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Starbase 315 and the BeTau Sector Design Notes

Note: This essay also appears on the author's website.

by Louis J. Prosperi

This paper describes the process by which I designed, wrote, and created the Starbase 315 and the BeTau Sector chapter of the Star Trek: The Next Generation Roleplaying Game Companion (now called the ST: TNG Player's Guide). This includes an outline of some of the design parameters and goals given to me by the publisher (Last Unicorn Games) and the rational behind some of the decisions I made while writing.

About Starbase 315 and The Player's Guide

These design notes are based on the first draft of the Starbase 315 chapter as I submitted it to Last Unicorn Games. A number of minor changes were made to the manuscript (all of which I think improved it). These changes include:

Moving the entire setting from the edge of Federation space to the heart of the Federation;

Increasing the level of hostility and conflict between the Pinar Domain and the colony of Kentarr V (and the removal of the species native to Kentarr V);

Increasing the length of time that Alesia has been a member of the Federation.

A number of other minor changes were also made, such as the names of some of the characters. None of these changes, including those listed above, had any real effect on the goals of the setting as outlined in these design notes.

Overall design parameters and project goals

The overall design parameters and project goals are outlined in the document entitled Chapter Ten: Starbase 315 (attached) which is an excerpt from the Star Trek: The Next Generation RPG Companion outline. The basic goal of this project was to develop:

A new setting for TNG. In the core rulesbook, we introduced the Arteline Sector and the U.S.S. Discovery as a setting Narrators could use to get things started. We'd like to create a more stable setting, to show Narrators how they can use a starbase as the focus of the series. While Deep Space 9 covers this to a large extent, this chapter presents a crossover setting-a starbase in Federation space. We want to create a starbase and show how it can be the setting for adventures inside Federation space. (Isaacs 1)

Beyond this basic goal, I also had a couple of other objectives in writing this. First, I wanted this setting to 'feel' like Star Trek. I wanted to create new worlds that wouldn't seem inappropriate if seen on an episode of the Star Trek: The Next Generation television series. Secondly, this setting was designed for use in a roleplaying game. This meant that it needed to support a number of different stories and different types of stories. There needs to be story hooks for action-centered stories, political stories, and even stories that focused on themes such as exploration and first contact with alien life forms. In short, it needed to include many different elements allowing a wide variety of stories to be told within in. I also wanted the setting to add to the fictional backdrop of the Star Trek universe. By this I mean, I wanted the setting to provide new detail for players and Narrators (the folks who run the game) to use when creating characters and stories. For instance, though the idea of one of the planets in this setting creating a series of unique puzzles and games seems minor, it can be used by players when creating characters, or by Narrators when adding minor details to scenes in their stories.

The BeTau sector

The original design parameters called for the sector to be placed within Federation space, specifically, "Define the sector where the starbase is located. The starbase should be in Federation space, though it could be close to unexplored space" (Isaacs 2)

The first step in the project was to outline the sector of space according to the style and format used in the Star Trek: The Next Generation Roleplaying Game (ST: TNG RPG). Using the sector 'template' from the ST: TNG RPG. This sector template appears on page 7 of Starbase 315 and the BeTau Sector. While many of the specifics contained in the sector template were finalized towards the end of the project (after I had written most of the sections describing the various star systems and planets in the sector), I determined the answers to a few of the questions in the template at the outset, as they played a key role in development of the whole project.

The first of these was the name of the sector. Rather than designate the sector by number (as is done on many episodes of the ST: TNG television series), I wanted to give the sector a name, one that could also give it a bit of history and personality. The actual name of the sector, BeTau, comes from a word my sixteen-month old son Nathan would say over and over as he was learning to speak (betaubetaubetau). I worked out a spelling of the world and realized that it resembled a number of words ascribed to the Vulcan race. That led me towards defining why the sector was named BeTau, and eventually, the meaning of the word/name given to the sector. Since the name seemed Vulcan, I decided that the sector was first explored and charted by Vulcans shortly after the founding of the United Federation of Planets. I wanted the sector to be somewhat unusual and remote in the sense that it wasn't too well known across the Federation. Towards this end I decided that the name BeTau came from Vulcan word for 'turbulent,' and that when first explored, the sector was difficult to navigate due to "disruptive levels of radiation" (Starbase 7). At this point I hadn't determined the cause of this radiation, though my first thought was that the sector contained a nebula or some sort. I had also thought that having a star that had erupted as a supernova nearby the sector might provide me a solution, and might also spur on other ideas. See Yanixx, the Lazarus Star for more about this.

The second of these was the location of the sector and starbase. Though the sector and starbase had to be located within Federation space, I opted to put them on the outer edge of Federation space, putting them out on the 'frontier; so to speak. I decided this for a number of reasons. First, as I wanted the sector to be relatively unusual and remote, placing it out on the border of Federation space went a long way towards making it seem remote and unique. Second, I wanted to put some unusual circumstances and situations in the sector, and having it too far inside Federation space seemed to me to make it too common or well known. Suddenly uncovering ancient ruins on a planet deep within Federation space didn't seem right to me. Lastly, given the long standing theme in Star Trek of seeking out 'new life and new civilizations,' placing the sector along the border of Federation space allowed the sector to also be a sort of gateway to unexplored regions of space, and provided opportunities for stories and campaigns (an RPG term for continuing series of stories sharing the same characters) set beyond Federation space.

Yanixx, the Lazarus Star

The Lazarus star Yanixx is the unusual stellar phenomenon called for in the project specs. Though originally I had simply wanted to mention that a star in a nearby sector (or within the same sector) had erupted as a supernova, that seemed a bit too common. Besides that, I needed something that caused the disruptive radiation in the sector when the Vulcans first explored it, but something that would have allowed life to develop on the planets and colonies in this sector.

The answer took the form of something called a Lazarus Star, a fictional (at least as far as I am able to tell) type of supernova described in the ST: TNG RPG. Lazarus Stars are supergiant stars that somehow survive their first supernova, expand again, then collapse into a second supernova (252). This offered a unique dramatic opportunity, since the Lazarus Star could be close to erupting once again, putting a significant danger close by to the setting I was developing. But rather than have the Lazarus Star within the BeTau sector, I instead placed in an adjacent sector, where it could only affect a relatively small portion of the BeTau sector. Placing a Lazarus Star in an adjacent sector provided me with a source for the disruptive radiation that once pervaded the sector, but also kept it far enough away to allow the life forms and civilizations I was developing in the sector to have developed. The Lazarus Star also played a part in the development of one of the more unique worlds in the BeTau sector, the world of Heret IV.

Heret IV and the Sreela

One of the ideas in the project outline that interested me was that of the discovery of archaeological ruins on one of the planets within the sector I was to describe. The key to this was determining the truth about the ruins: who built them, why, and where were the survivors (if any)? This offered an opportunity for an unusual type of puzzle for the players and their characters to solve.

I decided I wanted the race that built the ruins to still be alive somewhere, even if that meant a distant part of the galaxy. But rather than have the ruins simply contain a signal device of some sort that summons the aliens who built the ruins, I thought instead 'what if the aliens who built the ruins are hibernating beneath the ruins, and what if the ruins were one of the aliens' colonies built thousands of years ago?' This would provide not only the puzzle and problem-solving situation I wanted, but also an opportunity for a first contact situation if/when the aliens were to awaken. But why would the aliens be hibernating? The answer to this question was the Lazarus Star I had decided to place in the adjacent sector. The planet on which the ruins were located, Heret IV (the name comes from a scrambled version of the word three), would be within the portion of the BeTau sector affected by the past supernova, and also would be affected when the star erupted again. It was the supernova that forced the aliens to enter a state of hibernation when they realized that they couldn't survive the supernova.

The supernova also formed a number of heavy and radioactive metals on the planet surface. This explained how the ruins were first uncovered. It also allowed me to place a number of mining colonies on the same world, colonies that would be in danger from the coming supernova of the Lazarus Star. To give this oncoming danger more threat, I decided that Yanixx' next supernova would occur within two years time. This put a very real deadline to the successful excavation of the ruins, and would also necessitate the evacuation of the hibernating aliens once they awaken.

The last twist I put on this world had to do with its atmosphere. Rather than make atmosphere of this world capable of supporting human life (like just about ALL planets in Star Trek), I opted for an uninhabitable atmosphere of nitrogen and methane, one that would require that characters wear environmental suits when on the surface. This added a bit more danger to this planet, and having the Sreela breath that sort of atmosphere made them a bit more unusual and, well, alien.

The Pinnaar Domain

The political situation and colonies called for in the project outline take the form of the Pinnaar Domain. The Pinnaar Domain started as a metaphor for the conflict between the British Empire and the American colonies during the time leading up to the American Revolution. I wanted to twist the normal interpretation of this by looking at it from the perspective of the empire rather than the colony. In addition, this 'empire' was also supposed to be a world seeking to join the Federation, and its political problems were to be one of the potential challenges to being accepted into the Federation. What I needed was the specifics of the political situation between this world and its colonies, as well as between it and the Federation. I also needed to work out the incentive for one side of this potential alliance (either Pinnaar or the Federation) to wish to join the other. My first idea for this was that Pinnaar had something the Federation needed and/or wanted, such as advanced medical technology. As I began work on describing the various colonies of the Pinnaar 'empire' (which I named the Pinnaar Domain to give it an imperial sound to it without using the word empire), I turned this around in a way.

I decided that Pinnaar would be the one that needed the Federation in order to help alleviate the severe overpopulation and food shortages plaguing the entire Domain. This not only provided the incentive for the Pinnaar Domain to wish to join the Federation, but also provided a reason for dissent among its colonies. As food and resources grew short on the Pinnaar home world, the government passed regulations calling for more and more food to be shipped from its colonies, eventually leaving the colonies short on food themselves. While this leads to dissent on all of Pinnaar's colonies, on its newest colony located in a nearby star system (the 'American' colony in the metaphor), it leads to a growing separatist movement.

In addition to this situation, I thought it would be interesting if one of the colonies, in particular the 'American' colony had displaced local indigenous life, and even interfered with their natural development by introducing advanced technology into their culture. This created a moral dilemma for the Federation, since the actions of this colony are a violation of the 'Prime Directive,' that of non-interference. Even though the people of this colony were not part of the Federation when they interfered with the native life, is it acceptable for the Federation to ally itself with a people who would so easily violate the UFP's most important directive. This situation could prove to be troublesome for the acceptance of the Domain into the Federation, and could add some moral questions to the stories based on the relations between the Domain and the Federation.

Alesia

Alesia is the Federation member world called for by the project specs. It wasn't meant to be the most exciting of worlds, but I wanted it to be unique or unusual enough to warrant some amount of notice. Specifically, I wanted Alesia to provide the Federation with something unusual and unique, something that made them more than just another UFP member world. The location of the BeTau sector led to the idea of the Alesians having vast astronomical knowledge of regions of space beyond the Federation border. I thought that since any advanced world would likely have studied the galaxy around it, given their remote location, the Alesians would have studied the core-ward portion of the galaxy in more detail than much of the Federation. Beyond this, I wanted Alesia to have a couple of other unique characteristics; nothing major or overly significant, just something that might warrant attention. The idea of such a remote planet being a vacation spot seemed natural, and the hint that Alesia's vacation resorts might be the hiding places of members of the criminal Orion Syndicate provided a story hook for the planet. Lastly, the notion that Alesia produces puzzles and games gave the planet a unique resource. Again, nothing too significant, but something that could be used as background detail for characters.

The structure of the Alesian government and the notion of the First Families came from a form of word association I used when writing that section of the chapter. When first describing the planet, I used the term 'Alesia Prime,' a Star Trek convention that denotes the primary world in a star system. As I began to write about the government, the term prime was fresh in my mind, so I called the governing body of Alesia the 'Prime Council.' I then asked myself, 'why would the Alesians name their governing body the Prime Council?' and the answer that came to me was that it was comprised of the primary members of the ruling class. These primary members would be the eldest members of each of a number of families, which I named the First Families, based on their importance in the Alesian government.

The Starbase

The starbase itself serves as the central location of the setting. Most of the stories and campaigns set in the sector involve the starbase in some way, and rather than try to make the starbase itself interesting or unusual, I instead chose to keep the description of the starbase relatively simple, preferring to allow the worlds within the sector to be the source of the more interesting and unusual ideas. Keeping the starbase simple and more or less common gives it a sense of normality against which the rest of the sector could be contrasted.

That being said, I didn't want the starbase to be just like any other Federation starbase. I wanted it to be different from others in some way. I decided that it might be interesting if the starbase's docking pylons weren't in fixed configuration, but were instead adjustable and retractable, able to be configured in many different ways. Having decided that the starbase was somewhat unusual in terms of its design and engineering, I opted for the starbase to be of Tellarite design, because of the Tellarites' engineering expertise. This gave the starbase a little more personality than just being 'a Federation starbase.' It also provided the inspiration for one of the characters that lives onboard the station. One of the engineering staff, Kan Lokon, is a Tellarite who helped first build the station, and has lived on the station since.

A few other unique elements associated with the starbase have mostly to do with some of the characters onboard the station. For instance, the inclusion of a strict by-the-book Federation Security chief allows the potential for conflict between him and Starfleet security personnel, and a Starfleet Intelligence operative(s) on the station allows for possible espionage stories that could take place both on the station as well as on any of the planets and colonies within the sector.

Works Cited

Prosperi, Louis. Starbase 315 and the BeTau Sector. Unpublished. 1999

Isaacs, Ross. Chapter Ten: Starbase 315 Outline. Unpublished. 1999

Moore, Christian, et al. Star Trek: The Next Generation Roleplaying Game. Los Angeles: Last Unicorn Games. 1998

Copyright 1999 Louis J. Prosperi

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