2021 was a busy year for the Lore Office. We tried a lot of new things, and, good news! A lot of it worked or went well. The even better news is that what didn’t work still taught us valuable lessons.
I came to the Lore Office with two golden rules of storytelling. The first is that our fleet canon should augment Trek canon, not replace it. We will write articles and develop lore that fleshes out what we know, and fills in the gaps that Picard has not yet filled – if they need filling! It’s our goal that a brand-new member who’s only seen the shows finds the BF setting material familiar and accessible, rather than rooted in fanon they don’t know.
Our storytelling is also about our members. We want plotlines not about one thread, one threat, one enemy who needs confronting by one ship, but big tales where everyone can find their place. The Lore Office is here to provide storytelling opportunities for every member’s characters to be the heroes of their story. It’s about giving individual writers the tools and guidelines to take a plot, local or fleet-wide, and make a corner of it their own.
With all that said, I will move onto the achievements of the last year.
For 10 weeks starting in mid-February 2021, the Lore Office ran our very first ‘campaign’ – a fleet-wide storyline focused around fiction writing (with opportunities for competitions and TF activities alongside it). I learned many things from the process, but overall it was a resounding success as a proof of concept. Loads of people got involved, plenty of people got more excited by their ships and their writing, and I think it helped forge connections between the writers of BF and stopped them from feeling like their fiction was just howling into an abyss. Campaigns were a concept I wanted to take out for a spin since I took on the Loremaster role, and overall I’m very proud of it. It will remain a staple of the Lore Office’s duties from here on.
After success came a bit of a fumble on my part! I wanted TFs to run plotlines in between big fleet events; not necessarily critical issues like the campaigns, but ongoing themes/threads which could bind TF activity and writing together. We saw a good example of this in TF17’s Operation: Delta Expedition, but some Task Forces struggled to put as much together, and I quickly saw my mistake. Namely, Task Forces didn’t (don’t) have the numbers of committed writers to make this a worthwhile undertaking. I was asking the staffs of four TFs to produce four separate plotlines which would ultimately be engaged with by all of two-to-three non-staff members per TF. And while building esprit de corps in TFs was positive, I felt it ran the risk of separating the committed writers across the Fleet into bubbles, when the writing community was actually quite small, and benefited more from cross-TF cooperation.
My conclusion has been to scrap the idea of TFs running their own completely separate storylines. It was an inefficient use of staff time and effort for minimal payoff. We’ll instead likely follow the Operation model as-introduced with Homestead in between fleet events – Fleet-wide plot-threads that aren’t necessarily urgent, but give people something to get their teeth stuck into and can help shape stories, competitions, and TF activities.
From Forums to BFMS
This one mostly goes out to Emily, for BFMS 2.0 integrating our fiction writing with the website. The forums were always the Least Worst idea I had for housing fiction, giving us another separate site people had to follow. The last 5 months have proved that integrating stories with the main site has massively improved engagement with reading, writing, and general participation in Fleet storytelling. I’m not sure the LO was the most useful body in that process, as Emily kept asking me what I thought it would look like and I had a total failure of imagination, but we hammered through some quality of life ideas, some presentation and organisation ideas, and while the work isn’t quite done, I’m very happy with what the new site has done for creativity in BF, on a productivity and a community basis.
Echoes of the Tkon
Our Fleet Action was a huge amount of work for the BFSS in producing the competitions and infrastructure, but early in the process I suggested that, unlike with The Raptor’s Wings of 2020, we pair the concept with a campaign. Fleet Actions were always going to have a storyline, and while we considered just doing writing competitions, it was decided to shape the FA plot to encourage writing which wasn’t a direct form of FA participation (though we supported it with Service Ribbon races, etc).
One lesson I learned from Archanis was that 10 weeks was too long for an event; writers got burnt out. The lesson I learned from Echoes was that 8 weeks was too long, especially when suggesting it be broken into three 2-week sprints with breaks! We were victims of our own success, as writers went hell-bent-for-leather trying to make their stories as long and as complex as possible in a short space of time, which is delightful, but I’d honestly anticipated something more of a leisurely marathon.
Folks, BF writers are sprinters, and we will be mindful of that in future campaigns.
The EOTK plotline was possibly too twisty – I don’t think it needed 3 completely distinct phases with quite different tones after the first. It had been my hope that people could write a complete story covering the whole of the FA solely by participating in the 3 writing competitions, but that was perhaps too tall an order for the complexity and difference in the 3 phases, and maybe the word count limit. I intend to keep to the spirit of ‘you should be able to tell a complete FA storyline without writing a 50,000 word novella,’ and I think that my premise of it being achievable solely through the writing comps would have been sound – with a simpler plotline.
We saw some paperwork improvements, such as much more explicitly defining the difference between ‘fleet canon’ and ‘member canon,’ encouraging individual creativity which doesn’t need oversight, or won’t tread on toes. There were otherwise two major policy changes: the streamlining and definitions for writing beyond one’s avatar command or one’s RPG (as overseen by Ops), and the addition of starbases to the avatar command policy.
The latter took a lot of work, sweat, screaming, and hammering of specs, ideas, and concept-building for identifying what stations we wanted, getting a lot of specs in at least a usable condition, and figuring out how to make them fair options as alternatives to people’s starships. Not a single person has since requested an avatar starbase! Typical, huh? But I’m a big believer in ‘if you build it, they will come,’ and the infrastructure is there, it’s not hurting anyone, and I didn’t expect or want avatar starbases to be dime-a-dozen, either.
The other was finally figuring out the rules, limits, and guidelines for people to request fictions in addition to their avatar command. I’m finally satisfied with these, as they offer new options people otherwise couldn’t write with PIC-era Starfleet starships without undermining the process and structure of avatar commands. This included David and I finally figuring out the practical distinction between RPGs and fictions, especially written by multiple people, after a long time of us Knowing It When We See It.
Some of this is very paperworky, but it’s been paperwork which hung over our heads for a year or more, and I’m pretty happy with it now.
The wiki was largely 2020’s cross to bear in terms of content development, but that work carried over into 2021 and a wiki is, of course, an ongoing project. We (Emily) upgraded its skin this year, which I think went a long way to making it more appealing. With the fundamental world-building done, we’ve looked towards setting articles which support character development and writing – not guides, but worldbuilding which helps people better plan the life experiences of their characters. All credit to David for the state of our Starfleet Academy articles, most notably, with credit to me only for occasionally charging into the room and going ‘what if this’ and him getting on with the actual work.
I would love it if the wiki saw more member contributions in the next year. All are welcome to add their own articles of their member canon; this makes such setting developments resources people can opt-in to using, and enriches the galaxy for everyone.
The wiki gave us a space for material to support new writers in the Fleet with our Lore Office Guides. These cover introductions to what our writing is, how to physically write on BFMS, what the hell a primary character or an avatar command are, etc. They’re less essential with the Academy up and running, but they help support guidance for new members.
Aside from keeping them up-to-date as How To documents for BFMS, we have no urgent need to expand these as practical guides. I do mull over adding somewhat more subjective guidelines on developing characters and writing character biographies, or maybe even how to get started writing for one’s avatar command or as a junior officer – tips and tricks. But the LO will consult with the Academy on that, to make sure we’re not repeating work.
The Tech Team has been one of the silent workhorses of the fleet, frankly. It’s one of those jobs which will never be finished, but we’ve managed the most important task: all of our Starfleet PIC-era starship specs, now on the wiki and properly categorised. The lessons learned are that I really don’t care how many torpedo launchers are on a ship model, but Vince and David do and That’s Okay. Our focus remains on making these articles useful to support storytelling, rather than technical manuals.
There isn’t a huge amount to report here: work was done! Work will continue to be done on PIC-era starbases and alien ships, and eventually crack on into past eras.
In Review, and Looking Forward
Overall, this was a tremendously successful year for the LO. Everything I set out to do either worked, or it didn’t work but I still learned something. The campaigns and FA were a stonking success, writing (versus pure role-playing) in the Fleet is the strongest it’s ever been, and our supportive infrastructure is firmly in place. If I compare this to the start of 2020 – a forum, most people not understanding what their avatar command even was, very few people writing their own stories, and a wiki in sore need of polishing – then this is transformative indeed. I’m not about to step down as Loremaster any time soon, but I feel increasingly like if I did, the foundations are such that a successor could easily pick up where I’ve left off (instead of hopes, dreams, and ideas existing solely in my head, to be lost with me).
We have some goals for next year, some of which are somewhat secret, but let me tease you with the following:
- More options for avatar starbases!
- More opportunities for feedback in your writing, like members-only comments on Stories, so you can hear what people enjoyed about your work!
- More writing competitions to encourage quality, not just quantity, of writing – including a ‘best of the month’ competition where you can showcase your favourite thing you’ve written recently!
- More Operations between fleet-wide events, so there’s always a narrative you can draw on in your storytelling (if you choose!)
- And, in February, the six weeks-long Campaign 1 of 2022.
The most striking thing about my future plans is that almost nothing is a brand-new endeavour. 2021 has codified what the LO does for the fleet, and our future projects are about streamlining that and adjusting it to meet people’s needs.
If 2021’s goal was to get people writing, 2022’s is to get people writing better. That’s not about running workshops or grading stories, so much as creating and facilitating opportunities for people to listen, learn, improve, and be their best selves as writers.
I thank you all for your support and efforts over the last year. Particular thanks go of course to my staff, and to the BFSS who put up with me, and thus doubly to David, the best asset the Lore Office Doesn’t Have.
I look forward to bringing the Lore Office into 2022. It’s going to be better than ever.