FASA’s Star Trek: The Role Playing Game: The First Seven-Year Trek

FASA logoFASA Corporation was founded in 1980 by Jordan Weisman and L. Ross Babcock III, who were friends and fellow gamers from the United States Merchant Marine Academy; they were joined five years later by Mort Weisman, Jordan’s father. The company name was, originally, an acronym for “Freedonian Aeronautics and Space Administration,” a humorous reference to the Marx Brothers film Duck Soup. Originally a licensee for Game Designers’ Workshop’s Traveler roleplaying game, FASA produced supplements set in that science fiction universe. When FASA acquired the license to produce the first Star Trek roleplaying game, this proved highly influential in the game’s design.

Paramount rejected four versions of the game; the company felt that the games presented relied too heavily on combat mechanics, which clashed with series creator Gene Roddenberry’s more utopian vision. A fifth version, designed by a freelance group named Fantasimulations Association, was finally approved, and the game was released in late 1982.

Game Setting and Background

Box art from the first edition of Star Trek: The Role Playing Game (1982).
Box art from the first edition of Star Trek: The Role Playing Game (1982).

At the time that the game was produced, there was very little of what is now regarded as Star Trek canon: there was the original television series, the animated series, and two films. There was a growing catalog of other licensed works, however, and they all began to draw from each other to build a mostly consistent universe that expanded on the existing canon. One might even be inclined to call it an expanded universe.

The majority of the game supplements were set in the era of the Star Trek movies, which were in contemporary release during the game’s production. A few were set during the run of the original series, nearly two decades earlier in the timeline, and two supplements were released for Star Trek: The Next Generation after the first season of that series aired.

Timeline and Reference Stardates

When Star Trek: The Role Playing Game was published, the Star Trek timeline, as it is now understood, did not exist; the Star Trek Chronology by Michael and Denise Okuda, which guides current Star Trek productions, would not be written until 1994. At the time, Paramount had licensed the publication of the Spaceflight Chronology in 1980, and the future history chronicled in that book is substantially different from what is familiar to modern fans.

Captain Kirk holds his hands up in surprise
Captain Kirk needs a minute

While the Okudas made several of what they referred to as “basic assumptions” in creating their chronology, the Spaceflight Chronology took a different approach. The original series was notoriously inconsistent on the year in which it was set. In “Space Seed,” the first episode to feature Khan Noonien Singh, the date was explicitly stated to be two centuries after Khan’s ship left Earth in 1996, and “Tomorrow is Yesterday” reinforced that figure when Kirk said that the threat of his incarceration for two hundred years “ought to be just about right.” “The Squire of Gothos,” by contrast, established that the crew was viewing images of eighteenth-century France from the light that had left Earth and traveled at relativistic speeds to their location on a planet nine hundred light years away, meaning that the series must instead be set in the twenty-seventh century. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan further muddied the waters by opening with the tagline “In the 23rd Century…” and having Khan repeat that it had been two hundred years since he had lived on Earth.

In the Star Trek Chronology, the original series is set almost exactly 300 years after it aired, in the 2260s, as a “basic assumption,” following the explicit reference to the original series being set in the twenty-third century. The Spaceflight Chronology, however, using the more explicit dates from both “Space Seed” and Wrath of Khan, attempted to split the difference by setting the first season of the original series (and, by extension, “Space Seed”) 2207-2208: still in the twenty-third century, but close enough to the two-century mark that the second reference still stood.

Chronometer from "The Naked Time"
Chronometer from “The Naked Time”

The all but random stardates of the original series made them unreliable at best for use as an actual dating system within the game. When the game’s second edition was released in 1983, a new dating system known as the Reference Stardate was introduced. Based on the Gregorian calendar in everyday use on Earth, it was similar to a system in use by many fans to create their own stardates. The Reference Stardate system used the year 2000 as a base; if the year was WXYZ, the Reference Stardate would work out as X/YZMM.DD: January 4, 2188, for example (the date given in the FASA/Spaceflight Chronology timeline for the commissioning of the U.S.S. Constitution NCC-1700), translates to Reference Stardate 1/8801.04. Earlier dates were also possible, with the events of “City on the Edge of Forever” being stated as November 19, 1930, or Reference Stardate -1/3011.19.

Game Mechanics

Several multi-sided dice
Several multi-sided dice

The game was based on percentile rolls obtained with a pair of 10-sided dice. Character stats were listed for dozens of skills with a percentage rating, and dice rolls were made—against set difficulty targets, the players’ skill ratings, or a combination of both, plus any bonuses or difficulty modifiers—to see if a character was successful in completing a task. The higher the level of the skill, the greater the chance a roll would succeed, as rolls were required to be equal to or less than the skill.

As was common with roleplaying games of the era, numerous tables and charts filled the game manuals for character creation, equipment data, and skills. The game also used different styles of maps for miniature play. In ground-based scenarios involving the players’ characters, a square-based map was used, as was common with other roleplaying games of the era. In space-based scenarios, such as ship combat, hex-based maps were used instead, allowing a wider range of motion from one space to the next.

Supplements and Expansions

The Four Years War cover
The Four Years War cover

Between 1982 and 1989, nearly four dozen supplements and expansion modules were released for Star Trek: The Role Playing Game. In an era where very little other material existed, FASA helped to fill the gaps in Star Trek lore, and the effect of their work continues to be felt decades later.

While the depiction of the Romulan War from the supplement of the same name ended up being radically different from what we would see of the same era on Star Trek: Enterprise, it nevertheless informed the views of an entire generation of fans. Likewise, the supplement on The Four Years War, which depicted a conflict between the Federation and the Klingon Empire more than a decade before the events of the original series, would inspire several fan-created novels and fan films, as well as the first season of Star Trek: Discovery, which envisioned a similar, albeit shorter, conflict.

The Triangle
The Triangle

The addition of the supplements “Trader Captains and Merchant Princes,” “The Triangle,” and “The Triangle Campaigns” allowed players for the first time to create characters that were not Star Fleet officers (in the 1970s and ‘80s, Star Fleet was the standard spelling for the organization, and the change in spelling to Starfleet was brought about by Star Trek: The Next Generation). The supplements also opened up a whole new, unexplored side of Star Trek: civilian life, something that would be further explored nearly a decade later on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The supplements went into great detail about the economics of the future… which, at this point, had not been established to be “somewhat different” and somehow not involve money.

“The Triangle” also introduced the concept of a frontier area in a region where the borders of the United Federation of Planets, Klingon Empire, and Romulan Star Empire met. This, too, has been subtly reintroduced in modern Star Trek canon, by way of a comment by Captain Picard about “the Triangular region” in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, as well as its inclusion in the book Star Trek: Star Charts, which was then reproduced almost exactly for on-screen maps in Star Trek: Discovery.

Chandley class frigate
Chandley class frigate

FASA created dozens of new starship designs for the various powers, including the Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans, as well as the Gorn and the Orions. They parlayed these designs into a hugely successful miniatures line that, while originally intended for use as game pieces, ended up outlasting their own license by continuing to another, related licensee as collectibles. FASA produced three Ship Recognition Manual supplements: one each for the Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans. Additional supplements were planned for the Orions and the Gorn, but the abrupt loss of the license meant that they never saw print.

Loss of License

Star Trek: The Next Generation Officer's Manual cover
Star Trek: The Next Generation Officer’s Manual cover

While the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation featured many subtle references to licensed material, it also contradicted some things that fans had come to take for granted as a valid part of the Star Trek story. Many things established in the two Next Generation supplements produced by FASA had already been contradicted by the show almost as soon as they were published.

In 1989, Star Trek: The Next Generation was wrapping up its second season, and Paramount was seeking tighter control over licensed works based on the franchise. A power struggle was underway for control of the franchise, with Roddenberry’s lawyer wielding unprecedented and increasing authority in the day-to-day operation of Star Trek, while Roddenberry’s health began to fail.

Fending off an alien creature
Fending off an alien creature

That year, Paramount suddenly revoked FASA’s license to produce games based on Star Trek. The decision was attributed both to a desire for greater control over the franchise, as well as concerns over the amount of violence depicted in FASA’s game supplements, particularly a planned supplement about the Star Fleet Marines and a related game involving a scenario where the Federation preemptively attacked the Klingon and Romulan empires. The sudden move to revoke FASA’s license drew the ire of many fans.

Star Trek: The Role Playing Game has long held a place of affection, even reverence, in fan circles, and it has enjoyed something of a renaissance in the Internet age.

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