Musings on Game Design and Revisiting AD&D 1st Edition: Combat Subsystems #DnD #RPG #ADnD

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it.

Introduction to Each Post in This Series

On Friday (July 23, 2021), I mentioned that I was relearning AD&D 1st Edition (“1e“) with the intention of running it. As I read through the Player’s Handbook (“PHB“), certain mechanics or text will strike me as odd or surprising, but in either case worthy of discussion. In fact, the most surprising thing I’m experiencing is that I’m finding a lot more great ideas in 1e that we’ve since abandoned. I find myself asking, “Why?” As a result, I’ll be writing several posts over the next few weeks. I’m sure everything I’m thinking has been discussed before — sometimes be me — so perhaps my questions have been answered, and my concerns resolved, years ago. My experience with RPGs is relatively limited in scope, having played a small number of games, so I’m sure a lot of what I’m going to say has been incorporated into games I’ve never even heard of. (Some have certainly been addressed by future editions of D&D themselves.) Nevertheless, bringing this directed conversation to the public is new to me, so here it goes.

Posts in this series: | My Playlist | Campaign Settings and Pantheons | Languages | Level | “Dead Levels” | Division of Labor, Distance, and Time | Initiative | Combat Subsystems | Armor Class Ratings | Alignment and Reputation | The Feel of a School of Magic | Boring Magic Items | Ability Score Bonuses and Skill Rolls | The Problem with Democracies | Hitting More Frequently | Encounter Balance and Shooting Yourselves in the Feet |

I don’t think this post will go over well with the professional game designers. Or the amateur ones. I’m being completely unreasonable, but professionals should always listen to their most demanding clients, right? Well, that’s me. I just want to play, and the quickest way to do that is to play a rules-light system. However, once I’ve got the hang of it, I want a rules-heavy system thorough enough not to leave itself open to conflicting interpretations.

I want my cake and to eat it too.

Why So Tense?

One of the tensions in game design is whether an RPG should be rules heavy or rules light. 1e is certainly rules heavy, at least when it comes to a combat system that micromanages so much. There’s a huge disadvantage to that: Learning such rules is a barrier to entry for new players. I get that point of view, especially when you have a system like 1e that requires you to jump from page to page, or even book to book, to get the complete rule (made easier by the hard work of David Prata mentioned in yesterday’s post on Initiative). Some game designers have tried to improve on this by simplifying processes, further abstracting how the system deals with the topic at hand. Well, I think it’s time for some reification.

Whiny Players

Here’s a grossly paraphrased conversation I’ve had since returning to D&D in 2005. In my experience, this is by no means an unusual conversation to have in this or other contexts.

Me (3-5 times while describing the scene): Are you sure you don’t want to do anything else?
Table: Nope.
Me (placing the minis on the table): Okay, you’re surprised.
Table: How? We had a lookout.
Me: I asked you several times if you had anything else to tell me, and you never mentioned it.
Table: But we always have a lookout. We’re adventurers. We know to do that.
Me: Well, they’re ambush predators. They know how to sneak.
Table: Show me in the rules where we must be surprised in this instance.
Me: The rules can’t possibly provide every example possible, so no such rule exists.
Table: Then we can’t be surprised.
Me: The very fact that surprise rules exist cuts against your argument.
Table: You’re a terrible DM. You don’t know the rules.

Truthfully, I am a terrible DM, but this isn’t an example of that.

1e Combat

The 1e combat system is rules heavy. Yes, it’s spread out over different pages of the Players Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide, but that’s a failure of execution, not concept. I’m discussing concept in this post, so let’s stay focused on that.

The system does two things that I absolutely love but haven’t appeared in D&D in some time. First, surprise is handled by a simple die roll in almost all combats. There are a few things that negate a poor roll, but in general, roll a 1 or 2 on a d6, and you’re surprised. Second, the distance between the parties at the precise moment of engagement is handled through a separate die roll. The rule takes into consideration practical matters such as line of sight, whether the encounter takes place in a 20’ x 20’ room or outdoors on a flat plane of low grass, etc., but no one can say that they were surprised because the DM didn’t properly set the scene or otherwise withheld important information, and they also can’t argue as to whether they were in striking distance at the moment they were surprised. The baseline is that these dice rolls govern, so the burden shifts to the players to point to something they expressly said they were doing, or circumstances of the scene, that justify ignoring or modifying those dice rolls.

So, should all RPGs be designed like this? Maybe not. A ruleset covering all the bases is going to be long and complicated, which can slow down the game even if you know the rules. Even worse, beginners will face a barrier to entry. They’ll take one look at David’s work and say, “Twenty pages? Nope. That’s too much to read just to get to sit down at the gaming table.” Is there some way to avoid that?

Beginning v. Advanced Systems

A possible solution to the problem of the barrier to entry is to go backwards. 1e published the Basic Set (followed by some others) that served this purpose, and it was reasonably compatible with the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons PHB and DMG (what I’ve been calling 1e). I never played this, but I seem to remember them having noticeable mechanical differences from 1e, which turned me off to it. This was probably arrogant because, believe it or not, when I first started playing “Blue BoxAD&D, we didn’t use ability scores at all. I don’t remember how that played out and can’t even guess how it worked, but I remember a conversation with a kid named Louis, who explained ability scores to me in 6th grade, which was two years after I started playing. The point is that you could abstract what you wanted, and once comfortable, drill down to a more complicated but well-defined system, but that was haphazard. Game designers should instead provide the roadmap by designing a combat system, then removing complexities from it in such a way that it maintains the balance between the two sides. What’s left is the “basic” system suitable for new players, existing players that prefer a rules-light system, or any player looking for an occasional quick and easy combat. Modern RPGs create alternate rules (e.g., methods for ability score generation), but that’s not the same thing.

A favorite RPG of mine, the FASA Star Trek RPG, did this quite well for starship combat. There was a basic subsystem and an advanced subsystem. The core mechanic was the same, with the base system dividing values by 3 (rounding down), but the advanced subsystem was more than just larger scalar values. It also introduced a more complicated means for bridge officers to affect combat. Not only did this eliminate a barrier to entry into the game, but I suspect that in order for this to work, the design methodology necessarily facilitated either subsystem being played as a board game. That opened the game to a lot of Star Trek fans who somehow thought RPGs were too nerdy. (I’m not kidding.) The rules were divided across five, short handbooks, all contained within the game’s box set.

There Are Still Concerns

Execution aside, publishing multiple subsystems, or even just one excessively complicated one, is not without its concerns. Players don’t want to purchase a nonnegligible amount of product just to move from one level of abstraction to the next. To allay this concern, the core rulebooks should disclose alternate subsystems even if an introductory box set exists. This leads to at least three other issues. The first issue is that game play could be slowed to a crawl if the rules get too complicated, even if you know exactly how they work. This could result in your advanced system almost never being used, making them a wasted effort. Ergo, there will still have to be trade-offs on that advanced system in order for it to have practical value. The second issue is that the core rulebooks could get too long if there are too many alternate subsystems across the entire game system. For both issues, game designers must pick their battles when deciding which rules to abstract/simplify. Perhaps that’s what’s raising my concerns here. Maybe they’ve picked their battles, and I just don’t like the ones they’ve picked, or maybe I don’t even perceive the battles they’ve won and therefore don’t appreciate them. I just know what gives me the most headaches as a DM and looking at all the PHBs and DMGs I’ve used, most have a little room to spare. Also, this is why I’m suggesting only two subsystems and only for combat, where one subsystem is just a compatible extension of the other.

For the record, the third issue, which for now I’ll call the Head of the Table writing method for now, will be discussed in a later post.

It’s All About Me

Let me know when I can stop apologizing.

Believe it or not, I know it’s a lot to ask of game designers to incorporate a second, simplified ruleset for combat, especially considering that my opinion may be a minority one. However, I suspect it would cut down on tension at the table, and designing in-game conflict resolution systems is the primary function of the game designer. Campaign settings are nice, but many people write their own. Not many write their own combat systems, and most can’t do that well. If any system is appropriate for division into a beginner and advanced system, it’s combat. So why not have your cake and eat it too? You could appeal to both the rules-light and rules-heavy crowds, broadening your customer base.

In general, I prefer a thorough system. Considering the conversation above, you can see why. Lightening the rules has led to a notion of DM empowerment in order to make the game playable, but it creates far more “us v. DM” tension than I enjoy at my table regardless of whether I’m behind the DM screen. The conversation above couldn’t occur often if we were playing 1e. I could point to the dice on the table, and that’d largely be the end of it. The biggest problem I’ve faced as a DM is the fact that many players don’t like to lose. By “lose,” I mean fail to solve a puzzle, miss a major piece of treasure, take a single hit point of damage, or get surprised. Just try to kill the average player’s character, and you’ll see how angry they can get. But the dice don’t lie. Thorough rules lead to predictable, and thus fair, results. Though it failed in clarity, 1e had the right idea. The FASA Star Trek RPG got it right. None of that would ever stop a DM from customizing those rules to suit their needs, especially if elements of the advanced subsystem were presented as attachable modules to the basic subsystem. I suspect multiple attachable modules would be harder to implement while maintaining balance, but 1e armor class adjustments, weapon speeds, and weapon lengths were effectively detachable rules that many people ignored, and the game was still playable. I’m looking for a well-defined subsystem that provides a clearer roadmap.

*sigh*

Hey, you chose game design as a career. You have no choice but to try to make me happy.

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Travelling Through the Star Trek Universe, Part III. Viewing Notes on Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. @StarTrek @Hulu #StarTrek #movie

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it.

This is an important movie to me. As always, I’m going to be vague about why. There was a time when, for better or worse (worse, really, but necessary), I asserted my “independence.” This movie was part of that in a strange way. I will say that this is the first movie I saw in the theaters because I got on a bus, rode up to the (now closed) Aspen Hill movie theater, and bought a ticket with my own money. Twice. So, this movie is really important to me for reasons that don’t apply to any of you. Nevertheless, based on everything I’ve heard, I couldn’t believe how good its numbers are. Though I’m not sure how “scientific” Rotten Tomatoes is, I’m certain our personal experiences are even less so, so I shouldn’t be too surprised. Here are my viewing notes.

This movie starts with such high hopes, having us relive the most heartbreaking loss in Star Trek history.

That cadet that wanted a ceremony was a dingbat.

Christopher Lloyd was awesome as Kruge, and as with the Reliant, it was cool to see a new type of Klingon ship.

Are the Klingons still using 8-track tapes?

Why would anyone deal with the Klingons knowing they kill anyone working with them? Oh, wait I know why. Because the script says so.

The existence of Spacedock was also a no-brainer, but it was still cool to see it. The Excelsior was even better. As I said in yesterday’s Wrath of Khan post (and just above), it was neat to see other ship designs that we know must exist. The Excelsior represented the future as far as we knew; same-but-different. Who cares if Scotty liked it? The FASA Star Trek RPG really scratched that itch, but there’s nothing like seeing it on the big screen.

Scotty learning of his new assignment wasn’t the last time Starfleet told personnel their new assignments in casual conversation.

Hey, I know that Klingon!

Was Maltz once a prosecutor for the Klingon Empire?

And here’s another one: The USS Grissom. Another same-but-different design.

David’s hatred for Kirk was intense in the novelization, but in the movie, his brief interaction was polite. None of his thoughts on the matter were explored because there wasn’t any time to do so. The same can be said for David’s romantic relationship with Saavik, which wasn’t even hinted at in this movie. I remember a scene where they were criticized for taking the risky move of holding hands while being transported. Even more, Saavik’s Romulan side came out in the book. She was ferocious when provoked.

Hey, I know that Klingon!

As I mentioned yesterday, the novelization of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan didn’t have the “remember” scene in it.

Admiral Morrow was a dope. How can he not understand “Vulcan mysticism”? He must have witnessed neck pinches and, more importantly, mind melds. Plus, his mustache sucks, though it could be worse.

The highlight of Allan Miller’s career.

“How many fingers do I have up.”
“It’s his revenge for all those arguments he lost.”
“Up your shaft.”

🙂

I remember an interview with Nichelle Nichols. She was initially disappointed in the size of her role. She thought it was too small but eventually was happy with it considering how important it was. The novelization went into her role much more deeply.

I hoped we’d see James B. Sikking again. The reason we didn’t is because Sulu took over as captain of the Excelsior. In fact, in the novel, he was already assigned to do so. As they were stealing the Enterprise, Sulu reflected on how he was throwing away that opportunity. This also explains why This brings up an anecdote. George Takei lobbied heavily for Sulu to become captain of his own ship. I remember Howard Stern making fun of him for it, saying, “You realize that Sulu becoming captain of another ship means you’re out of a job, right?” Takei stood firm. I guess it worked out. By the time he got the Excelsior, it was this crew’s final movie.

So, they find a young Spock. That raises an issue for me. When Spock’s consciousness goes back into his body, what happens to the personality of the new Spock. However briefly he existed, he’s a separate person. Is the new Spock wiped out, or are the two personalities merged? What are the ethical ramifications either way?

That Klingon dog was ridiculous.

“Range, 5,000 killicams.” Why? Why are they speaking entirely in English but use a Klingon unit of measurement? They’re speaking Klingon, of course, and we’re hearing what we would assuming there was a universal translator present. Wouldn’t the universal translator also translate the range into units we’d understand?

The conversation between Kirk and his son, David, was the most cordial David was regarding Kirk in the novel. Then David dies, and Saavik says, “Admiral, David is dead.” After that, she goes nuts and attacks the Klingons. This is what I was referring to when I said she was ferocious.

I was hoping Kirk would say, “No tricks once on board.” That would have been a good call out to the Original Series episode, Day of the Dove. That reminds me: Kang is currently running around somewhere in the Klingon Empire.

Beaming down to a dying planet was a risky plan.

Klingons are like the Drow in D&D. Their society and psyche could never work in the real world, but we overlook that because they’re cool. That is, if Klingon captains are so eager to die, you won’t have many qualified captains running around. Deep Space Nine pulled back on that a little bit, but perhaps not enough. They are cool though.

You know, Kirk left the remaining Klingons on the planet knowing they’d die.

The refusion scene had me thinking about Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Boy did that drag even though it really wasn’t that long. They wanted to give you the feeling that it took hours, but the verisimilitude was broken because no one left to pee. The same could be said about Spock wandering around in a confused state (except the peeing part). Overall, though, a good ending.

Follow me on Twtter @gsllc
Follow Star Trek @StarTrek
Follow Hulu @Hulu

Travelling Through the Star Trek Universe, Part II. Viewing Notes on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. @StarTrek @Hulu #StarTrek #TWoK #movie

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it.

Continuing my revisit of all the Star Trek movies brings me to the gold standard of sci-fi movies, liked by virtually everyone that saw it. This entry is a little shorter than the last, not so much because the movie is shorter, but because I kept getting distracted. I wanted to watch the movie itself.

In an early version of the script, the opening scene took place in the middle of the movie, so it wasn’t a surprise. I’m glad it didn’t stay there.

Everyone I’ve ever heard say the name of the Kobayashi Maru pronounces it ma-RU. I do so myself. It’s actually pronounced MA-ru. Aren’t we all stupid?

If one photon torpedo can take out your helmsman, your ship’s design sucks. Depending on whom you ask, ordinary cars of today make the driver’s seat the safest place in a car.

Saavik seems irritated. So illogical. Of course, in the novelization it’s revealed that she’s half Romulan.

Shatner is such a wonderfully shitty actor.

The Reliant was wonderful. Not only was it a cool design in general, but it was also the first starship design we saw that wasn’t a Constitution or Enterprise class. Sometimes all it takes is a single piece of data to inspire your imagination to run wild and fill in the gaps they don’t have time to provide. The FASA Star Trek RPG helped me in that regard.

The Reliant’s scanners suck. Weather notwithstanding, how did they think that a bunch of humanoids and cargo carriers were just a single “particle of pre-animate matter”? Their computers must also have sucked. How did they not know that there was a colony of genetic supermen living on the planet next door? When Terrell and Chekov saw the cargo carriers, they should have figured it out. *sigh* The things we tolerate for drama. And yes, I know Chekov never met Khan, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t know the story. He served on the Enterprise for years after that incident, which was a matter of Starfleet record. That part was not a continuity error.

Now that’s what I call an earwig.

When I was a kid watching this in 1983 (when it hit TV), I was confused by Spock referring to Saavik as “Mr. Saavik.” I thought, “Wait, is that a dude?” I should have figured it out. My favorite episode of any Star Trek series is Balance of Terror, and in it an officer refers to a female subordinate as “mister.” The subordinate happens to be his fiancee. The FASA Star Trek RPG taught me the generic use of that term. Never underestimate the educational value of RPGs.

Piloting a ship out of space dock? I never thought the buildup was worth the payoff. I’m sure I could do it. All Saavik did was say, “Hey, you guys, do your jobs,” and everyone else did all the work. Managers think way too much of themselves.

Khan’s followers know how to talk to him: Appeal to his inflated ego.

I never forgot an interview that Ricardo Montalban did on the character. A specific part always stayed with me: Basing his approach to the character on this overwhelming rage that built up over 15 years or so.

Go to 3:12 to hear what I’m referencing.

A jump scene (bloody arms) immediately after a fake jump scene (door opening to Kirk’s face)? Not scary.

“But he was late. He had to get back to Reliant in time to blow you to bits.”

Was that supposed to be a joke? It wasn’t funny. It didn’t even appear to be an attempt at funny. What an odd line.

The worm thing continued to scream even after it was liquified by Kirk’s phaser. Duh.

As I said, Shatner is such a wonderfully shitty actor.

I was annoyed about a scene in the 2009 Star Trek reboot. In Kirk’s talk about his cheat on the Kobayashi Maru (yeah, I just said that in my head as ma-RU), he mentions that he received a commendation for original thinking. The fact that the universe was rebooted doesn’t explain why Star Fleet would swing 180° and place him on suspension.

“Explain it to them.”

Yeah, okay, since you’re threatening to kill us, we’ll stop going into the nebula. We’ll stay out here so that you can kill us more easily. Not much of a threat, huh?

Kirk also knows how to talk to Khan: Appeal to his inflated ego.

The way Kirk beat Khan was perfect. Exploit the fact that he’s from the 21st century, and thus doesn’t think three-dimensionally. (We’re all assuming there are no aircraft pilots among Khan’s bridge crew.)

After seeing Star Trek III and reading the novelization, I went back to the novelization of this movie. It confirmed my recollection: The “remember” wasn’t in the book. How could a book not have something important that the movie did?

As a kid, I was disappointed that Khan didn’t see Kirk get away. Then I grew up and shed such prideful notions.

Spock’s death was heartbreaking, especially for a kid watching it.

On a final note, I think it’s appropriate to provide this visual.

A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE: THE LAST DAYS OF MADELINE KAHN
It’s “Wrath of Khan,” not “Wrath of Kahn.”

Follow me on Twtter @gsllc
Follow Star Trek @StarTrek
Follow Hulu @Hulu

Margaret Weis Drops #MarvelRPG #RPG #gaming cc:@GamingMeerkat

I’ll miss you, old friend … until I play you again a week from Saturday.

Despite my many hours playing Dungeons & Dragons since 2005 (after a 24-year absence from the game), I’m really not much of an RPG gamer. I love FASA Star Trek RPG, but what do you expect? I loved Enterprise! I’ve played Gamma World 4e, Legend of the Five Rings (3rd edition) three times, Dragon Age RPG (Green Ronin Publishing) a few times (mostly as Game Master), and Star Wars Saga Edition once (again, as Game Master). I enjoyed all of those games but played Call of Cthulhu d100 twice and hated it. If I’ve played any other RPGs with dice, I don’t remember it off the top of my head, so apparently they didn’t make much of an impact.  (I’ve also played the diceless RPG, Fiasco, which was great.)

I’d like to broaden my horizons as far as RPGs are concerned, so when my friend, Rishi, offered me the chance to join his new Marvel RPG game, I jumped at the chance. I’ve heard good things about it, so I was intrigued even though I never read comic books. (Come to think of it, I’m not a good geek in general. I don’t play video games, and I find Dr. Who to be retardis.) I wanted to play the mechanics everyone was talking about, so I agreed to play for a couple of sessions before gracefully bowing out.

I don’t think I’ll be bowing out. Our first session was a lot of fun for me. My approach to RPGs has always been to focus on a character concept, where the character has some interesting, overriding character trait, usually but not always a flaw. I then play that trait to the extreme. With my group, that wasn’t only tolerated but welcomed with open arms. As comic book fans, the other players liked the fact that I played my character’s traits so faithfully, even to the detriment of the team, because these are the characters the players love.

Clearly, I’m the baddest ass of the bunch!

Incidentally, I played a guy by the name of Hank Pym, a.k.a., Yellow Jacket. I’d never heard of him but am sure that means something to a lot of you. It also meant something to my cousin, Tom, who still collects comics. When Rishi gave me a list of characters from which to choose, I passed the ones in favor of the Super Human Registration Act to Tom, who told me to pick Yellow Jacket. It’s worked out so far. An insecure, nerdy guy who 1) supports government registration of people, and 2) gains experience points by blaming his own major failing on a loved one? Yeah, I can do this.

Mechanics

And that (finally) brings me to my first point. The mechanics of the game have their flaws, but overall it’s an fun system, especially for someone like me.

The Bad: The dice rolling is unnecessarily convoluted, requiring you to figure out which types of dice to roll (d4, d6, d8, d10, or d12) and in what number every single time you roll. Once I’m used to it, it’ll probably become second nature, but it creates a barrier for entry. If I were the rule rather than the exception, the group probably would have moved on and never played it again. Instead, I was the odd man out. I was the only one that didn’t have experience with the game and wasn’t a comic book reader. Keeping this game going will be easy despite the unnecessary complexity, but I don’t think that will be the case for all groups.

The Good: Rewarding me for domestic violence? Brilliant! I know that sounds bad, but stay with me. No one’s perfect, not even superheroes. We all have flaws, and a role-playing game that doesn’t hide from that fact, even among the heroes, is exactly what I need to make me happy. (Also, I don’t actually have to beat my wife in the game. It’s not necessarily that specific.) Needless to say, this doesn’t always go over well in other systems. In 4e D&D, I have a stereotypical, senile old man, Luigi, who’s great for comic relief, but when I play him in character during combat or role-play, he usually makes bad decisions. It’s never once actually hurt the group when all was said and done  — he was responsible for winning a “social skill challenge” in one adventure despite his eccentricity — but while it’s occurring, it’s tough to convince the other players of that. Some people get very annoyed by his erratic behavior. With Marvel RPG, no one is complaining, and I doubt this is a characteristic of my group itself. The mechanics of the game actually encourage me and them to act the fool at times. And it works.

The Good but with a Caveat: The initiative system is fantastic, but it wouldn’t work in a game like D&D where building a character to go first has so many advantages. Other game systems would have to be tweaked dramatically to allow for the Marvel RPG initiative system. Still, it’s something every game publisher should at least consider.

It’s All About IP

My second point is, as always, that the world lives and dies based on intellectual property law, and this is the more important of the two points. IP law governs everything, and there’s a lesson to be learned here. RPG publishing is a low-profit exercise. It’s tough to do well in it, and whether most publishers will admit it or not, it’s ability to succeed as well as it has depends a great deal on the continued success of Wizards of the Coast. WotC produces Dungeons and Dragons (among others), and does so with the mighty weight of Hasbro behind it. They’re able to do things no other RPG publishers can do, and the entire industry benefits as a result. However, even WotC could hold on to the Star Wars license for only so long. With such a low profit-margin in the first place, having to give up a non-negligible chunk of that in the licensing fee reduces the profit margin even more. Also, unless you’re willing to give up and even bigger chunk of the profits, you have to settle with a non-exclusive license (if it’s even offered), meaning you won’t even be the only game of your kind available. It’s a no-win situation over the long haul.

With that in mind, be disappointed but not angry. I’ve never met or spoke with Margaret Weis, so I have no inside information here, but I’d put good money on the bet that she had a very good reason for letting the license go. This isn’t the fault of Ms. Weis, or of Marvel. It’s just the nature of the industry. The game was selling well, but the numbers just don’t add up in the long run. Everyone needs the core rulebook, but sales of add-ons will always be at least a little less, and often will be much less.

Fortunately, there’s a lot of material out there with even more to come, and many gamers will put together supplemental materials in the form of PDFs freely downloadable from their private sites. This game won’t die anytime soon, and that’s a good thing.

The End

Despite my optimism in the two sentences immediately preceding this one, it feels like there’s been a death in the family (not that bad, though; on the level of a step-cousin). 🙂 I just wanted to offer a eulogy of sorts, if for no other reason than to make myself feel good about it. It’s a good game, we’ll all continue to play it, but like all good things, eventually it must come to an end, and no one is to blame for that. Gaming will go on.

As always, happy gaming!

Follow me @GSLLC
Follow Rishi @GamingMeerkat
Follow Green Ronin Publishing @GreenRoninPub

FASA Star Trek RPG at TerpCon, Saturday, November 17, 2012 #gaming

Yesterday I sent in my registration to TerpCon for my FASA Star Trek RPG adventure, “Intruders.” If you’re planning to be in the Washington, DC area on  November 17, consider attending. It’s a free gaming convention held at my undergraduate alma mater, the University of Maryland at College Park. They’ll be a good array of RPG events there, but if you have any interest in an old-style, original series adventure, my event will certainly be of interest to you. The gaming schedule isn’t up yet, but you can already create a registration account and check out (or contribute to) the buzz over on their Facebook page.

I ran my other original adventure, Anything but Routine, at a past event, and Intruders involves the same ship and crew. Even if you can’t make TerpCon, you can find several other works published on my FASA Star Trek RPG Resources page and run your own adventures near where you live.

As always, happy gaming.

Follow me on Twitter @GSLLC

FASA Trek Digital v1.0 Is Available

I’ve uploaded the first version of FASA Trek Digital, my Access 2007 database for the FASA Star Trek RPG. You can find it on my FASA Star Trek RPG Resources page (along with an explanation as to what exactly it is) by clicking here. I’ve never distributed an Access database, so if you’re having any problems opening it, let me know.

It’s an *.accde file (executable), so you might require the MS Access runtime application in order to run it. I haven’t packaged that with the program. I can do that if someone’s having trouble downloading the file, though you can also just download it yourself from the Access help database at http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=4438. It’s a quick download and installation, and once installed, it should work. (You should not need the Access Runtime Application if you already have Access 2007 installed on your PC.)

I’m happy with the functionality it provides, but remember that “you get what you pay for.” It could be a lot better, but unless I receive some support through (100% optional) PayPal donations, further development isn’t strictly guaranteed. Nevertheless, I’m planning to complete the player character generation component and am willing to entertain specific requests from all of you.

If you have any problems or uncover any bugs/defects, please contact me.

Happy gaming!

Follow me on Twitter @GSLLC

New Page: FASA StarTrek RPG Resources

FASA Star Trek RPG Character Sheet (click to enlarge)

I’ve created a new page for distribution of my FASA Star Trek RPG resources. If you’re interested in running or playing the game, this would be a good place to start. It will soon have a digital tool available to generate characters, starships, solar systems, and planets, as well as print character sheets and starship panels. It already has my own designs for the Command and Control Panels and Master Control Panels, a quick reference sheet summarizing the rules, and Anything but Routine, an introductory adventure I wrote.  A direct link to the page now appears in the menu at the top of this page, so you can always find it without searching if you come back to my blog at a later date.

Happy gaming!

Follow me on Twitter @GSLLC

FASA Star Trek RPG: Yet Another Adventure

A friend had a birthday party yesterday, and although it was a board-game friendly event, I prepared a short, self-authored adventure for a game of FASA Star Trek RPG just in case anyone was interested in playing. The issue never even came up. Instead, I played 7 Wonders (came in a close 2nd my first time playing the game) and Circvs Maximus (my character was killed in a chariot race), but I digress . . . .

A Doomsday Like Any Other

By now any reader of this blog or my Loremaster blog should know that I’ve been revisiting the FASA Star Trek RPG recently, having run it once at TerpCon in College Park, MD. The adventure I ran, Anything but Routine, took place in the Outback area of the FASA Star Trek universe, which is where Federation space borders both Gorn and Romulan space. The Romulans were always my favorite Star Trek villain, and the Gorn were oddly underused. I remember once opining online that one of the later series or movies should revisit the Gorn as velociraptor-like enemies, perhaps representing a subspecies of Gorn. Again, I digress . . . .

For this adventure, I kept the same crew of the Chandley class Frigate, the USS Fife (lifted from the FASA adventure, A Doomsday Like Any Other). It was intended to be only two hours long in light of the fact that it was written for a board-game audience, but it can be fit rather nicely into the story I started with Anything but Routine, either before or after that adventure. In other words, I might have the start of an entire FASA Star Trek RPG campaign.

Now, if I can just find a table of players for it . . . .

Follow me on Twitter @GSLLC

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.

Follow me on Twitter @GSLLC