Eras of Play: Early Federation

Welcome to an Era of Play article, detailing other time periods you can set a Star Trek Adventures campaign.

The Early Federation Era begins with the founding of the United Federation of Planets on October 11, 2161 and spans the entire second half of the 22nd Century potentially through to the early 23rd Century. In this time period, the burgeoning Federation is struggling to find its place in the galaxy, while surrounded by hostile powers. This is not only the period where the Federation is founded, but also establishes its core values and principles.

The ninety years between the founding of the Federation and the Battle or Binary Stars in 2256 is the longest undetailed period in Federation history, with virtually zero canonical details. One of the reference sources of this period is the book Federation: The First 150 Years, which is an excellent resource for Rise of the Federation and Romulan War Campaigns. This article focuses on the first half of this gap, roughly until start of the 23rd Century. (The first half of the 23rd Century might end up as a future Era of Play article.)

The Late 22nd Century

The initial years following the Federation’s creation were marked with a lengthy period of intense restructuring. Founding the interstellar alliance not only involved amalgamating parts of existing militaries to form Starfleet, but also also the unification of economic and legal systems while also establishing an entirely new political body. A constitution needed to be drafted, policies established, jurisdictions codified, and a myriad other small tasks. This lengthy process kept diplomats, lawyers, and bureaucrats from all member worlds busy for years. Even such mundane decisions were hotly debated, such as the location of the offices of the President or the Federation council.

It took several decades for the various member species of the Federation to fully put aside a generation of animosity and truly cooperate. At first, every diplomatic crisis, trade dispute, or jurisdictional disagreement threaten to shatter the tentative alliance. Espionage was still common between worlds. Member worlds were initially reluctant to share advanced technology and military secrets; it wasn’t until the 2180s that the first join starship engineering projects began, with the design and launch of the first true Federation starships. The most successful of these was the Einstein-class, which launched in 2195, heralding a new era of space exploration (which will be the subject of a future Era of Play article).

Picture © CBS/Paramount Television

Federation President Archer (2184-2192) famously compared managing the Federation in those days as being like travelling at Warp 5.2. “It looks easy on paper. So long as you keep a constant eye on everything, it’s stressful and you’re in for a rough ride, but but it works. But the moment you look away for a second or something goes even slightly wrong, everything threatens to fly apart at the joints.”

With the Earth-Romulan War still a recent memory, the founding of a defensive Starfleet was given priority, and numerous ships were donated to the fledgling armada, with most undergoing extensive refits to incorporate advancements and technology from other species. Several older United Earth Starfleet vessels were recommissioned to serve in the feet, including the Daedalus-class, the few experimental Freedom-class ships, as well as the recently decommissioned NX-class ships—which were heavily modified to incorporate a secondary hull to become the Columbia-class. Most early Starfleet vessels were primarily crewed by members of a single species, but almost all included one or two other member species to slowly foster cooperation. A few experimental ships featured purposely mixed crews.   

Prior to the the founding of the Federation’s, each member world patrolled their territory, with all controlled systems being of relatively close proximity. The federation established long corridors connecting member worlds that crisscrossed through previous uncontrolled space. This space was vital to trade and travel between member worlds, but fell outside of the range of planetary defence forces. In these early decades, Starfleet spent as much time performing police actions in this newly formed “Federation territory” as it did exploring, being regularly called-on to patrol shipping lanes and defending ships from Nausicaan pirates, Orion smugglers, Klingon raiders, and Kzinti marauders. These factions did their best to try and destabilise the fledgling power, trying to retain their dominion of the “uncivilised” fringes of space. This obligation never ended, as each new member increased the space Starfleet had to patrol. Ironically, the increased security offered by Starfleet encouraged new worlds to join the alliance explicitly to benefit from Starfleet’s defense of interstellar space, placing even more pressure on Starfleet.

Picture © CBS/Paramount Television

On average, a new world joined the Federation every four years. These include such species as the Denobulans, Ithenites, Alpha Centauran, Arkenites, Rigelians, Pahkwa-thanh, and Saurians. Numerous other worlds signed treaties with the Federation, such as Coridan and Risa. Meanwhile, numerous outposts and colony worlds were established during this period, including several co-founded by different species. These experimental colonies tested the spirit of cooperation between member species, as very different cultures interacted on a daily basis.


In this era, starships are only slightly more advanced than those of the Rise of the Federation era. Ships formerly belonging to the United Earth Starfleet underwent refits to incorporate technological improvements such as energy shields, while Andorian and Tellarite vessels received Human transporters as well as Vulcan sensor arrays and tractor beams.

Starfleet vessels in this era gain the Trait “Heavily Upgraded” to reflect the disparate systems either roughly integrated or working in parallel.


The default armaments of Starfleet vessels were largely the same as those used by the United Earth Starfleet, with phase cannons still serving as the default energy weapon. However, most ships replaced spatial torpedoes with photonics torpedoes. Photonic torpedoes were still expensive to produce, and ships were assigned a limited number. (See page 55 of the Command Division Sourcebook for rules covering 22nd-Century weaponry.)

The Andorian Imperial Guard supplied Starfleet with its deflector shield technology, which was quickly incorporated into all starships, replacing polarized hull plating in Human starships. Incorporating shielding into ships was often problematic, requiring extensive overhauls of the power transfer systems. Activating the deflector shields often caused power outages in other systems, dimming the lights or slightly reducing the artificial gravity.

Roll 1 Challenge Die whenever an upgraded Human vessel raises their shields, with the result of the roll being the amount of power consumed. On an effect, no power is used but another system experiences a cosmetic loss of power.

Star Trek Online Agents of Yesterday Daedalus class

Picture © Cryptic Studios

Space Travel

In the later decades of the 22nd Century, starships continue to make use of Warp 5 engines. Travelling across a single sector of space could take the better part of a month. Limitations of supplies and fuel meant ships could only venture a few months away from supply depots, such as colonies or the few Starbases. Exploratory missions were typically short, typically no more than seventy-five light years from Sector 001. The few remaining Columbia-class starships could operate for longer in deep space, but were often recalled for important diplomatic missions, requiring them to remain close to Federation territory.

While all ships continued to house shuttlepods, transporters gradually became a more common method of travelling to planetary surfaces. Vulcan sensors enabled more accurate targeting and transporter locks, increasing the range and safety or transporters. However, accidents and side-effects were still unfortunately frequent, so many crewmembers still prefered shuttles.

Every use of a Transporter requires a successful Task, including routine use. Failure seldom results in death and typically means transport was aborted, while complications denote side-effects during or after rematerialization.

Peace in Times of Trouble

The early Federation was rife with tension and apprehension.

The Federation was established in a surprisingly short period of time, just six years after the founding of the economic Coalition of Planets and but a year after the Romulan War. This sudden and rapid change would have induced concern and anxiety, with people fearing their culture or way of life was endangered. Perhaps even that they were being subtly conquered.

In 2161, Earth had only just emerged from a brutal interstellar war against a largely unknown enemy, it’s second alien military conflict in under a decade. Anti-alien sentiments were still common on Earth, with organisations such a Terra Prime being vocal proponents of isolationist policies and xenophobia. Each alien related incidents, such as the outbreak of Kamaraazite flu and the introduction of invasive Tellarite spine beetles, inflamed proponents of Earth first politics. Meanwhile, there continued to be lingering animosity between Andor and both Tellar and Vulcan.

In later eras, Starfleet officers would be forced to find a compromise between being soldiers and scientists. This conflict is echoed in this era, with many concerned voices arguing for the need of a larger military force following the Romulan War. However, in this era Starfleet was also trying to strike a balance between its mission of exploration and the myriad political needs of the fledgling alliance. Many Starfleet officers looked back at the early missions or the Enterprise or Columbia with nostalgia, wistfully recalling a period of open exploration, before Starfleet became subsumed with internal affairs, becoming mired with putting out diplomatic brush fires, solving economic disputes, and guarding shipping lanes. Starships often spent more time ferrying diplomats and hunting pirates as they did boldly going into the unknown.

Complicating matters was the limited number of ships Starfleet had at its disposal. The various planetary defence forces had been significantly depleted during the Earth-Romulan War, with only four NX-class ships surviving the conflict (the Enterprise, ConstellationLexington, and Atlantis). With so few ships available for donation to the Starfleet, the Federation was forced to rely on surplussed vessels saved from the scrapyard. Crews transitioned from mission to mission with very limited downtime, and vessels were pushed to the breaking point as there was no time for lengthy maintenance. The few ships dedicated to exploration were overworked and under equipped, and kept flying through tenacity and the skill of their crew.


The Early Federation era offers interesting campaign potential, with stories unique to this era. Unlike the immediately preceding era, the challenges of the Early Federation were not building an alliance and making friends, but maintaining an existing alliance. During this period, the most dire threats to the Federation were not external, but internal. The enemies not hostile alien empires but fear, intolerance, greed, and corruption.

There’s room for the traditional Star Trek tales of meeting new alien lifeforms. Starfleet, especially under the administration of President Archer, always tried to maintain its mission of peaceful exploration. While this primary mission never truly went away, with fewer ships and so many political concerns, other assignments simply took priority. The few captains freed to explore the fringes of space would have surprising autonomy and independence, as as Starfleet and friendly ships could offer little support. Furthermore, the policies governing the behaviour of captains had just been written and were largely been untested, providing captains great latitude in interpretation. The most famous Starfleet policy—General Order 1 aka the Prime Directive—was not proposed until the early 2180s.

During this period, there are numerous species whose first contacts are fuzzy and could have been encountered in this period, such as the Deltans, Caitians, Saurians, Trill, and Betazoids. These encounters could be peaceful or violent, and there is plenty of time for a species to initially be hostile and slowly warm to the Federation.

The Federation greatly increased travel between member worlds, with citizens freely allowed permitted to travel and work in other systems. This resulted in waves of new diseases and infections transferring between populations, leading to outbreaks and even epidemics. A campaign could be focused around the crew of a medical ship, continually moving between worlds, trying to find cures or treatments.

Gene Roddenberry always discouraged stories where the Enterprise acted as a “galactic cop”, feeling other science fiction franchises were better suited for those stories. The Early Federation era is one of the few periods where this type of tale fits the setting, as piracy was more rampant with Federation’s space being less defended. For groups wish for a combat heavy Star Trek game that is not a wartime campaign this is an excellent era. Doubly so if the group wants a game with limited lore or greater freedom to create history.

This might also be a fun era for a game based around a starbase or a colony, with a distant outpost largely being on its own and unable to call for assistance during emergencies. It might be fun and engaging to play one of the first cooperative colonies, with three or four different species all awkwardly trying to work together to build a new home without killing each other.

Columbia-class Spaceframe

As a bonus for this era, here’s the refit NX-class

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Click HERE for Black Background PDF

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