28 October 2013

FASA Trek - A Return To Yesterday

  It's 1987, and I'm in the seventh grade at Chisholm Trail Middle School in Round Rock, Texas.  This school and the friends I had there are responsible for putting me on the path to being an unrepentant gamer for the rest of my life.  From my first D&D books in 1986 to my rapid acquisition of FASA's Star Trek : The Roleplaying Game and Robotech from Palladium, it's just gone nuts from there.  I stopped counting my book and game collection when I got over 1,000 books.  Now, this counts multiple copies and things like 32-page adventure modules and GM screens, but it's still about 70 shelf-feet of "active" library of books in my game room, with 60 shelf-feet of games and that's not touching the archive boxes.  But I digress.

  I've been a Star Trek fan as long as I can remember.  Somewhere, out there, my mom has a picture of toddler me in a Mr. Spock t-shirt - like, a small Trek uniform with stripes on the cuffs and the arrowhead insignia on the breast.  Like every other child born in the mid-70s, I had Star Wars figures.  A lot of Star Wars figures.  That said, one of my favorite toys (until my uncle Jon sat on it) was a Star Trek : The Motion Picture Enterprise toy that made sounds and could be taken apart and converted into several different re-arrangements of hulls and nacelles.  My Mammaw (East Texas for "Paternal Grandmother) hand-embroidered an Engineering arrowhead on a sweat shirt that I wore as a uniform shirt throughout middle school.  I was a huge Trek nerd.   I had the story records and comics - you know, the ones where Sulu is black and Uhura is a blonde?  I had the films on VHS, I watched the TOS re-runs every afternoon after school.  As an aside, did anyone ever notice that if Star Trek was shown in another TV show or movie the episode being shown was always "Spock's Brain?"  Also - my personal experience growing up was that if I ever missed TOS re-runs, or if I happened to tune in in another town, the episode being shown was ALWAYS either "Devil in the Dark" or "The Apple."

  Enter the two Trekker bibles of my youth.  Now, being born in 1975 I remember a time when Star Trek was just Star Trek.  There was no TNG, DS9, VOY or Enterprise and certainly no Abrams reboot.  Up until I was in Middle School, there was naught but the original series and Treks up to Search for Spock.  The Voyage Home came out my sixth grade year.  In those days, there was a rabid and prolific fan publication community.  Problem was, this was pre-Internet, dear readers, and a kid like me had no way of knowing what was out there.  I received as a gift a copy of the Star Fleet Technical Manual

  This book opened my imagination in a way that I'm not sure a book had before.  Sure, by that time I'd read "The Hobbit" and played D&D and was well on my way to being the creative mess I am today- but Star Trek was something that I had grown up with, something that I identified with and that held a great deal of fascination for me.  Inside the cover of this plastic-bound tome I found a wealth of brain fodder from the fonts used in the show to the Articles of Federation to the actual rank and insignia charts to patterns for the uniforms.  There were schematics of phasers and tricorders and the flags of Epsilon Eridanii and... more ships!  In the original Star Trek we only see Constitution-class ships like the Enterprise.  Here we were introduced to the Scout, the Destroyer, the Transport/Tug and the mighty Dreadnought.  I felt a bit like the culture from "A Piece of the Action" that read Chicago Mobs of the Twenties and decided to live their lives the way the book told them to.  Like the Iotians, I was, shall we say, imitative.  We founded our first Star Trek club at Chisholm Trail.  We forged passes into the Apple II-equipped computer lab to used Bank Street Writer to make crude manuals and schematics of starships.  We started to devour everything we could about Star Trek - and I was the ringleader.  Enter Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise by Shane Johnson.  Now we're talking!

  "Scotty's Guide" was a book done to illustrate all the changes made to the Enterprise in Star Trek : The Motion Picture and it was a more modern, more information-filled book than the original Technical Manual.  There was a lot of explanatory text that filled in the universe with so much detail I couldn't help but memorize most of the book.  What engine company produced the warp nacelles for the refit Enterprise?  Why, those are FWG-1 pattern warp drives by Leeding Engines, Ltd.  and the Enterprise was the first ship to mount them.  Little did I know that a lot of Mr. Johnson's writing would become apocryphal in later years since Paramount basically ignored anything that was never shown on screen.  The nice thing is that Mr. Johnson had used the otherwise excellent Star Trek Spaceflight Chronology to make sure at least his publication jived with other popular fan publications.  I wouldn't see the Spaceflight Chronology for many years, but reading it now I can see that not only did fandom take a huge cues from this book, but FASA's Star Trek Roleplaying Game used it as the basis of their timeline and technology.  Scotty's Guide told us what was available from the food synthesizer units, where the lifeboats were, that there WERE lifeboats, how the decks were numbered, etc.

  So there we were, Star Trek geeks just exposed to role-playing through Dungeons and Dragons (Mentzer Red Box and Blue Box, naturally) and being told there was a Star Trek Roleplaying game!  By the time I'd gotten my hands on the FASA-Trek basic boxed set, I had played D&D, AD&D, Marvel Superheroes, Traveller, Gamma World and a few other games.  Star Trek was the first game I played that resonated with me on a "realistic" level - I know, I know.  Marvel and Robotech were based on cartoons.  D&D, Traveller, Gamma World - great games, but not based on something I'd been steeped in forever.  I hadn't yet found West End's Star Wars RPG - but I would in 1989 and it would change the way I looked at game rules.  Anyway, here was Trek.  It used a percentage dice system that seemed sharp and "scientific."  It had a life path method of creating a character - by the time my Science Officer was ready for play I knew how he did at the Academy, what missions he had been on before now (Colonial Operations?  Yawn.) and what skills he had.  I could even compare his skill ratings to the classic Trek crew.  The Cadet's Orientation Sourcebook filled in even more information about the Star Trek universe for myself and my friends.  We took it for gospel, married to Scotty's Guide and the Black Book.  From this trio of sources we started our Star Trek adventures.  The Game Operations Manual had rules for generating planets and missions - and when we saw in Starlog and Dragon magazines that there was a ship combat game, I saved up my money and went to King's Hobby and bought it.  Now we were cooking with gas!  The FASA ship combat game came with rules for using your RPG characters to run your ship in combat!  Holy crap!  Now, by this time we were playing MechWarrior First Edition so the idea of an integrated combat game and RPG wasn't groundbreaking to us - but this was STAR TREK!  The Deluxe Boxed Set even came with "consoles" designed so that you could lay them in front of your players and have each player move chits on the console to track damage, power, weapons fire, casualties...  It was the closest thing to a live-action RPG I had ever done at the time.  And it was wonderful.

  Just two weeks ago, some of my friends from the Starship Texas club decided we wanted to play some Trek.  Now, the club has fully endorsed Savage Worlds as our universal game engine of choice, and I've even made a custom SW character sheet with our ship's logo on it.  Something called to me from the boxed set shelf, and I turned to see the FASA Trek goodness staring back at me.  Yes, it had to be done.  Thus were the voyages of the TOS-era Starship Texas begun by myself along with Jim Cook - who had been there at Chisholm Trail Middle School when it all began.  With us we had Quinn Bratteng, Tony Walker and Cody Wyatt - who hadn't been born yet or were wee lads when our adventures began.  We created a crew of stalwart adventurers in Gold, Blue and Red who each had histories and backgrounds that would form the core of future stories.  Jim and Tony even came up with a plot hook based on their both having rolled randomly and found that each of their characters had just come off a 5-year tour on a Constitution-class starship.  Was it the same ship?  Did they know each other?  Turns out they were two of the only five survivors of the mysterious destruction of U.S.S. Hornet - a plot point we will explore as the game goes on.  Our Vulcan science officer studies Vulcan martial arts in the hopes that the centering it brings will help him toward the achievement of Kohlinar.  Our half-Vulcan security chief is a Chief Petty Officer who served against the Klingons in the Four Years War.

  The adventure thus far has been everything I had hoped for - as it turns out, you can sorta go home again.  I say "sorta" because with 27 years of gaming experience under my belt, I know the FASA system is clunky by modern standards.  I've already started the house rules.  In fact, I've got an 11-page document revamping character creation to include enlisted characters, and people who direct-commission from civilian life due to holding degrees in law, medicine or engineering.  But screw the rules problems - what about the GAME?  The Story?  Well - it was GREAT.  The crew of the Texas take her out of spacedock after an EoSL (extension of service life) refit for her post-refit shakedown, and find themselves stranded on the wrong side of the Klingon border without warp power.  For the first time in decades I had a crew who played Star Trek like Star Trek - and not McHale's Navy In Spaaaaaace.  We had a blast.  People played in character and acted as one would expect a character from TOS to act.  We even had TOS morals and tropes going on that I'd not have imagined this bunch to grok (aside from my fellow grognard Jim.)

  Those of you that follow me know I struggle with stress, depression and overcommitment to my way-too-busy life and that gaming is the one thing besides playing with my kids that really helps me calm down.  Even gaming lately has become more labor than love - and I've thought more than once about cancelling what little gaming I get to do here and there to try and reboot my brain.  I was starting to lament ever really "getting into" a game again.  In the last two weeks I've been reintroduced to two of the games that were absolutely seminal to my appreciation of the hobby - FASA's Star Trek and WEG's Star Wars.  Thanks to the Starship Texas group and my Wednesday irregulars...  I've gotten my groove back as it were.  I've been gaming for the sheer enjoyment of gaming, rather than because I'm committed to running a game for people.  Too often I carve out precious schedule time to run a game because I feel required to do it to entertain my friends, but then stress out over the game in the exact opposite effect of the one I'm trying to fix.  FASA Trek has helped me find the parts of my brain that absolutely love Star Trek and gaming.  And it looks like I'm going to be able to keep doing both, at least once a month when the Starship Texas meets.

Live Long and Prosper!