Running a successful Star Trek campaign in Savage Worlds is not as complicated as you might think.
All you need is a copy of the Savage Worlds core rules and your imagination. Of course, it helps to be a huge Star Trek fan.
What follows is a simple guide (not a conversion or fan setting). It provides some very direct advice and steps to help you adapt Savage Worlds to the Star Trek universe. It doesn’t contain alien racial templates, cleverly named Edges or Hindrances, or setting rules for starship battles.
This is a quick and easy guide that explains how to wrap a Star Trek skin around a Savage Worlds skeleton. It is broken down into three steps. Each step is a general philosophy that you can apply to any setting
The Star Trek universe is as vast as space, and its multigenerational fan base.
There is a rich history of gaming built around the Star Trek franchise. There are games for every era and format from tabletop (customizable card games, tactical war games, and roleplaying games) to desktop (handheld electronic games, starship simulators, console, and mmo rpgs).
Modiphius Entertainment’s Star Trek Adventures is the first official roleplaying game released in more than a decade. Mature gamers might also remember its predecessors, from the FASA roleplaying game that dominated the 80s to the follow-up line of roleplaying games for the Next Generation of the Star Trek television and films in the 1990s to early 2000s.
There are more than a few free Savage Worlds fan settings available, and most of them can be found on Savagepedia. Official Pinnacle products like Slipstream, Pirates of the Spanish Main, the Science Fiction Companion, and the Last Parsec are also worth considering.
If all you need is the Savage Worlds core rules, why bother mentioning all of these other games?
Any of the above are practical resources for a Savage Trek campaign. They contain a wealth of information about the universe, races, and technology viewed through the lens of roleplaying game. They can also be a source of inspiration for plot seeds, or a gold mine of ready-made adventures, minis and maps.
Resist the temptation to create new skill lists, Edges, and high-tech gear for your Star Trek game. For the most part, the core rules contain everything you need. It just isn’t spelled out in Star Trek terms.
Savage Worlds rules do not focus on what something looks like. The only thing that matters is the effect it has on the rules.
Take a look at the Ranged Weapon Equipment Table. Did you notice most modern pistols have a range of 12/24/48 and do 2d6 or d26+1 damage? With this in mind, read the description for the Bolt power. Did you notice it has the same range and damage as a Glock (9mm)? Of course there are some mechanical differences: the caster substitutes their arcane skill for shooting, must track power points instead of ammo, and it must take an Arcane Background Edge.
Before we go down the rabbit hole with a few examples, ask yourself a question. What is the intended effect or outcome of the thing I’m trying to adapt from Star Trek. Embrace the fact that anything can be stripped down and trapped to fit what you are trying to run in Savage Worlds.
Savage Worlds includes a simple race creation rule with positive and negative Racial Ability, balanced against the Human free Edge valued at a +2.
A Klingon, for example, might have Hardy as a +3 ability to ensure a second Shaken result in combat does not cause a Wound. They may also start with a free d6 in Fighting, which is a +2 ability. Both are good choices to represent their warrior culture, but this combination produces a +5 racial ability total.
That’s a problem. Races must not exceed +2 ability to stay balanced with humans.
We must offset it with a number of negative abilities. Including the Bloodthirsty or Code of Honor Hindrance along with the Mean Hindrance balances the equation by -3 points. Now we have a good representation of a Klingon at the proper +2.
You could spend hours creating every conceivable race in Star Trek, but I don’t recommend it.
At its core, Star Trek is about the human race. No matter what era you chose for your campaign, the majority of your player characters should be human. When you stop to think about it, aren’t the majority of aliens in Star Trek humans with a latex prosthetic or bad makeup job?
What mechanical advantage does strict emotional control, pointed ears, and devotion to logic get you in Savage Worlds? At the end of the day these are trappings that mostly affect roleplay. You can make choices during character creation that will mechanically mirror any of the iconic races.
There are a number of existing races in Savage Worlds that you can use for Star Trek aliens. If a player wants to be the only android in Starfleet, point them at the Android race template. If you must play a Tellarite, look no further than the Dwarf race template. What about the feline Caitians? I’d say check out the Rakashan.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t create alien races. My point is to create races as needed, with careful attention to avoid over inflation of racial abilities. If you get lost in the weeds and drill too deep, you could end up with a very long list or racial abilities that can easily overwhelm you and your player. Compare the Android and Dwarf races in Savage Worlds.
Sooner or later your Vulcan player character will want to attempt the classic mind meld or nerve pinch. The easy fix is to reimagine Miracles and Psionics as Arcane Background (Vulcan Mysticism). It is only available to Vulcans who take the Arcane Resistance Edge. All powers require touch and the list is limited to Healing, Mind Reading (Mind Meld), Beast Friend and Succor (Mind Meld); and Slumber (Vulcan Nerve Pinch).
Psionics (Smarts) becomes the arcane skill and rolling a 1 on the arcane die (regardless of the Wild Die) causes a level of Fatigue. The arcane background is based on Vulcan religion and its tenants. Any expression of emotion, negative or otherwise, is a minor sin (a –2 to Psionics rolls for one week). Failure to devote two hours each day to a solitary meditation practice is a major sin (loss of all powers for one week). Acts of violence motivated by emotion are a mortal sin and require an extensive period of isolation and meditation to atone.
Because this background is limited to Vulcans, you could use Savage Worlds rules to define the race. Remember to tap into the stereotypical qualities of the race. They are basically human with distinctive pointed ears and eyebrows, and a merciless devotion to logic. Building on that, a Vulcan race entry may look like this:
- Intellect: Vulcans start with a d8 Smarts and may advance to a d12+2; or d12+4 with the Expert and Master Edges.
- Stalwart: Natives of a high gravity desert world, Vulcans start with a d6 Strength and +4 to resist the effects of heat.
- Code of Surak: Vulcans adhere to strict code of behavior that extols reason and logic as virtues above all else. They strive to restrain their emotions and act in a logical fashion at all times.
- Pacifistic: Vulcans equate violence with a lack of emotional control and only fight when logic or duty requires it.
- Outsider: Their stoic demeanour and logical nature can be unsettling. Vulcans suffer a –2 Charisma with other races.
Star Trek Technology
Starships run on technobabble, not dilithium crystals. Star Trek technology has more to do with story than science.
Transporters and warp engines are plot devices that move the story quickly between scenes or commercial breaks. A Romulan cloaking device isn’t a superb tactical advantage; it is a metaphor for Cold War espionage.
There is no denying that Roddenberry’s vision of the future inspired and shaped technological innovations in use today. Automatic sliding doors, the personal computer, wireless earbuds, and the flip phone craze of the 1990s all owe a debt of gratitude to Star Trek.
As a wise man once said…
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.Arthur C. Clarke
What that means for your Star Trek campaign in Savage Worlds is simple. All tech is a Weird Science device. Unless it draws power from the ship’s engines or stationary generator, it has a set number of power points (twenty is a decent number) that refresh as the set hourly rate. Depending on the device, the character makes the logical skill roll to use it: such as Healing for a hypospray or Shooting for a phaser. And there is always the threat of malfunction if they roll a 1 on the trait die.
A new skill called System Operations linked to Smarts becomes the go to skill when there isn’t a more obvious analog.
The typical phaser has the Bolt and Stun powers. Adjusting the width of the beam requires an action and applies the Blast power to the weapon. Intentionally overloading a phaser destroys the weapon, consumes all remaining power points, and is considered a successful use of the Blast power.
Stun is the default setting. Increasing the setting to Bolt or widening the beam causes non-lethal damage.
Phasers (and disruptors) can disintegrate living tissue, but it is so rarely seen in Star Trek it is hardly worth mentioning. If you allow disintegrations, reserve them for inanimate objects or nameless mooks. Changing the setting to kill takes a full action. Success against a target requires an immediate Vigor roll on the Incapacitation Table (including maximum wound and fatigue penalties). Anything less than a raise means the target instantly disintegrates. A raise on the Shooting roll with a phaser set to kill results in instant disintegration.
Transporters have the Teleport power and a range scaled up to hundreds of kilometers per inch instead of two meters per inch in Savage Worlds terms. Characters use the System Operation (Smart) skill to operate this device.
Tricorders have the Boost Trait power. Characters spend the power points, make a System Operations roll and adjust the relevant skill accordingly. A physician using a tricorder, for example, increases his Healing die type one step with a success on the tricorder (two with a raise).
The trait being increased depends on what the character is using the tricorder to discover. Scanning for lifeforms, always increases Notice die type. When it makes sense, the player may exchange the Boost Trait for Farsight power to extend the tricorder’s range.
Biobeds and Hyposprays
Hyposprays have the Healing, Succor or Boost Trait (Vigor) power depending on what is loaded into the applicator. Biobeds aboard a starship utilize the Greater Healing power, which ignores the Golden Hour and can heal permanent injury.
There is no easy way to handle starships that will satisfy every fan. Star Trek is sprinkled with quasi naval terms, especially when it comes to starships. It is not that far fetched to use actual watercraft stats from Savage Worlds to represent starships.
Use the stats for the Small Yacht for an unarmed research vessels, or Hydrofoil if it has limited defensive capabilities. Don’t worry about the armaments or crew size. Most Federation, Klingon, and Romulan starships are considered PT Boats. Larger vessels like the Excelsior, Romulan D’deridex, and Borg cube are treated as Galleons and starbases as Galleys.
Starship combat is not a tactical exercise. It is a plot device. That being said, feel free to use more abstract systems like the Chase Rules, Mass Battles, or Dramatic Tasks from Savage Worlds.
You might even consider repurposing the Social Conflict rules with a Knowledge (Battle) or Starship Operations rolls instead of Persuasion. As such, a starship battle would only last three rounds. What’s more, you can customize the Margin of Victory results to fit the story.
If you want a more nautical flavor to starship combat, take a look at Pirates of the Spanish Main. It offers simple rules for ship combat and boarding rules.
Respect the Tropes
What is a trope? It is more than a simple cliche. A trope is a type of storytelling shorthand for a concept the audience easily recognizes and understand instantly. Phrases like “He’s dead, Jim” or “Live long and prosper” are punchline to the death of a redshirt or Spock’s v-shaped salute.
Heroes Never Die is an example of a Setting Rule that reinforces a popular trope in the Star Trek franchise. Heroes rarely die. And when they do, they go down fighting or miraculously cheat death somehow.
Another popular trope in Star Trek is the incredible nerfing of violence. Violence has almost no discernible effects. Instead of a black eye and nose packed with cotton, the hero constantly walks away from a fight with little more than a torn shirt and a thin trickle of blood from the corner of his lip. No matter how serious or deadly, the damage suffered is often shrugged off.
If this is a trope you want in your Savage Star Trek campaign, you’ll need a Setting Rule that states all Wild Cards ignore the Unarmed Defender rule, get their Bennies back whenever they Soak a wound, automatically recover one wound at the end of every encounter (unconscious heroes wake up with 2 wounds), and all injuries fade when the wounds are healed.
You might also add a Setting Rule called Redshirt to reinforce that trope. It may state that Extras do not get a gang up bonus against Wild Cards. Or it may eliminate their Wound, making Shaken an incapacitated status.
It is a good idea to keep the Setting Rules to a minimum to reinforce the most important tropes you want to spotlight.
I hope this article sparked your imagination and demonstrated how to quickly and easily adapt Star Trek. Now, boldly go where no game has gone before. Just remember to keep it Fast! Fun! and Furious!