Advance Scout

Guided by his dimensional compass, the Scout roams the infinite universes, ever treading from world to world and plane to plane, seeking the latest tidings of new RPG-related releases...

Scouting Report 

Star Trek: The Next Generation

Publisher: Last Unicorn Games

Price: $35

The industry has been without a licenced Trek RPG for far too long, and as a player of the original Star Trek RPG by FASA oh-so-many years ago, I was really excited to see this on the shelves. I was even more excited to discover that it was a big, thick, heavy tome. Despite historically having a preference for boxed games, I'm finding myself drawn more towards heavy hardback rulebooks.

Background: 7

The book discusses the major races seen on the TV series, as well as a brief background on the Federation itself and some of it's key members. Theres a good overview of the positions on board a starship, and how the chain of command works. The book lists many different types of starship mission.

Also included are details of the Arteline Sector, which provides you with a starting point for your games (and is also used and explained in more detail in an upcoming supplement). Along with this are details of the USS Discovery and it's crew, which may provide you with a good place to start your characters. A starting adventure details the Discovery's shakedown cruise as the characters come aboard.

The more popular alien races have been included, as have a very small selection of alien creatures that may be encountered.

Character Creation: 6

Character creation is a four-stage process. First you choose a template (race), followed by an overlay (branch). Then you apply "development points" to customise your character, and finally you decide on your characters background (which may make further changes to yout stats). Background is decided by choosing "packages" for Early Life, Academy Life, Cadet Cruise, and Tour of Duty. All of these use a point-based system, there is no random element so all characters start off equal.

As an alternative, a number of pregenerated characters, or "Archetypes" are available for getting a game started quickly.

Character stats are divided into Attributes, Edges (which are sub-categories under each attribute), Skills, Specializations (sub-categories of skill), Advantages, and Disadvantages.

This book provides rules for the following races: Andorian, Betazoid, Bolian, Centauran, Human, Tellarite, and Vulcan. There are overlays for Command, Operations, Engineering, Security, Science, Medical, and Ship's Counselor.

I would have liked to have seen a few more races, and a random element in character generation.

Combat: 7

Combat is performed using a traditional "combat round" structure, with initiative determined per character or per side (depending on how complicated you want to make it). There is also an optional "hit location" table which can be used to make combat more realistic.

Every action has a difficulty rating, which you have to beat by rolling dice on top of the appropriate skill. Most "Tests" in this game are performed by rolling a number of dice equal to the relevant attribute, and adding the highest number rolled to the appropriate skill. This prevents characters with high attributes from getting too much of an advantage over those with lower scores, as with a good roll any character can get lucky enough to beat any other.

There is, of course, also a starship combat system, which is based on similar concepts to the personal combat system. This can be used either with the aid of miniatures on a playing surface, or by tracking distances between ships using paper. Most shipboard positions have a role during starship combat, so everyone will usually get involved. I'd really have liked to seen a set of "control panels" with counters like the original game had.

Experience: 6

Experience points are awarded at the end of each game. Typically characters may gain between one and five points. This is usually enough to improve an existing attribute or skill, or to buy a new skill every couple of games. I find this gradual increase of stats more realistic and preferable to level-based characters, but it can get tricky to work out just how powerful any given individual is.

Characters also earn Renown points for performing particularly popular actions, and may even earn commendations from Starfleet.

Promotion to higher ranks and positions is totally up to the GM, but guidelines for how much Renown and how skilled a character should be for each rank are given.

Characters also have the option of transferring departments or ships

Roleplaying: 8

Being based in a game universe that most people (and it is assumed all prospective players) are already familiar with, there are lots of opportunities for roleplaying - especially with the wealth of background information and NPC personalities available to draw on. Who, for example, would turn down the opportunity to have a conversation with Quark?

As with any game of this nature, of course, the GM will have to take care that their game doesn't deterioriate into a shoot-em-up. After all, typically less than five minutes of the average STTNG episode was used for combat scenes.

Magic/Technology: 6

A small selection of starships are included - it is assumed a larger selection will be made available in future supplements. The major items of shipboard equipment are also detailed.

There are no rules for building new ships or items, although it looks simple enough for the majority of GMs to just make things up.

Other Rules: 6

Also included in the game is a small section on designing star systems and planets. Unfortunately, there is no "random world generator". Most other situations are covered well by the skills system.

Design/Layout: 8

The book is really well designed. First off, it's a hardback cover which in my book is the most important thing for game design. If the books don't come in a box, you need a hard cover or it's going to get ripped to shreds in no time at all.

The main problem with a lot of hardcover RPGs is that they usually suffer on the inside by having poor quality paper and artwork. This isn't one of them, however, as it uses glossy paper, full color photos and illustrations, trekkie fonts, and the general STTNG computer console-style (go look at the star trek web site if you don't know what I'm talking about). It reminded me a lot of the newest edition of the Star Wars RPG rules, or maybe even the Babylon 5 RPG as a thicker hardback.

Overall: 7

I was a little disappointed that the original Trek RPG has been totally forgotten about (surely it wouldn't have done any harm to put one or two pages of "character conversion charts" in the back). I was also disappointed at the lack of character stats for known characters from the TV and films (guess we just have to wait for the "Federation Personnel Database" supplement that will inevitably follow)

Interestingly enough, right at the back are adverts for the upcoming Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek [original series], and Star Trek: Voyager RPGs due to be released over the next 18 months. Surely these would be better written as supplements to this core rule book rather than as seperate games? Otherwise you just end up wasting money just to get the one third of a book that contains background material different to the original.

All in all this seems like a good game. There seem to be a large number of supplements and accessories planned, as there is an order form for more than ten of them on the back page.

Finally, the thing just seems too darn expensive. Then again, I'm one of the old school who still expect to get a boxed set of books, dice, and counters for $15.... However, it's only $5 more than an Alternity rulebook and is a much better format. Most importantly, though, you can get quite a lot of play out of the core rulebook on it's own, especially if you already have a lot of Trek knowledge (or books!) anyway.

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Matt Thomason