Star Trek: Discovery, Ashen Stars, and Episode Structure

[Contains a mild spoiler for the most recent episode of Discovery…]

A note on tone in Ashen Stars invites you to think of it as the gritty reboot of a beloved TV space opera show from the past.

Enough episodes of Star Trek: Discovery have dropped to see that it is very much reading out of the gritty reboot playbook.

This raises the question: what kind of model does it give us for Ashen Stars scenarios?

Discovery asks itself how many of the bedrock assumptions of past iterations you can strip away and still have a Trek show. In particular they’re taking out the bits that made it SF comfort viewing: the overlit old school TV look, the absence of conflict between main characters, the idealized view of humanity in the future.

My guess is that if the show survives long enough to execute its overall arc, its intention is to withhold and then restore all of the above except the wash lighting.

Plus new photon f-bombs, of course.

Another element the show has switched out is the structure. In place of the episodic, space mystery of the week setup we’ve seen before, the show uses the structure pioneered by J. J. Abrams in Alias. Procedural problem-solving still plays a key role, but now comes second to serialized emotional drama. As is common in so many post-Alias shows, the drama can take up most or all of the fourth act, with the problem of the week dispatched at the end of act three.

Discovery still uses the device in which an investigation leads to a moral dilemma which must be resolved to bring the story to a conclusion. You see this in the most recent episode, “Choose Your Pain,” where Burnham uses her Xenobiology ability to realize that the ship’s experimental propulsion system is ethically insupportable.

This introduces a conflict with the episode’s action-oriented plot thread, the resolution of which leads to dramatic scenes in which pairs of main characters make or grant emotional petitions, as seen in Hillfolk.

In other words, I’m glad to live in our dimension, where Modiphius and not Pelgrane has the Trek RPG license. In the mirror universe where that is reversed, alternate me has to finally figure out how to fully merge GUMSHOE with DramaSystem!

3 Responses to “Star Trek: Discovery, Ashen Stars, and Episode Structure”

  1. Hector Trelane says:

    “figure out how to fully merge GUMSHOE with DramaSystem!”

    …A worthy goal indeed! Something we may attempt in our own gaming group. DramaSystem provides the meta framework for the story arc; some episodes are conducted as DramaSystem and others as procedural missions, which could include a few DramaSystem scenes. These would draw their richness from the broader campaign story arc (and on-going protagonist agendas).

    The best fun would be those in which dramatic conflicts are waged through decisions made in the natural course of a procedural mission (do I destroy the helpless enemy? Do I rescue the hostage I resent?) rather than wrapping up the action in Act Three and extending the episode for soap opera talk in Act Four.

  2. Terence Sean O'Carroll says:

    A GUMSHOE-DramaSystem fusion’s name would be a portmanteau each of its parent games: DUMSystem. However good the actual game might be, with a name like that, it’d be pretty much unmarketable. :P

  3. Philippe Marcil says:

    I would call it DramaSHOE.

    However, the two systems are in opposition at a philosophical level, making the new discovery more of a hillfolk games then a GUMSHOE games.

    In GUMSHOE, you are expected to be a great investigator. You are Sherlock Holme and hence can overcome all issues with your skill.

    In the Drama system, you are wrestling with your social situation and when you attempt something (a procedural scene) you usually fail.

    In discovery, the drama rules of negative procedural scene is far more prominent and many of the protagonist action end in tear:

    Lorca decision to use the Tardigate and the spore drive leading them to nearly collide with a star

    Burnham decision are often wrong such as: mutineering, killing T’Kuvma (instead of capturing him),

    Commander Landry triying to sedate the tardigate leading to his death.

    I am pretty sure this string of bad procedural action and decision will keep ongoing. Those are truly not GUMSHOE heroes and discovery is much more a skinned Drama System with maybe a few additional rules about discovering information and mostly to get cooler action scene.

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