Star Trek Roleplaying Game Core Game Book
Author: James L. Cambias, Jackie Cassada and Nicky Rea, Kenneth Hite, Robin D. Laws, Steven S. Long, S. John Ross, John Snead
Company/Publisher: Last Unicorn Games
Line: Star Trek RPG
Page count: 286
Playtest Review by Jeffrey W. Kramer on 10/10/99.
Genre tags: Science_fiction Far_Future Space
From the moment LUG's STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION RPG hit the market, many fans, even those who loved the game, were *really* waiting for this game. To many Star Trek fans, gamers and otherwise, the real Star Trek is the original series, where it all started. Kirk, Spock, Scotty, The USS Enterprise (no C,D or E), women in mini-skirt uniforms and high boots, green Orion slave girls, and Klingons who look like extras from a Genghis Khan movie, not leather-bar refugees with turtle-shells on their heads. Well, for those players, the wait is over. For them, and for everyone else, the wait was worth it.
The STAR TREK RPG utilizes the same Icon rules system introduced in the ST:TNG RPG; those who are familiar with that (rightfully) award-winning game will find lots familiar in the STAR TREK RPG; in fact, in terms of game mechanics (character generation, combat, damage resolution, etc.) the two games are identical. This has certain advantages, including the following:
1) People familiar with any of LUG's Star Trek games will be able to play and utilize any of them, and their supplements, interchangably, without having to learn new game mechanics;
2) The Icon rules work very well; there is no reason to reinvent the wheel for a different setting; and, most importantly
3) The game system "feels" very much like Star Trek. The Icon system is not heavy on game mechanics. It produces characters who are competent and interesting, and results that are dramatic and cinematic: charactersitics in common between both generations of StarTrek.
That said, there are some who will grouse about essentially buying the same game rules twice, in order to get a few new things. Such individuals will point to some sections of the ST RPG Core Game Book, such as the Starship Combat chapter, and note that the bulk of this material is lifted word for word from the ST:TNG Core Game Book. Well, they would be correct in this observation, but they would also be missing the point. While the game system is the same, the ST RPG is nonetheless a different game. It is different by virtue of the presentation and tone, and while those may sound like merely cosmetic differences, strangely, this is is not the case.
In terms of presentation, both of LUG's Trek games are beautiful examples of modern RPG graphic design, but they also look remarkably different. The layout is different, the typefaces are different, and the graphics are different, but these differences are not just a matter of variety; rather, they reflect inherent differences between the settings of the two games. The ST:TNG RPG looks flashy, with page designs based on the LCARS graphics familiar to fans of the modern Trek shows: rounded picture borders and insets, wraparound page borders, etc. The ST RPG, in contrast, has a raw, primal, less polished look.. just like the original Star Trek TV show. Despite the modern production values, the ST RPG manages to look old - which it should, as it represents an old show. Sidebars feature buttons and colored lights recalling the clunky consules and gadgets of the original Star Trek show; the many photo stills from the original TV series portray the dated, rough look of the original show; even the off-white color of the cover looks old.
This "old" look helps set the tone, but there are other factors that remind you that this is a different game, representing a different Star Trek. While some parts of the rules are lifted virtually unchanged from the ST:TNG rules, many others were rewritten to reflect differences in the settings. The Federation described in the ST RPG book is much different than the later, more sophisticated Federation of the ST:TNG era; smaller, wilder, less politically corrrect. Some of the species available as player characters differ; while the TNG RPG offered Betazoids and Bolians, who premiered in the ST:TNG TV show, the ST RPG presents Axanarians and Tiburonians, species featured in episodes of the original series. The potential opponents differ also, for the most part; forget about the Ferengi and the Cardassians, they never showed up in the original Star Trek series. Players in the ST: RPG can expect to encounter the Gorn and the Tholians instead. Overall, the writing is strikingly different in tone, reflecting the larger-than-life melodrama that was the classic Star Trek. For example, compare the little vignettes opening each chapter; in the ST RPG, the action is bigger, the stakes are greater, and the dialogue is cornier than in the ST:TNG game. These differences carry through to the sections on running the game, and the sample adventure, which presents a situation in which Captain Kirk would have felt right at home. Almost constantly, a reader who is familiar with both games is reminded - sometimes overtly, more often subtly - that this is game represents a different era of Star Trek, during which the characters think and act differently. As a result, the Narrator will be inspired to write different sorts of adventures than she would write for the TNG RPG, and the player, in turn, will be inspired to play his character differently. This makes it a different game in the ways that matter.
My criticisms are few, and mostly trivial. Because some sections heavier in game mechanics than setting-specific material were pretty much lifted as-is from the TNG book, there are places where the specifics do not match precisely with the new, setting-specific material. For example, the descriptions of phaser firing arcs in the Starship Combat chapter do not match the sample ship descriptions. My biggest complaint is that the smaller typeface used in the ST RPG is, by virtue of being smaller, harder to read (duh!). In particular, the page numbers seem virtually microscopic. This choice allows for more material and lots of pictures, but it also strains the eyes of the aging fan - well, this aging fan, at least.
In all, the Star Trek RPG is an exceptional game, worthy of standing alongside LUG's excellent ST:TNG line of games. I will look forward to future supplements, and I expect any true Trek fan will do the same.
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)