“If we’re going to be damned, let’s be damned for what we really are.”
– Jean-Luc Picard, “Encounter at Farpoint”
Star Trek Adventures is a roleplaying game by Modiphius Entertainment, and focuses on the rigors and splendors of living and working in the Star Trek universe. The core rulebook assumes that players will have characters enrolled in Starfleet, and as such, Starfleet ranks and service records of characters comes into play. In Star Trek Adventures, this is through the mechanic of Reputation.
While the mechanic takes into account positive and negative player activities during a mission and offers rewards, the way in which this mechanic plays out leaves something less desired, and sets up a procedural rhetoric that actively discourages characters from attempting to excel during missions. At the very worse, one negative player activity from a mission, combined with a lower Reputation rating, can cause further damages to Reputation that punishes players for each positive activity they did in the course of a mission.
The Basics of Reputation
Reputation is measured on a spectrum ranging from 0 to 20, which represents the character’s standing in Starfleet. A character with a Reputation of 20 has an exemplary record, and are in a good positive to get a rank promotion, while Reputation of 1 represents a poor record, with their future in Starfleet being called into question. In the case that a Reputation score gets dropped to 0, then a demotion, detention, or court-marshal is in order. All characters start with a Reputation score of 10.
Upon a mission’s conclusion, the GM considers the outcome of the mission, the decisions that were taken by the characters, and determine if those decisions would create a positive or negative influence to their Reputation. Examples of positive influences are following orders or directives, preventing combat, directly saving lives, while negative influences might be challenging orders and directives, using lethal force without cause, having personnel under your command KIA, and other such activities. Once the positive influences and negative influences are tallied up, a dice roll take place.
Basic Reputation Rolls
Star Trek Adventures is a d20 system, so it’s natural for Reputation rolls to use d20s. The Reputation Roll calls for the player to roll as many d20s as there are positive influences, and the target number they’re trying to roll at, or under, is their current Reputation score. The player gets bonuses depending on their rank, as higher ranks contain a “Privilege Score”, which means if a die rolls sufficiently low, then that die counts double. The number of successes is then compared to the number of negative influences – if the number of successes is higher than the negative influence, then Reputation is gained. If the number of successes is lower, the character has lost Reputation.
A simple, ideal example: Ensign Soto just completed a Deep Space Exploration mission onboard the USS Mercury, and since they not only completed the mission and followed orders, they acted above and beyond the call of duty. The GM says this warrants two positive influence, which means they get to roll 2d20 against their Current Reputation (10). Soto rolls a 1 and a 8. Since the 1 falls under their Privilege Score (Ensigns only have 1, while Captains have 1-4), Soto gains 3 successes on the Reputation Roll. As there were no negative influences on the mission, Soto gains three Reputation, going up to 13.
When Troubles Arise
The system starts punishing the wrong thing when negative influence comes into play.
In an ideal universe, a character won’t get a negative influence in the course of a mission. However, even if the players will attempt to follow Starfleet regulations, there will be times when negative influences will happen naturally, especially when plot-moving dilemmas happen and characters stay true to their values. Through no fault of the players, negative influence can happen.
Examples of this type of negative influence include:
- Dr. Beverly Crusher refusing Captain Picard’s order to beam back to the Enterprise, choosing to instead heal injured civilians.
- Chief O’Brien starts getting suspicious of his fellow Deep Space Nine crew, who start acting strangely around him. As such, he starts eavesdropping, snooping, and directly disobeys orders to stand down while escaping the station.
- In an effort to protect his crew, Worf switches to lethal combat, unprompted.
In all the above cases, the character would have received a negative influence, which then must be overcome when the Reputation roll happens. In the case when the number of successes is less than the negative influences total, then the character loses reputation. The question is: how much?
In the event that a character loses a roll and loses Reputation, the result is calculated as such:
“If the number of successes scored is less than the number of negative influences, then the character has lost Reputation: reduce the character’s Reputation by 1, plus an additional 1 for each die that did not score any successes, and by a further 1 for each die that rolled within the range of numbers indicated for the character’s Rank Responsibilities.”
That’s a mouthful, so let’s parse that sentence:
- “If the number of successes scored is less than the number of negative influences, then the character has lost Reputation” – simple and straight-forward, this sets a sane threshold for advancement.
- “Reduce the character’s Reputation by 1” – The Reputation punishment starts, and it seems fair enough…
- “Plus an addition 1 for each due that did not score successes” – This is where the system crumbles, and the dangerous procedural rhetoric comes in. Why is the character being punished for positive influences that they rolled on? We’ll talk about this more below.
- “and by a further 1 for each die that rolled within the range of numbers indicated for the character’s Rank Responsibilities” – This also makes sense, in that the higher your Rank, the more responsible you are in the mission’s success, so if it failed, higher ranks take more blame. Rank Responsibility is similar to Privilege, except that it only comes into play when a die rolls poorly (20 for Ensigns, 17-20 for Captains)
Let’s take the above example regarding Ensign Soto, and change the circumstances a bit:
Ensign Soto just completed a Deep Space Exploration mission onboard the USS Mercury, and since they not only completed the mission and followed orders, they acted above and beyond the call of duty. The GM says this warrants two positive influence, which means they get to roll 2d20 against their Current Reputation (10). However, in the course of duty, Ensign Soto makes some unnecessary risks in how they performed the evasive actions while manning the Conn station. As such, the GM says that Soto is looking at one(1) negative influence.
In the case that Soto rolls well (in the last example, he rolled a 1 and a 8), then since the number of successes (3) is higher than the negative influence (1), he’s in the clear and gains Reputation.
However, let’s say that he doesn’t roll well, and both dice come up as failures – a 12 and a 14. Since Soto did not meet the threshold, they lose 1 Reputation plus 1 Reputation for each roll that wasn’t a success (2). Soto loses 3 Reputation total, and at least ONE of those Reputation losses was due to acting above and beyond the line of duty!
This sets a procedural rhetoric that is dangerous for the game, and it is as such:
A character who strives to go above and beyond in a mission will have better chances at gaining Reputation. However, if the roll does not succeed, the character will lose more Reputation than if they didn’t stick their neck out.
This directly punishes characters that try their best to have the mission succeed, and the chance of being punished for going above and beyond the line of duty gets worse as their starting Reputation goes down. A Star Trek roleplaying game should adequately reward their players for trying, not punish them worse for attempting to do their best.
Reputation Bootstraping? Not On My Starship!
In the case that a character has a lower reputation (9 and below), the odds of getting success when rolling Reputation dice get more difficult.
In the extreme case that a character has a Reputation of 1, the odds of a single d20 rolling successfully is 5%. The odds go up as you get additional dice (through exemplary action), but the odds do not go up enough – the odds don’t go up linearly, but in a more probabilistic fashion.
If the Reputation 1 character rolls two dice, the odds for getting at least 1 success (outside of Privilege) are 9.75%. If they lose, they lose at LEAST 2 reputation.
If the Reputation 1 character rolls three dice, the odds for getting at least 1 success (outside of Privilege) are 14.2625%. If they lose, they lose at LEAST 3 reputation.
(Want to know how I got these numbers? Here’s a good reference! )
So, in essence: low reputation characters must work harder to actually succeed at missions when a negative influence comes into play, and they also risk taking a huge penalty if they get no successes (which is highly likely for low-reputation characters).
We went to the extreme case, but the case isn’t looking too good for even the best/worst case: The Reputation 9 character.
Reputation 9’s odds of getting at least 1 success with one die: 45%. If they lose, they lose at LEAST 1 reputation.
Reputation 9’s odds of getting at least 1 success with two dice: 69.75%. If they lose, they lose at LEAST 2 reputation.
Reputation 9’s odds of getting at least 1 successes with three dice: 83%. If they lose, they lose at LEAST 3 reputation.
Although Reputation 9’s numbers are better, the fact stands that even though the character’s odds of not getting punished go up as positive influences go up, the chance of getting dinged hard also go up as well – because remember, the dice that are *not* successes are the ones that hit your Reputation.
Keep in mind that for all the above examples, I did not factor in Privilege, because for the intents and purposes of account for at least one success, Privilege falls out of the equation.
Be As Evil As You Want
Another mechanic that this system allows is that it doesn’t punish Reputation by the total number of negative influences, but by the number of positive influences that didn’t score successes. This opens the door to great atrocities to take place in the game world – if the number of negative influences are such that a character can never overcome them with positive influences, there’s no in-game penalty for going against more regulations, as reputation losses only come from positive influences!
This shows up in weird places:
- There’s no in-game difference in scales of atrocities – whether you had one crew member killed in action or five hundred crew-members sent to their death, you would still get penalized by 1, plus the number of positive influence dice rolled!
- Disobey all the orders, as many as you want, because as long as you Completed The Mission (and nothing else), you only have to roll one die!
- Even worse: what if there were no positive influences at all? The mission wasn’t successful, you clocked in to your shift, and didn’t do anything positive, but broke all the Prime Directives? Doesn’t matter, because since there were NO positive influences, no dice were rolled, and the character’s reputation stays put!
There are a couple of ways that this system can be remedied, and it largely depends on how realistic you want the system, and if your players like rolling more dice.
One option, and probably the simplest: Keep the main rules, except only count Reputation Loss as follows: If the number of successes scored is less than the number of negative influences, and one or more dice rolled within a character’s Responsibilities, then the character has lost Reputation: reduce the character’s Reputation by 1,
plus an additional 1 for each die that did not score any successes, and by a further 1 for each die that rolled within the range of numbers indicated for the character’s Rank Responsibilities. This doesn’t solve the issue of Genocide-Spree or failed missions, but it makes the penalties for failure less severe.
A second option, and involves more dice rolling: If the number of successes scored is less than the number of negative influences, then the character has lost Reputation: Roll a number of d20s equal to the number of negative influences. Reduce the character’s Reputation by 1, plus an additional 1 for each die that did not score any successes, and by a further 1 for each die that rolled within the range of numbers indicated for the character’s Rank Responsibilities. This makes the characters roll again, this time for all the negative things they did, and be punished for the negative actions instead of the positive ones. This prevents the Genocide-Spree, but involves another roll.
A third option, directed mainly at stopping piling negative influences, is becoming very comfortable at directly calling for Court Marshals in the game. This falls outside of the Reputation Rolls, but you can bet that Starfleet would be absolutely livid if an officer failed a mission and committed atrocities.
Hopefully the above suggestions will help alleviates frustrations or issues involved with the Reputation system in Star Trek Adventures. Modiphius had the right idea when it came to how to rank Reputation, as well as Privilege and Responsibility ranges, but it fell short in calculating odd percentages and inadvertently punishing striving for success.