RPG Review: Star Trek The Role Playing Game (FASA/1983)
My uncle and godfather was the family Trekkie. He took me to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979. Truth be told my 8-year old self found it a bit boring. However in 1982 I absolutely loved Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That was a movie an 10-year old (almost 11 that summer) could appreciate it. Though seeing ear-worms on a giant drive-in movie screen was incredibly gross.
By that time I had my first official D&D group. We used to meet in the Howard Whittemore Library in Naugatuck, CT. One winter I was hanging outside the library waiting for for my parents to pick me up after our game was complete when I ran into the GM of another gaming group - he was carrying with him a copy of the 1st edition Star Trek RPG. We got to talking and I was amazed at the idea of a game based on Star Trek. Up to this point I'd only been playing D&D/AD&D, though I was aware of other games and had TSR's Star Frontiers game - I might have even had Gamma World by then. Truth to tell I can't find for certain when the 1st edition of the FASA game came out. It has a copyright of 1983 but some web-searching seems to indicate it came out in 1982.
In high school my family got a VCR which allowed me to record WPIX's now-midnight showings of Star Trek, plunging me into full geekdom. With that I acquired my first copy of the Star Trek RPG, though it was the 2nd edition rules. This review will be of the 1st edition which I didn't acuire till years and years later.
Let's talk a bit about the 1st edition boxed set then. The Star Trek RPG was a thick boxed set, much larger than the boxed sets put out by TSR. Within it you got a ton of material.
- A perfect-bound rulebook, 128 pages in length.
- Deck plans of U.S.S. Enterprise and a Klingon D-7 Class Cruiser.
- A book with three adventures and descriptions for the above deck plans.
- A hex map for starship combat.
- Counters (I think - I've never been able to get a copy with them).
- Starship data sheets.
- 20-sided percentile dice
The Star Trek RPG was built around a percentile system .Your character had both ability scores and skills typically ranked from 0 to 100. The character sheet, now that I think about it, looked a bit like a Call of Cthulhu one, with its abilities on top and percentile skills on the bottom. What made this RPG fascinating was its lifepath system. It's not the first game to use such a system - for example, Game Designers' Workshop Traveller RPG used such a system. However, with Star Trek the system was designed to produce your desired character instead of someone completely random. You watched your character go through life before Star Fleet Academy, gain skills at the Academy, go on a cadet cruise, go on various other tours and attend command school, etc. Your character might find himself in the merchant marine when he really wants to be on an exploration starship. But you eventually wind up with your desired character - typically a captain, first officer, or department head on a Star Fleet vessel.
The game gave you a choice of species, the selection coming from the original (well, only) series as well as the animated one. You could be a human, Andorian, Caitian, Edoan, Tellarite, or Vulcan. Though later supplements dealt with the period of the films and later the 1st seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the game assumed a classic tv series Star Fleet game. Supplements, in addition to covering later periods, also opened up Klingons, Romulans, Orions, spies, and traders as player characters.
The main mechanic of the RPG was making skill rolls - rolling percentile dice and trying to get your score or lower, modified by difficulty - though you wouldn't typically roll for routine tasks. One oddity I found with this system was its use of an action point system - based on your characters Dexterity you had a certain number of action points to spend each round for moving, aiming, shooting, etc. Interestingly, nearly 20 years prior to D&D 3rd edition FASA Star Trek had opportunity actions, giving you the chance to interrupt your opponents. Combat was exceedingly deadly - most characters could not survive a single hit with a phaser set on disrupt. This was not a game to get into a gunfight if you could help it.
The starship combat system was, as were those from many other science fiction RPGs, a type of board game, it was a very special board game. The various bridge positions all had different roles. The captain would give orders but it would be the players who carried them out as best they could - the engineer would allocate power to various systems, the players in control of those systems would make use of that power as best they could and make all the necessary skill rolls. It was a good time - indeed, FASA eventually released the system as its own separate game, a system that still has its fans some thirty years later.
The main rulebook was also loaded with background in the form of history, equipment, details on uniforms, Star Fleet procedures, planet generation, animals, aliens, etc. Today it is easy to underestimate how vital this all was - you couldn't just Google for information you wanted. It wisely in my opinion avoided any attempt at mapping the Star Trek universe. To this day there's argument in Star Trek fandom about mapping the Federation and surrounding space.
The set of adventures was rather handy, especially for those of us used to killing the monster and taking its stuff. As it turns out, Star Fleet did not encourage privateering... The first map was entitled Ghosts of Conscience. This is an excellent adventure that I've used in Star Trek games set in the Next Generation period using the Last Unicorn Game rules. One of those whacky Star Fleet admirals was behind a plan to generate an interphase weapon, using the concept of interphase as seen in the episode The Tholian Web. The players are assigned to a data retrieval of a ship caught in interphase, not knowing this ship was used to test this ill-advised weapon. Can the players piece together what happend? Can they rescue any crewmembers? This was not a black and white adventure. The players are sent in totally unaware of the true nature of their mission.
The second adventure is much lighter, Again, Troublesome Tribbles. As one might guess, it deals with Tribbles (and Klingons), this time at a genetic research station. The final adventure is more of a skeleton, dealing with the players needing to escape from a Klingon D-7 class cruiser.
By the late 1980s my gaming had transitioned from primarily fantasy to primarily science fiction, with a lot of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who. We played quite a bit of Star Trek back in my dorm in my earlier years at UConn but by my junior year we just didn't have much time for gaming - plunging deep into my major, part-time work, first serious relationships, etc.
After graduation in 1994 exploring the new-fangled web using Mosaic I came across one of this incarnation of Star Trek's website, Guy McLimore. He talked about his time working with FASA and the Star Trek RPG. I had the opportunity to have a small amount of correspondence with him, a percursor to the direct contact we have with many gaming authors now in this era of social media. A few years later I moved to Massachusetts and armed with my own storage space for a website from my dial-up ISP I created my first website, a simple site dedicated to the FASA Star Trek game. This got me associated with members of the FASA-Trek online community which in turn brought me into Last Unicorn Games' incarnation of Star Trek. I became a moderator on Don Mappin's FASA-Trek website. A lot of the people I met on that site are now friends through the miracle of social media. My first gaming group in Massachusetts used LUG-Trek. Even though LUG used their own ICON System for their Trek game, the DNA of the old FASA game could still be found - everyone remembered how fun it was to build your character up through a lifepath system. When Decipher took the license and did their own system they still instituted a lifepath system. I've not played FASA Star Trek in years but I've held onto my old books, unlike a lot of other games I've gone ahead and sold on ebay or to places like Noble Knight. It was a game written by people who clearly loved the source material and produced something whose influence is still felt decades later.