Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday 31 August 2019

Taking Command

One of the interesting aspects of the treatment given Star Trek as a roleplaying game by Modiphius Entertainment is that it examines directly the role of crew and positions aboard ships and at postings in Star Fleet. No other Star Trek roleplaying game has done this, but to date, there are three supplements for the Star Trek Adventures: The Roleplaying Game which focus on the six departments of Starfleet. These are organised division by division, so The Command Division supplement focuses on the Command and Conn departments, The Operations Division supplement focuses on the Security and Engineering departments, and The Science Division supplement on the Science and Medical departments. Each supplement details the various branches and departments within each division, their role in Starfleet, an expanded list of Talents and Focuses for characters within each division, plots and campaigns which focus on characters within each division, supporting characters from within each division—including canonical NPCs, and more.

As with much of the Star Trek Adventures line, The Command Division supplement is presented as an in-game—and in-world—briefing to members of both the Command and the Conn departments. Although Starfleet officers of all types may be found in command positions, it is Command officers who trained and tasked in interpreting and executing—often a long way from the reach of either Starfleet or the Federation, Starfleet orders, directives, and policy in support of the Federation Council’s orders and directives. Command officers thus represent the will of both Starfleet and Federation as much as they are responsible for the actions of the officers and personnel under their command. 

Conversely, The Command Division supplement first describes the Conn department as “[T]he slightly unloved “red-headed stepchild” of the division”, but makes clear that this is not the case. Rather Conn officers are found everywhere, piloting starships and smallcraft. They also extensively cross-trained in different disciplines and sciences and so are capable of working across several departments and positions. This points to the versatility of the Conn officer, but there is some truth to the Conn department being “[T]he slightly unloved “red-headed stepchild” of the division” in The Command Division supplement because the book does focus on the Command department more than the Conn department. Now this is understandable given the importance of Captains and Command officers in Starfleet and Star Trek, but as much as the supplement focuses on the Command department more than the Conn department, there is nevertheless much here which will apply to plots and stories involving officers from the Conn department and other Divisions as they do from Command Division. The Judiciary and officers of the Judge Advocate General Office and the Prime Directive in particular. Both are accorded lengthy write-ups that should really help the Game Master bring both into her campaign, the latter probably more frequently than the former, though if any Starfleet officer violates the Prime Directive, the Judge Advocate General Office is likely to turn up… 

Where Conn department officers are generally limited to a few ranks, Command department officers are not, so in exploring the department, The Command Division also encompasses Starfleet Command, including the Command-in-Chief and Joint Chiefs, important branches such as fleet operations, research & development, and the diplomatic corps, as well as the role of flag officers. This is all important because Command department officers—captains especially, are likely to be frequently in contact with flag officers as their immediate superiors as well as Starfleet, whether that is receiving orders or relaying reports back. In exploring the role of flag officers, the supplement opens up a couple of options. One of course, for a captain to be promoted to flag rank, whilst the other is to run campaigns involving admiralty characters and their support staff.

As well as examining the careers of Command officers beyond the Captain’s chair, The Command Division supplement also looks at their beginning, at the selection of both Command and Conn officers at Starfleet Academy, and there is potential here for a flashback scene or two, notably of course, with the test of character that is the notorious no-win situation, the Kobayashi Maru bridge simulation. Of course, the point of the supplement is playing and challenging a Command officer aboard a starship, so there is a nice section on things that affect its day-to-day operation, such as general and standing orders, for example, the captain being announced when coming onto the bridge; starship operations, including the various alerts statuses and duty watches; and the various roles of a captain’s senior staff. The likelihood is that the Star Trek fan will have picked up a great deal of this from watching the television shows and the movies, but having all this in print really quantifies it for both player and Game Master.

Mechanically, The Command Division supplement what the ratings mean in both the Command and Conn disciplines and how they work with the other disciplines—there are some nice examples of characters from the various television series who combine Command and Conn with other disciplines. So both Jean-Luc Picard and Kathryn Janeway come to Command via Science, whereas Tom Paris is an experienced Conn officer, but through necessity has to undertake a medical role too. Advice is given as to what options to take through the Lifepath system in the Star Trek Adventures core rules to create both Command and Conn officers and an extensive list of focuses and new talents, such as Decisive Leadership and Strafing Run expand their roles and capabilities.

Since it is all about commanding and piloting starships, it is no surprise that The Command Division supplement includes a dozen or so new ships. From the twenty-second century, the supplement gives the Daedalus and NX classes; the twenty-third century, the Constitution-class refit, the Hermes-class scout, the Oberth-class science vessel, Sydney-class colony transport, and the Centaur-class light cruiser; and the twenty-fourth century, the Ambassador-class, Nebula-class, New Orleans-class, Olympic-class hospital ship, Steamrunner-class, Norway-class, Saber-class, Sovereign-class, and Luna-class. Their inclusion opens up lots of options for campaigns set in Star Trek Adventure’s three eras and they come with numerous options like twenty-second century ship weapons and talents (such as photonic torpedoes and grappler cables), the mission pods—Command & Control, Sensors, and Weapons—for the Nebula-class, and the Captain’s Yacht. Of the new ships, the Luna-class stands out because it comes not from the television series, but from the novels and online games. Here it is presented as a projected vessel, yet to be launched in 2371, so there is the possibility that the player character could command the first in a new class of vessels. Smallcraft receive a similar treatment, the supplement including the Type-F shuttlecraft, the Work Bee, the Type-6 shuttle, the Type-7 shuttle, the Type-8 shuttle, the Type-9 shuttle, the Type-10 shuttle, and the Federation Attack Fighter.

As much as the inclusion of all of the space vessels is welcome, one issue with their inclusion is the lack of illustrations for them. There are some, all nicely done painted pieces, but not every vessel is illustrated and it is necessarily clear which illustration fits which ship. This is a major omission as it should be immediately clear and every ship should be illustrated for easy recognition, a crew and their player characters should know what their ship looks like, and neither players nor Game Master should have to look elsewhere to find out what their ship looks like. 

Where much of the supplement is aimed at both player and Game Master, the ‘Using the Command Division’ section is very much for the Game Master as it discusses the different types of plots which can be used with Command and Conn officers. It divides the possible plot components into red, gold and blue—diplomacy, combat, or science components respectively—and expands upon them. So red plot components can include conspiracies, diplomacy, first contact, and more, whilst blue components can include deep space exploration, evacuation, research, and so on. These are further supported with advice and rules on handling social conflict, including in extended tasks such as peace negotiations and legal proceedings. In general, the advice on structuring social conflict and social tools like intimidation, deception and negotiation in combat is decent, whilst the section on telepathy will doubtless be useful for Vulcan and Betazoid characters as well as NPCs. The advice on social conflict is nicely supported with example scenes from the television series.

Rounding out The Command Division supplement are details of the various awards and commendations that Starfleet officers might receive—including the requirements for their being awarded and the bonuses they can grant, starbases and their roles, and a selection of NPCs whose roles would fall under the Command Division. The latter includes not just generic NPCs, but also notable figures from Star Trek. So there are admirals like Vice Admiral Alynna Nechayev as well as Federation diplomats Sarek and Lwanna Troi! There is advice on handling her in particular, as she is sure to disrupt any ongoing Star Trek Adventures campaign, if only temporarily.

Physically, The Command Division supplement is a decent looking book. There are some inconsistencies in the layout, but otherwise the book is generally well-written and illustrated with a fully painted images, though not all of them are as good as one might wish. Notably, in comparison to other supplements, there is less in-game reports, diary entries, and so on in The Command Division supplement, so the layout does not feel as busy and has a bit more room for its contents to breath. The layout is done in the style of the LCARS—Library Computer Access/Retrieval System—operating system used by Starfleet. So everything is laid out over a rich black with the text done in soft colours. This is very in keeping with the theme and period setting of Star Trek Adventures, but it is imposing, even intimidating in its look, and whilst it is not always easy to find things on the page because of the book’s look, it is easier in The Command Division supplement because it is less cluttered than in other supplements for the line. Although the book needs a slight edit in places, but if there is an issue with the production of the book, it is that lacks illustrations of its ships.

The Command Division supplement is not perfect, but its contents are undeniably useful. Not just for the Game Master in creating content for her campaign—both specifically aimed at challenging the Command Division characters in her campaign and in general—but also the player who has a Command Division character or a character who aspires to transfer to Command. Either way, The Command Division supplement works as a reference for player and Game Master alike, and is an excellent expansion for the Star Trek Adventures: The Roleplaying Game

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