Playing Starfleet Cadets

“Ex Astris, Scientia”, or “from the stars, knowledge”
This is the motto of Starfleet Academy.

Despite being set in 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 would be a campaign set at Starfleet Academy. These are adventures where some or all of the characters are Starfleet cadets working to becoming commissioned officers.

Alternatively ,a player could be a cadet on a field placement in a standard campaign, instead of playing a full officer. Such as Nog in mid-series episodes of Deep Space Nine.

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 military officers for Starfleet.

The direct predecessor of 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. 

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 Academy on Mars and the Teaching Hospital elsewhere on Earth. 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 firm age restrictions and exceptional youths can qualify.

All Federation citizens are eligible to apply for admittance into Starfleet Academy. There are only a few exceptions to this rule, such as criminals convicted of felony and genetically enhanced individuals. Non-Federation citizens—members of species whose home-worlds 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 four days of intense examinations. Applicants who successfully complete these tests are accepted into the Academy and become cadets. These tests evaluate the potential cadet’s skills at mathematics, spatial awareness, hyperspace physics, deductive reasoning, and ability to respond while under stress. These Entrance Exams can be taken at numerous member worlds, colonies, and outposts throughout the Federation, permitting easy access to testing for all candidates. However, only a few slots are available from each location, meaning competition is high.  An infamous element of the Entrance Exam is the psychological test, which is designed to evaluate the candidate’s greatest fear and their potential to overcome it.

To prepare for the Entrance Exams, many cadets take an Academy Preparatory Program: these are six to eight week courses designed to prepare potential cadets for the Entrance Exams and life in Starfleet Academy. While these courses are easier than Academy’s exams, the applications of those who completed a registered course are typically automatically approved as candidates, and permitted to immediately attempt 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, as well as species capable of advanced learning and 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 Mars’ Daystrom Institute of Technology.

Cadets are divided into class levels, denoting the cadet’s level of education, their progress through their program, and familiarity with the Academy. Class levels vary from rookie first level cadets to experienced 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 interchangeably. 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 or extracurricular projects. The restricted free time enables cadets to keep up with the heavy class load, while also giving more time for cadets become accustomed 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. Free passes increase in number for second class level cadets, and double for third and fourth level cadets.


As a military institution, Starfleet expects cadets to possess a moderate level of physical fitness. A running joke of Academy life is 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, the administration, and the military. Teachers report to one of the various department heads, who oversee implementation of the curriculum. Managing the department heads and overseeing the of day-to-day affairs of the Academy is the Commandant, who governs the education of all the cadets. 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 civilian professor to fill the role. It was the job of the commandant to supervise the activities of the various cadet squadrons, maintain discipline, and maintain the educational standards of the Academy. The chief administrator of the Academy was the Superintendent, who bridges the Academy with Starfleet itself. Their job was to ensure the Academy maintains its high standards and continues to produce quality officers. While the Commandant is primarily concerned with the education of cadets, the Superintendent is instead focused on student’s ability to follow orders and respond while under stress. 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 and a prestigious posting. 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. Certain basic classes taught every semester, other classes are only taught every other year. Some 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, which trains cadets that are hoping to become commanding officers. Cadets participating in the Command Program take classes alongside other cadets, but have access to specialized training and additional classes.

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 with their regular classes, provided they obtain the approval of the Commandant. A few noteworthy captains have even managed to complete both Starfleet Academy and the Command program in as little as three years, with the most famous being Captain 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, Command 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. And even then, many graduates don’t feel comfortable discussing this sensitive and personal experience. 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 or defeat. 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. Not merely an extension Starfleet Academy, this was also one of the prime medical facilities on Earth, and doubles as the campus of the Starfleet Medical Academy. 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 three 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.

Regardless of where the campaign is a set, at Step Five of Lifepath Creation, a cadet character should take the Untapped Potential talent. With the GM’s permission, an exceptional cadet (typically one with lots of life experience prior to enrolling in the academy, such as a mature adult who enrolled late in their life or someone raised on a starship) can take the Experienced Officer talent. Cadet characters should never take the Veteran Officer talent.

For games where the entire cast of characters is cadets, you can modify the Lifepath Creation system:

If all the characters all all first or second level cadets, at Step Four, when they choose their department track, they might only receive partial benefits, to reflect their unfinished education. They might only increase two Attributes by +1 each, increase two Disciplines by +1, and choose 1-2 focuses. The remaining benefits of this step can be slowly gained over time.

At Step Six only roll for a single Career Event, representing the lesser experiences or the characters. During play, the characters increases one Attribute and one Discipline by one point each and gain an additional Focus, which should be based on the events of the campaign and one or more appropriately dramatic experiences.

For a game where only one player is a cadet, they gain all the regular benefits and can roll Career Events normally. However, instead of the character’s life experiences reflecting their time as an officer, these events should take place prior to their time in the Academy. (While this would make this cadet better than characters in an all-cadet game, the intent is to keep that character balanced with the characters of the other players, and not punish the player for the flavourful choice of playing a cadet.)

Presuming the character completes their education, they can 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 before their full term was completed. This was not uncommon during the Dominion War, when cadets in field placements were thrust into the role of officers. 


  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.

    1. I’m working on homebrewing a similar campaign for a group, and was considering a similar approach. Where can I find that magazine or, even better, an English translation?

  2. This is great but I’m a little confused by it. Would it be possible to do an outline of the steps and add it to this page similar to how the Core rulebook has an overview for the Lifepath on page 101 so that it’s easier to see exactly what parts to skip and what we should end up with when we are finished?

    1. I gave this article an editing pass. (Which was probably needed anyway given the embarrassing number of typos that crept in.) I tried to clarify and rewrite the last few paragraphs to hopefully make it easier to parse and understand.

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