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Roles and Supporting Characters

posted Apr 02, 2018 23:17:24 by TonyPi
Can Supporting Characters have Roles?

Can NPCs?

Can Assistant Chief Engineers gain the Chief Engineer Role abilities when the Chief isn’t available?
Contributor to Continuing Mission at continuingmissionsta.wordpress.com. F&SF author.
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7 replies
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Deadmanwalking said Apr 03, 2018 00:40:13
I'm also interested in this question. The game I'm in the Ship's Doctor is a Supporting Character...so does he get the mechanical benefits of his in-universe position?
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StephenBirks said Apr 03, 2018 08:13:58
I don't see why supporting character's cannot have Roles. If one of your supporting characters is the Science Officer on the bridge, then when a player steps into that character they have access to the Science Officer Role benefit. I would suggest though that when not controlled, they cannot invoke these benefits if they need to roll any dice, (as they cannot complete tasks >0).

Logically the Assistant Chief Engineer IS the Chief Engineer if the Chief is not available(i.e. incapable of performing duties for one reason or another), so should gain that Role's benefit.
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Nathan.Dowdell said Apr 03, 2018 10:45:30
Rules as written, no, Supporting Characters cannot have roles - roles are exclusively for Main Characters, and signify the ship's Senior Staff (remember, Supporting Characters are a type of Player Character). Not every ship has all of those roles - the Enterprise-D has no dedicated Flight Controller or Science Officer in the senior staff, it has a long succession of extras at the helm, and a variety of different science personnel over the years. And the general use of Supporting Characters is that they're less important personnel than the Main Characters.

The Admiralty rules are a specific exception to this - ships in the Admiral's group can have Supporting Characters that represent senior staff, even Captains, because the Main Characters are the Admiral and their staff.

NPCs can, but the issue is largely moot as NPCs don't inherently follow the same rules as player characters, and I generally advise to avoid having NPCs as crew on the players' ship (NPCs would, logically, have crew roles on other ships). I keep NPCs as "external" to the players' ship: they're Starfleet personnel from other ships and facilities, from Starfleet Command, they're civilian advisors, they're enemies and rivals... but they're not subordinates to the Main Characters (because that's what Supporting Characters and Crew-as-Advantages are for).

Additionally, no, roles don't move down the chain of command to whomever is sitting in the chair (figuratively or literally) at the moment. The Commanding Officer role is for the ship's Commanding Officer specifically, not for whomever is sitting in the Captain's Chair. The role benefits are a mixture of status (the job the character has) and competence (the reason why they got the job), and while an Assistant Chief Engineer may be doing the Chief Engineer's job some of the time... they aren't the Chief Engineer, so they don't gain the full benefits.

This is distinct from bridge positions - the Tactical position has the same "fire torpedoes" button regardless of who is standing there... but the Chief of Security role follows the Chief of Security around wherever they go.
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But that's all assuming the default mode of play. At your own table, you're free to do things differently according to the needs of your specific group. It's not the way I'd do it, but I'm not the one running your game. If you have a smaller group, then it's obviously useful to have Supporting Characters in senior roles, and/or to use NPC crew to fill gaps in the senior staff.

I wouldn't change on the last point, though - it diminishes the importance of specific characters in those roles to have the roles themselves be passed down to subordinates.

Game Development - 2D20 System
System Design - Star Trek Adventures

Rules questions and playtest feedback to nathan@modiphius.com
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TimKellogg said Apr 03, 2018 15:48:53
Nathan Dowdell - With respect, in our game we had the Ops officer as a "minor character" because we did not have enough players. I do not see how the game cannot be played without using NPC's in some of these "Roles". I acknowledge that TNG did not have a dedicated Science Officer, but let's face it - that makes no sense on a dedicated exploration ship. Why not have this position as an NPC when it is not germane to the story line, allowing a PC to play a character that is important to the arc? I did read your last paragraph, but I guess I am a bear of little brain, and do not understand you point of view in this.

ST:A does not even have a Ships Counselor - yet, since your example is TNG - they most certainly did - so why don't the rules include this "Role"?

Do you see my confusion? I admit I am having trouble getting my head around the game. It is a far different kettle of fish than the Decipher system, which my group has played for 14 years. (I will post another question about Advancement, experience, and reputation on another thread.....;) )
[Last edited Apr 03, 2018 15:49:45]
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jonrcrew said Apr 03, 2018 16:06:42
I think what Nathan is saying is that while non-PC characters might fill those roles, they don't get the Role's benefits. (Capitalising for game term...)

I don't see any issue with having actual NPCs on board ship, as long as they#re limited to specific in-story purposes. So we have a named Executive Officer, and, at present, a junior cybernetics lab ensign, both of whom are linked to upcoming plots. They're pretty much information sources at present and are not designed to trump the PCs on anything.
[Last edited Apr 03, 2018 16:06:56]
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Nathan.Dowdell said Apr 03, 2018 18:32:22
Nathan Dowdell - With respect, in our game we had the Ops officer as a "minor character" because we did not have enough players.

Sure, and as I said, there are different considerations for different group sizes. The rulebook already points out that you might want to use the Supporting Character rules differently if you've got a smaller group.

I do not see how the game cannot be played without using NPC's in some of these "Roles".

Because you're not trying to simulate the operations of a starship. You're telling a story in a Star Trek format. Yes, a starship will have a Chief Engineer... but TNG went an entire season without having a Chief Engineer in the main cast.

I acknowledge that TNG did not have a dedicated Science Officer, but let's face it - that makes no sense on a dedicated exploration ship.

Functionally, most of the job filled by the Science Officer role in TNG is handled by Data (indeed, from a storytelling standpoint, the two roles are essentially synonymous: Operations Manager position was literally invented so that Brent Spiner would wear gold uniforms, because the blue ones didn't look right on the character), and then on top of that by a trick that TOS used all the time - a random character who's an expect on the episode's subject matter, who you'll never see again (this is part of what the Supporting Character mechanic is for).

Why not have this position as an NPC when it is not germane to the story line, allowing a PC to play a character that is important to the arc? I did read your last paragraph, but I guess I am a bear of little brain, and do not understand you point of view in this.

From a practical perspective, an NPC is a character played by the GM, while Supporting Characters are played or directed by the players (and are, in essence, a secondary form of Player Character). In my games, I do not have NPC crew aboard the players' ship, because the players' ship is theirs to command. I reserve NPCs - characters solely and exclusively under my control as GM - for characters who are external to the ship, because that places a reasonable limit on ways that I can influence or impact the ship.

Once a scene has begun, I as GM can only influence events through spending Threat or through the action of NPCs. The players' ship is part of their group, under their control. I don't have characters aboard it under normal circumstances.

So, the crew of the PCs' ship is represented in three ways: Main Characters (the primary player characters), Supporting Characters (whether directly controlled or not), and incidental personnel (represented by a Trait if they're significant to the action in a scene, or they're simply "there" but only really to make the place feel occupied, like background extras in TV show or movie).

ST:A does not even have a Ships Counselor - yet, since your example is TNG - they most certainly did - so why don't the rules include this "Role"?

This question caused me confusion... because the rules do include that role. It's on page 127 of the rulebook.

The key thing here though, is that we're not trying to simulate the operation of a starship. We're telling a story in a Star Trek format, with Star Trek characters and environments.

Yes, a ship will have a Chief Medical Officer. But if that character isn't part of the "main cast" (i.e., they aren't one of the Main Characters), then they don't matter as much. They're not going to show up week to week and be a major part of the story. They're one of the hundreds of personnel that staff the ship but who never really get any attention paid to them.

Crew Roles (in a mechanical sense) are a function of Main Characters, as a way to go "This is X character's job on the ship, and here's a related perk to highlight it because it's an important part of the character". Main Characters are allowed to have, from the very start, a selection of potent and distinctive abilities, because they're the characters who will see the most use in play, and who should thus get the most attention.

Supporting Characters can do all sorts of things, but they're less significant by definition. They're meant to be created swiftly and to be simple to switch to in play, so the fewer details they have, the easier they are to create and use (which means nothing more than the basics, at least at first). They're not meant to be something the GM creates in advance to populate the ship, but something created and developed as-and-when-needed by circumstance: "oh, this week we need a science officer with an expertise in exogeology; oh, now we need an extra redshirt- I mean security officer for a dangerous away mission". And, even if (because you've got a smaller group) you use them to cover niches that the Main Characters don't... they're still secondary to the Main Characters, because they're designed not to overshadow the Main Characters.

When it comes to the mechanical abilities of Crew Roles, Main Characters get them because Main Characters are front-and-centre, important, and continually relevant to the game. Who they are and what they do matter to the game in serious ways. Supporting Characters are there to fill the gaps; who they are and what they do matter far less, and while they may develop and become more fleshed-out over time (if they survive that long), they're still not as important as the Main Characters, so they don't get the full benefits of being a Main Character (unless, of course, one of your Supporting Characters does an O'Brien and is rewritten as a Main Character for a spin-off campaign).
Game Development - 2D20 System
System Design - Star Trek Adventures

Rules questions and playtest feedback to nathan@modiphius.com
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TimKellogg said Apr 03, 2018 19:51:08
Nathan Dowdell - Thanks for the cogent and rapid response! OK, I am beginning to comprehend. I have read through some of the rules, once, and we are playing. Apologies for missing the Counselor role. This is a markedly different approach than previous Star Trek RPG, and I have played them all - even back to the Grenadier version of Star Trek. I like the cinematc approach, but obviously, I am having a hard time getting it through my thick skull. Thanks for your help!
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