HOW TO STAR TREK RPG - ENCOUNTER AT FARPOINT
What roleplaying tips does Encounter At Farpoint hold for us?
In this episode, we are introduced to the crew of the USS Enterprise-D. We see Soong-type androids for the first time. We're introduced to an omnipotent being who ends up being a recurring character, and we're dragged forward in time from the Original Series, with just 90 minutes in which to learn about the technological, political and cultural advancements that have been made in that time.
The setting is a mission to negotiate for the use of Farpoint station, a base on a planet that is perfect for Starfleet's needs as the Federation expands and deep space exploration continues. However, along the way, they are set a challenge by a being known only as Q - to prove humanity's worth by finding out what's really going on at Farpoint station.
So how can it helps us in a Star Trek PBEM RPG?
This episode is the perfect example of the "show, don't tell" technique. It would have been easy for Picard to describe Data's strength or Troi's telepathic ability in voice-over narrative, but that's not how things went down. Instead, you're introduced to their abilities early on, and reminded of them regularly. The same goes for the saucer section separation. The sequence is cheesy, but it comes from a situation engineered to specifically allow it to happen - the ship is in a dangerous situation and the civilian members of the crew need to be taken to safety.
A great example of showing and not telling is when Wesley falls in the pond in the holodeck. Not only are we seeing what the holodeck can do rather than just being told the ship has a room that can recreate any environment artificially, but we also see Data lift Wesley out of the pond effortlessly.
There are some brave decisions taken throughout the episode in terms of characterisation. Picard is shown as being a risk-taker, almost to the point of being reckless, through his decision to separate the saucer section at warp speed. His insistence on that course of action is coloured by Data's reaction, which shows how two characters can bounce off each other and make each other stronger.
Another key feature of this episode is the time dedicated to showing the reactions of various characters to the situations they find themselves in. That tells a story. When Troi saw the two coelenterate life-forms reunited at the end of the episode, she immediately looked at Riker, who we'd just found out she had feelings for. Get inside your character's head and think about things like that, and you'll bring them to life for all of the other players!
No friend of mine
I was left with the distinct impression at the end of this episode that no-one liked each other other than Riker and Troi. I mean at all. Picard's unforgiving approach to his new first officer? Beverly Crusher being outright hostile towards Picard? The look on everyone's faces when Wesley Crusher stepped onto the bridge? Riker ordering Troi to open her mind to the alien entity was also brutal, even if it was necessary and he apologised afterwards.
The thing is, though, it was all realistic. Why? Because people aren't automatically friends, even if they already know each other. Sometimes water had gone under the bridge and it's left them a bit cold to each other. And sometimes you have to knock the rough edges off each other before you can function as a unit... which the crew of TNG really do by the time we reach the end of season 7.
One of the least convincing characters in this episode is Lieutenant Yar. She's the chief of security but, by the time you get to the end of the feature length episode, you're left wondering whether she is actually going to be able to keep herself safe, let alone the ship. Why? Because she was written too hard into a stereotype, the headstrong, impetuous chief of security who is supposed to be scrappy and able to handle herself in a fight.
Instead, she gets frozen by Q, has more than one emotional outburst and is effectively stonewalled by Captain Picard on the battle bridge when she offers him appalling advice. He effectively has to remind her how to do her job. Whoops! The lesson? Going over the top on a particular character trait can actually damage your character instead of define them. If you feel like you're becoming more of a charicature, it's time to step back and rethink things.
The exception to this is 'species stereotypes', which are more important than you think - but that discussion is for another episode!
This article was written by Chen on Stardate 2393.04.26. If you have any questions, feel free to Contact us