1974 is an important year for the gaming hobby. It is the year that Dungeons & Dragons was introduced, the original RPG from which all other RPGs would ultimately be derived and the original RPG from which so many computer games would draw for their inspiration. It is fitting that the current owner of the game, Wizards of the Coast, released the new version, Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, in the year of the game’s fortieth anniversary. To celebrate this, Reviews from R’lyeh will be running a series of reviews from the hobby’s anniversary years, thus there will be reviews from 1974, from 1984, from 1994, and from 2004—the thirtieth, twentieth, and tenth anniversaries of the titles. These will be retrospectives, in each case an opportunity to re-appraise interesting titles and true classics decades on from the year of their original release.
Call of Cthulhu, published by Chaosium, Inc. in 1981 was not the first licensed roleplaying game. The very first licensed roleplaying game and the very first roleplaying based on Star Trek was Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier, published Heritage Models, Inc. by in 1978. It was best known for its miniatures and besides manufacturing fantasy miniatures for Dungeons & Dragons, it also produced miniatures for the rulesets it published, including both John Carter, Warlord of Mars: Adventure Gaming Handbook and Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier. In the late seventies, it was a major company in the growing hobby market, rivalling TSR, Inc., but by the beginning of the eighties, it was out of business.
Being published in 1978, means that Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier is based upon just the two sources—the original Star Trek series from the sixties and Star Trek: The Animated Series. Consequently, this includes the inclusion of the Kzinti from the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode, ‘The Slaver Weapon’, which would mark the first inclusion of the Kzinti in a roleplaying game a full six years before the publication of The Ringworld Roleplaying Game by Chaosium, Inc. However, the roleplaying and play in Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier is limited to landing missions, and there are no rules for starships or space travel whatsoever. The style of play emphasises exploration and especially combat, essentially ‘dungeon crawl’ or ‘sandbox’ style adventures or missions across planetary surfaces or inside alien structures, all played out over a hex grid. Despite this, the designer admonishes potential players that, “Combat should be the last resort of an officer of the Federation…” Even so, the majority of the rules are devoted to combat and if truth be told, Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier is still more miniatures combat game than roleplaying game with rules primarily designed to necessitate the use, and of course, purchase of miniatures, all available from Heritage Models, Inc.
Play in Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier primarily revolves around the Star Trek personalities, at least initially. Numerous members of the bridge crew and other crew aboard the Enterprise are listed, as well as numerous ‘villains’ such as the Klingon, Captain Koloth, and Sub-Commander Tal of the Romulan Star Empire. Just the basic stats though. There is no background given for any one of these personalities, let alone the Star Trek setting itself, so in coming to play or run Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier, both player and Mission Master—the roleplaying game’s term for the Game Master—need to know the stetting and the characters. On the plus side, Star Trek is so baked into the cultural zeitgeist—and was in 1978—that anyone coming to Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier should have more than a passing similarity to both, if not the nuances.
Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier is divided into the Basic Game and the Advanced Game. The Basic Game covers the basics of Personalities, the basics of the rules and combat, and a Basic Game scenario. The Advanced Game includes its own scenario, rules for character creation, expanded combat rules, familiar Star Trek life forms and their creation, expanded equipment, guidelines for creating scenarios, and notes for the Mission Master. So, in the Basic Game, the players take the roles of the Personalities from original Star Trek series from the sixties and Star Trek: The Animated Series, the Bridge Crew and other members of the Crew. A Personality in Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier is simply defined by his six abilities, all of which are self-explanatory bar one. That is Constitution, which works as a Personality’s Hit Points.
Captain James T. Kirk
Strength 13 Dexterity 14 Luck 15
Mentality 14 Charisma 16 Luck 13
Class 2 Hand-to-Hand
Plus 2 to Initiation
Plus 5 in Hand-to-Hand
Mechanically, Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier uses the rules from Space Patrol, published by Gamescience in 1977. If a player wants his Personality to undertake an action, he rolls three six-sided dice and if rolls under the appropriate ability, his Personality succeeds. Luck is used as a general saving throw. Combat takes place over Turns of a minute long, divided into Action Phases of two to five seconds long. Each Action Phase consists of four steps—Decision, Initiation, Execution, and Record-Keeping. Of these, Initiation is actually initiative, which is done in descending order of Dexterity. Decision is when the players decide what their Personalities do, and Execution is when their Personalities do their actions. This includes a full move, half move and attack, attack, reload, or stand up or lie down. Hand-to-Hand combat is handled through opposed rolls of a single six-sided die plus modifiers. Hand-to-Hand and modifiers above twelve and below nine for Strength and Dexterity for the attacker, and Hand-to-Hand and modifiers above twelve and below nine for Luck for the defender. In Ranged Combat, the attacker and the defender again one die each. For the attacker, the player cross-references his Personality’s Dexterity with the range and roll under the result. If hit, the defending Personality’s player applies modifiers above twelve and below nine for Luck and the resulting number subtracted from the damage, the end result deducted from the defender’s Constitution. This can reduce the damage to nothing, but weapons can also stun. Creatures do not have the same abilities as the Personalities and characters, but just a simple Ability Rating.
The Basic Game also includes rules for basic equipment and even includes an example of play. The scenario in the Basic Game is ‘The Shuttlecraft Crash’. Essentially, this is a rerun of the classic episode, ‘The Galileo Seven’ in which the Personalities have crash-landed their shuttle and must search the area for dilithium deposits in the face of attacks by large, spear-wielding humanoids and other natural hazards. Strangely, the Advanced Game begins with the second scenario in Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier rather than the advanced rules. ‘The Slaver Ruins’ is partially based on ‘The Slaver Weapon’ episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series and sees the Player Characters investigate some ruins and try and stop the ancient technology hidden there from falling into Kzinti hands. Although both scenarios have strong exploratory elements, neither is really a roleplaying scenario by today’s standards since they consist of objectives for the Player Characters to achieve within a limited space and possess little in the way of story or plot development.
The Advanced Game introduces character creation. The default species for Player Characters is Human, but the list of ‘Familiar Star Trek Life Forms’ includes various playable species, such as Andorians, Caitians, and Vulcans alongside Tribbles, Horta, and Sehlats. Abilities are rolled on three six-sided dice and Player Characters have a one percent chance of possessing a single Psionic ability. Psionic ability rolls use the Mentality ability. In addition, a Player Character also has the Size and Movement abilities, the former modified by a roll of a twenty-sided die, the latter by the Player Character’s Strength and items carried. Besides the ‘Familiar Star Trek Life Forms’ lists there are rules for creating creatures as well as a greatly expanded list of equipment. In terms of characters, there are no rules for skills or progression or rank, so no sense of progression in the roleplaying game, at least mechanically.
Unsurprisingly, the Advanced Game also expands the rules for combat. So, Initiation is now a die roll modified by Dexterity and weapons now include an Initiation modifier. Weapons now take into account rate of fire, rounds, reload time, and so on. There are rules too for armour and shielding, from chainmail and kite shield all the way up to energy and kinetic shields and the Klingon armour vest. Grenades include the effects of Phaser weapons on overload as well as high explosive, sonic, and photon types.
Whilst the introduction to both Star Trek and roleplaying in Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier can be best described as rudimentary, the advice for the Mission Master in terms of creating her own scenarios and notes is surprisingly good, amounting to roughly three pages between them. The Mission Master is advised to give her creatures motivations—such as the Horta protecting her young—and several scenarios are discussed, such as interstellar police and space salvage. There is even the suggestion that the players roleplay Klingons or Romulans instead! The notes cover both how to take inspiration from the source material and how not to, warns the Mission Master to be a fair arbiter and designer of scenarios, and lastly warns that if the Mission Master fails as a script writer, then just like Star Trek itself, her game will get cancelled!
Physically, it is difficult to judge Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier, since what is being reviewed is a facsimile rather than an original copy of the game. On that basis, it is surprising to see that it has an index, but there are no illustrations and the two maps, one for each scenario, are serviceable rather than attractive. However, on that basis, Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier very much needs an edit, because otherwise, no one will look at Commander Spack quite the same way ever again (though this turns out to be the result of poor OCR for the original document which this facsimile is based on). The writing in general is concise and easy to understand for anyone coming to the hobby for the first time.
Another surprise is that the facsimile of Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier includes two extra articles, both of which are reprinted from Different Worlds magazine and are the only coverage that the roleplaying game received. ‘Kirk On Karit 2’ (Different Worlds Issue 4, August 1979) by Emmet F. Milestone is primarily a play report of a scenario that he wrote and ran at DunDraCon IV, but it includes an overview of the game plus rules for romantic entanglements, which of course, plays a big part in James T. Kirk’s activities, as well as other Personalities in the series. Of more use is ‘Star Trek – Beyond the Final Frontier’ (Different Worlds Issue 18, January 1982), as it expands the rules and arguably rounds them out. Paul Montgomery Crabaugh’s article covers rolling for Player Character species, provides a Rank and Experience Point table as well as discussing Rank within the game, and adds rules for skills and shipboard assignments, including starship type and department. Lastly there are basic rules for creating planets and their populations and level of technology, as well as guidelines for travel at Warp speed. These are well thought out and greatly flesh out Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier, making it much more of a roleplaying game than the miniatures combat with roleplaying elements it was published as. However, Paul Montgomery Crabaugh’s greatly needed article came four years too late. FASA would published its highly regarded Star Trek: The Role Playing Game that same year as Crabaugh’s article and it would include just about everything that article did. Plus of course, it had photographs from the series and more importantly, rules for starship combat.
Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier dates from the early days of the hobby when its ties from wargaming had yet to be truly cut. Thus, this is far more of a wargame than a true roleplaying game, although there are rudimentary roleplaying elements present. The emphasis on combat also means that Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier is a poor Star Trek game, although in the hands of a good Mission Master and players knowledgeable of the source material, that could very much change. By modern standards, Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier is not a good, licensed roleplaying game, not really satisfying the interest of the average Star Trek fan, and neither is it a good roleplaying game. Yet it is not truly terrible, nor is it unplayable, even today. If someone was to run this at a convention as a wargame, complete with miniatures and terrain, it would be accepted as a slice of nostalgia. As a roleplaying game, it be less likely to be accepted as something that was playable. Then again, even in 1978, it is likely that Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier would have been regarded as no more than a serviceable game. Of course, we have since been spoiled with numerous and better Star Trek roleplaying games since 1978, but Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier deserves at least to be remembered as the first Star Trek roleplaying game and the first licensed roleplaying game.