Reporter Issue 44/Discussion: Starbase 118 Round Table
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Lieutenant Commander David Whale, USS Constitution
Lieutenant (JG) Tanjar-Ongra, Chief Petty Officer Radi Rais, Marine Captain Miles Unum, Commander Toni Tuner and Lieutenant (JG) Sinda Essen
Welcome to the first edition of the Starbase 118 Round Table – a discussion of Trek, characters and group elements from several different perspectives.
The basic idea for this article was to take a specific set of questions and have them answered by five different members of our group – people from a variety of departments, positions and experience levels within the SB118 universe. Once I received the emailed response from our five participants, I compiled them into a single document. This document was then emailed back to the participants one at a time – in the order that I received their original answers – to allow for secondary responses. They were not allowed to edit their original comments, but they were allowed to comment on the responses of others or elaborate on an idea the brought up in the initial round of discussion.
As you’ll see, we’ve managed to put together a good cross-section, from a “rookie” who has only been with us since August 2010 right on up to a commanding officer who joined the group in 2005.
So, without further ado, it’s my pleasure to present the Starbase 118 Round Table version 1.0...
- 1 Introductions
- 2 Member Histories
- 3 Trek Favourites and Influences
- 4 Thoughts on Characters: Favourite Things About Them
- 5 Things You Dislike About Your Character
- 6 Goal or Flow?
- 7 Favourite Missions
- 8 The Great vs Just Okay
- 9 Jump-starting Plots
- 10 Starfleet Marines
- 11 Best Thing about Simming with SB118
- 12 Ways to Improve the Group
- 13 Advice to New Ensigns
Moderator: Let’s start with the easiest question of the day: who are you? Give us your character’s name and current rank/position. If your current character is not your first character in the SB118 universe, feel free to introduce your old character(s) as well.
Tanjar-Ongra: I'm Chad, and I play Lieutenant (J.G.) Tanjar-Ongra. Currently I'm the acting chief engineer on the Challenger.
Radi Rais: Okay, well, my main character is Radi Rais – he's a former Starfleet Marine turned Chief of Operations. He's a Betazoid, but he has no telepathic powers at all – this presents me with a heap of very interesting roleplaying opportunities since, while he's very physically similar to a human, compared to his fellow Betazoids he's wildly different. It's different, interesting and challenging for me to play a person who's "disabled"– even though, if he were human, he'd be perfectly normal! Can you really miss what you've never had?
Previously, I played Alleran Tan– a joined Trill who was joined via sheer luck rather than the incredible competitiveness that most normal joined Trills experience. This, too, was a very interesting character... someone who, while entirely undeserving, had received a wonderful gift. I stopped playing Alleran simply because he took a life during one of the big Summer Blockbuster plots run by the group. He was captured and in the process of escaping, he killed one of the guards. As a very gentle man who hated violence, this event sparked a massive downward spiral which resulted in him ruining his growing romantic relationship with his Captain and having a breakdown. He'll be back, though!
Miles Unum: 1st Lieutenant Miles Unum, Starfleet Marine Corps Flight Leader, USS Ronin.
(Moderator Note: while the Round Table was being compiled, Mister Unum was promoted from 1st Lieutenant to Marine Captain – congratulations!)
Toni Turner: I'm Commander Toni Turner, Commanding Officer of the USS Ronin, Cadet Steward and Deputy Commandant of UFOP: Starbase 118's Academy.
Sinda Essen: Righty-ho. I'm currently playing Sinda Essen, a junior lieutenant on the USS Eagle. Before that I played Commander Jhen Thelev, an Andorian and former CO of SB118 Ops.
Moderator: How long have you been a member of the SB118 community?
Tanjar-Ongra: I've been simming here since August, though I used to do a bit of simming in other groups about 7 years ago too.
Radi Rais: I've been a member of SB-118 since about March in 2010- that's when I applied to join the academy. I've enjoyed every moment of it.
Miles Unum: One year.
Toni Turner: I joined UFOP: Starbase 118 in mid September 2005.
Sinda Essen: Since January 2007, so almost exactly 4 years.
Trek Favourites and Influences
Moderator: What is your favourite Star trek incarnation and how has it influenced your character?
Tanjar-Ongra: It's a tie between TNG and DS9. As to how they influenced my character, I definitely think Tanjar-Ongra as a Grazerite is a pretty pacifist guy, struggling to come to terms with the reality of what Starfleet service entails. I think I try to push events towards more TNG- style solutions, where people get outsmarted and diplomacy and morality win the day, but I think the drama & action people often write will end up with him facing more "shades of grey" situations where he will have to come to some sort of peace with a dangerous galaxy.
Radi Rais: I love Deep Space 9. I feel that it dramatically influences how I play all my characters- I think that trying to assess the "Star Trek" universe from the perspective of one of the other shows is very difficult. Imagine having no knowledge of modern, contemporary Western society... and trying to form all your opinions and knowledge about it from watching a single TV show like JAG, CSI: Miami or Lost. What kind of conclusions would you draw about life in modern society? Do you think they would be very accurate?
Deep Space 9, however, represents more of a "slice of life" in the Star Trek universe. People gamble, there's money, there are trading ships coming and going, there's politics and lies and betrayals and plot and intrigue – while the other Trek series are fantastic TV, I don't think that they really represent what it's like to live in the 24th century aside from life in Starfleet. Deep Space 9 shows something that's a lot, lot more going under the surface- and yes, that "undercurrent of reality" comes up a lot in all the characters I play!
Miles Unum: I really enjoy watching the original series and The Next Generation. If I had to choose between the two, my favourite would be The Next Generation. There are traits of Picard, Riker, and Worf that are exhibited in my character, and although those characters were different from each other, their strengths and weaknesses allowed them to contribute to the ship’s mission and ongoing story.
Toni Turner: Actually, I don't have a favourite because, generally I like them all. My character is a creation of my own, so Toni is only influenced by my own creativity.
Sinda Essen: Definitely Deep Space 9. I think it had the best characters and relationships of any of the shows, plus the great plot arc of the Dominion War. I also liked the darker style – this isn't all the 'nice' Federation, it's out on the fringes and those moral boundaries are a little more blurred. My current character is heavily influenced by the DS9 setting. She's a Cardassian/Bajoran hybrid, a war orphan and legacy of the Occupation of Bajor. She therefore has a few issues with 'acceptance'.
Tanjar-Ongra: See, normally I'm a bit sceptical of hybrid-race characters. I once simmed with a Vulcan-Borg who basically made himself into Superman crossed with Brainiac. I think a lot of people do it to have the "superpowers" of both species. But a Cardassian/Bajoran hybrid is something I can definitely get behind: I'm half English & Irish, so I feel some of that tension of heritage myself, and also I don't think we got to see a great deal of it on DS9.
Thoughts on Characters: Favourite Things About Them
Moderator: Now for something a little more substantial. We all put a great deal of effort into crafting our characters, developing their lives, etc. What is your favourite thing about your main character and why?
Tanjar-Ongra: I wanted to use a minor, largely unexplored species, and I spent the most of my time thinking which of the many that are out there for him to be. I read through Aazaamarite to Zaranite, but settled on a Grazerite more for their paucity of backstory rather than anything else. I don't think they are particularly interesting, perhaps purposefully meant to come across as a peacenik bureaucratic species in their one canon appearance.
Originally I had thought to play one of the species that requires special gases to breathe, thinking about what that would do to a culture, or other off-the-wall ones like the Kazarites and Shamin. But I thought any restriction would end up being pretty limiting, and you could end up with a caricature character. One thing I think Star Trek didn't do too well is put any diversity among alien races. As a rule, it seems everyone outside the Federation is a warlike authoritarian empire and everyone within naturally fills in certain roles: Vulcans as intellectuals, Betazoids as diplomats, in as far as non-Humans are ever seen.
So I figured trying to take a bookish, nerdish guy from a pacifist culture, and expose him in almost the reverse journey humanity has made in Star Trek: from barbarism to utopia. So he's a guy leaving Arcadia on Grazer and confronting the Big Galaxy, and trying to discover the qualities that made humanity successful – confidence, sacrifice, loyalty, pragmatism. And end up making him and his culture more diverse.
Radi Rais: I love writing characters that have flaws. I feel that the Original Series Kirk, a generic wisecracking, strong hero with no real weaknesses aside a well deserved ego who accomplishes the fantastic is less inspiring than someone who is ordinary who does something slightly extraordinary. I find a single mother who goes to work three jobs to keep her kids fed far more inspiring than Kirk saving Earth again and that shows in my writing.
I'm fairly sure all of my main characters (and NPCs) have very severe issues that they have to work through – that means that while they may not always accomplish what they set out to do, the very fact that they tried (and sometimes succeed!).
Alleran struggles with his pacifism in a world where violence is just so common, tries so very hard to live a moral and ethical life when he's surrounded by people who he considers so much greater than he...
Radi lives on a ship full of Betazoids who are some of the most gifted and talented telepaths in the fleet, while he can't even have his mind read. His service as a Marine continues to come back to haunt him, something that I'm hoping to reveal more about in the upcoming months!
Miles Unum: I want my character to be as real as possible, and for me, that means that he will have a passion for life both in his Starfleet duties and in his personal life. I’m not interested in writing for a character who always saves the day or always does “the right thing” because no one is perfect. I believe that it is the good choices and the mistakes my character makes that define him and his relationships with the other crew members.
Toni Turner: The fact that Toni is human is my favourite thing about her,and by that, I mean she is subject to human frailties. She is sensitive to the needs of others, and somewhat emotional. Toni is a loyal friend, but also can be a formidable foe.
Sinda Essen: For me the most important thing about my character is her origins. My favourite Star Trek episode is one from the first series of DS9 called 'Duet' which really explores the relationship between the Bajorans and Cardassians (if you've never seen it go and find it!). That sort of conflict is something I hope to explore in the character of Sinda Essen – she's very troubled, feeling like a constant physical reminder to everyone of some of the bad things which occurred during the Occupation. That feeling of failure which she's had all her life has an influence on all her actions.
I agree with Radi that characters with flaws are very interesting to play. Likewise, I like what Tanjar-Ongra has to say about alien species – I think one of the great things about the Star Trek setting are the alien species, especially those that haven't been explored particularly. Of course, that's not to say Humans don't have their place as one of the best ways to develop a species is through exploring their relationships with Humans, with us.
Things You Dislike About Your Character
Moderator: And now let’s turn that around – what’s one thing you really dislike about your character and why? Is this something you’re trying to change or something you’ve done intentionally?
Tanjar-Ongra: I suppose I indulge in a bit of Larry-Stu writing with him at times... reacting how I would rather than how he would. And I think that's because he's a bit boring if he's not comic relief. Voyager syndrome!
He's only been around 3 months though, and I think I deliberately avoided giving him any particular baggage, in case it caged the character too much in future. But I think in his soul he wants to be captain Kirk, and do great things in the galaxy. Alas he's a wallflower at the moment, very self-conscious.
Radi Rais: Haha... well, now, this is a very difficult question to answer. For Radi, I'd have to say that choosing to have him unable to experience dreams due to his condition was a pretty stupid decision on my part. I feel that looking into someone's dreams is like looking at their raw, naked soul without any of the social "masks" we tend to wear when interacting with others. It's a pure look at the psyche of that character and can be used to reveal so much information about them... without dreams, I think I'm losing a lot of depth there. Unfortunately, this isn't something I can change in the short term– but maybe I can find a way further down the track...
With Tan, probably my biggest regret is that Alleran couldn't progress with his relationship with Captain Sidney Riley. She's a fantastic writer and I enjoyed writing with her, but ultimately when you play a flawed character those flaws will come back to bite you sooner or later! Tan killing the Vaadwaur really shook him up– but it got to explore a very interesting side-effect of war that I don't think really comes up enough. If you fight in a battle and get physically wounded, it's painful... your health, your career and even your life can be at risk. To compensate, you generally get promotions, honour and medals– a little bit of tin isn't much compared to the sacrifices some people make, but at least you're treated with honour. Dignity. Compassion.
But... if you fight and your wound happens in your mind, the treatment you get is far less kind. You can be seen to be cowardly, or ill, or even dangerous– even in the 24th century it seems there's a general stigma about receiving counselling or psychiatric help. If Tan had lost a leg instead of his mind, he would have received a great deal of sympathy and respect– but instead, by and large, he was treated very negatively. Nobody came to see him off the ship when he left, despite him always making time to see off others who left– and while some kind words came from several crew members, nobody visited him in person.
Compare this with the physically injured in the battle, who were visited and given great encouragement by the full command staff, given awards and promotions, and treated very well. Imagine if he were laying in sickbay, bloody and in pain, and nobody came to visit him at all. I suggest that there might be a lesson to be learned here and it was a very interesting experience playing such a character!
Miles Unum: My character has an assertive personality that he tries to keep in check. It can affect his relationships with his cremates, but it is a part of who he is. It’s not something that I want to change because it makes for interesting reading.
Toni Turner: As her creator, in part, I have to answer with a question... Why would I want to create a character that had traits that I disliked? When I write, I want to be able to write things that are positive. Although in some circumstances our missions may call for a dark side of Toni to be revealed, I deliver with her humanness. I do dislike her less than satisfying personal life. At present she is a young widow with an adopted 6-year old daughter and a infant son. In my long range plans it was not suppose to be that way, but being new to military life, I didn't include that factor. In hindsight, I should have SIMed a PNPC as her mate, but once a path is taken, it's difficult to back track. Besides that, her personal life may be about to change for the better.
Sinda Essen: Oddly, I think she's a bit too nice at the moment! My previous character, Jhen Thelev, was a pretty nice guy (unless something REALLY annoyed him) and I had intended to break away from that and try something different. Not that I plan for Essen to be nasty, just a little abrasive. It's something I'll have to work on.
Tanjar-Ongra: I understand that people don't want to write themselves as baddies. But I think it's important to remember that no-one is a villain in their own eyes. Plenty of people enjoy writing characters that explore parts of the psyche that they don't experience and don't necessarily approve of. And that can be healthier than believing your guy is always a nice guy; we don't ever truly know how we're being seen by others.
Miles Unum: What Lieutenant Tanjar-Ongra said is exactly right. That’s one of the things I love about simming. You get to read about the personal thoughts and reactions of other characters in their sims as they respond to your character’s actions and words. That behind-the- scenes view of another character’s inner workings allows you to reveal your character's individuality also. This can also sometimes create friction between writers, but we have to mindful that we are writing for fictional characters who may or may not share the writer’s beliefs and values.
Sinda Essen: I often fall into the same trap when I'm roleplaying. I play tabletop games as well as live roleplay and my characters often end up becoming just like me, despite my intentions for them. However, it's easier to write different characters in this PBeM format as you can re-read and adjust your responses before sending them out.
Goal or Flow?
Moderator: Are you developing your character with an end goal in mind for them, either in professional life or their personal life, or are you just going with the flow and seeing what happens?
Tanjar-Ongra: I think good writing has to be about the story and not the character. Your character should have a few hooks to them, and I'm yet to develop them for Tanjar-Ongra I think. But ultimately I'm in this for the sci-fi and good imagination of hard scientific concepts, how they affect humanity and the Trek galaxy in general.
I fear I'm succumbing to a temptation of being an everyman at times. I think if we were given an assignment of making our own crew of 7, I think most of us would come up with a varied cast - the funny one, the uptight soldier one, the alien with a particular quirk.
But when we're all bringing one to the table, I think we don't like to carve a niche too much for ourselves, and have a character that limits our story participation, because he/she would respond in a hackneyed way. Probably though, I think I'd like for him to be a character you can hang your hat on in a year or so, and one that you could have a "writer's bible" for.
Radi Rais: Oh, both! I like having short term, medium term and long term goals for all of my characters– even my NPCs– but the thing I love about SB-118 is that you're writing in a team. There'll be twists and turns and hijinks aplenty– if I looked back on when I first started my characters and then looked forward to where they are now, even for new characters like Radi or NPCs like Huang, there's a massive gulf between where they are and where I thought they'd be.
And that's really, really awesome!
Miles Unum: I want my character to have it all, but I realize that there are sacrifices he will have to make. He wants to eventually command a starship and to have a family. Those two seldom go together with the demands from both. I think that the constant pull from his professional aspirations and family obligations will create great opportunities for simming.
Toni Turner: I've always had a long range goal for Toni, but with all the small steps between the now and the goal, I have let Toni develop by going with the flow. All our experiences in real life make us the people we are, Toni is no different. She has evolved through a diversity of experiences – both good and bad.
Sinda Essen: Definitely the latter. Although with both Essen and Jhen I have some vague notions of where I want to go, I primarily let the story guide me. Quite often I don't really know how my characters will react to a given situation until I'm writing the sim.
Moderator: I know this may be a tough question to answer, but what has been your favourite mission so far?
Tanjar-Ongra: This latest whodunnit on the Challenger has been my favourite. It's a great concept, and I think we (including me) weren't totally ready for it. We got used to making up a plot too much, going from twist to twist... and in this latest mission we've really had to use our heads to get at the truth behind murder most horrid on new Scotland. It's more like an RPG rather than simming.
Radi Rais: My favourite mission...! Wow. Okay. Hmm! This is a tough one. I have to say, I quite liked the Victory's foray into the Azure Nebula. Lieutenant Orman's efforts to board and take the Romulan freighter without firing a single shot were commendable, and Commander Jaxx made a point of stressing diplomacy with some very angry Romulans! Commander Webb introduced a very nice twist by deliberately provoking some of them, resulting in a brawl... and the consequences from that were quite profound.
That being said, my favourite time is shore leave. That's when all the really interesting, character-building points are reached, I feel!
Miles Unum: I really enjoy the combat missions where there is so much at stake. If you look at the Star Trek television series and the motion pictures, those types of missions offer some of the best character revealing stories in addition to the action. The Wrath of Khan is my favourite Star Trek motion picture as it portrayed awesome battle scenes, and in my opinion, it showed us more about Kirk’s and Spock’s characters than in any other Star Trek motion picture.
Toni Turner: Wow! After 34 missions, that's a tough question, but the one that stands out in memory is, "Village of Evil," a mission that I wrote while serving on the USS Challenger. The reason it stands out is because it was the mission that my PNPC Hella was created, and she is my second favourite character to SIM.
The Crew of the USS Challenger [were] called to Dessica II in the Kaleb sector to shut down Pirate activities and investigate possible Romulan activity. After capture, one of the pirates (Hella), wanting immunity, tells of a hidden village where the Tal Shiar keeps political hostages. Their torture methods are evil and sadistic so the away team goes in search of the village to free the prisoners and oust the Tal Shiar. In space, the Romulans have a stand off with the USS Challenger. War is at stake and the home team has to use diplomacy to keep them a bay until the Away team has completed the mission.
Sinda Essen: That is a tough one sure enough. I had a lot of fun with my previous character when I was on the Ronin, so this would have been back in 2007 and into 2008. After trawling through some of the old forum posts I'm afraid I can't pin it down to a single mission, but we had a lot of fun exploring an alternate dimension where the Gorn had won the war. It was something that cropped up a few times with characters swapping over. There were a lot of interesting themes to explore.
Tanjar-Ongra: I think we have to be careful about battle scenes and action in general. This may not be seen as a widely shared opinion, but I didn't really enjoy the battle scene in Nemesis, which I think was directly trying to channel The Wrath of Khan. The Nemesis battle succumbed to the ever-more-ridiculous twist – which is something I've seen a lot in simming. If you transcribed the battle scenes, and the end dialogue scenes, of The Wrath Of Khan film script into sims, I think the latter would shine much better as sims.
Sinda Essen: I agree that the battle scenes in Nemesis were pretty poor – I'm not sure how they managed it but they managed to drain any suspense out of the fight! I'd also say that although action certainly has a place (it can make a great conclusion to a plot) I've seen plenty of combats where the ship always ends up half-crippled and dozens of crewmen die, which is not something I'm particularly keen on. I'm certainly not a fan of combat just for the sake of it, either, but as plot development it's a good device. As for Radi's point – I'd not considered shore leave as missions really, but now that you mention it I agree that they do usually provide great opportunities for crew interaction/character development.
The Great vs Just Okay
Moderator: Following that, what distinguishes a great mission from an okay mission?
Tanjar-Ongra: Anything where I learn new things about characters or a situation involves a real moral consequence or choice. I have to say I'm a canon hawk, and I do love things that advance my experience of the Trek universe in a way that feels true to the established canon.
Radi Rais: Engagement. I feel that a great mission is one where everyone contributes at least something, everyone feels as though they are working through the plot. I love it when I introduce a plot twist and everyone runs with it– it's extremely satisfying to observe as a simmer, so I always make a point of focusing on the plot points of other writers when they're introduced. So a good mission is where the plot's going well. A great mission is where the plot's going CRAZY like a hyperactive puppy.
Miles Unum: In my experience, the difference is in the opportunity for everyone to add to the plot. When only a few crew members are participating in building the story, everyone loses interest.
Toni Turner: A great mission has something meaningful to do in every department because that gives every player a chance to shine. And when players have that opportunity, they usually come up with something new and exciting.
Sinda Essen: Damn, these are hard! The people you sim with make a huge difference, I think. Any mission can be a good mission if the crew are all motivated and writing well. A good story obviously helps a lot, with something for everyone to do, and there are plenty of examples of good stories in the Star Trek shows. Flexibility is also a key element – there is a saying in roleplay, "no plot ever survives contact with the players." Characters can and will do the unexpected and lead the story is new directions – a good mission has to be able to accommodate that.
Moderator: I’m sure we’ve all experienced missions that drag. Even the most well-planned missions can hit the dreaded “stagnation point,” whether it’s due to key crew members having to take unexpected leaves of absence or the mission overlapping with real-world holidays where crew members are off spending time with families. Or sometimes, people just start to lose interest. In what ways do you try to jump-start a flagging plot?
Tanjar-Ongra: I think that situation is usually due to ongoing conversation. I feel sometimes I've read the same sim 5 or 6 times before all the tags are finished and everyone's had their say. In my previous simming life, I found IM good to role-play situations out with crew mates, and get a whole conversation done in one sim.
Otherwise, I'm afraid to say, you do sometimes have to take the bull by the horns and advance the plot if it's going nowhere in circles. Read the mission brief and do something to actively involve others.
The other alternative is a B-plot. If you think about most episodes of Star Trek, very few feature all 7-9 major cast members in the main plot in a meaningful way. I think most of our ships now have a minimum of 10 crew. So create and advance a fresh subplot with others if you're waiting on particular replies to see how the main plot will pan out.
Radi Rais: That's difficult! I guess it depends on the root cause of the stagnation. If it's an IRL holiday, there's not much that can be done- we all lead busy lives. I guess the only thing to do is schedule shore leave during well known holidays, such as Christmas, Thanksgiving in the US, ANZAC day in Australia and New Years. This means that if people want to take a break from simming it doesn't interrupt the more enthusiastic writers.
If it's because a key crew member has gone LOA, then that's easy– just step up myself! Plenty of things for me to do if it's possible... and if it's not possible for me to do anything, just send along a PNPC.
People losing interest and then just stopping writing is something I feel is not excusable. If you feel that the plot is not interesting, well– it's a team writing effort! Do something weird. Do a flashback sequence. Spruce it up. Introduce a new twist. Get shot in the back by a mysterious assassin– do something. Don't change it out of hand, or resolve it too quickly– just make a small change to make it more to your liking. Being critically injured is great character development! Death is even better!
Miles Unum: I have found that creating a mysterious event that requires problem solving from each character will often peak interests and encourage others to sim.
Toni Turner: I usually do something unexpected, or ask provocative questions to engage them, then tag, tag, and tag some more. When all else fails, I give them a week to finish off their open story lines, and at the end of the week, we take a shore leave to recoup and get back in the habit of participating in something fun. By the time for the next mission the overlap with RL or the Holidays is usually over and everyone is simming again.
Sinda Essen: True, we've all experienced that. There are a few ways to get things moving. Keep things 'fresh', introduce a new NPC or a new twist, give people something new to do if they're losing interest in the mission. There was a mission we ran on SB118 Ops which involved three assassinations and the crew investigating them to find the link. If things started to get stale we introduced a new piece of evidence for the writers to play around with. Of course, if all else fails, end the mission and move on. There's no reason why every mission Starfleet is engaged with has to be successful or reach a neat conclusion. If something isn't working, for whatever reason, find something that does work rather than pressing on.
Tanjar-Ongra: I have to disagree [with Radi] to a certain extent. Sometimes the plot gets lost due to too many wacky ideas, and everyone nurturing their own, and no-one knows what's going on, and another off-the-wall addition doesn't help in that situation.
Radi Rais: I think you have to reach a kind of equilibrium or compromise with these kinds of things. Oh, sure- if things are going wacky already, run with it rather than introducing your own thing. But if things are stale, boring, or not moving anywhere...
Moderator: A subject that frequently generates discussion on our forum centres around Starfleet Marines. Some feel that the inclusion of Marines on Starfleet vessels runs contrary to the peaceful aims of the Federation (and Starfleet). How do you feel about Starfleet Marines in general, and more specifically about the inclusion of Marine detachments on a number of our vessels?
Tanjar-Ongra: On the forums, I guess I've been the most vocal opponent of marines. I think they, as they are designed in most Trek simming groups, as a purely combat-focused arm of Starfleet does run counter to Federation philosophies, and indeed to what various marine corps do in real life.
In short, I don't think they have a role that hasn't been performed in the TV shows and films by security personnel. I think a separate uniform, ranks, mission and action-oriented backgrounds is a case of wish fulfilment on the part of those people that introduce them, wanting to be an action hero, slightly outside the chain of command. I don't think it respects Roddenberry's vision of Star Trek and the canon of what we see on starships and starbases and planets. It's an organisation based on both defence and science.
I don't even agree with separating out security & tactical divisions. I think having 3 divisions, including the marines, with largely overlapping purposes, means there are a lot of people whose job it is in a plot to pick fights. And reading about how great characters are in melee combat does not smack of quality writing, which is in our mission statement to create. I understand action plots have to happen occasionally, but not too often.
Radi Rais: I feel that the Starfleet Marine Corps give a very different and very interesting dimension to Trek simming; the idea that in this perfect world of Trek, where everyone has grown out of violence and that everyone uses diplomacy to solve their differences if they are able... that it's really a bit of a façade.
Sure, the majority of people in Starfleet think and breathe the above sentiments– but there are a not-insubstantial part of the population in and outside of Starfleet that are still caught in the 20th, 21st, 22nd style of thinking... that sometimes, violence IS the answer.
In that regard, the writers of the stereotypical Marines provide a kind of darkness for the rest of the crew to shine in- most of my characters and NPCs are pacifists, really. They try their best to avoid violence and they tend to get very emotionally disturbed when they kill (particularly Alleran).
The point is that lights shine brightest when there is darkness around them. I remember reading Lieutenant Breeman's sims during the recent Summer Blockbuster very clearly. His character was being heckled by some Marines who thought he was weak because he was a scientist, but the point is that they were heading into a very dangerous situation... the Marines were not afraid, while he was... but yet, he was still there. Still doing his duty despite his fear. Still helping the team. Still doing the right thing.
I feel that great people accomplishing easy things is far less inspiring than humble people accomplishing hard things.
Miles Unum: I currently write for a Marine character; although, I have written for the same character in a security officer duty post. I love simming a Marine character because it allows me to break through the stereotypes of military officers. I posted on the SB118 forums about the lack of Star Trek canon for an official Starfleet Marine Corps, even though there are ambiguous references to Starfleet ground troops using United States Navy, United States Army, and most likely United States Marine Corps rank structures in two Star Trek television series and in one Star Trek motion picture. I believe that Starfleet’s primary mission is to seek out new life and new civilizations, but Star Trek canon has also revealed that there are hostile forces in the universe who wish to eliminate the Federation. As such, I think that having a Starfleet Marine Corps in SB118 does not conflict with ideas set forth in Star Trek canon and that a captain who utilizes a military force for the protection of Federation citizens is in conformity with the ideals of the Federation.
Toni Turner: My feelings are that a Marine presence on ships have been widely accepted in our fleet. I've not served on a ship yet that did not have them. Marines have a rich history of coexistence with the Navy, and they fill a need for those writers who wish to play them.
Marines provide a valuable service to a ship. They fly the fighters and augment the security staff. On ship duty is subject to the needs of the Chief of Security.
Sinda Essen: Interesting question. Personally I don't think Marines are canon and they don't add anything that Starfleet Security cannot do. That said, they are an accepted part of the SB118 group and I'm happy to accept that. I'm unlikely to ever play one, but I have no problem with others that do. There was an issue a while back with some Marine players arguing that they were somehow separate to or 'better' than the rest of Starfleet. Thankfully this is something that doesn't seem to be a problem any more. In my view, every department in Starfleet is equal, each has it's own strengths and weaknesses and none of them are better than the rest. Surely unity through diversity forms one of the main themes of Star Trek?
Tanjar-Ongra: To me, that isn't a valuable service. We only ever saw "fighters" during the Dominion War, and I don't see why Marines – who were designed to be ground troops – would be the ones to fly the equivalent of aeroplanes. And augmenting the security staff isn't valuable, you can just write in more security staff. We've carved a niche for them that has been filled entirely competently by other sections of staff. And to credit people like Miles who try to write Marines with depth to their characters, I think that's in direct conflict with the point that Radi made about them being dark points of Starfleet. I don't want to pigeon hole an entire group like that.
Miles Unum: No surprise that I want to add a little more to this part of the discussion. Lieutenant Tanjar-Ongra and I have cordially debated many of these points in the SB118 forum, but you would likely be stunned that he and I do not differ that much in regard to our appreciation for Star Trek canon. I have brought up inconsistencies in Star Trek television episodes and motion pictures, but I agree with him that a Starfleet Marine Corps in SB118 is a creation of previous and some current members of this group. I would be amenable to replacing Marine officers with Starfleet Security officers who are well-trained and respond to serious ground and space threats the same way as the Starfleet Marine Corps does now in SB118. Whether my character is a Marine or a Security officer, he will react in the same assertive way when combating a hostile threat. My character does not have to be in a combat situation all of the time to be an effective part of the crew or the story, but those assertive traits are a part of his personality. I like having the opportunity to write for that type of character. The separation of the Tactical and Security officers’ duties allows for more writers to become involved in the story, and for that reason, I believe that it is good to have those two separate duty posts for SB118 writers.
Sinda Essen: I caught an episode of TNG the other day that made me think about this issue again. In in Picard stated (as he often does) that Starfleet is not a military organisation, rather it's function is scientific exploration. Marines are a purely military branch, designed for combat. That's why I don't think they belong in Starfleet. Security, on the other hand, have a much broader scope.
Toni Turner: While I generally agree with [SE], that the scope of Security is broader, I have to disagree with [TO] in not separating security, tactical and Marines, but then we are looking at the situation from two very different prospectives. By having them separated, we can offer more advancements to a greater number of players. How fun would it be to play a security officer who is sixth or seventh in line for the Chief of Security position? Not very, to say the least, and we would end up losing most all of those players.
Best Thing about Simming with SB118
Moderator: What is the best thing about simming with SB118?
Tanjar-Ongra: A rigorous fleet structure and constitution; you know where you stand. And also the lack of respect given to ranks, oddly. In another group I was in, people got high on their ranks, despite how badly they wrote, and would often tell you what they wanted to do. I feel there's a better atmosphere to air ideas here.
Radi Rais: Honestly? Losing the writing competitions. :D No, really! I'll explain. I think I'm a pretty good writer. I'm fairly literate, I read a lot, I have a good grasp of prose and what makes a great story– but there are so many absolutely BRILLIANT writers here whose raw talent, imagination and ability to translate stories to sims far outshines my own. It's an absolutely wonderful place to learn to write, or improve your own writing– as long as you're willing to learn!
Miles Unum: I really enjoy the opportunity to express my creativity through writing stories related to the Star Trek universe. Equally enjoyable are the friendships I’ve made with other writers in SB118.
Toni Turner: To me, the best thing about SIMing with UFOP: SB118 is the people you meet. While we seldom meet in RL,we do come to know each other in OOC work and in our sims. I've long appreciated the fact I've SIMed with people from other countries and states and have had the opportunity to experience all styles of writing.
Sinda Essen: There are a couple of things, actually. Community is one – a great bunch of people who have a lot in common, despite being scattered across the world. There are also some brilliant writers here. To be honest, when I first joined, I didn't really know what to expect. Although I've done tabletop roleplaying since I went to university in 1998, I'd never done any email stuff. But the level of writing and the way in which everyone has an input into the stories and can help influence the outcome had me hooked pretty quickly. Even when I was commanding ships and running plot I never knew what was going to happen next – that was very refreshing.
Ways to Improve the Group
Moderator: What’s the one thing you feel could be improved or handled better within the group?
Tanjar-Ongra: The counterpoint to my earlier praise of an openness of ideas is that it is not necessarily allied with a spirit of Florentine criticism. I think there's a bit too much pressure to write for the sake of it and hit metrics, rather than saying: "here's something other people will enjoy reading".
Radi Rais: Oh, wow. Uh- hmm. ::Thinks...:: I would like to see some flexibility in regard to the rating and theme of some of the ships. I would like to see a single M-15+ ship (numerous episodes and almost all of the TNG- era movies were rated M-15+).
(MOD note: M 15+ is a film rating from the Australian Classification Board. It is roughly the equivalent of an R rating from the MPAA in the United States or a 15 from the BBFC.)
This is, because, I feel that PG-13 is too sensitive to cultural bias- too open to interpretation. M-15+ allows more of compromise, I feel– I wouldn't mind seeing such a ship in the mirror universe, or in the Trek 2009 reboot universe. Such a ship would probably be subject to a bunch of restrictions (secondary characters only so you have to be a Lieutenant to join it, no crossovers, writer must be 18+ etc.), but I think that would be a fun ship to play a secondary on.
Miles Unum: I would like to see more members participating in OOC activities like submitting mission ideas, promoting SB118 on the Internet, and recruiting new members.
Toni Turner: I would like to see more people involved in spreading the word about our group on the Internet. With more working together on publicity projects we would have the replacements to keep our existing ships thriving, and the manpower to commission new ships for upcoming Captains. Actually, I'd like to see actively serving on the Publicity Team a requirement before reaching Commander as is the Trainers Group in the Academy.
Sinda Essen: Improved? Aren't we perfect already? Okay, if I had to pick something I'd say retention of new players. Sure, there are always going to be people who go through all the training stuff and then, for whatever reason, decide this isn't for them after all. But it's very disruptive to a ship to spend a week welcoming a new player only to have them suddenly vanish mid-plot leaving empty tags hanging around. What can we do about it? Quite honestly, I'm not sure! But if anyone has any spectacular, fool-proof ideas, be sure to pass them along...
Tanjar-Ongra: I've got to be honest, I haven't ever felt limited by [SB118 being more “family friendly”]. I think one of the good things about writing is that you can allude to things off- screen if needs be, without writing it out, as if you were transcribing pictures on a TV show. I fully accept and am glad that gore and sex can be explored in the arts, and we might generously call ourselves that, but I would be surprised if anyone wrote something so explicit that it couldn't be rewritten within a PG rating and remain true to the intentions of the writer.
Radi Rais: You make a very good point, [Tanjar] – it's just something that's been kicking around in my head for a while. I'll stand by my "Reboot Trek" or "Mirror Universe" ship preferences though. Something different!
Advice to New Ensigns
Moderator: There is a broad range of experience levels here at the round table, but we all know that for a new player, the SB118 world can be a little overwhelming. Learning the sim format, getting used to interacting with a new crew – it’s not always the easiest of transitions. If you could give one piece of advice to a brand new Ensign reporting to her first assignment, what would it be?
Tanjar-Ongra: Don't panic. ;) But seriously, write how you want others to write for you.
Radi Rais: Just ONE piece of advice?! Arg...! That's the hardest...
Okay, here goes: "Don't be afraid to sim."
The biggest cause, IMHO, of people leaving UFOP is feeling ignored by the plot. So, sim! Sim! That's the best way to get involved, to get noticed, to get your chance to make your mark on the world. Don't feel like your idea isn't good, or that you'll just sit back and watch what happens– sim! Sim regularly, sim early, sim often. Answer your tags, give out heaps for other people, pay attention to what people write and READ ALL THE SIMS. :) And sim yourself! I did say to sim, right?
... sim! :)
Other advice: "End sentences with a full stop. Capitalize proper nouns and the first word of every sentence. Know the difference between "your" and "you're". Don't control other people's characters, don't advance the time line too far or solve problems all on your own. Sim regularly. If you do your best to make sure everyone else is having a good time, you'll find the same courtesy returned to you! Sim! Let bad things happen to your character– it's fantastic character development... in fact, there's even an award for it and if Whale doesn't win this year there'll be a riot! I have the pitchforks ready! Sim!
Miles Unum: I would recommend that a new ensign be patient and thoroughly read the sims of the other writers. When I first started with SB118, I had never written with a role playing group, and it was a little mind-boggling. I had a great mentor, which makes a big difference, and I also learned from reading the sims of the senior officers. It didn’t take long before I understood the style and format of SB118 sims and how to put my character into the action.
Toni Turner: The best advice I could give a new Ensign would be to remember this is a game so kick back, relax, and enjoy the freedom to be creative in a world where nothing is impossible.
Sinda Essen: "Ask!" If you ever have any questions, concerns, queries then ask. If you have any thoughts or ideas, shout up. Every training session the CO and FO say exactly the same thing, as do the crew of every ship when a new crew member arrives, and we really, honestly mean it. Don't be shy! This is supposed to be a group experience and if there is something stopping you from getting as much enjoyment out of the game as possible, we'll definitely want to know about it so we can help. Everyone in the group started out as a fresh- faced Ensign once upon a time (apart from maybe Admiral Wolf) so we know what it feels like, we've been in your positions, and we can help you.
Tanjar-Ongra: Glad we limited ourselves to one piece of advice, Radi! Want to expound on that any further?
Radi Rais: Oh, I don't know- I could go on forever! ;) To be honest, I think all the above little things can be fixed if you just proofread your work and make sure that most of those silly little mistakes are caught. After all, if you can't be bothered spending time reading over your own sim, why should anyone else?
Sinda Essen: I agree there. One of my pet peeves Is Random Capitalisation. What's that all about? I also like Toni's point – this is a game, so the chief aim is to have fun, and to ensure that everyone else has fun, too.
And so ends the first Starbase 118 Round Table! Special thanks go out to our participants, Lieutenant (JG) Tanjar-Ongra of the Challenger, Chief Petty Officer Radi Rais of the Victory, Marine Captain Miles Unum of the Ronin, Commander Toni Tuner of the Ronin and Lieutenant (JG) Sinda Essen of the Eagle.