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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 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 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 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.

Sub Space Static - No Love For You Edition.

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

*** Message From The Editor ***

Your beloved Editor, Overlord Kang, may his superiority long shine as a beacon for all other lesser races to follow, wishes you mellow greetings puny meatsacks and flesh-things of the Peripheries.

Some have asked The Editor recently, ‘Why so mean?’

Honestly, Kang wonders at the stupidity of lesser races that they even have to ask this pointless question. Kang pities you all.

But particularly you.




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

*** Message From The Editor ***

Greetings snivelling meatsacks of the Peripheries.

Your beloved Overlord Kang, recently voted most Brutal Editor In The Peripheries, has some actual editorial news for you this week.

It has been brought to Kang’s attention that the lack of Caliphate news in the SSS recently has been down to a deliberate boycott of this news organisation by the CAL authorities. Who are instead promoting their own tediously self-congratulatory newszine instead.

Kang is saddened to hear this! As Kang enjoys being inclusive in his hatred of all you worthless meatsacks. But Kang feels the Caliphate must surely be thinking Kang simply does not hate them enough, and thus, Kang brings to you all:

Sub Space Static.

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

*** Message From The Editor ***

Pitiful sentients of the Peripheries, it has again been slow on the old news front, so your beloved editor Overlord Kang has been reduced to sniping little old ladies and dumping their bodies into traffic before blaming it all on the AFT.

Here is a scraping of news!

*** AFT Implicated In Brutal Granny Killing Rampage ***

Sick deviants of the AFT have this week been shown to be behind a rampage of eldster-death incidents across Mobile Bay thanks to some grainy footage that appears to show a rogue Flagritz wearing a ‘I <3 The AFT’ t-shirt pushing bodies off an overpass.

Kastorian Military Junta authorities are understood to be on the brink of declaring war!

Sub Space Static. Stardate Star Date 214.40.5

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

*** Message From The Editor ***

It is what Kang likes to call a ‘slow news week’ this week. So chuck another intern on the fire and listen to their bones crackle and pop instead.


*** Falconian Newsreel ***

It has been a slow month for your favourite falconian newsreel. There is no truth to rumours of a journalists shrike or to reports of flying pickets. In fact they have been busy doing their expense accounts and are now returning to submit these fancies. It is also quite untrue that administrator Xen is writing this issue.

House Owl has cause to celebrate this week as the first ever Applied falconian technology technique was completed. Professor Gary Yotov made the annoucement at the university for Falconian studies. He said that this step marked a new age for the falconian peoples. There are rumours that enhancements in space fighters are planned as technology can now be built to falconian racial strengths.

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

*** Message From The Editor ***

It is that time of year when the nights draw in and Kang sits by his fire casually pushing kittens in with his poker.

… who is Kang kidding.

Kang pushes kittens into fires all year round.


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

*** Message From The Editor ***

Citizens of the Peripheries, Overlord Kang wishes you to know how much Kang admires and respects you.

… why are you looking nervous?


*** War! ***

RIP forces appear to be moving to attack the COD, with the following statement coming from the leader of the RIP, Lazarus Dredge:

“Today MRC and RIP forces under my command have moved into position across the Corewards Periphery and the Arridean Spur. Their intention is the destruction or capture of COD positions.

Today elements of these forces attacked the COD outpost Traitor's Gate HQ on the planet Defector, I assume it is destroyed.

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

*** Message From The Editor ***

Greetings, febrile meatsacks of the Peripheries. It is time once again to take a break from contemplating the meaningless nature of your existence, and listen to your beloved brutal Overlord Kang contemplating the meaningless nature of your existence instead.

Buckle on your pain-straps, here is the news.

*** War! ***

Superior Flagritz forces have escalated their conflict with the inferior Detinus Republic this week, by unleashing a series of assaults against DTR positions throughout the Espionage system.


Sub Space Static - News You Need! Abuse You Can't Get Anywhere Else!

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

*** Message From The Overlord ***

Greetings puny meatsacks and flesh-things of the Peripheries, your beloved Overlord Kang is here with a fresh news injection from the Peripheries favourite* news outlet.

Today the hot topic is ‘Napalm Or Nukes?’

Please contact the SSS HQ via your normal methods to express your opinion.

Kang knows he has a hard time picking a favourite. It’s not like picking a favourite offspring, you can’t just drop them into one of your pain-pits and have them fight it out.

... or can you...

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

*** Message From The Overlord ***

One of the complaints your beloved Overlord Kang hears most often is that his pincers are too hot and his chair of gouging is too uncomfortable.

But after that, one of the complaints is that Kang’s news is simply not relevant and fast moving enough for the modern Peripheries. That Kang has somehow ‘lost touch’ with events that matter to meatsacks like you.

Here is a newsflash, puny meatsacks, Kang does not care what febrile news matters to you. And by the sound of the muffled explosions Kang’s worthless reporters who have just discovered the new minefield Kang left for them in the parking lot outside don’t care either.

It is hard to care when your legs have been blown off and you’re trying to crawl to safety.

Kang hopes this educational interlude has been useful.



***** 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!


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