Court martial advise

One of my players characters, a Soong-type android and the chief of security, recently shot and vaporised a Cardassian Gul who was in custody following an unprovoked attack on the PCs ship. The Gul was responsible for destroying this characters previous ship and killing all her crew and captain whom the PC considered a close friend. I thought it might be fun to run a session where he is brought before a court martial hearing at a starbase, hear testimony from witnesses etc… Any thoughts and advise? I’d rather not have the PC have to leave so I thought a demotion?

GREAT idea!!

Some time ago, I started a thread about Court Martials as focus of an episode/adventure. You might find some interesting responses, there. The thread originated in a thread about excessive force being used, which also kinda relates to your topic…

Regarding the case at hands: Judging from what I’ve read in your post, we’re talking outright murder, if not the war crime (!) of killing a prisoner of war without due process. I see no way this will not end in decomission and imprisonment (for a long time).

In case you do not want to kick out a player out of the campaign (which, honestly, would definetly be fitting, in-game), you should, in my humble opinion, think of some deus ex machina:

  • Maybe the Gul isn’t dead and vaporised but transported away, like Picard was in TNG 7x04/05 “Gambit”? Maybe, Starfleet Intelligence has him for further inquiries? Or maybe even Section 31? Maybe your chief-of-security thought they were working for Starfleet Intelligence, but ultimately were only a pawn by Section 31?
  • Maybe the android suffered severe malfunctions so there’s the possibility of some kind of insanity defence or reduced capacity or something like that?
  • Maybe the android was taken over by a plot of someone else who wanted to see the Gul dead? Examples could include the Obsidian Order, killing off a liability while blaming a reputed Starfleet Officer.

My advise would be: Draw as much Drama out of the situation, as possible. Have the character confined to their quarters (or the brigg) for a mission or two and let their player take supporting characters. Maybe even their own legal defense, working out a strategy with the rest of the crew to get back their friend. During these missions, let the players find out the motives and what really happened. This could involve a detective story or engineering examinations, or both. It could mean they would need to capture a foreign (or, worse, internal) spy and uncover a plot against the Chief-of-Security, the Ship, Starfleet, or even the Federation.

After the crew gathered evidence for a mission, or two, go to the Starbase and set up your court martial – which is, again, a great idea. I did this with my D&D group some time ago; you can read my experience in the first thread I’ve linked in this post.

In ANY event:

  • Make sure to include every player in your group, including, of course, your chief-of-security in the proceedings. Supporting Characters are a great way to achieve this.
  • And, please TALK to the player of your chief-of-security how they would handle this situation. Maybe they wanted to change character, anyway? Maybe they’ve got some great idea how their character can go through the proceedings, unharmed? Make sure that everything that happens is okay with the player. Neither do you need to tell them everything, nor do you need to tell the rest of your group something.
    But court-martial episodes, with demotions or even a character that is now no longer playable are difficult situations. Make sure that all the drama stays in-game!

Since a Cardasian was killed a Cardassian court can be fun too, there’s a whole DS9 épisode about it.
Since tthe guilty party is an android you can reboot it on a previous state (and lose memories, and some experience)


Uh, that one’s a nice idea! A reset could be the Death verdict, Cardassia would demand – while it could keep the character in game (of some sorts) and has potential for a story arc to re-gain the wiped memories.

Great idea, @betatester !

Thx everyone for your advise.

One last remark on mechanics: Maybe use the mechanics of a social conflict (presenting evidence etc.) as well as an extended task (to convince judge/jury).

I’d be very excited about your experience! When will you have this episode(s)?

I’ve never been a fan of court martial for Star Trek. It flies in the face of Starfleet not being a military. Why are Starfleet personnel not tried in general Federation courts like anybody else?

I’ve always believed the idea that Starfleet is somehow not a military to be nothing more than a silly pretense, especially since Starfleet has acted as the Federation’s wartime defense force on multiple occasions for centuries ever since the Earth-Romulan War.

Military Justice Is to Justice As Military Music Is to Music
Recently saw this:

  • General ordre 24: be careful with your players.
  • General order 34: wonders if it applies to your case, isn’t killing a cultural trait of Soong android with Lore case ? Just kidding but maybe it can work in a court.

@HappyDaze, @Sutehp: Please, just let us not go into this endless debate again!

In any event, “cour martial” is just a label we put on formal court proceedings against Starfleet personnel commiting diciplinary and/or criminal offences. Nothing in canon prohibits Starfleet personnel to be tried in general Federation courts, like anybody else.

In fact, the question whether Starfleet is a military, or not, has nothing to do with the question whether there are specialised courts filled with Starfleet personnel trying Starfleet personnel. Just because someone belongs to a military or not has no implication at all to whether they’re tried in a “general” or a “specialised” court:

Courts can be *very* different!
  • There are countries in the world that have specialised courts for their militaries
    • the Staff of these courts
      • sometimes is all-military,
      • sometimes is all-civilian,
      • sometimes is mixed,
    • their jurisdiction
      • sometimes is extended to civilians, when there’s a link to the military (e.g. a soldier is victim of a crime),
      • sometimes is limited to military personnel, yet not limited ratione materiae, i.e. all offences of military personnel are tried,
      • sometimes is limited to military personnel and offences with a genuine link to the military (e.g. theft of guns from the armoury would be tried in the specialised court, but not theft of guns from a public gun store),
      • sometimes is limited to military offences,
      • sometimes is limited to the review of diciplinary proceedings (while even military offences that only military personnel can commit, e.g. criminal disobedience or mutiny, would be tried in a general/civilian court),
  • and there are countries in the world that try their soldiers in general, civilian courts, no matter what.

Some countries have more than one approach depending on the state of war and/or whether the situation at hands took place at home or abroad etc.

That’s only 16(+) different ways on “how to deal with court proceedings involving armed personnel” and there can be many more. The Federation in your games can be everything, and sometimes it can be fun to have an argument over jurisdiction, before the case will be examined on the merits.

Don’t think of Starfleet “laws” as actual laws, don’t argue or proceed as you would in a legal action. This holds especially true, if you have an idea or two how actual courts work. I’m dead serious.
Starfleet “laws” are plot-devices to spark Drama. No less, but also no more.

(And, please, don’t make me ask @Modiphius-Jim whether he wants a set of mission briefs centered on legal action! :wink: )

Running my game tomorrow, and we may touch on the start on the court martial then.

Thx for this

A couple of briefs might be fun