As a game master of a tabletop roleplaying game, it’s my ongoing job to present a world of adventure for the folks who are joining in to explore and, well, play in. That job starts even before the proper play of an RPG begins; my players are more likely to enjoy themselves if they can tie their fictional alter egos into the broader fiction of the world during the character design process.
But how do you explain a world to folks who’ve never really experienced it before?
I faced this challenge when I planned on game mastering Star Trek Adventures, the official roleplaying game of the Star Trek universe. And that’s a big challenge. Including the original television series which premiered in 1966, Star Trek has, as of this article, spawned seven television series and thirteen movies, not to mention the cornucopia of tie in novels, comic books and, yes, video games.
Yet there are some folks, even those of a geeky bent, whose awareness of Star Trek is fleeting. So how do I boil the vastness of Star Trek down for them in an entertaining, intriguing and compelling way? How do I set the expectations for the sorts of characters they’re going to be playing?
I’d like to take a shot at it and see whether I can please both any Star Trek fans reading this and intrigue folks who aren’t familiar.
It’s been a long road, getting from there to here. And there’ve been many willing to travel it. The Phonecian traders in their galleys, the Roman explorations of Africa and Asia, the Chinese explorations of Central Asia, the Vikings, the Polynesians, the European Age of Discovery – by the late twentieth century, we’d made it as far as the moon.
For a while, it seemed that was as far as we’d get. In the twenty-forties, international tensions spilled over into outright war, and then escalated to nuclear conflict. When World War III ended in 2053, our mother planet was almost in ruins.
But there’d been this idea proposed in the late nineteen nineties by physicist Miguel Alcubierre, that the maximum known speed in the universe, the speed of light, could be exceeded by manipulating the fabric of spacetime; bluffing around the limit.
It took sixty years and another physicist named Zefram Cochrane, who’d been hoping to get rich, to develop the idea into a prototype spacecraft. On April 5th, 2063, ten years after the end of World War Three, he launched his small craft, the Phoenix, on top of an un-used intercontinental ballistic missile, broke Earth orbit, and turned his new propulsion system on.
It worked, catapulting Cochrane across our solar system and then back to Earth again. At that moment, our history could have gone in so many different ways – but what truly laid the tarmac for the road from then to now was that Cochrane’s first flight was noticed.
An alien vessel on a routine survey mission across our patch of space picked up the emissions of Cochrane’s system and realised what they meant – humanity, formerly confined to the planets orbiting our Sun, had discovered the key to the stars: warp drive. And as Cochrane landed his vessel, the people of the planet Vulcan arrived and offered him formal greetings. We, of course, remember April 5th, 2063 as First Contact Day.
The road to the stars was rocky at first. The Vulcans, who suppress their extremes of emotion through rigorous adherence to the principles of logic, advised humanity to temper its newfound enthusiasm to explore this new frontier with caution; there were many threats in the nearby stars of which we were not aware or prepared for.
Our spread to neighbouring star systems through commercial and government efforts was slow; it was another ninety years after Cochrane’s first flight that saw we humans gain a genuine interstellar presence with a new generation of ships capable of warp factor five, a maximum speed of two hundred times the speed of light.
The first of these NX-class ships, the Enterprise, was key to the next few years which saw first contact made with many other species and even our first interstellar war with the Romulan Star Empire. But even that bitter conflict couldn’t dampen our desire to explore in peace, and in twenty-one sixty-one, the United Earth Government singed a treaty with the peoples of Vulcan, Andor and Tellar, forming the United Federation of Planets, a union which thrives to this very day.
It’s hard not to note how a certain name keeps cropping up in our history since. It wasn’t until 2245, almost a century after the days of warp five exploration, that a Constitution-class vessel of the Federation’s Starfleet, registry code NCC-1701, was christened Enterprise. Under the captaincy of Robert April and then Christopher Pike, this deep space explorer ship lived up to her namesake’s reputation for discovery; a posting aboard her could make a Starfleet officer’s career.
But it wasn’t until her third and final captain that the name Enterprise and those of her core crew – half-Vulcan science officer Spock, medical officer Leonard McCoy and Captain James T. Kirk – became legend. So much so that, when the U.S.S. Enterprise was destroyed in battle with a vessel of the warlike Klingon Empire almost forty years after she was launched, a newly-built ship of the same class was named U.S.S. Enterprise, assigned the registry code NCC-1701-A and given to Kirk and his long standing bridge crew to command for another seven years; she was decommissioned shortly after the signing of a historic non-aggression accord with the Klingons in 2293.
By then, the name Enterprise was almost synonymous with the Federation, so it was only natural that the Excelsior-class U.S.S Enterprise, NCC-1701-B, became the flagship for another thirty-nine years.
Of particular note for us, though, was the next vessel to bear the name.
When the Klingon colony planet Narendra III came under sudden attack by four warships of the Romulan Star Empire in 2344, it was the Ambassador-class U.S.S Enterprise, NCC-1701-C, under the command of Captain Rachael Garrett, that answered the Klingons’ distress call. Despite a valiant fight, Garrett, her crew and her ship were outnumbered and outgunned; the Enterprise was destroyed with all hands and the Narendra III colony along with her.
However, Klingon survivors of the attack returned to their Empire with the tale of the Enterprise’s intervention and refusal to withdraw. This act impressed the Empire – which reins its own violent impulses in with a warrior’s code of honour – so much that, despite our long standing history of tension with the Empire, especially during the time of James T. Kirk, they became the firm allies of the Federation that they continue to be today.
It was, of course, another fourteen years before the Federation commissioned her next flagship, the latest vessel to bear the name Enterprise, but under the command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, the Galaxy-class NCC-1701-D has in only six years of service challenged and in some ways surpassed the legend of Kirk’s vessels and crew.
And what an era she travels in. It’s indeed been a long road, but on the member worlds of the United Federation of Planets, life is good. Though this era commenced with a human looking to increase his wealth, we hold the dignity of intelligent life in such high regard that the compulsion to possess has fallen by the wayside, and with it, the utility of money, especially with replicator technology ushering in an era of nigh-on post scarcity.
Speculative fiction writers in the past warned of vast surveillance states where computers, drones and biometric tagging would collect vast amounts of data allowing those in power to keep their reign by knowing more about their subjects than they did themselves. Yet, even with more computing power than humanity has ever known allowing us to design vessels that exceed warp factor nine, over one thousand, seven hundred times the speed of light, we keep our direct interfaces to a minimum.
While we can issue voice commands from anywhere in a ship, video cameras are only installed in on-desk terminals. And as you well know, the sensors on a Starfleet vessel point only outwards; the only way a vessel’s computer knows the whereabouts of its crew members is via the communication badges they wear on their uniforms. We don’t have Big Brother’s cameras, drones and databases of footage because we don’t need them; we trust each other to look out for each other.
Nonetheless, as you know, space is vast and unexplored and still has its share of dangers. Per our treaty, we still maintain a Neutral Zone between Federation space and that of the Romulan Star Empire, who have recently started strutting the interstellar stage after decades of silence and secrecy.
Just this year, the Federation signed an uncomfortable treaty with the Cardassian Union, whose culture has embraced the police state ideals that writers used to warn us about; some of the worlds we ceded to them as part of that treaty have taken to fomenting resistance against the Cardassians.
And then, there are the Borg. As that cybernetic collective travels from world to world, subsuming entire civilisations, converting sentient life forms into half-machine drones enslaved to its hive mind, the Federation has discovered its first true threat in over a century.
Their first incursion into Federation space, three years ago, saw the loss of thirty-nine Starfleet ships – nearly eleven thousand lives – against only one of their ships, at the Battle of Wolf 359. Their massive cube-shaped vessel made it all the way to Earth itself before the Enterprise arrived and pulled a Hail Mary in order to destroy it. Though the Borg are yet to strike again in such fashion, many feel it’s only a matter of time.
And that brings us here and now: Narendra Station, in the year 2370. Named for the Klingon colony destroyed twenty-six years ago, it’s the base of joint Federation-Klingon operations in the Shackleton Expanse, a section of space we’re yet to explore.
You’ll each receive your ship assignments soon, and you can expect that more than one trip into the Expanse will be a joint affair, so be polite to your Klingon allies – although, with the Klingons, polite often means, give as good as you get. Before you head into the station, though, we wanted to give you this reminder not just of where we came from, but why we’re heading out into the unknown.
Yes, part of Starfleet’s mission in the Shackleton Expanse is to find resources for rebuilding. Wolf 359 took a massive toll in ships and lives. We cannot deny that, despite valiant strides and new technologies, we’re still under-powered against anyone else who might decide to claim some of Federation space for themselves; it’s the reason for making so many uncomfortable concessions to the Cardassians. Starfleet even hopes we may find some new way of countering the Borg hidden in the Expanse.
But even though it’s been a long road to get here and we still yet have a long road ahead of us, make no mistake. Our primary mission – the mission of Starfleet since its inception over two hundred years ago – has not changed. We are more than soldiers or warriors. We are peacekeepers and we are scientists.
We are Starfleet, and carry forth the spirit of those of each of our worlds who have crossed the far horizon in the millennia before us.
Our ongoing mission is to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations, and – per the motto on the commissioning plaque of every Starship Enterprise that has ever flown the Starfleet flag – to boldly go where no one has gone before.
Thank you – and good luck.