What Do I Know About Reviews? Upsetting the Balance (Star Trek Adventures 2d20)
Ever since the Klingon core rulebook came out for Star Trek Adventures, I’ve been kind of fascinated with the concept of trying to keep a story feeling like Star Trek, while still presenting it from the point of view of the Klingon Empire. I enjoyed the previous Klingon mission, The Sleeping Beast, because the adventure is about protecting a Klingon world from something that will require research to understand.
Now that Upsetting the Balance is available for purchase, I determined that today was a good day to apprize.
I have received various Star Trek Adventure products from Modiphius for review in the past, but in this instance, this adventure was a private purchase. While I have not run this adventure, I have both run and played Star Trek Adventures in the past and have more than a passing familiarity with the game.
Upsetting the Balance is a 19-page PDF. As with other products in the Star Trek Adventures line, the formatting is thematic to the style and era of the adventure. In this case, we get the angular symbols and highlights reminiscent of the red and orange displays of Klingon ships.
Upsetting the Balance has a credits page, a table of contents, a single page mission brief that follows the themes introduced in this adventure, and two pages of ads for Modiphius Star Trek products, in addition to the adventure content.
The Mission (Spoilers Ahead)
The mission itself is broken up into three acts and a conclusion, which is pretty standard for most of the PDF adventures for STA. In this case, the PCs’ Klingon vessel will receive a distress call from a group of Federation scientists. They can find and rescue most of the crew but tracking down the lead scientist involves ferreting out a traitor and racing against the pirates that kidnapped him.
The reason the scientist is important is that they are researching generating stable wormholes for long range galactic travel. If this technology bears fruit, any faction in the galaxy that controls the technology will have an extreme advantage versus the other factions in the various quadrants.
One of the members of the scientific team has secretly sold out the expedition to the Gorn, and in order to get the scientist back in time, the PCs’ may need to garner information from the traitor. The body of the adventure involves defeating Gorn on the surface, then trying to board the Gorn ship and rescue the scientist before the Gorn can outrun the Klingon ship, making it back to Gorn space.
The follow up mission brief posits a Romulan trap set for the PCs’ so that the Romulan Star Empire can track down the scientist and their research, not entirely unlike the uproar over the Genesis device in the original Star Trek movies.
Is it Star Trek?
Between the factions, the experimental technologies at play, and the general concept of a rescue mission for an allied government, you have several Star Trek boxes ticked. In addition to the fighting, the crew will be challenged with how to keep from losing the scientist they are trying to rescue when the Gorn captain discovers their presence on his ship.
Is it Klingon?
This can be a very combat heavy scenario, with some of the bulk of what is going on being “fight Gorn!” and “board a Gorn ship!” I think there were a few missed opportunities to show how Klingons would differ from Starfleet when it comes to a mission like this.
For example, the directives the PCs are given are pretty general. Keep the research safe and recover the Federation scientist. But I think this misses some of the potential tension that could be built up even between allies. I think the Federation scientists should be even more reluctant to share what the research is for, and one of the directives should be for the Klingons to learn as much about this research as possible.
When the traitor is exposed, the adventure assumes that the Klingons will apprehend him unless he somehow dies in a fight, but I’m not so sure that Klingons would be overly keen to take a prisoner just so they could turn them over to their allies. Additionally, if the Klingons learn of the potential importance of the scientist’s research, I think blowing up the Gorn ship, scientist and all, might be a potentially viable mission parameter.
I don’t want Klingon adventures to be a blood bath, and I want my Star Trek to generally be a better future, but at the same time, Klingons do make harsher decisions when evaluating the success of missions, and being an ally doesn’t mean subverting the Empire’s prosperity in order to appear as a good ally. Heck, the default setting of this adventure is during Gowron’s reign as Chancellor.
I continue to enjoy the way these adventures are presented. While they frame some scenes and introduce problems to be overcome, there is a lot of room to adjudicate how the players want to address a problem, and what tools the GM wants to use to resolve them. I also like the follow up mission briefs to help create a call back to situations so the adventures feel like they have greater meaning.
Near the beginning of the adventure, there is a sidebar that addresses “what if your Klingons don’t want to rescue a Federation ship with an active distress beacon,” and it answers that question by saying the ship will receive orders to do so if they ignore it. This is kind of part of how the framing starts off a little off for me. I would rather the ship get this mission, knowing it’s something important that the Federation asked for help with, which then sets into motion “are you going to gain honor by showing how great you are at doing this favor, or are you going to do what is necessary for the Empire if things go sideways.”
Tenuous Recommendation–The product has positive aspects, but buyers may want to make sure the positive aspects align with their tastes before moving this up their list of what to purchase next.
This isn’t a bad adventure, but it doesn’t feel like an adventure that a GM absolutely needs to see an example of how to construct a Klingon narrative in contrast to a Starfleet narrative.
I’m really hoping to see some “aggressive exploring” or “dangerous science” in future Klingon adventures, where the risk-taking side of the Klingon personality can shine.