To Serve and Protect
by S. John Ross, part of the Untaken Treks

Security stories combine many of the best elements of Star Trek in a single package, since deduction, science, teamwork, and physical action - all in healthy measure - are necessary for success. Security - both as a character role and as a dramatic theme - have always been a part of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

However, placing Starfleet’s security specialists at the center of a story will, in many ways, be Going Where No Episode Has Gone Before. This chapter is designed both as a creative aid for Narrators designing a security-centered Star Trek series, and as a general reference for Narrators of any kind of Star Trek series looking to inject more action and drama into their ongoing game!

The Security Plot

The Federation is threatened every day. A flood on Alpha Centauri traps thousands and kills hundreds . . . a desperate coup by Nausicaan terrorists turns a starbase into a battle zone . . . two unexplained murders at the Rakosa IV research station means there’s a killer on the loose.

Starfleet security, in its incarnations ranging from plainclothes policemen to the rangers and rapid-response teams serving in deep space, exists to deal with all these threats, and more. Their stories are the detective adventures, cop dramas, and special-forces peacekeeping missions of the Star Trek: The Next Generation RPG.

Despite the bewildering variety of story possibilities, this is a "sub-genre" of Star Trek that really thrives on a few basic plot formulae, any of which can be modeled well using the basic three-act structure presented in the Star Trek: The Next Generation rulebook. This is good news for the Narrator; it means you can have fun focusing on the details and the personal sides of the story. That’s where each episode will sink or swim, since threats, all by themselves, are a dime a dozen (in a moneyless economy, they’re even cheaper).

Structurally, the variables of the "threat episode" boil down to three categories, determined by how immediate the threat is. Essentially, there are "before," "during," and "after" stories, each with their own advantages, limitations, and special requirements.

Ounces of Prevention: Before

Starfleet gets lucky, and learns of an impending threat while it’s still busy "impending." The episode that results springs from this revelation - a "tip-off" from an arms smuggler near the Neutral Zone, perhaps - a former accomplice of the villain, left to the mercy of the law and willing to spill. Or maybe the tip comes from remote sensors, readings indicating tremors where no tremors should be, or strange energies, increasing in magnitude at an alarming rate. Trouble is brewing, and it will be here soon. The Crew must prevent (or, worst-case, minimize) the damage that the new threat will cause.

Prevention stories offer their own unique set of roleplaying opportunities. Often, threats dealt with in the "before" stages are cooperative ventures between Security and other branches and divisions. If sensor reading indicate a quake preparing to wreck a Vulcan colony, security (working to aid evacuations, and prevent nearby criminals from preying on the colony in its weakened state) will work alongside scientists and engineers, who will be combating the quake and it’s effects directly. If the threat is more military in nature, coordination between security’s "ground connections" and the more "naval" arm of Starfleet can make for exciting games of tactics and resource-management. If the threat is a crime, the need for navigating the underworld societies that exist on the fringes of Federation society provides the opportunity to meet many colorful NPCs.

"Before" stories can make good open-ended episodes in a series where the Narrator likes to play fast and loose with the "script" and let the story move in unexpected directions. If the Crew succeeds in heading off the oncoming threat, the story can conclude at the climax . . . But if the characters fail, the story can be rolled over into a two-parter, with the follow-up "during" episode exploring new themes and giving the Crew another chance to make things right. Since so much is undefined in the prevention stage, the Narrator has more "wiggle-room" to improvise this kind of shift. The sense of mystery is much more pronounced in this kind of episode.

It’s that very air of mystery, however, that can threaten the energy and pacing of this kind of story. Since the threat is often an unknown until halfway through the story (or later), the rise of tension depends entirely on the careful pacing of revelations, foreshadowing, and the presence of an interesting supporting cast. Some players, hungry for more immediate challenges, can find this kind of play frustrating. These "problems" are really just thinly disguised opportunities for the savvy Narrator, though, provided he keeps his players’ tastes constantly in mind. If some of the Crew needs more regular action, just about any threat (even entirely natural ones) come equipped with "satellite" dangers that can act as a visceral kind of omen, or carry new revelations along with a little excitement.

Clear and Present Dangers: During

It’s heralded by a klaxon, an explosion, a sudden loss of power, a disruptor shot . . . The threat is here; the danger is immediate; the Crew are needed. Sometimes, there’s enough warning in the episode "teaser" to give the Crew a chance to mobilize, grab some equipment, evaluate the problem, and be dispatched on their "mission," and sometimes there isn’t. When things hit hard and fast, they just need to do what they can with whatever state the fates (dressed suspiciously like the Narrator) have left them in.

The advantages of the here-and-now threat are many. Typically, the plot begins with the first sign of trouble (or the assignment of a mission) and continues to escalate, building excitement at every scene. Run properly, it can be seat-of-the-pants excitement, with the characters pushed to their limits by whatever fiendish challenge the Narrator has decided to unleash.

But this "During" story carries an equal measure of pitfalls, too. The most common is simple overexposure: too many stories focusing directly on threats can lay a series flat and leech the flavor from it. On TV, Star Trek: The Next Generation avoided "threat of the week syndrome" by combining the threats with vital character subplots, and most of all, by keeping pure "threat" episodes down to less than half of the total episode-count.

That’s not the only way, though. Scale is another tool in the Narrator’s arsenal. Keep the majority of the threats small and personal, and they can be constant without dulling the senses. Save the planet-scale dangers for keynote episodes and major finales; spend the rest of the series exploring where the TV series didn’t often get to - the day-to-day problems that Security must deal with, the kind of stories that can have profound effect on the characters involved, because the lives at stake are those of individuals, instead of abstract millions.

The Fun Never Ends: After

Lives have already been taken. The colony is a charred ruin. The battles have ended, and the dead are being counted. But there are still questions . . . Is this really the end, or a calm before another storm? Who committed the crime? Where have they gone? What will they do next? When Security is needed in the aftermath of a threat, it means that security is still in question. The "After" story is the trickster of the trio, because, while it might really be "After," it’s just as likely to be a sneaky kind of "Before" or even a sudden "During." And the Crew must stay on their guard and find out.

There are many kinds of "after" stories. In the aftermath of a theft, the thieves must be pursued and the thing they’ve stolen returned safely. In the aftermath of a disaster of some kind, survivors must be tended to and protected. In the aftermath of a murder or other atrocity, a mystery might need to be solved, especially if there’s a chance that the criminal is still operating freely.

"After" stories are an opportunity to show off many of the responsibilities Security must shoulder that don’t involve direct threats. Security keeps peace, enforces laws, and provides aid to those in need. Sometimes, nothing can be done about the damage, but a lot can be done about healing it, rectifying it, or making sure it never happens that way again.

While the nature of the challenge in an aftermath story is highly variable and often uncertain, this kind of plot sidesteps the problems that "before" episodes face by giving the Crew something concrete to dig their imaginations into, right from the start. In fact, more than any other kind of episode, "After" stories can be used to play wicked games with players’ tendency to make assumptions!

In fact, it’s a wicked game that is often essential. One of the difficulties in devising good "after" stories is building towards a satisfying climax without resorting, every time, to simply re-heating the established threat and serving it as leftovers. On the trail of a murderer, the players will expect that the murderer himself is the threat to be dealt with - so give them something else to deal with! It can be chilling to discover that the "murderer" was simply defending himself all along, and that those he killed were the hosts of the genuine threat, a being taking control of sentient minds. Or maybe the murderer really was a murderer, and he’s easily caught, but he’s smug, bragging about the dozens more that will die from something he’s already done. He wants to bargain for his freedom, and he’s holding all the cards . . . The possibilities are many, and never forget that, until the credits roll, nothing is set in stone. Never shy away from improvising a new twist, if you’re sharp enough to keep it all consistent.

Odd Combos and Challenged Assumptions

This chapter provides a lot of "shopping" lists of ideas and concepts, different ways of breaking down the many possibilities inherent in security and threat-oriented Star Trek stories, provided for Narrators in need of inspiration. A really fun way to make an episode interesting is to simply run down each list, grabbing items at random, or even going for those that seem the least likely to fit well together, and then apply the goulash to a simple premise. Challenge the basic assumptions of the genre. Search this chapter for rules and principles, and take a mallet to each one of them!

Sympathy for the Devil: Motivated Foes

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, villains are never simply villains. Black hats and twirling mustaches, followed by a sound heroic thrashing and a hearty cheer, are contrary to the spirit and ethos of the show. This was true in the Original Series, when such landmark episodes as "Devil in the Dark" showed audiences that even monsters are best dealt with by understanding them. The Next Generation maintained and developed this philosophy in episodes like "Home Soil." When a Star Trek "villain" dies, it’s typically an act of self-destruction. Either he forces the hand of the Enterprise crew by directly threatening the lives of many, or literally brings about his own doom rather than surrender to his captors. In all such cases, the result is tragedy - not a moment to celebrate a "victory."

This "Sympathy for the Devil" is a Star Trek axiom, every bit as pervasive and fundamental as those discussed on p.162 of the Star Trek: TNG rulebook. It’s especially important to a Security story, because it’s a vital difference between Star Trek and more ordinary law-enforcement/security oriented science fiction. In Star Trek, the goal is never to "shoot the bad guy." In Star Trek, the "bad guy" has an understandable motive (or is mechanical, like the "doomsday device" or the Borg, and therefore stripped of real "motive" entirely), and the goal is to provide safety and security for the citizens of the Federation, using the most peaceful means possible.

The villain’s motive should be one that the players can empathize with, even if they disagree with his chosen means of pursuing it (and they probably will). Coming to understand that motive - and bridging the gap in understanding between the threat and the Crew, should be a key to the successful resolution of the mission. In simpler stories, it can even be the resolution.

Pure, unreasoning hatred - the closest thing there is to fairy-tale "evil," is rare in the real world, and even rarer in Star Trek (Armus, in "Skin of Evil," is probably the closest thing Star Trek: The Next Generation ever got to it). Usually, "evils" are committed by those who believe themselves to be doing something worthy. A sampling of the many possible "villainous" motives:

Cultural: One of the best parts of Star Trek gaming is getting to meet new and distinct alien cultures, and learning more about the established ones from the show. Sometimes, though, learning about new aliens can be a dangerous experience, when alien morality and the Federation "baseline" are found to differ. Sometimes, traditions that are considered "everyday" to an alien are deadly to others, creating a threat that must be dealt with very carefully. And sometimes, even a Starfleet officer must balance his loyalty to Starfleet with his loyalty to his culture - ancient blood-feuds and other matters of personal honor can sometimes seem more important than Starfleet duty, and once that crosses a line, another threat is created. This is an excellent opportunity for the Narrator and players to explore many of the themes of Star Trek, since resolutions of such problems typically require a healthy blend of action, quick thinking, and empathy on the part of the crew.

Misguided by Others: Sometimes the "villain" believes himself to be acting heroically, because he’s being duped by a persuasive outside element of some kind. Sometimes, the "puppeteer" pulling the antagonist’s strings is the "real" villain of the piece, sometimes it’s a case of the blind leading the blind, with all parties being deluded or misled in some way, leaving a deadly tangle for the Crew to unravel.

Money and Power: While Federation citizens are seldom troubled by greed, many hundreds of species the Federation retains friendly relations with are still dealing with the consequences of money-driven economies. A desire for wealth or property for its own sake can drive people to sometimes-terrible measures. And when the stakes rise beyond mere property, even the rare Starfleet officer can succumb. Although "unbalanced" personalities are rare in 24th century humanity, the loss and trauma some brave officers experience in the line of duty can cause sufficient emotional damage later in life. This is the stuff of serious drama, and if your players are up to it, it can be very rewarding. Such damage can be hard to prevent or catch in time, particularly when a dire conflict (such as the Borg invasion) is keeping everybody busy.

Loneliness: Lone criminals, alien monsters, even attacking armies can be motivated by desire for contact, the opportunity to communicate, the almost-universal sentient need for affection and good company. Of course, some express their needs in unfortunate ways! Very powerful aliens who "don’t know their own strength" can kill with their idea of a friendly hug, and deadly madmen can twist a need for love into a dangerous kind of obsessive hatred. Some alien cultures may be so deeply rooted in centuries of warfare that combat is literally the way they greet a potential ally.

Redemption: Two wrongs don’t make a right, but people keep trying anyway. This motive typically drives a single, focused sentient - somebody who believes he’s (a) made a terrible mistake and (b) has found a way to rectify it, or at least do something that "balances the scales" in some way. Of course, when (b) explodes into a matter than concerns Starfleet, it’s because the perpetrator is putting his own need to redeem himself above all moral concerns, or is honestly ignorant of the damage he’s doing.

Immortality: Those who steal, kill, or destroy to attain eternal life are motivated by the fear of death, not by the love of living. Provided the Crew realizes this, it becomes an important and dramatic weakness to exploit, and a special challenge to those attempting diplomatic solutions. Such villains, long used to rationalizing their quest on the basis of rational self-preservation or some other principle, can rarely be persuaded with reason, and typically must be hoist on their own petard, defeated by their own terror or shortsighted arrogance.

Species Preservation: From the classic days of pulp science fiction, "Mars Needs Women" is a theme that has been redressed and explored in dozens of stories, including several Star Trek episodes. And while aliens kidnapping other species because they need breeding stock is a bit too cliché, there’s plenty of meat left on those bones. The Narrator, after all, has three very broad variables to define: the nature and abilities of the alien species itself, the special need that that drives them to become a threat, and the unusual method they’ve devised to have it met. This can form the basis of some fascinating episodes that blend elements of puzzle-solving, alien diplomacy, and creepy mystery. Sometimes, an amicable exchange is possible ("You don’t need to attack us if you need phaser energy to undergo macromitosis . . . We’d be happy to line you up and shoot you as a prelude to a cultural exchange.")

Survival: From species preservation, we can move on to simple self-preservation. Rather than pursuing a need, the "threat" of the episode is responding to a threat of its own - sometimes a threat posed by the Crew itself. Typically, the theme explored here is one of the dangers of poor communication. What seems like a "monster" or an attack or even a natural phenomenon is revealed, by stages, to be somebody (or a lot of somebodies) trying to protect their young, or to ward off the deadly Federation ships that are slaughtering them with secondary radiations from the transporter beam. And sometimes, the threat is as simple as an ordinary man, stowing away for shelter, or stealing because he or his family are hungry.

Escape: The Federation’s penal colonies are build to provide rehabilitative environments; they’re humane and comfortable. But that doesn’t mean prisoners are eager to stay in them! The Crew may be called on to deal with escape problems of any scale, from wholesale colony riots to the flight of a single fugitive. Escape attempts often take place while the prisoner(s) is still en route to his destination colony, as well. Often, it’s the last reasonable chance to grab for freedom! Note that while "escape," all by itself, is sufficient motive to drive a story’s antagonist, secondary motives making for juicy plot-wrinkles. Some prisoners like to escape with style - stealing a starship and engaging in piracy on the way out, perhaps. Some others don’t consider their escape complete until they’ve exacted revenge on those who put them away.

Intellectual Pursuits: Some of those who’ll threaten the Crew will be motivated by scientific curiosity, or self-righteous intent to demonstrate a point, or a quest for an intellectual challenge. Q, one of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s most popular recurring foils, is frequently motivated by all of the above, depending on the occasion, but such threats can come from more "mortal" directions, as well. Scientists who need a starship-sized petri dish to test their latest experiment, ennui-driven madmen who need a challenge "worthy" of their intellect, and other examples of science, philosophy, and social discourse taken a step too far are a rich tradition of the genre.

Personal Drama

So far, we’ve examined the security story from the middle of things - the issue of security itself. Define the threat and the circumstances, and the plot can built itself neatly around the problem and the possible solutions to it. But while the plot is essential to any episode, it’s only the platform on which the real story - a story about the Crew meeting challenges on a personal level - will be built. If the only motives that drive an episode are the motives of the antagonist, the Crew will feel secondary. If, on the other hand, the Crew’s own motives are involved, and their own ideals and abilities tested in a way that makes the story uniquely their own, the bare-bones plot that we started with will come to life in a way that belies its simplicity. The result will be a complete, engaging, and memorable Star Trek "security" episode.

The players will do a lot of the legwork in this direction for you. They do so from character creation onward, by listing and then exploring their characters’ weaknessec, strengths, virtues, principles, desires, fears, and back±rounds. And no matter how straightforward and visceral the episode’s premise is ("A rabid Altair Rungabeast is loose on deck five. Bring it back alive,") their reactions, solutions, and interactions will make the event a personal one, at least to a degree. With some planning during the episode-design stage, though, the Narrator can elevate a simple action story to something worthy to stand shoulder-to-shoulder next to the best episodes of the TV series, by weaving the Crew’s personalities and histories directly into the fabric of the threat.

Use what you know (or what you’re comfortable inventing; see sidebar) about a character’s weaknesses, desires, fears and background to challenge his strengths, virtues and principles. You don’t need to plumb the depths of your soul or get all arty on them or anything, either; it needn’t be a big-deal melodrama every episode. "Just a dab will you," as they say. The Centauran doesn’t touch drugs of any kind? Will he take them if he needs to keep his cover while investigating a murder? Will he function well enough to save a friend’s life in the next scene if the answer is "yes?" Will he be able to bluff his way through if the answer is "no?" And what’s that? Time for the Vulcan to undergo Pon Farr again (seven years already)? What if that same Vulcan is the only hope for a group of stranded refugees, who need not only protection, but a voice of leadership to keep them from fighting amongst themselves out of desperate fear?

The major decisions of the story should provide opportunities to learn more about the characters making them. Delight in their torture. Provided they come by their misery honestly, and are given a fair shot at dealing with it, they’ll delight in it, too. It lets them shine in play, not just as competent officers, but as well-rounded characters. It makes the tale immediate, real, and theirs. It becomes an episode that couldn’t possibly be about any other Crew. And every time you do it, they’ll reveal and establish more about their officers, and that’s more grist for the mill. More torture, and more delight, for next time.

The specifics, of course, depend on your Crew - that’s the point. While the earliest episodes you run will, necessarily, be a little drier on the personal side of things, it won’t take long before there are dozens of character-based threads to weave into any storyline you devise. The Narrator’s role tends to morph over time, from He Who Must Come Up With Stuff into a more relaxing He Who Gets To Choose From All The Juicy Options. For the early sessions (and for ideas later on), keep in mind these broad categories of personal connections, and examine the Crew to see how each one can be included.

  • Principles and Ideals: In order to succeed, a character must violate (or at least consider violating) a principle he holds dear - perhaps one he’s never had to question before. By the story’s end, he may have a revised principle, or a strongly-reinforced one!
  • A Stake on Both Sides: Sometimes a threat’s defeat can be a personal loss. This happens when somebody or something one of the Crew cares about depends on the threat in some way, or even is the threat. Sure the terrorists need to be taken down, but one of those terrorists is the Tellarite’s sister, who went off to follow a radical cult because she resented her brother’s entry into Starfleet . . . And to make matters worse, she’s helping force the situation into an all-or-nothing battle, where only death will resolve things.
  • Chinks in the Armor: If a player is generous enough to define (or reveal in play) some really juicy weaknesses in his officer - a dread fear, a nagging self-doubt that could cripple him in the clutch, a temptation he must fight to avoid, a memory that haunts him - the Narrator owes that player the courtesy of a bonfire in which that weakness will be thrown and tested. These "chinks" can even be positive goals, if the character wants it so sincerely that it hurts . . . Geordi’s desire for "real" eyesight drove several subplots in this way, as did Data’s quest for humanity. In Generations, this would cripple his ability to act, and while Soran provided the overt conflict in the scene, it was Data grappling with terror that gave the scene its real drama. Your own NPC antagonists should (without ever realizing it) serve a similarly "subservient" role, existing as platforms for the Crew’s own development and definition.

Retrofit Connections

A security/threat episode gains depth and reality when the challenges and personal subplots build on details established in prior episodes, or those written into the characters when they were created, rather than details that the Narrator assigns by fiat. "By the way, Ensign Cavendish spent a lot of his youth on the Kabora II colony fighting with alcoholism, so this strikes a chord with him."

Judiciously used, however, the occasional "invented" connection to the story can be very effective. In the early days of a series, when the characters are still only half-molded, it can be necessary to "jump-start" a personal connection to the story. As long as the players are up to that particular jump, the benefits can be enormous, and endure well beyond the episode at hand.

Understand and respect the boundaries of each player’s creation. You’ll have better luck writing in details about the distant past than about the present ("You once owned a cat just like this one" will go over better than "You have six cats and the Captain doesn’t know about them"). Details that flatter are more acceptable than those that diminish ("You and the lovely insurgent leader once had a love affair" rather than "You were responsible for your father’s death in a transporter accident.") And as a fallback, never forget that few players mind having relatives invented for them to care about, provided you don’t do it every week!

Themes and Stories

A Next Generation security episode is still Star Trek; all the themes basic to the show remain as guideposts for the construction of new episodes. There are, however, new themes particular to this style of play. Security encompasses a rich set of sub-genres: detective stories, paramilitary action, cop drama, and more. Each of these has a body of traditional stories all to itself, but there’s a lot of overlap. Most "police drama" plots work equally well as "military drama," since the themes of both (preserving peace and order) are identical. The differences, if there are any at all, are matters of scale. Starfleet regards military action as a last resort because military action is what happens when security measures fail. A Next Generation campaign should reflect this.

What follows is only a sampling of the many challenges that Starfleet Security must face; combine the items on this list with the motives and angles explored above, and the resulting "menu" is many thousands of episodes.

The Hostage Situation: One sentient (or several) wants something bad enough to have kidnapped an innocent victim. Usually, the victim is a living hostage, but sometimes, powerful objects, or unique ones (the results of a long scientific project, for example, or a work of art) stand in for the more traditional screaming child or civilian bystander. The Crew must secure the safety of the hostage, before the kidnapper gets more desperate and does harm.

Guard Duty: This begins as a passive assignment: a place or thing is potentially in peril, and the Crew are placed nearby to deter the potential beast from rearing an actual head. Obviously, something goes wrong, or there is no episode, but this is an excellent time to play "mess with expectations" again. Sometimes, the thing being guarded presents its own problems, for example!

The Heist: Something has been stolen. The thieves are long gone. The Crew must locate the stolen item, and preferably the thieves. Interesting wrinkles can arise when the thieves (or those they’re stealing for) have a legitimate need for, or claim to, the stolen item. And sometimes the Crew can find the thieves - but the item is gone again, perhaps stolen by another party entirely, perhaps sold or passed on.

Tests and Proofs: The crew must prove themselves or their unit in the face of a performance evaluation, a special test, or a simulation (doing a role-reversal, where the Crew gets to test the security of a ship or building by trying to defeat it, can be lots of fun). Sometimes, this is just a fun change of pace (having something go wrong and the "test" turn deadly is a popular twist). But sometimes evaluations happen for more serious reasons than maintaining esprit de corps or updating a duty roster. If somebody is determined to shut the Crew’s unit down (or is gunning for the reputation of a single member in it), this can provide real drama and excellent springboards for character development. And what if it’s not sinister at all, and the Crew’s unit really has become superfluous in some way? Will they fight for their cohesion as a unit, or for the truth?

Escort Detail: Like "Guard Duty" in motion! This opens up new plot possibilities: the ship/ground caravan/prisoner/etc. can get lost or thrown off course (taking the Crew with it), or the route itself can provide unexpected challenges that have nothing directly to do with the thing being escorted. Opportunities for layer on layer of complications are plentiful, if the Narrator is in a playful mood.

On the Case: This is an open-ended sort of plot that can form a tight single episode or provide the arc for a whole series. The Crew is assigned the case of a single criminal, rogue, or dangerous enemy, a character or group with a history of damage. Maybe others have tried solving the problem and failed - or maybe Security has only now put all the pieces together and identified the source of a long-running series of problems. Either way, it’s a game of cat-and-mouse (or even hunt-and-destroy) but the blade, as they say, cuts both ways, and the quarry should be a worthy adversary.

The Corrupt Officer: An officer in the Crew’s own unit has been corrupted, or is abusing his authority in some way. Sometimes, it’s just a man cracking from pressure or trauma, but sometimes it’s subtler . . . even some Federation citizens can be corrupted with the right temptation put before them, or the right threat leveled against them. And if the Crew are the only ones who realize the character has gone bad, it can be hard going (and emotional drama), especially if the "rogue" is a senior officer.

The Crime Wave: The Security equivalent of the "weird phenomenon" story common in the TV show. A series of security problems begin to mount and form a pattern: something is wrong, and the wake of it begins pointing in a single direction. The Crew are in the middle of it all, dealing at first with the isolated incidents, and then closing in on the heart of the matter: the mastermind, the conspiracy, the overly-ambitious thief.

Into the Fire: This kind of story puts the players into the middle of a situation gone wrong, right from the episode’s teaser: While helping disaster victims, they and a dozen civilians are caught in a cave-in (for example). The episode begins with the cave-in; the disaster-relief effort is just backstory, and the episode focuses on the Crew’s efforts to keep the innocents safe and get everybody out of the mess they’re in. One of the easiest plots to design; this provides meaty opportunities of all kinds and works well for a "pickup" or improvised session, if the need arises.

Rendering Aid: Of course, disaster-relief (and other forms of civil aid) needn’t be backstory. Disasters on any scale from a bombed building to a planetary apocalypse create the need for security officers. They’re needed to keep the survivors calm, to rescue survivors who’s safety is still threatened, to deal with new threats and predators that disasters tend to attract, and work with other Federation offices and Starfleet branches to bring the best out of chaos.

The Specialist: This is often a subplot, secondary to the episode’s "main" theme. The Crew don’t get to handle the job alone; they are asked to work with somebody new, a specialist brought in to provide aid with unique training or talents. This can be anything from a psionic or other character with special senses to a very competent member of a secretive branch. Sometimes, the character is just there to provide an arc of ego-tension building to acceptance and camaraderie (fun to role-play!), but sometimes the "specialist" is a genuine problem, or even tied to the episode’s primary threat.

The Whodunit: A crime or atrocity has been committed, leaving a dangerous question or two hanging in the air which the Crew must answer. Sometimes, a whodunit is literally a question of "who?" But "whydunits" and "howdunits" are excellent variations on the theme. Secondary questions ("Will it happen again soon? Where? To whom?") typically keep things creepy and tense.

Undercover: In order to gain information, make contact with a hard-to-reach NPC, or get close enough to a threat to deal with it, the Crew must disguise themselves as people they’re not, typically learning (very quickly) to master the etiquette of a new culture or social group into the bargain! Coupled with another form of plot, this adds new dimensions to the role-playing, and can allow characters to have a lot of fun "acting against type" as a change of pace.

Trial and Punishment: The Crew become involved in the process of trying a captured criminal - usually as key witnesses called on to help the Federation render fair judgement. The drama tends to focus on the events of the courtroom itself, as parties who want to see the guilty found innocent (or vice-versa!) try to manipulate the proceedings. The Crew must do their part to see that the right decision is made. Naturally, this kind of episode makes a good sequel, if the criminal on trial is one the Crew have captured themselves!

First In: When a dangerous new world is discovered, or the stronghold of an enemy is left standing in the wake of a conflict, or some other potentially-hazardous new place becomes a concern of the Federation, brave members of Starfleet are sent in to assess the hazards and (if possible) make the place safe. Security is always an important part of such operations, and when things go wrong, things can really go wrong.

The Surprise Attack: Out of nowhere, an enemy strikes, and the Crew must defend themselves and those around them. Like "Into the Fire," this is another kind of story where the backstory is provided briefly, and the Crew is immediately thrust into the thick of the danger, often unawares. Sometimes, the attack and its immediate consequences fuel the entire episode. Sometimes, it’s a prelude to another kind of story entirely.


Contents of this page are Copyright ©2000 by S. John Ross

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