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.
This month, we’re interviewing the Commanding Officer of the starship USS Thor, Commodore Aron Kells, a Human/Romulan Male.
DeVeau: Thank you for joining us today! Would you please tell us a little about the writer behind the character — where in the world do you hail from? What sort of hobbies do you have? Anything you’d like to share!
Kells: Sure! I try to get folks to use my name, Tony, in part because I change characters so often, so you probably already know that about me! I live in the southwestern part of the US, in a city called Tucson near the US/Mexico border. I finished my PhD in 2020 and I’m now a part-time faculty member and research professional for the University of Arizona — which is a fancy way of saying that my day-to-day work life is busy and unpredictable. Hobby-wise, I’m a photographer and podcaster (check out The Imaginaries, which just celebrated its five-year anniversary!), and I’m always trying to learn something new (currently it’s sewing).
I also swim a lot most of the year, except during the hottest parts (seriously, you don’t want to spend much time outside in the summer down here) and so have been walking at sunset instead. We have monsoon rains in the latter part of the summer, so it’s been pretty rainy lately and you better believe that’s reason enough to go walk in the desert!
You’ve been with the fleet for a long time. Would you give us an overview of how you came to SB118 and your experience here?
Absolutely. So, I wrote above that I finished my PhD in 2020. I actually joined SB118 back in high school, in 2005, in the Wild West days of the early internet. I had never played any kind of RPG and I wasn’t looking to begin, but SB118’s website (there was no wiki back then) was notable because it had information and graphics regarding different ranks and rank progression. I was working on a fan project, and that was invaluable — but I realized it was there for a reason, and that people actually wrote characters and progressed through ranks according to what the website laid out. Which was super cool!
I didn’t know what I was getting into, and I had a rough start — I tried and failed to establish a character or two before my first long-term character, Ventu, and Ventu’s first CO was not great and rage-quit after my first mission — but I really enjoyed the community I found after that, and the shared interest in this thing I hadn’t been looking for but was happy I’d stumbled into.
Tell us about your first command – what made you decide to become a CO and what was it like being in charge of your first ship?
I don’t know that I ever made the decision that I wanted to be a CO, because I always wanted to run my own ship eventually once I realized that was a possibility. The most important reason is that I wanted to tell some different kinds of stories and structure them in different ways.
Context is key here — back then, it was accepted on most ships that briefing scenes would start missions and would include all PCs, and so would drag on for a week or two — and there were no structured acts or mission briefs like have become standard on many ships today. It really was the Wild West! I had all these ideas I wanted to implement, and while I had very supportive COs early on, ultimately I recognized I could only explore some of those ideas if I was a CO myself and could make the kind of large-scale changes I wanted on my own ship.
What are some of the responsibilities of a CO that members may not realise?
Admin is the big one! One of the things I learned early on is that it’s always good to have an ongoing email with your XO (or your command team, if you also have a 2O), because there’s always something to keep simmering. Most of the time, it’s the normal stuff you’d expect — sim rates, ship reports, character arcs, all that stuff — but there are rare crises that need some pretty immediate attention. At this point in my time with SB118, there are very few things I haven’t seen before, but experience can only take you so far and there’s always some new variation on a familiar theme.
What was the hardest thing about becoming a Commanding Officer?
I’m going to answer this in a couple of different ways. Personally, the hardest thing was that, at the time I was going up for commander and becoming a CO, the fleet was in kind of a rough place. A lot of the folks who were around then and in charge (on the Executive Council and elsewhere) were big personalities and just did not like me.
I actually ended up retiring abruptly only a few months into my first stint as CO because of everything that was going on. I returned a few years later when the fleet was in a different place and worked my way back up, and that’s what I think of as my first real stint as a CO, which lasted for a few years. The hardest part of that was probably the very beginning — I inherited a ship, the Mercury, that had one CO for a few months who then needed to retire, and then another CO who had to retire in less than two weeks, so at that point, the ship was haemorrhaging players and I was just trying to keep things together.
It was fun, too, because I was ready to prove that I could be a good CO, and that ended up working out very well. Actually, within the first six months of that command, I had several folks who were or would become long-term leaders for SB118 — Rich, aka Rahman, transferred over; Emma, aka Reynolds, returned from LOA — and folks like Sarah, aka Saveron, Aaron, aka Mei’konda, and you (Amanda, aka DeVeau) joined within the year. You all made that rough start very much worth it!
What’s the best thing about being a CO?
I just name-dropped a bunch of folks, so it’s probably not going to surprise you when I write that they’re the best part of being a CO. Outside of simming, you’re present for people’s lives in a way that’s delightful and that I totally didn’t expect — graduations, marriages, kids, all these big and wonderful life events. But you get to know folks really intimately, because you’re constantly telling stories together, and that’s a different kind of wonderful.
I mentioned a few folks I’ve known for a decade or so above, but I rarely go more than a day without talking to Brian, aka Teller, and the core group we have on the Thor now — Jacob, Ben, Wes, Amanda, Donna, KW (and our great new folks, Louise and Jay!) — has this wonderful camaraderie around the stories we’re telling and around what we want to tell.
The fact that we get to just talk about stories, and actually tell those stories, is so cool to me, and I love being a part of it.
SB118 has a unique way of promoting members to Commander, which is the biggest step toward becoming a Captain. What advice would you give for those looking to go through the process?
First, know that it is practical. There are two exam components, commonly known as the written and the practical, but both of them are thoroughly grounded in what SB118 actually needs to do.
In order to even be nominated for promotion to commander, you need to have run some classes through the Academy, and that’s invaluable experience right there. You also need to run a full mission on your ship, which is the practical component. The written exam is more about the scenarios you can expect to run into as a CO and a staff member, from writing a sim that moves a mission forward to responding to emails from simmers who want to know why they’re not being promoted as quickly as they’d like.
The entire process is the best way we have to make sure that folks will be okay handling the responsibilities of running a ship, and my advice for anyone interested in going through the process is, first, that you absolutely should! It’s been fully and entirely worth it for me. But beyond that, pay attention to how you interact with others, how your CO models interactions, and how you can best treat your simmers to ensure as many people as possible are having the most fun they can.
Everyone wants to be here, or they wouldn’t have joined, and the promotion process to commander and beyond is all about being a good facilitator for the trust they’ve placed in the SB118 fleet.
Thanks for your time, Commodore Aron Kells!!
You can read more about Commodore Kells on the wiki.