Well, I’ve already published some guidelines for expanding Star Trek Adventures to cover Klingon and Romulan crews. Today, I’m going to push the space-horizon a little further with the perennial adversaries of Deep Space Nine, the Cardassians.
In other columns I’ve given you a scattering of different sources so that you can find the one that’s right for you and/or that doesn’t break your wallet. Here, though, there’s a clear pair of sources to draw from. The first is the source material in the Star Trek series, particularly Chain of Command Part I and Part II (TNG 6×10/11), Cardassians (DS9 2×5), Profit and Loss (DS9 2×18), Tribunal (DS9 2×25), Destiny (DS9 3×15), Improbable Cause (DS9 3×20), and The Die is Cast (DS9 3×21).
The real gold mine, however, is the awesome and free fan sourcebook on the Cardassians for Last Unicorn Game’s Star Trek RPGs. You can find it hosted at Memory Icon in two parts: Book 1 focuses on Cardassian culture, history, and government, while Book 2 is all about making Cardassian characters, with many ideas still relevant to Star Trek Adventures. To set context for the rest of this post, here are some major points in discussing Cardassians.
- Cardassians are very defensive and are driven by a cultural need to push other species out of a fear at being pushed themselves. This accounts for their military bent, their paranoia, and their invasion and occupation of various worlds.
- For the past five hundred years, the Cardassian people have been governed by the Cardassian Union (really an expansionist empire) which is nominally headed by the elected officials of the civilian Detapa Council. In reality, though, the Council had little real power.
- Most of the actual political might, as well as all of the Cardassian warships, is held by the military’s Central Command which oversees the fleets, ground forces, cyberwarfare, etc. As this is the easiest path to political and social power (much like ancient Roman society), most Cardassian males end up serving in the military. This creates a feedback loop: more military officers means more military action which means more military power which means more military officers. Like a shark, Central Command has to keep moving forward or the whole system dies.
- The other major player is the secretive and ruthless Obsidian Order. Like the Romulan Tal Shiar, the Obsidian Order is a shadowy operation at odds with the pure military organization. Unlike the Tal Shiar, there is little internal loyalty within the Obsidian Order and agents keep secrets as much from each other as from outsiders.
- Sometime in 2371 (making it before or after your campaign depending on choices) the Obsidian Order and Tal Shiar send a fleet of cloaked ships into the Gamma Quadrant to attack the Founders’ homeworld. The operation is a disaster and the power vacuum and uncertainty back on Cardassia leads a group of anti-military dissidents to push for the Detapa Council to take control back. This lasts until the shaky Council is bowled over by Dominion ambitions.
This means that the default time for a Star Trek Adventures game is a really exciting and risky time to be a Cardassian. They are caught between the Federation, Klingons, Romulans, and Dominion and the cultural fear of being overpowered because of a weak military is becoming a very real possibility. Desperate missions, heroic efforts, and high-adrenaline emergencies are to be found in great numbers, all of which spells out a great campaign.
The first thing, of course, is to pick up Jester’s Cardassian species profile and use that. There are other options, of course, such as playing a Bajoran (either a reluctant ally or a collaborator who left for Cardassia when the Union pulled out) or taking on a Federation attaché working with Central Command. For that matter you could play a representative of the Dominion in a slightly later period from the default year (although that means writing your own Jem’Hadar or Vorta species profiles, or waiting on a Continuing Mission release).
The other main thing to think about is your character’s politics. Starfleet characters (and Klingon and Romulans ones for that matter) tend to be in support of the government. They don’t have to be but being opposed to the Federation would be an unusual choice and something defining for your character. Since the only sure way to get ahead in Cardassian society is to serve in the military, characters are almost assured to have military experience. That doesn’t mean that their allegiance is to Central Command, though. My approach to the complexity of Cardassian politics would be to use the Value in Step 5 of the lifepath to reflect political leanings. During their military career, the Cardassian character would have made decisions about their career trajectory and that’s the place to put it. Some examples would be…
- Make My Parents and Commanders Proud (Young Officer, pro-Central Command)
- Eager Young Mind (Young Officer, pro-Obsidian Order)
- The Military is the Blunt Instrument, the Order is the Guiding Hand (Experienced Officer, pro-Obsidian Order)
- Trust In the System (Experienced Officer, pro-Civilian Government)
- Nothing Will Change with Soldiers In Charge (Veteran Officer, pro-Civilian Government)
- Everyone Has a Secret to Leverage (Veteran Officer, pro-Obsidian Order)
You can get my guide to Cardassian spaceframes here. The ration of canon-to-fanon is lower than with other species because there are really only three Cardassian designs shown in the series: the omnipresent Galor class, the suddenly-just-there Keldon class, and the never-quite-established Hideki class. This is hardly a wide variety so I’ve relied on the Ship Recognition Guide 2: Ships of the Cardassian Union, an excellent pdf hosted with others on Memory Icon.
As with Federation missions, a lot depends on the type of ship the Player Characters are aboard (or the space station, if you like). In general, though, you can use the same sorts of missions as Starfleet, and consider the following frameworks for your campaign.
- Securing the Borders: As a military society, the Cardassians are always on alert for invasion. Probably the most obvious campaign framework, centered around the Central Command, involves patrolling the border, confronting the Maquis and any other hostiles, and confronting any other hazards in Cardassian space. These are mostly Combat and Exploratory missions.
- Investigating Colonies: The Cardassians have a widely-spread empire that has gone through dramatic shifts over recent years (whether or not your campaign takes place after the Dominion War). A ship traveling from system to system within Cardassian space taking stock of the situation on various planets allows for both Intrigue and Exploratory missions.
- Diplomatic Attachment: As the Cardassian Union deals with a rapidly shifting political landscape, both inside its borders and outside, they need dedicated crews who can respond to and assess different situations. Framing a campaign around these lets you bring in many favorite Star Trek groups in the same way that a Starfleet crew would see, and also to deal with Cardassian politics. These would be mostly Intrigue and Combat missions.