Last weekend I sat down with Sebastian and Jason to try out the Star Trek the Next Generation Roleplaying Game published by Unicorn. As the chief medical officer and a lieutenant from engineering aboard the newly built USS Emissary, they embarked on a mission of great importance to the United Federation of Planets. We’d been expecting a third player to join us, but due to a scheduling conflict she was unable to play. They handled their first mission with all of the skill and dignity you can expect from Starfleet officers, and as the person playing their captain I have to say that I was proud of them.
Running this game brought on something very interesting, and I’m glad I toyed with the system because it isn’t something I’ve thought about in exactly this way in the past. As fans of any of the Star Trek series already know every episode relies on the interplay between the talented actors who take on the roles of the various members of their respective crews. The conflicts that came from outside of their ships were made even more interesting when they were couple with differing cultures, species, and points of view. With only two players our game relied heavily on npcs under my control, after all two people cannot manage a galaxy-class starship alone. I found myself having to ensure that my players were controlling the action, and that they were the heroes of the story, not the npcs. This is something that all GMs do on a regular basis, so it was by no means a new exercise, however it was particularly pronounced in this setting.
Before the game I wrote out a list of crew members including the captain, first officer, and other assorted characters that would be found on the bridge of a starship. My players found themselves working with these npcs,and I have to say it felt like I was watching an episode from the show unfold at my kitchen table.
So how do you manage to keep npcs from taking over a campaign? Especially when one of them is the captain of the ship and is giving orders directly to the members of your party? Well I put the players in command positions where their ranks allowed them to assume control. I also played the captain as someone who asks for input and assumes a course of action based on the suggestions provided to her by her officers. By the end my players were cheering the triumphs they’d shared with their fellow crew members, and the limited npcs had grown into something more. It was a fantastic experience and one that I am eager to continue as the voyage of the Emissary continues.