Playing Different Roles

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So, by now you’ve created your character, or at least got a handle on the character you want to play and you’re at least passingly familiar with how to play him or her. Then what? Say you already know that you want to play a security officer, but you might have a little bit of a mental block on how to get started or what to have them doing or how the job might fit in with missions as a whole.

So here we’re going to look at each individual position on a starship/starbase and what role they play both within the story and in telling the story.

Fleet (Naval) Roles

Flight Control

Flight Control, also called “Helm” or “Conn” are the hands that guide the ship or on starbases act as traffic controllers. They control the piloting of the ship along with the navigation. A century ago NAV and CONN were combined into the same station, but as ships became bigger and more complicated, they were split into two. By the 24th century, computer advances would again recombine them with most of the duties going to the helm station, though some of the more technical aspects of flight operations ended up in the new position of Operations Officer.

Since every Star Trek® series set on a starship has featured a helmsman, not a great deal of attention need be placed on what exactly a helm officer does. As one can gather, the primary responsibility of the helmsman is to fly the course plotted. While starships are “fly-by-wire” for the most part (meaning that few flight operations are manually controlled. Most are executed by the computer based on the instructions of the helmsmen.). Often a helmsman is a junior position relegated to an ensign or a junior lieutenant and is viewed as being on the command track for those who wish to advance one day to commanding a starship. For this reason, it tends to attract the most ambitious, cocksure, and reckless that Starfleet has to offer.

In roleplay, the helm officer need not only sit on the bridge waiting for the words “engage”. Most are also capable shuttle pilots and for that reason can find themselves on away teams.

The navigation aspect of the Flight controller’s job is one of the more trickier duties to get the hand of, since it was only seen on the Original Series (And even then not much time was spent showing what it was a navigator does). By the 24th century, developments in computer technology allowed for much of the duties of navigator to be automated and co-opted into the CONN station. Other duties previously performed by the navigator would find their way into the department of astrometrics.

A good navigator should know space better than anyone else on the ship/station. A navigator should be an expert on all things regarding the interstellar ‘lay of the land’ or ‘geography of space’, such as: If, for example, there’s a nebula in the area that makes good cover for a ship to hide in, or the usual shipping routes that different races use, or short cuts that could cut distance off the ship’s travel time if time is of the essence. (Keep all these things in mind while roleplaying as in this role you may have to work to make yourself necessary to the plot.)

Not much has changed since the days of the high seas, where the navigator was counted as the most valuable crewman aboard the ship/station. His ability to read a map and know where to catch the trade winds or avoid hazardous waters and keep them on course all determined whether a crew was ultimately going to come home or not. In the 24th century, the importance of a proficient navigator is no less vital. A poorly thought out course could take the ship to close to a star and tear the ship apart.

The Flight Controller can often find himself without much to do in a plot. Unless chasing another ship or engaged in battle, most of the time you may find yourself sitting around saying “maintaining standard orbit” a lot. And so it will require some creativity to insert yourself into the story and keep your character in the action.

Engineering

Depending on the day’s work, sometimes an engineering officer can resemble a computer repairman, sometimes an electrician, sometimes an auto mechanic, sometimes a rocket scientist, sometimes an inventor. He’s the all-purpose techie aboard a starship/starbase whose job is, simply put, to make sure everything keeps working so the entire crew doesn’t die. (But hey, no pressure!). If there’s one role on the starship/starbase that will never find itself without anything to do, it’s this one. Before the mission begins, you’re busy making sure everything is ship shape, testing and calibrating and making sure all systems are go.

During the mission, you’ll probably be busy re-routing things, keeping things working or adapting them as needed, or maybe you’ll be on the away team trying to investigate a disaster or recover data off computers. And afterwards, you’ll be busy repairing damage. What’s the key word here? Yup: busy. Second only to sciences, engineering is the biggest department on the ship/starbase. You’ll never have to worry about inserting yourself into the plot, although you may have other challenges because like medical officers who are often confined to sickbay, you may get lonely being tucked away in your own separate area of the ship/starbase while most of the action happens on the bridge. But unlike medical officers, you can always just head up to the bridge engineering station if you want to be where the fun is.

Security/Tactical

The security officer is the subject of one of the longest running gags in Star Trek® history, he’s the mythical red-shirt (even though they wear gold shirts these days) with a phaser in his hand. Life can be rough for security officers. The last to know, and the first to die. But cheer up. You see more action than anyone else on the ship/starbase. At the end of the day, you’ll get the lion’s share of the glory. The position covers basic security, armoury duties and tactical duties. This means at times you’ll be manning the weapons, targeting hostile ships in battle, raising shields, and trying not to get everybody killed.

At other times your job will be that of a bodyguard or a cop, guarding VIPs or breaking up fights. At other times you’ll be like a marine, being the first line of defence against an intruder or boarding parties. Still at other times you might have duties more like a character on CSI, investigating crime scenes and making forensic analyses. If you’re a man of action, like being the muscle, and don’t mind always being the first in harm’s way, then this is the job for you. There’s a reason why security officers and tactical officer positions are the some of the most popular.

Science

Star Trek® has shown that the role of science officer has fallen a little out of favour in 24th century since operations officers seem to end up performing much of the bridge duties of a science officer. However in UFS we hark back a little to the way it was in the 23rd Century.

The Chief Science Officer basically interprets all major sensor data, coordinates all the different departments of the science division on board a ship/starbase, and is a bit of a one man ‘think tank’ to offer explanations of new phenomena. He or she will also be expected to brief the senior staff on all scientific matters before a mission begins. While the Chief Science Officer is a jack-of-all trades, more than any other position, your average science officer is expected to specialize in a specific field of study. Your character could be anything from an astrophysics officer to a biologist or xenopaleontologist. Whatever your specialization or rank, during a mission most of your work will be in researching databases, journals, and past mission logs looking for relevant information on the current situation.

One of the unique roles a science officer can have in the progression of the plot (second only to the CO and XO), is to be a kind of ‘explainer-in-chief’. In this capacity, you quickly learn that technobabble can be a bit of an art form. Technobabble done right makes the story more believable and more engrossing. Technobabble done badly is boring, boring, boring. A good science officer uses this opportunity to ground the story in a sense of reality. A bad science officer is either just concerned about making himself look smart or tries too hard by explaining things that are supposed to be a mystery until the CO sees fit to reveal them. Remember, your character won’t be an expert on everything and if he is, you’ll end up just pissing people off. Another way a good science officer can use “explainer-in-chief” role is in reconciling different observations between players. In cooperative roleplaying there will always be some inconsistencies.

Medical

Like the Chief Science Officer, the Chief Medical Officer (perhaps also called surgeon in some cases) can serve an important role outside just “making himself useful and a part of the story”. As we’ve seen, the Science Officer has an important story component in making the world feel more “real” and explaining events and observations. What the Science Officer can do for planets and settings, the Medical Officer can do the same for people. Medical Officers have a unique position in being able to introduce new players and help integrate them into the game.

Case in points: When a new crew member comes on board, they of course need to report to sickbay for their health certification. Here the doctor reviews the crew member’s medical history and examines him. It’s also where we may first get a glimpse of the crew member’s background and personality (at least those who don’t have time to read every new player’s bio). “How did you get that scar?” The doctor may ask while examining the new officer, and we discover that the character was a survivor of a Klingon attack years ago that left many dead, and he’s still haunted by it. Or “I see your blood pressure’s high. Stressed out?”, and we discover that this new character is a workaholic or worse.

Apart from these examinations, the medical officer might be off on his own a lot of the time. He or she has the same curse as the Chief Engineer, being away from the bridge and that means often away from the action. When you’re not otherwise occupied, it’s a good idea to head out of sickbay as much as possible if you want to interact with the crew. This won’t be much of a problem though, since whenever there’s action that means people get hurt, and when people get hurt they need a doctor. Also medical officers are always required on away teams and boarding parties, and in those cases, the medical officer will also be crucial to telling the rest of the crew about the alien life forms they’re encountering. Although this is a tricky area that may overlap with the science officer, so try to be careful. When in doubt, focus your medical attention on humans and humanoids and leave the more exotic stuff to the scientists. Remember, your primary job is as a caregiver, not a theorist.

Try not to use jargon unless necessary. For example:

“I see a torn meniscus that should take only a few moments to repair with the Miocongular Defibrillator.”

This is a bit too technical. Not everyone will know what the Meniscus is so it would be clearer to say:

“He has torn cartilage which can be healed very quickly”

We are trying to ensure that everyone can understand the basics of what you are doing. While it is great to be able to put some of the normal jargon into this that still doesn’t mean you should always use it.

Operations

The Operations officer is part switchboard operator, part linguist, part cryptographer, part broadcast engineer, part scientist, part tactical officer, part navigator, part helmsman, part resource manager. The operations officer should have knowledge of Starfleet frequency bands and protocols and enough technical know-how to tune-up and adjust their own equipment on the fly. They should have a working knowledge of cryptography since often many messages they will send and receive may be encrypted. And while they don’t have to be Noam Chomsky, the characters should at least have a working knowledge of linguistics and perhaps fluency in a few of the main languages of the quadrant since the universal translator is never a substitute for the real thing.

The operations manager is extremely reliant in artificial intelligence subroutines built into the main computer network to carry out the majority of the routine work. Tasks such as the routing of power and sensor usage to different departments are handled by the main computer, although the allocation of such resources is often decided by the officer in charge. The need for the operations station increases on a research vessel or facility, as various simultaneous scientific and engineering operations may present conflicting resource requirements, requiring a hierarchical decision of use to be made and implemented. Successful attainment of mission goals is one of the most important factors governing the decisions an operations manager may take, and due to the highly unpredictable nature of many situations faced by Starfleet crews, the experience and skills of ops is there to ensure mission objectives are never jeopardised.

The operations officer’s role extends to the preparation of away missions, from notifying specific personnel of their assignment and provision of relevant information, to the replacement of crewmembers in their normal roles when assigned to such teams. Preparations for the monitoring of away teams, tricorders telemetry, and communications are also a responsibility, as is the notification of issuance for specific field equipment that may be required. During a mission or normal shipboard activity, the operations manager may undertake a wide variety of roles in addition to monitoring departmental status and shipboard activity. For example, Ensign Harry Kim shared the responsibility for monitoring the bioneural circuitry with the tactical officer Tuvok, and was actively involved in the scanning of, and communicating with, approaching vessels, in addition to internal security, and navigational responsibilities.

Intelligence

The world of espionage in UFS is a world of intrigue, deception and secrecy; it is the "cloak and dagger" world of old with updated technology. As a result, many players understandably cannot resist the temptation to try their hands at portraying an agent in UFS.

So, what should an Intel officer be like? Well first of all very attentive, discreet, well educated, of good manners, respectful and with a great sense of humour. They are fully trained in close combat and the latest weapons technology. They are able to improvise as well as strictly following orders. Oh, and did I miss sexy? Being in a good shape helps, but is not necessary. Some excellent agents have many or even the contrary characteristics just mentioned above.

What I want to say with this is, that gathering "intelligence" ... meaning "information" ... depends on the individual qualities of each person, as every person is unique. The question is ... is it useful and qualified for the needs of the branch? Can the individual accomplish a mission? Can that person be a team player for a common goal? Loyalty is something you can buy, but be careful ... somebody may pay more. So ... it comes back to the person. Only a one-to-one talk and treat can decide that and if an agent is going to be part of a mission or of the team.

However, such a prospect is not to be entered into lightly. The life of the agent is not as it is glorified to be in TV, movies, etc. Agents such as James Bond and organisations such as Section 31 are not realistic portrayals of field agents. Black operations, such as assassination and sabotage, are strictly prohibited. Starfleet Intelligence agents have three primary tasks: to procure, process and protect information. They are never authorised to kill sentient beings or destroy property or disrupt institutions to fulfil their tasks. Portraying an Intelligence agent in a realistic and, most importantly, ethical manner is not easy.

Academy

The Academy professor is a highly respected role. A fountain of knowledge, and an expert in their field with a desire to pass on his knowledge and experience to eager cadets. The beauty of an academy role is that it is exempt from the single billet rule meaning anyone can ‘moonlight’ as a member of the academy faculty without compromising their primary billet as a security officer or ship's CO.

The professor acts as a shining example to cadets of what it is to be a Starfleet officer. A stickler for regulation, timekeeping and proper decorum. Expecting much from the cadets, they offer them their wisdom and benefit of their experience, whilst also never shying away from correcting them when the need calls for it. A role at the academy, whether it is as an instructor, professor, or college dean is an opportunity to give something back. It isn’t a glamorous bridge duty station, but you will be involved in shaping how cadets turn into officers and it is very rewarding.

Marines

The Marine Corps are the fighting force of the UFS, designed to be the tactical aid where there is none to be found. Developed not only to protect home soil but also to serve on deep space missions where reinforcements aren't always an option, the Marines are the protection for the crew. In general, the duties of the Marines are to be tactical and succeed in operations where Security could not.

This provides ample opportunities to enjoy not only the Marine missions available but also take part in the main missions on your posted vessel. Unlike the other duty posts, the post of a Marine is very varied and cannot always be predicted. However, this doesn't mean that the Marines cannot take part in the most routine of missions; they are, after all, a variety of duty posts within the Marine structure.

A post in the Marines grants a player the opportunity to be creative; to use all the resources they have to their advantage as well as developing squadrons, piloting fighters and designing battle tactics. Everything from a hostile takeover of the Bridge to an emergency in Main Engineering can require the multiple and ample skills of the Marines.


Civilians

A Civilian is someone who is not a member of a military or paramilitary organization, and within the Federation. The task of a Civilian varies from being a bartender to a cook. Although this post seems unimportant, it is actually quite necessary for Starfleet officers to function smoothly and efficiently.

Roleplaying this post can be more difficult than others because there is little known about this position as compared to those of other duty posts. However, this leads to more creativity in the part of those rp’ing this position.

Before the mission, depending on your class of civilian your role varies. For example, if you are a botanist, you can say that your character has made an important discovery on plant life that could improve relations on another planet. Or, if your character is a cook, you could say that she was cooking a new recipe that went horribly wrong and ended up poisoning the entire crew that had eaten in the cafeteria. Mainly your job is to have the ship run as smoothly (or not as smoothly) as possible.

During missions it is a little harder to get your character into the mission. However, there are quite a few creative ways to get involved. First is perhaps allowing your character to be captured during an alien invasion. Secondly, have your character hear or see something that will drive the mission forward.

Once everything has been finished on the mission there is still so much for your civilian character to do! When the ship was attacked, did one of your close friends get injured or die? RP the emotions of the character. It will be interesting for everyone as well as lead to further character development. Also as a civilian, you get to tell about what happened behind the military lines. What was seen? How did it affect your character and the outcome of the mission? Is the official Starfleet line true or is there a cover-up being spun?

Other Possibilities

Remember that most ships have hundreds of crew members, and stations can have populations of thousands. There are more possible roles than could be listed here so if you don’t see anything listed above that strikes your fancy, then come up with something yourself. Some of the many unlisted tasks on a ship/starbase are: Chief of the Boat, Quartermaster, Logistics Officer, Morale Officer, Chef, Computer Officer, Mission Specialist, Damage Control Chief, Officer’s Club Bartender, Boatswain, Starfleet Intelligence Officer, scientists of every field and specialization, and even more choices in the enlisted ranks. If you have an idea for a position that you don’t see listed, speak with the relevant Branch Commander and your CO.

Whichever position you end up taking remember to try and entertain with your roleplay. That means if you entertain yourself, it’ll be easier to entertain others. If you’re giggling to yourself as you’re typing thinking “Wait till they see this…” then you might be on the right track. Surprise yourself and you will surprise others. Don’t plan everything out....experiment! Try new things but most of all... Have fun!