Captain pc or npc?

Just curious how many folks have a player ship captain vs leaving the captain as an npc. Sometimes having a player be ‘in charge’ can be a little weird so my knee jerk reaction is to keep the captain as an NPC, even if just for our first adventures/campaign play through of game. What do your folk’s groups look like?

1 Like

In my TMP-era campaign years ago with a large groupd of players, one of them was the captain.
In my Dominion War-campaign with only a couple of players, the captain was an NPC.

1 Like

I’ve never had an NPC captain in games that I’ve run. If I had players who might either abuse or resent the in-setting authority that comes with the position, I might go for an NPC CO, but my players have always been able to separate themselves from their characters and follow a “call a conference, then the captain orders as the group chooses” model.


I started with an NPC captain, but about halfway through the campaign the players transitioned onto a smaller vessel (Oberth) where they were the Bridge crew and one of them became the Captain as they acted independently.

Even before this point though one of the players was the ‘ranking officer’ so we already had the command structure in place.


A NPC captain can get a bit “railroady” even if it is well meaning. The vast majority of pen and paper I have played funation much better with some form of command structure - be it very loose (and the ability of players to accept the responsibility of their character to follow or accept the consequences if they do not) and this relies greatly on your players (as mentioned in other comments) being able to distance themselves and truly “role-play” a character. The only problems I have had with player captains/group leaders/etc in rpg games is out of character issues. Be it individuals have a problem with anyone “telling” them what to do or someone getting into that position of power and figuring it means the group must do whatever they tell them. I would say if you know your players and they know how to role-play and cooperate you cant go wrong with a PC captain but if you have any doubts you might run a few missions with them acting under a captain or admirals orders perhaps even with the possibility of a promotion for a player to that rank. See how they play together and make a judgement call


I’m the Captain in the regular STA game where I’m a player, and while I agree that it’s possible to get all drunk with power, I favour the Next Gen model of captaincy. For example, when things start happening, my captain is likely to say, “Options, people!” or “Engineering, report! What are we doing about this power drain!” In my mind, good Starfleet leaders recognize the team is stronger than the leader. So the goal should be to give the team the opportunity to shine.

As an aside, I’ve always rather like the ambiguity of this Benjamin Disraeli quotation (I’ve heard this worded a few different ways, but this is the first formulation I learned): “I follow my people; am I not their leader?”



This is soooooooo true. And I would dare say this applies to any game with a group of PCs. Its about the team shining together and not a single individual rising above the rest


I’ve played some version of Trek RPGs for over 30 years now and we’ve always had pc captains. Never been an issue.

I suspect there’s a player / group maturity thing you need. Watch the show and you’ll see it’s mostly group consensus to get stuff done and the captain directing traffic and making a decision when a decision must be made.


When we started playing, the Captain and the XO were run by players. Total of about 4-5 players in our game. The XO dropped out after a few games which made it a bit easier for me as GM. We play TOS and the Captain is almost always on away missions but it’s no problem because of an NPC XO now.

Had the player not dropped out it would have been a challenge for me to run - trying to make sure stuff was happening on both ship and planet most times.

No one has an issue with someone being Captain or the XO (who is run by players at times). There is no real “power” in playing these. After all you need a crew that will follow orders and if the one in command is being unreasonable, then that player will most likely be rolling a new guy and someone else will quickly get promoted. Orders from the Admiral. :grinning:

1 Like

Because of my group the campaign I ran had an NPC Captain. I have several players that make excellent second in commands. They have played such ranks with me in games such as Rogue Trader, Traveler, and 7th sea. But when put in direct command themselves things tend to fall apart very quickly from being unable to determine what goals to set, to having other players convince them out of good idea’s because they started second guessing themselves too much. So I put them on a ship with the oldest active captain in star fleet who barely passed the Starfleet physical to stay in command. A little after leaving earth on their extended mission their captain picked up a mystery disease and I have a captain that is there as much or as little as the players need him to be. The Captain will often be resting or in the sick bay so will give them general orders and trusts that they players will carry them out in good order and efficiency which they usually do. But if they seem to be getting hooked up on something, the Captain will make it to the bridge help them get back on track or be the tie breaker if the group is at an impasse and then when he is no longer needed he slips back off to his quarters or has to keep his appointment in sick bay. This led to a rather hilarious adventure where the Captain had to go in for another physical. I thought that the first officer was doing so well that he was ready to take the captain’s chair. The players knew he wasn’t going to pass and on their own volition, including support from the first office, snuck onto the starbase where he was being tested, hacked the medical computers, switched out medical equipment, and swapped samples, so their captain seemed to just barely pass his physical for another extended mission.


I’ve done it both ways…

my current is NPC CO & XO, 2nd off is PC.
One of the recurring SCCs is a Vulcan Security NCO… PO2 Sonak. Who feels Rules are not as important as the logic of the situation…

I didn’t allow a PC XO nor CO unless there were zero objections. THe one guy wanting to play XO immediately raised objections.

1 Like

I’m always interested to understand how things play out with an NPC Captain. Ive always run PC commanding officers and never had a problem, but I’m willing to accept that I might have been lucky with my groups.

For those of your who have a NPC Captain but a ranking officer amongst the PCs, whats the functional difference there? Genuine question- I’m interested in how that works out differently from your experiences.


In my games it is largely about the strategic vs the tactical decisions.

The players have pretty much complete discretion while carrying out their missions but have to report back as to their results (I had a few situations where I deliberately prevented communication during missions where needed).
While onboard ship I often throw operational issues at them fast so there isn’t time to check with the bridge.
Any snap decisions are made by the ranking officer, but the players interpret them in their own way.

Note I very rarely do ship to ship combat, which would be a lot more complicated like this.

For the strategic decisions I have the players argue their choices in the briefing room.
I sometimes create opposing arguments from other officers but most times they will throw various suggestions up and work through them on their own.
The captain has the final call, but as it is more TNG style we generally come to a consensus. I have had the captain shut down a few ideas that were skirting the edge of Federation rules. Though even that ended up being… complicated. :sweat_smile: (We joke it is still working through Federation sub-committees)

My group have gamed together for years, however and we dont have a single overwhelming player. We’ve all had turns as being the person nominally in charge as well as being the GM. I think that helps.

1 Like

That makes some sense, but wouldn’t you get the same effect with an admiral on the end of a comm channel?

To me, it seems like you’d get largely the same outcomes but without you needing to find ways to seperate the captain from situations, while opening up ship combat/diplomatic sessions etc where it only really makes sense for the CO to be involved.

Again, interested in the different thought process, as it might bring up something useful i can adapt myself


The main reason I didn’t have the players as bridge crew initially was because I planned to move them onto the smaller vessel when they found it.

I was thinking along the lines of the old Hornblower novels where a couple of times he is given command of a prize vessel.

A large part of it depends on what style of game you want.
A TNG game compared to a Lower Decks. One has a good case for including the captain, the other it would be odd to do so.

1 Like

Not being the bridge crew does change things slightly, for sure

1 Like

In my game, the Captain served as a combination of mission giver, sage about Star Fleer regulations and directives, and teacher of all things Star Trek, especially when it came to space combat. Do note that my players were largely unfamiliar with Star Trek and the NPC captain at first was intended to be training wheels to help them with the type of solutions and advantages that fit and worked in the Star Trek universe. Then afterwards once they got the hang of things, they would actually use the captain as a way to get an advantage like i.e. ‘the Captain has seen this before’ , ‘I will not let my captain down’ or ‘I trust my captain.’ Their Captain’s age and health was a recurring issue and he turned into their own little subplot where if their aging captain was going to die anywhere it would be on his ship as the captain. This caused endless silly antics.

The biggest thing the NPC Captain provided was that opening briefing that allowed very interactive question and answers session as well as could really set the mood of the session. Because if their aged captain hadn’t seen something then they know it was extra special or extra dangerous. They also noted that it felt good getting their mission from the NPC Captain that was on their ship verse through a missing briefing from some distant admiral. Sometimes I would open narration with Captain Keen’s personal log entries and that also felt more natural introduction for many sessions especially when a little story of a past experience was tossed in there for a little color about wherever they were going.


For me what I ended up doing is I have a captain pc and an npc xo. The Captain is younger, kind of a “I’ll do it myself” kind of Captain when it comes to away missions (STO era campaign) so when they need the ship the XO is right there but the Captain is there to kick butt and take names right along side their crew.
However the next campaign we’re gonna do the Shackleton campaign divided into 3 eras and the TOS one is gonna be using the cadet system for pcs with an npc captain to do the early part same players so it’s gonna be fun to break it up and change the format from time to time.

If you are wanting to do that in the existing campaign it could come off like Jellico does in TNG who is effectively a GM showing up going “I’m taking charge of the ship with this npc” while the player for Riker is like ??!?!?!? and Picard’s group is trying to sneak in for those weapons.

So it may be best just in general to play it by ear and vary it from group to group.


I have done it both ways, and it can be great if the Captain PC is a good leader. but it can also be a disaster, if they get drunk with power, order a suicide ram just to win a battle, etc.

I once had a player on a medical rescue mission, ran up to find a Starfleet vessel, stricken the crew is dying. that guy, says, “We will hold off, and wait for a proper medical ship.”
The Medical characters and other bridge characters were mystified, and tried all sorts of ways to convince him.

Finally the First officer says, “People are dying there, and we are the only ones that can save them.”
The Captain said, “You have my orders. do not force me to put you in hack. (Sending the First officer to his room, off duty.”
At that point, the XO, Medical officer and Engineer relieve the captain according to regulations, for dereliction of duty, and he vows to have them up on charges. but they beam over, and eventually solve the crisis with minimal loss of Starfleet crew on the stricken ship.

In game three days later, an Admiral arrives aboard a medical frigate, commends the crew, makes the First officer the Acting Captain, and relieves the current Captain (Who then rage-quit the game), pending a board of inquiry, with potential court martial in the offing.

Some groups are happy with an NPC captain, some groups hate it.