to mission briefs surrounding that campaign storyline, or relating to the Expanse itself.

The full adventures feature an overview, directives for the mission, and individual acts broken down by scenes. If you have never looked at Star Trek Adventures adventure structure before, it tends to be a bit looser than other RPGs. It will generally provide what needs to be done, what complications happen, and what needs to carry over between acts to make the plot work, but it leaves a lot of resolutions open to how the player character may want to solve them.

There are several places where an adventure will mention that something that needs to be done could be a gated challenge (you need to make a success for roll to do multiple parts of a larger task), or an Extended Task (where the task has a set of milestones that the players must meet, with a more granular resolution). There are also places where the adventure will give the options for either making a single check or using the game’s Scientific Method resolution (a multi-step process that may take longer to resolve, but allows for multiple characters to brainstorm solutions).

The campaign arc that gets updated from the organized play program involves an advanced alien species that has moved from this plane of existence, but with members trying to return to the universe from which they “ascended.” This species is tied to multiple temporal/spatial anomalies, such as the Ribbon/Nexus from Star Trek Generations.

What’s especially ambitious is that the first two adventures are set in the Original Series timeframe, then moves forward to the Next Generation era. There are also some NPCs that might survive and cross over into future adventures.

Some of the trickiest aspects of this overall campaign involves getting players to play both the Original Series adventures, then move to the Next Generation timeframe. The Original Series ship also blows up as a story beat that the players can’t really alter. Because all twelve of these adventures have to do with gradually learning about these aliens, their society, and their technology, as well as facing down a dangerous member of this species, it is recommended that the GM run some of the mission briefs between adventures let the campaign story breathe more.

That means this is going to be a big time commitment, even if you only plan on one session per adventure and one session per mission brief. It means this is going to unfold over 20+ sessions, with a hard “reset” at the end of the Original Series portion of the campaign.

In case you haven’t seen them, mission briefs are even more stripped-down adventures. These are one page adventure suggestions that include a synopsis, major beats, minor beats, key NPCs, and a conclusion. They also often have a suggested era of play as well as suggested spotlight role. For example, a mission brief that involves criminal activity will usually suggest a Chief of Security as the spotlight role.

Strangely, despite the mission briefs being suggested as a means of giving the PCs a break from the main story arc, a few of them still reference elements of the alien civilization, which feels a little counter to the intention. Because the Klingon Empire core book wasn’t available at the time of the organized play campaign, the adventures are all framed as Federation adventures. This product attempts to bridge that gap by providing a “Klingon perspective” sidebar for Klingon player characters, but I feel like a lot of these missions wouldn’t just have slightly different directives, but completely different approaches. For example, in several places the Klingon directives assume they will keep the same NPCs alive, and honestly, I don’t think that’s going to be the case.

In broad terms, I like having a campaign arc that explores an ancient, powerful, evolved species. It makes sense as a good segway into exploring the Shackleton Expanse. I do have some ideas on what may have not landed for me later in this review.

Commendation

There are tons of imaginative plot hooks in this book. A lot of what is useful in this book is useful not just in a Shackleton Expanse campaign, but in wider Star Trek Adventures games. New Klingon, Orion, and Romulan ships, new player options, and several of the mission briefs are great additions to the GM toolkit. The section on Narendra station makes me want to interact with that location, and all the newly introduced species feel right for the property. They also all provide some hooks to use traditional Star Trek tropes when interacting with them. The Tilikaal saga gives a GM a way to transition play into the Shackleton Expanse and unfolds in a very iconic manner for the property.

Discommendation

I wish that this had been two different products. A dedicated adventure book would have allowed more room for providing alternate Klingon adventures, as well as potentially having more room to add adventures to the Original Series side of the campaign. That may have also opened more room for the sourcebook to explore what a starbase campaign might look like versus a starship campaign. I know this is touched on in the new Gamemaster’s Guide, but I would have appreciated a focused discussion on the topic specifically for Narendra station. I also wish there was a little more material supporting the time when the Klingons withdrew from the Khitomer Accords. That’s a pretty major event to affect a joint Starfleet/Klingon station, and there is a mission brief that portrays the events leading up to this moment, but the actual period of time where the Klingons and the Federation are at odds never really gets detailed.

Qualified Recommendation–A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.

I would have loved this earlier in the line, as a jumping off point for RPG specific exploration. The release of the Quadrant books made it a little less “must have,” as more traditional Star Trek storylines were getting detailed and fleshed out in those books. I’m still really happy to have this book, and plan on using it for future campaigns.

That said, the adventure section, almost literally, just kind of drops in the middle of the book, and as I said above, I would have loved more focused information on Narendra station, and maybe a full book dealing with the Tilikal saga. I think it’s great content, I just wish I had a little bit more both from the adventure and sourcebook side of things.

One comment

  • Michael Poley

    Great review – thanks for taking the time! I’m just running the Starter Set now and looking at what campaign book to get into, and was looking for a serious review of the Shackleton book.

    It sounds like a very large and involved campaign, which my players will love. I’d like to consider picking this book up along with the Strange New Worlds book and running what sounds like some weirder missions in between the larger Shackleton campaign.

    Like

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