Folks. It’s here. The Science Division Supplement is here. This is the one, everyone. I had fairly modest expectations of the Command Division Supplement and was pleasantly surprised by the result. On the other hand, I was really hoping for something great out of the Operations Division Supplement and it fell a little short of my expectations. The Science Division Supplement is that rare gem among RPG: something you feel excited about but that turns out to be even better than expected!
It’s so good, in fact, that I’m going to have to split up my review into parts. This first part is going to be the player-facing part, the one that describes organizations and character options for the Science Division. Next time we’ll get into the campaign-facing stuff but for now, let’s dive in!
This post originally appeared on my blog Mephit James’ Blog.
The Sciences Division
The book starts off in a straightforward enough manner with an overview of what it means to be part of a Starfleet science department or medical department. This includes some discussion of NCOs and a look at Starfleet’s history through the lens of scientific discovery. Just like the Command Division Supplement had a description of fleet command and the Operations Division Supplement had a description of the Starfleet Corps of Engineers, the chapter here moves on to the Starfleet Exploratory Division. This is the part of Starfleet that pushes the borders of the Federation with exploratory missions into unexplored systems.
In every case, the idea with these sub-groups is to offer a new sort of campaign experience. Your ship of engineers can work with the SCE instead of a five-year mission, or you can have command division characters working to oversee fleet activities. With the Starfleet Exploratory Division, much of the mission details can be the same as the Enterprise or Voyager but the aim is either an exploration mission to do an initial survey of a system or survey mission to explore a specific phenomenon. This supplement has eight pages of material about these sorts of missions including detailed protocols for first contact missions, protocols for temporal anomalies, and exploratory groups outside of Starfleet.
A chapter on Starfleet Science shows some of the interesting options for science missions including crews of dedicated science vessels, the staff of science outposts, evaluation missions to test out new technologies, and information on the other federation organizations like the Daystrom Institute, the Vulcan Science Academy, the Trill Science Ministry (discussed on Continuing Mission here), and others. Starfleet Medical comes next with a specific look at CMOs, Starfleet medical ethics, medical missions (including medical procedures and the Prime Directive), and ship’s counselors.
Science officers in Starfleet are usually depicted in the shows as adventurous scientists providing scientific contexts for situations their ship’s encounter. Some minor characters are more focused on a traditional research topic like real-world scientists typically are, and this section starts off with a discussion of the types of institutes of higher learning that a scientist in Star Trek might attend. There’s a sidebar as well that provides advice on making a Science-focused character: mostly what things to pick but also with alternative options to the Starfleet Track from Step 4 of the lifepath character creation method. If you don’t want just another science cadet out of the Academy, make them an alumnus of a famous university or someone who completed a prestigious research internship. Each of these choices gives you different ability increases and corresponding Traits.
Next, there’s an overview of what different Science Discipline scores means, how Science interacts with a character’s other Disciplines, and a list of some awesome science Focuses. My favorite Focuses listed here are Subspace Theory (imagine a specialist in comms, warp travel, and interdimensional travel!) and Photonic Applications (I would totally love a science officer secretly making a holographic creation in their quarters).
The Science Talents are equally cool, though also equally numerous and hard to give attention. My top three are Student of War (use your research to assist in Combat Tasks), Mental Repository (create a mind palace to help with Timed Challenges), and Expedition Expert (plan ahead to use Science in place of other Disciplines on an away mission).
This section starts off right with the same sort of discussion of what it’s like to be a medical officer, then features a full page sidebar on cybernetics and genetic ehancements! This is pretty great and includes an explanation for why we don’t see too many cybernetics in Star Trek (it’s easier in most cases to use biological replacements) and why there aren’t genetically enhanced people (it rhymes with Boogenics Wars). The sidebar comes with four Talents as well: Neural Interface (plug into computers), Physical Enhancement (biomechanical prosthetic that you can push with Stress), and Sensory Replacement (like Geordi’s visor). The last one is the most extreme: Augmented Ability, the illegal genetic modification that Dr. Bashir has, gives you an Extraordinary Attribute which means you always have a success on rolls with that Attribute. In fact, Bashir already has that in the Deep Space Nine Player Characters so somebody must have been double-checking!
The page after that is another full page sidebar which details Creating Medical Characters. This is some of the same stuff as in the Science Characters section (advice on picking steps in the lifepath system) it’s missing the alternatives to Starfleet Academy, unfortunately. Instead, it’s got four amazing new roles for players to fill: Chief Surgeon, Head Nurse, Anesthesiologist, and Physician’s Assistant. I think the most use these will get will be for Supporting Characters but before I saw these the idea of a campaign centered on a medical ship like the U.S.S. Pasteur didn’t seem possible. Now it seems really fun.
The chapter continues with some awesome resources for how to deal with Chief Medical Officers overruling senior crew members (one of the best uses of Social Conflict that I’ve seen), using the Medicine Discipline at different levels, how Medicine interacts with other Disciplines, and a great list of Medicine Focuses. While you might already be thinking of Xenobiology and Emergency Medicine as Focuses, this chapter has some gems like Dentistry, Guided Therapy, Imaging Systems, and Stress Disorders. I really want to make a ship’s counselor now with the Focuses Imaging System, Psychiatry, Psychosomatic Disorders, and Meditation and by a party face as well as a therapist.
Next up are the Medicine Talents and these really go in some interesting directions. Beside Manner lets you remove Complications as well as injuries, Cyberneticist allows you to install and remove implants with ease, I’m A Doctor Not A… lets you sub Medicine for something else with a point of Determination, and Heart, Mind, and Body lets you help people Recover well. And that’s just a tip of the iceberg. There’s also Fellowship Specialty which let’s you Create Advantages related to a Focus for half the normal cost. I feel like every division needs something like this.
Research & Development
Normally I don’t get too excited for equipment in 2d20 games. We rarely get new weapons in these supplements and those are the only things with a lot of crunch. Everything else has either a narrative function or it reduces the Difficulty by a step or two. That’s the case with the medical equipment in this part of the book but it’s a little more helpful than usual.
Unlike the techno-babble engineering devices, it’s actually kind of helpful to know what a biobed can do or the differences between a cortical stimulator and a cortical scanner. The Engineering department normally uses invented tools to address invented problems so you could make up whatever you like. The Medical department, though, uses invented tools to address real problems like blood loss or disease. In both cases you could just make stuff up but there’s more of a feeling of being out to sea with the medical stuff. This is especially true of the list of drugs seen in Star Trek and their uses.
Next up is a chapter on alien lifeforms including spaceborn lifeforms and non-corporeal beings. There is a general description, then stats for dikironium cloud creatures, Koinonians, Organians, and transformed Zalkonians. This is a great use of space in here because these are both scientific curiosities and damned hard to stat out so the professionals have saved you the trouble.
A chapter on scientific mysteries could be fairly tame (“there are space-based mysteries and planet-based mysteries and…”) but instead the authors have detailed discussions on using lots of classic phenomena in storylines like parallel universes, psychic powers, the evolution of creatures beyond physical form (like the Organians and Zalkonians), and subspace corridors and rifts as well as a full page sidebar on utilizing real life scientific discoveries. There’s no mechanics in this section but lots of advice. Next is a discussion of the Q Continuum, something promised almost as soon as this book was announced, and this is also mostly mechanics-free. However, there’s a great overview on how Q has appeared in the series and a thorough walkthrough of how to design missions involving Q.
Lastly, there’s ten pages of information on using time travel. This covers both in-universe means of time travel, the sorts of stories you can tell using time travel, Starfleet’s code of ethics regarding time travel, and the Department of Temporal Investigations. Again, not a lot in the way of mechanics but a ton of great advice.
So this is the options available to Science Division characters in the book, but get this: we’re only halfway through about 140 pages. There’s still a ton of the Science Division Supplement left to review! That’s why I split this into two parts so stay tuned for Part 2 next week.
Lots of stuff is packed into these pages and there are plenty of other goodies going forward. I’ll say now, though, that it doesn’t seem like things were shoehorned in here. Somehow there’s a ton packed into this supplement and every bit of it seems right at home. See you next week!