Tuesday, April 12, 2011

L is for: Lexington

...U.S.S. Lexington to be more specific.

8 Inch guns on a carrier? Yes! Lex and the Saratoga were the only ones

No not that one, though it's a story worth reading. CV-2 was a very cool ship.

Worth a trip if you get the chance

No not that one either although CV-16 survived long enough to become a museum now in south Texas.


Ah, there we go - this is a gaming blog and not a naval history blog (though that's an area of interest for me) so we're going to talk about the fictional U.S.S. Lexington from Star Trek.

The Trek MMO is, if nothing else, a beautiful game

Star Trek the role-playing game came out in 1982 in a big boxed set with a thick (for the time) rulebook, counters, control sheets, and deck plans for Federation and Klingon cruisers. Fasa really did it right.  For a Trek fan it was heaven. Keep in mind that this was 5 years before the whole Next Generation started up. We had the original series (viewed many many times), we had the animated series (viewed when possible), we had novels (very hit and miss) and we had two movies, the second of which was liked even by non-trek fans in many cases. That was it - no internet archives, no computer or video games. We had reference material like the Star Fleet Technical Manual and the episode guide books but we had to hunt that stuff down. The RPG drew from all of that and put it in one place and made a lot of us very happy.

I won't get into mechanical details but it was a good system, one I would be happy to play or run again today. Characters could be from a number of races and went through a career system much like Traveller's character generation system giving them a nice little history to go along with their stats. The game was set completely in the time of the original series and so action was a bigger part of things than in some later incarnations. My first character was a human science officer that lasted throughout my playing career with Fasa Trek and I still have his sheet.

Now that is not his name. I ran into a little problem here in that I used my actual name spelled backwards for his character name. This was a popular thing to do in the early 80's and I can probably blame Gary Gygax and his love for anagrams infecting my D&D games. I can also blame a friend who played Traveler who named his character "Repik" - his name backwards - and drew a bunch of pictures of his character doing cool things. So anyway his name is not Captain Wolfcastle but I used that in the Star Trek MMO so we will use it here.

Anyway Captain "Wolfcastle" had a long and glorious career. There were really three phases: the first few sessions before he was given command of a starship, then the majority of the game where he was in captain of the Lexington during the original series era, and then the movie era where the universe starts to change in many ways. His three greatest moments are recounted below:

  • Early in his career (right after assuming command of the Lexington) he was captured and imprisoned along with his helmsman on a Klingon D-7.  Using the "I'm sick jailer, help me" trick (which I thought was very clever at the time) he escaped and with the help of many, many liberated disrupter rifles he caused serious harm to the ship, allowing the Lex to locate it and capture it without a fight.
  • During his time as captain, one of the most frustrating and memorable adventures was "Denial of Destiny" which was a published adventure for trek but it had the interesting conundrum where the star of an inhabited system is about to go nova. The UFP sends in a rag-tag fleet of anything that will fly to help evacuate but most of the population doesn't want to go - they intend to die with their planet if that's the way things go. It's about 100% talking and role-playing as there's no space combat and really no ground combat. There's no skill challenge to convince the billion inhabitants of the planet that they do need to leave (and it's not like you can carry them all anyway. You can convince certain groups within the population to leave so it's not a pure storytelling exercise but it is very open-ended as far as what the players want to do. I distinctly recall sending down survey teams to take recordings of all of their great works of art and literature to try and preserve as much as possible. One of the constraints is that much like earthquake prediction, nova prediction is imprecise so that you know that you have days, you just don't know how many. Plus you have to be able to beam your teams back up in a hurry when it does blow. I admit some of the details are fuzzy and my DM probably changed up some of the adventure - I've never read it - but it was a distinctly Star Trek adventure, one you probably wouldn't see in any other game. There's no way to "win" so it's a little Kobayashi Maru-ish in that sense - a really good experience after playing for a while. 
  • In contrast to the previous entry, much later in his career (several years of real time and game time) the Lex was used in some experimental weapons system upgrades* and sent to a secret research base to test them out. There was of course a Klingon spy on the base and a signal was sent and while setting up to test the sensors show a bunch of Klingon ships incoming. We had a survey ship that was going to be assisting with the testing, the lightly armed base, and the Lexington. I sent the survey ship to evacuate the base and went out to meet the Klingon fleet with the intention of delaying them. The Klingons demanded surrender, Captain Wolfcastle told them to stuff it, and the battle was on. There were 12 ships - a scout, a couple of escorts (K-23's, Heh), something like 4 D-7's, a pair of D-10's, some of those nasty frigates, L-9 Sabers I think. With the new tech I was feeling pretty good as I was doing things like targeting torpedo launchers and disruptors to pull their teeth so that they would drop out of the fight. The Lex was taking some damage but it was a fairly one-sided fight. Then the D-7 with the Romulan plasma weapon decloaked behind me (the first appearance of cloaked Klingons in our game - another experimental ship) and things got pretty dicey for a time. By the time it was over and another Federation squadron raced in to chase off the last few attackers, I had blown up something like 8 or 9 of them, but the LExington was down in the single digits on both warp engines, was completely out of superstructure, and was down to a couple of phasers for offense. It was epic, and some of the most fun we ever had playing with the ship combat system in that game. If it hadn't been for my Vulcan Chief Engineer (another PC) I never would have made it through that fight. My ace helmsman made a big difference too. 

After that last fight the Lexington was a wreck and was put into drydock for a year for upgrading into an Enterprise class ship. This was a big deal as it marked our transition into the movie era and it made for a much more powerful ship at the time. Our adventures after this took on a somewhat more military tone as the Klingons demanded that Captain Wolfcastle be turned over for war crimes (several years before Trek VI!) for the "massacre" at the research station and tensions rose all along the borders. We took on several missions in smaller ships with the Gorn, helping them out against the Romulans** and some other aliens after spending some of our early adventures fighting against them.  Once the Lexington was relaunched we made a bit of a grand tour stopping in to deal with Tholians, Orions (harassing the Gorn again) and the Romulans. We also made a hi-speed run into the Triangle to rescue a Federation ship and that was ... about it. We were playing less and the Klingon and Romulan boxed sets were out so we spent some time playing Klingons and generating our linefamilies and doing klingon-y things then it all kind of petered out.

One thing that made that campaign memorable is that it was run differently than any other game I have played. My captain was the central character in some ways, but it was really the ship that was the link. Other players made characters too like my engineer and my helmsman and my security chief and I even made up a Catian Communications officer as a secondary character. The DM would say hey let's play some Star Trek I have a cool idea and whoever could show up to play would play. He kept a copy of the character sheets so that if someone couldn't make it then Sirok the Chief Engineer was still present and as effective as he normally would be, even if he wasn't a featured character for that episode. It made for some awesome continuity. At one point my helmsman was up for a game where I couldn't make it and so he was promoted to command his own ship and branched off into his own story - and he rolled up a replacement helmsman of a different race so that he could still play with the main group! This wasn't some special visiting DM either - this was the same guy who ran most of my AD&D playing sessions and played in my Champions games. It was just the way that this particular game worked out. 

Also unique among my playing experiences was that about half of these sessions were one on one - my DM ran them and I was the only player. That doesn't work well in D&D and many other RPG's without some serious bending to accommodate it but it worked in trek. One reason is that combat power resides more in the ship than in the character so that one player can still play in a combat encounter if he's running the ship. Another is that combat isn't really the center of the game. There are enough exploratory/diplomatic/mystery solving elements in most trek adventures that you can have a good time without a big mechanical impact. If it comes down to needing certain skills, well, if I'm the captain I can have Ensign Chang run an analysis and provide some information. Based on these experiences I think Star Trek is the perfect game to run with 1 or 2 players and I think more than 3 might be too much. 

Digging a little deeper it looks like we played some Romulans too.

I think we only played two runs with these guys, an introduction and then a longer covert mission that we never finished. Ah well.

So that's probably enough about the Lexington and her crew. To me Star Trek RPG = Fasa Trek. There was the Last Unicorn version (OK but not my favorite), a Decipher version (better but still not quite like the old one) plus parallels like Prime Directive and various fan conversions for Savage Worlds and the best fan creation of all Where No Man Has Gone Before, which can be found here. One of the Apprentices has shown some interest in Trek so maybe sometime soon I'll get to run my own Next Generation adventures, even if I use an older system to create them.

*I had looked over the notes on the experimental stuff and thought it looked pretty overpowered in game terms but my DM just smiled. This was after Trek III so one of them involved running the phasers through a transwarp drive reactor (ala Trek I) which would increase the power and let them have a chance of bypassing the shields. There was also a fire control scanner upgrade which let me have some control over the damage location when I hit. Plus the photons were upgraded to 15-point photons from the original 10. It was a pretty serious set of stuff. 

** We weren't afraid to drop some Star Fleet Battles stuff into our Trek universe if we thought it made for a better game. The Romulans and Gorns are bitter enemies in that game and there is a bunch more on Gorn society and history there too. 


Anonymous said...

Great post! It takes me back to many o' ST game.

FASA was the version for me; We used SFB for the battle situations all the time. When GMing, for the ship's crew, I had 400+ character sheets pre-rolled. Whenever one died, it received a big red "DECEASED" stamp on it.

Blacksteel said...

That is insane having sheets for the crew like that! Awesome idea though. We were big SFB players as well but for the RPG we mostly used the space combat system from Fasa. I have the original "Star Trek II Starship Combat Simulator" sitting next to the somewhat later "Starship Tactical Combat Simulator" and I have to say we used them a lot.