Chain of Command

Other than the Commanding Officer and the Executive Officer, is there any real guidance on how Starfleet (24th century) handles chain of command on a ship?

Rank seems to be important, obviously, but not exclusively. For example, Data is 2nd officer despite being outranked by Crusher (who is a commander that passed the bridge officer test and covers some bridge shifts) and later Troi (when she passes the test and makes commander).

Certain roles/positions might be outside of the usual command structure–such as that of the doctor and counselor–but we have seen an operations manager (Data) and two science officers (Spock and T’Pol) so there’s openings there too.

So, other than CO & XO, how do you go about determining the chin of command for your Starfleet vessels?

To be honest: If it is really necessary to determine who’s superior to whom, I go by the regulations of the armed forces of the State I live in. As it happens, they suit a Federation Starship quite well, in my opinion. :slight_smile:

But, to be honest: Chain of Command and command authority shall be determined by consensus of the players. Star Trek is not military science-fiction in the first place and the game is not meant to be the simulation of a military. Every group should, in their session 0, talk about the chain of command and how it’s composed. If necessary, you can adjust the ranks, accordingly.

If you’re interested, on how the theory behind my reasoning about chain of command works, read on. But it’s just military theory that I stole from the real world. :wink:

I will spare you the details, but, roughly, there are 5 (spoilered below: 6) cases that grant command authority over others.: Mission-Order > Speciality > Leadership > Department > Rank.

“>” indicates that command authority granted via the left weighs more than the authority granted via the right.

Mission-Order: If the command authority is ordered by a (common) superior, e.g. when the captain orders that a Lt is the leader of an away-team, even if a Cmdr is part of the away-team.
Specialty: The specialty job, e.g. military police, guards, security, etc. grants command authority, e.g. a Chief of the Security department can order a Lt of the Science department out of the brigg.
Leadership: This is the regular chain of command. The admiral of a fleet has command authority over all personnel within their fleet, the captain of a ship has command authority over all personnel aboard their ship, the deparment head… etc.
Department: This is an entirely different chain of command that relies on the profession. E.g. a doctor within Stafleet Medical has authority over how doctors on starships do their job. Most of the time, this has to do with regulations, but can also be relevant for direct orders.
Rank: Well, rank. A specialty here is that outranking someone does not automatically gives you command authority over them, but only in certain places and/or special times. This is something that is probably special to the armed forces of my home and may not be very intuitive for people used to other armed forces structures. Also, “outranking” is defined by groups of ranks, not the ranks itself.

Since, with the special rules under “rank” there are situations, where no officer has a command authority over one-another, there is a sixth rule:
Own Declaration: Officers and Non-commissioned Officers (but no Enlisted Personell) can declare themselves to have command authority over every person with a lower rank (not group, cf. above) than themselves, if necessary. Necessity is, roughly, defined with a state of emergency and/or lack of discipline.

To your examples: Data would have command authority over Crusher (and later Troi), because he is 2nd officer (either specialty or leadership in the list above; probably the latter). The ship’s chief medical officer has command authority over all personnel aboard (including the captain!) in all things medical, but limited to all things medical (that would be specialty in the list above).

1 Like

Rank is important. But the most important factor seems to be the position you have. On Voyager, Carey was a full lieutenant and B’Elanna was a lieutenant junior grade, so technically Carey outranked her. But B’Elanna was the chief engineer and thus had authority over Carey. This is essentially the same thing with Crusher and Data.

So while I agree with @MisterX, 99% of the time you can break it down to a more simple list:

Position > Rank

Where position includes everything else he mentioned. In emergency situations, certain personnel may have authority over others, most notably the doctor. But this could also apply to others. Riker famously refused to let his then-captain DeSoto command an away team on a dangerous planet. And even though Riker was not technically in charge of DeSoto, the interpretations of the first officer’s mandate could be interpreted that way.

1 Like

I’ve always run it that the captain establishes the chain of command for their ship, from XO to second officer and duty officers, and on down the line.

the shows I think run the chain of command to best suit the drama of the moment, like in “Disaster” where Troi is made the leader because it’d be dramatically interesting to have that happen.

But, in all the games I ran as captain, I just threw together a chain of command based on the PCs and NPCs and levels of experience and rank. Usually went something like:

Executive Officer
Second officer (usually a department head–tactical or engineering)
Senior tactical officer or senior engineer
Duty watch officers

1 Like

One of the story arcs of TNG was about Commander Troi becoming Line Certified so she could “have the Conn”… you will no doubt recall how that worked out for everyone in Star Trek: Generations. :slight_smile: That said, following the model of the U.S. Navy – which was Rodenberry’s influence at any rate, there are two types of officers: Line officers and Staff Officers.

To understand the difference you would need to understand that differences between various types of authority:
Line Officer vs. Staff Officers: Line Officers are trained and certified to Command, they are Bridge Certified and can “Have the Conn”, stand Watch on the Bridge, and generally lead away teams. Staff Officers are trained as experts in a functional role, and while they are trained to administrate or lead, they lack the tactical training and crisis leadership expertise of a Line officer. All Command Branch officers are trained as Line Officers at the Academy, all other Branches are not and require additional training for this as explored by the Bridge Certification and to a lesser extend Department Head continuing education training the pursue later in their careers.

Positional Authority: This is authority that comes with one’s job or position. Examples of this include but are not limited to a Security Officer detaining a superior due to an investigation or arrest; a Doctor medically relieving a superior officer for medical reasons; a Starfleet Intelligence officer ordering information or logs restricted in access for security reasons, the designated pilot of a shuttle directing other passengers in what to do, etc. If you outrank someone but they are in command of a station or ship you are a passenger on, technically their position gives them authority over you unless you usurp that command. Positional Authority trumps rank and line authority, but one must be careful when invoking it as it typically is situational. Line vs Staff authority is technically a form of positional authority, but it is broad and rarely only situational.

Rank Authority: The easiest to factor – The person with the higher rank is in charge but this is mitigated by position and Line vs Staff, and of course by chain of command. I am now seeing Mr. X addressed all this so I am perhaps being redundant and I won’t go further into this aspect.

So how do you determine this on your ship or station? The easiest way for me is to start with the Red Shirts – how many are on board? Typically this is the smallest depart, but all of the officers are Line Officers so I put them in a line based on rank/position. On a smaller ship you probably have the C.O., X.O. three helm officers and may one or two others, but maybe just those five. Then you go to the 2nd officer, typically the Operations Manager. Then you go through the senior staff who are Line Certified – slap those into the command chain based on rank. After you have the Line officers, you go by department and rank. Status of precedence for Star Fleet is: Command, Operations, Engineering, Security, Science, Medical. So if you have two Lieutenant J.G.'s and one is Security and one is Medical and neither are staff and its not a security or medical matter, the Security officer is nominally in charge by default.

Line –
Executive Officer (1st Officer)
Chief of Operations (2nd Officer)
Chief of Engineering (3rd Officer)
Flight Control Officer (4th Officer)
Assistant Flight Control Officer - LTjg (5th Officer)
Logistics Officer (6th Officer)
Assistant Flight Control Officer -ESN (7th Officer)
Assistant Flight Control Officer - ESN (8th Officer)

Staff –
CSec – LT (9th Officer)
CSci – LT (10th Officer)
CMed – LT (11th Officer) etc

So even though the Chief of Security outranks a majority of the Line officers, because he is a Staff officer he defers to them in the Chain of Command except when it relates to matters of his department, unless they actively have the Conn or are the Away Team leader, then he defers regardless. Likewise, Ensign who is the 8th officer defers to the CSec when he is acting on a security matter unless they are actively in command, but outside of a security matter they don’t actually report to or have to take orders from the Chief of Security.

Anyway, that’s how it goes down in my games – I take the above point about Star Fleet only being a paramilitary organization Mister X put forward, my own experience IRL in the Boy Scouts still said rank and position mattered in situations about who was in charge, when and of what and my experience in the actual military definitely defined that. I’ve never had players sperg out about this, but then I don’t really have entitled snowflake players in my game either who might be set off by such a thing. YMMV, Peace.

Do you include Conn department officers in as members of the Command branch? If so, then wouldn’t many officers that transfer from Conn to other departments (like Worf and Geordi) still have that training?

Is there anything in the game rules that spells out who has/has not passed Bridge Certification? Crusher has despite having Conn 1.

While true for Data, is there any evidence that this is the norm? Harry Kim stands out as an equal counterexample.

This is just your personal order of precedence, right? I also notice that you don’t have Conn in there but have Operations distinct from Security & Engineering. In this version of the game, the Operations Manager is a member of the Engineering department (it’s a requisite of the position), but I know that there is a sidebar in the Operations book for a slightly different take.

If it were a klingon ship, whoever grabs the literal " ‘chain’ of command" is in charge, should there be any question of higher ups being gone.

I will try to answer each of these efficiently instead of my usual blather.

To question one: I do include those who train as Conn, Worf and Geordi were both red shirts before transferring departments, and so were Bridge Certified / Line Certified.

To question two: Harry Kim is an exception not a norm. Harry Kim was an Operations Officer, not the Chief of Operation/Operations Manager. Then there was a lot of dead senior staff. The XO. The Chief of Helm. The CMO. The Chief of Engineering all died, I infer the same was true of the actual acting Chief of Security and the Chief of Operations, Tuvok took his old job back. Data was the standard cited in the support material during the TNG era, Spock was the abnormal person holding CSciO and XO, and Spock didn’t start off as XO on TOS. Pike had his Number One, and Kirk had Gary Mitchell as far as I remember, maybe I’m wrong.

Question 3: I do realize that this version of the game fails to have the Operations Department broken up into Operations, Engineering, and Security. I have no idea why they did that, its not how it has been presented previously. But, even in that case – their online character generator still provides a Conn based Academy path aside from the Security or Engineering path. Conn as used in this game covers what was Shipboard Systems Operations in previous games – which included Helm (Conn) and every other systems, such as the Operations Manager station.

For your or anyone else’s game I fully endorse to do what you feel is best for you – in my case I have characters that we started with the LUG Academy Box set and then went on to play as junior officers, that we later translated into Decipher when we came back around to Star Trek, and that we very recently converted over to this system for another round of Star Trek. Thusly, we stuck to the same models we had always used as they were consistent with what we saw on Television. YMMV.

Addendum: Re: the Precedence – while I did read this somewhere, it was also based on the fact that typically Science and Medical don’t lend themselves to pursuit of Line Officer / Bridge Certification, and when they do its typically when they are going for a Senior Rank / Assignment. Dr. McCoy didn’t ever take the Conn, and I don’t think Bashir did either. Jadzia Daxx did but that would be because Kerzon was a Red Shirt in his previous life as a Starfleet Diplomatic Officer, but again that’s just my interpretation.

Not true; only the Helm and Navigation (on the Flight Control station in 24th century) functions use Conn. Everything else detailed for starship actions used Engineering, Security, or Science. This is despite some suggestions in this system that Conn is more broad than just flying the ship (and yes, there are some other uses, but it is mostly just flying the ship or shuttles).

Okay… you win. :slight_smile: Then I have no explanation as to why they dropped an entire established 3rd of the Operations Branch. Or why they called what is effectively Helm Conn, since taking the conn is taking the command chair. Maybe its a British thing. Maybe its due to some Arcane contract clause with CBS TV vs Paramont Movies. Thankfully my players are far less concerned about dropping the Operations division and it won’t seem to adversely effect my table top adventures – just means I won’t be submitting any of my flawed adventures to the forum. Cheers! :slight_smile:

Conn in addition to helm control seems to also cover things like rules and regs etc. knowing from recall what regulation 22b subsection C paragraph 12 states, as well as the precidents set by the court martial of Leuitenant Jenkins on the USS Alabequirque, would I belive require a Conn test.

That’s definetly Command, and not Conn!

You’re probably not, because I have not a damn clue how the US Navy does this. :slight_smile: Also, the concept of line and staff officers is virtually unknown to me (with perhaps the exception of medical officers who come closest to staff officers, in the armed forces I’m familiar with). So, please, ramble on. :slight_smile:

Also, the chain of command you laid out is completely different from that I would have laid out. Which is very interesting, because it means more ways to do this “right” and reasonable. I love this!! :smiley:

Well, I’d say Starfleet is a fullgrown military and not para-military, but a very… utopian military. The point I was trying to make is that Star Trek is not a military science-fiction story, but a space opera, and that Star Trek Adventures is not a military simulation, but a roleplaying game.

Thus, the chain of command should be something that supports play, and not a chain you go get and beat one with, until they understand who’s in ruttin’ command, here.

I’d say that Bridge Certification is something about commanding on the bridge, not working on the bridge. So, I’d rather look at her Command skill level than her Conn.

This is partly because there’s never been anything on-screen to suggest large numbers of Operations personnel distinct from either Engineering or Security, partly because I’m going more by how things are depicted on-screen (where the character at Ops fills the narrative role of “science officer, but wearing gold”), and partly because I deliberately didn’t read any prior Star Trek RPGs before writing Star Trek Adventures specifically to avoid being influenced by how other games did things.


And my inner Monk (as in the guy from that TV-series) always thought it was because there were always two branches within the three divisions that corresponded with the six skills on the character sheet. I’ve always liked the symmetry and now you come and destroy it with you deliberately not reading books! :wink: :wink: :wink:

1 Like

If you want to talk department structure, exactly what departments there are and what (if any) divisions they’re in vary from series to series. (In the following discussion Bridge = Conn, but usually incorporates non-Conn positions such as communications. Services seems to include janitorial, food production, minor maintenance and so on.)

STA’s approach works very well mechanically, so it forms a good base, but that doesn’t mean it’s the be-all and end-all in “reality”.

In TOS, we see four groupings, which are basically Command/Bridge (gold), Security/Engineering (red), Science/Medical (blue) and Nursing (also blue - but different badge).

In ENT, we get the same basic three departments, with similar colours, but no sign of Nursing. Instead we get the completely separate MACOs.

DIS is similar to TOS, but we get the gold/silver/bronze colours, with Medical and Nursing combined and wearing white.

We’re all familiar with with the TNG and later set up, which is kind of the default now.

It’s the TOS movies where it gets interesting. TMP broke them into 7 departments: bridge, command, engineering, science, medical, security and services, which carried over into the Maroons era, although a couple of individual roles moved.

The point I’m trying to make is that there’s no consistency in the series, so anyone’s interpretation is fairly valid. I think in the Line Officers interpretation, all command and bridge staff would automatically qualify as line, the others are staff roles. You could use this to inform your chain of command.

Within my game, I’ve assumed that all eras (except ENT) use the same 7 departments (each has its own insignia in DIS/TOS), with services as part of the operations division. Where my idea diverges from the on-screen, my version takes precedence for some reason. Some positions do switch from engineering to bridge (communications for example) or vice-versa, depending on era.

@Fortunae: I do have to say, I dont remember seeing operations listed as a separate department from engineering - where is that from? I’m curious :smiley:

Oh, and please do not withhold scenarios just because they don’t match an existing consensus - we’d much rather see them warts and all :innocent:

Page 98 of the Core Rulebook disagrees. It seemed odd to me at first and I probably would’ve pegged it as a command skill at first, but Conn is a trash discipline if all its used for is piloting and navigation.

In part, yes. I reckon you refer to the description of Conn/Presence? I take your point, Conn obviously has something to do with rules and regulations.

But look at the description of Command/Reason at that very page, mentioning legal situations. Rules and regulations are, at least, also a Command thing. And taking into account the combinations Conn/Presence and Command/Reason, I would say that knowing rules and regulations by heart would be a Command/Reason check. I would even say that presenting a case at a hearing (remember, JAG is part of Command, not Conn) would be Presence/Command, rather than Presence/Conn.

I think Presence/Conn would apply in situation where it’s about “being a spacefarer”. Conn would be applicable to flight regulations, unofficial rules and conduct of spacefarers etc.

But, I have to take back my previous assertion. It’s not so definitive as I thought. :slight_smile:

1 Like

There is definitely some overlap. I think you could make a case for using either, so oftentimes it’s going to be a GM call. Personally, I tend to be pretty generous with Conn since the others are much more regularly useful.

1 Like

I absolutely agree. Conn is also used for abandoning ship, and… um…