Visions of NPCs have been Dancing in my head

Making interesting NPCs that are memorable for both players and the GM alike is no easy feat, especially when a GM has to do so via improvisation. As part of a new blog about my experiences as a Star Trek Adventures GM, I wanted to share one such story. Bringing in new characters for single scenes, or even whole adventures, is all part of the fun. As a GM I love doing this and with our game, I even have a plan. This plan is likely a topic for a future Blog post, but here are the basics. 

During Season 1 of the actual play of Star Trek: Preservations by Tabletop Journeys, we introduced an NPC named Ensign Lusson. As the crew prepared for an away team mission, they needed a pilot for their shuttle and the players requested the name of an available shuttle pilot to accompany them on their mission. So, with no advance notice of the need I had to come up with this named NPC. The hero ship of our show, the stalwart Sabre class USS Dilamus Christian, is a smaller Starfleet vessel. This class of ship has a typical crew of 42 people. This was a GM decision I made with the anticipated need for new NPCs in mind. Essentially, we have a simple Google spreadsheet with each of the ship’s departments and a list of the positions for each grouping. Since most of the department heads are player characters, most of the leadership positions were filled. Additionally, each player was asked to create a secondary character in a different department than their main character. This factor alone fills out quite a lot of the crew. What remained were blank spaces in each department. Each of these spaces was a position available to be filled by some future NPC. Through gameplay, I can fill in NPCs as needed. For any given scene, I created what was needed at the moment, jotting down the details and then playing through the scene. Following the session, I fill in the details about that character, which would be ready to go for future sessions. It was under these situations that we came to the creation and development of Ensign Lusson.

The description I used for Ensign Lusson was based on a vision I had in my mind of an alien I saw at some point in the past, though I don’t remember from where. While I do not recall its specific origins, I vaguely remembered that it was Star Trek or some other Sci-Fi show. As the game session continued, I ended up filling in the gaps in the description I had in my head. My original intention was to keep the details about Ensign Lusson as vague as possible during the session so that I could research them later and return with a more complete description in keeping with the lore and canon of the greater Star Trek IP.  

As happens so often at the game table, no GM plan survives contact with the players. And within a few minutes of introducing what could have been a throw-away NPC with a cool aesthetic, I was asked clarification questions. Within a few scenes, it became necessary to provide “gap-filling” details and describe the aptitudes and abilities that this character and their species had. As a GM I consider myself fairly good at improvising characters on the fly. But I rarely end up wholesale developing a new species, complete with quasi-mechanics. Quasi-mechanics is a phrase that I tend to use as shorthand to describe abilities, talents, or powers that are loosely defined, but not used at the table at the moment. The fact that this was a recorded actual play for our podcast, meant that there was additional pressure to make a compelling character and species and remember it so it could be detailed later and be consistent in future episodes. Based on fantastic in-game questions and discussions by our cast, I even delved into some social aspects of the species’ culture. By the end of that first session, Ensign Lusson of the Ahktani was such a fun character to play that I knew this was a character I would have to revisit. 

The other day I saw an entry in the Star Trek Adventures Facebook Group by Khairul Hisham. This post showed a picture of an Edosian Starfleet officer in a Lower Decks uniform. Eureka! This was the missing piece. The vision I had all along was of the Edosian officer Arek from the Star Trek Animated Series, as evidenced by the fact that I described a third arm. In the end, what was created for our show was divergent from the Edosians of cannon, so I am in the process of building an offshoot species (think Andorian and Annar). 

At this point in the development of Ensign Lusson and their species, I started to think of them as a subspecies of the Edosians called the Ahktani. While the two species are very close in some ways there are also differences. The Ahktani do have a third arm, but they do not possess the Third leg that the Edosian species is also known for. Additionally, the Ahktani’s third arm rests within a marsupial-like pouch located in the front of their chest. This limb functions like their other arms and is typically not seen if not in use. The most striking difference between the two related species is the fact that the Ahktani have a much more insect-like appearance and compound eyes, though they do not have an exoskeleton. Each of these features came from descriptions I gave during the session and as a result of a flawed recollection of the Edosions in the shows that I watched nearly 45 years ago left some gaps that as a GM I felt compelled to fill in. Potential talents, traits, and lore that I am developing based on this “new-ish” species lean heavily into enhancing visual acuity and enhanced hand-eye coordination and then the cultural changes I imagined could manifest. 

So, here I am on a weekend evening working on plans and fleshing out character concepts and ideas for Season Two. As I am not a visual artist myself, the closest I can get to creating a visualization of the character is via HeroForge. It works for now, and most importantly it has brought me ever closer to the heart of this very cool NPC.   

Till next time, The stars await. IDIC Y’all

Star Trek: Preservations is an actual play produced by Tabletop Journeys. New episodes air every Tuesday, and 2024 begins with interviews with the cast and crew of the Dilamus Christian.

Leave a Reply