This article originally appeared in Pyramid #7
PRIME DIRECTIVEPublished by Task Force Games
Written by Timothy D. Olsen and Mark Costello
Let's review, shall we?
First there was Star Fleet Battles, the tactical space combat game from Task Force Games. SFB was the product of American trademark law gone berserk - although overtly based on concepts from the original Star Trek TV show, it didn't license Star Trek direct from the owners. Instead, the game was licensed from Franz Joseph Designs' Star Fleet Technical Manual. That's why the game could make extensive use of Star Trek concepts like Vulcans, Klingons and the Federation and all their distinct starship designs, but couldn't use the names of any of the characters, or even the words "Star Trek."
Then, in the fullness of time, FASA licensed the rights to Star Trek and published the logically-named Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game. Eventually, however, FASA got tired of wrangling with Paramount, the fussy corporate owners of Star Trek, and let the license drop, thus leaving Trekkies who also happened to be roleplayers twisting in the wind.
Now Task Force has stepped forward with Prime Directive, "The Star Fleet Universe Role-Playing Game." Prime Directive is also based on the Franz Joseph license.
Let's be realistic here. With all due respect to the designers, in the current market an interplanetary SF RPG like Prime Directive doesn't have a prayer on its own merits. This game will stand or fall on its ability to play off its rather tenuous connection with Star Trek and its ability to energize the dormant ranks of trekkie roleplayers.
So what about it? Is Prime Directive the secret Star Trek RPG that everybody's been praying for for so long? No, but it's the best starting place for a homemade Star Trek campaign that anybody's liable to see in the foreseeable future. If you really must set your campaign in the Federation, you're going to have to design the campaign yourself, but this game lays more useful ground work than anything else available, by a long shot.
Prime Directive presents a number of game concepts essential to roleplaying in the Star Trek universe, with a viable framework for gaming the multi-racial crew of a Federation Star Ship. The overall feel of the game is definitely "old show," with a militaristic, expansionistic Federation rather than the non-interventionist, New-Agey Federation of the Next Generation.
The list of specific elements from the TV show that have migrated to Prime Directive is rather haphazard. For instance, the race of Andorians is described and available for PC use, but there's no mention of their TV show sparring partners, the Tellurites. We do, however, get a description of the obscure Tholians. Larry Niven's Kzinti are an official part of the Prime Directive universe. Trekkies will remember that Kzinti made it into Star Trek's continuity when Niven penned an episode of the animated Star Trek, leaving us to wonder how the Kzinti made it in while other interesting races from the cartoon show like the Edoans were excluded. Of course there's nothing at all from the Next Generation continuity - no Ferengi, no Cardassians. There are also a lot of races unique to the SFB universe, like Cygnans, Rigellians and the matriarchal culture of Alpha Centauri.
PCs are members of small special operations units called "Prime Teams" who do most of the expeditionary work - unlike the original show, where the ship generally beamed its entire chain of command down into deadly situations. If you're a completely anal adaptation geek, it would be easy enough to ignore the Prime Team paradigm in favor of the TV show's model, but I can't imagine why anybody would want to.
There's nothing trendy about Prime Directive mechanics, but they seem to work on their own terms. In these days when non-hierarchical, story-telling based RPGs like Vampire: The Masquerade and Amber are all the rage, Prime Directive seems almost quaint with its extensive, detailed combat rules and long, comprehensive equipment lists. Of course, such an emphasis is not surprising in an RPG adapted from a tactical combat game. For all their unfashionable detail and specificity, the rules seem clear and workable enough.
My advice to Star Trek fans interested in Prime Directive is to play it, but play it on its own terms, as a good, solid outer space military adventure, without trying to squeeze it into the TV show's mold in every tiny detail. To tell you the truth, the universe of Prime Directive is much more playable than the Star Trek universe anyway, while preserving most of the elements that got trekkies interested in Star Trek in the first place.
- Chris McCubbin
Article publication date: June 1, 1994
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