I’ve been thinking hard about how Federation colonies work in Star Trek and what stories you can tell with them. Partially this is because I have a Federation colony in one of my games that’s set in the Gamma Quadrant and I want it to play a big role. That means I have my creator’s hat on and over the next few weeks I’ll be outlining my GM advice and my new mechanics for a colony-based campaign. Feedback welcome!
Styles of Play
In Chapter 10.1 of the core rulebook, Star Trek Adventures outlines a number of different styles of play for your campaign (p. 274-275). The default assumption for Star Trek Adventures is that your characters will be a starship crew and with good reason: that is the case for all the Star Trek films and seven out of the nine series planned to date. The outliers are the crew of a space station (Deep Space Nine) and the crew of a non-Starfleet vessel (Star Trek: Picard) but there aren’t any onscreen examples of stories focused on colonies.
This means we have to take some liberties in imagining how it might go, but we can certainly take the styles of play from other examples to inspire our storytelling in a colony setting. The core book describes Living On the Final Frontier as an option, with Starfleet personnel out on the “fringes of known space.” In this style, adventure comes to the Main Characters rather than the other way around and they explore the surrounding region of space in small craft or a dedicated vessel (like the U.S.S. Defiant). You don’t have to have a new colony, though, and instead could be assigned to an established world in a Starfleet facility, which makes it more like A Port In a Storm where politics and galactic events are mixed in with discovery and research.
Depending on the world in question, you can draw inspiration from other styles in the core book. The default story of a starship out exploring the galaxy doesn’t fit but if the world has some unique phenomenon or situation then you could affect a style of These Are the Adventures… Imagine the first Federation colony established on a planet with buried alien ruins or with extensive cave systems. Visits from aliens could be part of the story but also exploring “strange new locales” and finding “new life” will have you boldly going places without leaving the planet. By contrast, the interesting thing on the planet might be a culture or civilization, such as a Federation colony sharing a world with a Klingon colony or a Dominion outpost. This puts the crew on the frontlines similar to the style of play where their ship replaces the Enterprise-D after it’s destroyed. In this style of Starfleet Needs the Best, the Main Characters represent the hope of a new future and have just as much riding on their shoulders as the fleet’s flagship.
Finally, the options of a Lower Decks campaign takes on new opportunities with a colony campaign. On a Starship the Lower Decks characters on the bottom of the command structure and look out for each other, but having them as part of a colony setting invites the opportunity for more of a dramatic take. The focus remains on friendships and bonds (so you can use my Lower Decks roles if you like) but they include civilian group members (as the episode “Lower Decks” did with the bartender character) and the story can resemble something like a small town drama where danger and emergencies can arise but you can also have episodes just about building a new research station in the mountains or the opening of a new bar in town.
Colony and Starfleet
Starfleet is not the Federation. It’s sometimes hard for those in Starfleet to remember, both Starfleet officers and fans of the Star Trek franchise. The coup by Admiral Leyton (from the Deep Space Nine episode “Paradise Lost”) shows the extremes of this feeling, but in general many of those in Starfleet think of themselves as the strength and functionality of the Federation. There’s a degree of truth to this but it’s very important for all involved to remember that the Federation is a civilian government with many agencies and organizations. Federation colonies all have civilian governments and often representatives of many of those groups; the fact that Starfleet is a bit larger and more capable doesn’t give it special privileges.
From the Starfleet side, though, having personnel stationed on a colony is a big responsibility. While the Diplomatic Corps or Daystrom Institute might provide valuable resources to the colony, the shear breadth of experience and the high level of training of Starfleet officers make them the most capable Federation asset that the colony has. While being stationed on a colony rather than a Starfleet vessel, space station, or outpost might mean that more care has to be taken, the duty and determination of Starfleet officers remains the same.
Whatever style of play you pick for your campaign, it’s important to think about the relationship between Starfleet and the colony government. Do they typically cooperate and work as a single team without worrying about distinctions? Are they very territorial and antagonistic with each other as they argue over who has jurisdiction? They might even work separately on their own projects and only overlap on big projects. This can vary, of course, by individual and even change all around during the course of storytelling.An example of this is the relationship between Starfleet and the Bajoran Provisional Government in Deep Space Nine. Most of the time Major Kira was happy to work with Starfleet while Constable Odo was more prickly and insisted on doing things his way without Starfleet’s interference. Sometimes, though, Kira pushed back on Starfleet’s involvement in Bajoran affairs, though by the time of the Dominion War she was willing to act as a Starfleet officer. Odo warmed to Starfleet’s presence during the course of the show but with the appointmentof Michael Eddington he was again territorial about his position and duties.
I’ll be getting into mechanics next time, specifically the roles of Starfleet and civilian characters in a colony setting and (by extension) how you might change your character creation to reflect the campaign design. Let me know what you want to see!