Old School Energy

Over the past year, I’ve been doing an extended dive into the world of Star Trek, or “old school Star Trek” you might say. Boy, do I love the original show, and having discovered the first RPG for it, I started developing a Star Trek campaign that, frankly, nobody but me would ever see. Really, though, it was more than that. It was like my personal salute to the show, that groovy 60’s sci-fi, the look ad feel of the whole thing – all things I loved, but also things I had never really explored. Which brings me to fanzines ,,,

Initially, I discovered Geoffrey Mandel’s Star Fleet Handbook, much of which was reproduced as the U.S.S. Enterprise Officer’s Manual, which I owned. I say “much of which”, because there was plenty that didn’t see print in that compilation, and enthused with all things Old School Trek, I wanted to see what Mr. Mandel had created.

I managed to find a couple issues online and bought them and loved them. A fan filling in the details of something he loved, but not to the obsessive degree to which such things can be taken. None of the nonsense about “canon” and copyright and such – just creativity. In the process of finding the Star Fleet Handbooks, I also found the “Fanlore” website, and so the descent into madness began.

Folks, you might not know this about me, but when I start researching for a project, I go a bit nuts. I love research … heck, I do it for a living … and I tend to over-research things. With Grit & Vigor, for example, I needed to know more about guns and vehicles than I did so I could model them appropriately in the game. Before I was done, I’d built a database of thousands of firearms, cars, airplanes … heck, I even built a database of hundreds of animals to have something to which I could compare the vehicles. Overkill, yes, but once I start I just can’t stop.

My “Star Trek Databank” now includes over 1,500 stars (which I’ve mapped), since I wanted to tie all the planets to real world stars, over 2,600 named Starfleet vessels with their registry numbers, etc. You get the idea. And now I had dozens (hundreds?) of old fanzines to explore.

I was mostly looking for articles about the “Star Trek universe”, rather than short stories. I wanted to see what fans, with nothing more than the original show and the animated episodes to work with, could come up with about all that new life and new civilizations. Finding some articles about Tellarites and Andorians on Fanlore, I was soon the owner of all five issues of Sehlat’s Roar. Great articles, by the way – very creative and very useful for my purposes. I soon had a select collection of a few others, and naturally started reading some of the fan fiction that was in them. Heck, I even discovered some art by Vaughn Bode and Phil Foglio! From Star Trek fanzines to “Phil & Dixie” in Dragon Magazine. Cool stuff, and it hit me how similar all of this was to the early days of Dungeons & Dragons. The art, the presentation and, most importantly, the energy!

The energy is what I love about old school Trek, old school D&D – maybe old school everything. That brilliant, bubbly, awkward, crazy, wonderful energy released when somebody has birthed something new – something we’ve not quite seen before. It was there in the earliest animation, in early jazz, in early movies. In time, all of these things become more about money than ideas, but there’s usually a wonderful honeymoon that just thrills me to death. Now that I’m approaching 50, I’m discovering a real love for DIY – books, games, art, movies, music, restaurants, etc. Real people doing things – sometimes well, sometimes not so well – for the sheer love of it.

Folks – go find that energy. Bathe in it, participate in it, and love it for all you’re worth. Along with the human relationships – spouse, kids – that make your life worthwhile, the energy of frenzied fans doing something they love for almost nothing at all will keep you going.

9 thoughts on “Old School Energy

  1. Can’t say I’m all that excited about Star Trek but the database of 1,500 real world stars sounds very cool for anyone who wants to host a campaign in the “real world”.


  2. I’m not a Star Trek fan myself either, but the energy potential of a dedicated fandom (however small) is mind-blowing. Without that excitement, I probably would never have been drawn to old-school D&D, or the very least wouldn’t have kept coming back to it.


  3. I recall that you posted some of the Grit & Vigor background on your old website. However, a series on your G&V research would be most welcome.


    • Well, it’s a simple strategy. I sit for hours and hours and hours typing whatever stats I could reliably find for firearms and vehicles into an excel document, and then try to figure out a way to translate that into game mechanics. For the firearms, for example, I pulled together enough data that I could come up with a system for duplicating melee weapon damage from the d20 system. I then applied the same scale to firearms, and got something I thought was at least defensible. For vehicles, I came up with size classes, like d20 uses for monsters, based on weight rather than physical dimensions. That gave me size, hit dice, etc. It’s mostly grunt work, the same as publishing dozens of magazines and games.


      • I thought your solutions were rather elegant. It would be interesting to know how much of this sort of thing goes into other rules using plausibility to suspend disbelief. A quick check reveals that a Colt 1911 in d20 Modern causes 2d6 damage, an order of magnitude away from your calculation.


  4. And truthfully, my stuff is based 100% off of guessing how a gun should compare to a sword – I would guess even genuine experts would differ on that sort of thing since d20/D&D-style combat (and I guess really all RPG combat) is so abstract. What I really wanted was to be able to compare two particular firearms and have their stats make sense in relation to one another, rather than just be a total guess by me.


  5. I would be really interested to hear your take on what are the ingredients that will drive a setting into take-off?

    The point was made elsewhere online (around the release of the new DnD book) that people are focusing on re-releases of ‘the fantasies of their time’ – setting the truth or not of that aside, it begs the question of what are the fantasies of now and which ones have the ingredients to be interesting?


    • That’s a good question, but I’m the wrong person to answer it. I know next to nothing about the latest and greatest in fantasy or sci-fi. I’m actually not much a “genre” fan, in terms of science fiction or fantasy. There are specific things I’ve liked over the years, but I’m not the sort that seeks out new fantasy novels, for example, and gives them all a try. I’m also not the type to put any particular value on what’s new vs. old. It’s all just stuff to me, so I’m as likely – or maybe more likely – to pick something up written 100 years ago vs. something published last week. Also, if I’m honest, I don’t care for much of what the mainstream has produced since the mid-1990’s. I’m very happily out of date when it comes to arts and entertainment.

      In terms of ingredients to make a good game setting … it might not be as ingredient thing as much as a collective touchstone thing. Star Wars is a major thing for Gen-X because there weren’t a thousand options out there for our viewing pleasure. Dang near everybody (well, not really, but sorta) watched Star Wars back then and played with the action figures, so gathering a bunch of people who are around my age who know Star Wars, have fond memories of it and want to play a game about it is not too hard. As time went by, you had first the arrival of cable/satellite TV and dozens of channels, and then the internet and thousands of channels (so to speak), so it got harder to find things everybody knew because there were so many more options out there. You also had a cultural shift – you might call it the rise of pseudo-intellectual critique – that meant people weren’t as apt to embrace with childlike wonder a show/movie/book, warts and all. Folks love to nitpick these days and, I think, fancy themselves better people for shooting down other’s balloons.

      That’s really a non-answer to your question, so let me toss this out … if there is an ingredient you need, that ingredient is FUN! I mean an adventurous spirit and a sense of “wheee – let’s go play”. If you can see a bunch of 10-year olds playing in the backyard with action figures based on the property, it’s probably a good fit for a setting. Modern sensibilities seem to me to be “anti-fun”, for lack of a better term, so I’m not sure how many modern fantasies would make good games, but they must be out there. Adventure Time isn’t too modern these days I guess, and is itself a reflection of old pop culture, but it had a fun attitude that would probably make for a good game. The first Avatar: the Last Airbender seems like it would be a good setting for a game – it had its serious side, but there was a spirit of adventure and discovery and goofiness there that I enjoyed.


  6. Hm – thinking on that then Frozen and How to Train your Dragon are probably the two big untapped well-springs of fantasy energy out there – and you could do it with existing systems they just need a splat-book of a setting.

    I saw a fun home-brew ‘Princess class’ on tumblr that already gets you 80% there along with a basic kit.

    But now I think about it what could be lots of fun and not something I have seen is black-powder era – dragon riders where a fighting dragon is crewed like a small sloop like in Temeraire and mages running off gun-powder as in McClellans powder mage trilogy – and it doesn’t need much just a collection of classes and a sketch of a setting and boom (pardon the pun).


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