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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
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  Star Date: 221.22.5

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RAGNAROK BECKONS

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Assault on End Game

The ancient Architects have declared war on the Dewiek Elder Nation. The first sign of the conflict was subspace transmissions in a remote system in the Pocket Periphery. This followed reports that the ancient Ragnarok shipyards on Beacon were malfunctioning. In response, the Wolf Mother sent urgent orders to several Dewiek scout ships to patrol the End Game system.

The Konungr Smidamadr was the first to encounter the gigantic, “Planet Killer” class ARC ships. Measuring in at thirty-two hundred heavy hulls and armed with a hundred ARC plasma weapons, the ship was more like a mobile armed platform. It is certainly the largest vessel ever recorded. The scout ship was vaporised instantly.

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ARC Planet Killer dwarves largest DEN warships

 
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  Star Date: 221.11.4

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Caste Apart

The Flagritz Republic is (very nearly) no more. In its place, a single Hexamon and Flagritz power has arisen. The new Collective has absorbed much of the Flagritz holdings with only a handful of Clique-caste Flagritz systems choosing instead to align with the other Elder species, the Dewiek.

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Flagritz and Hexamon Hybrids - A hope for the Future?

 
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  Star Date: 221.3.3

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Meklanmania

Meklan scout ships continue to be seen around the Orion Spur periphery. These cyborg creatures in service of hidden ancient masters appear to be terrorising the Wimble Nation in particular. Despite public lamentations against the hardship of defending themselves, the Wimble leadership have not yet responded to our request for comment.

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Artist's impression of a Meklanised Wimble

However, Xavier Fox, CEO of Galactic Transport and Trade, did give us the following statement:

“We have engaged several Meklan ships, although currently the source has not been identified. GTT Directors have been running patrols and have engaged and destroyed numerous ships that have attacked outlying outposts belonging to different affiliations. The pattern of ships encountered leads us to believe there is a central source, but until that is found we would suggest any affiliation with assets in the area provide adequate defences.”

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Doomsday On Pause

At the site of the Thete anomaly, the Dewiek Nation has sent media sensation Sharon Aleman to the scene. Aleman, whose cybernetic enhancements allow her to directly interface with her ship’s sensor array, led her hardened crew into a dive of the outermost “edge” of the anomaly. After spending several days collecting and analysing data (mere minutes to the rest of us outside the anomaly), Aleman reported her shocking discoveries.

 
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  Star Date: 220.50.5

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Veil Lifted on Flagritz Home Space

As the Hellcadium ISR field continues to fluctuate, one of the newly exposed systems is Junista inside the previously hidden and inaccessible home periphery of the Flagritz Republic.

Over the past few weeks Flagritz Republic patrols and platforms have dealt with a number of scout ships from the Human Empire as the IMP wasted no time in exploiting this opportunity to poke around in their old enemy’s backyard. It is understood that at least one of these unarmed scouts was destroyed with no one willing to estimate how many more might be buzzing around.

Coincidentally, suspected IMP lackey, SSL TOAD, has also been overheard showing an obsessive interest in the Flagritz periphery. However, we have received no reports of this being anything other than his usual drug-fueled, barely decipherable mutterings at this stage.

Either way, this sudden, uninvited interest in the Flagritz Periphery has left the FLZ leadership muttering darkly about appropriate measures being taken. Defensive fleets and supporting structures are being deployed in the Junista system and beyond in expectation of further uninvited guests.

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When You stare into the Flagritz Periphery...

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Thete's Timey-Wimey Tease

Investigation into the Thete anomaly continued in the Dewiek Pocket Periphery. The anomaly was scanned from all angles by a number of the Dewiek Nation’s best sensor ships and officers. The data, collected over several weeks, was sent to one of the DEN’s most advanced scientific laboratories for analysis.

What they found will shock you!

 
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  Star Date: 220.45.1

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Perfidion Reached

Long speculated by theoretical Stellar Cartographers, Perfidion Reach finally opened in the last few weeks. Immediately, the Detinus Republic boldly staked a claim on the first accessible system, Hellcadium. Only time will tell the true value of this strategic move but their much-taunted bureaucracy may have finally proved its worth.

Early reports from scans of the system reveal a wildly fluctuating ISR field. Rumours suggest that at least one ship was destroyed as it was forced into an asteroid belt chasing a stable jump field attempting to exit the system. Casual travellers are warned away from the system at this time for their own safety. Leave it to skilled explorers and navigation officers.

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Mathematical model of Hellcadium ISR Field.

We spoke to Captain Zakiyah Ummahi via subspace link. Zakiyah led the first DEN expedition into the Perfidion Reach. "Spirits remain high but this is largely down to the extended R&R we were all forced to take immediately prior to jumping into this hole. Initial scouting reports show at least one planet with plenty of forests and grasslands which might help if we're going to be stuck here for Folkvar knows how long waiting for this damned ISR field to stabilise."

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Valhalla Stargate Reopens

Dewiek engineers and scientists have finally managed to re-enable Stargate Valgrind this week and the protective Exclusion Zone is to be lifted. If DEN investigators discovered who caused the gate to malfunction, or why, they were not willing to share it with us. Military sources, however, have announced a project to provide a significant boost to the already formidable defence platform in the stargate’s orbit.

 
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*** Inter Galactic News ***

Empire - DEN action grinds to a halt

After months of tension relations between the Empire and the Dewiek Nation, which rose to several large scale fleet actions ending in the DEN losing over 60 Direwolf warships in Solo, things appear to have moved from antagonistic to unfriendly. With the Solo system being a particular issue an agreement has been reached between the Wolf Mother of the DEN and Xavier Fox of the GTT. Since this things have become very quiet, not just because the shooting has stopped, but also because my reporters have been on their summer holidays.
 
News For Discerning Naplians!
---- Special Galactic Edition ----



(The Host sits at his desk as the studio lights dim, and a single spotlight bathes him in light. He looks straight into the camera and begins to speak: )

Host: Naambta!
Good Greetings, and welcome to the show.

This is News for Discerning Naplians, and i’m sure you are all showing much impatience to see this week’s Panel Discussion. We will be discussing religion with the Lady Ghadir of the Temple of Ya Zoon, renowned neo-naplian spiritualist Chairman TonTon, and a very special guest from our imperial neighbours, Bishop Samantha Porteus of the Brotherhood. But before we get to that...

(Looks demonstratively at his digital wrist watch. )

... it is time for a word from our sponsor.
 
******Empire Syndicated News Network (ESNN) ******

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Welcome to the latest version of ESNN, giving the news and views from the ESNN's reporter and news anchor, Ainsley Moore, making this the peripheries' most favourite unbiased publication in the known universe from our new home in the Heartland,

And so with the news from the last few weeks,
 
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*** Inter Galactic News ***
  • DEN assault FEL base and get wiped out
  • CIA Trade fleet caught and destroyed by the DEN
  • Krell denounce worship of the True One

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

    Huge fleet skirmish at the London/Crossley wormhole

    A large fleet of over 700 DEN warships responded to the EMP action in Crossley, where a 4000 hull DEN platform was destroyed. Reports show the DEN ships caught a group of CIA ships napping and inflicted significant losses on the humans. IMP and GTT fleets moved to assist the CIA, matching DEN fleet numbers, but the arrival of over 1200 Hexamon ships seems to have tipped the battle in favour of the DEN-HEX alliance.

    The combined DEN-HEX force pushed through the wormhole into the Heartland area of human space and retaliated, attacking several CIA platforms in response. The outnumbered Empire fleets abandoned the area and fled, they are currently waiting for the larger alien force to make their next move from their hiding places.
     

    Free Ship when you sign-up
    Complete missions for in game rewards
    Control everything, up to an entire empire
    Dedicated human moderators
    Player and Moderator driven plotlines
    Discover new worlds to explore, exploit & colonise
    Over 20 years of content development
    Persistent Browser-Based Game (PBBG)

    I’ve played on and off for approximately 10 years, over a 20 year spell. After some interesting debate on the in-game forum, I did wonder what, exactly, has kept drawing me back to the game, when for so many others I’ve generally lost interest after a few months.

    Ultimately, I think it is a combination of automation (that allows the game to handle thousands of positions to interact on a daily basis) coupled with Special Actions (that allow the story arc to develop in a way that could not be catered for by a set of predefined list of available orders).
    -Zigic