I've been watching quite a bit of Star Trek recently, as is my custom, and I've given some thought to how I would run a game in the style of Star Trek. This is unlikely to happen in the near future, since my main group seems more interested in D&D and Star Wars, and my Traveller side game is more properly a Firefly-type set up. It is difficult to stop my wandering mind.
The thing I most like about Star Trek is what Starfleet does: exploration. The universe of Star Trek is pretty damn cool, but I think the greatest strength of bot TOS and the early episodes of TNG is their episodic nature. Each (good) episode has a cool sci fi premise based around the idea of exploring new worlds or making contact with alien species.
I often find it weird that Star Trek gaming thends to skew to the more military aspects of Starfleet. I'm speaking (or rather writing) here more about Star Trek video games as I have little experience with the various TTRPGs made for Star Trek. I think though that the Star Fleet Universe material bears this idea out. You don't really do Star Trek things in Star Trek games. Instead you have big space battles. Now, I like big space battles, and I've been drooling over Federation Commander for a few months, but in a roleplaying game I want to think my way out of the Tholian web.
There are some problems with the standard Star Trek setup, however. The most notable one, I think, is the fact that whoever is playing the captain can pretty much tell the other players what to do. One could circumvent this by having the captain be an NPC, but then the players don't get to make the kinds of decisions that make this sort of game interesting. Who cares if some NPC makes up some bullshit about corbomite, he's an NPC. If he needs to have the bridge crew (i.e. the PCs) come up with all his clever plans, then what kind of captain is he?
How does one overcome this? Well theres nothing really about "exploration" that requires the PCs to be in the Flagship of the Federation. The chief example here would be the Scouts from Traveller, or at least my understanding of them from Mongoose's core rulebook. When starting up my online Traveller campaign I described them as a "rent-a-center Starfleet," and I think that metaphor holds true.
So what about a campaign where players play scouts on some remote border of the Imperium? One could make a Traveller sandbox in the same manner one normally would, modifying it a bit to make the demographics skew away from the dominate races of the Imperium. Instead it's a barely explored region filled with pre-space flight peoples and a few space-capable races that are as yet unknown by the Imperium.
The players are the crew of a single scout vessel (c. 4-6 people) who have to respond to the same sorts of problems the Enterprise normally would (rock creatures attacking space miners, space radiation that enhances psychic abilities, gangster planets, etc.) but now instead of a massive crew of experts, they have to figure out how to deal with these things using their extremely limited resources.
The other advantage gained by switching it to a Traveller setting is the fact that humanity's baser elements still exist. One thing that always bothered me about Star Trek is how much it relies on capital p Progress. As a student of history, I find these ideas arrogant at best, though the shows typically handle it in a way that is as inoffensive as possible. Still, now you have a space setting where greed and ambition are still major motivating factors for the various empires, peoples, captains, and even random enlisted men. If you can't make exploring such a setting into the stuff of great gaming, then there is no helping you.
I should note that I started this post before finding out that today is the 45th anniversary of TOS. Go out and celebrate by watching your favorite episode!