Eras of Play: Age of Exploration

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

The “Age of Exploration” is what Federation: the First 150 years calls the period prior to the early 2240s. The article is focusing on the period at the very start of the 23rd Century, forty years after the founding of the Federation, and immediately preceding the events of Star Trek the Original Series and Star Trek Discovery.

This era has many of the hallmarks of traditional Star Trek campaigns, and is familiar in terms of tone as well as technology, although the later is still slightly cruder and rudimentary. It’s an ideal time period for a prequel campaign, being familiar and accessible and yet completely open in terms of lore. Even the aforementioned book only references a handful of key events, offering gamemasters the freedom to tell their own stores and make their crews the heroes without having to dodge around canon.

The Early 23rd Century

An ancient Earth proverb is “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The truth of this adage was demonstrated in the 2150s, when the Romulan Star Empire made itself the enemy of a number of alien species, prompting them to formalize their alliance. And thus, the United Federation of Planets was created.

With the continued fear of a common enemy, founding the Federation was easy. Maintaining that alliance in the decades to come, without a constant Romulan threat and enduring uncountable problems and complications was harder. And yet, despite these difficulties, the Federation endured. It may even have thrived.

By the first years of the 23rd Century, the Federation had become firmly established. Its policies and laws had been codified, council chambers erected, jurisdictions established, and the economy stabilized. Rogue elements such as pirates had been pushed farther and farther away from trade routes permitting safer travel. With a dozen members and numerous established colonies, the Federation had enough resources to ensure the comfort of its citizens, while advanced technology was more freely shared increasing the quality of life for all. New members joined the Federation every three to four years, happy to take advantage of its prosperity and security while offering their own technology and cultures. Meanwhile, many of the worlds that had been initially reluctant to join the Federation changed their minds upon witnessing the Federation’s respect for member world’s rights and value of other beliefs.

Boldly Going

In the middle decades of the 22nd Century, the fledgling Starfleet was asked to do a much with very little, having few ships and limited resources. Many officers and civilians alike remained concerned about potential alien threats, such as the Klingons and the Romulans, and pushed for Starfleet to become a defensive military force, or even an offensive one conquering potential threats. Peaceful exploration was long championed by Admiral Archer, the Chief of Staff of Starfleet Command, and when Archer was elected to the office of Federation President in 2184, one of his primary goals was to expand Starfleet and create what he coined “a scientific armada”.

Over the subsequent decades, President Archer’s shipbuilding initiative resulted in the creation of several new classes of starship, jointly designed and constructed by engineers from several member worlds. Unlike existing Starfleet vessels, the diverse systems of these ships were designed to work together, with technology such as deflector shields and tractor beams incorporated from the start rather than added via an extensive refit.

During this period, Starfleet was testing numerous different designs and configurations, experimenting with the number and position of nacelles and the shape of the primary and secondary hull. Among the initial products of this shipbuilding initiative was the Einstein-class scout/explorer and the larger Baton Rouge-class science vessel. Several of these vessels were launched in quick succession, immediately pushing into unknown space that had previously only been charted by unmanned probes or extreme range sensor sweeps. There was even some talk of naming the second Einstein vessel the “Enterprise” in honour of the NX-01, but President Archer request that name not be used, simply saying “it wasn’t time for a new Enterprise.

Over the next couple decades, the Magee, Cardenas, and Nimitz-class would launch, being followed by similar experimental designs, such as the Malachowski, Hoover, Shepard, and Walker.  Only two or three vessels of each design were launched, as Starfleet testing the effectiveness of various designs and configurations. Most of these ships were similar in terms of systems and capabilities, typically varying based on their planned Mission Profile.

These new ships were crewed by an entirely new generation of Starfleet Academy graduates, many of whom had reach maturity as members of the Federation and wholeheartedly embraced its ideals and values. The rookie ensigns of this era might have grown up dreaming about a career in Starfleet and exploring the galaxy for most of their lives. Additionally, for the first time, the majority of Starfleet was comprised of Academy Graduates rather than officers inherited from local defence forces.

Starfleet quickly ran into a logical problem: ships could only travel to deep space for a year or two, but the further they explored the longer it took to return to Federation space to resupply. The solution was to build a series of Deep Space stations nearby allied planets, near the edge of Federation territory. Over time, these stations were upgraded and improved to become Starbases, and their old numerical designation used for new Deep Space stations.

A Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Armada

As the Federation and Starfleet grew, the wholly expected yet largely unpredictable occurred: there was a massive crisis in a Federation system. Historians debate over the first major humanitarian crisis Starfleet faced and whether it was a medical plague or an ecological disaster. By the end of the 22nd Century, there had been several such disasters. As the Federation grew, so did the number of worlds where a crisis could potentially occur, with every member world, colony, or allied system being a potential disaster site. This added a new mission to Starfleet: assist worlds in distress. While all starships were expect to assist with nearby relief efforts, after a few decades it became clear that a number of ships had to be assigned specifically to emergency relief and disaster management missions.

By the start of 23rd Century, the Federation had quadrupled in size exceeding sixteen member worlds with many more allies and outposts, and new worlds were joining at an increased rate. Now very aware of the needs of member worlds, Starfleet designing several new classes of starship explicitly with relief missions in mind.

The exploratory wing of Starfleet added additional humanitarian tasks to Starfleet. As they explored, Starfleet vessels inevitably discovered worlds suffering natural disasters that the inhabitants could not resolve but were within the technological capabilities of the Federation to fix. There were always those in the Federation who questioned “wasting” Federation resources on non-member worlds, but the consensus among the Federation Council was always one of rendering aid when it was requested. However, the question of whether or not to help when aid was not formally requested was a thornier issue.

It did not take long for an exploratory Starfleet vessel to discover a pre-warp civilization on the brink of ecological collapse, a world that could not directly request Federation intervention. In this instance, the Prime Directive forbade interference, especially as the disaster was the result of the actions of the indigenous species. It was argued that Starfleet could attempt to render aid surreptitiously, but the counter-argument was that if Starfleet solved their problems, the inhabitants might not learn from the incident and would lose the opportunity to solve the problem for themselves. Worse, they might even attribute the “miracle” to a supernatural being, affecting their cultural development. In the end, Starfleet Command declined to send aid to planet, but stopped short of ordering the captain of the involved ship to leave the system, effectively leaving the final decision with them. That decision and the results of that mission (both immediately and in the decades that followed) became a lesson in Starfleet Academy ethics courses.

Since then, Starfleet policy continues to be avoiding interference and allowing the natural evolution of cultures, but to render aid in ways that will not interfere. Starships are permitted to assist primitive cultures unaware of the dangers to their planet from natural causes that might lead to extinction level events, but only where the interference of Starfleet will go unnoticed. Captains are strongly discouraged from providing aid in instances where the inhabitants will be aware of the assistance or sudden cessation of the crisis.

Technology

The technology of the late 22nd and early 23rd Century was largely focused on refinement and integration, with the aim of permitting technologies from different worlds to work together seamlessly. More and more frequently, key technologies were associated less with single worlds and instead seen as belonging to Starfleet or the Federation as a whole. As an example, deflector shield technology was no longer considered “Andorian shielding” and simply called “shields”, especially as deflector shield designs now incorporated technology from multiple other worlds.  

Armaments

In this era, photonic torpedoes entirely replaced spatial torpedoes and were standard on most vessels. Some exploratory and scout vessels purposely omitted torpedo launchers, as they were deemed military ordnance unsuited to peaceful exploration.

Early in the 23rd Century, work began on higher yield antimatter warheads based on Klingon designs. Unlike photonic torpedoes, these were capable of being fired while at warp velocity, even travelling at FTL speeds for short distances. Officially, these were designated “WC M/AM” ordinance, but quickly became nicknamed “photon torpedoes” due to their photon warhead. Mark I photon torpedoes entered service by 2221, but were still rare: the more rudimentary photonic torpedoes were considered to offer more than enough firepower.

Slowly, photonic torpedoes were phased out, and replaced with the more versatile photon torpedoes. And by the 2230s, Mark IV photon torpedoes had become standard issue on Starfleet vessels. At this time, torpedo launchers were added to existing vessels during scheduled refits. In the mid-2240s, the newly launched Constitution-class became the first Starfleet vessel designed solely for photon torpedoes, and was equipped with the new Mark V torpedoes.

Also during the early decades of the 23rd Century, phaser emitters were in development. These focused energy weapons were planned to replace phase cannons, offering greater firepower and increased versatility with less chance of overloading systems. The first phaser banks were incorporated into existing ships through refits, and produced mixed results. At the time, phaser banks proved to be a heavy drain on reactor power, preventing use of warp engines following a barrage. To offset this power drain, phaser banks were supplied with their own batteries conferring an independent power supply. Following the Klingon War of 2255, phaser banks were made standard on all vessels.  

Ships of this era make use of photonic torpedoes without having to spend a Talent. Prior to 2230, a Talent is required for a ship to be armed with photon torpedoes.

Rules for photonic torpedoes, phase cannons, and the Independant Phaser Supply Talent are found in the Command Division Sourcebook.

Replicators

Meals on starships were still commonly produced by either galley chefs or the new food synthesizer, which produced imitation foodstuff from a supply of generic organic matter. Comparable in taste and flavour with 20th Century “fast food” or military MREs (meals, ready-to-eat). In this era, simple industrial replicators were introduced, which were capable capable of creating simple items, such as clothing or tools. However, replicators were only found on starships at the end of this era, as the power and computing requirements initially limited them to starbases.

Campaigns

The story of the preceding era was one of Starfleet finding itself amid the concerns of a fledgling Federation, countering xenophobia while being inundated with the mundane tasks required to build a new political entity. In contrast, the story of the Age of Exploration is one of Starfleet being able to be itself, to finally engage in its primary missions of scientific exploration and spreading out into the galaxy. This is when Starfleet and the Federation begin to fulfil their potential

Much like campaigns set in the familiar eras of the 2150s and 2260s, this period should be familiar. Technology is a little more advanced than it was during Enterprise, but not quite what it was during The Original Series. Ships can’t quite travel as fast or get as far from home, and captains are largely on their own during missions.

As mentioned above, in this era humanitarian missions become more common, with more Federation starships engaging in relief missions. There are not only more worlds that could be experiencing crisis, but previously unsolvable ecological or interstellar problems might suddenly be more easily resolved through newly acquired technology. The severity or negative impact of earthquakes plaguing a Tellarite colony or Rigellian solar flares that can’t be countered locally might be mitigated through technology from other member worlds, prompting Starfleet to dispatch a ship. Meanwhile, worlds suffering from natural disasters might request aid, or Starfleet might send a vessel to render assistance (especially if the world is rich in natural resources and wants them on friendly terms with the Federation).  

The middle decades of the 22nd Century had been heavily focused on building infrastructure, such as starbases and subspace communication relays. By this period, many of these installations would begin to require upgrades and repairs in this era. Similarly, many of the initial colonies founded by the Federation would be well established and possibly experiencing growing pains, requiring additional resources and technology. Several might even have gained enough self-sufficiency to apply for full member status in the Federation.

Malachowski-class

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Malachowski-pic

Nimitz-class

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Nimitz-pic

6 comments

  1. My current campaign is set in this era, starting from 2208, so I have a few thousand additional thoughts.

    1. Trade: In the 2150s and 2160s, the Coalition of Planets, the Romulan War effort, and the initial founding of the UFP may all have focused on defence, but that aspect alone couldn’t have held the Federation together for long, especially as the Romulans and Klingons both withdrew behind their borders for a century. By 2200, the needs of the Federation’s members have shifted. Apart from anti-pirate scuffles, there isn’t really anyone to fight in this era, so a powerful defence coalition has little value. Instead, we need to explain and explore how the Federation develops its unusual economy, with every citizen’s needs automatically, fairly and generously met, and monetary exchange considered old-fashioned and unnecessary. What keeps the Federation together in this and later eras is mutual economic interdependence, keeping each other well fed. We don’t get a lot of very clear explanations of this economy on screen, but a few practical considerations can be worked out.

    Before replicators become easy, effective and widespread, we can assume that there needs to be a lot of movement of raw materials, a lot of manufacturing, and then a lot more movement of finished goods. You can’t meet the needs of every citizen if you can’t get stuff to them. So, there should be a lot of emphasis in this era on setting up trade routes, negotiating with foreign merchants if necessary, and securing the resources the Federation needs. A lot of this can just be establishing farming and mining planets, but before that, there first needs to be some exploration to find suitable locations for these.

    Examining why a Federation citizen might go into that sort of work, or into mercantile work, when the profit motive is not longer primary, can be an interesting way to add depth to both the setting as a whole, and to individual characters. Player characters might be interested in playing as a merchant crew themselves, and then this can be explored in very great detail (and the handful of cargo ship-focused episodes of ENT can give some insights for this). But even a standard Starfleet crew in this era is going to have frequent interactions with freighter crews, making sure the lifeblood of the UFP keeps flowing. That opens up all sorts of plot opportunities.

    TOS visits quite a few mining planets (DISCO shows at least one big one too), but by TNG, these seldom come up much, and in the 24th century they’re often either portrayed as abandoned old mines or small research sites. Working backwards from that, we can assume that the early Federation was heavily dependent on mining colonies, until replicators came along. And yet, back in the 2150s of ENT, we don’t actually see that much mining, except on the Moon. This suggests that Earth had to get a lot of mines set up between ENT and TOS, though it’s not clear if these would be in addition to those already operated by the Andorians, Tellarites, and Vulcans, or if the entire Federation started out in 2161 with hardly any mining colonies, and then collectively expanded to found many of these over the next century. Either way, this suggests it would make a lot of sense for this era to include a lot of prospecting operations, and the founding of many new mines (with Humans eventually protrayed as the dominant mining species).

    This might not immediately seem exciting to all players, but it provides a good motive for some interesting plots. Conflicts over exploration and mining rights give diplomatic characters something to discuss, while the mines (and natural caverns they might intersect) provide a chance for some classic dungeon delving. Just assume that some mineral in the local rock blocks the weaker transporters of the era, and there’ll be no choice but to go in on foot (Denobulans really get to shine in these circumstances, with their natural climbing abilities). On a much bigger scale, the plot can be further influenced by the consequences of succeeding or failing to secure new resources. The Federation’s trade network is still new and fragile, especially out among the frontier colonies. What happens to those who depend on certain resources if a mine has to be shut down or a major crop fails? What happens to the long-distance freighter routes when a new local source of supplies is established? They’ll presumably be less easy prey for pirates, but new routes bring unknown new surprises. And how are relations with foreign neighbours going to be affected when the Federation no longer needs their trade goods? A small change can upset the status quo in all sorts of plot-relevant ways, because this era requires everyone to be interlinked, but those links aren’t yet very strong and reliable. It’s easy to disturb the whole web.

    2. Starfleet gear: We don’t see much of Starfleet in this era at all. On screen, we jump from the USS Franklin in 2164 to the USS Kelvin in 2233, and then again to the earliest DISCO flashbacks in 2239. That’s a lot of blank canvas to fill. But I agree with this article that Starfleet would both need to increase its number of vessels, and take some risks experimenting with a wide variety of classes. I’ve relied on the non-canon Starfleet Museum as any excellent source of very detailed starship designs for this era, though they have some problems. First, they’re extremely conservative about maximum warp speeds, and I’ve increased the top speed of every Starfleet Museum class I’ve borrowed. “Slow” for this era should be about warp 5 (top speed for Humans in ENT, but already considered slow by Vulcans), with “fast” reaching up to warp 8, until around the deployment of the warp 9 Constitution class in 2245. Most starships should probably have a “medium” speed of around warp 6 or 7. Starfleet Museum (because it was written up so long ago) also makes a lot of non-canon choices for starship equipment, excluding transporters and subspace communication from most designs until very late, and replacing phase(r) cannons and photon(ic) torpedoes with simple lasers and missiles. I’ve ignored their choices on these systems.

    But this is also an excellent era for those who’d prefer to design their own original class of starship from scratch. We know the era begins just as the tiny Daedalus class is retired, and it will eventually include the huge Einstein class, so go nuts on your size choice. The standard Starfleet saucer-and-nacelles shape is pretty common, but the much more different Andorian, Tellarite and Vulcan designs of the previous century could still lead to some other weird shapes, for now.

    Since transporters are still very new and unreliable in this era, shuttlepods should be almost as crucial to routine operations as they were in ENT, and my players still normally only rely on the transporter for emergencies and cargo. Shuttlepods are a much bigger challenge for this era, as we see none that might be relevant until the large ones launched from the Kelvin in 2233, which roughly resemble the later Class F shuttles used in TOS. To represent smaller, more primitive pods, I’ve borrowed concept art from John Eaves that resembles a modernised, streamlined version of the ENT shuttlepod.

    For uniforms, we use those seen on the Kelvin’s crew, a pretty reasonable design. The ENT-like unforms worn by the Franklin’s crew make a good version of the older type of uniform, worn by the previous generation during the latter half of the 2100s, while the DISCO uniforms seem to be the next generation’s design, starting sometime in the 2230s.

    We’ve also borrowed the 2233 design of tricorder seen in the 2009 movie, a bulky briefcase-sized device. I feel this allows the players to keep basically the same rules benefits as they’d have for tricorders in later eras, but with a much lower-tech feel, as miniturisation hasn’t yet caught up to TOS/DISCO standards. (It also implies that the much smaller handheld tricorders of ENT should be waaaaay less capable, probably to the extent of implying some rules effects.)

    3. Starfleet’s purpose: Exploration! But also diplomacy. With no risk of war, Starfleet can stick to it’s primary peaceful functions, and I agree that this could be called the Age of Exploration. While it’s hard to hide an entire star, maps of this era should still be largely blank, in terms of knowing who or what can be found at each star. My own campaign map only includes known inhabited worlds, so that the players never know if the next unexplored system will be populated or not; we take it for granted that they pass through a lot of unremarkable systems, and we only bother charting the noteworthy exceptions (out of character, of course; in character, Starfleet’s cartographers will record absolutely everything). And nearly all of the spacial anomalies and new discoveries taken for granted in later eras still remain to be made. Take any of the dozens of already-known, already-named phenomena mentioned or encountered by crews in DISCO/TOS/TNG/DS9/VOY, and you can claim that your much earlier crew don’t know the name for it yet, because they’re the first ever to encounter it.

    And just because the Federation faces no war in this era, doesn’t mean Starfleet’s diplomatic corps can get lazy. They’d have three big drives to focus on, each of which opens its own sort of plot opportunities. First, there’s all the trade stuff discussed above. Someone needs to work out the details of trade agreements, especially with non-Federation members. Second, the Federation is eager to bring in potential new member worlds, and while that’s not always going to be successful, or quick, they’ve got to start somewhere, and that may as well be wherever the player characters are currently visiting. I’ve been very conservative in my campaign about who’s already a UFP member, with only 6 species fully in so far, and that leaves a lot of room for the players to work on adding more. Third, the Federation can act benevolently to help others resolve their own conflicts, mediating between smaller warring neighbours. Any of these can be turned into plot hooks, somehow.

  2. Love this era, especially the ships. Will you be continuing to stat out the Discovery-era Vessels? Personally, I love the designs, and eagerly away being able to populate my Trek galaxy with more of them (yes, even the fugly Magee-class…)

    1. I’ve done four, with two chosen because they were included in Star Trek Online (which makes it easier to find pictures that aren’t screencaps). If more are added I *might* slip them in.

      1. Thanks for the response, Jester. I’ll hope and wait, meanwhile. Keep up the amazing work, overall!

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