On stardate 41590.5, the USS Enterprise races to Quadra Sigma III, to render aid to colonists caught in a methane gas explosion. Suddenly, the Enterprise is forced to a halt by the familiar barrier grid of the Q. Captain Picard orders Q to leave them alone, but Q appears as a menacing three-headed Aledebaran serpent. When Picard relents, Q reappears dressed as a Starfleet Admiral. Picard expresses the urgency of their rescue mission, but Q says his business takes precedence. Q looks to Riker and offers him the gift of a lifetime. Riker says they have no time for games, but a game is what Q has in mind. He waves a hand and everyone on the bridge, except for Picard, disappears.
Riker, Tasha, Worf, La Forge, and Data appear on a desolate planet wondering where they've been taken to. They soon find Q nearby, now dressed as a French Field Marshal, (circa Napoleonic Era), sitting under a battlefield campaign tent. He invites the team to sit and enjoy some refreshing lemonade, stating that a good game needs planning. Worf glares at Q and slowly pours his drink to the ground.
Riker demands Q get to the point of bringing them here. Q laughingly ponders about what the game should test, stating that testing their strength and intelligence would be meaningless, as "humans have none". Riker asks what would be the prize, to which Q announces, "the greatest possible future you can imagine", and finally determines the game should be one of survival. When Tasha hears the rules will be "completely unfair", her hot temper flares and she starts to tell the Q off, but Q who calls a "game penalty" on her, and she disappears. Stunned, Riker demands to know where she was sent, to which Q answers a "penalty box". Unfortunately, the box can only hold one player. If another player merits a penalty, Tasha will be sent into nothingness.
Back on the Enterprise, Picard finds himself trapped on the bridge. He attempts to make a log entry, but the computer clunks out. Suddenly Tasha appears. She indicates she's in a "penalty box" and begins to cry in frustration. Picard consoles her with a hug and some soft words, but suddenly Q returns, sitting in the Captain's chair. Picard scoffs at his French Marshal costume. Q makes a log entry, speaking for the Captain, whom he considers too bound by Starfleet custom and tradition to play in the game. Q continues the log saying the crew is trapped, playing out a game to see if Commander Riker is worthy of the greatest gift the Q have to offer. Picard isn't worried, saying Riker will defeat him as he did. Q laughs aloud and states that Riker is to be offered something impossible to reject.
Back on the planet, the team spots an army of Bonaparte soldiers assembling behind a ridge armed with primitive powder muskets and cannons; however, they do not appear human and have beastly features. Riker turns to Data, but is shocked to see Data now has Q's face. The beast-soldiers storm the ridge, their muskets producing deadly phaser blasts. The situation looks grim. Data-Q tells Riker to send them back to the Enterprise, indicating he has given Riker the power of the Q. Riker waves his hand, and his team vanishes just as he wished.
Everyone is safely returned to the Enterprise, save for Riker. Picard orders the mission to resume, assuming Riker is in no danger since Q has taken so much interest in him.
Back on the planet, Riker stands amazed at what he did, laughing proudly. Q thinks it is strange gratitude for being granted a gift beyond any human dream. He tells Riker he has the power to do whatever he desires, but Riker tells Q to come straight and admit what he really wants. Q scoffs, saying he wants nothing from pathetic non-entities, but Riker demands the truth. Q explains that he saw humans as savages and hoped to scare them back to where they came from. However, he discovered instead that they are unusual creatures in their own limited ways; ways which in time may not be so limited.
Riker explains humans are driven to grow and learn. Q warns that they will become a force that will grow stronger in centuries to comeâa future even the mighty Q cannot conceive. He explains that the Q must know more about the human condition, and hopes Riker will join the Continuum, to bring that human need and hunger to them so they can understand it. Astonished at the offer, Riker reacts defiantly, stating that he doesn't even like the Q and wouldn't consider joining them. Q warns "you're going to miss me", and vanishes again.
Suddenly Riker sees his companions reappear; this time Picard and Wesley Crusher are with them. The beast-army also returns and the crew find themselves facing the soldier's bayonets unarmed. During the fight, Worf and Wesley are impaled. Riker shouts in anger and waves his hand. The grid barrier appears, cutting the soldiers off from his companions. Riker wills everyone safely back to the Enterprise. All their wounds are healed, including Wesley's near fatal stabbing. Riker stands with a formidable expression on his face as his friends look to him in awe. Later, Picard talks to Riker in private saying he fears his First Officer will abuse the power he has been given, but Riker assures him he will not use it, even if tempted to do so.
The Enterprise finally arrives at Quadra Sigma, and the rescue team beams down. They find the devastation is worse than they feared. Data pulls one of the victims from the rubble, a young girl, and the child is clearly dead, which brings tears to Crusher's eyes. Riker observes the body in disgust. He fights his emotions, clearly tempted to bring the child back to life, but he remembers his promise to Picard and walks away.
Afterward, Riker calls a meeting with his fellow officers. He tells them that despite the power the Q has given him, he is still the William T. Riker they all know. Picard notes the old saying "power corrupts", believing Q has muddled Riker's mind, but Riker retorts saying they don't understand the gift he has been given.
Suddenly, Q steps from the shadows dressed in the robes of a Franciscan monk. He questions if the crew are truly Riker's friends, suspecting they are just jealous of his wonderful gift. Picard becomes outraged and ridicules him about all the costumes, asking if has he no identity of his own. Q tells Riker to offer his friends gifts, giving them what they seek most.
Riker knows Wesley wants to be treated like an adult, so he changes the boy into a handsome young man. Riker looks at Data, knowing the android would like nothing more than to become human, however, Data declines saying it would be just an illusion upon another illusion. Riker gives Geordi his sight back, but the lieutenant declines the offer, stating he doesn't like who he has to thank. Riker then turns to Worf, a Klingon without a single tie to his own kind. Riker conjures a Klingon female who grovels affectionately at Worf's feet. Worf exclaims that she is from a world now alien to him. Wesley also asks to be returned to normal as well saying he would like to grow up on his own, which relieves his mother.
Picard is pleased with his people for their common sense. Riker also understands, feeling like an idiot, but admits it was a pleasure for being able to offer them their dreams, if only for a moment.
Picard turns to Q telling him he has no further business here; he has failed to tempt a human to join the Continuum. Q is annoyed and angrily states that they have just destroyed themselves. Picard comes back at him with the "wager" that Q had given them eariler, and Q states "I recall no wager!". Knowing that the other Q are watching from an omnipotent viewpoint, Picard lists the charges of Q disobeying his own wager. Q looks up and pleads to the other Q to give him another chance, but is whisked away screaming and he disappears in a brilliant flash, leaving the crew as he found them, with the ship moving once more. Wesley is a child again, Geordi's eyes are blind, the Klingon woman is gone, and Riker is a powerless mortal once again.