This is part of a continuing series where we get to know the masterminds behind the RPG that goes where no RPG has ever gone before – Star Trek Adventures.
The folks at Modiphius have blessed us with a great gaming system. But who are gurus who come up with these astonishing adventure systems?
According to his bio at Modiphius.com, “Nathan Dowdell is a reclusive and easily-startled creature, emerging from his lair only occasionally to game and gather supplies. In the past, he contributed to Fantasy Flight Games’ Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay games, but since joining Modiphius, he has been heavily involved in developing 2D20 System games, including Mutant Chronicles 3rd Edition, Infinity, and Conan, and redesigned the system for Star Trek Adventures, which he was very excited about.”
I will have to admit, to track down Nathan was an ordeal taking me places I never thought I would have to go before. After months of painstaking search, I ended up on the most remote inhabited island in the entire world, Tristan da Cunha. It is over 2,000 miles away from South America and 1,700 miles away from the nearest coast of South Africa. Only 297 people currently live on the volcanic island and it’s only reachable by a seven-day boat ride through hammerhead shark-infested waters. By the time I completed the ten-hour march through snake-ridden bush and forest, I found myself at a small village situated on the edge of a steaming volcano. The sulfur in the air mixed with the herby aromas the locals used to cook their bushrat meat. Nathan was having his hair braided by two tan-skinned native women while showing the loincloth-bearing kids how to play Star Trek Adventures.
Holding back his mild annoyance at my unexpected interruption, Nathan granted me ten minutes (or “twenty intervals” as he put it) for an interview as the smoke from the rat roast stung my eyes. I was not offered an overnight stay.
Michael: How did you get involved working on the Star Trek Adventures game?
Nathan: I’ve been part of Modiphius for a few years now. I’d heard in conversations with Chris (Birch) that we were looking at the rights to a Star Trek RPG a while before it was all confirmed. I’d already brainstormed a number of ways I’d approach the game. When I was told that it was going ahead, I started work immediately turning my notes into a draft ruleset.
Michael: Wow! This is the second time that I heard a conversation with Chris Birch turned into STA history. (Making a note in a leatherbound journal to hunt for Chris Birch next.) What is your role at Modiphius?
I’m the 2D20 System Developer, so it’s my job to oversee the RPGs that use the 2D20 System and to design additional elements for games to suit their specific genres and settings—like rules for cavalry in Conan, or Hacking and Vehicles in Infinity—as well as providing answers to rules questions. With Star Trek Adventures, I designed and wrote the version of the rules that the game uses, and interacted with the community during the playtest, making changes and amendments to the rules based on community feedback.
Michael: That’s hella dope. It sounds like a lot of detail-oriented work. What is your favorite part of the Star Trek canon? Why?
Nathan: I started watching The Next Generation as a kid, so it (and the shows that followed) have always defined my view of Star Trek. With recent rewatches of the whole series—it arrived on Netflix just as I started work on Star Trek Adventures—I was provided with abundant “research material”. It’s cemented Deep Space Nine as my favorite of the shows, for the depth of story and character development it provided.
In a broader sense, I’ve always loved the technology of Star Trek. I pored over a copy of the TNG Tech Manual as a kid to the point where the binding fell apart and the book disintegrated and spent many an hour doodling my own classes of starship.
Michael: Haha! That’s great! Who is your favorite character in Star Trek? Why?
Nathan: The Enterprise-D. The ships are characters too! In seriousness, I’d struggle to pick just one character, because it’s their interactions that make the shows: Kirk doesn’t stand out as much without Spock and Bones at his side; Data isn’t the same without Picard’s guidance and LaForge’s friendship; Sisko is defined by his relationship with his son and his friendship with Dax.
But no one character is quite as memorable as Garak. Plain, simple Garak.
Michael: Wow! I mentioned before that Garak is possibly my favorite characters. What excites you the most about Star Trek Adventures?
Nathan: Aside from the fact that I got to give back to a franchise that helped shape my geekdom? The positive response we’ve had to the game. The community has been enthusiastic and eager, not just to play the game, but to dabble with their own content and their own take on it. I started RPG writing by making my own content for the RPGs I loved. It is a pleasure to share their passion in turn with actual plays, podcasts, and live-streamed games. Also, being contacted by Geek & Sundry because they wanted to run Star Trek Adventures in a weekly live game was a great experience.
Michael: What are we most likely going to find you doing if you aren’t absorbed in Star Trek Adventures?
I’m just coming out of a year-long campaign set aboard the U.S.S. Thunderchild. We’re finishing off our “first season” before taking a hiatus so someone else can GM for a while. Most of my work on Star Trek Adventures now is checking over the rules other people wrote for the sourcebooks (plus the occasional short section or sidebar) and answering rules questions. Most of my time at the moment is working on a new SRD for the 2D20 System. I am compiling all the lessons learned from the last few games into a new incarnation of the system that we can use going forward.