Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Trek Tuesday - Decipher Trek




Getting back to the big glossy editions of Trek RPG's, it's time to talk about the Decipher years. The genesis of this one is a little strange. Last Unicorn had been publishing their edition of the game for a couple of years when in 2000 the announcement came out that they had been purchased by WOTC. Within a few months WOTC/LUG lost the Trek license, supposedly because there was a clause against the same company having both the Star Trek and Star Wars licenses which WOTC now had.

Regardless of the details a new Trek game appeared in 2002 (roughly a one-year gap) from Decipher of all companies. Decipher had been known only for card games up to this point, so it was a surprise. Considering they already had the Trek license for card games, it did make some sense. One interesting thing was that quite a bit of the design team from Last Unicorn made the jump to the new edition - take a look at the credit pages below:

Last Unicorn credits page
Decipher credits page
There is a lot of overlap there. So you might think "lots of continuity there" right? Well, not so much. Despite having invented a whole new system and written multiple books on Trek just within the last 5 years, the design appears to have looked more at a different system that was popular at the time.

The stats shift to six familiar-looking basic attributes plus some others. Task resolution also looks familiar (and I don;t mean Traveller) being 2d6 + modifiers (lots and lots of modifiers) to beat a target number set by the difficulty of the task. It's shifted down about 5 points from the d20 difficulty numbers but it looks very familiar. This was during the height of the d20 boom and the system for stats, skills, and task resolution is very similar to d20.

Characters have a Species which modifies attributes and grants some special abilities. They also choose a Profession which designates some skills as professional skills and grants some special abilities. There are also Elite Professions which can be taken after meeting certain criteria.

Action Rounds are 6 seconds long and characters can take movement actions, combat actions, free actions, and full-round actions - not really trying to hide it at this point were they?

There is a some chrome here. There are Traits which are like Advantages/Disadvantages, there is a hero point mechanic and a reputation mechanic, combat uses a damage track as well as simple hit point type damage to introduce some damage effects,  and of course there is star ship combat as well.


So it's very much a d20-styled Trek game. You might think that would have taken off bigtime in that particular time. Well it didn't. They produced very nice full-color hardback books, six of them and a narrator's screen from 2002-2003 and then it got quiet. Considering the ready availability of these books in bargain bins and overstock deals circa 2005 I think it's safe to say this did not do well. It's not hard to see why:

  • First, despite having the same design team this is a very different game, mechanically, and having spent significant money to acquire the previous rules, there was not a huge incentive to turn around and spend money all over again a few years later.
  • Second, I don't think fans of LUG Trek felt that the system had run its course and so there was no great outcry for a revision or new mechanics and Decipher's version didn't cover any new ground that the prior version had not.
  • Thirdly, while it was like d20 it was not actually d20. This closed it off from the exploding ecosystem of d20 games that were cross-compatible to a degree, and from gamers who were extremely d20-focused.
  • Finally, there is timing - when this was released Voyager had just ended, Enterprise had just started, and Nemesis released and was not particularly well received. Trek was petering out in a lot of ways. I suspect that among casual players and fans there was not a lot of interest in starting up a new game and the die-hard fans already had FASA or LUG Trek (or one of the many, many homebrews) and were not terribly interested in something new. Contrast this with Star Wars which was in the middle of the new trilogy after a long gap and was all over the place.
Looking back I think if the design team had taken this as a chance to refine the ICON system, or if they had gone full-on d20 system, then it probably would have sold better as at least there would have been some built-in audience for the new game. Given the timing of its release I'm not sure it would have mattered but I can't help but think it would have helped in some way.


Personally I've never run a game of it. I tried - twice. We never got past character generation in either one. I tried selling it to my group once many years ago and it never took off. I tried it a bit later online and that never got off the ground either. I don't blame the system for those but that is the extent of my experience with it. Hey, I tried ...

If I was going to start up a campaign now I suspect Decipher's game would be several notches down the list even though I have the complete pile of stuff. It's fine and has plenty of material in the books to support a campaign, but so do most other Trek RPG's (official and unofficial). I see stuff in the other versions that I like better. I don't see much support for it online and I suspect it's just not as popular even now as the other options.

That's about all I have to say on Decipher Trek. Next week we will see what else is out there.

3 comments:

Barking Alien said...

This is really very little I can add here (Yes, ME with nothing to add about a Star Trek post!) as I agree with you completely on all counts.

To me, as a playtester on LUG's Star Trek game, a new system by the same people essentially that didn't take as long as their previous version just couldn't be good. It would be like being told to do your best work, doing it and then being told to do it again, differently, you have an hour.

That scenario shows up in the game, which feels shoehorned and rushed. Strangely, Decipher's Lord of the Rings RPG is actually pretty good and uses essentially the same system.

For my money, LUG is the best bet overall. I do love FASA and I am using it now for my current campaign, but my go to system will always be Last Unicorn's.

David Brawley said...

I never got to play LUG Trek, but picked up everything for Decipher Trek... and ye gods did it need an editor. Everything is so spread out, just making a character requires a cheat sheet to tell you where to go in the book from one step to the next.

They are really pretty though...

Wish I could find someone who wanted to actually PLAY trek... any edition.

Blacksteel said...

I can second that, David. Not a ton of interest around here either.

I think for TOS & movie-era Trek I still like FASA the best but for TNG and later I may roll with LUG next time. Whenever that turns out to be.