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Reviews - GURPS Prime Directive
by Matthew Pook

GURPS Prime Directive cover Title: GURPS Prime Directive
Publisher: Amarillo Design Bureau
Written by Gary Plana with Stephen V. Cole and Alex Chobot
Illustrated by Dennis Calero (cover), Alvin Belflower, Dale McKee, Peter Bakija, and Robert Hubby
Price: $24.95
176-page perfect bound book

Almost a decade ago, the first ever book I was actually asked to review was Prime Directive, the roleplaying game of the Star Fleet Battles universe. I was not altogether complimentary and the authors were less than happy -- but a far more flattering review appeared in issue #7 of Pyramid magazine. The problem for me was the resolution system, which although clever, was coupled with a dice pool mechanic that essentially took any character skill out of the equation and thus negated the fact that the Star Trek setting is highly skill oriented. Yet I persevered with the Prime Directive line, purchased all of the books and even if I never ran the game, I at least used the background material. Thus, when Last Unicorn Games released their Origins award winning Star Trek: The Next Generation RPG, I quickly translated all of the races appearing in the Prime Directive books over to the ICON system.

Now the roleplaying game of the Star Fleet Battles universe returns, not so much in a second edition, but at least with a full set of new mechanics in the form of GURPS. Indeed, GURPS Prime Directive is the fifth title to be released under the 'Powered by GURPS' label, which means that it comes self-contained, unlike Transhuman Space and GURPS Conspiracy-X, which both required the use of the GURPS Basic Set and Compendium I. You certainly could use either of the two books with GURPS Prime Directive, along with any combination of Space, Vehicles, Psionics, Compendium II, either volume of Ultratech, and even GURPS Traveller and its associated series of Deck Plans. But the 'Powered by GURPS' label assures you that no referee is compelled to use any of these books. GURPS Prime Directive can stand on its own.

Setting the Course
The setting for Prime Directive is sourced from the original sixties Star Trek series, with additional elements from the seventies cartoon, before going its very independent way, by increasing the involvement of the Gorn and the Tholians, as well as adding a slew of their own new species. Those new to the game who expect elements from The Next Generation and later series will be in for a disappointment, as there are none here. Further, because it is based upon the Star Trek boardgame equivalent of Advanced Squad Leader -- Star Fleet Battles -- the feel of Prime Directive is distinctly militaristic. These are some of the reasons why the original Prime Directive RPG was treated with disdain by many Star Trek gaming fans. That said, neither the original Prime Directive game nor this version can be said to be specifically aimed at Star Trek fans in general, but are instead targeting devotees of the Star Fleet Battles game who wish to add a roleplaying element to their campaigns.

At first glance, GURPS Prime Directive looks like a standard GURPS sourcebook, but turn over to the back cover and flip through the pages and it is clear that it is anything but. The look and layout of the book feels rather dated and this is not helped by the cartoon quality of the illustrations. This dated look can mostly be ascribed to the rules being organised as if they were for a wargame -- such as Star Fleet Battles -- and not a roleplaying game. At the same time, references within the text to other sections use both wargame rules notation and ordinary page numbers, which is a little disconcerting to the reader.

By necessity, much of the book is taken up by the GURPS rules, with the remainder given over to describing the setting and how to apply the rules to it. Where Prime Directive concentrated solely upon players taking the roles of 'Prime Team' members (Starfleet's equivalent of special forces, hostage rescue teams, super scientists, and ambassadors, all rolled into one), GURPS Prime Directive opens up the setting to allow other campaign types. These include guidelines for the bridge crew, now standard to all Star Trek RPGs, as well as fighter pilots, special assignment as Federation Marshals, and freelance civilian campaigns. Standard power level for a GURPS Prime Directive game is 125-points, with cadets built on 75-points, green characters on 100, veterans on 150 and elite (Prime Team members) on 175. Heroic characters are built on 200 points or more.

To create a character, a player buys a template for his character's race and possibly a package to reflect his training, and with the rest of the points, creates a GURPS character as they would for any other game. There are almost fifty racial templates included, which cover not just members of the Federation, but also the Gorn, the Romulans, the Klingons (and their client races) and the Orions, but also many species native only to the Star Fleet Battles universe, including one or two which are thought to have become extinct over the course of the setting's timeline. Many of these suffer from the 'pets in space' syndrome: the equivalent taking your family dog or other pet, making it bipedal, giving it opposable thumbs and shoving the end result into a spacesuit and handing it a blaster. The resulting race is thus available and ready to use in said game as both player character and NPC. Classic examples of this are the Aslan and Vargr from the Traveller universe.

Of interest to most gamers will be the inclusion of the Kzinti as an NPC race, but these are not quite the classic hormone driven, "look before they leap" Kzinti of Larry Niven's Known Space stories. The Kzinti of the Star Fleet Battles universe have these aspects, and while still fairly tough, are not quite as physically capable as in Niven's stories. They are more technologically advanced than in Known Space and it is actually possible to play a female Kzinti.

The packages provided are all for the Federation Academy and allow the creation of enlisted crew and officers in Starfleet, the marines and the merchant marine. Two additional packages are for more high-powered games that include members of the Galactic Intelligence Agency or the Federation Marshals Service. Future releases for the line will cover other races and services, but in this first book they are all geared towards Federation based campaigns. Skill levels are suggested in case a player wants their character to have gained professional certification in areas such as helm/navigation, transporter operator or Special Forces. The latter is the nearest that this supplement comes to allowing the creation of a Prime Team member.

A notable departure the book makes from traditional GURPS is a simplification of the rules for psionics. This simplification allows Vulcan psionic masters to be created with greater ease and a lower point cost. Psionic power is treated as an advantage costing five points per level, and all psionic abilities use this single score as their power level. Psionic skills are bought as mental skills, but instead of being based on the IQ attribute, are based upon the character's Will statistic. New psionic skills include the Vulcan Nerve Pinch and Mind Meld.

Gamemaster's Log: Stardate 2060.5
The Star Fleet Battles setting is built around a lengthy timeline that begins in approximately 2060, when humanity first encounters the Vulcans, and runs through to about 2285. The standard notation of 'Y' followed by the year number is used throughout. The referee is free to set their games at any point along this timeline as there are no set periods or eras and this is helped by the GURPS technology levels that are used throughout, running from TL9 -- the 'Non-Tactical Warp' era to the 'X-Technology Era' of TL13, with the introduction of each level noted for all of the main races. Of course, technology in this setting is slightly different, as transporter or matter transmission is commonly available at TL 10 instead of TL 15 as is standard in GURPS. The chapter on technology not only covers shipboard and personal equipment that most characters will use, but the various pieces employed by the different races as well.

Besides the long timeline, which is still just a list of the wars fought between the various races, the setting chapter explains the nature of the Star Fleet Battles universe. There is an example of Star Fleet Battles combat provided before discussing how to use it for ship-to-ship combat in a game of GURPS Prime Directive. Much like other Star Trek RPGs, the book suggests how player characters can become directly involved in shipboard operations during starship combat (who'd want to sit it out?). A separate chapter also looks at modifying GURPS Space to handle ship-to-ship combat. These two options cover both means of coming to GURPS Prime Directive: as GURPS players wanting a Star Trek RPG, or as Star Fleet Battles players wanting an RPG to accompany the boardgame. This is backed up with a single sample vessel from more powerful governments, done in the GURPS Space format.

Other sections detail different aspects of this divergent Star Trek universe, including Klingon subject races, Federation and Starfleet awards and decorations, the various types of prime teams employed by the different factions, the Romulan Code of Honor and the full deck plans for a free trader and its many variations. Though this feels a little out of place with the rest of the book's contents, it is nevertheless useful. A map shows the positions of the many empires, on a hexagonal grid with a scale of 500 parsecs per hex. Most of the major worlds of the Star Fleet Battles universe are listed and several of those in the neutral areas between the empires are discussed in passing. This information feels a little spotty, but adds enough color and flavor to differentiate this setting from any other Star Trek universe.

The book is rounded out with 'Rescue on Roon,' a hostage rescue mission that allows the players to play through the events of the color fiction that opens the prologue of GURPS Prime Directive. It is a mixture of problem solving and combat that could be run in almost any SF RPG and there is little here that makes it into a Star Trek scenario. 'Rescue on Roon' is too generic an adventure to be included in this first book and both the adventures from the original Prime Directive book would have been more effective.

In the end, GURPS Prime Directive is going to be bought by two main groups. The first are fans of Star Fleet Battles who want a roleplaying game to go with the boardgame. The second are those who want to run a Star Trek game using just GURPS -- after all, there have been fan authored GURPS adaptations for Star Trek available on the web for some time now, but this the first time there's been an official set of rules. Unless future releases change the setting dramatically, GURPS Prime Directive portrays a very militaristic style of Star Trek, which may dissuade some from purchasing either this book or later supplements. Yet the GURPS rules are inherently flexible in both their mechanics and their outlook, and hopefully this flexibility can be applied to the Star Fleet Battles universe.

For anyone planning to run adventures with GURPS Prime Directive, there will be work upon their part to get these GURPS rules into a form they are satisfied with. This is certainly worthwhile if you want to game in the Star Fleet Battles universe or just play something akin to classic Star Trek using the GURPS rules, but if you're looking for a more general Star Trek game, this book is probably not for you.


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