Where One Particular RPG Boldly Went…

I will always be a D&D fan. If all the various RPGs I’ve played in my life were listed in order of time spent playing, D&D (and AD&D) would hold the top spot. But a close second would be a game from another very popular gaming company called FASA (rhymes with NASA). FASA will be remembered (fondly) by many of us for Shadowrun and BattleTech — and BattleTech would definitely fall in the Top 10 on my list. But for me, FASA will always and forever be linked to Star Trek: The Role Playing Game.

I couldn’t tell you at what age I discovered Star Trek (The Original Series) but it had to be around age 7 or 8 because I remember assembling communicators in third grade from notebook paper that would flip open and close and we would draw little buttons and speakers on them as we navigated the dangers of the playground during school. (A side note — we had a huge tractor tire on a chain that was our Enterprise and the PE teacher would swing eight of us high and fast on that thing as we held on for Warp 5. This would never be allowed in today’s schools.)

All through middle school I would run home (a half mile from the bus drop off) to try and catch the first 5-10 minutes of the reruns that were on one station. I was almost always just a bit too slow and sometimes had trouble figuring out what was going on. It would take years and years to finally see every TOS episode in their full glory, but something amazing happened during my 8th grade year…

During a routine landing party investigation of Koby Hallmark Shop in Pensacola, FL the following box was discovered.

Star Trek RPG 1st Edition Box

This was Star Trek: The Role Playing Game (1st Edition), featuring a painted cover of Kirk and Spock and the Enterprise in orbit above an orange planet. It took me a few weeks to mow and rake some lawns, but thankfully the game was still there when I returned home. I remember tearing into the contents in the backseat of the car as my dad drove me home… what was inside that box was an amazing collection of reference material for any Star Trek fan, but for this kid who had enjoyed only a few plays of two science fiction games, Metamorphosis Alpha and Gamma World, the box was filled with pure treasure.

Let me start with the rulebook. I’ll include some images of the rulebook content below, but be aware the book was originally a glued paperback. RPGs didn’t have a good reputation at my middle school at the time, so we kids went to great lengths to hide our gaming material. (I cannot recall the number of times I tucked a Dragon magazine into a history book or some other textbook, but it’d be a high double-digit.) Forgive me for what you’re about to see, but at the time it was just an easier method for transporting (and hiding) our gaming materials. After a few games (I was always the Gamemaster, and was happy to do it), it became apparent the rulebook was falling apart. The glue just wasn’t holding up. So, I took a blue binder, pulled the pages out and punched them, and in they went. Here’s a photo of the cover of the rulebook inside the binder.

ST RPG Blue Binder

You may have noticed that although the box is showing its age, both the box cover and the rulebook cover are in pretty good shape. I had a habit of laminating the covers of my game books and boxes that came from a hard learning experience of seeing my AD&D Player’s Handbook cover getting faded and worn after less than a year. (AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual got the laminating treatment right after purchase and have held up quite well over the decades.)

Here are some random internal pages from the ST RPG 1st Edition rulebook. Although the rulebook wasn’t in full-color, I appreciated FASA putting in SOME color… blue was used for various headers and fonts and simple graphics. Click on the thumbnails below to view pages that include Weapons, Rank Info, Equipment, Races, Building a Character (along with the original character sheet format), and the original ST characters with stats. You’ll also find the back cover of the rulebook that shows the profiles of various original ST TOS ships and photocopies of the character sheets I kept in the back of the blue binder.

ST WeaponsRank InfoEquipmentRacesCharacter CreationOriginal CharactersBack cover

While this was a full-fledged RPG, it didn’t ignore ship-to-ship combat. I’ll go into the details of combat shortly, but below I want you to see some other items that came in the box — a foldout hex map with a star background and hundreds of punch out counters for the various ships of the Federation, Klingon, Romulan, and other races. Other punch out counters were used for the dashboards of the various ship combat roles that I’ll talk about next.

Star MapCounters

As with the television shows, the various adventures that my players went on were 80-90% role playing, with them assuming the roles of captain, science officer, etc. and interacting with the NPCs (non-player characters). My ST RPG gaming group consisted of three consistent players and two off-and-on players. Because of this, players frequently handled multiple roles and characters. I don’t remember the name of the ship, but my players were on Constitution class Federation ship (just like the USS Enterprise) and tried to avoid ship combat if at all possible. But ship combat was sometimes inevitable, and for those times it did occur we would pull out photocopies of the various dashboards that would be used. Below you’ll find some thumbnails of a few of these sheets. Players would use chits to indicate settings such as shield strength, photon torpedoes loaded, and so on. The largest dashboard was a two-page Engineering sheet where that player would need to allocate energy from the engines to the various systems needed for combat. Also here are the Gamemaster dashboards for controlling the Klingon and Romulan ships.

Engineering DashboardComm and HelmScience and NavigatorKlingon Romulan Dashboards

I’ll be honest here — ship combat was not fun with the 1st edition rules. We used them and tried our best, but it could be tedious. (I’m telling you this because later I’ll show you how FASA streamlined the dashboards as well as show you an option we tried to integrate into our game for ship to ship combat.)

Outside of ship combat, however, the game provided an amazing level of details for GMs to run a campaign. Tucked in the box was another book (stapled) that provided me with some initial missions for my players —  (1) Ghosts of Conscience, (2) Again, Troublesome Tribbles, and (3) In The Presence of My Enemies. One thing FASA did very well with all of its missions was to provide GMs with maps of the various areas that players might investigate. Below you’ll find the cover image of the three mission book as well as some internal pages from the missions. Notice that the maps are super-detailed and include things like chairs, panels, doors and much more. Rooms were labeled and the maps allowed me to provide good descriptions to my players.

Original MissionsMaps

If you flipped the mission book over you’d find the first Ship Recognition Manual. (I say first because Ship Recognition books would become popular supplements to buy from FASA as the game matured… more on this in a bit.) The Ship Recognition Manual contained technical information on both the Constitution class ship and the Klingon D7. The cover provided the deck profiles of both classes of ship (see image below), and the inside details provided deck-by-deck descriptions.

Constitution D7Deck Descriptions

Now, the deck-by-deck text descriptions weren’t all that useful without the next item that FASA provided in each box — complete deck blueprints for both Constitution and D7 ships. And just as I stated earlier, the level of detail on the blueprints is incredible. Below you’ll find a handful of thumbnails that show just how much detail went into these maps. I kept these in protective folders and they’ve held up quite well and look like I bought them yesterday. The Ship Recognition Manual (with Missions on the flip side) and a few other items were hole-punched and put in another notebook. Yep — a Trapper Keeper folks!

Constitution BlueprintsConstitution DeckConstitution ProfilesShuttle DeckD7 BlueprintsD7 ProfilesD7 EngineeringTrapper Keeper

FASA also was good about releasing the D&D equivalent of modules in the form of ST RPG Adventures. While many were released, I only purchased one, The Vanished. Just like the mini-missions that came with the original boxed game, the books contained a large number of details for the GM that included detailed maps, personnel background and stats, and background information that players would be expected to know (as Starfleet officers). This mission revolved around a loss of communication with Federation Deep Space Research Facility 39, and had no ship-to-ship combat but plenty of dread and suspense as players investigated two different issues — an unknown race of creatures and a new transportation technology gone bad. The 40-page book was a really fun adventure to run!

The VanishedCreaturesStation Maps

For most of my 8th grade year (and the summer following), my friends and I had a ton of fun playing ST RPG. And then things changed… the 2nd Edition was released. (The only thing I can remember about obtaining this box was that it was Winter because I remember distinctly offering to rake the 2.5 acre front yard of this retiree’s home for the cash… and freezing my rear off to do it.) Below is the 2nd Edition box cover.

2nd Edition Box Cover

This box has held up better over the years! Inside was much of the same material (including another set of the Constitution and D7 blueprints!), but there were rule changes and some streamlining of ship combat. Instead of one rulebook, the game came with three separate books — Cadet’s Orientation Sourcebook (basic rules and character creation), Star Fleet Officer’s Manual, and the Game Operations Manual. (Once again, these were separated, punched, and inserted into one big white binder along with some other fun items I’ll share shortly.)

Cadet's Orientation SourcebookStar Fleet Officer's ManualGame Operations Manual

The graphics and layout were much improved in this new edition, although the images were still black and white. Below you’ll find a dozen or so images from inside these books. These include the newly designed character sheet, a territories map, NPC design info, a world log sheet, fast player character cheat sheet, alien creature log, and a weapons data sheet. Mission details (such as maps) remained the same.

New Character SheetTerritories MapNPC DesignWorld LogFast Character GenerationAlien Creature LogWeapons Table

Ship combat in the 2nd Edition was given an unusual twist — GMs were given three options for running ship combat — (1) Wing it (not kidding!), (2) purchase the ST III Combat Simulator supplement or (3) purchase the Enemy Combat: Bridge Alert RPG supplement. I did grab the ST III Combat Simulator supplement that used a simplified Tactical Display (see image below) in lieu of the multiple player dashboards , but we just never really could come to enjoy it. Still, some of my players wanted something different than dashboards and tactical displays, so we chose a completely different route that had its pros and cons. I had seen (but never played) a few games of Starfleet Battles. This was not a RPG, but a starship combat simulation game. I won’t go into great detail here, but in a nutshell ships were represented by simple sheets of paper with small boxes that represented shields, weapons, hull, engines, and more. The game was OVERLY complicated in my opinion, and the rulebook alone was a monster to read with all the sections and sub-sections. We tried it but ultimately returned to the ship combat rules from the 1st edition. Below are some images of the Starfleet Battles rulebook and supplies we used for a short time. (Take note of the single image of page 18 and the density of the rules — the rulebook was 47 pages, most of them just as dense as this one.)

Starfleet BattlesPage 18ST III Combat SimulatorTactical Display

Now, by the time we were well underway playing ST RPG, Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan was out. Rather than release a completely new version of the game, FASA began to release supplement gaming material such as new Ship Recognition Manuals. What’s interesting (and somewhat funny) about the new Federation Ship Recognition Manual was that it really only offered up two “official” ship updates — the Constitution class and the Reliant class (Research Cruiser), both from Star Trek II. The remaining twelve classes of ships in the Federation Ship Recognition Manual were completely new — most had the familiar Federation saucer shape and then some strange combo placement of the engines. A few might be argued to be similar in style to Vulcan ships (based on the single encounter of Spock’s transport from The Motion Picture). My favorite, however, had to be the Chandley class (in one of the below images). Still, the Recognition Manuals (I only had the Federation version), were a nice supplement for fleshing out a campaign.

Recognition ManualChandley Class

Of all my purchases of ST RPG gaming material, the only item I truly look back on as somewhat useless was the Ship Construction Manual. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the book with all its charts and graphs for putting together your own ship was just overkill. The book included info for creating your own dashboards or tactical displays as well as icons to use if you wanted to create your own deck layouts. The 44-page book was nice to look through, but I don’t recall ever creating a ship we used in our games.

Ship Construction ManualWarp Engine Tables

With Star Trek III and Star Trek IV, FASA had a ton of new material to work with in terms of ships, races, and technology. Both the ST III and ST IV sourcebooks were useful for updating our game to the (then) current movies. The ST III Sourcebook had updated character stats (including those for NPCs like Carol Marcus and Khan among others) as well some new ship specs including those of the Excelsior and the Klingon Bird of Prey! Tucked in the back of the Sourcebook, however, turned out to be one of our favorite missions titled Lost and Presumed Dead. Players encounter a derelict USS Republic (old Constitution class), lost 15 years prior. The mission had elements from an episode of TOS and was quite enjoyable to referee if memory serves. The ST IV Sourcebook Update also had some new information, but more than half of the book was focused on new races from the movie.

ST III SourcebookExcelsiorST IV Sourcebook UpdateEfrosiansBird of PreyLost and Presumed DeadUpdated Character Stats

What else? Below are some random items. FASA released a Gamemaster’s Shield with a mix of useful and not-so-useful tables. I typically used it just to keep players’ eyes off my notes. You’ll also find the front and back of a FASA Order Form. I have a lot of order forms from various companies that I’ve collected over the years, and it’s always nice to reminisce by looking down the list of all the games that I actually DIDN’T ever play… I wonder what they were like? You’ll also see a photo of some gaming magazines that came out around that time… NEXUS was pretty slick, and I still have the first two issues although I know I had more. Gateways was okay, but cast too wide a net IMO and tried to cover too much science fiction gaming (including comics, movies, and even some fantasy stuff). This was issue #10 and it just didn’t grab me. And finally, an image of the back of the 1st and 2nd edition Star Trek The Role Playing Game boxes. Black and white images were from the 1st edition, color from the 2nd.

Gamemaster ScreenGM Screen 2FASA Order Form 1FASA Order Form 2Back of BoxesGaming Magazines

I don’t remember when we stopped playing ST RPG. Probably sometime late in 10th grade. Most of us got driver’s licenses and jobs and found other interests (girls were on that list). The gaming stuff got boxed up and put away… and there it sat for almost 20+ years as life progressed — high school, college, work, family.

It was a fun walk down memory lane going through all this stuff. I must have sat in my office and looked through every page. Hours later, I started taking pictures. Those decades are long-gone, but the non-digital games produced in such a short period of time were just amazing.  I feel very fortunate to have lived during that period of time when games like D&D, Top Secret, Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Paranoia, ST RPG, BattleTech, and so many more were available to me via friends or a few hours at the gaming group (above Sears).

Ethan Gilsdorf wrote a great article recently titled “All I Needed To Know About Life, I Learned From Dungeons & Dragons.” Click the link and read and see if that statement applies to you. But for me, it wasn’t just D&D. Every game I played with my friends was a time to socialize, to laugh, and ultimately to stretch my imagination and create something. And that’s a skill that’s never left me.

My Look Back At Top Secret RPG
My Nostalgia Shelf

About James Floyd Kelly

James Floyd Kelly is a writer from Atlanta, GA. His latest two books are "Arduino Adventures: Escape from Gemini Station" and "Kodu for Kids." He and his wife have two young boys who are into everything, literally and figuratively.

About James Floyd Kelly

James Floyd Kelly is a writer from Atlanta, GA. His latest two books are "Arduino Adventures: Escape from Gemini Station" and "Kodu for Kids." He and his wife have two young boys who are into everything, literally and figuratively.

12 thoughts on “Where One Particular RPG Boldly Went…

  1. We didn’t play much of the RPG, but we played the heck out of the Starship Tactical Combat Simulator. That was the update of the original Star Trek III set and it was far more accessible than the venerable Star Fleet Battles game.

    We played around with the control screens, but since we weren’t doing the RPG we quickly skipped them and went on to the stand alone versions. It played enough like Battletech that it was easy to pick up on and the component quality was, for the time, pretty darn impressive. I still use the heavy cardstock ship flats for games.

    It was a great starship combat game. Also, FASA’s sourcebooks always blew us away. There are many things in their history that we came to like more than the official timeline.

  2. What an excellent writeup of a great game! I too enjoyed FASA’s Star Trek. The supporting material was so good, and it felt amazingly true to the Star Trek universe. One of the top five gaming experiences of my life was running “A Doomsday Like Any Other” and having my players come together as a really cohesive crew. We used the Starship Tactical Combat Simulator, but I had each player character issue tactical recommendations to the captain, based on their crew role. It worked amazingly well and they demolished a flight of Klingon warbirds that had expected an easy kill.

    I’m sure because of a tangled licensing legacy and other business and legal issues it is impossible, but an Ultimate Star Trek RPG incorporating all of that original material with updated rules would be one awesome Kickstarter.

    • Well, FASA is back on Kickstarter, so who knows? The OGRE KS was a huge success, and I would back a re-packaging of the ST RPG.

  3. It is always a nice surprise when I come across someone who has such fond memories of Star Trek: The Role Playing Game. As one of the original designers, I can tell you that the time I spent with my long-time collaborator Greg Poehein and the late David Tepool working on the game, supplements and adventures still stands out as one of the best creative experiences of my life.

    I still remember the day we were offered the project out of the blue by FASA’s Jordan Weisman. For me, it was the dream job — the project I had always wanted. As a Trek fan and gamer, the Star Trek universe was the most incredible place to explore. The three of us felt very privileged, spending a number of years placing our own small mark on this incredible adventure setting.

    Many of my favorite memories of my career as a game designer come from my Star Trek days. Among my favorites:

    * Working around the clock with Greg and Dave to meet the tight deadline for the manuscript before the FASA license lapsed.

    * Opening the very first case of the First Edition boxed set in a hotel room the night before debuting it at a major Star Trek convention.

    * Replaying the bar fight from “The Trouble with Tribbles” with Jimmy Doohan and Walter Koenig reprising their roles at a charity event.

    * Collaborating with my much-missed friend John M. Ford on The Klingons supplement and having our team written into the climactic scene of his Star Trek novel “The Final Reflection” as Klingon officers.

    * Meeting the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself in an elevator in St. Louis and giving him a copy of the game (and finding out years later from Majel Barrett Roddenberry how much Gene had liked it).

    These are things that stick with you for a lifetime. Greg’s clever and fun game mechanics and David’s peerless starship combat rules formed the strong framework of the system, while I did my best to keep the role playing experience true to the spirit of optimism, adventure and diversity that made the Star Trek universe so special to all of us. We had a great time doing it.

    Hearing after all these years from people who played (and apparently are still playing) the game who think in some measure that we succeeded — that’s the best thing of all. Thanks for playing.

    • Guy,

      Thanks so much for chiming in and offering up some background on the game’s development.

      I had three friends who enjoyed playing ST:RPG as much as I enjoyed running the campaign. We’d occasionally get an extra player, but for most gatherings it was just the four of us. That blue binder went to school with me for many many months… my grades never suffered and school was often a bore, so I would entertain myself by reading the missions and coming up with my own. At one point, that summer between 8th and 9th grade, we were playing probably twice a week… sometimes more.

      You should consider documenting the game development experience with your fellow designers at some point… I know that many fans would enjoy hearing more details about how it came to be, and I’d be happy to create an update pointer in the future to steer fans to anything you posted online. I’d also be interested in hearing anything that didn’t make the game. Or content that was in the works but never got published.

      One of the commenters here (Erik) suggested a Collector’s Edition or something. I’m sure the licensing is probably a nightmare, but I agree it would be an amazing thing to pull together all the best stuff in a special release like Steve Jackson Games did with OGRE (and will be doing with Car Wars). I see that FASA is returning to game publishing after a long break — would be even better to see them involved if possible.

      Thanks again for reaching out, and I am so happy to be able to share with the GeekDad readers about this game.

  4. Wow that’s a treasure trove of Trek! Count me as another owner of the boxed Startship Tactical Combat Simulator set which I somehow managed to keep mostly intact. I upgraded from the cardboard markers though to Micro Machine “minis”.

  5. AH! The nostalgia takes me WAY back. I picked up the 2nd edition, and I loved the 3 rulebooks. I loved the expanded timeline, the way you fleshed out your character by having them go through schools and cadet cruises. Unfortunately, my fellow gamers were not into trek, so I could never get a game together with them. But I would spend hours pouring over the game and imagining.

    Oddly enough, I felt the STTNG release never really seemed to fit. There was a very different feel with STTNG and it was (in my opinion) released before STTNG got into it’s creative groove and found its voice.

    Besides D&D, I was able to get Shadowrun, Battletech and the West End Games Star Wars RPG going. As far as fun, I thought the West End Star Wars was a blast. Those rules were so easy and it did a great job of capturing the universe.

    Thanks for writing this and letting me take the trip!

  6. Wow! I happened across this blog while looking for pictures of the old Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual. Anyway, I remember the Star Trek RPG well, back in 8th grade, my friend and I worked all summer so we could save up to buy this set along with a few adventure modules. We spent the Fall and Winter exploring the galaxy and solving complex mysteries. How I miss those days.

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