10 May 2016

Treks Not Taken: FASA Trek What If?

  I've talked about my deep and abiding love of FASA Trek before.  One of the first RPGs I procured on my own, and one I played and read a LOT of during my "happy place" years of 1986-93.  Something I often wonder about - the "what if" scenario - applies to several games.  Things I might write about later.  What if the Robotech II: The Sentinels RPG reflected the way the Sentinels campaign would have actually played out?  Like, Cyclones from the get-go, Perytonian wizards, etc.  The VF-1V Vindicator was more than an animation error, that sort of thing.  I've often wanted to run that game "as written" forgetting all I know of the revised canon, the comics, etc.

  It's the same with FASA Trek on at least two levels.  Much like Star Fleet Battles and their divergent universe, FASA Trek had a lot of information that is now incompatible with established Trek canon.  The difference is that for almost a decade FASA Trek *was* licensed and official.  During the dry years of Star Trek, when there was only the films and novels, FASA created a version of Star Trek that will always be my head-canon.  I know this is true of many other fans, what with the Axanar fan film making some direct references to data from the FASA Four Years War supplement. 

  At this point in fandom, there was quite a bit of cross-pollination of an ideas.  The FASA Trek canon followed the Star Trek Space Flight Chronology by Rick Sternbach, and in turn a lot of Shane Johnson's information from Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise found its way into FASA canon and vice versa.  It was not as tight as the Star Wars EU that existed from the Thrawn Trilogy until Disney dismantled the EU-as-we-knew-it, but it was close.  With nothing more than a cartoon series and a feature film every 2-3 years there was a long, dry period of Trek where things like the RPG, novels and the DC comics run sought to fill our yearning for more Trek.  FASA did an amazing job with this, introducing the best take on Klingons that has ever existed, that of John M. Ford.  Though most modern Trek fans know only the Biker Vikings of TNG and later, the Klingons of FASA Trek were much more nuanced, much more akin to their Cold War Soviet roots from the original series.  A rich culture that revolved around more than just warriors appeared in the FASA books, and in Ford's excellent The Final Reflection

  The story goes that FASA started to get into hot water with Paramount and Gene Roddenberry himself over the "militarization" in the RPG.  Now, in the defense of FASA, gamers tend to solve problems with their fists/swords/phasers, so it's not out of the realm of common sense that the game would have some combat themes.  After all, the Tactical Combat Simulator boxed set wouldn't be much fun to play with if there was never starship combat.  It was about this time that Star Trek: The Next Generation came about, and FASA's last two official Star Trek products were TNG books that, also according to legend, pushed them over the line and caused Paramount to refuse to renew the license.

  I recently spoke to one of the authors of these two books, and asked about some of the decisions that were made in writing them.  One major problem was that Paramount itself had not quite decided on many of the particulars of Star Trek: The Next Generation as the books were being written.  Compound that with gamers wanting more and more information and FASA was forced to make up some details that were later proven by canon to be wildly inaccurate.  This brings me to my idea to run the game "as written" and forget about all the canon past Season 1 of TNG, which is the point at which the FASA material stops.  The differences between the books and what we saw evolve in TNG are intriguing.  I'll go over a few of them below, and you can see what I mean, and the feel of the TNG game I'd like to run.

  Among the things you'll find in the TNG Officer's Manual that jump right out at you are immediately apocryphal representations of rank insignia, uniforms and ships.  The fun part is a lot of these would be really useful had they actually appeared in the series.  The idea of diamond-shaped pips for enlisted rank insignia would have neatly solved the problem of Chief O'Brien wearing a single hollow pip (when the costume department didn't have him wearing lieutenant's pips) until they invented CPO rank insignia for DS9.  In fact, the hollow pip stood for the rank of Ensign Junior Grade in FASA's book.  Now, I have no idea what the function of an Ensign j.g. would be, but it'd be fun to work in there.  There's pay scales (which make perfect sense to me, since Starfleet personnel have to be able to interact with cultures that aren't post-scarcity) and mentions of enlisted training centers and alien integration programs.  All pretty neat stuff that makes for good story fodder.  In these books, the Ferengi are still menacing, not the buffoons they became, and the game makes some attempt to explain brand new bridge roles.  It was actually the bridge roles that made me contact the author and ask a question.

  So, new roles in Starfleet that might be fun for gaming.  The Ship's Counselor is mentioned, and it is stated that while Betazoids are in many of these positions Deltans and other psionic races sometimes fill the position.  Hmmm... a Deltan counselor.  And you thought Deanna Troi got people's motors running.  The role of the Tactical Officer is discussed, and interestingly while there is still an enlisted specialty for comunications, the officer specialty has disappeared in deference to the cross-training of the bridge officers.  Now, I've seen Worf described as a "Warp Propulsion Specialist" in various Season 1 resources, but if that were his role, why isn't he wearing a mustard uniform from the get-go?  I think Worf and Geordi both fit the description of a brilliant concept FASA created to explain the interchangeable officers in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  That idea is the Bridge Command Specialist. 

  The idea behind the BCS was to explain how we saw Worf and Geordi bouncing between stations.  We also saw Geordi, as a Lieutenant (j.g.) placed in command of the Enterprise at least twice during Season One (Arsenal of Freedom and Angel One) when there were explicitly more senior officers aboard, like Lieutenant Logan, one of the revolving door of chief engineers the Enterprise-D had in Season 1.  So why place a Lieutenant (j.g.) in command when more senior personnel are available?  Well, this, too is part of the Bridge Command Specialist training package.  A BCS gets a familiarization with Starship Combat Strategy/Tactics along with Astrogation, Helm, Communications and Sensors skills.  A jack of all trades, capable of at least normal operations at any given bridge station.  So, even at such a junior rank, the BCS is already on track to have the broad skills a starship commander needs.  I really, really like this concept.  It means that your PCs can do what the characters in TNG tend to do- and that's swap stations like mad at need.  By using elective rolls during character creation and spending advancement rolls during the campaign, each PC will develop preferences and specific skills that edge up into the expert ranges, but they will be broadly competent in case a player can't show and a key station goes unmanned. 

  Now, there are a couple of hiccups with the BCS as written.  One is the odd Navigation/Helm skill that appears despite Astrogation and Starship Helm Operation both being present.  I was told this was due to the initial interpretation that the Ops station was actually a TOS-style navigation station and that helm and navigation were still separate jobs.  There is also a Sensor Analysis skill that appears in several training packages, but not in any of the writeups of the actual TNG crew, who would presumably have the skill if it were part of their training.  Of course, Worf lacks the Security Procedures skill, so...  Also, the BCS gets no specific leadership training, which I would argue should be part of the package.  Now, I initially thought that Sensor Analysis was a shortening or mislisting of Starship Sensor Operations, but no, both appear on the Science Specialist skill list.  Sensor Analysis does not appear in the Star Trek 2nd Edition Officer's Manual, either.  It's not on the character sheet.  So what is it?
  So, it's pretty obvious that I'm looking at doing some FASA Star Trek tinkering and upgrading.  Clean up some of these odd skill entries, tinker a bit with the skill lists for various bridge stations, and come up with a Season One (FASA Style) TNG RPG.  I wonder if this is a project worth doing?  I wonder if I'll get around to it?  This blog seems to be a great place to discuss the concepts and ideas for the game.

  OK, so back to TNG FASA Style as-written.  Well, first of all we have a Starfleet that is nowhere near as hard-core Roddenberry as what we got on screen.  They get paid.  There is still a Galaxy Exploration Command and a Military Operations Command.  Starfleet is explicitly both the Federation's military and scientific arm.  Now, it's worth noting that during Season One of TNG the show itself was a bit inconsistent about this point.  In "Encounter at Farpoint" Riker berates Geordi for not delivering his report from the position of attention, and himself braces to attention twice when dealing with Picard on their initial meeting.  A few episodes later Q derides Picard for being too used to "military privilege" and Picard doesn't snap back the familiar line from later episodes claiming that Starfleet is not a military organization.  Despite the uniforms.  And weapons.  And rank structure.  Etc.  I like FASA's solution - Starfleet both is and is not the military.  Any vessel may be used in a military operation at need, but the Enterprise belongs in Galaxy Exploration Command and is therefore assigned to those types of missions most of the time.  One would assume there are vessels that spend all their time on patrol and escort missions and very rarely explore strange, new worlds.

  So, the character and "feel" of Starfleet is a mixture of FASA-isms and what we see in the very early episodes of TNG.  We have Klingons that are still mostly of the John M. Ford model, in fact some of his ideas wormed their way into the first big Klingon episode, "Heart of Glory" in Season One.  As Klingons were fleshed out more in TNG, the Ford material got buried in favor of the now-familiar Warrior Race rhetoric.  I find the more cunning and calculating Klingons to be a lot more interesting.  The Ferengi are presented as an actual threat to the Federation economically, socially and militarily.  The Romulans are described as "satanic" in their machinations.  So, we have a very hazardous galaxy.  The Klingons are part of the Alliance with the Federation, but there are a significant minority of rogue Klingons who yearn for the older days of Klingon supremacy.  This sounds a bit like those who pine for the days of the Soviet Union, most of whom weren't alive when the Soviet Union was in full swing.  But anyway...

  We have, through descriptions of what happened between ST:IV and TNG, a very different view of the TNG realm.  We have writeups for NPCs like Simone VanGelder, granddaughter of Simon Van Gelder of the Tantalus Colony.  We have an early writeup of Noonien Soong.  We have some starship classes that we never did see, due to FASA kitbash creativity and no budget in TNG.  We have a group of new character "classes" that are greatly increased in breadth but lack the depth of expertise of Kirk's time.  In a way, I like this since the bulk of specialization will occur in play, allowing for more character growth and player-driven specialization.

  How would a campaign "feel" if run using these assumptions?  If the Cardassians did not exist, and the Ferengi were the big bads?  If the Klingons still had some nuance, and the Romulans were much more of an active subversive, calculating threat?  Can a Starfleet that focuses on versatility do the same quality job as the Starfleet of yesteryear that focused on razor focus?  Would you make a PC of the ship's Crewmaster, the officer in charge of wrangling the families and dependents on a Galaxy-class ship?

  We'll explore some of these ideas more as I have time.  I am really in a FASA-Trek mood.

1 comment:

  1. I found and still find FASA Trek (and especially its Klingons and other concepts of the major civilizations) far more intriguing and compelling than anything Paramount has produced since about 1982.