Christmas Games 2010 – Prime Directive Federation (Prime Directive PD20 Modern RPG)

Courtesy Starfleet Games

The Game:  Prime Directive Federation (PD20 Modern)

The System: Prime Directive Modern (PD20 Modern). Note that this is a new Federation sourcebook based on a later D20 Modern translation and not the 1st Edition Prime Directive nor the later PD20 based on the D20 v3.5 system.

The Setting: Sourcebook for the Federation in the Star Fleet Universe (SFU). For those of you who don’t know and didn’t check the link, the SFU is based on Star Trek the Original Series and the Federation Technical Manual by Franz Joseph.  This is the setting used for the games Star Fleet Battles and Federation Commander.

The Appearance: Full-size softcover.  My copy is bound (looseleaf or 3-hole punched versions are available).  Cover art has easily recognized Star Trek Federation uniforms from the Original Series rendered in a somewhat cartoonish manner.  Interior is black & white, 2-columns with a mix of line and greyscale drawings.

The Content:  Prime Directive Federation is intended for both players and gamemasters who want to go beyond the Core Rulebook and play the “Good Guys of the Star Fleet Universe.”  It consists of the following sections:

  • “Another New World” is a short story about a university planetary survey team
  • “Culture and History” presents the history and key components of the SFU Federation such as government agencies, a primer on colonies, and what could be considered two new classes of characters (Cosmopolitans and Federation Marshals)
  • “Planetary Survey” is certainly the core of the book where planets and individual histories of the species in the Federation are detailed; included are Species Traits to assist in generating characters of the many species that make up the SFU Federation
  • “Military Force” details the organization of the military arms of the SFU Federation; some new equipment and weapons are introduced here
  • “Federation Starships” is Janes-like coverage of the many Federation ships in the SFU; deckplans for a Burke-class frigate are included
  • “Visions of Glory” is a hodge-podge collection with a short intro for a “space-age dungeon crawl”; a pre-made setting (Donjebruche Trading Post) and two discussions/adventure seeds (To Boldly Go: Things to Do in the Federation and Mysteries of the Federation) as well as character stats for the university survey team introduced in the opening short story
  • “Designers Notes” covers just that and various adminstrivia

The Verdict: First I must tell you some of my own biases.  I grew up on Star Fleet Battles so my vision of the SFU is heavily tainted by that viewpoint.  My SFU has historically revolved around the battles, campaigns, and wars of that history.  I always have viewed the Prime Directive RPG as taking place in that universe of conflict.  Prime Directive Federation presents another view of the Star Fleet Universe.  Just look at the opening story which uses a university planetary survey team and not an elite, special forces-like Prime Team.  The Federation presented here is more like the Federation of Star Trek: The Next Generation or Voyager or the first two seasons of Enterprise.

Regardless of what style of play you or your group prefers, there is good and bad in this product.  In no particular order:

  1. “Government Agencies”could have been used to introduce modifications to the chargen system to allow you to tailor characters or NPCs.  Instead you just get a bureaucratic listing with no details/suggestions on how to make or use characters.
  2. “Cosmopolitans” are singled out as a “class” in the Federation followed by the book making a point that there is no Cosmopolitan “class” in the RPG sense yet this is followed by suggestion on how to make a Cosmopolitan character.  What am I supposed to make of all these flip-flops?
  3. “The Federation Marshals” is what I expected (and approve of); a short description followed by chargen modifications which allow you to make your own “sheriff.”
  4. “The Federation Express Corporation” details this “unique” organization but (once again) there are no chargen rules/suggestions on how to make a FedEx character.
  5. “Planetary Survey” is more than that and covers chargen rules for multiple species but why is the listing of Planet Classes buried here and not in the colonies section?
  6. If you paid attention to my bias, they you can probably guess that the “Military Forces” section is where I placed my best hopes.  Alas, this section disappoints.  The section opens with a Fleet listing (old school to SFB players).  The next part is Star Fleet Academy which talks about all the different schools for players – but missing once again is any chargen changes/modifications/suggestions.  What difference does it make to your character if you go to Command School?  How does being a Warrant Officer affect your character?  What changes happen to you if you are in the National Guard?  It’s not hard to do (see the Federation Marshals) but it wasn’t done here!
  7. The Janes-like encyclopedic “Starships” section lacks connection for roleplaying utility.  Galactic Survey Cruisers which seem like such an obvious tool in this Prime Directive setting get only a short paragraph that fails to mention any uses to characters.  The only non-warships mentioned are Police Cutters and Armed Priority Transports.
  8. The frigate deckplans are well done but what use are they to characters?  The drawings are too small to use for skirmishes.
  9. The “Visions of Glory” section has some interesting adventure seeds but the portions on “Things to Buy” and “Things to Sell” seem more appropriate to a trader or merchant character which is not touched on elsewhere.

So the question I have to ask myself is this: do you need this book for your gaming adventures?  If you want history and species descriptions as well as planets then this product will be useful.  If you are looking to make a “Federation unique” class of character beyond what is in the core rulebook then you will be disappointed.

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