Remembering FASA’s StarTrek RPG

This is a re-blog of my post on Loremaster.org, “Remembering FASA’s StarTrek RPG.” For my thoughts on adopting the composite skill system for your Dungeons & Dragons game, see my last article, Composite Skill Bonuses in the d20 System.


I played D&D Sunday night [10/23/2011], and something came up that I thought I’d share with everyone. I was fondly remembering FASA’s Star Trek game from my high school years. I left [Dungeons & Dragons] in 1981 (not returning until 2005), but for a brief time in high school (1982 or 1983), I bought up materials from the FASA Star Trek game and played it a couple of times. I really miss that game and would like to do a 1-shot or 2-shot game. In 2007, I played the Demand of Honor adventure, which involved the Gorn, but online play was very “unsocial” and lacked the feel of true RPGing.

Can I Cook or What?

I’ve been very lucky to have founded a group that’s open to trying other systems. We’re currently in the midst of a Savage Worlds: Weird Wars campaign because we tried out that system one night (in the Deadlands setting). We’ve also played some Dragon Age RPG but have done nothing more than create some characters and run through a single sample encounter. Tonight, Hal Mangold of Green Ronin Publishing gave me two sourcebooks for DC Adventuresthe Hero’s Handbook and Heroes and Villains Vol. I, and although I’ve never been a comic book fan, I played a demo at GenCon run by its creator, Steve Kenson, and so it remains a candidate for our next experiment.

Still, FASA’s Star Trek would be my first choice for doing something different. As the one who’d be pushing the system, I probably wouldn’t get to be a player, but I love GMing as much as I do playing, so I can live with that.

What’s the Big Deal?

Of all the systems I’ve played (admittedly, not many), none immersed me as much into the setting as the bridge combat system. The hand-to-hand combat system was good, but when dealing with inter-ship battles, I felt like I was on the bridge of a starship. It was so good that they sold the system as a separate product. It could stand on its own.

Visualize the bridge of an Original Series starship. You have the science officer at one workstation, the helmsman at another, the communications officer at yet another, and so on for navigation, engineering, weapons control (for the Original Series movies), and of course the captain’s chair. Other than the captain, this is what the gaming table looks like. Everyone has their spot around a common center. The only difference is that, in a game, everyone always looks towards the center rather than occasionally.

Each of these work stations would necessarily have a different control panel on it. The science officer had a goofy sensor viewing thingy, the helm had it’s own in the Original Series, navigation had a star chart, weapons control had targeting systems and what amounted to “triggers” for the weapons, and so on. For the game, each of the players had their own control panel on paper tailor-made for their handling their responsibilities and tracking the resources for which they were responsible, roughly simulating a bridge workstation. The captain would make decisions on how to proceed, then ask the relevant character to carry out the order. This would usually necessitate a skill roll on the d100 system, and not surprisingly the character was built to contribute in ways appropriate for his position on a star ship.

In other words, there was a chain of command, but it was still a cooperative game, just like 4e [Dungeons & Dragons]. Although it’s certainly possible to play a 4e game without a leader, it helps if you have a healer. The same was true of Star Trek. Yeah, the captain’s in charge but can’t do it all. The time for the captain’s hands to get dirty was when it was time to make contact with others, and captains certainly were built to be good at that.

The game also addressed technology thoroughly, from starship weaponry, to sidearms, to medical and science equipment. All of the major races were addressed, including the Caitian from the animated series. In fact, at DDXP last year, I got to play one. My Gamma World GM created pre-gens for his game, and one of them was a Catian lieutenant from the Star Trek universe who had been stranded here by the Big Mistake. (At the time, he was playing in a FASA Star Trek home game.)

The game even had an ingenious explanation for why Original Series Klingons looked so different from the movie Klingons: The ones from the Original Series were “human fusion” Klingons, genetically combined with humans to make a Klingon better suited to deal with humans. The game took this to the next logical step, introducing Romulan-fusion Klingons as well. The Imperial Klingons (from the movies) existed, but they weren’t the first choice for dealing with humans, so you never saw them on the TV screen. Taking this level of detail even one step further, the game provided a ton of words from the Romulan language. This attention to detail is exactly the sort of thing a fan of the Original Series, like me, would love.

Finally, because everything was handled via the skill system, it wasn’t a burden to have a long list of skills for each character. This allowed each player to customize their character. Kirk liked to ride horses, Picard had a strong background in archaeology, and Riker played the trombone. Your character had plenty of skill points to spend. If you were an optimizer, you could certainly max out your engineering, but you didn’t have to do so. In fact, the game was basically built assuming some characters would be optimizers and others actors (i.e., role-players). Any character could be played by any player type, but because there was always a need for both role-playing and roll-playing, both player types could find a home somewhere on the bridge. Making sure everyone at the table is happy is a goal I’ve set for myself with organized play, but FASA Star Trek makes it easier.

Oh, and FASA Star Trek called them opportunity actions long before D&D had them. 🙂

What If This Isn’t for Me?

Obviously, feeling immersed in the setting isn’t important if the setting doesn’t matter to you. I’ll ask my group if they’re interested, but I won’t beg them to do it. “Play what you like,” implies, “Don’t play what you don’t like.” This might prevent me from every playing the game again, as I might have to find a table of players willing to do so and the time to play outside my group, but there’s always hope.

So Much to Do, So Little Time

Of course, there just isn’t enough time to do all the things I want to do. I’m currently having trouble focusing on a few projects for the Gamers’ Syndicate, and I’m essentially in a job hunt. Once successful in my job hunt, my time might become even more precious. We can’t have everything we want, and I can accept that, but there’s so much out there to do, I don’t see how I could ever get bored.

Either way, consider (re)visiting this game if you enjoyed watching Star Trek. You shouldn’t be disappointed.

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The Dark Knight Rises: So-so Film or Simply Unable to Live up to the Hype?

The Dark Knight Rises (“TDKR”) was good, but it wasn’t very good, and certainly not great. Despite the hype around it, including claims of a possible Oscar nomination for Best Picture, it certainly wasn’t great. To give you some perspective before reading this author’s opinion, you should know a few things:

  1. I’m certainly a geek, but I’ve never been a fan of comic books;
  2. Accordingly, as someone who doesn’t know the stories, I don’t bring backstory into the theater with me, instead requiring the movie (or, as here, trilogy) to stand on its own;
  3. Unlike many comic book fans, I recognize that the substantial differences between the two media (i.e., comics and movies) prevent the movie from staying completely faithful to the original comic;
  4. As far as I can tell, I’ve never allowed hype to affect my enjoyment of movies; and
  5. I give a ton of leeway to films that require me to suspend my disbelief by so much.

I’m going to try to minimize spoilers, but at this point, I’m guessing most people that might find their way to this blog have already seen it. For those that haven’t, if you have any capacity for deductive reasoning, you’re going to be able to deduce what I’m saying, and that’s as good as me just saying it outright. Ergo, you’re being warned:

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

Damn, for an Action Movie, It Sure Did Drag at Times

I really appreciate that filmmakers are making longer movies. We’re paying increasingly higher rates for movie tickets, so they all should feel burdened to give us our money’s worth. Instead of a 90-minute movie, the entire story should be told by adding 30-60 minutes of movie. I don’t want to fault the film for adding an extra 60 minutes, but filling in those 60 minutes with more setup material (for a subplot) is not what I had in mind. There’s enough setup required for the primary plot. I don’t need another round of it partway through the movie. Some of it is necessary, as subplots themselves are important to a film with any significant depth, and we need to understand what’s going on in the characters’ heads. TDKR took it too far, though. I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for things to get interesting again, and eventually they did, but if the extra 60 minutes is boring filler, we’re better off with a 90 minute movie after all. (Note: Not all of the 60 minutes was unimportant, so in this case, I would have cut out about 30 minutes of the movie. That’s just a guess, though. I’d have to see the movie again to be sure, so come back here after the movie hits HBO. I’m not going to see it in the theater again.)

Would you like an example of where we could have used some boring filler that would actually make the story more cohesive? Well, then . . .

The Hidden Enemy

Even with a movie where I must suspend my disbelief to enjoy it, it seems a bit much to expect me to believe that a character would spend his or her entire life becoming one of the rich and powerful in a sinister plot . . . to bring down the rich and powerful. Huh? How do you think people get rich and powerful? The lottery? Usually, no. Inheritance. Yeah, sometimes, but all of the rich were targeted simply because they did the things that are required to become rich and powerful. If you believe those things to be so unfair to the less fortunate that terrorism is justified, you’re not likely to do those things yourselves. Sure, it’s a twist that makes you say, “Oh, I didn’t see that coming,” but if you make the mistake of thinking about it for just a second, you then say, “But how? Why? That makes no sense! It’s a twist for its own sake!” Without a better explanation, you’re left expecting a sequel or prequel to explain it all, and that’s not an option.

For comic book geeks, there’s probably plenty of explanation over the decades of writing, but I (and many other filmgoers) are left hanging, struggling to justify what the movie did. It’s Nolan’s job to write the story, not mine. I don’t mind having to make some logical leaps – in fact, I like that movies require that – but this was central to the story and raises serious logical inconsistencies.

Bill Gates is not in the midst of a secret plot to take down the rich.

Casting

I heard a rumor that one of the characters introduced in this movie would be – I can’t say this without a spoiler – Batman’s successor. I went into this movie saying that if this were true, it would ruin the film for me considering the actor that’s playing that character. Well, it turned out to be true, but fortunately I was exaggerating. While the film wasn’t ruined, it certainly hurt. Ultimately, though, it was a good way to end the trilogy, and it made sense that the character was the successor. My issue is with the casting only. I know you all like him as an actor, but he isn’t suited to play that role.

Edit: The Evening Star

One of the worst movies I’ve ever seen was the Evening Star, which was the sequel to Terms of Endearment. (I had a subscription to HBO. I was already paying for it, so I figured I’d watch it. If it makes you feel any better, my life is less valuable because it’s stained with the memory of that movie.) One of many problems with that movie was that it was about tying up loose ends. The movie itself had no meaning outside the scope of its prequel, which is to say the movie itself was worthless. At times, the Dark Knight Rises fell into the same trap. Much of the movie that was dedicated to setup wasn’t even setting up the story but rather wrapping up the prior stories from the first two movies. Yes, it’s a trilogy, but it has to stand on its own. The parts that wrap up the past must do so by representing a step forward so that what’s happening now has actual value. Interestingly enough, the movie did that in one sense — ‘you must fear your own death to reach your full potential’ — but  fell short enough to annoy me. I wanted the current story to be the focus, and it wasn’t.

Most Importantly, the Hype

The hype concerns me the most. I’ve never been one to raise my expectations too high going into a movie. It would seem out of character for me to be unfairly harsh on TDKR simply because people were saying it might get nominated for Best Picture. Still, it’s a possibility I have to accept, and I’m sure something many people will assume. Take all of this with a grain of salt. The bottom line is that it wasn’t a waste of the $5.00 I paid for the movie ticket. (Yeah, you read that right. I paid only $5.00.) The popcorn, however, wasn’t worth half what I paid for it, but that’s my fault.

Again, I reiterate, this was a good action movie. It could have been a great action movie. The Dark Knight was a great action movie. Inception was a great movie. Nolan has it in him. A shame he didn’t end the series on as strong as a note as I came to expect of him.

Or maybe I’m just getting old. Get off my lawn, you brats.

Follow me @GSLLC

Composite Skill Bonuses in the d20 System

My love of the FASA Star Trek RPG gave me an idea on how to handle certain situations that I’ve seen before and believe to be handled less-than-ideally by DMs. I ran a quick Google check to see if anyone had already written about this topic, and apparently they haven’t. This surprises me, so perhaps I just couldn’t find it, but I propose using composite skill bonuses to handle an individual task that simultaneously requires multiple skills.

An Example from FASA Star Trek RPG

FASA Star Trek RPG is a d100, skill-based system so that each character would have a skill rating from 0-99 in each of the skills. To determine the success of an action, a player would roll a d100 against the relevant PC skill rating. Roll less than the skill rating, and it’s a success. For complicated tasks requiring multiple simultaneous skills, however, your target wasn’t a single skill rating, but rather an average of all of the relevant skills.

You’ve just boarded your enemy’s starship. It’s a Klingon scout ship with a crew of 8, so it’s no surprise that the entire enemy crew is dead. Unfortunately, the crew activated the self-destruct sequence and severely damaged the only computer that could be used to deactivate the sequence. Time’s running out. There’s no time to fix the computer, then consult a Klingon-to-English dictionary. What do you do?

You roll against your skill in Computer Technology (i.e., repair of computers), Computer Operations (i.e., use of computer interfaces), and Language: Klingon (i.e., your ability to translate what’s on the screen). So, if your skills are Computer Technology 60, Computer Operation 70, and Language: Klingon 20, your target number is (60 + 70 + 20)/3 = 50. If you never learned a word of Klingon (skill rating 0), you’d be at a severe disadvantage, but your general knowledge of computers could still make for a reasonable chance of success (60 + 70 + 0)/3 = 43. Therefore, not knowing Klingon doesn’t automatically make you useless if you beam over to the ship. You’re still contributing on your own merits.

An Example from 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons

It shouldn’t be hard to imagine some examples of how this would work in the d20 system. Let’s use 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons as an example.

There’s a group of ogres sitting around a campfire playing the Orc dice game, Rotting Toes. They’re unfamiliar with the game and downright stupid, but they’re also tough combatants that technically are standing watch. If disturbed, they might sound an alarm.

Hat tip to Erik Nowak for creating Rotting Toes.

The party decides that the best way to handle this encounter is to avoid it. Needless to say, the 3rd-level Rogue rolls a Stealth check (+12), succeeds with flying colors, and passes right on by. Unfortunately, the Paladin is in full plate mail armor. Stealth isn’t much of an option.

The accepted solution is a group Stealth check. Everyone rolls their dice, and as long as half of the group makes the check, the party as a whole succeeds. I’m not a fan of this. I know this is a game of magic and monsters, but at times, this solution defies logic. If, for example, due to the surrounding environment, each character must move one at a time across a long distance, the Rogue isn’t going to be able to help the Paladin stay silent. Any way you slice it, the Paladin is on his own, yet the group Stealth check inappropriately allows the Rogue to help.

More importantly, however, is that this is also a game of creativity and imagination, and the group Stealth check stifles that. Even if the Paladin could enlist the help of his friends, that doesn’t me he should. If I were playing the Paladin, I’d want my actions to count. I don’t want someone else to dictate my success in a situation where a little thinking outside the box will keep my fate in my own hands. There are enough opportunities for teamwork elsewhere in the game. Here, I want to be on my own.

Instead, let’s say the Paladin decides to throw a stick to create a distraction. Is this an Athletics check? Is it a Bluff check? How about both? It’s a single action, so if both skills are in play, both should affect the outcome.

The 3rd-level Goliath Avenging Paladin’s relevant skills are Athletics +5, Bluff +3, and Stealth -1. He should have no problem dealing with Ogre psychology (Bluff), but he also has to toss the stick accurately to place it exactly where he wants it to go (Athletics). So, it looks like his bonus to the skill roll for the composite skill bonus is (5+3)/2 = +4. That’s certainly better than a -1. However, this is a Goliath we’re talking about. He’s got a +2 to Wisdom, and his Widsom score is a respectable 14 because it’s his tertiary stat. Moreover, his background includes a strange parentage; he was raised by wolves (Background: Parentage-Raised by Wolves), giving him a +2 background bonus to Nature checks. As a result, his Nature score is a whopping +8.

The Paladin knows that lemurs are the ogres favorite food, and he also knows that this area has plenty of lemurs in it. Instead of throwing the stick simply to get the ogres to look the other way, he chooses to throw it into a lemon tree where Comyrean lemurs are known to play. This way, the ogres not only will look the other way, but also will keep looking, possibly sending one off to grab some lemurs. In order to reflect this mechanically, the Paladin now gets to add his Nature bonus into the mix. His composite skill bonus is now (5+3+8)/3 = +5, which is appropriate for a single action using each of his three relevant skills.

If the DM rewards the creativity with the typical +2, the Paladin has a bonus to his roll of +7, and he deserves it based on his own ingenuity and character build. In fact, the rest of the party might thank him if one of the ogres leaves to investigate — such a ruling is more appropriate for a Bluff check than a Stealth check — as that means one less ogre remains to spot the remaining PCs during their checks.

The +7 is a far cry from the +12 to Stealth that the 3rd-level Halfling Rogue might have, but it’s still pretty good, and it’s his.

It’s Not All About the PCs

This isn’t just a means to inspire creativity. As my FASA Star Trek RPG example demonstrates, sometimes the DM should require the use of a skill (in that case, Language: Klingon) because it’s logical. I’m sure the character with a skill rating of 0 in Language: Klingon wouldn’t want to have to include it, but it makes sense to require it. In the D&D example, perhaps all of the PCs should be required to include their Nature bonus to their checks due to some natural hazard present in the area. There’s a logic to the composite skill bonus that I find hard to ignore. (Yes, I know; magic and monsters….) In any case, a composite skill is appropriate only where a single d20 roll must simultaneously include knowledge or ability covered by multiple skills, such as where there isn’t enough time to take multiple actions.

What Do You Think?

As DM, you could certainly decide that there were no such lemurs present that night, but why would you? This is a system that allows each character to be judged on his or her own merits, and it encourages creative thinking. I can’t imagine any drawbacks, but if you have any, please feel free to share them in the comments below.

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