If you just joined in, I had discussed in the creation of a role playing game how important preparation is, and how employing the practice of a television series bible would be a good idea. A television bible is essentially a guide book for writers and producers that help to establish a show's settings as well as the parameters for characters and the overall tone of the series. And while I had intended to discuss the creation of NPCs this week I think addressing the issue of tone is more important as we have already begun to establish what that will be for the game.
Tone is very important because the elements your game emphasizes attracts a certain kind of player. If you choose or imply the wrong tone then you may find yourself fielding numerous applicants who will not fit your game's vision. We have already gotten a good start in regards to tone by choosing a specific type of ship: the Luna class. The Luna is an explorer that can take care of itself, so when players check out your web site (Or if you do not have a web site at least read your ads describing your game and seeing what ship you have chosen) then they can get a general impression what sort of game you wish to run. And this is where fleets come in because from what I have seen of a majority of fleets these days the overall tone seems to be of a more militaristic sort. Just being part of a fleet is going to give people the idea your game is going to be nothing but big 'sposions.
And the setting of the game can also determine the tone. For example, if I chose to say the ship was stranded far from home it would imply a game of desperation, of privation. A game where the ship's very survival is at doubt on a day-to-day basis due to a lack of support, a lack of replacement crew, an inability to replenish key supplies like shuttle craft or photon torp-
...Oh. Well, never mind, then. Being stranded thousands of light years from Earth is easy!
In all seriousness, one of the reasons I decided to place this new game in "busier" part of space was due in large part to practical issues. Star Trek games are always losing players and realistically if your game was taking place hundreds of light years away, where would your replacement players' characters come from?
So I have chosen not to be part of a fleet, I have chosen an explorer, and in my ads I will focus that I want to run a game taking place in the Alpha and Beta quadrants. How else can I establish the tone? I will stress in my ad(s) that my game will focus on "adventure and exploration" but these terms can be a big generic. I might be tempted to be more specific but an ad should never be too wordy. Too large and people will likely not bother to read the whole thing, intimidated by the sheer weight of your verbosity. Think of it like writing a resume; too short and your work experience and knowledge appears anemic. Too long and you lose your prospective employer's interest.
What else? I have come to notice over the years how some GMs will differentiate their games by the departments they choose. I will not address the various departments seen in The Original Series and instead I will focus on the departments shown on The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager as this is the era our game is taking place in. In The Next Generation the primary departments were First Officer (for simplicity's sake we are going to call the position of XO a department head), Engineering, Operations, Tactical/Security, Counseling and Medical. Helm and Science officers were seen but did not have apparent department heads (Presumably they answered to Operations and/or the XO directly). In Deep Space Nine there was no Engineering Officer (Well, O'Brien wore two hats; on the station he was Operations, on the Defiant he was the Engineering officer), there was a Science officer, a Counselor was not added until season seven, and when Worf came to the series his job was referred to as "Strategic Operations Officer", which in largely meant he got to act as Tactical officer on the Defiant (To me Worf's presence on Deep Space Nine had always been an extended guest appearance) or command it. There was no official Tactical officer (On DS9, the station, anyway), a Security officer appeared briefly (Eddington, an awesome character who later turned out to be a Maquis operative) and there was a civilian constable. When Voyager came along we saw a return to a more traditional line up, with a lack of counselor and the helmsman gaining a more prominent role. And this guy:
I swear, some of Rick Berman's creative decisions baffle me. Co-producer Jeri Taylor does not get a free pass, either. But while I could write entire articles as to the creative failures and missed opportunities Voyager presents I shall pass. Others do an excellent job of that.
What does all this mean? It means that when it comes to running a game a GM does not have firm precedents where department heads are concerned. This has led to GMs adding all manner of both canon and non canon departments. I have seen Intelligence officers, Marine commanders, fighter wings, Strategic Operations officers, Diplomatic officers, Civilian affairs. I have seen GMs add Chief of The Boat for some reason. All these extra departments only serve to do two things. The first is the gaps caused in failing to fill these departments (and trust me, there are always gaps) make the game look anemic and unpopular, under staffed. The second is these departments are largely redundant and unnecessary. Diplomatic corps? A counselor can easily double as a diplomatic officer; we saw Deanna Troi do that on The Next Generation. And besides, the job of diplomacy is usually handled by the command staff anyway. Kirk and Picard were always hands on when it came to diplomatic matters, or they were ferrying an ambassador around. Intelligence officer? What is that, exactly? A spy? Sounds fine if your game is one centered more around espionage, but what is he supposed to do during regular missions like exploration? As for Civilian Affairs, I would think if there were civilians on board a ship they would answer directly to the Operations officer or First officer so I fail to see why you would need some sort of head there. And while having civilians made sense on DS9 and The Next Generation I think any ship smaller than a Galaxy class is not going to have many civilians.
Marines? Hell no. Marines are not needed. At all. I have already made my feelings abundantly clear on how I feel about Marines in Star Trek (Real World Marines are okay in my book. I just do not think they belong in the Star Trek universe. So if you are a Marine, please do not take offense. Please. I bruise really easily and cry like a little girl when punched.). Anything Marines do can be handled by security officers, this has been true since The Original Series and has been supported right up through JJ Abrams' new movie. Fighter Wings? Unless your game is just glorified Wing Commander, why bother? And both in a game suggests a blatantly militaristic tone.
Keep it simple. That is what I am going to do. I choose to use a First Officer, Operations, Medical, Engineering, Tactical/Security, and Helm. I do not need any counselor and if one appears on my ship it is going to be an NPC. Counselors were a bad idea from the get go, part of Gene Roddenberry's desire to make The Next Generation a future where there is no conflict that can't be resolved by getting in touch with our feelings. Civilians are unnecessary. So what I am doing is essentially taking what I feel are the best aspects from all three series and trimming the fat. This has the benefit of establishing the game will not have a military-centric tone (something Marines and fighter wings strongly imply) and it will be easier to fill out, roster wise.
Now, it is possible that you might come across a player with a unique or seldom used idea. A civilian scientist, for example. A specialist of some sort. If the character seems to be interesting and playable and you think you can handle it, then I say go for it. If Star Trek has taught me anything then it is diversity makes for interesting fiction. It is when that diversity descends into ridiculous cliche that I disapprove.
How else can I help to establish the tone? Well, aside from your ad, setting and the other parameters of your game, tone can best be established by your NPCs and the villains and obstacles you will be throwing your players' way. Next week, barring any other delays, I will provide a sample NPC: Captain Devin Hadenbeer...