Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Ads of Dragon: Star Trek: The Role Playing Game

Issue #70 (February 1983) contains a particularly memorable advertisement for me personally.
I knew -- and loved -- FASA because of their excellent support for GDW's Traveller. I was also a huge fan of Star Trek. So the news that there would not only be a Star Trek RPG but that FASA would produce it was like a dream come true for me. I played the heck out of this game and can still relate the events of many an adventure in vivid detail. If asked about my favorite roleplaying games, my standard response is that I actually have three -- D&D, Traveller, and Call of Cthulhu, in that order. But, truth be told, I suspect Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game probably deserves to be in that august company. What a great game.


  1. I owned, played, ran and loved this game too. We even designed our own ship (with no idea of what it looked like inside, so when deck plans became available the insides of the USS Glador looked nothing like), and peopled it with an entire crew: spent hours generating our bridge crew. Great game. Wish I still had my copy :(

  2. I couldn't agree more, and this was probably my second most played game after AD&D itself.

    I was particularly fond of the Starship Combat Simulator; a stand-alone game where Federation, Klingon, Romulan, etc. ships would fight. They had an excellent line of miniatures for the game, and I had a ton of them, of course.

    The "Klingons" supplement was something of an interesting thing in and of itself. It marked the first time that Paramount allowed two third-party licensees (Pocket Books and FASA) to combine forces; John M. Ford's ideas about the Klingons from his novel "The Final Reflection" were heavily incorporated into the Klingons FASA supplement (the explanation for the differences between TOS Klingons and movie-era Klingons, for instance). Of course, that was eventually replaced by later television works, but at the time it was a huge deal within the fandom community, as it was deemed to be "semi-official canon".

  3. I'm curious to know James whether the game system itself is excellent, or whether it was a case of the subject matter making up for a less-than-stellar set of rules.

    The reason I ask is that I have a copy of this game and some of the supplements tucked away in a box. Our group never played it (I bought it to encourage a wargamer-buddy who was a huge ST fan to join us in roleplaying but somewhat surprisingly he showed a lot more interest in giving AD&D a spin) and was wondering whether it's worth a second look all these years later?

  4. It's odd, given that TOS is far and away my favorite version of Star Trek, but I never owned or played this game. No one in my local group back then was the least bit interested, so I passed on buying it. Time to look for an after-market copy, I think.

  5. @Joseph: Actually it was the other way around. He was given the opportunity to write the Klingon supplement and used the source material to also write one of the two best Star Trek novels ever. Both of his novels have subsequently been officially consigned to being "an alternate reality," and each of which directly resulted in a considerable tightening of the restrictions of writers of the Star Trek books. Despite this, A Final Reflection and How Much For Just The Planet remain two of the most popular of the Pocket line of books.

    There was no conspiracy. Pocket liked Mike's pitch for a book (a first contact book from the Klingon point of view) and FASA was quite happy to have Mike write a Klingon supplement for them. They were written just after the first movie, and as Mike wrote, the biggest problem was reconciling the difference between the TV Klingons and the brief view you got of the movie Klingons. Something that was later made canon by Trials and Tribulations.

    The problem is, Mike was a good enough world-builder to actually create a Klingon Empire that was both actually functional and a viable threat to the Federation. The movie writers, and subsequently the people that wrote The Next Generation writers guide, wanted space barbarians with an honourable warrior ethic, and were more interested in their individual story lines than portraying a cohesive whole.

    It also presaged the later uproar between dedicated trekkers with regard to the activities of Star Fleet with the discovery of the Founders (which I found quite acceptable as people in panic will do hasty things, and the true Star Trek captains [in the form of Sisko] counselling that it was an overreaction), with the idea that the Klingons were actually more advanced than the Federation in some areas, and that elements of Star Fleet would actively act as they did. [No spoilers. Go read it if you haven't. It's good.]

    FASA was given remarkably free reign with the licence property because it literally wasn't worth a Paramount's executives time to monitor such a minor licence property. The problem came when they produced first The Next Generation supplement, at which point Simon & Schuster (Pocket) complained to Paramount that "four pages of characters did not a role-playing game make," and that FASA was trying to cash in by making a technical manual, which was their cash cow. Comparing the licensing revenue for each use, Paramount immediately revoked FASA's license with cause.

    [Interestingly enough, a lot of the FASA terminology crept back into both the various technical manuals and even the main show in later series. Usually because it was extremely evocative, and role-players are good at building a consistent universe. Not to the level of WEG's Star Wars, which actually became the official writer's bible when Tim Zahn was given a complete set as his reference material for the Star Wars universe. Which just goes to show, role-players can bring much needed consistency to a licence.]

  6. Interesting and cool.

    Note that Traveller and Star Trek have another new connection.

    It looks like the new Prime Directive RPG will use the Mongoose Traveller rules

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  8. "John M. Ford's ideas about the Klingons from his novel "The Final Reflection" were heavily incorporated into the Klingons FASA supplement (the explanation for the differences between TOS Klingons and movie-era Klingons, for instance). Of course, that was eventually replaced by later television works, but at the time it was a huge deal within the fandom community, as it was deemed to be "semi-official canon". "

    Though different, the Klingons of the TNG era did seem to have many of the traits attributed to them in Final Reflection, particularly their clannishness and their ideas about House honor. The explanation for the discrepancy in appearance between the TOS and Movie era Klingons was finally "revealed" in Enterprise. Not surprisingly it was very much in-line with that given by Ford in the 80s. Likewise the Terra Prime movement from the later Enterprise series fits well with Ford's depiction of Earth during that Final Reflection era.
    Though not ever acknowledged AFAIK, I think Ford's book was influential with later TV writers particularly Ron Moore.

  9. I went completely crazy playing FASA's Trek rpg from 1983 to 1990. We played Starfleet, Klingons, Intelligence, Romulans, but my group's biggest love was the merchant campaign. We had a solid 5 years of playing merchant rogues on a Mission Class.

    The game even spilled out into real life for us, as we used John M. Ford's words from the Final Reflection.

    But all good things come to an end. I was particularly bitter when TNG came out and they started retconning the Star Trek universe as depicted by FASA.

    And when Paramount killed the license, I was devastated.

    Long Live the FASA Trek years, the happiest of my life.

  10. This was a game that my group back then never really grokked; for I think 2 reasons. We started playing /Star Fleet Battles/ about the same time, and I guess we were more wargamers at heart; and the RPer faction in our group never liked SF in any form.

    Thus, we struggled with STRPG, and didn't really have fun with it.

    I've kept up with SFB, and have lately taken an interest in Traveller. The announcements for the lash-up between the two games pleases my greatly.

  11. I don't know if I ever actually played this game, but it's spectre hangs heavy and happy over my childhood. My old man did a ton of art for FASA in the '80s,, so there was just tons of comp copies of everything around the house, and my brother and I poured over it like it was holy scripture.

    To this day I strongly prefer Mike Ford's Klingons to the dopey canon ones we got later on.

    I don't do much actual play of any game at all these days, but I often get the itch to break this game out and run one of the published adventures (I have long since appropriated most of them from my dad...).

    Also, I second Joseph regarding the Starship Tactical Combat Simulator. That I have actually played, and it's pretty much brilliant.

  12. Mostly it's just a percentile roll-under system with modifiers. The personal combat system is a little bit of a dinosaur (spending Action Points to do various things) and I think that the damage and healing rules might be more complex than is really necessary, but they it would be simple to smooth out in actual play.