Problem Solving

Why is it always the Kobayachi Maru?

Cpt Sadist : The USS Final Exam (dash W) is approaching the planet Vulcan to pick up diplomatic representatives for a major conference. Begin Sim

Cdt Newbie : ~~ Oh boy! I get to be XO! ~~

Lt. Uhura : How are you feeling today, Captain?

Cpt Sadist : Not so well. Dizzy... Dizzy... ::Falls to the floor, unconscious. ::

Lt. Uhura : +Bones+ Medical emergency on the bridge. It's the Captain, again...

Cdt Newbie : ~~ Oh boy! Oh boy! I'm in command! ~~

Cpt Sadist : ACTION : The messages come in...

Lt Uhura : Subspace traffic... A number of messages...

Cdt Newbie : What do they say?

Lt Uhura : There is a mayday from Kobayachi Maru escape pod number two... They say someone sabotaged their life support system, and they start suffocating in twenty minutes...

Lt Uhura : The Romulans say the Kobayachi Maru is in the Neutral Zone again. This time, they give their word of honor they are going to, and I quote, blow it away, end quote. If we enter the zone without their authorization, they are declaring war.

Lt Uhura : The ambassadors from Vulcan want to be sure you are on time for the diplomatic conference...

Lt Uhura : The terrorists on the Kobayachi Maru say that unless they get a 10,000 bars of latinum and a major Maquis prisoner release, they are going to start shooting up escape pods.

Lt Sulu : Orders, sir?

Cpt Sadist : ::giggles::

Problem solving is a less common style than story telling or action - adventure. The problem with problem solving is that the captain gives orders on how to solve the problem, but the captain's player knows the solution to the problem. If it is the players who are supposed to solve the problem, the captain has to take himself out of the decision making process.

One way of doing this is for the captain to be kidnapped or ill. The player XO then takes over, and has to figure things out. An alternate approach is to run a very passive captain. The captain will not assume the initiative, but if a player makes a good suggestion, the captain will say something like "Good idea. Make it so."

It is common to see story telling captains saying "No Klingons" when action players usurp action authority. Conflicts between problem solving captains and story telling crews are less common and obvious. If you find yourself on a slow paced ship where the problem is clear but the captain is doing nothing to solve the problem, try making suggestions to the captain. If you get a "Good idea, make it so" style response, keep making suggestions. You have yourself a passive problem solving CO. A captain who frequently asks for advice is another sign of a problem solving style. On the other hand, if you make a suggestion to a captain, and the captain verbally bites your head off, you likely have a story telling captain discouraging players from suggesting a change to the script.

Again, one style is not right, or the other wrong. It is a matter of figuring out what your captain expects of you, and living up to the expectations. There is a vital distinction between a cue and a clue. A story teller will give a cue as to what you are supposed to do next. A problem solver will give you a clue which might tell you how to solve the problem. A story telling CO wants to keep firm control of his plot. A problem solver wants to see players thinking and contributing.

Even more than story telling captains, problem solvers tend to keep tight control of action authority. They have to give the players enough clues for them to solve the problem. If the players freely invent their own clues, the problem changes. The most rigid of story telling captains might mention the ship is approaching a nebula, and not care if the science department declares the nebula has an unobtanium core, and is emitting impossibi particles. A problem solving captain might have to be explicit that the particles are tachyons, as tachyons are emitted by cloaked ships. What is flavor and atmosphere to a story telling captain might be a vital clue to a problem solver. Crew members might be expected to add flavor and details to a story, but can not add clues to a mystery.

Players used to action or story driven games generally expect to achieve the mission objective and survive the adventure. On action sims, it is generally as easy to blow away the bad guys as to create them. Most fixed script captains like happy endings. Trek problem solving captains tend to be fond of Kobayachi Maru scenarios. No matter what the players do, everyone dies in the end. As a player, I find this frustrating. My preference for problem solving games is that if the crew does a solid job, they survive and achieve the mission objectives. If the crew does decent job, they survive. Only a wretched effort by the crew should result in player deaths and the ship's destruction. While this is common wisdom in the off line fantasy games I've played in the past, Star Trek's Kobayachi Maru myth provokes problem solving captains to set extremely difficult problems, much to the frustration of the crew.

As questions of success and failure - life and death - are in question, the duties of the problem solving captain shift somewhat. An action or story driven captain must tell a dramatic story, must be entertaining. A problem solving captain must also be a fair judge. There should be enough clues that a decent crew can solve the problem. The universe must behave in a predictable consistent fashion. If the crew dies or fails to reach their objective, they should be able to learn from their mistakes. With benefit of 20 / 20 hindsight, they should be able to figure what they did wrong, and be able to apply lessons learned to help them solve the next problem. Otherwise, the feeling might develop that the players will lose no matter what they do. This does not encourage maximum effort.

A hazard of problem solving is the crew who comes up with the wrong solution. In one recent run, the captain's action statements kept suggesting a natural disaster, but the science department persistently interpreted the situation as an attack from space. If the players don't solve the problem correctly and promptly, at the end of the run the intended climax might not have come to pass. The fixed script style gives the captain a better chance of resolving the conflict on schedule. On the other hand, problem solving can give players more of a challenge, more feeling of having made a difference.