Much as I loved Star Wars as a child, my heart belonged first to Star Trek. I remember watching reruns of the Original Series on Saturday afternoons at my grandparents' home in Baltimore. My aunt, who was unmarried at the time, had been a fan of the series and it was she who introduced me to it in syndication. (She also took me to see Star Wars on the movie's opening weekend, so she has a lot to answer for). Star Trek had a profound effect on me as a kid and it molded my imagination in ways impossible to reckon. Indeed, the series became the standard by which I judge most other televisual and cinematic science fiction.
Unsurprisingly, when FASA -- a company I knew primarily as a licensee for Traveller -- released an official Star Trek RPG in 1982, I had to have it. Back in those days, RPGs based on big name licenses were uncommon (but not unknown). Most companies went the route of producing pastiche products heavily "inspired" by books, movies, or TV shows but lacking the formal sanction of their IP holders. Consequently, this new RPG appeared to me to be something new and unusual. (I should note here that there was another Star Trek RPG, published in 1978 by Heritage Miniatures. As that was a year before I entered the hobby, I didn't know about its existence and, so far as I know, the game was not widely available or successful)
The RPG came in a large, deep box and consisted of three books: a rulebook, an adventure book, and deckplans for Constitution-class starships and the Klingon D-7 battlecruiser. The box also included cardboard counters of starships and individuals, as well as two Gamescience D20s, numbered 0-9 twice. I still own those D20s and they roll just as well now as they did then. The rulebook was 128 page in length -- rather lengthy compared to, say, Traveller -- but it was quite comprehensive, covering everything from character generation to alien races to technology to starship combat. The game used a simple percentile system for skills and other actions. Combat was, in my view, unnecessarily complex, using an action point system to determine how many and what type of actions a character could perform in each round of combat. Trek isn't a purely action-adventure series, so why the designers chose to saddle it with a persnickety, over-detailed system for resolving fights, I have no idea.
What really set the game apart, though, were two brilliant sub-systems: character generation and starship combat. Character generation was what today would be called a "lifepath" system, focusing on the character's education and career and using them to determine what skills he picks up before the start of play. The result was much like Traveller's own brilliant character generation system but without the possibility of death and with much more specificity. A newly generated Star Trek character began with a history; you knew where he'd served and what he'd done while he was there -- and all with a few simple dice rolls. Character generation wasn't as fast as Traveller's but it was still reasonably breezy and a fun mini-game in its own right.
Starship combat was equally remarkable. Rather than reducing space battles to a wargame-within-a-RPG, Star Trek made it an opportunity for roleplaying. Each player character assumed a role on the bridge and had responsibilities that contributed to the success or failure of their ship's battle against enemy vessels. The game included paper "display panels" that tracked things like power output (for the engineer), weapons fire (for the helmsman), sensors (for the science officer), and so on. It was great fun, if occasionally slow, and it did demand a fairly large group of players to work well, but, back in those days, having a gaming group of 6-10 people wasn't uncommon.
FASA published Star Trek primarily in the years before the airing of Star Trek: The Next Generation, when Paramount didn't treat the property as the jewel in its media crown. Consequently, there was no exhaustive list of canon beyond the episodes of the Original Series and the (at the time) two movies -- the Animated Series was used only sparingly -- and even these were treated in a more fast and loose fashion than became common after the advent of TNG. This enabled FASA to expand the setting in all sorts of fascinating ways and, as the referee, I didn't feel boxed in by the weight of hundreds of hours of television and film, not to mention novels, comic books, and video games. Back then, Star Trek could still be plausibly called an "open" setting and I reveled in that.
FASA eventually lost the license to Star Trek, but my enthusiasm for Trek-based RPGs never waned. I was a big fan of many of Last Unicorn's products in the late 90s, particularly the near-perfect Original Series RPG, an autographed copy of which still sits proudly on my shelf. Since then, I've often considered starting up another Trek game but, if I did, I'd probably ignore anything not directly derived from the Original Series. I simply don't have the stomach for dealing with all the minutiae the various series and movies have generated in the decades since 1969. And you can bet that, if I did so, I'd be using FASA's RPG.