You did it! You just got that second (or third) pip, you gained the confidence of your CO and are the shiny new assistant chief or chief of the whole department. Are you ready to order your fellow crew and NPCs around? For some players and character this is a big step. Going from being the person following the orders to the person giving the orders is a whole new world of writing skills to explore.
If you’re having some trouble with making this shift or if you’re frustrated that other players aren’t following directions in game, consider how you are presenting orders to them. The language that you use to give directives to fellow characters – especially PC characters – will have a direct effect on how your fellow players respond. Your orders can be precise or open ended. They can be flexible or dictatorial. We’re going to look at how these styles of language can affect how others view your character’s leadership style and how other players react to your in game orders.
Open Ended: Open ended orders are ones that do not have a specific goal, and are tied to open-ended verbs such as ‘explore,’ ‘investigate,’ and ‘find.’ At first glance these seem like great words to use, because they open up a lot of possibilities for your fellow players. But, the majority of players will not enjoy exploring, investigating or finding something without a goal in mind. When your orders or your story is too open ended your fellow players will either bicker because everyone has a different idea of what they should be looking for, or they will be frustrated and stop writing because they don’t know what to look for.
But wait, isn’t the entire point of Star Trek to “explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations and to boldly go”? It is! But the Enterprise always had a set of co-ordinates to head to and a goal in heading there for each mission. You can still explore, but if you want to use an open ended verb as a basis for your story goals or your team’s goals make sure you add a secondary goal so your fellow players know what they are looking for. “Explore Beta-Sigma 12 for signs of life.” is a very confusing open-ended goal which will frustrate players. “Explore Beta-Sigma 12 until you find the distress signal coming from quadrant 12, and figure out who was sending it.” is much better – you’re still exploring and who knows what you and your fellow players will find on that planet, but you also all have a common goal.
Focused: Focused orders are ones that point to a specific goal, but they don’t require fellow players to react in a specific way. They are tied to action verbs such as ‘rescue,’ ‘arrest,’ and ‘capture.’ Whether you are leading a team or a whole mission, focused orders are a great place to start because they give your fellow players a clear directive, while leaving the ‘how’ up to them. This keeps all players focused on the same goal, but allows them plenty of freedom to come up with creative solutions on how to accomplish that goal.
Forced: Forced orders are like focused orders, but they take it several steps further. While focused orders have a specific goal, forced orders have a specific goal and they detail how the players should accomplish that goal. They are usually tied to multiple action verbs in succession. Forced orders mean the leading character isn’t just telling his or her crewmates what to do, but telling them they have to do it his or her way. While, at first, this may seem organized, it quickly takes away player agency and your fellow players stop having fun. They want to feel like their character input and decisions matter and their characters may not agree with your character on how to accomplish the mission objectives.
Consider the following situation: Cyrano Bones, a shady interstellar trader has been implicated in an illegal gambling ring. Your Captain believes that if questioned, Mr. Bones will provide more information on the gambling ring that will help your crew to put a stop to it once and for all.
An open ended order would be “find Cyrano Bones.” Which begs plenty of questions, the most important being “what do we do with Cyrano Bones once we find him?”
A focused order would be “arrest Cyrano Bones.” The ‘find him’ from the previous order is implied, and it gives the players working on this a clear goal – when we find him we will arrest him and bring him to security. Then he can be questioned.
A forced order would be “go ambush Cyrano Bones when he leaves the Dom-Jot bar and stun him. Then bring him to me.” What if the crew doesn’t want to ambush him or use their phasers? What if they want to talk to him or trick him into voluntarily coming to security with them or negotiate with him or follow him until they learn more and have a clear reason for arresting him. There’s not enough chances for the fellow players to give their input in this order.
Hopefully this discussion will give new leaders and experienced leaders a chance to consider how you communicate orders and what effect those orders have on your overall story.