The Cadet: A Study in Starfleet

Contributed by Dominic Fucile

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A few months ago, my long-running Star Trek Adventures campaign of over 3 years finally wrapped up. It had been a fantastic time, and the group had become a well-oiled teamwork machine over the course of it. We eventually decided that we needed a fresh start while maintaining ties to the old stories we’d already told. We then moved towards a 5-year time skip from the end of the old campaign.

The captain I played would become our mostly offscreen NPC Admiral (I’d have the chance to occasionally dust him off and make a cameo appearance.) My XO would become the new captain. One of the players even chose to elevate a previously supporting character to the level of full player character to be the new XO.

The rest of us all made totally new characters. I myself decided to make a totally green, new science officer. Is it obvious I was burned out on playing an experienced commanding officer? Ironically enough, when the campaign first began, that was the character I’d initially wanted to play, expecting the captain’s seat to be hotly coveted, only to be offered the big chair due to my experience with the then-brand-new system. So now I had a chance to create a brand-new science officer like I’d always wanted!

What’s with this lengthy preamble? Isn’t this article supposed to be talking about playing Cadets?

Well yes. You see, halfway into planning my new character, the Players Guide dropped, providing loads of new character creation options, such as various civilian roles, as well as children and teens (for all you Wesley Crusher and Jake Sisko fans out there.) The new option that immediately leaped out to me was “Cadet.” It fit perfectly with my plans to play a total greenhorn on a starship, and gave me loads of ideas for storytelling that I wouldn’t have if I’d just elected to play Ensign Ricky. So I used these new rules to create my Betazoid Cadet, Omis Ven. Here we’ll be examining what makes The Cadet tick, and how to tell interesting stories with it, based upon my own experience after 16 sessions with him.

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Building the Cadet

Building a cadet character is actually very simple if you’re using the regular lifepath system. You simply go through the normal lifepath process like normal until you reach career length, in which you must take the new “Cadet” option, which is mechanically identical to the Young Officer option from the core rulebook.

What really sets a cadet apart from regular officers though is their career events. Senior Cadets will start with only one career event, while Junior officers only in their first or second year don’t receive any! As those with a passing familiarity with the rules may note, this means they’ll be missing up to two attribute points, two discipline points, and two focuses. Additionally, the cadet creation rules forego granting the player a final value and simply have the cadets put down their cadet rank by year. This leaves them less powerful than a starting player character.

While not described in the book, I can assume that one could also create a Cadet using the creation in-play rules, but would have to subtract 1 point from attributes and disciplines.

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Understanding the Cadet

Now one might wonder at this point why anyone would play a cadet when they start out mechanically weaker than a starting character. Well in addition to whatever mechanical benefits are provided by their role, cadets also benefit from a special rule called “Mentoring.” Similar to how a Commanding Officer can spend their determination and provide the benefit to anyone under them, the presence of a cadet allows any non-cadet player character to grant the benefit of a determination spend to the cadet when they assist them on a task. This can only be done once per adventure, and when it does, the cadet is considered “Mentored.”

This makes them effectively a universal receiver of determination, while the commanding officer is a universal donor. Very neat mechanically.

Each time a cadet is mentored in this way, they regain one of the points or focuses they lost out on during character creation. Once they’re entirely filled back in up to the point of a regular player character, they receive their fourth value and are eligible to be promoted to a serving ensign.

Playing the Cadet

Of course, this is all the mechanical stuff, how the cadet should function on paper. But what are my tips for actually playing a cadet in practice? Now how your specific cadet functions will of course come down to your specific role on the ship and the specific campaign, but there a few general suggestions I have.

Find Your Place in the Crew Structure

It can be a bit frustrating at times to play a character who is, fundamentally, at the whim of more experienced and higher-ranked officers than they are. The cadet can be even more so given that they aren’t even really a crewman, but a cadet whom pretty much anyone with a commission can order around.

This is not a new issue with lower-ranked characters, a whole article in itself could be dedicated to addressing this issue alone, so I won’t really dissect it in depth here. Really it comes down to proper communication with the rest of your party and your gamemaster to respect your autonomy as a player, and that they should give you some room to problem solve and suggest where your skills would be best utilized. As long as they do this, you should have plenty of opportunities to shine among your higher-ranked characters.

But on the other end, you should be aware that you will likely get ordered around a lot by the officers above you. This wasn’t much of an issue for me, as the group I played with had been around for a while, and we all knew how to play off each other in a fun and respectful way. It wasn’t hard to settle into the role of science-focused Ven. If that’s the kind of group dynamic you have, then playing a cadet shouldn’t be any different from playing an ensign. But if you’re going in as a cadet in a new group with no established dynamic, these are things you should definitely address with your fellow players and gamemaster.

Cadet Stories

Of course, there are lots of unique stories that can be told just surrounding your status as a cadet. Having to balance duties and studies. A disaster occurs during an important test. A situation in which the cadet is forced to solve a problem far beyond their capabilities, learning that they can’t do it all. The Kobiyashi Maru. Any of these stories could make for a compelling B-plot, or even a primary episode plot to act as a spotlight story for the Cadet character.

In my case, I was able to establish Ven as being at the top of his class through a trait with an extremely high reputation roll, which felt really satisfying. However, there’s so much more that can be done with the concept of Cadets on a starship.

The Lower Deckers

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One of the most fun aspects we established early on in this particular campaign was that my character was not the only Starfleet cadet on the ship. There were 3 other cadets, created as supporting characters for other departments who were also present. Creating supporting cadets is also outlined in the players’ guide. These cadets not only made great supporting characters for their particular department but also as supports for my own cadet character.

This resulted in a sort of dynamic very similar in feel to the Lower Decks series, with B-plots involving the cadets shooting the breeze, having holodeck adventures, and just generally having the kind of shenanigans you can only get with a group of young adults running amok on a starship.

This allows for all kinds of fun character drama that you probably won’t get between the cadet and his senior officers. After a particularly successful mission in which I rolled enough on my reputation roll to gain a new trait, I decided to establish a rivalry with a fellow cadet in the command department. During a shore leave game in which all the cadets had a fun game on

I highly recommend making additional cadet supporting characters to help the actual cadet player character to really stand out, while also allowing for extremely unique storytelling opportunities. An entire mission in which the cadets get stuck in a dangerous situation with only one member of the senior staff to lead them through it, with the rest of the players picking up the supporting characters? Sounds like fun to me!

Of course, don’t let the Cadet Squad steal the show, or overshadow the story being told. At the end of the day, the game is still about the primary player characters and their adventures, and the supporting cadets should be used as such. Of course, if a Cadet Squad sounds particularly enticing to your group, there is another option.

The Academy Game

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When discussing playing cadets, this is the campaign idea that most immediately springs to mind. Everyone plays cadets at Starfleet academy, and the whole campaign revolves around their reactions to academy life, and the evolving galaxy around them. I’m in a less sure position positing on this, as I’m not playing a cadet in an all cadet game. I’m playing a cadet in a regular starship game. Even so, I do have some basic thoughts and suggestions, just know your results may vary, as I haven’t had the chance to test these ideas out myself.

My first suggestion is that the gamemaster prep a few regular NPC professors or officers with dedicated values to precipitate the granting of determination to the players. After all, the mentoring mechanic is central to the advancement of the cadets. The requirement that the mentor must be a player character should be waived in this instance, as none of the cadet characters can mentor each other.  This admittedly changes things up and makes advancement come from the gamemaster as opposed to each other, but that very much lines up in feel with the overall restraints of a full academy game.

There are also unique stories that can be told here. Many of the suggestions from the previous sections are just as valid here, with training sessions going wrong, balanced with the necessity of regular classes. But setting a game at Starfleet academy itself presents unique opportunities in itself. Setting the game on Earth allows cadets to explore Earth as it appears in Star Trek, with a focus on San Francisco and the Academy.

Depending on when the game is set, you can even throw notable events from Trek canon for them to react to from the ground. The return of Voyager, the near arrival of the Borg following Wolf 359, or even the full Breen assault on earth for a particularly dangerous example. All of these can serve to remind the cadets of the wider galaxy out there beyond the solar system and maintain a sense of scale.

Finishing the Cadet

As mentioned, when a Cadet character becomes completely advanced via the mentoring system, they become available for promotion to acting ensign and cease to be a cadet. At this point, they become a regular “New Officers.” While this may seem like an odd path to take to what is effectively the same starting point as you could just take at the beginning, it’s that path that makes the Cadet so interesting.

Omis Ven, despite having played in 16 games, has only gotten two of the three cadet advancements needed to be complete (he is a senior cadet, requiring only three advancements.) But it’s still incredibly fun to tell these stories, so I’m in no particular rush to graduate or receive my commission even once I get that final advancement. This is because I find playing a cadet fascinating. It’s the stories you can tell, and the directions you can take a character who is still learning what they need to survive on a Starfleet ship as they do it. And those stories are worth the extra work.

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