What is the KDF Story Anyway: Part I?
Stories matter. As anyone familiar with Klingon culture will tell you, our identity, courage, and imagination is shaped by stories. Unlike many off-world philosophies, our way of life is not driven by grand metaphysical propositions (e.g., the good life is X, divinity is X, etc.) but rather by sayings, poetry, and narratives. This is why the Empire insists on having lore singers—designated guardians of our most treasured traditions—standing outside the Great Hall and in our Academy, reminding warriors of who they are and where they come from. The oral medium keeps our traditions living and breathing, not sitting on a shelf waiting for someone to pick them up and digest them. As warriors, these stories, songs, and bits of wisdom accompany us as we travel along the path of honor, reminding us of our past, confronting us in the present, and igniting us with courage to face the future.
Given the Klingon love of stories, it is no accident that one of our faction’s top requests to developers has been that we have a “complete” storyline. I have supported this cry on many occasions and will continue to do so. But the next few Warrior’s Way blogs are about something slightly different. I don’t want to ask when we will get our finished storyline (our best hope seems to be the distant and ethereal Season 8), but rather, what is the KDF story as it currently stands? Is there a story at all? Where are the gaps, missing links, narrative twists, etc.? Is the story told well, in a way that is worthy of our noble lore singers? Over the next month or so, Warrior’s Way is going to be exploring firsthand the actual story of the KDF through the eyes of a newly created KDF engineer, Sargon III (I know, not too original, but I prefer consistency). I want to see what emerges when I approach the KDF storyline from the perspective of a reader and not merely a gamer trying to get to max-level. As I respond to the story, I will also try to tell it to you, the reader, in hopes of giving you a sense of how the KDF storyline reads.
My fellow warriors in the forums are screaming for additional stories to make our faction complete. Good. Add my voice to the din. But before the KDF story gets this much-needed boost, I first want to know exactly what the story currently is, and especially how well it is told.
Enter the Circle
The journey begins precisely where it should: in a close-quarters challenge match. Warriors thrive in these situations, where we can see the opponent’s eyes, flow with his movements, detect his fears, and test his skill—not attack him from the bridge of some warship. With the clashing of bat’leth blades, one wins command of a vessel, the respect of a bridge crew, and the confidence of the High Council. This is a fitting beginning for a KDF warrior.
After earning a command in combat, an orientation to the First City ensues. How a newly minted warrior of the empire could go his entire life without gaining familiarity with the First City is beyond me, but the story is what it is. As part of my task, I visit a number of seemingly random characters—a targ handler, a few Ferengi entrepreneurs, a weapon fashioner, a house-less judge, a bartender, the High Council, even some red-light-district employees. From the perspective of both a reader and a player, this tutorial is odd and seems to be filled with, well, “filler”: Why do I need to visit the judge and the working class? As far as I know, many of these contacts will never play a role in the game again, except perhaps for role-player purposes. And yet, even RP players will probably be met with disappointment, since one can’t really interact in any depth with these characters. I admit, the tour of the city is mildly interesting, but this is mostly due to the fact that the First City is architecturally stunning, with its typically dark Klingon mood, imperial grandeur, and monumental architecture.
From the perspective of a reader and a player, the tutorial needs a lot of work. In fact, the framework—a tour of the First City—needs to be done away with completely and replaced with an actual story-based tutorial, one with a bit more narrative coherence. For instance, some players suggest that the tutorial should involve challenging one’s own captain. “Promotions” often occur in this manner in the KDF. Unlike the Fed tutorial, which throws the player into an interesting storyline from the moment one’s boots hit the ground, the KDF tutorial has too much of what is unnecessary and not enough of what is most important.
The promotion to commander, which is overseen by J’mpok himself, provides a perfect opportunity to place the player’s mission within a larger narrative framework. The formalities go something like this: The new warrior goes before the emperor, receives the promotion, and is told that he has finished the “Second Rite of Ascension.” J’mpok also states that only in battle is a Klingon truly a Klingon. In stories from across the galaxy, the speeches of great leaders are often moments to reflect on the larger picture and to help the story progress to new levels. Unfortunately, instead of learning about the larger story of the game, even in broad outline, the player is left only with a bit of J’mpokian ideology and a handful of unanswered questions: What is the empire doing at this time? What are its goals? Who are our enemies and allies? Who exactly is J’mpok and where is Martok? Plus, when did I undergo the Second Rite of Ascension—that most glorious of Klingon rituals in which a warrior crosses over the river of blood, accompanied only by the sensation of painstiks? For someone unfamiliar with Klingon lore, s/he might assume that the Second Rite of Ascension was the initial battle with the bathleths, or even worse, the tour of the city! (Of course, the player only concerned with “leveling” could simply progress through the dialogue without getting hung up on such matters. In other words, the story could basically stand on its own, though the careful reader would take note of a number of loose narrative threads). This entire exchange with J’mpok provided an opportunity to set the character’s own personal story within the larger narrative. Unfortunately, one is left with questions and problematic references to Klingon lore.
The Federation War
The episode titled, “Federation War,” is a hodge-podge of episodes, some of which do not even deal with the Federation War: “Bringing Down the House,” “The House Always Wins,” “Second Star to the Right, Straight on ‘til Morning,” “Keep Your Enemies Closer,” “Skirmish,” “Spin the Wheel,” “What Lies Beneath,” “Everything Old is New,” and “Night of the Comet.” My character has progressed through the first four missions: “Bringing Down the House,” “The House Always Wins,” “Second Start to the Right, Straight on ‘til Morning,” “Keep Your Enemies Closer.” The rest will have to wait until next week’s blog entry.
After romping through the First City, I am relieved to receive finally a real mission. It involves an inter-house struggle between the House of Torg and the House of Martok. J’mpok informs me of this opportunity and encourages me to take it, since helping the House of Martok could prove useful for my career. Ironically, Lady Sirella (Martok’s widow and now the leader of the House of Martok) asks me to assist her in exacting revenge against the House of J’mpok (the Chancellor) and its allies for the death of Martok, her husband. (Background information: Remember that, in the timeline of STO, J’mpok is the one who killed Martok to take the chancellorship). Her first task for you is to help her hunt down an assassin, whom she thinks was sent to kill off an important member of her house and thereby weaken the House of Martok’s influence in Klingon society. It is a bit surprising how little is made of the fact that you are being asked—at least initially—to help Lady Sirella in her quest to avenge her husband’s death against the House of J’mpok; the very same J’mpok who just sent you on this assignment. Even more astonishing, perhaps, is that Lady Sirella trusts you—for no apparent reason—with information about her plans to harm the Chancellor’s house, even though you just came from a meeting with him. What, after all, makes her think that you are to be trusted? And why are you so easily persuaded to join her quest for revenge? Why aren’t any alternative dialogue options given that would allow you to resist her request a bit. At the very least, pressing her on the issue would allow you to gain more information about why she should be trusted. After all, you are a newly minted officer of the KDF. Why should you risk your career—and no doubt your life!—to help a house whose head fell in an honorable and legitimate fight? To be sure, the plot is complex and the guilty parties are not easily discerned, but the mission leaves out a remarkable amount of background information and feels very artificial and jerky at points.
Ultimately, you discover that Torg (House of Torg) has committed the ultimate transgression: collaboration with the Romulans. Even though the Romulans are my own blood, my disdain for their deceitful ways lights a fire in my heart as well. How could a Klingon collaborate with the Romulans? It is clear to me that many in our ranks no longer follow the ways of Kahless and of honor and have given themselves over to the old ways of the House of Duras. Their lust for power has made them weak and willing to compromise. Torg is ultimately and rightfully dis-commended by the High Council. Of course, J’mpok, who was originally an ally of Torg, denies any involvement in the conspiracy to bring down Martok’s house and expresses anger over the present dishonorable developments. I, for one, question his sincerity.
The story itself is intrinsically interesting and it definitely deals with a topic that many KDF fans are familiar with: inter-house conflict. As a “reader,” these missions contain elements of mystery, deception, murder, politics and competition. The strong connections to DS9 and especially the Dominion War make this set of missions particularly appealing. The only problem is that the mission chain feels almost entirely self-contained, and it isn’t entirely clear why these two are the first missions. Beginnings, just as much as endings, are deeply important to the larger arc. But at this point in the KDF story, I am still waiting to find out what this faction is all about! Who are the KDF’s allies? Who are our enemies? What story are the developers even trying to tell? The STO promotional trailers speak of a war with the Federation. Where is that war? What are the major concerns of the Klingon Empire in this era? As a reader I am still groping around in the dark looking for orientation.
Some of this tension is relieved in “Second Star to the Right, Straight on ‘till Morning” and “Keep Your Enemies Closer”—perhaps 2-3 hours into the game, depending on how closely one reads the dialogue. I receive orders from J’mpok and then head straight to Eta Eridani. The moment I enter the sector, the sagely voice of Leonard Nemoy paints a brief but lucid picture of the KDF-Federation war. Without any real transition, the player is led along from house quarrels to the larger war with the Federation. As a reader, this is a strange shift (perhaps jolt is a better term) indeed. Why is the dramatic introduction to the main story (the KDF-Federation war) withheld for so long? Would it not be better to drop the player into the KDF-Federation war from the beginning, or at the very least put the player into a situation in which s/he would learn about the war somehow? I for one would love to see a tutorial that feeds right into this mission, at the very least indirectly.
When evaluated on their own, both missions—“Second Star to the Right, Straight on ‘till Morning” and “Keep Your Enemies Closer”—are well done. They give the new commander the opportunity to prove himself in battle and to participate in significant wartime events. In “Second Star to the Right,” the player learns that the Klingons are fighting with the Federation in the Alhena system, a disputed region of space, which the Klingons claim belongs to them by ancient right. The player is dispatched to help Commander Alvek, who is leading the attack for the KDF. After boarding the attack group’s flagship, U.S.S. DeWitt, you are able to extract at gun point the defense codes for the Sol System from Captain Hollingsworth. No small victory for a new commander!
With this invaluable piece of information, you propose a daring raid on the heart of the Federation itself. J’mpok, impressed with your bravery, suggests that you attack Utopia Planitia, where the Third Fleet is based. But the assault against Utopia Planitia does not come without loses. A number of warriors are captured by the Federation. In “Keep Your Enemies Closer,” the player has to infiltrate the base’s defenses, free the prisoners, steal a runabout, and then meet up with a KDF battle cruiser. This set of missions is enjoyable, dangerous, relatively complex, and bold. Plus, they contain a number of iconic ships, like the Runabout and Negh’Var, which are pure Trekkie eye candy. “Second Star to the Right” and “Keep Your Enemies Closer” are a fitting—but remarkably late—introduction to the KDF-Federation war.
A Three-Legged Grishnar Cat and Other Concluding Thoughts
Just a few steps into the KFD storyline, there are many positive things to say. In terms of individual missions, they are interesting, well-constructed, and just plain fun. The KDF storyline, however, also suffers from many weaknesses, the most noticeable of which is the tutorial. This isn’t a new insight, but the weak tutorial—along with the fact that a person can’t begin a KDF character from the beginning—has crippled the faction for a long time, making it into what it is now: a three-legged grishnar cat trying to run a race against its four-legged Federation opponent.
I have mixed feelings about “The Federation War” episode so far. Except in the case of “Second Star to the Right, Straight on ‘till Morning” and “Keep Your Enemies Closer,” both of which are clearly related to the episode title, I am still uncertain about where the house-struggles fit in. On an individual level, the missions are enjoyable and sufficiently challenging for someone whose level is in the lower 20’s. When it comes to the whole episode, however, this one needs a serious refit.
Sargon is a Rear Admiral in the 110th Federation/KDF fleet (http://110thfleet.shivtr.com/). Unlike most other KDF Generals, he was born to Romulan parents. Inspired as a young man by Worf’s visit to a prison camp in the year 2369, he eventually left the camp, against the will of his parents, and joined the KDF. Although an outsider among Klingons, the increasing diversity in the Empire gave him room to advance in the military, until he eventually earned the confidence and trust of the High Council, which granted him command of the I.K.S. Rage of Kahless, a Temporal Science Vessel.
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