Captains as (N)PCs

In the Official Wishlist Part II, @mattcapiche wrote:

quickly followed by @LeonardMcCoy presuming:

I would second, yet I face this problem while preparing for an ongoing STA campaign (ran only one-shots till today). Some of my players would like the Captain to be an NPC, some are indifferent, I, personally, would prefer one of the PCs to be the captain, because:

Interestingly enough, those (disclaimer: of my players) arguing for an NPC to command the ship (and crew) seem to rather have an NPC ordering them around than a fellow PC. I’ve talked to one and it burned down to a trust-issue: There is inequality at the table, but not among the Players, but only with the Gamemaster. We’re a group of almost oldschool gamers who seem to see the GM as some kind of benevolent dictator; omnipotent yet fair. The specific player was afraid of having a hierachic dynamic at the table bleeding into conflicts in real life. The “GM has more say in te game than PCs” seem to work since the PCs are a group of equals. And, indeed, hierarchy in our D&D group is quite chaotic and fluent – it depends on situation and mood of the group which voices are heard and which roads are taken. In essence: Formal anarchy leading to some interesting fluid hierarchy.

The player in question seems to fear that a hierarchy among the players could lead to off-table/out-game problems. Thus, they want to have an “impartial” (i.e. GM-controlled) arbiter: the NPC Captain.

This argument is flawed for multiple reasons, first and foremost that I am not impartial and that I don’t want to see myself (in the role of the GM) as more powerful than anyone else at the table.

Yet, I think that the people @mattcapiche refers to could have similar problems with PC captains.

I will try to tackle the issue with lots of open communication in Session 0 and a hand-picked Captain. Yet, if the group decides to not have a Captain (or hierarchy among players, at all), I’m also open to run an Academy campaign.

I wonder what your players think and how you have tackled issues like that?


My group also plays Stargate, where a Star Trek player is the GM and I (the Star Trek GM) is a player. My Stargate character is the team leader and is thus in charge of the others. That actually does not come into play that often, but sometimes I have the last word or decide on a course of action. I have never experienced any animosity from the players (just the PCs). We all have an understanding that this is the natural flow of a Stargate Game/Episode. So I assume that this will translate very well into Star Trek.

I too would prefer a PC captain, but I see practical issues: The captain is not supposed to go on away missions!

We played season 1 with an NPC captain who usually did not interfere much and essentially just provided mission briefings. And in space combat, the captain let the XO (PC) give the orders. Obviously the adventures were designed with many away missions, so that the captain did not need to be present all the time. But I don’t see a huge advantage of having an “impartial” NPC captain. I plan to give a potential PC captain in season 3 a ship’s log to read aloud that summons up the current mission.

The argument that your players don’t want to have an hierarchy is actually hilariously flawed when playing Star Trek, where each character has a quasi-military rank. So most likely some characters will outrank others. But I found that this conflict makes for interesting stories and leads to character growth.

That said, I would probably not allow someone who is inexperienced with Star Trek to play the captain.

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I concur. My son wanted to try the game but has barely seen any episodes and I keep telling him he has to have a better understanding of what Starfleet is and does if he wants to play the captain of a starship. Otherwise he’d be apt to play it like Dungeons & Dragons, set phasers on kill, and attack Romulans without provocation. :scream_cat:

Sounds like one of our games. :grinning:

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That is not necessarily a flaw. One of the players I had in mind to captain in my upcoming campaign does not want “to decide everything”. They’re the captain in a Traveller campaign they play in and told me that ever too often all eyes were on them to drive action. I don’t see this risk in the players of our group, yet see that one sometimes wants to lean back and let others make decisions. This is where away missions and supporting characters come in.

It also mitigates the hierarchy-problem. Since Captains should not go on away missions, too often, they’re the natural choice to play with a supporting character every other scene. Since supporting characters have rank-restrictions, this will also turn upside down the hierarchy.

Which is what I would do with any NPC captain.

I, too, think that formal hierarchies offer a tremendous amount of potential drama. Yet, players have to be self-reflected enough to allow this to play out. I’m adamant that my players are, yet some, sadly, do not seem to fully trust themselves.

Anyway, you can play Star Trek without the formal hierarchy among the players. I already mentioned play at Starfleet Academy, where every player is a cadet and, thus, holding the same rank and privilege. You can also think of a “lower decks” setting with all the characters being ensigns and lieutenants etc. Also, “outranking” is defined by your definition of the chain of command – which can be very different and does not necessarily include command authority of a Lieutenant over an Ensign.

With regard to Star Trek Experience, I’d say basic knowledge of Star Trek suffices. There’s nothing wrong with the casual good advice from the GM’s side, if things go too awry.

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My problem with our Captain PC is everyone is quoting regulations when she wants to go on an away mission.

Your captain is always welcome to overule the regulation and tell the other characters that they are welcome to put their objections on record.

Its not likely SFC would actually do anything about it unless it was seen as a cause for something bigger that happened.

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@MisterX may I suggest you gave them a Supporting Charakter as Captain, so they can decide, what the Captain orders.


As for the question about the ships Captain being a PC or NPC.

For me you can go both ways and have a great time. Or go both ways and be miserable.

I have played in (and run) some great games where we played JO’s under NPC senior officers. That is a different game from one where the PC’s are the senior staff. I’ve even played in a game where we were flag officers, though I didn’t have much fun with that.

Two examples of game where our PC’s were bottom of the ladder rank wise. First was during the Dominion war, we played the pilots/crews of a Federation Attack Fighter Squadron. The second was where we played a squad of Federation ground soldiers using LUGTrek. Cannon details are vague when it comes to Federation Ground Forces even though we see them in multiple episodes and they get referred to in more. We used a combo of LUGTrek, Decipher Trek and STA sources to round out playable Star Fleet Marines. Not exactly cannon, but it was fun.

The point being that with the right campaign frame not being in charge can be fun.

Other game types I cannot see being that good if the PC’s are not in charge.

One issue I see is when a newer group of players with no real understanding of Star Fleet jump right in the game and start as the command crew of a large ship like a Galaxy class. I have seen a lot of those game break down fairly quickly, especially if they GM is trying to get them to play Federation and the players are all murder hobo.

I prefer to start Star Trek RPG games in a smaller sandbox if the players are not that familiar with Trek. Start the PC’s on a smaller ship. Smaller ships will tend to have more freedom of movement than a major capitol ship. TOS was an anomaly with the Enterprise being on a “5 year exploration mission”. The TNG Enterprise episodes primarily took place when the ship was “ordered” to a location and something happened. Large ships are not allowed to wander, they have specific places to be as decided by a committee of Admirals giving directives. A small ship (scout, patrol, etc.) tends to be given one of three major types of tasking. 1) Escort/Screen a larger ship/formation. 2) Screen/Patrol a fixed Station/Planet/Outpost. 3) Long Range Patrol/Reconnaissance/Exploration. With 1 & 2 the ship is once again subject to direct control from above, but #3 allows a ships Captain the freedom to do things without higher command looking over their shoulders. In that type of game the PC’s need to be in charge.

Naturally it’s going to be variable depending almost wholly on the referee and players involved.

My experience has thus far been nobody wants to take orders from an NPC. But I’ve always run “troupe-style” Star Trek to make sure a player always has a PC in the thick of things as well as to balance out the rank discrepancies. The player running the captain will probably also be running a lowly ensign security officer or someone else low down on the totem pole, while the player running the communications officer will also be running the X.O. (just for example). So eventually every player will have a character with authority over the others at some point.

But to date I’ve been lucky to deal with players who could deal with the hierarchy–possibly because many of them have been in the military. (I’m in a big Navy, Coast Guard, and Marines city and a lot of those guys are into RPGs.)

This is genius.

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This is something I’d probably handle in session 0. Lay down some basic table rules about regulations regarding the captain PC. There are plenty of instances on the various series of a captain going on a landing party or away team. If a player wants to be captain, they should be able to set some guidelines. Which in itself could generate some fun scenes with the player XO.

My current campaign had the captain and XO butting heads a couple times on whether it was a good idea for her to go on an away team. Generated some nice dramatic tension in the game.

Probably needs to be a strong dose of player trust and a level of maturity among the players, as well.


I think it burns down to this. I’m still very much in favour of this entry in the wishlist, including the advice on consent in gameplay.

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I 100% agree with this, and this is exactly why guidance is needed. Some groups and GMs have the knowledge/experience/etc to just be able to handle this without help, but others won’t have ever been in a situation where it is relevant. Some won’t even realise that it’s something they could use advice on until the advice is there and available for them (as often happens with the topic of consent).

I’ve said all along that while I strongly believe the game is stronger with a PC captain, people can use NPCs if they want to. But it should be because they want to and not because they feel like there isn’t another option that can work for their group.

RPGs and publishers don’t have to follow the standoffish nature that seems a bit more common in older products. Offering support with this part of the game (or similar), alongside the very current and previously mentioned issue of consent is just as useful (if not more) as source material and mechanics. It also seems to fit pretty tightly with the concept and themes of the IP itself, and I would very much like to see something covering it. (If I was more of an expert I’d even offer to write it for you myself!)

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I play the captain in one of the two campaigns I’m in (I’m the GM in the other campaign) and that’s how I generally roll. Almost all Away missions involve me playing a supporting character (our campaign is a bit fast-and-loose with supporting character rules and I think we’ve probably exceeded our supporting character count).

The other players have actually been fairly supportive of the captain joining Away missions, but we’re also often in positions where there’s a threat of an enemy ship returning to the system, and in those circumstances, it’s hard for me to rationalize the captain leaving the ship when we’re a bit “on guard”.

I’ve kind of enjoyed the opportunity to infuse supporting characters with some quirks and foibles – especially when we’re just created a brand new supporting character. Like, we were testing out a new transwarp experiment where we generated a transwarp corridor using a specially-designed torpedo. We were testing this with our Argo shuttle, and we assembled a team and thought: “maybe it’d make sense to send an astrophysicist?” (Our science officer is a PC, but he’s a historian). So we whipped up a young, overly-enthusiastic Ensign from the science department and they were a delight to play!

One of the side-effects of this style of play has been that, over time, it feels like our crew is “real” and “alive”. We’re not just a ship of a handful of players and a bunch of blank faces, we’ve got a whole bunch of named characters who we refer to regularly and who the GM can pull out to deliver information from a different part of the ship.

It’s been a blast.



The old FASA Stardate magazine had a good article on how to play a captain that didn’t have any specific game mechanics in it and that talked about problems that can occur when playing the captain and making sure everyone had fun and a say in determining how things go in an adventure. The author had a bad experience with a old FASA convention game in which the player who was playing the captain made it an unfun game to be in.

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I think it all depends upon the style of the game.

If I want to focus on ship combat and such, the captain ought to be a PC.

For many of my adventures I prefer to start off at the planet with the team being a landing party with a mission. Very much a “go in and get the job done” sort of thing. For that there isn’t any real reason why the captain needs to be on the mission (except for the fact that on TV the captain almost always was) and thus doesn’t need to be a PC.

The compromise is probably to have each player run TWO characters – one for landing party level play, and a second for ship-to-ship level play.

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I think there is a nuance here that is not being defined. If you play any game in the current Star Trek 2d20 universe, your PC’s will be under the orders of a NPC. Unless the game is a pure political one with the PC’s being all admirals and Federation Council members :wink:

I believe what everyone one means is they do not want an NPC in direct command of the in play session. If the players want to be the characters that routinely beam down and explore, then they will either be non-command crew away teams on larger ships or be on smaller ships where the number of officers is low and being on the away team is more plausible. TOS just ignored command structure, TNG did send senior command crew, but the CO didn’t actually go on most of the away missions. VOY didn’t count due to special circumstance and I do not remember ENT well enough.

But, generally the captain will order the away team to do x, y, or z. Or you can be the PC Captain and wind up hanging out on the ship while the NPC’s do all the fun stuff.

I have never had an issue with players getting upset with orders from an NPC since most of the orders consisted of “Lt X, prep your away team. I need you to XYZ” or something similar.

I have had players become unsatisfied with the game when PC’s or NPC’s do things that just wouldn’t happen.

And yes I know, “in episode X Bob did X”. TOS scripts were written by people that didn’t really try to ensure plausibility or continuity.

Exactly. An NPC can be in command, which isn’t a problem if being in command is mostly off screen or in limited cameo’s.

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If that’s your impression, I’d recommend reading these:
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I was referring to how command staff and especially a Captain and senior officers would behave.
TOS literally is completely wrong in 99%. Kick always leaves the ship as part of the away team and even worse, he and Spock (1st Officer/XO) are usually both leave the ship at the same time.

I have the novelizations of the original series and it doesn’t change much from that front.

Don’t get me wrong, TOS is my favorite version of Star Trek since it was the only version when I was growing up. Followed by DS9. But what works for a TV show, where literally everything is controlled by the writer/director doesn’t necessarily work in a RPG where players have free agency. Nor does it work in real life. But once you have been exposed to reality, it can make suspension of belief much harder when the game brushed reality. In this case not the scifi spacy stuff, but command organization and policy.

I guess that is one reason why games like D&D are always so popular. You will never meet anyone that can claim to know a real spell or fought a goblin with a sword while clad mail.