Thursday, December 8, 2011

The History of FASA Trek

You probably already know the story of Guy W. McLimore, Greg Poehlein & David F. Tepool's Mekton supplement, Mekton Empire (1990). But there's an equally interesting tale behind their development of FASA's Star Trek RPG. A couple things really stand out to me. One is that they had to do a rush job on the project. That probably explains why the campaign advice was so sparse. Another is that they eventually split with FASA over the company's push to militarize the game. But I'll let McLimore tell the story in his own words.

1st edition cover

Star Trek: the Roleplaying Game

Guy McLimore, Greg Poehlein, and Dave Tepool were privileged to add their small part to the Star Trek legend as the authors of Star Trek: The Role Playing Game for FASA Corporation. As long time Trekfans, the trio is still very proud of the work they did on this project in its early days.

Guy, Greg, and Dave, operating at that time as Fantasimulations Associates, were assigned the Star Trek project by FASA after five other design teams had failed to turn in a manuscript that both FASA and Paramount Pictures would approve. FASA's license option was about to run out, and they needed to get a product into print almost immediately.

"We had only a few weeks to create character creation, character combat, and starship combat systems," remembers Guy. "When we made that deadline, FASA assigned us the entire project." It was to absorb almost all of their design efforts for the next several years. Guy, Greg, and Dave created the first edition of the basic ST:RPG rules, which debuted at a Trek convention in Omaha, Nebraska. The game was an immediate success, and soon became the second best selling RPG in history at the time (although well behind #1 - Advanced Dungeons and Dragons).

The first boxed set included both the role playing rules and a role playing style starship combat system that remains unique among game systems. Instead of a tactical board game, the role playing combat system offered players the chance to sit at "consoles" for the various bridge stations and perform their duties by allocating power to various systems, setting course, activating the shields, and firing weapons.

A series of expansion volumes soon followed, all written by Guy, Greg, and Dave, including The Klingons, The Romulans, and Trader Captains and Merchant Princes, which introduced non-military personnel as player characters for the first time. Most of the early adventure supplements were also written by one or more members of the trio. David created and later revised the Star Trek Tactical Ship Combat Simulator, which was eventually boxed as a separate component of the system and probably outsold even the role playing game because of its fast play mechanic and authenticity.

The main books of the system, including the Basic Game and the Klingons, Romulans, and Trader Captains supplements, entered a second edition, using the Fantasimulations Associates systems and text that was edited by John Wheeler. The second editions proved even more popular than the first.

FASA was already pursuing another success story in the form of Battletech. Future warfare was very popular, and FASA was in the forefront of the new gaming craze.

FASA's desire to stress the combat aspects of Star Trek led to disputes between them and the Fantasimulations Associates designers, who wanted to maintain the less-violent focus of the Star Trek TV series. This led to ST:RPG projects being assigned to other designers, and eventually to a payment dispute which ended the three Fantasimulations Associates designers' association with FASA and the Star Trek property.

The later ST:RPG works became very controversial in fandom because of their focus on military themes. Gene Roddenberry returned to active interest in licensing (during the initial planning of Star Trek: The Next Generation) and was reportedly unhappy with the change of approach to the game materials. A number of proposed FASA projects were turned down when submitted to Paramount for approval. One short-lived sourcebook was actually sent to press and distributed before Paramount had ruled on it. When it was turned down by the licensee, Paramount insisted that FASA withdraw the book from publication.

Eventually FASA's license to produce Star Trek materials was not renewed, and the game went out of print. Copies usually bring high prices from used game dealers. Paramount never again allowed a role playing game license to be sold for any Star Trek property, despite the interest of companies such as TSR, Mayfair Games, and Steve Jackson Games, until January 1998, when a license was granted to Last Unicorn Games.


Byteknight said...

Aaah, the greatest RPG of all time. The mid-80s were years of bliss for me GMing FASA Trek.

Interesting tidbit of information though as I always assumed that Guy, Greg, and Dave owned FASA.

I'll always blame Roddenberry for killing the FASA Trek license. Sure, it was his creation, but his leotard-clad V'Ger-what-is-our-place-in-the-Universe vision was the kind that doesn't bode well for RPGing. Just look at ST:TMP and the first two seasons of NG.

Jerry Cornelius said...

I don't know if I'd go that far, but the game does have a lot to recommend it. And I sympathize with Roddenberry. FASA was taking the game in a Star Fleet Battles direction. I think you can run fun games without going that way.