Aaron Pollyea’s Science Academy—Transporters

One thing a lot of people want to have a discussion about is transporters. I don’t think there is a single system onboard a starship—besides warp drive—that has had more plots revolving around how it works or the failures that can occur with them.


An attempt to cover every screw up with the transporter system or how it can be used to be a Deus Ex Machina in anything less than a novel-length piece is about as futile as resistance. What I can do is talk about how the device is supposed to work, how you can do some wacky things with it that stands out from all the episodes, and possibly what failures you might introduce in your game that maybe haven’t been adequately explored yet.

I should start by giving my personal opinion on transporters that is in no way associated with what I write: Transporters are Murder Boxes.

One can have a philosophical debate about the existence of a soul or, if there is one, whether it is attached to a quantum form. Regardless, the transporter literally takes an object apart into subatomic particles and then squirts said particles into a matter stream to be reassembled at the targeted destination. Yes, I know there is the episode where Barclay sees things while he’s in the transporter beam. Maybe there is some form of consciousness that exists when your body is rendered into subatomic particles, and that is beyond our science for now.

However, the TNG Technical Manual clearly states that from 0.596 seconds to 4.823 seconds of the transporter cycle, there is no ‘you’ any more than there would be a ‘you’ at ground zero of a nuclear explosion. What used to be ‘you’ is a stream of subatomic particles being sent through space at near light-speed to then be reassembled into a copy of what ‘you’ used to be. Your pattern is stored and recorded.

Galaxy-class_replicatorThis same concept applies to how replicators work in TNG as well. A pattern for an object—biological or not—is reassembled from stored materials to make a garden salad, a medium rare steak, a cute stuffed targ, or, just as easily, Borg implants. If it can be beamed, it can be replicated to the subatomic level.

This raises other interesting debates like, “If you beamed the Mona Lisa to somewhere else is it still the original even though it had to be destroyed at its origin and then reassembled by a computer at the destination?”

janeway transportThis leads to the question that if a copy is entirely identical to the original down to the subatomic level, is it really a copy or just as original as the first?

Wicked Game Ideas

Why couldn’t a transporter operator rematerialize multiple copies of an away team beaming down into a fire-fight with Dominion ground troops if said away team members agreed to such a bizarre undertaking? Technically-speaking, nothing says that the operator couldn’t. There may be an ethical debate afterword about multiple versions of a person existing (like Thomas and Will Riker), but it can be done.

Ignoring people, the transporter is a terraformers’ dream. The Starfleet Corps of Engineers Terraforming team on a planet could just materialize as many cells of green algae they want and drop them into a sea. This may not be as energy efficient as growing them in tanks using traditional methods, but it still would work.

The same goes for materializing full animals from stored patterns. “You need a white rhino for your zoo, sir? No problem! I gave you six.” Page 109 of the Technical Manual does state that “replication of living beings is not possible”. But this applies to food and hardware replication, not personnel transporters. Also, on said page it talks about how all of this can be detrimental to dramatic storytelling. Agreed, but you can put it in your game if you think it all through and make sure there is a story around said plot.

Perhaps the gamemaster wants to introduce a less than ethical merchant who is replicating rare pieces of art and selling them as originals. There is no way to tell as they’d be subatomically identical to the original that had been transported and reassembled. Perhaps the art piece is one that a member world of the Federation feels is culturally significant to them and not to be held by outsiders.

Now, take this to a further extreme with blood sports being held on less-ethically advanced worlds where the fighters are just reassembled after dying so they can fight again. This single type of replication, while energy intensive, opens up amazing amounts of ideas for a gamemaster to fit into their game.

Eithical Issues with Transporters

Why shouldn’t you have it in your game? To put it simply, death becomes meaningless at the press of a button. The new version may not remember the death of the original, but there is the ethical issues that are raised about just recreating a person after their death. On the other hand, if a crewmember has lost a limb or is the only one of their species on board and requires a transplant of some sort, a transporter pattern stored can mean replacements on demand. This helps with accidents, but could make congenital diseases worse as they can continue with the same genetic material to work with.

My suggestion? Anytime the transporter is used or accidently does something it normally shouldn’t, it is only because you as the gamemaster allows it to occur. Maybe you have a story waiting and ready to go dealing with the ethics, philosophy, or moral problems that will result from it.

If you as the gamemaster don’t want to deal with these issues, but the players are trying to do something, just inform them about computer safety measures put in place by the Federation Ethics Committee. Problem solved, unless they want to take it to that level. Then that’s a story in of itself!

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