Every Friday at 4:00 PM PT, a talented crew roleplays their way through the galaxy to fulfill a mission: to boldly go where no one has gone before. Follow the adventures of the USS Sally Ride on Shield of Tomorrow on Twitch.
From week to week, there are elements of Star Trek that fans expect. Starship battles, alien intrigue, mysterious science and more have come to define the types of adventures that Starfleet must face. Good episodes also have more personal moments that highlight particular crew members and their growth as characters. Holodeck episodes are a great example of this, where a malfunction highlights a trait about a character and how they resolve an issue connected to it. Both plots run through the episode and often connect to each other at some point with the resolution involving both the big problem and the personal problem. Screenwriters call this “a-story/b-story” but it’s also a powerful writing technique that Star Trek Adventures GMs (or GMs of any game, in fact) can use to make their games feel more like an episode of a real show.
The “A-story” of an episode is the big problem the whole crew has to resolve. It might be an action beat like rescuing a powerless Federation ship, an intrigue beat like hosting an ambassador, or a mystery beat like investigating the disappearance of a Starfleet captain. This A-story should offer the majority of the players something to do that’s within their character’s specialty. Star Trek fans want to see their characters do the things they are good at. Star Trek Adventures makes this a little easier for the GM through the use of their revolving crew, but the more main crew members that get hooked into an A-story, the stronger it will be for the players at the table.
“B-story” elements focus on individual characters and exploring their backgrounds and challenges. Personal stakes raise the drama of a situation considerably. A Starfleet superior causing trouble is bad enough, but when that superior also happens to be the estranged father of an officer on board, that makes decisions made by that character more interesting. B-stories at the table also allow the GM to shine a spotlight on players who might not take attention for themselves. By paying attention to who got the most action time at the current session, the GM should take time to devote a B-story to a player who didn’t do as much this time. Even if the A-story and B-story never meet, this keeps gameplay from being dominated by the same players.
Star Trek Adventures GMs already have mechanical tools to help their games follow this structure. A-stories come out of the focus of the ship as chosen by the players. Look at what special equipment the ship gets and write main plots that allow players access to those cool parts of the ship. For B-plots, Values serve a similar function. They are meant to be challenged and used, so a GM looking to put a spotlight on a player should look at the character’s Values and focus on one that hasn’t been used in a while, or perhaps one that’s been used a lot, but never challenged. By mixing these types of plots together, you’ll make game night feel more like your favorite show.
Want more Star Trek goodness?
- Use these guidelines to make good Values for Star Trek Adventures characters.
- Here’s how to challenge those great Values and create compelling narratives.
- Learn about Star Trek Adventures – the RPG system used on Shield of Tomorrow.
Feature Credit: CBS
Rob Wieland is an author, game designer and professional nerd. He writes about kaiju, Jedi, gangsters, elves and is a writer for the Star Trek Adventures RPG line. His blog is here, where he is currently reviewing classic Star Wars RPG adventures. His Twitter is here. His meat body can be found in scenic Milwaukee, WI.