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Sunday, 7 June 2020

A Operational Approach

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 Starfleet. 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 Sciences Division supplement on the Science and Medical departments, and The Operations Division supplement focuses on the Security and Engineering 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 Operations Division supplement is presented as an in-game—and in-world—briefing to members of both the Engineering and Operations departments. It quickly sets out the roles of members of both departments, so that the Engineering officer is responsible for running and maintaining the ship’s engines and much of the technology aboard ship, as well as fixing anything which breaks down, goes wrong, or is damaged, whilst the Operations officer is responsible for handling day-to-day tasks aboard ship, plus roles such in security and at tactical stations. So at their most basic, the Engineering officer fixes the ship whilst the Operations officer runs the ship and protects it. In comparison to the roles defined for the other departments in The Command Division and The Sciences Division, those in The Operations Division are not quite as obviously flashy or as prestigious, and if the supplement were to keep to that remit, then it would not be very interesting. Fortunately, The Operations Division goes beyond that.

The supplement begins by highlighting the differences for the roles it covers between the three series that fall under the remit of Star Trek AdventuresEnterprise, Star Trek: The Original Series, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is because the divisions undergo the most changes between the three, most obviously the shift in roles and shirt colours for Engineering and Security officers between Star Trek: The Original Series, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Then it begins by examining the different agencies within Starfleet which make up the Operations Division—Fleet Operations, Starfleet Intelligence, Starfleet Corps of Engineers, and Section 31. Both are examined from two sides, what each agency’s mission is and what it actually does before discussing how it can be brought into a game. So Fleet Operations oversees the deployment and disposition of Starfleet personnel and resources throughout Federation space and oversees Mission Operations, Science Operations, Tactical operations, Shipyard Operations, and Starbase Operations. The section on Starfleet Intelligence highlights how it conducts enlightened operations in comparison the agencies of other galactic powers, such as Cardassia’s Obsidian Order, this in reaction not only to the practices of those other agencies, but also some of the morally grey operations run by Starfleet Intelligence in the past. Accompanying this section is ‘Recruited to Starfleet Intelligence’, a new career event for use during character generation, and some ideas as to how to involve plain Starfleet Player Characters in Starfleet Intelligence missions.

Of course, the Starfleet Corps of Engineers has a reputation as being made up of miracle workers, but that reputation often only extends as far as building, fixing, and maintaining starships. What its description makes clear is that it does a lot more, ranging from the investigation of alien technologies and disaster relief to distress call response to terraforming support. It also highlights how it works hand-in-hand with civilian agencies also, and together these all lend themselves to scenario ideas which can bring a Starfleet Engineering officer into the spotlight. A nice touch is the inclusion of the Starfleet Corps of Engineers Safety Regulations for ‘Investigation of Technological Elements of Indeterminate Origin’ which would add flavour and verisimilitude when running that type of episode. Lastly, there is Section 31. Now this is supposed to be the agency which handles threats which jeopardise the continued existence of the Federation by any means necessary, believing that the ends justify the means. What is not given here is a definite description of Section 31, but rather what it might be, so it might be a rogue agency, a complete fantasy, a story spun by one man—Luther Sloan, a plot by the Tal Shiar, and so on. This enables the Game Master to tailor Section 31 to fit her campaign and what she thinks the agency wants to be. In general though, Section 31 should operate through layers of intermediaries and obfuscation.

As per the other volumes in this series, the chapter on Operations Division characters present guides to creating Player Characters who have attended either Security School or Engineering School. For both there are guides to creating effective—or at least focused—Engineering and Security officers, along with  a range of new Focuses and Talents. So for Security officers, there are the Criminal Organisations and Forensics Focuses and the Combat medic and Lead Investigator Talents, and the Advanced Holograms and Reverse Engineering Focuses and Maintenance Specialist and Miracle Worker Talents for Engineering officers. For the Security officers there are possible roles a Player Character or NPC might have on a combat squad such as Explosive Ordnance Expert or Field Medic, and if the game is set during Enterprise, a guide to creating MACO or Military Assault Command Operations officers. 

Unfortunately, the Engineering officer does not really have any more options like the Security officer, although both his player and the Game Master are likely to get fun out of the Technobabble Table. Similarly, they are likely to get a lot of use out of the Advanced Technologies chapter, which covers the tools and technologies to be found aboard a starship or starbase, and elsewhere. So micro-optic drills, engineering tricorders, hperspanner, sonic driver(!), and so on, along with starship systems like artificial gravity and inertial compensators, replicators and transporters, and more. Experimental technology covers some of the more dangerous technologies which Federation has explored, for example, Doctor Richard Daystrom’s M-5 multitronic unit and Synaptic Scanning Technique for transferring human minds into android bodies, or perhaps even into computers. In addition, rules cover jury-rigging devices, something that Engineers are probably going to find themselves doing a lot.

One of the best sections in both The Command Division and The Sciences Division is for the Game Master, suggesting how they might be used in storylines. 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. For The Operations Division, this does exactly the same for Security officers and Engineering officers. Again, this is a really good section for both roles, but bolstering it with details such as Starfleet Regulations for Away Missions, handling criminal investigations, recovering derelicts, diagnostics, and alien technologies. Just as with The Command Division and The Sciences Division, this is one of the best sections in The Operations Division.

In comparison to The Command Division and The Sciences Division, the ‘Operations Personnel’ chapter feels much shorter. It provides various NPCs, like the Starfleet Security Officer, the Engineer’s Mate, and the MACO Soldier Supporting NPCs and the Informant and the Engineering Specialist Minor NPCs. It includes three Major NPCs, notably Luther Sloan of Section 31 and Doctor Leah Brahms of the Daystrom Institute. She was only listed in The Sciences Division despite its coverage of the Daystrom Institute, so it is good to see her included here.

Rounding out The Operations Division is ‘Red Alert’. This is a set of skirmish rules intended to use Modiphius Entertainment’s miniatures and tile sets in order to handle small unit engagements. Although they could be run as a straight Star Trek miniatures combat game—and the rules are available to download for free to that end—they really are designed as an extension of the roleplaying combat rules. What this means that whole engagements can be handled more tactically with more detail. The rules cover squad creation, combat actions, and terrain particular to Star Trek such as Jefferies Tubes and Turbolifts. The support for the rules is not extensive, really only covering Federation, Klingon, and Romulan warriors and their weapons, so a Game Master may want to create her own content beyond the rules and support given. The rules come with a complete six-mission mini-campaign in which the crew of the Enterprise-D have to withstand a Klingon assault on the ship in the middle of a diplomatic summit. The rules are decent enough and they do give scope for Operations officers—Security officers in particular—to do more and bring their training to the tabletop.

Physically, The Operations Division supplement is again a decent looking book. Notably though, whilst the artwork is decent, it often feels bland and not really relevant to content it is placed alongside. There are fewer in-game reports, diary entries, and so on, and in many cases, they are not all that interesting or inspiring for the Game Master. The reduced in-game content also means 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 Operations Division supplement because it is less cluttered than in other supplements for the line. Lastly, in comparison to the other books in this series, this feels less busy, better organised, and therefore a little more accessible.

In comparison to other supplements for Star Trek Adventures, what is missing from The Operations Division is more starships. This might have felt like an omission in any other supplement, but to be blunt, the treatment of starships has not always felt well-handled in those supplements, so the lack of them here is not really an omission. That said, what might have been useful here is the inclusion of some starbases since engineers are responsible for building and maintaining them as much as they are starships.

If there is an issue with The Operations Division, it is perhaps that it does not delve into the day-to-day aspects of running and maintaining Starfleet which Operations is responsible for. In places, it touches upon some of the approaches and procedures that Security and Engineering officers follow, such as for Away missions, but more would have added verisimilitude to running Star Trek Adventures. Not necessarily all of the time, but occasionally, at the very least, and what it would allow is to make the breaking or sidestepping of such procedures more dynamic. Which is, after all, what the Player Characters are going to do. 

Like the other two books, The Operations Divisions is at its best when dealing with specific elements of the Star Trek setting, but unlike the other two books, its treatment of Security officers and Engineering officers is better balanced, although it definitely feels as if Security officers get slightly better treatment. This is not counting the ‘Red Alert’ rules, the inclusion of which does favour Security officers, because the ‘Red Alert’ rules do feel a bit much like filler in The Operations Division since they are available elsewhere. This is not to say that a group would not get any play out of ‘Red Alert’, but of all the content in The Operations Division, ‘Red Alert’ is very much an option.

Overall, The Operations Division is a solid supplement for Star Trek Adventures. Fundamentally, what The Operations Division does is take the less glamorous roles in Star Trek—Security officers and Engineering officers—and makes what they do both interesting and challenging.

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