For many old-school gamers, it was the original Star Trek role-playing game – with no bloody A, B, C or D. Star Trek RPGs, much like the USS Enterprise herself, warped through some major refits through the decades, but few iterations can match the scope of FASA’s Star Trek: The Role Playing Game. FASA held the license for much of the 1980s and delivered a detailed and crunchy means of experiencing life in Starfleet during the classic era of Kirk and Spock. FASA’s extensive line of rulebooks, adventure scenarios and setting guides created a rich canon that often built upon elements that were only hinted at during the on-screen depictions of the Enterprise’s five-year mission.
Guy McLimore, one of three writers who sculpted FASA’s first edition of Star Trek: The Role Playing Game, was kind enough to answer some questions from EN World, conveyed by email, about his experience designing a game worthy of one of popular culture’s most revered properties. Read on to learn how McLimore got started writing for Star Trek, what makes a good Trek rpg adventure and how he thinks the game has aged in the decades since.
A Dream Job
McLimore’s experiences as both a gamer and a Star Trek fan reach back decades. He participated in the famed write-in campaign that contributed to the classic television show earning a third season when the network was considering its cancelation after its second year, and he started gaming with the original "brown box" edition of Dungeons & Dragons.
Those two passions collided at a GenCon in Kenosha, Wisconsin, while he was running a booth with David Tepool and Greg Poehlein, two friends with whom he’d established a game design partnership. The trio met FASA founder Jordan Weisman, who mentioned casually that FASA had acquired the license to produce a Star Trek RPG. The conversation led Weisman to ask the trio if they would be interested in working on the game after several other designers had failed to come up with something acceptable to both FASA and Paramount.
"I don't think I ever had to work harder to keep a poker face in my life," McLimore said. "To this day, I can't conceive of any fictional universe more suitable for a great RPG than this one. I already wanted to live there. Designing the game would give us the closest thing to that dream."
McLimore, Tepool and Poehlein scrambled to build a game engine complete with character creation, personal combat and starship operations systems to meet FASA’s 30-day deadline. The effort required some late nights, but it paid off. The game received approval from FASA and Paramount, and the trio became the core design team (credited as "Fantasimulations Associates") for much of the early FASA Star Trek catalog.
Charting The FASA Galaxy
McLimore and his colleagues stressed the importance of baking Star Trek’s philosophies of peaceful exploration and seeking out new life into the game. Their design objectives sometimes ran counter to the prevailing tastes of the tabletop industry, which emphasized combat and realistic tactical simulations. The Fantasimulations team often turned in a different direction for their game, McLimore said.
"Solutions to problems had to come from using knowledge, technology and human effort in the spirit of exploration, cooperation and good will," he said.
Even so, Star Trek: The Role Playing Game couldn’t escape the prevailing influences of the early 1980s tabletop game industry. The "simulationist" bent of the era seeped into the game design, requiring the writers to go to some wild lengths to capture a realistic feel.
"I will never forget Dave Tepool, while working on the character combat system, 'playtesting' the classic Captain Kirk dive roll maneuver over and over in real life to see how it would really affect the combat timing," McLimore said.
The design team produced most of the early content for the game, including supplements focused on the Klingons, Romulans and merchants. They also developed an extensive list of adventures scenarios. McLimore named "Ghosts of Conscience," an introductory adventure included in the deluxe boxed set, as one of his favorite accomplishments while working on the game. The adventure sends a starship crew in search of the USS Hood, which is caught in a pocket of interphase space that causes it to shift between universes. “The Triangle,” another popular supplement, offered gamemasters a ready-made sector of space full of adventure hooks for further exploration and boldly going.
McLimore said good Star Trek RPG adventures avoid the hack-and-slash storytelling commonplace in many tabletop role-playing games. Rather, Star Trek games should mimic the structure and pace of a television episode, he said, giving players opportunities to make difficult ethical decisions that affect the rest of the story that follows.
"It has dramatic highs and expository lows, pacing the action and building to a satisfying climax," McLimore said. "It presents a lot of diverse viewpoints and opportunities for very different beings to find common cause."
All Good Things…
McLimore and his colleagues remained involved through the launch of the game’s second edition, but McLimore said the team increasingly ran up against a desire from the publisher for a more militaristic tone that the writers felt clashed with Star Trek’s core philosophy. FASA tapped other editors to rework some of the presentation and mechanics for the new edition, he said.
"Our primary editor rewrote a lot of the structure with this in mind to make it sound more like a military organization," McLimore said. "I think we fought more over the Second Edition more than anything we'd ever done. We won some of those battles, and lost others."
Those creative differences, along with disagreements over payments, eventually led McLimore and his colleagues to step away from Star Trek: The Role Playing Game. But, looking back on the game today, McLimore said he sees a product that managed to offer an authentic Star Trek experience that drew many Trekkies into the tabletop world.
"We succeeded in attracting a lot of Trek fans to the game who had not previously been role players, in great measure because they found our game gave them a new way to be part of the Star Trek experience," he said. "I'm most proud of that accomplishment, at least."