Frequent readers may recall that my last Velour and Go-Go Boots post described the difficulties of giving the players Command and how that might lead to infighting and unpleasantness. In the next revision of the rules, I decided to try and skirt around the issue by making the ship captain an NPC and going with the assumption that the players are all bridge crew of roughly equivalent rank.
One of the rules for NPC captains turned out the be the tiny spark that would result in the game's transformation from a stat + skill system to the Traits System (pat. pend. do not steal). The captain was a nebulous entity, comprised of various personality traits picked out by the GM. These traits determined the captain's leadership style and how they reacted to various situations. For instance, Kirk is a Cowboy, while Picard is a Diplomat.
Having the captain be an NPC worked out okay and certainly made the game easier to explain and run at conventions, except for a couple of rather obvious problems:
If you have a person in authority, especially if that person is controlled by the GM, some players will surrender their agency to that person rather than strike out on their own. This was only made worse by the fact that the players all belong to a quasi-military organization and this is something that they would realistically do.
There's some ways around this, of course. I found that players relied on the captain less if I made the captain more obviously flawed and less all-knowing. I also tried to turn things back around on them and say, "all right, so we're being attacked by an unknown force and our shields are crippled. Suggestions?" Even still, I much preferred games where the players had to solve their own problems instead of looking to a magical NPC to fix things for them.
Being the captain is fun, and I took that fun away from the players. Argh! I also wound up ditching most of the mechanics associated with the Command Occupation in the switch over from PC to NPC captains. Those mechanics not only made the players chances of success more likely in certain circumstances, but also sort of helped to unify them as a team. Consider: If your leadership skills inspire another player to do better, odds are you and the other players will work together more closely.
Considering the ramifications of these problems lead me to Option Three, a Frankensteinian hybrid of the first two options. I'm not sure it works, either, but here it is.
You can have an NPC captain, who gets some of the powers of a PC captain, but not all of them. Having an NPC captain sitting in the big chair limits the power struggle issues between the players and allows everyone to skip the rest of the captain's rules and explore the wide open galaxy.
You can have a PC captain. The PC captain is a role separate from the Occupations. Everyone picks their Occupations as normal, and then the players have a secret vote on who should be the captain. Players cannot vote for themselves. The player with the most votes becomes captain, with other players getting a rank aboard ship based on how well they did on the voting (second place are Commanders, third place are Lieutenant Commanders, and so on). Captains still get the benefits of their Occupation (just because you're now the captain doesn't mean you forgot how to be a doctor, after all).
Which means that congratulations are in order for Mr. Bailey, as it's apparently a democracy now.
Ties for the captaincy can be handled in a variety of ways, from handshakes and acquiescence to one of the tied players relinquishing the captaincy to become Number One. The GM could also rule that due to a Terrible Accident that occurred just prior to the start of the game, no one is captain, or they could say that since there was no clear winner, there's an NPC captain anyway. Players can also choose to vote for an NPC captain if they want to.
Player captains gain a lot of the abilities that were once reserved to the Command Occupation. They can give bonus dice to people they give orders to, and they can also spread their Drama Points around to make the crew's rolls easier. In addition, they can call people in to Conference, during which time everyone can role-play and have arguments and gain additional Drama Points to use later.
Option Three has the benefit of having facets of all of the previous designs with the drawback of it being extremely messy and difficult to explain. The part of my brain that desires order craves a simpler and more elegant solution, but my design chops aren't yet choppy enough to chew one out of the gristle that is this game.