Interview with Elena Vasilescu, from Before the Mast RPG
Last week I interviewed Elena Vasilescu from Before the Mast RPG, with a few questions left over, I wanted to ask how the game came about, and how someone from Romania who speaks French and Spanish, and with players across the world ended up creating a roleplaying game written primarily in English.
Before the Mast has been running since the 6th of August 2010, and has been very active using social media, especially on Twitter and Facebook. I interviewed their moderator Elena Vasilescu and asked her about the game.
How did Before the Mast first come about? Who set it up and why?
Once upon a time, two years ago, I discovered RPGs. It was 4th of August 2009 when I joined my first RPG, led by two administrators from the US, husband and wife. They were patient and they taught me what I needed to know. Fast forward to July 2010, when I was already a moderator there and I had four characters, the decision to close the site was taken, to my deep sorrow. I had been one of those who had struggled to keep it alive in the latest period, because I am the type who doesn’t flee, but remains to switch off the light. A few people were in favour of keeping the site alive, but most of them agreed. I was sad and decided to write alone the stories I had in mind. Besides my favourite characters, Marina and Andrea, who came from several stories I had written in my teen years, I had there Chago and Raoul, who had been requested characters/ sort of canons, but whom I had not much opportunity to play.
I was a little angry on Raven, one of my friends with whom I was on 3 sites, because she hadn’t said anything about the closing of the site and it seemed to me that she agreed with it. But one morning when I woke up, I found an offline message on Yahoo with the link to a site, telling that it was our new site. A pleasant surprise… Yes, it was “Before the Mast”, freshly skinned that night (afternoon for Raven in the US). It was 19th of July 2010…
Then she convinced me that, with her IT skills and with my knowledge of the Age of Sail, this site could work. I had been afraid of being an administrator (well, I had been afraid to accept being a moderator before too) exactly for the technical knowledge required, because I can’t do coding, or graphics… But I knew and loved the Golden Age of Piracy and I knew how to write… and this was needed too. So we started building the site, bringing our characters – especially those who hadn’t got much played on that site – and thinking about our story; writing the documentation, writing a few posts too, inviting the other friends who wanted to come. I thought I would do my best to create the writing community of my dreams, but I doubted it would last so much, because I had seen too many sites dying.
Elena has told me that she’s from Romania, and speaks French and Spanish, and that many of her members are spread out across the world including America, Britain, Australia, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Hungary, Spain, and Mexico. With such variety of languages, I asked her why she chose Before the Mast to be played in English.
Because Raven, its creator, is American, and because I was already playing on several games in English with her. I speak French and Spanish too, but when I discovered RPGs, I discovered them in English. I didn’t know that they existed in French and Spanish then. Now I have 2 Spanish ones affiliates, Mar de Jaspia and Los Tudors.
Things have not always been going so smoothly for Elena, as she had her other administrator leave early on. She explains:
Three weeks after the official opening, college started and Raven left. She said she’d return but she never did. Now this was something I hadn’t signed for – running the site alone without any knowledge of graphics and coding. It was not easy until December 2010, when I found Moru, after several advertisements on all resource sites. I love her, we are getting along well, I couldn’t have wished for a better co-administrator.
In all roleplaying games I’ve encountered, things are run slightly different. I asked Elena what her daily duties are in Before the Mast.
Our duties are not necessarily daily, given that we have a small community. I think writing (and researching for it) is the most important duty, and anything else comes by need: some days I have applications to comment on and approve, lists to update, board calendar to update; other days I have advertising to do, the first week of the month is dedicated to the newsletter with priority… I think what I also do daily is browsing the game requests on the resource directories and post my ad.
I believe in discussion, negotiation, and pooling creative resources. I do push sometimes the story along, especially when it happens that some players vanish mid-thread and I have to think damage control, other times other characters are more suited to push the story along. We exchange ideas, and I am open to their suggestions too. I am no dictator. Again, I think that in writing a story together with other people, negotiation and compromise are the key words. (Some see compromise as something bad, they give it a negative meaning. No, I don’t mean that kind of compromise, but giving and taking mutually, and meeting the others half-way. And some people are really willing to do this, others unfortunately don’t have a flexible thinking.)
In her other interview, Elena explains how new members are quality controlled, and how she works with new applicants to improve their biographies, and make sure they’re historically plausible.
I have been a newbie in RPGs too 2 years ago (but not a newbie to creative writing in general) and Gabe, God bless him, the administrator of the first game I had joined, helped me patiently. I have returned the favour to anyone in need ever since.
Elena is very active with Before the Mast on Twitter (it was because of her active postings on Twitter where I found out about her and the game). I asked her how social media has helped her get more members into her game.
Well, it has definitely improved the exposure of “Before the Mast” and, if not many members, at least we got many fans! (I mean people who like reading the threads or the “Monthly Histories and Chronicles of the West Indies”, which are a monthly summary of the progress of the story.)
Unfortunately for my member base, some people are into reading, but not into writing (or not in English). At the same time, having fans who read our stories mean that we are doing something good and interesting, though. And isn’t any writer’s dream to have as many readers as possible?