A couple of years ago I found an old FASA Star Trek adventure that didn’t quite work out of the box, and rejiggered and remolded it into something new. I find that rebooting decades old adventures is not only a fun archaeology experiment, but also keeps my game design senses sharp. Designing around existing constraints is a fun exercise — puts you in the head of the adventure’s original author.
This month, I decided to reattempt the same exercise, this time with A Doomsday Like Any Other, an adventure written way in 1986, written by Christopher E. Williams.
Now, unlike the previous Trek adventure I rebooted, A Doomsday Like Any Other actually works pretty well. It’s a tight adventure and moves quickly from act to act. The setup is this: a Federation starship is en route to the the Ectair system when they receive distress call from an Irishman, John O’Flaherty, who has somehow gotten a Doomsday Machine on his tail. After saving the Irishman, the PCs have to figure out how to stop the machine using the the same trick Captain Kirk did — blowing up a starship in the mouth of the weapon. Unfortunately, the trick fails and the PCs discover that O’Flaherty is hiding a beacon, which acts as a key to the machine. The last act plays out with the PCs fighting Romulans as they try to redirect the machine away from Ectair.
Over the years I’ve run A Doomsday Like Any Other at some conventions (using GURPS), and found myself making small changes here and there to get it to run better:
- A New Motivation. First, I found issue with the bad guys of the adventure. John O’Flaherty is a bit of a goofball in the adventure. He’s hiding this beacon which is the secret to stopping the Doomsday Machine, but withholds that information until the exact right moment of the adventure. Yes, he’s a profiteer, but he’s endangering an entire planet, which seems outright villainous. In my version, O’Flaherty is a spurned Federation scientist who is angry at years of being ignored, disallowed from performing dangerous research, and about to defect to the Klingon. This makes his withholding of information more motivated.
- Villain Swap. I also removed the Romulans in the adventure, and replaced them with Klingons. Everybody knows Romulans are sneaky and they are never, ever trusted. This meant my players never struck deals with them. Klingons are more predictable, which works better for this particular adventure.
- More Player Choices. The original adventure plays out fairly linearly. There’s only one real ship that can stop the Doomsday Machine, the luxury liner, the Cosmos Royale. Much of the adventure is based on the PCs negotiating for the liner, but my players always strongarmed the negotiations and put up with no crap from the planet’s leaders. I mean, when millions of lives are on the line, it makes sense Starfleet would seize a luxury liner to save them. So, in my reboot, the luxury liner is actually a derelict. It was recently attacked by Gorn rebels and about to drift into Gorn space. So the PCs have to spring into action to retrieve it while fending off the greedy oligarch who owns it. And, to reduce the linearity of the adventure, the old cranky Klingon veteran who is around (and using one of my favorite FASA ships, the One Wing) can be convinced to sacrifice his vessel to save the day. But that’s a hard choice, since if a Klingon saves the planet, it might just align with the Empire… Hard choices are practically required for Star Trek games.
- A New MacGuffin. I also changed O’Flaherty’s beacon. I never really liked that this device just acted as a key into the Doomsday Machine — it felt too convenient, and just an excuse to let the players get closer to the weapon in the final act. So, the beacon was replaced by an Octagonal Pod, an precursor alien repository of knowledge. I imply the Doomsday Machine has been wiping out these pods for millions of years… this reveal gives players a little more insight into the machines, and in true Star Trek fashion, gives the players the opportunity to learn more about a galactic mystery. And because the knowledge pods were built to hide from the machines, the players can use Science to figure out how to use that technology to gain entry to the machine.
Also, because I’ve been such a fan of Strange New Worlds lately, I reset the timeline back to the Original Series era, vs. the movie era from the original. But that change is purely aesthetic.
Adding It All Up
All of these tweaks added up to an end that is more variable and chaotic. The last time I ran this, the players were debating whether to sacrifice a civilization’s worth of knowledge, while their away team fought off angry Gorn marines inside the Doomsday Machine, and a Klingon warlord was bearing down on them, accusing them of treachery. It was a finale that rewarded bravery, quick thinking, and moral consequences, much like the original TV episode that inspired it.
In the end, I felt I made enough changes to retitle the reboot: “The Clear Light of Doomsday”
None of my changes are meant to take away from the original adventure. Almost 40 years ago, Christopher Williams wrote a solid adventure that still holds up and is incredibly easy to modify to your tastes. I’ve read other GMs have introduced the Ferengi and come up with bigger reveals inside the Doomsday Machine, like a hoard of anti-Borg technology. Those are cool ideas too. Ultimately, I’m impressed that something written back in 1986 can still be such a big source of inspiration.
Do any old adventures still inspire you? Let me know in the comments below.
Download the Adventure for FREE
You can download the rebooted adventure, The Clear Light of Doomsday, for free here:
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