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November 2021 Operations Report: RPGs and TF Staff

November 20, 2021

This is going to be a relatively long announcement, describing some current issues with RPGs, some changes, and my plans for the future. So, grab a cup of coffee and brace yourself for some pontificating. I have been thinking a lot about what the purpose of these offerings is and how they can best support our members. There is a clear desire for that group writing interaction of being an actual crew, versus the one-off joint writing opportunities that are possible through primary commands, but the work to run and maintain an RPG can be all-consuming. Burn-out is common, and keeping a coherent handle on the story is difficult without a lot of advanced planning. The changes and reminders in this announcement are the first part of the steps I’m taking to help make this a more seamless experience for everyone.

State of RPGs in Bravo Fleet

To start, as we continue to get more comfortable with using the BFMS to host RPGs, I’m pleased to announce some changes to a few issues related to creating new RPGs and to reiterate the requirements for participating in Bravo Fleet games. As a general note, the sheer volume of games we list on the site has decreased over the course of the last several months, but in terms of the actual output of these games, we’ve remained relatively stable. To put that in other words, we’re not interested in inflating the size of our offerings with games that haven’t had posts in months. The games that we do have are all generally at about a large joint post per week, and are making active progress on their missions.

Out of curiosity, I also perused the websites of our ‘competitors’ which are “sim fleets” and looked to see how active their games are; if one were to remove all of the inactive games from these websites, we’d still be the largest “sim fleet” in existence, alongside all of our other activities. With a recent census, I was able to ascertain that the number of unique players across all games is good, with less overlap (“simcest”) than I had theorized, which is one of the most common causes of a game running dry (but more on that later).

TL;DR: We will have fewer, but stronger games in December 2021 than we did in December 2020.

Active Membership & Game Eligibility

All that’s necessary to participate in an RPG is to be an active member of Bravo Fleet. There are no rank or tenure requirements. (Though, this goes the other way: neither rank nor tenure guarantees your acceptance to join an RPG). All that’s required for active membership is to log in to the main website—this one, where you’re reading this—once every sixty days. Once you’ve exceeded that threshold, a process initiates that will transfer you to the reserves, after ample email and Discord reminders.

What happens when you miss these warnings and are moved to the reserves? Well, we are leaving this up to individual game managers to make decisions about; I’m not going to comb through every roster to see whether or not a member’s dossier is in the reserves, especially while we get used to this process. GMs retain the absolute right to remove anyone for any non-discriminatory reason, including not maintaining their characters’ BFMS presence correctly. I have received at least one complaint based on a significant misunderstanding this policy, however. I want to make sure that’s not the case for anyone else.

In the census I mentioned, many GMs asked their players to update characters on the BFMS so that they show on the game’s roster correctly. This has been misinterpreted as players needing to edit or somehow “unretire” their characters every sixty days, which is incorrect. Characters only need to be assigned to a game once, and if a character was created before July, it was reset to “retired” when new character classifications were added, and so that is why some have had to edit their characters this one time.

TL;DR: Just log in to every 60 days to stay an active member.

The Future of Nova in Bravo Fleet

As of now, I’ve spoken with every GM and have ascertained that all but two of our currently listed games have near or medium-term plans to move from Nova to BFMS. The benefits are a much simpler interface and a one-stop shop for all writing and most other fleet activities. Posts on BFMS RPGs are displayed directly on the main Discord, too, which increases the profile of each game, and gives writers an actual audience, rather than just sending those posts to their shipmates. Not relying on multiple sub-domains to support relatively small groups of members is also more efficient for the fleet, especially given that mass upgrades or tweaks to Nova have to be implemented individually.

While many of our members have been in this hobby for decades and have been accustomed to SMS and then Nova especially over the last 10-12 years, Nova is a barrier to accessibility for new members to the hobby, because of the learning curve and because of the lack of standardization, despite my best efforts to help GMs with upgrades to their skins, manifests, etc. Basically, a new member who wants to join an RPG has to learn the BFMS and Nova at the same time, in addition to learning the actual activity and etiquette of written roleplay.

With that being said, our support for Nova is not ending in the near or medium-term, and no games will be required to migrate. There are some situations I could envision Nova being useful for specific RPG needs in ways that the BFMS cannot yet support (such as complex sub-departments or lots of communal NPCs), but I will go on the record as saying that I will be reluctant to approve new proposals for a Nova-based RPG, without a clear demonstration of why we should install a new iteration of what is essentially legacy software at this point.

TL;DR: Most of our games are moving to BFMS, but Nova support is not ending.

Changes to the Pre-Made RPG System

The Cygnus was our first attempt with the premade RPG system back in Spring of 2020. It remains an active, vibrant part of our community, and I’m so proud of the work Dave has done to keep it going. The premise with this system was that a game would start off with a clear, established concept tied directly to a particular class of ship and a fully-built website, including tour images, position descriptions, website text, etc., to allow a GM to jump right in, rather than having to learn web design in addition to learning how to be a game manager. A member of the Operations Department (from the fleet, not on the ship… 🙂 ) joins the game for the first mission as a co-GM and mentor, to provide enough support to get the ship to the next mission. The Europa is another success story of this program.

With us moving away from Nova, though, there’s no longer a need to create these pre-populated Nova sites. In addition to that, listing open games holds a registry item which prevents it from being proposed for a custom RPG or for a command. The solution I’ve developed with the other department heads and the RPG team is to broaden the options available to members wishing to get started with a game, but want added support and help to develop a concept. These games will continue to be available for members holding the rank of Lieutenant Commander or above, while custom games will continue to be restricted to members with the rank of Commander or above.

Using this article on the wiki, members can now select a particular concept and then will have a choice of many classes that are appropriate for that concept, with a preset first mission that the Ops Office has developed an outline for, to help you get started. This is exactly the same idea is using a pre-scripted adventure as a tabletop GM; while precise posts obviously are not scripted out, the missions each have a beginning, middle, and end to help avoid the situation where games get stuck in the same mission for a year or more–which is extremely common, and a reason that games fail.

We feel that these changes will help folks find the inspiration they need, while also being a resource for those wishing to propose custom games of ways of aligning a ship or station class to a particular role. The premades list is still under construction and will be expanded as we get those concepts ready for selection. It’s my goal to eventually expand upon Vince’s idea to use material from the Star Trek Adventures roleplaying game to scaffold a game by creating mission plans that GMs could use as starting points to help create fun, quick-moving stories to keep momentum up.

TL;DR: Premade games aren’t tied to a particular class or name anymore.

Reminders about Custom Game Proposals

Anyone with the rank of Commander or higher (and who meets the other requirements listed here) may propose a custom RPG, using the “propose game” form. It is heavily encouraged that you discuss a potential proposal with me before submitting it, as well. Lately, the excitement about BFMS RPGs has generated a lot of interest in proposing them, so I’ve written up an example proposal here. It includes commentary on the side to explain why I wrote things the way I did. We’re working on migrating it to the wiki as well. The reason I want to make this public is that we’ve had a few situations where folks who ran games in the long-ago days or in other groups have wanted to propose here, but weren’t sure what I was looking for. Basically, the proposal is meaty because I need to see a clear ability to find your game’s niche and to plot out a few missions.

As far as I’m aware, this is more than most sim-only groups ask for, but the reason I’m scrutinizing these applications so deeply is that it’s incredibly frustrating for members when a game folds soon after launch, or without finishing a mission. It’s also frustrating when a mission drags on for a year without a clear plan for ending it, especially when new members try to join in the midst of a long story. This is not meant to be busy work, it’s meant to be a process that helps you develop your concept. The stronger your writing here is, the better your actual RPG will be able to start out.

TL;DR: Custom Game Proposals have an example now.

Task Force Staff Updates

After the recent mass AWOL check, we decided to discontinue the role of Task Group Commanding Officer, as it was never a role that we were able to find a good balance of duties for. Instead, we’re encouraging people interested in trying out staff roles to look to the departments and/or sign up as a mentor. TWD was the only person in this role who did not also have another staff role, so I have been pleased to add him to the RPG Team in a lateral move.

We currently have a few vacancies for TFXOs. The duties of this role are to help the TFCO and to shadow them, in preparation for possible assumption of that role themselves. It’s a great opportunity to get involved with the business of the fleet, and to have a real impact in the experience for your fellow members. The time commitments are mainly being able to check Discord regularly, and to handle nominations for awards and promotions as you are able. If you’re interested, please talk to me and/or fill out this application. Note: you do not have to be in a TF without a TFXO to apply, as you can transfer pending acceptance of a staff position.

TL;DR: No more TGCOs, but we do have TFXO vacancies.

As always, feel free to reach out on Discord with any questions about these policies. (At least until I go on LOA in about a day. 😉 )

Don’t forget that Operation Homestead runs until December 12th. Check out the competitions page to get involved–most of these are quick and easy, and they can help you advance through the ranks.