Directives and Mis-Directives: the GM’s Gift to the Players

Contributed by Josh Allen

Josh Allen is a software developer & role-playing game hobbyist living in California with his wife and two kids. He has been interested in tabletop role-playing games for a few decades. After playing and GMing a lot in his teens, he left the hobby for a while then came back to it when his kids had an interest. In the last few years, he has been running games in various systems for kids & adults. He fell in love with Star Trek Adventures. He loves the Trek franchise and 2d20 gameplay.

“We have our orders, Lieutenant!”

Star Trek på Twitter: "#TrekPoll: Who would you want on your away team?  #StarTrek #RedShirt… "

On the surface, Directives sound like they might be a constraint imposed by the GM upon the players. That might even be a good thing: Directives help create the constructive tone of the Trek genre by rewarding players for doing the right thing and deterring them from taking actions that are unethical.

But Directives can also be a gift the GM gives to the players, helping them make Determination spends they might not otherwise be able to. This can be a lifeline in a high-stakes crisis and can help players whose Values aren’t tuned to the current situation still pull off epic, TV-worthy feats.

How do Directives work?

From the Core Rulebook

Directives are short statements representing the players’ orders in their mission. Directives are Values and thus play a role in STA’s powerful Determination mechanic. Unlike player character Values, Directives are assigned by the GM, and are shared—every player can use a Directive just like one of their own Values. Players can use a Directive to spend Determination—for critical success, to Make it So, etc. Players can also take a Complication from a Directive to earn Determination. Players can also gain Determination by Challenging Directives, “disobeying orders” in a sense. This last option may come with consequences after the mission – such as an impact on the character’s reputation, or even a court-martial.

Directives facilitate Determination Spends

Suppose you’re playing a character with the following Values:

  • Safety in Numbers
  • The First Step to Discovery is the Theoretical
  • I Am the Voice of the Crew
  • Serving Starfleet is a Family Tradition

(These are in fact taken from one of the characters in the freely available quickstart PDF)

Imagine this character is in a crisis situation. She’s trying to protect the environment of a fragile new lifeform from a crashed warp-capable starship. Momentum is low, Threat is high, and you’ve been rolling tons of Complications…you need a win! If you could possibly spend Determination, a critical success – on top of any other successes you can generate – could be just the shot in the arm you and the other players need. But to make that Determination spend, you’re going to need an applicable Value.

Can one of those Values help you? It would take some set-up, but it’s certainly possible that the story elements introduced so far might make one of the above Values relevant. But it’s also quite likely that this is too much of a stretch, and none of these Values will be relevant.

Here’s where Directives come in. When there’s a relevant Directive tailored to the successful completion of the mission, you always have access to your Determination to pull towards that outcome. In the case above, she could use the Prime Directive, which per the rules is always in play.

As a GM, writing a straightforward Directive tied to a desirable outcome gives players this lifeline. Beyond the Prime Directive, some examples might include:

  • Protect the Colony from Attack
  • Discover the Assassin’s Identity
  • Determine the Nature of the Anomaly
Caretaker (episode) | Star trek voyager, Series premiere, Delta quadrant

Should there always be a relevant Value? No. It’s good to have times when Values apply, and times when they don’t – that give different players a chance to shine, and lets you experience different problem-solving approaches. There should be a balance, but Directives are a good tool in the GM’s toolbox if the players have struggled to spend Determination. They’re especially useful for players new to the game, who won’t have experience in the art of writing Values to be both useful and reveal the character.

A middle-ground can be to craft Directives around part of the successful outcome, leaving other aspects uncovered.

Mis-Directives generate Determination

“Mis-Directives” are a fun tool to help players gain Determination.

What’s a “Mis-Directive”? An order that’s naive to the real problem, leading in a direction the players will struggle with or abandon once the true objective emerges. A rule that’s meant to be broken, though the players may not know that at first.

Wait a minute, you might say, “didn’t I just say that there are consequences to disobeying orders? Yes—but these can be blunted or even serve as fodder for fun subplots and character evelopment.

For example, perhaps your mission is one of those storylines where the heroes break the Prime Directive, even just a little bit. As above, the Prime Directive is always there to be broken (in the right scenario) in exchange for 1 Determination. What’s more, since each player has access to the Directive, the benefits to engaging with it can go on and on:

Violation of the Prime Directive | Star Trek Timelines Forums
  1. the First Officer Challenges the Prime Directive, taking a small action against it and earning 1 Determination. They spend this for a critical success using their Value Willing to Break the Rules for the Greater Good
  2. the Science Officer strongly objects, taking a Refusal to Comply Complication from the Prime Directive and earning 1 Determination, which they later spend with their Value Measure Twice, Cut Once
  3. the Captain ultimately finds a way to satisfy the Prime Directive, using it to spend 1 Determination to put things right.

The officers’ actions are reviewed in a debrief, all is forgiven – worked out pretty well, all told!

As the GM, you can craft deliberately fragile “Mis-Directives” that will serve the players by helping them use the Determination mechanics, such as:

  • Do Not Enter the Neutral Zone (for a Kobayashi Maru scenario)
  • Preserve the Timeline (which may need to be subtlely changed to be preserved)
  • Protect the Ambassador (who turns out to be a Romulan spy)

Just like how Directives can help characters with less relevant Values spend Determination, they can also help them gain Determination. This can be especially helpful for Supporting Characters, who don’t start the adventure with Determination.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.