Any work with a large geek following is fodder for being adapted as a tabletop role-playing game. If that work has a setting that allows for other groups to live in without being affected by the events of the work, it becomes prime, whether fan-created or licensed. Star Trek is such a work; popular with a setting that spans the galaxy. It shouldn’t be a surprise that there have been three Trek RPGs published over the decades.
Star Trek introduced Star Fleet with its main mission being exploration. Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise boldly went where no man had gone before, finding new life and new civilizations. The series showed a number of first contacts, some more dangerous than others, and introduced Klingons and Romulans to the audience. The original Trek lasted three seasons, but remained in syndicated reruns since leaving the air in 1969. The popularity of the show in syndication led to two season of an animated adaptation in 1973, featuring most of the original cast*. The animated series led to an aborted second TV series that turned into the 1979 movie, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and the film franchise that followed.
Trek returned to television in 1987 with Star Trek: The Next Generation. The new series introduced a new crew and a new Enterprise, helmed by Captain Jean-Luc Picard. The Next Generation ran seven seasons, then went into its own movie series. Meanwhile, a third Trek TV series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, began in 1993, showing a different aspect of the Federation. Instead of exploration, Deep Space Nine focused on life on a space station as the Federation helped the Bajorans recover from being occupied by the Cardassians. When The Next Generation wrapped up, a fourth TV series, Star Trek: Voyager, began. Voyager chronicled the story of a lost Star Fleet vessel, the USS Voyager under the command of Captain Kathryn Janeway as the ship tried to return to the Federation. When Voyager came to a close with the ship returning home, another series was ready to go. Star Trek: Enterprise looked at the history of the setting, from Earth’s first steps into space to the birth of the Federation. Fatigue and story quality, though, meant that Enterprise was the first Trek series since the original to not last seven seasons. No new Trek production would be made until the 2009 film, Star Trek.
Even working from the original Trek, the germ of a roleplaying game already existed. Players could be Star Fleet officers, commanding a starship and exploring the galaxy. This was the basis of the first Trek RPG, FASA’s Star Trek: The Role Playing Game, released in 1983. FASATrek had only the original series, the animated adaptation, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture to work from, with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan coming out during the game’s production. Character creation in FASATrek assumes that players will be Star Fleet officers, though later supplements allowed players to play merchants, Star Fleet intelligence agents, Klingons, and Romulans. The core rules, though, took characters through Star Fleet Academy, their cadet cruise, and their previous experience before embarking on their new mission. The core mechanic was a percentile, or d100, roll, with players trying to roll underneath their skill rating used. The skills reflected what was seen on the TV series. Available races included Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellerites, all from the TV series, plus Caitians and Edoans, both from the animated series**.
While the original Trek emphasized a peaceful approach, there were starship battles, most notably in the episode, “The Balance of Terror”. The developers of FASATrek wanted to keep to what was shown in the series, avoiding turning starship battles into a board- or wargame. FASATrek broke down responsibilities by position. The captain gave the orders, the helmsman piloted the ship and fired the weapons, the navigator managed the shields, the engineer tried to balance the power available to the needs of each station, the science officer ran sensors, and communications maintained damage control. Security officers were the only ones without a duty during a starship battle, provided shields didn’t fail allowing boarding parties. A second edition came out before Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, with an update after the movie was released to take into account the events shown. The new edition cleared up problems found in the first and took into account the film franchise. The core mechanic was kept, with some clarifications, and starship battles still used a console for each position on the bridge. The end result was a game system that kept the flavour of both the TV series and existing movies.
FASATrek was published through to the first season of The Next Generation, with two supplements released for the new series. Paramount, however, wasn’t pleased with what FASA was doing with the license and pulled it after the first season of The Next Generation was complete in 1989. FASA, though, had other game lines to fall back on – BattleTech, the miniatures wargame involving giant mecha, and Shadowrun, a role-playing game crossing cyberpunk with Tolkein-esque fantasy.
FASATrek worked to maintain the Trek flavour as seen in the original series, then expanded the setting based on what was known. As will be seen below, the game established a feel that would be repeated by later publishers. FASATrek managed to replicate the feel of both the TV series and, with the second edition, the movies.
The Trek RPG license lay fallow for a decade, In 1999, Last Unicorn Games obtained the license and released Star Trek: The Next Generation Role-playing Game. The Next Generation had wrapped up in 1994, with Deep Space Nine wrapping up its seventh season and Voyager still boldly going. The new RPG used LUG’s Icon system, using six-sided dice and target numbers instead of FASA’s percentile system. Character creation, though, still followed the same lifepath, going from youth to Star Fleet Academy to prior experience before the new mission. Starship battles also ensured that all the characters on the bridge had something to do. By focusing on The Next Generation at first, the game was able to feel current, especially with Trek available on TV and in theatres. LUG released several supplements, covering the Andorians, the Vulcans, the Klingons, and the Romulans, as well as core books for the original Star Trek and Deep Space Nine. A Voyager core book was planned but never released. The license was transferred to Decipher before the book could be created.
LUGTrek had a different feel from FASATrek, thanks to the change in mechanics. However, the change in mechanics helped reflect the change in tone from the original series to The Next Generation. The tone of the each series was reflected in the writing; but each core book was still Star Trek.
Decipher wasn’t a new game company, but had focused on collectible card games, including one based on Star Trek. However, when it received the license, the design team from LUG moved over to Decipher. A new mechanic was devised, called CODA, which would also be used in Decipher’s Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game. The Star Trek Roleplaying Game used the CODA mechanics, two six-sided dice instead of LUGTrek‘s dice based on the attribute. Decipher also split the rules between the Player’s Guide and the Narrator’s Guide. This did allow DECTrek to incorporate all the existing series, including Enterprise, into the core rules, instead of splitting them over several books as LUGTrek had. DECTrek also used a lifepath for character creation, but characters weren’t restricted to being Star Fleet officers unlike both FASATrek and LUG’s Next Generation core rules, The end result is a character with a backstory as detailed as the player wants.
Aside from some layout issues, DECTrek still aimed to achieve the feel of Star Trek, with the added difficulty of trying to be all eras of Trek. For the most part, the game succeeded. Decipher ended publication of RPGs by 2007, leaving material for both the Trek and the LotR games unpublished.
There is no licensed Trek RPG currently in production. However, there is Prime Directive, a role-playing game derived from the universe created in Amarillo Design Bureau’s wargame Star Fleet Battles. The wargame, originally published by Task Force Games, was licensed, not from Paramount but from Franz Joseph, who had created blueprints of various Trek ships and had written The Star Trek Star Fleet Technical Manual. As such, the wargame, and thus Prime Directive, does diverge from canon. There have been four verstions of the Prime Directive RPG. one from Amarillo using its own mechanics, one published by Amarillo that uses Steve Jackson Games’ GURPS rules, and two D20*** editions. A Mongoose Traveller version was announced in 2011, but it appears that the development of the base game’s second edition has delayed production on Amarillo’s end. Prime Directive is centered on “Prime Teams”, Star Fleet officers who are specifically trained for landing party duty so that senior officers would not be endangered by beaming down to new worlds. The system allowed players to create connections to events as needed, reflecting how in the various Trek series that a character would know someone in an episode, from Kirk’s rivalry with Finnigan to Dax’s many lives. Prime Directive, though, wasn’t as reflective of Star Trek as the other games, in part because of limitations in the licensing.
It is possible to adapt an existing role-playing game for Star Trek. Licensed games remove the work of adapting from the GM, having already made the effort to get the details down. Each of the games mentioned above has done the hard work, setting down in mechanics a work where writers will create new solutions without having to worry about the ramifications in a game. With this work done, the GM just has to create situations to send players through, without worrying about what damage a phaser can do.
* Budget considerations meant that Walter Koenig didn’t return as Chekov, but he did write the episode, “The Infinite Vulcan”.
** The Paramount-mandated requirement that licensees not work together hadn’t come in yet. This can be seen with the 1983 supplement, The Klingons, which was in part written by John M. Ford, who also wrote the tie-in novel, The Final Reflection, about the Klingons around the same time. The two works build on each other.
*** The D20 system was Wizards of the Coast’s core mechanic for the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Wizards released an Open Gaming License version of the rules to allow other companies to focus more on setting than on mechanics.