Monday, February 15, 2016

I remember the John M. Ford Klingons in Star Trek RPG lore

... and though I had slain a thousand foes less one,
The thousandth knife had found my liver;
The thousandth enemy said to me,
"Now you shall die, and none shall know."
And the fool looking down believed this,
Not seeing, above his shoulder, the naked stars,
Each one remembering.

-Klingon Proverb
(John M. Ford)

Well, not an official Klingon Proverb.

Not anymore.

Not for a long time.

Not since FASA lost it's license back in 1989 or so. They had the Star Trek RPG license since about 1982-3 until 1989, which was a good run I guess. The movie studio pulled the plug in 1989 as they wanted no doubt more creative control thanks to the growing success of TNG. They blamed FASA's "militarism" for it I believe, which if true, I find hypocritical given all the computer games set in the Star Trek universe that is very much about battles and such since 1989.

Back to the license.. yeah, 7 years... there were others longer..  WEG comes to mind. It had Star Wars for about 12 years until 1999, which was unusual in length, and thus probably contributes to why it is still loved. Nowadays, reboots and RPG licenses are like, 2 or 3 years, so 7 years is not bad for FASA.

It was an unusual stroke of good luck for players at that time to see a great sci-fi writer, John M. Ford (1957-2006), team up with FASA, to do the Klingon supplement.

Ford did wonderful RPG work. Gurps Time Travel  and Gurps Infinite Worlds (about inter-dimensional travel which I love, love, love) is still close to my heart along with his work on Star Trek RPGing. Gurps Infinite Worlds won the 2005 Origins Award for RPG supplement of the Year.

I also heard great things about his 1985 Paranoia adventure "Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues." 

Ford's 1984 novel The Final Reflection was, and continues to be, one of the most popular Star Trek novels to date.

A great story from the Klingon point of view that gave us insight into the villains of Star Trek..

Now, when I say Star Trek, I mean the old pre-TNG Star Trek... TOS.. the Star Trek up until it was vastly changed by ST:TNG in 1987.. The pre-1987 Star Trek was a lot different than what is perceived to be Trek nowadays. People got their Trek fix from few sources before TNG came along.. sources like the Best of Trek books, Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise, and of course, and especially from, FASA's Star Trek role-playing game supplements. There were few sources of information, so every sentence was lovingly devoured by fans back then, even non-RPGers.

It seems Ford and someone at FASA were college buddies, so it was very lucky occurence for RPG fans. Ford did the Klingon sourcebook, which delved into the Klingons much more deeply.  I still have it.

The Klingons in the sourcebook were no longer the one-dimensional villains you saw on the original show, but cunning backstabbers playing the long game of intrigue (the komerex zha) with each other. Nomenclature like "Human-fusion," "Imperial Klingons," "the Black Fleet" (a sort of afterlife for the Klingons) "epetai, sutai" (Klingon name designations), "Thought-Admirals" etc were introduced. (See below for a list of Klingonaase words)

Ford's Klingons had depth, cunning and were strategists as well. They had the mirror-universe style of promotion; in other words, through backstabbery and intrigue. The FASA mission, Termination: 1456  (alongside A Doomsday Like Any Other) is still arguably one of their best RPG adventures. An assassination mission I might add, which is not the usual goody-two-shoes stuff from the 1980s. It was Apocalypse Now's terminate with extreme prejudice in RPG form.


From the book jacket
    Termination order 1456: Issued by internal security, Imperial High Command.
    Subject: Thought Admiral Krador zantai-Rrilac
    Mission: End his command!

It is suspected that Admiral Krador, a brilliant veteran of the Romulan wars, has been gathering forces to overthrow the Emperor. Under the direction of the Fourth Frontier Security Area Command, you and your crew aboard the warpshuttle IKS Vacsin will go to Muldor IV, penetrate Krador's stronghold, and take appropriate action against Krador and his senior officers. The mission is a vital one, though very difficult, and it must be accomplished, even at the expense of your lives.

Thought-Admiral Krador seems to have been a great man who inspired others, but his assassination by the PCs has been ordered. Throw in mind-control drugs and what's loyal Klingon PCs to do?

FASA and Ford's Klingons were well received by the way. The Klingon chess-like game Klin Zha, introduced by Ford, has been recreated by several people and is played "in real life."

I remember my friends and I commonly called each other "tokhe straav" and "kuve" from the book, which means slave or "willing servitor;" words taken from the book and RPG sourcebook.

Yeah, Ford's Klingon culture influenced us. We were impressionable teens, what can I say.

Anyways, the Ford version of the Klingons was not to be, thanks to TNG..

It started with the name dropping on the show.. the language was no longer called Klingonaase.. the Klingon homeworld was now called Qo'nos .. the honor blade was now called the D'k tahg, the Klingons now used an unwieldy ridiculous circular curved blade called the Bat'leth .. and the TNG Klingons themselves now seemed kind of dumb. Many people at the time and while TNG was running lamented that the new TNG Klingons were "caffeine-free" and were now a blending of  Viking-Biker-Samurai buffoons who literally howl when someone dies.  Contrast these buffoons with cunning "Thought-Admirals" described by Ford and you'll see what I mean. The Ford Klingons have more in common with what became the Cardassians, which DS9 depicted as ruthless intriguers.

But I digress...

My friends and I did a brief Klingon campaign in the mid-80s and we really hyped up the paranoia when role playing, not trusting each other and had threats of using the agonizer booth on each other. The campaign didn't last long of course, as we made the mistake of having our village idiot GM a Klingon adventure, and the idiot managed to get us all killed. It was a rare adversarial adventure, where I played my Romulan character and the other guys played their Klingon character. The idiot could not rein us in and so it was a bloodfest. My friend Craig and I were visibly upset that night as the Klingon campaign, which started off as an exploratory campaign to see what it was like, was starting to blossom. It got ruined that night and the magic was gone. All I have left now is a character sheet of a Klingon character I made after the good ones got killed that night, as you can see below. Made, but played only a little.

It's all water under the bridge now... The pre-TOS Star Trek view epitomized by Ford's Klingons have been long superceded and forgotten by the hundreds of episodes of TNG, DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise. No one now will ever (should they even bother RPGing Trek nowadays) play the Klingons the way they were RPGed 30 years ago. It's all swept aside to make way for the new reimagined stuff and the quick buck nowadays.

Looking back, it seems in the 1980s we were more naive about what continuity and canon meant. The damned Paramount logo on FASA's sourcebooks gave the impression that it was canon. However, FASA Trek fans learned the hard lesson, much like Star Wars Expanded Universe fans are now feeling, of the non-existant loyalty to story continuity that studios have. Which is to say none. Their job is to maximize shareholder wealth, not to build a great RPG and Sci-fi milieu.. It is a hard lesson for teens to learn though. All the money and investment in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, like FASA Trek, means nothing and can be painful if you're attached to one's RPG characters and Gameverse. It must be what comic book fans must feel like when their characters get retconned every couple of years.

Still, it was better to have loved once, than to have never loved at all. And the FASA universe and the Ford Klingons are an old love of mine.  Here's looking at you, John M. Ford. Like the naked stars, there are plenty of 80s gamers who still remember! Thanks for the memories!

For more thoughts on John M. Ford, see this post.

Klingonaase words:

d'walsk -- calculating machine. An insult commonly aimed at Vulcans
epetai-zana  - honored and exalted one
fedegonaase - UFP standard language
federazhon - United Federation of Planets
f'lansopra -- vegetarian, literally "leaf-eater" 
gagny - profanity
g'daya - profanity
g'dayt - profanity
g'nas -- unattractive for mating
hum zha - the Human game, chess
humanai kuvest' - either "human slave" or "slave of the humans"
kaase - hand
kahlesste - Emperor Kahless
kai - hail, or "long live"
kai kassai - hail, or "long live" emphasized
kaz'thaldim -- burned, scarred, or otherwise facially damaged. Literally "facially experienced".
kherx - a screw-up
khest - to screw up
khesterex - the structure that dies
khesterex thath - screwed up situation
khest'n - profanity
khest't - profanity
kleon - enemy, or opponent
klin – all that which is Klingon
klin zha - the Klingon game (in several variations)
klin zha kinta - the Klingon game with living pieces
klingonaase - the Klingonese language
klinzhai - the Klingon homeworld
komerex - the structure that grows
komerex klingon - the Klingon Empire
komerex tel khesterex - "That which does not grow shall die."
komerex zha - the perpetual game
kuve - servitor; alternative translation is slave
kuvekhestat - worthless slave(s)
kuveleta - half-slave
kuvesa tokhesa - "I serve willingly."
nal - negating word
parkhest - profanity
rom zha - the Romulan game
sa tel'ren - two out of three
straave, straav' - slave
tai - worthy, honored.
tai-kleon - worthy opponent
tharavul - Vulcan servitor, lobotomized to remove the Vulcan's telepathic
teskas - compliments, praise
teskas tal'tai-kleon - compliments to a worthy opponent
tharkuve - deaf slave, unable to overhear secret conferences
tokhe - willing
tokhe straav' - willing slave - worst insult one can call a Klingon
tokhest' - "if he is willing or not"

urtal'anda -- "Earther", literally "big man of Earth". An insult applied to most Humans, whether or not of they are of Terran origin.

vird'dakaase - disruptor
zan - neutral title of respect
zha - game
zha riest'n - pleasant game

Name Honorifics:


Warship squadron formations:
oma'l yuth -- "brave wedge"
hu toj maal -- "open mouth/mouth of fear"
juk'y wen'thal -- "ladder of assault"

Tactical maneuvers:
eddakh w'ujalla -- "striking for the spleen"
v'kari z'mortamas -- "many stings of death"
hul fal tora'n -- "glorious exploding star"


  1. A great recap, lots of good memories from back then. I remember when you had the "village idiot's" character thrown in the agoniser booth ........ it was splendid :-)

  2. Although I never partook of this campaign it still forms a prominent part of they mythos of our youth. Did not realize that the "village idiot" had taken out two campaigns.

  3. Great post, thanks for all these Klingon artifacts.