In the 1980s and early 1990s, I clocked in many hours playing FASA’s Star Trek RPG. I remember pouring over FASA catalogs, giving money to my parents to write me checks for mail-order Star Trek products, and then waiting six to eight weeks for delivery. This article provides an overview of FASA’s Star Trek RPG. I don’t know that you can call it a review, as I’ll be discussing the entire line. I most definitely have a bit of a soft spot for the game. Beyond many games in high school and college, in the mid-1990s, I created a FASA Star Trek website. I even had the opportunity to have a few email exchanges with one of its creators, Guy McLimore (if you’re reading this, Guy, thanks for chatting with 20-something me nearly 30 years ago).
First published in 1982, the first edition was a thick boxed set. To give it some context, this was around the time of the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The game focused on the era of the original television series and animated series. It consisted of a rulebook, an adventure book, deck plans for both U.S.S. Enterprise and a Klingon D-7 Class Battlecruiser, and various counters and panels to support starship combat.
Characters in the RPG had attributes in a percentile range, typically generated by a roll of 40+3d10 (the game used only percentile dice and d10s). Skills were also percentile based, like Chaosium’s RuneQuest or Call of Cthulhu. One bit of awkwardness is skills were, for the most part, unrelated to attributes and didn’t have default values, leading to a decent amount of winging it. However, character generation did endeavor to ensure all characters had the skills they needed. One exception is that combat was typically resolved by averaging a character’s Dexterity with the relevant weapon skill.
The tactical rules for the game were, while innovative, perhaps a little crunchy for Star Trek. Characters spent action points each game round—with the option to save some points for opportunity actions (interrupting another’s turn). Star Trek weapons are deadly—it is not only possible but likely, to be killed from a single shot by a phaser set on kill. The rules highlight this, warning players and gamemasters not to treat a game of Star Trek like most RPGs of the time—and to embrace setting weapons on stun.
While starship combat was, in some ways, its own game, it nevertheless was an extension of the RPG—various “control panels” included gave characters different roles in starship combat. For example, the commanding officer would give broad orders. The other characters would execute those orders as they saw fit. Ships had limited power, and the chief engineer would allocate that power to different systems. The helmsman would fly the ship (often firing weapons), the navigator controlled shields, etc.
Character generation was one of the most popular features of the Star Trek RPG—and all later Star Trek RPGs made use of some variation of FASA’s character generation. Character generation was a life path system—characters gained specific skills for different experiences, including their homewards, their time at Star Fleet Academy (the spelling more commonly used at this time), and various tours of duty, rolled randomly. Depending on a character’s Intellect, Luck, final rank, and position, they’d need to complete a certain number of randomly generated tours of duty.
The blue “Adventure Book” that came with the first edition included three adventures:
- “Ghosts of Conscience” – The characters try to determine the fate of U.S.S. Hood, lost in an attempt to use interphase technology as a weapon (as seen in “The Tholian Web”).
- “Again, Troublesome Tribbles” – a sequel to “The Trouble with Tribbles.”
- “In the Presence of Mine Enemies” – characters are captured by Klingons and must escape.
The early Star Trek adventures had the feel of episodes of the original series—evacuating an entire doomed planet, meeting the Gorn that Captain Kirk fought, dealing with a research station whose inhabitants had vanished.
A second edition of the game was released in 1983 in several variations. There was a basic game with rulebooks and dice, with the starship combat rules, deck plans, and adventure book available separately. There was also a deluxe version that included the starship combat rules.
While both editions of the game were focused on Star Fleet characters, after the release of the second edition, FASA also published several supplements that detailed other backgrounds, including rules for character generation. These included:
- The Klingons – Published in two editions and really worthy of its own article. FASA’s Klingons supplement was very influential and used the background John M. Ford developed for his novel The Final Reflection (with Ford also being one of the supplement’s authors). You can still find elements of this in modern Star Trek productions—for example, The Black Fleet, mentioned in Star Trek: Discovery, had its origin in the John M. Ford/FASA Klingons.
- The Romulans – With less background from the movies and television show, FASA had to make up quite a bit more. FASA’s Romulans did trace their origin from ancient Vulcan, but were transplanted by aliens known as the Preservers in prehistory, said Preservers being worshipped by FASA’s Romulans as “The Great Brothers.”
- Trader Captains and Merchant Princes – Rules for playing independent characters looking to make some cash.
- The Orions – Details on the privateer/smuggler/blockade runner/all-around troublemaker Orions.
- Star Fleet Intelligence – Star Fleet spies in space.
Except for the Romulans and Orions, there were published adventures making use of the various backgrounds available to characters.
FASA also developed their own mini-setting within the Star Trek universe known as “The Triangle,” a neutral region of space between the Federation, Klingon, and Romulan borders. It was one part Wild West, one part Cold War thriller. For the Federation, Klingons, and Romulans, FASA published Ship Recognition manuals. Notably, as seen on Star Trek: Enterprise, they developed a Loknar class frigate that looked an awful lot like the NX-01 Starship Enterprise. They also came up with the idea that there were multiple sizes for Klingon Birds of Prey, something that came to pass in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
As the 1980s progressed, FASA’s focus for Star Trek gradually shifted to the period of the then-current Star Trek movies, with sourcebooks published for Star Trek III and Star Trek IV. FASA’s version of Star Trek became much more militaristic (by this time, the original game creators had left FASA). Catalogs kept promising a Star Fleet Marines supplement, and while marines appeared in a few adventures, a supplement for them never appeared. They also kept advertising a war game called Operation: Armageddon, which would detail two and three-way wars involving the Federation, Klingons, and Romulans.
FASA’s focus on the Star Trek RPG did decrease. Also, during this period, they published the Doctor Who RPG and Battletech. Judging by their advertising, they focused on their standalone starship combat game and its miniatures—I seem to recall the back cover of Starlog magazine often had advertisements for the miniatures.
With Star Trek: The Next Generation coming to television, FASA did publish two supplements for that game, and during the first season, you could see occasional appearances of an Orion Wanderer starship on random computer screens. FASA’s TNG. supplements apparently drew the ire of Paramount Picture, as they had a tendency to fill in blanks by making things up—things that would sometimes be obsolete by the time of publication. While a set of deck plans for U.S.S. Enterprise-D was solicited but never produced (though you can find these plans online at Cygnus-X1.Net). After these two TNG. supplements, Paramount ended its license with FASA.
How has the game aged? Obviously, it is very badly out of sync with the current Star Trek canon. However, it was an innovative and playable game. Its character generation is, with justification, fondly remembered and influenced later Star Trek RPGs. While high school me preferred the later evolution of the game, older me thinks they got things nearly perfect at the start, and the game suffered a bit from its hawkish turn, though one can argue this was in keeping with the contemporary movies.
~ Daniel Stack
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