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What is a Star Trek PBeM?

PBeM

PBeM is an acronym that stands for "Play By e-Mail". The basic idea is to simulate the experience of a face-to-face role playing game by using e-mail. There is a game master (or multiple game masters), and a group of players. Instead of verbally telling the game master (and the group) what a player's character is doing, the player emails a description of his or her actions to a mailing list. The concept is the same, but the medium is different.

As a result of the different medium, the game is more descriptive in nature. Most posts are written to not only describe the actions a character is taking, but what s/he is thinking, feeling, or experiencing. In this way, it is an even more immersive experience than face-to-face role playing.

Another benefit to the PBeM paradigm is the lack of a vast time commitment. If you want to role play face-to-face, you usually have to coordinate the schedules of eight or more people, find a time and place where they can all get together and be sequestered for hours at a time. With PBeM, you can play anytime you have a few spare minutes to check your email and do a bit of writing. So long as you're able to work a handful of such sessions a week, you have all the time you need.

Star Trek

Our particular PBeM is set in the Star Trek universe. Therefore, it certainly helps to know some background information about that fictional setting. Our game is based on information provided in the original series, the movies, and the more recent series: Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. A potential player need not have seen every single episode, or even a majority of them. He or she needs only to have seen enough to have an understanding of how things work in the fictional setting of the United Federation of Planets, circa 2400 A.D.

How it All Works

So you may be asking, how does all of this work? Well, the organizational structure of the game fairly closely mirrors the actual structure of Starfleet. The overall game consists of a number of duty stations, which can be either a stationary outpost (like a Starbase or a research facility), or a Starship (like the Enterprise, or Voyager). Each duty station is its own self-contained game, has its own storylines, and its own set of characters, independent of any other duty station.

Each duty station has a Commanding Officer (CO), and a First Officer (FO). These two players are usually very experienced with the game, have been playing for quite a while, and know the ins and outs. They are the game masters for that particular game, in that they come up with the plot and are responsible for guiding the progress of the game, as well as dealing with any player-related issues that arise.

Everyone else on a duty station is a player in the game. They each have a fictional character which they created at the time they applied to join the game. Their character will belong to a department within the ship (e.g. Security, Engineering, Science, Medical). Their character will also have a rank, which will not only affect their in-game status, but will also reflect their time and accomplishments in-game. Players start at Ensign (junior grade), but can eventually work their way all the way up to Captain, or even higher!

Posting

The single most important aspect of the game is posting. A post is an e-mail containing a description of a character's (or group of characters') actions. Therefore, posts are what make the game go. Each post takes place in the context of a "mission", which is a storyline that the game is generally following. Missions are roughly analagous to an episode in the sense of the TV series. A post contains the following information:

What character is this post centered around

Where the post takes place

When the post takes place

What characters the action in this post will require a reply from

Generally, the CO of a ship will start a mission with a fairly long post which will set up the storyline. After that, it is largely up to the players and their imaginations to keep the story going via a series of interconnected posts. This continues until some goal or series of goals have been reached; these goals are usually known only to the CO and FO initially, and are revealed to the players gradually as they reach them via their posts.

Sample Posts

Here is a sample post from one of the current games in Star Trek : Freedom:

(USS Discovery - Bridge - CO Captain Tardek - Day 2 - 2405.10.29.0750)

Mission: Three's Company, Twelve's a Crowd, Day 2 Stardate 2405.10.29

Tardek looked up as the doors to the turbolift parted to admit him to the bridge. He saw that Commander Matthews was already there, getting things prepared for launch. He also noticed Tore'Len'Chi over near one of the science consoles. Other members of the crew were scurrying around, performing last minute checks and calibrations.

Quietly he stepped down into the center of the bridge. He had no desire to have anyone make a big deal out of his arrival, but as soon as his footstep echoed off the deck plating at the center of the bridge, a crewman turned and spotted him. "Captain on the bridge!" he called, and everyone turned towards him and stood at attention.

"As you were," said Tardek quickly. He turned towards Matthews. "Commander, this is your bridge, not mine. Consider me merely an interested observer."

(reply Matthews)

Tardek nodded and took a seat in the chair usually reserved for the FO, leaving the command chair open for Matthews. He sat back and watched the preparations, waiting for the order to be given for the ship to launch on the new mission.

(reply Matthews, Tore iyw, any on the bridge, any) (posted by Aaron)

Notice that the first thing in the post is a header, describing where we are, who is posting, and what day/time it is. It also includes the current mission and stardate. Stardates are written by YYYY.MM.DD format, so 2405.10.29 means October 29th, 2405.

The post then goes on to describe what Captain Tardek does when he enters the bridge. Note that it not only describes what he does and what he sees, but also what he is thinking (not wanting a fuss made over his arrival). It also specifies a place for another character (Matthews) to insert a reply in a future post. At the end, it announces everyone who is expected to post in response to this post, and who wrote the post to begin with.

Now, here's the reply from the player who posts for the character Matthews:

(USS Discovery - Bridge - FO Lt. Cmdr. Dallas Matthews - Day 2 - 2405.10.29.0750)

Mission: Three's Company; Twelve's a Crowd, Day 2 Stardate 2405.10.29

Matthews patched several more power grids through the right areas quickly, his eyes already moving to the next item on his list. The impulse engines had a problem in the startup sequence and had resulted in some shorts along the way. Dallas had been working on and off on it all night and was finally getting something to work with it. It would just take a few more switches and reports from Damage Control and they would have impulse engines again.

If they didn't short out first. Sighing to himself, he made his way to the front of the room. The Main Viewscreen needed a quick adjustment and as he did so, he heard the doors of the turbolift open. He hoped it wasn't someone important, as Matthews had his shirt pulled up on his arms and was a bit unkempt. Just a bit.

"Captain on the bridge!"

~Oh, why of all the times...~

Quickly, the FO pulled out, knocking his head a few times on the way and finally stood up and saluted Tardek, a bit of grime on his face.

"As you were, Commander, this is your bridge, not mine. Consider me merely an interested observer."

Smiling slyly, the newly made First Officer grinned.

"Aye sir. I'll take her for what's she worth. We should be ready soon. Just a few kinks."

There was a spark as Tore'Len'Chi was working off to the side. Quickly, Dallas moved to the area and scanned. A few conduits were misaligned, nothing major. With a tap of a few buttons, he had the problem solved. He turned to the multi tasking scientist in front of him and raised an eyebrow, letting a small smile out.

"Keep it up. You're keeping us on schedule."

With that, the First Officer turned to the center of the bridge and bounded up to the Center chair and ever so slowly sat down in it. It felt good, after sitting in various chairs over the years, to finally sit in the center chair and actually be allowed to. Looking around the bridge, he spotted the new Second Officer working already. He liked her and so far it seemed he got along with most of the crew.

This was but the first day. And first days were always the worst. Rule number 23 in the Matthews Handbook. Always.

"Matthews to all crew, this is your First Officer. This ship will be departing in...5 minutes. I would like status reports from all stations. Ops, go to yellow alert and stanby. Helm, plot us a course and hold. Let's get to it!"

(reply all) (posted by sulu)

Notice that not only does this post incorporate the relevant part of the post to which it is replying, but it advances the storyline beyond the initial post, giving other players nearby an opportunity to add their own parts to the story.

More Information

More information about how Star Trek : Freedom works can be found at the Documents page. You can also email the CO of Star Trek : Freedom for more information.