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Star Trek: Tethys

Players using the Ball of Yarn method to define relationships between their characters

The idea of a Star Trek larp has been popping on and off for about a decade. Every time someone started even thinking about developing it, they immediately thought about everything that Star Trek is, and tried to conceive a fully larp-simulated Star Trek universe. Such attempts then folded because the amount of work to do that would be immense, and results unsatisfactory. But when my sister-in-law - who would end up playing the Doctor in the first run - told me how great it would be to have a Star Trek larp, I immediately said I'd do it.

However, I took the minimalist approach instead, and focused on one event in which most of this would not be needed. It would be a chamber one-shot larp (influenced by freeform games) about an away team stranded in a cave. Making it feel like an actual episode of Star Trek was important, so several decisions were made:

  • it would follow the established canon (10 years ago I self-identified as a trekkie as a primary expression of my geekdom - so being canon-plausible was not just important in design of this larp, it was essential)
  • the fuller world of Star Trek could be touched on by character stories from the past
  • it would have a runtime of exactly 45 minutes (as a real episode)

You can download the full larp scenario here.

Yesterday in the small Croatian SF association Starbase Cantina, the first run took place. It was produced in abstract minimalism - which means there were no costumes, props or set dressing. If you really want to run this larp to its full potential, you can run it in an actual cave, with toy phasers and tricorders, in period-accurate uniforms. Or anything in-between.

This uniform style would be accurate for the time period of this larp

The primary story engine of this larp was collaborative storytelling - which together with character generation process allows for great replayability of the scenario. Each player has one part of the in-character universe that they are responsible for - and what they say about it becomes the truth, allowing players to completely rebuild the setting every time. However, that's one of the parts that didn't work so well was that I didn't explain it well enough to the people, so some role-play opportunities were lost. For example, one of the complaints was that I could have told them in the intro that e.g. lights on their consoles started flickering and power was draining, and that's why they crashed. My reply was that I could have, but that part of the story was intended for the Engineer or Ops player who could then introduce it into the story (by using a format such as "Hey, remember when the lights flickered as we crashed? I believe a power drain caused this"). Also, Tactical and Helm characters could provide the reasoning of why they crashed. Perhaps they were attacked by the leftover Jem'hadar ships? A surviving pocket of Maquis fearing detection and imprisonment? Romulans who discovered they've been manipulated into joining the war? A new species that is the cause of the instability of Badlands? The possibilities are endless, and purely up to players.

This run was mostly played by people who had little or no previous larp (or even role-play) experience, but they had a lot of quality Star Trek knowledge, which led to some interesting situations and an excellent Vulcan portrayal ("Commander, I based my paper on the human inefficiency on your actions"). However, what constitutes "Star Trek knowledge" is not universal, so for instance don't end up with an Engineer who's not comfortable with technobabble (like we did). Afterwards, we decided it might be best to allow players to trade characters if they want to, as it will make for a smoother larp.

The betazoid Doctor was rendered unconsciouss by a Vulcan nerve pinch after she started having visions of a salt monster

Commander's role was particularly challenging and demanding, as the Commander should organize and motivate the rest of the players - both in-character, and to play it out. It was suggested that it would be a perfect role for the GM, which is true - especially in some traditional structure. However, I gave that role to the player simply because I wanted another to have that experience. A certain level of Star Trek knowledge on this larp is a must. If you have players who are unfamiliar with the Star Trek universe, you could increase the prep time by another 30 minutes to explain (in simple terms) some basics of the setting which are relevant to the larp (Federation, Starfleet, technology, officer positions, gadgets, Dominion war).

However, this scenario is not written in stone - it's open source like several others that I wrote. If you want to adapt it to a different format - you can. If you want to make it last longer - you can. If you want to use to use the same principles but the different backstory, you can. If you want to string it into a series of similar events, that's also possible. If you want to build the characters differently, you can. If you want to adapt it for another setting, you can. Consider it three pages of ideas that you can play anywhere as a party game, or build upon it as you wish. If you haven't thought about starting, writing or producing a larp yet, this might be something you can adapt. And it seems something like that is going to happen. The players from Starbase Cantina told me they're gonna start some online character building and continue those stories - these are awesome news, and I can only say: make it so!


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