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Game Mastering

Game Mastering in General

As a Game Master it is not for you to act as a god to mere mortal players. It is not to gleefully destroy their plans and congratulate yourself on your cleverness. It is not for you to dictate all options in the game and control all actions. It is not even your role to intervene with hero-man, your beloved alter-ego. No - your role is purely to facilitate the smooth running of the game and provide scenarios the interpretation of which is down to the players.

Providing you enter with the view that it is a thankless job, any praise that you receive is appreciated as a reward, not your due. To see it as anything else is a slow descent into narcissism and egotism.

Secondly, when designing scenarios, account for the fact that players must have input into direction it takes. Where possible, attempt to give them both options and hints. The latter allows for creative interpretation by the player. If you have to close down a direction the scenario is headed, try to give alternate avenues or at least explain in such a way as to avoid sounding negative if at all possible.

Game Mastering in Phoenix
Becoming a competent Game Master requires long years of practice and learning how to interpret a set of stats and quickly convert it into something that feels tangible. Whether this is describing how the rainfall in a particular region has eroded the upper hills leaving them bare while bayou like swamps have evolved in the valleys, all the way down explaining unique breeding cycles of various arachnid analogues.

Looking at the game from a player perspective:
You are in Corewards, a new Periphery, never previously explored, in a backwater system orbiting what appears to be from the map and stats a sub-tropical world. You land in a forest sector then decide you are flush enough to spend 1.8GBP to have your crew leave the ship and explore the surrounding area.

Your resulting turn comes neatly formatted, describing various floras, fauna and possibly something about the weather, general trends in biodiversity and maybe even throws in some hints towards sentient low-tech natives.

Here's a challenge - choose 5 random sectors from different planets/moons then time how long it takes to write a similar length description while taking into account the unique details of the world. I doubt many could complete this task in under an hour.


Part of the vocation, for this is to a greater extent what it is, is both a fascination for discovering new things and a desire to share this information. How this translates to Phoenix is simply down to reasonable application of the fundamentals of science to an alien landscape. A quick skim of the latest Geology Now blog might inform me about how differences in atmospheric carbon dioxide resulted in changes to the sedimentary deposition during a period of pre-history. Armed with this knowledge I can now articulate abundantly on some rock formations investigated during a survey of a world with a dense carbon dioxide atmosphere. Perusing an article on how a small tribe living along a valley viewed time as up and down gives me ideas about a cold-blooded sentient species seeing temperature as fast(hot) and slow(cold) due to the effect it has on their ability to think and act.

But this is simply creative writing. Prolific writers such as Peter Hamilton can probably hammer out 50+ pages in a day (and probably with far fewer spelling and grammatical mistakes than me). So what other skills set a professional Game Master aside from say a creative writer with a penchant for sound-bites?

This is something that was touched on in a recent article - when sci-fi meets sci-fact. The primary aspect of our writing is that it is fundamentally interactive. Whereas a typical sci-fi writer can get away with a few hundred pages of techno-babble and maybe get a raised eyebrow from an editor, we have to ensure that we can answer all follow-up questions. This is where a solid grounding in sciences is essential (though Pete is pretty damn good in this department too). Providing we can use the building blocks of physics, chemistry and biology to justify and expand on our descriptions we are halfway there. We do our utmost to make Phoenix credible with only modest use of handwavium.

This does bring me onto the subject to legacy. I came to the game a few years after launch. While my predecessors had fiery imaginations their views were somewhat pulp. The fundamental difference in our styles is not too dissimilar to Star Trek and Next Gen. Flumps that sat in craters on airless moons, floating islands (complete with perpetual waterfalls) and black holes you could traverse all had to be explained away as people revisited previously explored locations.

So, all there is to game mastering is fast and credible creative writing?
Well, not quite, there are three other areas - professionalism and diplomacy and vision.

Professionalism
Professionalism is being seen to fair and as transparent as possible in all your dealings. It is about attempting to keep the game running smoothly, starting a download at approximately the same time every day (the vagaries of broadband maintenance notwithstanding) and finishing at a reasonable time. It's about dealing with enquiries as promptly as possible and not being intentionally flippant (though some of my terse replies when busy in hindsight make me wince). Often it is a case of making sure all parties are aware of a situation and how to resolve the situation to the benefit of the players providing that it does not significantly negatively impact on the game. Do we always get it right - nosireebob. Do we try our best - absolutely - it is one of the reasons why some customers have been playing Phoenix for 20 years!

'Providing that it does not significantly negatively impact on the game' is an interesting caveat and seems to fly in the face of customer service. The point here is that sometimes you cannot be fair to a player under extreme circumstances. For example, if a player caused a conflict through an honest mistake but the battle resulted in him getting a lot of tactical information, it would not be fair to restore his positions.

Diplomacy
Diplomacy is a tricky one in Phoenix often because what appears to be an unfair situation is only so because much of the information is secret. What starts as a straightforward scenario can be viewed as favouring one faction over another. This is where communication with the players is paramount. The quicker you can understand their position the quicker you can deal with it. Better still is to see the potential impact on the game before it even develops - this is the real art of diplomacy - to have a resolution to a situation before the situation has ever arisen. Then as Game Master you can drop hints/rumours that allow them to look to their own history, thereby causing a perceptual paradigm shift.


For example, the results of your credible creative writing have over course of years littered many worlds across the game with clues. These clues point to a single world on which some aliens did something a little dodgy a very long time ago. Should anyone follow up the clues they will discover this and get the tech the aliens left behind.

After dozens of extended explorations and investigations, one faction strikes gold, despite many other factions having encountered the clues but never having followed them up. They announce only that they now have this tech with no indications as to either the difficulty in finding it or even that others could have got there first. The potential therefore is for others to view the tech as something 'gifted' to the specific group.

As a Game Master it is not unreasonable to tell people to look to their history or ask certain affiliations about 'unusually sized fauna' in such a Periphery. This allows them to pull the data together, groan that they missed something that was in hindsight staring them in the face and 'live with it' rather than spitting the dummy out of the pram.

This takes me neatly to 'Big Red Buttons'. This is the term used in Phoenix for a potential cascade situation that can be instigated by one or more players.

The most recent one was a fundamental change to the layout of the Peripheries. This started no less than seven years earlier when a hollowed out asteroid led to the discovery of a short-lived group of rampaging aliens. Investigations seemingly linked this world with a second asteroid in another region of space. While quite a few factions were involved in the early stages only one followed up right to the end - in this case the ability to educate a Boltzmann Brain about the greater reality of the universe.


Other buttons over the years have involved the discovery of the body of Emperor Paul and the shooting of the Pope, though more often people get very shy around them once they realise their nature. One button has been pressed though appears to have done nothing is that of Baron LiQuan stepping on board the sentient ship studying the Plague Stargate...

Vision
Vision is belief in the game, that it has a long and bright future and that everything we do now we will have to live with so we best do it right. While people are dropping out of online games after a few months having visited the zoo again and again and discovered there are only so many times you can see the same tiger cage, they will still be playing Phoenix. We do not offer cheap thrills, we do not offer pretty graphics and we do not offer instant gratification. We offer the chance to create a legacy, we offer the ability to do things in the game others have not and never will, we offer the chance to fundamentally alter the game universe and we offer a persistent and ever evolving storyline. We offer a game for life.


 
News
****** Caliphate Syndicated News Network (CSNN) ******

user image

Welcome to another edition of news and views from the CSNN's favourite reporter and news anchor, Ainsley Moore, the peripheries' most favourite unbiased publication in the known universe,

We have been off air for some time relocating our HQ within the Inner Caliphate, after recent hostile acts within the Darkfold region.....

And so with the news,
 
***** Inter Galactic News *****


*** Message From The Editor ***

Once upon a time in a land far far away, Kang brutally slaughtered you all.

Here is the news.


 
***** Inter Galactic News *****


*** Message From The Editor ***

Kang is very pleased to hear reports of how many of Kang’s devoted readers are cheerfully embracing Xenophagy, so much so that Kang hears an exciting season of Great Peripheries Sentients Bake Off has been commissioned, tune in every week for new and exciting methods of baking your irritating neighbours into a range of exciting pies and pastries.


What’s the difference between a Surveyor class cruiser and a pile of dead Wimbles?

Kang does not have a Surveyor class cruiser parked in his garage.

BEGIN NEWS!

 
***** The Kang Recruitment Interviews #1 – The DNA *****


Kang begins his strange and brutal journey to the heart of the Peripheries organisations by stopping off to interview the erstwhile leader of the puny ‘Democratic Naplian Alliance’.

Who are these Naplians you may well ask? And what is this wretched ‘democracy’ thing?

The answer is ‘inferior’, but Kang has agreed to set about this endeavour, so Kang will see it through to completion, one way or another.


 
***** Inter Galactic Xenophagy News *****


*** Message From The Editor ***

Kang thinks most meatsacks are like Slinkies, not really good for anything, but you still can’t help but smile when you see one tumble down some stairs.

HERE IS NEWS!


 
***** Inter Galactic News *****


*** Message From The Editor ***

Kang was wondering, does cannibalism only apply to eating sentients of your own race?

KANG DEMANDS ANSWERS!

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****



*** Wimbles No More? ***

Kang’s least favourite puny furball race, the Wimbles, appear to have been consumed by the Falconian republic, as the winged meatsacks announced in the following press release:

“The Wimbles of Wimbledon, long friends of the Falconian Republic, have given their assent for the FCN protection of their home system to move from a temporary to protracted basis.

Previously Republic stewardship of the system was on an interim basis, extending our guarding wing to its people after the Wimble Nation collapsed. Now after years of close work and cooperation with the citizens of Khoros Major, they have formally placed their full trust in the Senate and People of Falconia supporting the FCN system claim. This marks the transition of Wimbledon from an Interim Protectorate to a Protectorate Province and will clear the way for additional republican investment and development in co-operation with the local government. In celebration of this day the Senate has voted the Princeps the honour title of "Protector of the Wimbles".”

Kang applauds the expansion of empires, and Kang hopes the Wimbles meet the fate of all subjugated races.


 
***** Inter Galactic News *****


*** Message From The Editor ***

Kang has no message for you this week, you have all disappointed Kang immensely, and you shall suffer Kang’s displeasure.


*** Starbase Seized ***

Puny Human Empire sources are reporting the capture of a major Felini Starbase in the Starling system by Imperial ground forces in retaliation for their recent altercation with Empire shipping, as the humans continue their systematic programme of confiscating all alien-held assets inside the borders of human space.

Kang is unaware how much of a fight was put up by the Felini, nor indeed the extent of the conflict. It does however appear to have been short and sharp.

Kang hopes many Felini prisoners were taken.

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****


*** Message From The Editor ***

How can it be the end of the week already? Kang simply does not know where the hours go. So many victims, so little time.

Prepare for deadly news injection.


 
***** Inter Galactic News *****


*** Message From The Editor ***

Pitiful meatsacks of the Peripheries, commence your rejoicement celebrations and sacrifices, your beloved Editor Overlord Kang has returned to you.

Kang is aware that he has experienced some… missing time… Kang can neither confirm nor deny that this might or might not have something to do with the brainchip placed inside his skull when he was kidnapped from the Golden Kang awards by some dubious black-ops organisation that KANG ADMIRES GREATLY!

… If anybody has any idea of what Kang has been doing, or where he has been in recent months, please let Kang know.

It will obviously take Overlord Kang some time to get back up to speed on all the news and happenings in the Peripheries. Kang understands peace has broken out? How unseemly.

Here is news!

 

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