I’ve been playing Star Trek Adventures with GM Drew Murray, Doug Vehovec, and Asa Kinney. One week Doug couldn’t make it, so Drew, Asa, and I decided to have a frank discussion about the good and the bad things about Star Trek Adventures.
One of the things we talked about was how Star Trek Adventures helps you create a person, and not just a character. Dungeons & Dragons is great for creating cool characters and concepts, but it’s limited in its ability to define a person. There are still races in Star Trek Adventures, and your position on the ship acts ostensibly like a class, so it’s not like there’s no comparison between the two games. The difference really is the approach, and that all starts with the character creation system.
Creating a person in Star Trek Adventures
Character creation in Star Trek Adventures starts out exactly like it does in fifth edition D&D, with the race. That’s where the similarities end. In D&D the next step is to pick your ability scores or your class.
Going by how D&D Beyond does character creation, most people are likely a lot like me, in that they choose class next. In Star Trek Adventures, the next step in character creation is to pick where you were born, followed by how you were raised. You even get to pick whether you follow the path where you were raised, or chose to rebel against it, which actually affects the game mechanics of your character.
It’s not until now that we get close to establishing the character’s class in Star Trek Adventures. The next step is to pick what track in Starfleet Academy (or whichever kinds of technical school school for enlisted members) that your character majored in: Command, Operations, or Sciences. You pick the major (command, conn, security, engineering, science, or medicine), and two minors.
Next, you pick whether your character is a young officer, experienced, or a veteran, and two career events. Then, you pick your name, followed by resolving the values, stats, focuses, and talents for your character. Finally, you work with your fellow players where each of you will fit on the ship. It’s my opinion the captain should be a player, so even though I had originally built Dorin Kerev to be the Chief Flight Control Officer, I mad a few minor adjustments to the character to make him captain ready. In fact, I didn’t even change that much at all. I integrated his background as a conn officer into his story, which I’ve been using to inform the character.
At each stage, you add some combination of values, talents, focuses, and increases in your attributes or disciplines, instead of picking everything at once, so it feels more like a natural progression of a person’s life, instead of building an avatar of some kind.
Recreating myself in Star Trek Adventures
To help give an understanding of what the character creation system is like in Star Trek Adventures, I’m going to essentially reverse engineer myself into the game, by making game choices that align with who I am, and based on my personal history. I’m doing it like this to show how effective the system is at developing a real person. I’m going to go through each decision I made for the character, and explain why I chose to make it. I’m not going to share all of the available options, for many different reasons.
For the sake of creating myself, I went with human. It’s not my first choice (Trill are my favorite Star Trek species), but if the goal is to be true to who I really am as a person, then I have to start with what my real species is.
Mechanically, I went with Resolute for my first talent. I have a number of physical, emotional, and mental health problems, but I also have indomitable will, strong resolve, and a surprising amount of discipline. As is the case in most games, humans get some kind of generic stats. In the case of Star Trek Adventures, you pick three attributes to gain +1 in. I chose control, insight, and presence.
Environment: busy colony
Technically, Earth is my homeworld. However, since we haven’t colonized any extraterrestrial bodies, I thought about reconsidering what the environment would be based on a different scale. If I chose the scale based on nationality instead of species, then I can start creating some viable comparisons.
If we use the nation-for-species analogy, then the original 13 states in the U.S. would be the homeworld, so the colonies would be various states or cities where you were raised, and the starbase/starship would just be military brats. I chose to come from a busy colony because I was born in a well-populated part of Oregon.
I picked presence as my bonus attribute because I acted for 15 years, mostly in school plays, and a little community theater, which is why I also chose the command discipline. My first value is: It’s better to have and not need than need and not have. It’s something I’ve been saying for a very long time I feel like does a good job of reflecting the Oregon spirit.
Upbringing: science and technology (rebelled)
Both of my parents have college degrees in computer engineering, and my sister has a degree in biology, and a minor is chemistry. I have an English degree, where I focused on literary theory and rhetorical criticism. This was the easiest choice for me to make.
I went with insight for my attribute, because of the direction I took in life. I picked engineering for my discipline and Technical Expert for my talent, because even though I don’t have a lot of engineering aptitude I grew up with technology. I’m not going to run through my entire tech history, but I started on DOS, and the first computer I personally owned was an old 286, and I’ve been a longtime early adopter for most of my life. That’s also why I chose computers for my focus on this step, too.
Starfleet Academy: command track
I spent a little under 10 years in the Air Force (before I was medically retired) as an intelligence analyst. Doing a little research, I found out that in Starfleet intelligence officers fall under under the command track, which is why I chose that as my major for my character.
I chose security as one of my minors, because of the types of missions I was doing. Neither my time in the Air Force, nor in college, really has any application to any other departments, so I chose to go with medicine, because I’ve always had a fascination with psychology.
Between my time in school and my time in the Air Force, I felt like control, fitness, and reason were the right attributes to pick for this part of the character creation system. That’s also why I chose composure, team dynamics, and analysis.
If I’m creating a person, being in intelligence and having an English degree, the Studious talent is what makes the most sense for me. Both of those parts of my life have also played into one of my most center values: Occam’s Razor, which is the idea that when presented with two or more theories with equal possibilities, the one with the simplest answer, solution, or outcome is the one that should be tended towards.
Career: experienced officer
I spent about 10 years in the Air Force, and I’m 36 years old. To say the least, I would fit into the margins of an experienced officer. My life experiences have culminated in one significant value: I live in the world I live in, not the world I want to live in. Once upon a time, I would’ve taken the Supervisor talent, but I’ve since shifted towards a more advisory role in my life, so the talent I took was Advisor.
Career Events: serious injury and new battle strategy
As I mentioned before, I’m pretty broken in a lot of ways. Officially, when I was medically retired, it was for sleep apnea and general anxiety disorder. I was having very extreme anxiety and panic attacks, and huge surges of anger. I was coming undone at the seams, and it seemed like I was trapped with no escape. I’m aware the serious injury career event wasn’t really designed to work like that, but to me it’s one of the most significant periods of my life.
For the focus, I chose rhetorical criticism, because that became the thing I enjoyed the most in college, and I feel like it’s been very therapeutic. I thought long and hard about what trait should exist for my character. In the end, I landed on PTSD, which I might not have if so many other people around me haven’t been making comments about my PTSD, which I’ve never been diagnosed with, nor have I claimed I have. Even if I have it (which I’ve very recently realized might be true), I don’t think it compares to anywhere near what other people have to deal with.
Much like with the serious injury, new battle strategy exists as a kind of loose definition for me. In my time as a senior analyst, there were times I would just do some things my own way. I was lucky I had started proving myself by then, and they provided the top cover necessary for me to do things more efficiently. Some of them even became common practices, although I don’t know how many of them became official. So, for the focus I went with tactics development.
During the final touches stage, you choose your fourth value, add two attribute points and two discipline points, calculate stress (basically health) and damage bonuses, select your department, pick your rank and role, and detail your standard equipment.
If there is a phrase I say more than anything, it’s C’Est la Vie, which is French for, “such is life.” In most cases, I’m quite sure it doesn’t count as a value, but it’s almost a form of philosophy for me. When things don’t go your way, that’s just the way life works out. That’s a truism I try to live by, and it helps me let go of the things I can’t control.
For my two attribute points, I chose presence and insight. For my discipline points, I chose command and security. I would probably be in the command department, although depending on the ship and its mission, I would imagine I could be utilized in security. I could still see myself as an intelligence officer on a starship. I would imagine the crew compliment would play a significant role, but (knowing what I know) it makes sense to me that you’d want intelligence officers on a starship.
I was actually a Staff Sergeant (E-5) in the Air Force when I was retired, but that was before I went to college. Traditionally, a college degree is required to become an officer, so I like to bridge the gap between my career and my education for the sake of creating ranked characters. There’s not exactly a perfect translation from enlisted to officer, but if I were to approximate where I was in my career at that point (not by TIS), I would figure I would’ve been a Captain (O-3), which is a Lieutenant for Starfleet. By time in service, I would’ve been close to being a Major (Lieutenant Commander).
With that, I’ve effectively duplicated my entire life using the character creation system with Star Trek Adventures. When I created Dorin Kerev, I was able to create a whole person. He has fears and desires just like anyone. Before the first session, he had childhood on a starbase, a mentor and a career, and a tragic event that propelled him to be the captain of the U.S.S. Elpis.
Much like my recreation of myself, I was able to develop a person, instead of making a character after a concept. Dorin Kerev has been a lot of fun to play as. It’s been easier to think of what he would do, because who he was, how he got there, and who he’s become is woven into the very DNA of the game itself. With Star Trek Adventures, you actually think of the values when playing the character. Not because they give you a mechanical bonus, but because they’re interwoven into the character itself.
In our second session of Star Trek Dauntless, it’s very apparentI was able to make decisions based on the things the person would do, and not just what I wanted to make my character do, or even what I thought he’d do. I was able to draw on his life experiences as I would my own to inform his decisions I was able to think about what influences his mentor, V’Lar, would’ve had on him at the time. When I chose to take the Firefly (our WaveRider), it wasn’t for the game benefit. It was because he was unable to give up his security blanket. His actions on the moon came from a place of knowing Vulcans, and the way he approaches problems. Because he’s a person, and not a character, I was able to adjust to new information based on what I knew about him, instead of a adhering to these strange devices and rules I think he should follow based on a concept, not a person.
Creating a character in Dungeons & Dragons
As I mentioned before, the character creation process for D&Ds is significantly different than Star Trek Adventures. If I were to oversimplify it, I would say D&D is more concerned with what your character can do than it is with who your character is. This isn’t to say you can’t create a well-informed fully three-dimensional character. You can really develop your character, but the game isn’t designed that way.
Recreating myself in D&D
For the sake of comparison of something more in line with what most Nerdarchy readers are likely familiar with, and for those who are still here, I want to stack up D&Ds next to Star Trek Adventures using all available tools and resources. As before, I will recreate myself, except I’ve already gone through most of my relevent personal history, so there’s no need to repeat a lot of it. Since most people reading this likely have a firm grasp of the more traditional ways of creating a character, I’m going to skip that step, and do an apples-to-apples by approximating the way that Star Trek Adventures does character creation as closely as I can. It’s going to be a square peg in a round hole, but I’ve got a pretty big hammer.
Same as before, I’m going with being a human. Half-elves are my favorite race, and I’ve recreated myself the D&D way using a half-elf, but that’s not the point of this.
I chose the human variant, because I think it’s a lot more interesting, and it allows for more character specialization. For my two stats, I went with Intelligence and Wisdom, because I feel like they’re my most natural ability scores. For the feat, I’ve chosen to go with Observant (Wisdom), because I have pretty good situational awareness and really good hearing. I can’t read lips, though, but nothing’s perfect. For my skill, I went with Perception, because it plays right into that natural situational awareness.
Xanathar’s Guide to your life
Thankfully, before I wrote this, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything recently released through D&D Beyond. As a result, I’ll be able to use this as a part of the backstory. I’m going to do my best to weave it with my background choices, and I’m going to see if I can use it with the point buy system to best simulate how Star Trek Adventures operates, in order to focus on the person, not the character.
Birthplace: Home. Pretty boring stuff. No one would want to read a book about it. Not even if I became president.
Siblings: One younger sister. She’s a couple of years younger than me, probably chaotic good, alive and well, and works in the sciences. We have our problems, like any siblings, but when push comes to shove, we’ll always be there for each other.
Family: Mother and father. Depending on what part of my life you’re talking about, I would say we ranged from poor to modest growing up. My parents live comfortably now, I’m proud to say. I’d say we grew up in a medium sized house, which I know isn’t an option. I had a few close friends, and lived an ordinary childhood.
Personal Decisions: I’m a soldier because I have a long history of family who served in the military. I’m a rogue because that best matches what a military intelligence officer would be as an adventurer (I chose my class later, but the guide assumes you’ve picked it out by now).
Life Events: 0-20: (nothing selected). 21-30: I spent time working as a soldier. 31-40: I fell in love and got married.
Secondary Tables: Tragedies: My marriage ended. War: You survived the battle, but you suffer from terrible nightmares in which you relive the experience.
As mentioned before, I was in the military, and if I’m making myself, I should take the soldier background. For the specialty, I decided to go with scout, because I felt it’s the closest thing to military intelligence in a fantasy setting. Once again, for my rank, I’m going with captain.
This is probably going to be a little personal, but these are the Personal Characteristics: Personality Traits: I’m haunted by memories of war. I can’t get the images of violence out of my mind and I face problems head-on. A simple, direct solution is the best path to success. Ideals: Independence. When people follow orders blindly, they embrace a kind of tyranny. (Chaotic) Bonds: I fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. Flaws: I am the monster that haunts me to this day.
“This is Your Life” doesn’t really lend itself to helping you make statistical choices throughout the process. Again, I’m aware that’s not how the chapter is designed, nor is the game, but it’s important to note how significant the difference is, and how divorced person and character are. Still, I’m going to talk out what I can, and assign values as well as I can based on my life, and do my best to convert it into D&D terms.
The Pacific Northwest is known for a few things, but music and the arts are probably the most notable, which is why I’m putting +2 points in Charisma. What’s less known is how important the sciences are here, including OMSI and OHSU (the amazing doctors at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital saved my sister’s life) in Oregon. It also has technological centers, manufacturers, and offices, and it’s home to places like Nike, Microsoft, and Starbucks, Wizards of the Coast, and Dark Horse Comics, which is why I would say there would be a +1 to Intelligence.
Like before, I grew up in a family with a lot of background in science and technology, so another +1 would go into Intelligence, but my interest in writing would translate more into a +1 into Wisdom, because writing is really more about observing the world and considering the best way to reflect it. Acting is also very rooted in observation. You have to understand how people walk, talk, act, move, and even stand, in order to convey a person effectively. Like writing, it’s about taking your observations and experiences and conveying them to the world in a new context, which is why I will add another +1 to Wisdom, but also a +1 to Charisma, because Charisma is about force of will and projection of character, which is a thing I learned on stage.
Like I said before, I was a very smart kid. We grew up poor, but my parents didn’t want to waste my potential, so they were able to get me into the best private school that they could manage (it really wasn’t that nice, I promise) until the sixth grade. I may have started out advanced, but by the time I hit high school, I had become bored and flippant, and rarely cared about school (I graduated with a 1.67 gpa). The only advanced class I took in high school was my college writing class. As a result of my wasted opportunities, even though they were handed to me, I’m going to only add a +1 to Intelligence.
It wasn’t until after I joined the military that I started in on my physical development. When I was in, the Air Force didn’t focus on strength as much as it did on running (which was 50 percent of the PT tests at the time). I’ve spent too long trying to figure out how Air Force physical training would translate into D&D, and I came up with +3 to Constitution, +1 to Strength, and +1 to Dexterity. However, I’ve had a fight against my weight for a while, where I spent a lot of my time in yo-yoing. I mostly do calisthenics and more running. At one point I was running 10 miles a day, four days a week. As a result, I’m going to dump +2 more into Constitution and Dexterity.
As stated many times, my job was in intelligence. Most of my duties involved monitoring, collecting, analyzing and reporting. If I were to give it a split, I’d say 60/40 was being able to track a lot of information and being aware of more than most people can handle. To this day, I amaze people with how well I can keep track of everything, and how much I’m aware of (although I tend to not let on that I do). If you would like to see how I do it, watch this episode of our Star Trek Adventures game. It looks like I’m not paying attention, but I’m tracking everything. As a result, I think that a +3 to Wisdom and a +2 to Intelligence is warranted (bear in mind that I’m glossing over about a third of my life). I was also a staff sergeant, and a senior analyst as a senior airman (E-4), meaning I had a lot of leadership experience, so a +2 to Charisma also makes sense.
That takes me up to the last five years of my life, which is mostly just going to school. I would like to say I learned a lot. I learned a lot about a few things, and was introduced to my new favorite subject of rhetorical criticism (seriously, you’ll never be able to see the world the same way again after like 4-5 of those courses), but I feel like I didn’t have my whole world unlocked. It’s not the school’s fault, and my professors were all amazing. I just wasn’t a fresh-faced teenager. I was already in my 30s, and I had seen and learned a lot by experience. For that, I’m only granting a +1 to Intelligence.
Counting it up, it would seem that leaves me with an additional 3 points to dole out for free, which I’m just going to use to round out Dexterity with a +1, because I’m pretty stealthy, and burn my last two points on Wisdom to get a +1 there.
I’ll start by narrowing some things down. I wouldn’t really fit as a barbarian, cleric (I’m an atheist), druid, or paladin (see cleric). I don’t see myself as an innate caster, so I can eliminate sorcerer, and I think only the Gloom Stalker ranger really fits me. The War Wizard is the only thing that fits me, and even then it’s not all that much. The monk doesn’t either, leaving the rogue and the warlock.
I like the idea of wasting my potential and going with a Charisma caster, and aligning with the celestial, having pact of the chain with a pseudodragon. If I were to be a spellcaster, that’s what I think would be me. However, in the end, I would go back to being a rogue. For my proficiencies, I’d go with Deception, Insight, Performance, and Stealth, with my expertise going to Perception and Insight. I’m not sure what my class archetype would be. For sure, it’s between Mastermind and Scout, but that’s an entire conversation by itself, and not something I have to deal with right now.
When I started this process, I didn’t think it would be possible to replicate the process in Star Trek Adventures. Statistically it’s a lot less optimized, but much more true to life. That being said, I still feel like I had to put in a lot more effort into considering myself as a person in D&D than I did in Star Trek Adventures, even with using prompts from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. I also don’t think I would’ve come to those same statistical choices.
I don’t know if I would’ve considered a number of the choices I made when thinking about statistical choices using all the resources that Wizards of the Coast provided. There’s not a lot to go on. As I mentioned in the beginning, it’s just that D&D isn’t really built around the idea of creating a person.
Clearly there is a way, since I was able to force the issue, but it’s the kind of thing that would take time to develop. Perhaps that’ll be a project for the future.
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Despite looking so young, I’m in my mid-30s (36, to be exact). Up until I was 21, I focused a lot of my attention on stage acting, mostly local and school theater. At some point, I felt a need to change my life’s direction, so I joined the Air Force. After 10 years, where I was an Intelligence Analyst and Mission Coordinator, I was medically retired. I went back to school and got my Bachelor’s in English, focusing mostly on literary theory and rhetorical criticism, at the University of the Incarnate Word. In this next chapter of my life, I’m turning my attention towards tabletop RPGs.