Captain's Corner: Capt. Roshanara Rahman | UFOP: StarBase 118 Star Trek RPG

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Captain’s Corner: Capt. Roshanara Rahman

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Each month, we interview a captain or first officer of the fleet to gain more insight on what it takes to command a ship and learn more about how each of these staff members found their way into these roles. Last month, we interviewed CO of the Constitution, Jalana Rajel.

According to our schedule, we should be interviewing a first officer this month. But instead, I’m talking to another commanding officer – Capt. Roshanara Rahman, captain of the new vessel Veritas – who has just been appointed as the Captain at Large. Lots of ground to cover here, so let’s get started!

WOLF: Congratulations on your appointment as the Captain at Large! Can you explain this role a bit to our newer members?

RAHMAN: The Captain at Large (CAL) is the sixth member of the Executive Council (EC), appointed to serve for one year as a representative of the Captains Council (CC) on the Executive Council. Thus, the Captain at Large is tasked with ensuring the interests of those captains not already on the EC are taken into consideration during EC discussions. Like the other five members of the Executive Council, the Captain at Large participates in discussions that mostly concern out-of-character (OOC) issues such as whether to commission a new ship, create or alter bylaws, rules, and regulations, and so forth. Unlike the other five members of the Executive Council, the Captain at Large only votes to break a tie among the other EC members’ votes. For instance, if two voted yes, two voted no, and one chose to abstain from voting, then the CAL’s vote would break the tie.

A lot of the CAL’s role and the EC’s role in general comes down to discussing the administration of the fleet and how to keep things running smoothly, helping our captains succeed in commanding their ships, and making the StarBase 118 simming experience enjoyable for our members.

I’d say to those wondering what the EC does is that it focuses on the “big picture” for the community and the issues the entire fleet faces. The EC itself doesn’t micromanage the individual ships in the fleet, since after all, the majority of EC members including myself are quite busy managing our own ships! Instead, the EC discusses fleet management and community development. How can we ensure our group continues to grow and prosper as the way people spend their time online continues to evolve from when the group was first founded over twenty-two years ago? What things have we been doing well that we should double down on? What things are we doing as a fleet that aren’t working or are actually causing things to be less fun? What things should we leave behind to history as we head into 2017 and beyond?

Since all of us, from the newest ensign to the fleet admiral, are volunteers, we are very aware of how precious the time and effort of our members are, so the EC is tasked with making sure ultimately that the fleet uses that volunteer effort appropriately and that the group stays true to its purpose of being an enjoyable role-playing game for Star Trek fans first and foremost.

How did it feel being appointed to this role – earning the trust of the EC to be a part of the decision-making process in this way?

It was very humbling. I first joined StarBase 118 in 2010, and I remember seeing the names (and high ranks) of the people who served on the EC at the time. Becoming a captain seemed really far away, and it wasn’t my main motivation to join at the time anyway. I’d done some Star Trek simming back in the days of the AOL Trek message boards, and years later, one night, I just felt that desire to try my hand at it again, especially when it looked like there wasn’t going to be any new “prime” or televised Trek stories for the foreseeable future.

I moved up the ranks and across several different player characters in my first two years with the group. I enjoyed writing with my fellow simmers over the next few years, but I didn’t have the time to be able to go for command. Still, I didn’t let that stop me from voicing my opinion on things I thought could be improved within the fleet, and that started first with proposing the creation of the Department of Veterans Affairs. I think through that, I developed a reputation among some for being one to pick on things that the fleet does because one of the tasks of the VA is to examine the fleet’s policies and processes to see how they can be improved. When I later became an observer on the Captains Council as a first officer, I wasn’t shy about continuing to voice my opinion there in front of the other captains and first officers.

But of course, I would not be here in my seventh year(!) with the fleet if I did not truly love it and believe that ultimately we do the vast majority of things right and that the staff are all committed to making the experience fun and the community welcoming and rewarding for each other. And part of why I know this is because of that trust. Trust requires two sides, after all. To earn it means that it must be willing to be given, and that’s something about our community that I am really proud of and respect. That there is a willingness to self-examine and not just be content with how things have always been done or to be beholden to just one or even a handful of people’s decisions.

You came to the EC, during the nomination process for CAL, with a platform for things you’d like to try and push for. Are there are any highlights from that platform that you want to mention?

Sure! Probably the biggest thing I’d like to push for is for our fleet to really examine our staff membership, what we want it to look like, and to consider expanding it beyond just command candidates and commanding officers/former commanding officers. Lumped in that goal is a lot of smaller (well, maybe not that much smaller) ideas like considering whether to take the existing commander and captain’s promotion tests and spreading them out into smaller classes/tutorials that are completed through a “command school” rather than just a single comprehensive written examination for each. This way, formalized feedback for candidates could also be provided throughout the staff training and promotion process rather than just after the exams.

Since ultimately our goal is not just to verify that our commanders and captains and have the leadership skills we want to lead our ships but to teach them, I believe we could accomplish that more effectively by giving candidates more learning opportunities beyond just the mentorship they receive from their CO and experience they get from being on ship staves. For instance, rather than simply read about disciplinary issues through the manuals and the UFOP Constitution and perhaps observe and deal with them directly when they occur on a ship, I believe having a class/workshop on disciplinary issues with a captain or two teaching candidates about common issues they will face as future COs could deliver those lessons more efficiently and in a way that doesn’t have to wait until those candidates deal with the real thing out in the field.

The other aspect of examining our staff membership I’d like the EC and the fleet as a whole to consider is the role of those committed members who aren’t interested or able to become a commanding officer. Obviously, I was one of those members for most of my time in the fleet. We have a lot of roles for these members in the various teams, and of course these members are absolutely vital to helping a CO run a ship as part of the ship’s staff, but are we hurting ourselves by not offering a pathway for these members to serve as fleet staff members? For instance, the Training Team always needs volunteers, whether they be trainers or training staff admin. There are members who really enjoy that experience of helping welcome and train new members into our group but who might not have the time or desire to take on managing a ship full-time as a captain. Yet there are roles that can only be filled in by fleet staff members such as the Academy’s commandants. Do these roles really need to be filled in only by someone who wants to be a captain someday (or did at one point and has since stepped back from command)?

These are some of the questions I’m hoping to discuss both with the EC and the rest of the fleet’s captains and staff over the coming year.

Let’s talk a bit about your new ship! You took over the Invicta from Tony – FltCapt. Zalea Solzano, but in the past few weeks you’ve moved your crew to the USS Veritas. What kind of ship is it, and what drew you to this design?

I am really excited about the Veritas. I joined Tony’s crew when he was writing for Captain Aron Kells of the USS Mercury in 2012. I stayed with him through his next two ships, the USS Garuda (launched in late 2013) and then the USS Invicta (launched in 2015). All three ships were in the Menthar Corridor and reflected that campaign region, which was focused on scientific and deep space exploration along with diplomatic and political intrigue. All three ships were also about being on the cutting edge of technology, the newest and most advanced vessels Starfleet had to offer.

While those three ships will always be dear to me for the memories I’ve shared on them with my shipmates, I wanted a ship that was a distinctly different type of vessel when it came time to design my own. I’m living in California now, but I’m from Detroit, aka America’s “Motor City,” so I’ll put it in terms of cars. I felt that the last few ships I’d been on were like Teslas and Cadillacs. Amazing engineering marvels and Starfleet at its most luxurious for sure and the kind of thing you bring to a fancy event to impress the dignitaries and get the attention of the press cameras. I wanted a pickup truck or a Jeep and one that already had eighty thousand miles on it. A workhorse vessel that flew around with grime and scrapes on its hull because it’s too busy getting the unglamorous jobs done. A ship that might never be featured on a Starfleet recruitment poster yet nonetheless becomes its crew’s beloved home and partner in a rough landscape.

I wanted a ship that took the no-nonsense feel of the Defiant from Deep Space Nine including some of those battle-hardened features such as ablative armor, quantum torpedoes, and pulse phaser cannons that we’d avoided equipping on the Mercury or Invicta. Yet I also wanted the ship to have more flexibility than just a warship, so I made it a medium cruiser.

With a crew of 220, Veritas holds about half the size of Invicta’s and Mercury’s crews and a fraction of the Galaxy class Garuda’s crew complement. Moreover, only 52 of the crew are officers, with the rest being enlisted personnel. This means for the most part, it’s our player characters themselves going below decks to roll up their sleeves and get things done while leading the enlisted crew rather than delegating to other junior NPC officers and staying on the bridge or in main engineering.

The physical design itself is a variant of the Cheyenne class created in Star Trek Online, but the specifications and interior descriptions are purely from that mentality of wanting an unfancy, tough, and capable starship.

You’ve also done some amazing work in putting together a campaign region for the Veritas. Give us the backstory on it.

The campaign region is called the Shoals, and it was actually created first before the ship during the design process. Veritas emerged after thinking about what kind of ship would go there.

The Shoals is an area at the border of the Federation and the Tholian Assembly. As its name implies, it’s a hazardous region for ships to navigate through thanks to the numerous tetryon fields littered across the area (the same kind of fields that prevent ships from traveling anywhere but through a narrow corridor in the Hekaras sector as shown in the TNG episode “Force of Nature”). Yet people still work and live in the Shoals because the region is rich in natural resources like dilithium (which we all know is important for warp travel) and benamite (the crystal needed for the newer quantum slipstream drives).

Ironically, though, the Shoals itself cannot be traversed at high warp or with quantum slipstream because of those same tetryon fields and other natural hazards. These resources are all being mined to be shipped elsewhere and to benefit others beyond the region. Within the Shoals are seven Federation colonies that have banded together as the Colonial Coalition. Due to their isolation, they’ve always felt ignored somewhat by the Federation Council and the core Federation worlds, but after much of the Federation and Starfleet’s resources were put into reconstruction efforts elsewhere following the Dominion War and assisting Romulan refugees after the destruction of Romulus, the colonies have been getting especially frustrated by increasing pirate attacks, natural disasters, and other problems that plague the region.

The Shoals has its roots in an idea I’ve had for a long time, even before I joined StarBase 118, about what kind of Star Trek series would interest me after Voyager and Enterprise. I wanted to bring Star Trek back to the feeling of being out on the frontier, but not as in going out into the great beyond but rather the feeling of frontier like that of the Old West, with border and mining towns, people moving out to California for gold and riches, and a harsh landscape with bandits and other nefarious types. In addition to some of these Western tropes, I wanted to incorporate metaphors for what’s going on in our world today as Star Trek has always done, so within the Shoals are also elements inspired by the current US/Mexican border region, dealing with the drug trade and smuggling, and ideas about globalization and deindustrialization, with some of the colonies reflecting the cities and towns I’ve known growing up in America’s Midwest and industrial heartland.

In terms of roleplay, I’m excited for how different this campaign region will be for both my crew and myself after having spent four years in the Menthar Corridor. Taking a cue from Deep Space Nine, I wanted our crew to really come to know this region and the people living within it instead of just continuing to move onward to the next planet or alien species of the week. We’ll be able to revisit places that we affected in earlier missions and begin to see how our characters change this world and the world them.

More generally, can you give the readers some insight into what it’s like commanding a ship in UFOP: SB118?

It’s a lot of fun. There’s certainly much responsibility that comes with the job, but you are essentially serving as the gamemaster or facilitator of the group. In terms of simming, this means of course you get to be the one that ultimately decides what missions the crew will tackle or as we were discussing earlier, the campaign region and ship where your crew will be writing their stories.

But it also goes beyond just the creative decisions you get to make. You also are responsible for helping your crew become better simmers and helping mentor and support those who are interested in becoming captains themselves one day. If you like mentoring, this is probably one of the most rewarding parts of the job.

A typical day might be simming for your character on one day (along with a PNPC probably to help keep things moving) and then answering OOC emails from your crew the next, everything from questions about the mission, ideas for the next, misunderstandings that pop up occasionally between two players, and so forth.

I won’t say being captain is easy and that everyone should go for it because I don’t think everyone comes to our fleet wanting to be a facilitator and gamemaster, and that’s perfectly fine. But for those wanting to become a captain, it’s important first to know exactly what your reasons are. It can’t be about just getting the rank for your character or yourself or some presumed sense of power because being captain isn’t really just about you anymore but you and your crew together. I say together because I know sometimes people think they have to completely sacrifice their own desires and ambitions to that of the crew, but I think that’s wrong, too. You set the standard, and people can tell if you don’t have your heart in it. You can’t inspire your crew with your own simming unless you still enjoy telling your own character’s story.

But as a captain in StarBase 118, you really have to be able to work with your players, balancing what each individual member might want with the greater needs of the ship. You also have to be okay with not being able to make everyone happy all the time. When you have twelve or fourteen players, not everyone is going to agree with your decisions or that of others, and so you have to mediate but also know when to stand firm if you truly believe it’s the best course of action for the ship.

Yet what’s most rewarding about being captain, at least for me, is that the joys of your crew become your joys. It is extremely satisfying to see an initial mission premise I might put out for the crew or a sketch of a character I ask someone to play as a guest star/MSPNPC come to life through their creativity. When I read their sims expanding on a world that I just had in my head or watch first hand as a new ensign straight from the Academy develops into a skilled lieutenant commander, it makes all the effort worth it.

Looking back on your experience so far, what would be one piece of advice you’d give to anyone who’s just joined?

Don’t be afraid to ask your CO or other staff members questions or give suggestions. When you first join, the fleet can seem like this gigantic institution, with around a hundred members, eight ships, and fleet councils that seem far away. But the reality is that the fleet is much more personal of a group as a whole just like your ships. People who volunteer to serve on teams get to know each other pretty well, and the discussions on the Captains Council and EC are more like conversations around the kitchen table than they are sessions of Congress.

We do have policies and procedures to keep things moving efficiently and orderly, but don’t let our detailed processes and fleet organization obscure the fact that ultimately, we’re all here for the same reason: to write stories in the Star Trek universe with fellow fans, roleplayers, and writers. No one person represents the entire fleet because we’re a diverse community representing multiple generations of fans and life experiences across the world. Just become someone long ago (who might not even be in the fleet anymore) decided this was the way to do a particular thing doesn’t mean that must be how we always do it without further consideration from those in the fleet today.

I know because I’ve seen it first hand. We recently for instance amended our Constitution so that now commanders can vote on most things on the Captains Council. The UFOP Constitution was first ratified sixteen years ago, and several years after that, there were suggestions to consider such a change, but it was only after the issue had been formally brought up for discussion and a vote that the change could be implemented.

So if you have an idea, don’t feel shy about sharing it! Just don’t forget also to keep perspective as well. Nothing is worth getting so worked up about that makes respect and kindness towards one another optional. Star Trek was always about problem solving by meeting together and working on a solution through calm and rational discussion, recognizing the worth of everyone’s individual contribution. Don’t just roleplay those ideals: bring them with you to all your interactions in the fleet.

Thanks so much for your time!

You can read more about Capt. Rahman on the wiki.

About Tristan Wolf

FltAdml. Tristan Wolf, real name Jordan, founded UFOP: StarBase 118 – a Star Trek Play By Email RPG – in June of 1994. He previously served as the Commanding Officer for a number of simming installations, notably the first of StarBase 118 Operations. He currently lives in San Francisco with his partner and their Humane Society rescue dog named Baxter. Jordan works in politics, loves scifi (natch), fantasy, and new technologies.
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