Job One for you as a player is to do stuff; you should be thinking, at all times – ‘What are my goals? And what can I do to achieve them?” You are the stars of a very personal universe, and you are not going to get anywhere by sitting on your duff and waiting for adventure to come and knock on your door.’ ~Grant Howitt
Inspiration for this post came from an article off of Story Games Weekly e-zine, where Grant Howitt wrote a fantastic article on how to be a better tabletop roleplayer. In reading it, I found there was a mass of useful information that could be translated for e-mail simming. Simming brings the players to the forefront of the game, even more than MMORPGs and tabletop roleplaying. There are no mechanics or dice to hold you back, and our captains are guides rather than masters of some vast space dungeon. This offers great flexibility to simmers in creating stories. But as a famous comic book once said ‘with great power comes great responsibility.’ So let’s look at three simple ways we can write stronger sims, ones that will integrate you with your crews more strongly and make your writing more interesting to read!
1. Do Stuff Part 1: Goals.
Ok, go back and re-read that quote above. Don’t worry, I’ll wait for you… got it? Good. Now we know that the PCs are the stars of the show. If you think of a sim in terms of you and your crew are collaboratively writing your own Star Trek show, make sure that your characters are worth watching! Take some time to sit down and think about your characters goals, and desires. If your character doesn’t have any goals and desires, then it’s time to make some up! You’ll thank yourself later because your character will become more fun and rewarding to play. Communicate these goals and desires to your crew and start incorporating them into your sims. Does Ensign Smith hope to become Captain someday? Maybe while on the away team Ensign Smith offers to be a small group leader and go investigate something, hopefully building skills that will move her into command. Or maybe Doctor Fox wants nothing more than to become a famous medical researcher and he’s always writing up papers in the hopes that one will get published and noticed by his colleagues.
Goals are not only a way for you to connect with your character – it is a way for you to get other players rooting for you. When you can clearly communicate your character’s goals, your crew will become more invested in seeing them struggle to achieve them. They will also be more excited to help you achieve them, which will make you more excited to keep writing!
Goals also have the benefit of helping define your character’s personality. Maybe Doctor Fox is chronically late because he’s always trying to squeeze out a few more minutes to write. Is Ensign Smith overeager to achieve her goals? Arrogant? Or is she shy and retiring and needs to overcome this to make her dreams come true. Goals add complexity and personality to a character with very little effort.
2. Do Stuff Part 2: Actions.
A passable sim answers tags. A good sim offers tags. A great sim brings drama and action to the forefront and offers tags that challenge other players.
What does that mean, exactly? Well, offering tags is the first step towards building confidence and character. Answering tags is pretty easy: read what was put down and respond as your character would respond. Offering tags can be harder. You have to imagine where the conversation is going and offer half the action or dialogue. For the newest players this can be daunting, but start small. If you don’t regularly offer tags, commit to offering one tag in your next sim. Then two. Then three. 3-6 tags is a good goal to shoot for – enough that it gives the story a good push forward, but not too many that it ‘railroads’ the action. If you have trouble thinking of tags, go back to goals. What is your character’s short term goal? This can be as simple as “I want to do a great job with my first day on the bridge and impress my CO” or “I want to get more information on this planet so I can put together a cohesive theory on what we are facing in our mission.” Then build off of that goal. A character trying to impress a CO might leave tags such as “Is there anything else you would like me to do, Sir?” and “I’ll get right on that!” while the officer looking for more information might leave tags such as “Why is the scan taking so long?” and “Is there atmospheric interference?” Identifying short term goals can really guide you in writing tags and progressing the plot forward.
Bringing drama and action to the forefront is a way to make your sims soar. Every sim may not be overly dramatic, but once you are in the meat of the mission it is time to pull out the ‘big guns’ if you will. Start adding in challenges for your characters and fellow crewmates. Are you bored sitting on the bridge simply monitoring a Romulan Warbird? Have them power up weapons or have them hail the bridge. You get a say in how the story goes, and it can be tremendously fun to escalate the action and then pass the story to your crew mates to see how they react. Escalation keeps everyone interested and thinking for ways to ‘solve’ the problems presented in the story until everything reaches a peak and can be resolved. The one reminder is: remember to check in with your Captain before you make any drastic changes! Having a Romulan warbird power up weapons that you’ve been facing off against for several sims is much different than having a Romulan warbird appear out of nowhere and start firing. The more drastic the surprise, the more you should touch base with the crew OOC to see if everyone agrees with that story path.
3. Do Stuff Part 3: Personalities.
Your character only exists in the sum of things written about them. This means if you want your character to embody certain traits, you need to write about them. If your character is a fantastic ladies-man, you should be adding flirtatious dialogue to your posts and writing about your shore-leave exploits. If your character is an expert marksman, you should be writing about how well she can aim with a phaser and how that skill came into play on the away mission. This doesn’t mean the marksman has to shoot an enemy. Maybe she was able to use her mad phaser skills to assist the engineer by using the phaser as a cutting torch, or they were able to safely clear away an obstruction on a dangerous path. You should be looking for opportunities to your your best skills to assist your crewmates. Bonus points if you team up with your crewmates to get the job done!
Remember that your sims communicate more strongly to your crewmates than your bio does. This is the same as the old author adage ‘show, don’t tell.’ A bio tells fellow players who you are, while your sims show them who they are. Embody what your bio says, and find reasons to bring the skills your character has to the forefront. It becomes much more believable that a character could beat the odds on a dangerous mission when a character is consistently working towards mastery of something.
Remember, you are the master of your character and your character’s destiny. Nobody went out and read the story of Lodo Baggins, the Hobbit who sat in his Hobbit-hole and smoked pipe weed all day. People want to read stories of great characters and epic adventures. In this game the adventure is already right there in your mailbox, and as they say ‘Gandalf is knocking.’ Get out there and write an epic adventure!