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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



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


***** Message From The Overlord *****

We of the superior Flagritz race have a saying, it is better to risk all than fall to weakness. Weakness is the preserve of you lesser meatsacks, and not a fate any true Flagritz would ever embrace.

So with this in mind your beloved Overlord Kang, conqueror of worlds, scourge of meatsackery across the Peripheries, wielder of the one true dreaded spiked tentacle, has been absent for a few weeks whilst undergoing emergency brain surgery upon his primary cognitive organ.

As some of you pitiful febrile wastes of oxygen and nutrients may have noticed, since being abducted at the Golden Kang’s ceremony, Kang has not been feeling himself. Prone to outbursts of LOVE and AFFECTION for the Empire of Humanity and that festering stinkhole Lysander. Kang began to suspect some sort of villainous brain-control device might have been responsible, particularly when Kang started picking up transmissions from satellites passing overhead and was finding himself waking in the mornings filled with tender loving thoughts towards all humanity (except for the Detinus Republic), instead of Kang’s usual level of hatred towards all.

Foolish Empire of Humanity, did you not know superior Flagritz brains are immune to puny earth-thing mind control devices? The superior Flagrtiz lifeform has built-in triple redundancy. When Kang’s primary brain started being wonky, the secondary and tertiary brains kicked in.

Trusting no other meatsack to remove the chip, and welcoming the opportunity to hack into the brain of a worthwhile form of life for a change, Kang is pleased to announce to you that he has successfully removed said chip. And be assured quivering Empire Of Meatsackery, and your vile underlings of the CIA, you are now top of Kang’s list. Oh yes. Kang has purchased some special implements for you.

Brace yourselves, news incoming!

 


Subspace Static - Star Date 214.23.1

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


***** Message From The Overlord *****

Greetings fetid meatsacks of the Peripheries, your beloved Overlord Kang is here to bring you tidings of JOY and PEACE and LOVE once more.

Have your puny meat-thing shells grown more fragile since we last talked? Does your meaningless worthless pitiful existence cry out for that happy day when Overlord Kang will finally come for you and put you out of your misery?

Kang hopes so.

 



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


\\\\\\ Message From The Guest Editor //////


We are the many-as-one.

We are the voice of the Hive.

We sing a chorus of greetings to the inhabitants of the Peripheries. Join our warm

bio-mechanical-fluid-embrace

be at peace with Drone, and Warrior, and Queen.

Relax into us, as we bring you news.

relax-forever-rebirth-joy

 


Filthy Wretched Human News. Star Date 214.18.5

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

*** Message From The Editor ***

Greetings puny meatsacks of the Peripheries, Overlord Kang sends you FLUFFY WARM THINGS and BEAUTIFUL KITTENS to CHEER you today.

It will no doubt be a source of woe to many of Kang’s beloved readers that Kang continues to feel under the weather, Kang is suspicious that something must be amiss as Kang is filled with WARM LOVING thoughts of all of the TENDER things he would like to do to human meatsacks. Particularly the Empire Of Humanity, and the Emperor Lysander, whom Kang DOES NOT SUSPECT IN THE SLIGHTEST of having implanted some sort of brain control device in Kang’s head when he was abducted from the Golden Kang ceremony.

Kang would like to HUG you all in your fleshy LOVEHANDLES with his rusty gutting hook until you LAUGH and your CUDDLES fall off on the floor in a growing pool of JOY.

Buckle up your flesh-sacks, here is the news.

 


Subspace Static - Star Date 214.16.5

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

*** Message From The Editor ***

Kang understands it is traditional to send joyous messages of rebirth at this time of year, in some twisted human meatsack celebration of their most popular death cult religion. Kang has no time to wish any of you a ‘Happy Easter’, and instead would like to take a moment to talk about the religious nature of the superior Flagritz race.

Many meatsacks consider the Flagritz to be above such notions, but Kang finds his personal household Gods to bestow many happy happy blessings, particularly around the times of years when other meatsacks feel the need to knock at Kang’s door and offer celebrations.

Kang harbours a particular hatred for carol singers.

Perhaps one day Kang can introduce you to his Blessed Saint Meathook? Always popular on every Tear Out Those Entrails Thursdays. Or Kang’s personal favourite, the Holy Mary Mother Of My God How Big Is The Calibre On That Thing.

Remember, febrile sacks of meat, whatever your religious views, Kang is certain they are inferior to his own.

 


Subspace Static - Star Date 214.15.2

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


*** Message From The Editor ***

Greetings, festering meatsacks of the Peripheries, your beloved Overlord Kang has returned! And after some brief yet horribly violent cleansing of the offices, Editorial control has returned to the appropriate levels of brutality we all have come to expect.

Kang brings with him messages of LOVE and PEACE.

… wait. That doesn’t sound right.

Kang remembers little of what happened to him, just that he was on stage at the Golden Kangs, and then the lights went out, and Kang awoke with a black bag over his head.

Kang was then taken to some sort of debriefing room where Kang can vaguely remember needles and strange humanoid meatsacks in black suits. Fortunately for us all, one of these meatsacks was to make a critical error when leaning too close to ask Kang a question, and Kang was able to bite the top of his cranium off.

These human meatsacks are funny when they flop around with their brains spurting out.

From there it was but a SIMPLE TASK for Kang to escape and make his way back to the offices.

But enough of this! Here is the news!


 


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


*** News Flash ***

There are reports of explosions at the headquarters of the Galaxies Greatest News Outlet, the SSS.

We are reporting live from the parking lot outside the luxurious SSS HQ where we can confirm there is smoke rising from the building, and the occasional sound of small arms fire.

And I do believe somebody has just been thrown out of a top floor window. Gosh, it’s along way down from there. And that’s… wait, zoom in there…

Somebody appears to be launching burning kittens from the top floor. And the kittens are exploding, almost as if they have been… stuffed with napalm?
 


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


*** Here Is The News ***

Superfluous greetings, mellow citizens of the Peripheries.

All is well, all is good.

But beware the unclean. Beware the heretic.

Beware the alien.

Praise the Emperor Lysander, he is our sword, he is our shield.


 


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


*** Imperial Joy ***

His Royal Highness Lysander, the Emperor Of All Known Humanity and Defender Of The Faith, has been on a charm offensive this week. Throwing open the doors of one of his several glorious palaces to a special network of invited nobles and businessmen.

The Imperial Princess was on hand, as charming as ever, leaving the guests feeling blessed to have been entertained by not only the finest and most noble people in the realm, but also spiritually cleansed thanks to a stirring range of services provided by the Brotherhood.

Emperor Lysander bestows his blessings upon us all.

 



***** Inter Galactic News – Golden Kangs Special *****


*** Welcome To The Showbiz Event Of The Year ***

‘Hello, and welcome to Mobile Bay, glitzy showbiz centre for this years Golden Kang awards, please try to avoid the paranoid Kastorian thugs belonging to the Military Junta’s police department, who have been interrogating many of the fans who have flocked here for a chance to see all of the movers and shakers of the Peripheries. My name is Bob, and I’ll be your host this evening, along with my co-host Facerip of the Krell Universal Network Territory broadcaster, how are things down by the red carpet Facerip?’

‘Things are miserable Bob! Facerip wants to kill!’

‘That’s terrific Facerip. Got any exciting interviews lined up for us?’

‘Facerip talk! Nobody listen! Facerip assemble Krell suicide squad!’

‘Fantastic. We’ll be back to Facerip for more news as the guests begin to arrive.’


 

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