National Staff: A Guide

This post is intended for new NERO National staff members.

Hi and Welcome to national staff!  First, we’ll talk about what national staff actually is, and then I’ll warn you about some of the pitfalls you’re about to encounter.

The “National Staff Member” is one of the most misunderstood characters in NERO’s Out-Of-Game Cosmology. National Staff members are selected by the owner, Joe Valenti, to complete a task or advance a project. This is all that national staff really means – Joe trusts you to make NERO better in some capacity. We all think that NERO isn’t reaching its potential yet, but we disagree about nearly everything else. We don’t have an e-mail list, we don’t meet face to face, and we don’t have any special super powers.

As a national staff member, you might be tasked with writing documents, collaborating with chapter level staff members, or developing some aspect of the game. At game-time, you might be play certain NPCs or coordinate plotlines.

Rewards: Your compensation for these herculean tasks is goblin points. As a fairly advanced NERO member, you probably already understand what a joke these are – you are essentially trading real labor for a tiny amount of power in an imaginary universe. At a certain point, XP is a poor reward. So in order to remain motivated, you need to focus on the real fruit of your labors, that your actions improve NERO. What we do creates cool, memorable experiences for our audience. If you get a kick out of this, you’ll be fine. If you expect fame, fortune, or status, you will be let down.

The Pitfalls

There are  two major things which will get in your way.

Hurricane Valenti – Joe V, known casually to his friends as “The Destructor”, is a chaotic force. Anyone that has met him will attest to the phenomenal amount of energy which pours out of him at every waking moment. In addition to working a full time day job, Joe runs the company himself,  so he needs to be on a million different pages at once. This makes it difficult for him to focus – he is usually putting out fires and cannot spend too much time on minutia. This is where the national staff comes in.

It is said that there are two types of NERO staff members: those that can work with Joe V and those that cannot.  He has a strong personality, and that leads to rather polarized reactions to him. He often changes his mind, changes direction, or otherwise befuddles those who are working under him. If you are not prepared for this, it may be jarring.

Joe draws a lot of aggro – that is, when somebody dislikes him, you will often be included. People who are biased against Joe V will actively work against you, even if their issue has little or nothing to do with your project. This stems from the misconception that the national staff is a unified team synonymous with Joe’s will, and not a bunch of ad-hoc project managers. As a staff member, you must accept this chaos as part of the job description.

The Haters – Oddly enough, the largest obstacle to “fixing” NERO is often its own players and chapter owners. There are a lot of people out there who have a bad impression of or relationship with the national organization, and will try to resist or obstruct anything it produces. Ironically, these are the same people whose game you are trying to improve.

Whenever you are doing something which affects  a large number of people, some of them will dislike it. This should not be surprising – you cannot please everybody, especially NERO players with strong opinions. Even if your project is awesome, some people will regard it with hostility or suspicion and will take it out on you personally. You will be flamed. You will be trash talked on public Internet forums and in private conversations. You will be accused of doing things to benefit your character. They will react to relatively minor things with a disproportionate amount of vitriol. These people’s goal is to get you to stop doing what you are doing.

NERO is a large organization, and as such, it has a lot of institutional resistance to change.  Any time you change something, there will be a group of people who feel like you’ve just slain their sacred cow. Some of them will have a lot of trouble dealing with this. They’ll injecting as much emotion and toxicity into the discussion as possible, polluting any chance to have an honest discussion.

This is why there has been a ten year gap between the 8th edition and 9th edition of NERO rules. It’s not that we didn’t want to keep making improvements to NERO, it’s that it is very challenging to make changes to any large system. There are people with a vested interest in keeping NERO the way it is right now. They do not understand that National is on their team, and will bitterly and stubbornly resist anything it does.

For example, a few years back, I’d been working on a book called the Guide to Tyrra. One of the sections, “Places of Tyrra”, was supposed to include a few paragraphs about every NERO chapter. The goal was to put each chapter in a global context, thereby making our 40+ chapter setting a bit more coherent and tangible.  Trying to get information from local staff members was like pulling teeth. Many regarded me with suspicion or outright hostility. Few cooperated. When I passed around the first draft for comments, I received angry e-mails from staff members about how I was intentionally mischaracterizing their chapter. Even upon request, most offered no constructive advice about how to improve the entry on their chapter, and in some cases demanded that I delete the entry entirely. One chapter owner sent out a mass e-mail which advised chapters to not cooperate or participate in the Guide. I am sad to confess that I stopped working on it that day. This is why NERO can’t have nice things.

Sometimes you will feel like you are perceived as this corrupt force whose goal is to invade and screw up local games. The national staff is often characterized as a shadowy group of villains (or incompetents) who sit around a table, smoking cigars and planning how to make NERO worse.  Sadly, this mischaracterization is often propagated by the players who love NERO the most.

There is a rather predictable cycle of participation at the top tiers of NERO. Remember how I said that there are two types of NERO staff members? The ones who cannot work with Joe V become frustrated that he does not share their vision, and often spend their energy working against him and his projects. Usually, the biggest opponents of NERO are the ones with the most invested in it (such as chapter owners).  When someone pours a lot of time and effort into the game, it’s easy for them to become frustrated that it’s not developing in the way they’d prefer. Rather than channeling this energy in productive or creative ways, they attempt to undermine or destroy the forces of change. I have seen this happen to dozens of people. They love NERO so much that they feel they must destroy it.

How to deal with it?

The silver lining is that the haters are not in the majority. 80% of the complaints are generated by less than 20% of the players and chapter owners. Most people are happy to see new energy and new momentum in the game and are willing to support you.

For the most part, it’s best to avoid engaging people who will steal your energy. Respond to legitimate discussion, but ignore hostility or closed minded opposition. Spend your time focusing on how you can be the force of positive change, don’t let yourself get drawn into nitpicking or arguments. NERO is a pretty resilient organization, it will survive even if your project doesn’t pan out how it was intended. There are no good or bad changes – every change has subjective degrees of both. The important thing is to maintain your positive energy and keep your distance from those who try to deplete it.

And luckily, most of the interactions between the NERO staff and the NERO playerbase are quite positive. NERO is so awesome because its players are awesome. But if you’ve ever run an event, you know that once in a while, there’s a player who is doing their damnedest to have a bad time. If you focus too closely on those players, you’ll lose sight of the people who appreciate your efforts.

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  1. #1 by Noah on May 6, 2010 - 7:28 pm

    This article elucidates some things I’ve been meaning to say for years. One of the points I’d emphasize is that each National Staff Member has specific projects or aspects of the business that we work on, and has little-to-no influence on the other Staffers’ projects. For instance, when I announced that I was the contact point for the national event, I was immediately inundated with questions about the new rulebook. I also found out right away that the resentment and heated opposition people harbor for “National” was transferring to the event, the character database, and all the staff involved. This seemed tremendously unfair to me, and there was a point where I considered abandoning the event altogether. Why should I take time and effort out of my personal life to plan an event for people who dislike me without ever having met me, just because of my volunteer position? This bears repeating – my position is that of a volunteer, not an employee. I did not get paid to write or run for the national event.

    Another point that I think should be emphasized is that on nearly every issue in our game – including rules, company policies and even in-game/story matters – there are at least two diametrically opposed opinions. For each issue, a single decision must be made. That means one of the opinion groups will not get their way – either the game element they love the most will be removed/altered, or the game element they utterly despise will get expanded. Just like in real world politics, the group who is decided against almost always cries out that, “Nero doesn’t listen to us,” and that we ignore the players/owners in favor of our own petty whims. This statement would strike us at National Staff as hilarious if it weren’t so sad, since each project is inevitably made 2-5x longer due to the endless deliberation that the owners insist on going through for every single decision. They demand that we act quickly, then turn around and second guess every step we take by insisting that each decision be debated and voted on 6 times in a row by 3 different committees. Griping aside, everyone needs to accept the fact that when National makes a decision you disagree with, that does NOT mean that we ignore all of our players. It doesn’t even mean we ignored you, specifically. We get tons of input from hundreds of players and we weigh all that input together, along with our own personal experience.

    I’ll end this comment with a personal plea to the general population of Nero players and owners – please stop actively opposing national, and making personal attacks against our volunteers. None of the changes to the rules, company policies, or in-game story and setting were done to personally benefit us as staffers, or to benefit our PCs, or to punish other players/PCs who we disagree with. Insinuating that is downright insulting, and its nearly enough to make a man want to quit. I repeat – there is no shadowy, self-serving agenda in place among the National Staff. So please stop flaming us. I know that it’s the hip, trendy, cool thing to do to come off all elitist and know-it-all by rebuking National at every turn and crowing to eachother about how superior, smarter and more creative you are. I realize that it may give you a sense of camaraderie to be part of the “in group” that hates National and shakes a rueful fist towards our supposed corruption and incompetence. I personally promise you that all your distrust and hateful ire is truly misplaced. None of us would put up with being so widely hated, or being actively opposed on *volunteer projects* by the people the projects are designed to benefit, if we didn’t deeply care about improving the game.

  2. #2 by Brad Gardner on May 7, 2010 - 1:57 pm

    Just out of curiosity, what are the projects that the various National staff members are working on?

    If you didn’t like what happened at the National event, don’t blame Noah. He worked very, very hard to make the event a success. I NPC’d the event the whole weekend and it didn’t look to me that many of the primary issues (lack of NPCs, the Dragon) could be laid at his feet.

    I’d NPC for Noah again anytime.

  3. #3 by Noah on May 7, 2010 - 2:31 pm

    Right now there are several National projects going on. The national character database is a big one. You met Bill at the event, he’s the guy working on that. Then of course there’s the new rulebook. We’re also working on a variety of “Guide To…” and “Society of Avalon…” sourcebooks. There are other things going on, but as a credit to the dispersion of national staff, I’m not sure what they are or who is in charge of them. 🙂

  4. #4 by Daniel Burke on May 7, 2010 - 2:36 pm

    There are no positions in NERO as unthankful as those at the national level. Chapter Owners are the most powerful minority in NERO having a financial stake in things. Players occupy a dual role of being both clients of Chapter Owners but also swapping into the role of a temporary volunteer when they NPC.

    In both of the above, we see people who can claim (in some cases rightfully, in other cases self righteously) they have ‘rights’ to things.

    A national plot member cannot claim this, and in fact has no power to affect change, no financial stake, no reward other than the hopeful ‘good feelings’ of seeing their project bloom. Some National members have been ‘one of the guys’ and widely accepted, some are ‘grey eminences’ who have such long term clout within the game that when they speak they are generally accepted as sagacious. Most however are just players with a heightened sense of passion to give more to the game than just their character.

    This means that the only thing a National member can expect is to burn out. This is not an ‘if’, this is a ‘when’ and also a ‘how’. So if at times National seems to be distant and cool towards the playerbase, try to recall that thy are essentially given a Sisyphean task in making NERO happen.

    How can you help? NPC. I would STRONGLY encourage anyone who plays the game of NERO to volunteer at conventions and more importantly at events which require a national presence. You can have all the tools in the world, but there is always a need for talent to make use of them. One of the great failings of NERO in the modern incarnation is that the self entitled ‘player as client’ has moved away from the player who volunteers their time. If an event is suffering, there is always the choice of:

    A – Sit around doing nothing, being bored and complaining about it.

    B – Do and NPC shift for four hours. You may not get others paying that favor back, but you wont be bored and you get to beat on people who are complaining and doing nothing.

    As the only service NERO actually provides is the environment, a place where we can have a shared imagined experience. If people are unwilling to contribute to that, then yes, its going to fall apart.

    In essence – this is an appeal to the haters to step their game up and walk a mile in the shoes of others.

  5. #5 by Ryan on March 9, 2011 - 8:42 pm

    I just don’t understand how people can obstruct something they don’t own. It’s spelled right out in the game book that all property and characters created for the NERO game become property of NERO International.
    Anyone else can just go fly a kite.

  6. #6 by phiend on March 10, 2011 - 3:07 pm

    They obstruct it because they can. From what I have been able to determine, it boils down to the fact that there are no (or negligible) negative consequences to going against NERO int. Yeah everything you make for the game is property of NERO int., but has this ever been forcibly enforced? No, not that I have seen (granted, I’m one person and not privy to what happens behind the scenes in the company). The problem as I see it is that NERO doesn’t really offer anything other than the use of its rules that it can take away for being non-compliant. The only real way to take action against a chapter is to basically kick them out of the NERO club. That however isn’t really a good business move as it tends to be easy to make NERO Int. look like the bad guy in that situation, when it really was the chapter owner’s fault. NERO is a licensed product, and as such the terms of that license need to be very strict and those rules need to be enforced. Without a way to enforce the terms of the license other than removing the license I think what you find is this problem will never go away.
    Also I think you will find that the question of who owns the content created for the game isn’t as simple as the rule book says. What you are talking about is Intellectual Property, and there is a berth of case law about that. Chapter owners are licensing the product, they are not employees of NERO Int. and as such, a company can’t make a product that says anything you use this product for automatically becomes my property and expect that to hold up in court.

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