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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.

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

*** Message From The Editor ***

War, huh, what is it good for?

Apart from Kang’s blood pressure obviously.


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

*** Message From The Editor ***

As reported last edition, Kang can now confirm that DEN Manticore has fallen to the dreaded Uber-GP of the Empire after hard fighting and much bloodshed on all sides.

Though obviously one side was fielding what Kang can best describe as ‘Naplian cannon fodder’, so they probably care somewhat less than the Dewiek do about their casualties, which include at least two senior political figures, along with many tens of thousands of Dewiek warriors and civilians.

The story is not yet done however, as fierce brutal conflict has continued to spread across the previously peaceful system of Solo…

***** Inter Galactic Even More Epic Length Than Last Time News *****

*** Message From The Editor ***

Kang once again thanks Ellerian of the DEN were details regarding the Solo conflict.


***** Inter Galactic Turbo Sized Mega Edition News *****

*** Message From The Editor ***

Kang is most pleased that you have chosen to celebrate the 500th edition of the SSS by engaging in a stellar war. Most pleased indeed.

Let bloodshed commence.


***** Inter Galactic News - 500th Edition! *****

*** Message From The Editor ***

Deep in the depths of Kang’s obscure file system, there is a notification that this is the 500th edition of the SSS.

This number is almost certainly inaccurate as there have been times when the file has been saved on top of older editions by accident. But lacking more precise details, join Kang as we celebrate 500 editions of the Peripheries most inherently unreliable news agency, as we toast with burning Wimbles in the traditional Flagritz way.

Let the screaming commence!

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

*** Message From The Editor ***

Sharp eyed readers might notice a certain Flagritz bias in todays edition of the SSS. This is because only the FLZ and HEX have submitted news stories this week.

Kang doesn’t want to hear any whinging about it. If you want your affiliation to get more coverage in the news, then submit more news stories, either to Kang or to the Nexus.

Prepare for hard FLZ news injection, coming your way at MACH 6!

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

*** Superior Message From The Editor ***

Kang would like to take a moment from your regularly scheduled dose of bile and hatred that is the news, to thank, yes, thank, those who submit news stories.

Truly, without Kang’s eager band of reporters, the Peripheries finest news outlet would be reduced to an endless series of insults and death threats.

So Kang thanks you for your submissions, lowly meatsacks, may you all die in plasma fire.


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

*** Message From The Editor ***

Three Flagritz walk into a bar.

Everybody is brutally subjugated.

Time for news.

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

*** Message From The Editor ***

What is more fun than nailing a Wimble to a wall?

Tearing it off again.


Not that it means much nowadays but we have moved from KJC Towers, though technically Phoenix moved five months ago

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