Playing Starfleet Cadets

“Ex Astris, Scientia”, or “from the stars, knowledge”

Despite being a large universe full of alien worlds, all Star Trek shows have largely focused on the crew of Federation starship or space station. Starfleet officers. Even when there are exceptions (the Bajorans in Deep Space Nine and Maquis in Voyager), the crew have been mature specialists in their field.

Halfway between a campaign focused on the standard Starfleet crew and a game centered on aliens or civilians is a campaign set at Starfleet Academy. These are adventures where some or all of the characters are Starfleet cadets working to become officers. Even in a standard campaign, instead of playing a full officer, a player could be a cadet on a field placement.

The Academy

Cadet UniformsStarfleet Academy is an institute of higher learning, a specialized post-secondary institution. The Academy is almost exclusively dedicated to the four-year program that produces Starfleet Officers.

The primary facility is located in the San Francisco Presidio, situated directly beside the imposing structure of Starfleet Command. Satellite campuses are located elsewhere, such as the Technical Academg on Mars and the Teaching Hospital.

The Academy was founded in the early 22nd Century to train officers for service in the United Earth Starfleet. It was formally incorporated into the Federation Starfleet in 2161. As the Federation and Starfleet has grown, smaller centres have been established on longstanding member worlds.

Entering the Academy

When a potential student wishes to become a Starfleet officer, they start by submitting an application to the Academy. This is typically done when an applicant reaches adulthood, but the academy has no age restrictions.

All Federation citizens are eligible to apply for admittance into Starfleet Academy. There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as criminals convicted of felony and genetically enhanced individuals. Non-Federation citizens, such as members of species whose homeworlds were not part of the Federation, could apply provided they were sponsored by a Federation citizen and had a letter of reference written by a command-level officer.

For an applicant to even be considered, they have to demonstrate intelligence and aptitude in relevant skills. Not all applications are accepted, and many are turned away. Following an accepted application, candidates undergo a series of intense four day examination. Applicants who successfully complete these tests are accepted into the Academy and become cadets. These Entrance Exams can be taken at numerous member worlds, colonies, and outposts throughout the Federation, permitting easy access to testing for all citizens. However, only a few slots are available from each location, meaning competition is high. These tests evaluate the potential cadet’s skills at mathematics, spatial awareness, hyperspace physics, deductive reasoning, and ability to respond while under stress. An infamous element of the Entrance Exam is the psychological test, which is designed to evaluate the candidate’s greatest fear.

To prepare for Entrance Exams, many cadets took an Academy Preparatory Program: a six to eight week course designed to prepare potential cadets for the Entrance Exams and life in Starfleet Academy. While these courses were easier  than Academy’s exams, the applications of those who completed the course were automatically approved, permitting the applicant to immediately take the Entrance Exam.

Life in the Academy

The usual officer’s course is a four-year program of study. However, nothing stops cadets from spreading out courses to extend their stay to five or six years. Accelerated programs are also available for gifted students able to keep up with the heavy course load, species capable of advanced learning, or aliens with a shorter lifespan. The Academy also offers graduate programs for specialized courses or programs designed to supplement  the training provided from other elite educational institutes, such as the Vulcan Science Academy or Daystrom Institute of Technology on Mars.

Cadets are divided into class levels, denoting the cadet’s level of education, progress through their program, and familiarity with the Academy. Class levels vary from first level cadets to fourth level cadets. As the vast majority of cadets belong to a four-year program, class levels effectively equate with the cadet’s year and “ first year” and “first level” are used interchangeabley. A cadet’s level is displayed on their collar, mirroring the ranks of officers.

Cadet Ranks.jpg

Cadets are housed on campus even if the have other residence on Earth, and there are extensive dormitories in the larger San Francisco region. Cadets are expected to remain on campus at all times, unless they are given a pass to leave. Cadets attend classes five days each week, with breaks in classes every 2-3 days. There are two week-long breaks in classes—one in the spring, and one in the winter—along with a four-day Fall break and three-week Summer break. The Academy is in operation for the full year, barring a few holidays when normal operation pauses, such as First Contact Day and Federation Day.

First year cadets are only given few leave passes, and are expected to spend much of their free time working on their studies. Free passes increase in number for second class level cadets, and third and fourth level cadets double that number. The restricted free time enables cadets to keep up with the heavy class load, while also giving more time for cadets become accosting to life at the Academy and form bonds with their classmates.  It’s also acknowledged that cadets being limited in their freedom to travel prepares them for service in a starship, where mobility is equally constrained. Passes are assigned randomly, but can be traded between cadets as needed. 


As a military institution, Starfleet expects cadets to possess a moderate level of physical fitness. A running joke of Academy life was that every cadet was an athlete. There were three dozen official sports teams and programs, including fencing, football, judo, racquetball, swimming, wrestling, and velocity. There were numerous other clubs in the Academy, ranging from study groups, glee clubs, and chess teams. Groups of cadets are often grouped into training squadrons, to build teamwork and comfort in a hierarchy.

The Academy is jointly run by teachers and the administration, with teachers reporting to one of the various department heads, who oversee implementation of the curriculum. Managing the of day-to-day affairs of the Academy was the Commandant, who governs the education of all the cadets. Supervising the activities of the various cadet squadrons was also the job of the Commandant. This position was often filled by an experienced member of Starfleet, such as a former captain or senior chief petty officer, but it was not uncommon for an experienced professor to fill the role. The chief administrator of the Academy was the Superintendent, who bridged the affairs of the Academy with that of Starfleet. Their job was to ensure the Academy maintains its high standards and continued to produce quality officers. As the role of the Superintendent was a military position, they were always a flag officer, typically a rear or vice admiral. Despite not being a formal promotion and not commanding any starships, becoming the Superintendent was considered a respected position in the Admiralty. While the Commandant was generally in charge of discipline, most Superintendents where not above calling a student into their office.


There are no set list of course taught at the Academy. While there are certain basic classes taught every semester, other classes are only taught every other year. Many classes are dependent on an acceptably knowledgeable professor or specialist being available.

Typical classes all cadets are required to take at some point include:

  • Astrophysics
  • Astronavigation
  • Communications and Social Order
  • Comparative Xenobiology
  • Exochemistry
  • Finite Mathmatics
  • First Aid & Emergency Medicine
  • First Contact
  • History
  • Immunology
  • Introduction to Engineering
  • Introduction to Temporal Mechanics
  • Quantum Mechanics
  • Self Defence
  • Subspace Mechanics
  • Warp Engineering

Examples of nonstandard classes include:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Classical Literature
  • Classical Vulcan
  • Exoacheology
  • Federation Law
  • Holophotography
  • Klingon Politics
  • Microbiology
  • Multidimensional Calculus
  • Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Prime Directive – Theory & Application
  • Starship Engineering
  • Technoanthropology
  • Telepathic Historiography
  • Terraforming
  • Wilderness Survial
Image © Cryptic Studios

Command School

The Starfleet Command School is a specialized program held at the Academy, training cadets hoping to become commanding officers. Cadets participating in the Command Program take classes alongside other cadets, but have access to specialized training.

Officially, the Command School is a graduate level program. Most cadets participating in the program are Academy graduates who have already attained their commission or have potentially even served on a starship. Fourth level cadets can be permitted to participate in conjunction to their regular classes, provided they obtain the approval of the Commandant. A few noteworthy captains have even managed to complete both Starfleet Acadey and the Command program in as little as three years, the most famous being James Kirk.

The Command School program demands the highest level of dedication and skill from its candidates, and the application process involves a thorough review of the applicant’s transcripts, test scores, extracurricular activities. Most inexperienced Cadets are not accepted unless they have a scholastic award or commendation.

Following the successful completion of their coursework, cadets have to pass a final test to graduate: the Kobayashi Maru. Discussion of the test is strongly discouraged, except by those who have already taken the test. Named after a famous freighter lost in the 22nd Century, the Kobayashi Maru tests how cadets deal with failure and face the possibility of death. The test is highly customized, and increasingly makes use of detailed psychological examinations of the cadets.

Successful graduates of the Command School are known as “command candidates”. While not guaranteed their own command or given special treatment, these officers are prioritized for command level promotions and have an accelerated career track. Early in their careers, command candidates are frequently reassigned to introduce them to multiple mission types and assignments in order to prepare them for command.

Starfleet Medical Academy

Located off-campus is the Starfleet Teaching Hospital. This doubles as the campus of the Starfleet Medical Academy. Not merely an extension Starfleet Academy, this was also one of the prime medical facilities on Earth. The hospital was home to some of the most advanced medical technology and research facilities in the solar system.

The Medical Academy is responsible for training most of the medical staff that serves in Starfleet. Cadets at the academy are primarily taught medicine, spending their first three years in classrooms or labs. During this time, the medical students  live on campus with other Starfleet Academy cadets. Medical cadets are also expected to round out their education with extension classes at the Academy in subjects such as engineering, the sciences, or even flight control.

Fourth year cadets begin begin clinical rotations at the hospital, performing basic medical tasks. During this period, students assist with simple medical procedures and have direct contact with patients. At the end of their fifth year,  medical cadets officially earn their medical degree. However, to practice medicine and earn their licence, the new doctor must complete a residency at the hospital (or another teaching hospital), which lasts for another four to five years.

Individuals who already possess a medical licence do not need to attend the Medical Academy, but are still required to complete a couple years at the Academy, in order to learn how to function within the hierarchy of Starfleet or increase their knowledge of xenobiology.


After completion of their program cadets graduate and gain a commission as Starfleet officers. Following graduation, these new officers are committed to serving in Starfleet for a period of no less than five years. After this mandated period, officers can resign their commission at any time.

Most cadets graduate as ensigns, however officers who graduate from the Starfleet Medical Academy are given the rank of lieutenant (junior grade), reflecting their additional training and time spent in residency.

Playing a Cadet

With permission of the gamemaster, players can choose to play a cadet instead of a full officer.


It’s possible for an entire campaign to be set in Starfleet Academy, telling the adventures (or misadventures) of a group of classmates. The players could all be classmates in the same level, or be part of a training squadron of mixed levels.

It’s also possible to play a cadet in a regular campaign alongside officers. Most cadets spend their entire education at the Academy, only stepping foot on a starship following graduations. However, some level cadets are granted a field placement, completing their education on assignment. This is often exceptional cadets who have already learned all they can from Academy studies, and crave the additional challenge. Other cadets are assigned to a field studies program, if they demonstrate that they learn better hands-on than in a classroom.

At Step Five of character creation, cadet characters can’t take the Veteran Officer talent. Cadets can take the Experienced Officer talent, which represent cadets who have had significant life experience prior to enrolling in the academy.

For a game where the entire cast of characters is cadets, only roll for a single life experience, representing the lesser experiences or the characters. During play, based on the events of the campaign, characters increases one Attribute and one Discipline by one point each and gain an additional Focus. If the characters all all first or second level cadets, they might only receive half the benefits of Step Four, when characters choose their division track.

For a game where only one player is a cadet, roll life experiments normally. Instead of the character’s career events reflecting their time as an officer, these events should take place prior to their time in the Academy. Additionally, the character should probably also take the Young Officer talent.

Presuming the character completes their education, they graduate and receive a promotion to ensign normally. It’s also possible for captains to grant a field commission to cadets, making them a provisional officer. This was not uncommon during the Dominion War, when cadets in field placements were thrust into the role of officers. 

One comment

  1. Nice rules for creating cadets. I have written a 5-part-mini-campaign called “Cadet Cruise” which I GMed at several German RPG-Conventions, and which is at the moment published in 5 parts in a German RPG print magazine. In my campaign, cadets are generated using the Lifepath rules, but skipping the steps after Starfleet Academy and prior to the finishing touches. After Character creation, my cadets get nothing for free, but must earn everything with the various kinds of milestones.

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