Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Retrospective: Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier

Earlier this year, I talked about FASA's Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game and, more recently, about FGU's Starships & Spacemen. Each represented a different take, one official, one not, on Gene Roddenberry's brand of science fiction adventure in roleplaying form. However, they were not the only such takes in the early days of the hobby. In 1978, miniatures manufacturer, Heritage Models released a 40-page RPG to be used in conjunction with their line of official Star Trek miniatures. Called Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier, it was written by Michael Scott and is both the earliest licensed Trek RPG and one of the earliest science fiction RPGs of any kind.

As one would expect from a RPG with only 40 pages, Heritage's Star Trek is a very simple game. Indeed, its rules are so minimal that it's barely a game at all. The "basic game" does not have any character creation rules, assuming the players will select pregenerated PCs based on characters from the Original and Animated series. Like D&D, all characters have six abilities (Strength, Dexterity, Luck, Mentality, Charisma, Constitution), ranging in value from 3 to 18. Characters also have Hand-to-Hand (melee combat) and "Initiation" (i.e. initiative) abilities. There is no skill system; instead, a series of 3D6 rolls under abilities is used to handle most activities in which a character might engage, with Luck being used as a saving throw. Melee combat is based on opposed rolls, with a defender subtracting his result from the attacker's and positive numbers being used to determine damage, which is subtracted from a character's Constitution score. Ranged combat is a bit more complex and relies on a chart that cross-references a character's Dexterity score. There are also some very basic rules for equipment, such as communicators and medi-kits, as well as a sample scenario.

The Advanced Game enables players to create their own PCs by rolling 3D6, modified by bonuses or penalties based on species. There are two new abilities introduced here: Size and Movement. Psionics, which were treated simply through the use of a Mentality roll in the Basic Game, are given slightly greater coverage, including differentiation between types of psionic powers (the Basic Game included only a mindlink). Alien races and lifeforms from the series are given short write-up, along with rules for creating one's own. There's a similar collection of short descriptions for many types of equipment. The Advanced Game's combat rules are noteworthy primarily for being more "fiddly," particularly with regard to time and movement (hence the new stats). There are many more modifiers, in addition to rules for armor and shielding. There is a sample adventure for the Advanced Game, along with guidelines and advice to the "Mission Master" in creating his own.

All in all, Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier is more a sketch of a roleplaying game than anything else. It's painted in very broad strokes, far moreso than even OD&D or Metamorphosis Alpha, two early games that often get knocked for their brevity and rules lacunae. Compared to Traveller or even Starships & Spacemen, both released the previous year, Star Trek doesn't seem to have much to recommend it beyond the fact that it was "official." Of course, my opinion clearly wasn't shared by all, as there were several interesting expansions to the game included in various gaming publications well into the early 80s, including a lengthy "mini-supplement" in issue 18 (January 1982) of Chaosium's Different Worlds by Paul Montgomery Crabaugh. Crabaugh's article greatly expands the rules of the game, adding mechanics for rank, experience, skills, aging, salaries, world generation, and warp travel. It's hard to imagine trying to use Star Trek without Crabaugh's expansions and, even then, there's still a lot of ground, such as starship combat, that isn't even touched upon.

I know nothing of the origins and history of this RPG; I never even saw a copy of it until comparatively recently. Nevertheless, I can't shake the feeling that it was created primarily to create a larger market for Heritage's miniatures line, thus explaining the greater detail given to things like movement and range in the Advanced Game. Remember that, in 1978, Star Trek, though popular in certain circles, was not yet the media franchise that it would become in the aftermath of its big screen adventures, the first of which was still a year away at the time of the RPG's release. That might well explain why Heritage never did much with the game and it became one of the great mysteries of the hobby, unknown to the vast majority of gamers, including those who love Star Trek. Of course, it might also be because the game isn't particularly good or memorable.


  1. What's Kirk's Charisma? Is it higher in his Shirtless Kirk aspect?

  2. Kirk has a Charisma of 16, the highest among the pregens, but there is no mention of his having a bonus to it while shirtless.

  3. I think his Constitution gets a bonus for each rip in his shirt during melee.

    His Luck & Charisma get bonuses for...
    ...each protracted segment of...
    ...his giving a moralizing speach... reach the hearts & minds of his...


  4. Heritage seemed like it had a good start for a game, but it sounds like it dropped the ball as far as content. I would have been interested in playing a more fully-fleshed out version of that.

    FASA's Star Trek and Doctor Who games were fantastic sourcebooks, but they were poor RPGs (they used the same system, and I own them both). I played in a Doctor Who game; we had a copy of the FASA rules on hand but pretty much ignored them.

    Task Force Games, makers of Star Fleet Battles, actually had a pretty nifty Star Trek inspired RPG called Prime Directive. I don't think it went anywhere, but I had a campaign running in that for a bit.

  5. You're correct about this little game being primarily a marketing tool for the Heritage ST miniatures line; they also did the Barsoom rules for the same reason.

  6. The rules as you describe them sound like a very slight variation on Tunnels & Trolls, actually.

  7. Steelcaress, Amarillo Design Bureau still publishes Prime Directive, though they don't have an in-house system anymore. They are currently putting out material for D20 Modern, but they also have some GURPS-based books available, as well.

  8. We played this a few time back around 1980. It was mainly A quick play set of rules for the Heritage minis line. The minis line drew heavily of ST:TAS for new aliens. I remember ST:AGitFF actually had write ups for more aliens and creatures than the first version of the ST:tRPG from FASA. My copy of ST:AGitFF has a different cover:

  9. One of the games I regret not getting back in the day was FASA's Star trek

  10. I just picked up some more Heritage what end, I'm not exactly sure. But I have Andorians!

  11. 2 questions:

    (1) Does Kirk regain hit points when he scores with an alien babe?
    (2) Does growing a goatee cause an alignment shift from good to evil?

    These are the important questions people want the answer to.

  12. The oddest thing about this product is it's very generic and unfortunate cover. There is nothing about this cover that screams 'Star Trek.' You would thing that with an official license they would have been able to put the Enterprise on the cover, at least an illustration of the iconical ship. The generic nature of the cover almost makes the product look like a knock off rather than an officially licensed product

    "John Carter, Warlord of Mars" published by Heritage the same year had a much more exciting cover depicting John Carter, Deja Thoris, and Tars Tarkan in all their glory. I can't imagine why they wouldn't have done something similar for Star Trek.

  13. GW - don't forget the one-word sentances for emphasis - must be some sort of "word of Fear/Strengh" power/spell...

  14. Star Trek is tough to translate into an RPG, it seems. FASA was okay, the rules weren't so user-friendly, and the LUG and Decipher versions don't have that Trek feeling to me. Still waiting on a great Trek game...too bad West End Games isn't around to make it.