Advice on Running a Game With Players All Over the Planet from Bill Barbato in Japan

Bill Barbato from Japan is an avid STA fan. His players are all over the planet! How does he manage a game from afar? How does he keep players engaged? Why does he love Star Trek? Here is some great advice from yet another super-fan!

About the Game:

Our game starts in late 2375, just as the Dominion War is coming to an end. I wanted to use this period as it would be very familiar to the majority of my players but it also allows for a lot of freedom because we don’t see much of the Alpha/Beta Quadrants post-DS9. 

That’s also why I’m making full use of the new Shackleton Expanse setting to allow for many new and never-seen-before aliens, worlds, and concepts that may otherwise feel out of place in the known Trek universe. So I’m very excited that I finally have the PDF for the setting guide. The stories I run are primarily episodic but they’re slowly leading up to an arc that will encompass the end of this season and the start of the next.

Although I don’t do it every episode, I like to tell stories that either reflects something about today’s society or have a moral/ethical dilemma that doesn’t necessarily have one correct answer. 

I always liked that Star Trek made me think deeply about issues that I had never considered before and I think STA allows us to take that one step further because now the players are the ones who have to make those big choices, rather than reflect on them passively.  My players have recently expressed that they want more stories like this because it makes the games feel like something more important than just playing pretend in the Star Trek universe.  That was very encouraging to hear. 

I like to tell stories that either reflects something about today’s society or have a moral/ethical dilemma that doesn’t necessarily have one correct answer. 

About the Group:

We have 6 players plus me. Four of the players I’ve met while here in Japan, but three of them have since moved to other countries.  Another player has been my “brother” since we both moved to the same neighborhood when we were both 3 years old.  He was into Star Trek long before I was and I didn’t want to get the game off the ground without him. The last guy is the only random person we picked up on the Internet. 

When I was talking about prepping for my first game on Reddit, he saw my post and PM’d me asking if there was any space for him.  He had wanted to play but had no group or opportunity in his area. So I agreed to do a chat to explain the rules of STA and help him make a character, all while getting a feel to see whether he was right for the group and vice versa.  He turned out to be an awesome guy and a huge Trekkie/Trekker and we’re so glad he’s part of the crew. 

I think most of the players were hesitant about the game as they weren’t familiar with the rules and only a couple were big Trek fans.  So most of them opted to play very low ranking or young members. 

While I would never dissuade the crew from playing the characters they wanted, I didn’t want to do a “lower decks” style campaign.  I really wanted to make sure that our STA game still had the traditional senior staff structure of all the classic Trek series.  So it gave me a creative idea of how to establish the ship, the crew, and the premise of why these particular characters are out doing what they’re doing. 

One thing I love to do is to “troubleshoot” plot/story issues so challenges like this are very exciting for me. 

About the Ship:

The ship is a beauty.  We went with a Nova-class ship which, I’ve noticed on the recent Facebook poll, it seems like the majority of groups out there have chosen as well.  I wanted a ship that was small and intimate to help support the idea of why so many lower-ranking crew members might have greater levels of responsibility than they would on a larger vessel.  Plus I wanted a ship that was primarily focused on science and exploration, two of the key elements that make Star Trek what it is. 

Aside from that, it has that TNG movie era aesthetic that is just so darn cool.  Finally, we had to come up with a name for our ship. Science?  “NOVA”?  The choice was clear:  U.S.S. deGrasse Tyson, NCC-85501 (there’s the Easter egg). 

I just think Dr. Tyson best espouses the excitement and energy for science and space exploration that the world needs these days. Thus, his was a fitting name for our vessel.

Organizing the Game:

The organization is hard, as I’m sure you’re well aware of your own international group. 

Two of our players are in the US (1 east coast, 1 central), 1 player in the UK, 1 in South Africa, 1 in Germany and 1 other plus myself in Japan. 

We have opted to play over video chat so getting everyone together at the same time was a challenge, but we finally agreed on a time that works (to some degree) for everyone.  So while I’m usually kicking the game off at 1 P.M. local time, we have some players crawling out of bed between 4 and 6 A.M. while it’s only 10 P.M. the night before for our earliest player.

It’s not unusual to catch one of the players start to nod off during a scene they’re not involved in, but it’s out of exhaustion, not boredom. It doesn’t bother me as the GM because I know they’re there and fighting through the sleepiness because of their love of the game.

We host the video chat through ZOOM to make use of its built-in recording features.  Visuals, as well as the character sheets and dice rolls, are provided by Roll20.  And we have our own Discord server for private messages and other resources during the game, as well as hosting a log of the previous adventures. 

I used to use Syrinscape’s online player for sound effects, but a couple of members invariably had technical issues with it during every game and it seemed to be more trouble than it was worth.  This is unfortunate as I spent an obscene amount of hours crafting my own Star Trek sound set.  There is one particular sound that I created that I’m very proud of.  I intended to use it for the big season finale so I think I’ll bring Syrinscape back for that game just to hear it in action.  

Our sessions are about 4 hours each time and it has taken about 3 sessions per episode.  If there are any lingering issues about the story once we wrap up the episode, we take it to the Conference Room on Discord to continue the roleplay behind the scenes. 

About Me and Star Trek:

When I was young, I thought Star Trek was “old” and just some nerdy thing that dad liked. I remembered making fun of TNG when it first debuted like all the “cool” kids (spoiler alert: I was never a cool kid) and I kept my distance.  Then one day, I was in a toy shop and I bought my first Star Trek action figure: Locutus.  I just loved how it looked and it inspired so many ideas of how to use him in my playtime stories. I thought it was odd he looked like the captain but, otherwise, I knew nothing about him.

Voyager…really helped me get through that rough time and…will always have a special place in my heart because of this.

Sometime later, I got sick and was home from school for a few days.  I couldn’t tell you why, but I got an irresistible urge to watch Star Trek.  I happened upon an episode of DS9 and from then on I was hooked.  I watched every single episode that aired on TV in reruns and caught every new episode as they came out until Enterprise started since I was off in university doing university things.  Voyager was the first series I was there to watch from the first episode.  I diligently recorded each episode on VHS, carefully pausing to remove commercials, each and every week. 

Then, in November 1995, I was in a severe car accident.  I broke my arm, a couple of vertebrae and had massive internal injuries.  I was in the hospital for a few weeks, then recuperating at home for a few more months.  Due to the medication, I was on, my sleeping schedule was way off and I was typically up until 4 or 5 in the morning every day.  I used to spend a lot of those late nights sitting alone in the living room and watching my Voyager VHS tapes again and again. 

I used to pretend that I was on the ship, manning my station during the graveyard shift. The old, chilly, drafty house I was in lent to the idea that space was cold so it was normal for me to feel a little chilled. The Stouffer’s frozen dinners I heated up were straight from the food replicator in my private quarters.  The crew were my friends and the Voyager was my home.  It really helped me get through that rough time and Voyager will always have a special place in my heart because of this.

But no matter the series, the thing I loved about Star Trek was how hopeful it was for the future. 

I enjoyed science fiction and there were so many great stories and movies out there but they almost always featured a war, invasion, or a dystopian society. 

While that was exciting to my youthful imagination, I never stopped to think that the future could be optimistic; that humans could overcome all the senseless problems we create for ourselves and work to make society better for everyone.  It was unique and beautiful. 

Yet it also showed that it wasn’t a paradise or a utopia. 

There were still deep and heavy issues.  But now we were on the side of understanding them rather than exacerbating the problems.  Humans could find common ground and help others to get over their own struggles.  Sometimes there would be no easy decisions and sometimes bad things had to happen but those would not define who we are; they would help us to grow.  It was the hopefulness of Star Trek that made me fall in love with it and what I still cherish about it to this day.

It’s these things about the series that I hope to convey in my games of STA.  I don’t hit them every time, but it helps keep me focused when writing my episodes.

One comment

  1. Reposting my reply on the Reddit post here as well:

    As one of the players involved in the game, I’ve loved how we’ve managed to gather a diverse group spread all over the globe and enjoyed a tremendously well crafted STA game.

    It’s also never been easier to run a game remotely with Zoom, roll20, etc.

    Thanks to our GM and my fellow crew mates for all our adventures so far.

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