A long, long time ago in a city far, far away…oops:  wrong allusion!  Back when I was but a young lad in the 1980s (OK…not so young), FASA brought out their Star Trek roleplaying game.  The opportunity to play in a universe I liked spurred me to pick up the material and attempt to run a game.  It was a prime example of how a clunky system can interfere with play.

I didn’t bother with a Trek campaign until 1999, when I picked up Last Unicorn’s excellent RPG system.  There were a few things in LUG Trek that were annoying — having to buy different core books for each series, for instance.  LUG died a quick death, as many new independents in the RPG do, but many of the people found their way to Decipher to rebuild Star Trek as an RPG.

The system is stable and easy to learn and play.  It has root in both LUG Trek and d20, in that the system steals from both liberally, but the main mechanic is a 2d6 roll, with modifiers added from attributes, or from skill levels (also modified by attributes.)  It feels like d20, tweaked to actually give you a probability curve instead of the flat line of a single die.

The Player’s Guide has the character creation rules and basics of the system scattered about in the Skills chapter and the appendix.  you could conceivably play Star Trek with just the PG, but the Narrator’s Guide is pretty essential for more crunch and the rules on starships and combat between them.

One of the big complaints about the PG was the chapter layout.  After an introduction and a small chapter on the history of the series and movies, character creation rules were split into various chapters that required a bit of paging around to write up a character.  If I recall, the first few characters took an average 45 minutes to do up.  Within a few tries, I had the creation time down to 20 minutes.  I found the creation process fun:  there’s enough variation in the process that you can craft a personality with some precision.

1) Pick your species, 2) pick your profession (starship command officer, soldier, diplomat, what have you…)  This section feels cribbed from d20 — race and class, and should be familiar enough to d20 players to be immediately accessible.  While  I despise the race/class/level combination, it is palatable in this game due to the iconic nature of the characters.  Multi-classing (changing professions) is simple enough and the prerequisites aren’t too intrusive.

Next you pick attributes through either a point-based system, or roll ’em up.  I prefer the former.  Racial modifiers apply.  Move on to skill and trait packages based on your background and profession.  Professions give you abilities, much as in D&D 3rd edition that stack on each other, as well as traits to benefit the character.  Modify as you will with flaws.  Report for duty.  You can add “advancements” to create more experienced characters.  Once again, it feels d20-ish, but not enough for the d20 haters (of which I will admit I am one) to kvetch too much.  There are even “elite” professions that extend the list of abilities.

The Narrator’s Guide gives the GM more advanced rules, some corrections to weapons damages, etc.  It includes examples of starships, and rules for making your own (improved upon in Starships.)  There’s the usual chapters on the universe, how to run Trek effectively.  The system is a bit quirky on combat, most notably on damage.  Characters have different levels of damage that give them negative modifiers for each level of damage.  Each level they can take a certain number of damage (hit) points.  This makes hand-to-hand and melee combat a long, drawn out affair.  As with D&D, you’re characters can slug it out for a long time without real danger, at first, of getting really hurt.  Phasers are a whole ‘nother matter.  As with onscreen examples, a phaser set to kill is a really dangerous animal.  Most settings just kill you dead and leave a bit of ash.

I tried tweaking the combat rules to make HTH and melee combat a bit more dangerous and phasers less so…with little real success.  Starship combat is well executed, and gives the right feel.  Shields are terribly important, don’t necessarily stop damage from getting through in a fight, but do mitigate some of it.  Effects on systems are felt as the ship gets pasted.  It’s the best part of the system, for me — there’s crunch to the combat rules, but it’s not too restrictive and allows for role playing in the midst of combat; each player’s character can have something to do, be it fly the ship, fire the weapons, give orders, or jury rig repairs.

The books are gorgeous to look at.  They are hard cover with heavy-weight paper, full color and lots of screen captures from across the span of the franchise.  And there weren’t a wealth of typos.  This was one of the first RPG lines to go high-end on production values (following LUG before it) and high-price (one of the line’s downfalls, along with shoddy support from Decipher.)

The Player’s Guide is a necessity for using the Decipher system, and had it been bundled with the Narrator’s Guide, it would have been better at the release of the game.  Now, you can buy both books online used.  If you are going to buy Decipher Star Trek, make sure you get both books.  You can get by without Aliens and Starships, but I found those books an excellent buy, as well.  Creatures not so much.

Style: 5 out  of 5, Substance: 4 out of 5.  If you want to play Star Trek, you could do a lot worse than this system.  It’s still one of my favorites.