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What is Fire on the Suns?

The core game is a strategic space empire war game created by Greg Ellis. Like all 4X games, FOTS has exploration, expansion, exploitation, and extermination. What sets it apart from most computer games is that it is really an 'old school' play by e-mail game with each game session controlled by a game master.

Keeping the humans in the loop is what makes FOTS such a dynamic game. Diplomacy, black ops, and wildcard technologies are just part of the tools available for the player. While there are literally thousands of technologies that a player can develop, they can just as easily devise their own research programs.

To help organize and contain all the data that a large space empire can generate, FOTS uses Excel spread sheets to package orders and turn results. The GM has a suite of macros and utilities to manage R&D, economics, survey missions, and combat.

Fire on the Suns is more than just a free PBEM game. The FOTS universe includes technology source books, tactical combat games, and there are even FOTS novels in development by Greg Ellis.

Without players, there would be no games, no community, and no innovation. Fire on the Suns is a living game system and has evolved in part due to the players’ imagination, creativity, and volunteer efforts. Even the abusive players have had their part in shaping the FOTS universe (not that abuse is encouraged, but when it does happen we can close loopholes or establish policies to make things better).

Playing FOTS via e-mail is as free as we can make it. The core rules are free, you can download free tools to handle Excels files, memberships to the various Yahoo mailing lists we use are free, and Greg usually has one or more open games going on at any time. Free has its limits, we obviously can not pay your ISP or connectivity bills. But if you have made it this far, you probably have that covered.

There's a fairly standard checklist for playing in a FOTS game.

1. Join the FOTSCOM-L mailing list at This is where you can get files, ask questions, get the latest game news, etc.

2. Download and browse through the rules. Not all sections are essential, but checking out everything will give you a feel for the whole game system and what it is capable of. Even veteran players (including Greg) read up on how the various utilities work such as the FOTS Battle Engine. All these files are available in the file section of the FOTSCOM-L mailing list.

You can get a head start and review the ruleshere.

3. Send a request to join a game. Greg Ellis is the FOTSCOM-L moderator and can tell you what games are open or forming (he also runs half a dozen or more other FOTS-based forums). There are almost always several flavors of games available. A FOTS standard game is based on the FOTS universe and the races that inhabit it. FOTS 101 games are usually standard games but they can also be learning sessions for GMs or players trying out new ideas. Every now and then special games will open such as FOTS A Sea of Stars, where players begin with a single planet rather than an empire, or a themed game such as FOTS Starfire, or fan-based games based on such games as Star Fleet Battles (FOTS SFB) or Babylon 5 (FOTS B5), the Sci Fi Channel series Battlestar Galactica (FOTS Galactica), and/or even specialty games aimed at specific genres such as FOTS Carrier War (FTL fighters, etc.).

4. Once you have been given a slot, you will be handed a standard setup or be asked to design a race. All race designs must be approved by the GM. After that, turn zero is your pre-build phase where you can customize your infrastructure, unit designs, and fleets.

5. After that, turns are a matter of sending in your orders and waiting for the turn results to come back. Of course, while the GM is processing everyone's turns, players are free to engage in diplomacy, forge alliances, and create trade agreements (remember to CC the GM on all message traffic, if he or she does not have a copy of the message, it is not official).

A player's responsibility to the game mainly involves being timely on submitting orders. The GM always sets a due date for them usually a week or two after the results are sent out. Turning in your empires’ orders late is frowned upon and the in-game penalties can be pretty harsh. There really isn’t an issue of player-cheating since the game is human-moderated and the GM has the option of outlawing anything a player might do in a turn. Since the GM and the FOTS core members are very accessible, feel free to ask if you have a rules question or need help with a topic.

While FOTS is essentially a wargame, it has a lot in common with role-playing games due to its open-ended nature and the use of a gamemaster. Political intrigue, horrible threats (HTs), genocidal machines, ancient cultures, and warmongering neighbors are all part of the Fire On The Suns universe.

Like many role-playing games, being a Game Master (GM) is a big job. It requires in-depth knowledge of the game systems and tools, the ability to fairly use the non-player races under your control, and time to process orders and resolve battles. But, you're not alone. Greg Ellis and the other FOTS core members can answer questions and provide suggests on how to run a campaign.

While anyone can download the Core Manual (CM) and play for free, there is some expense to being a GM. The FOTS CD is pretty much a required product and contains the race setups and utilities that make running FOTS manageable. Check out the FOTS-CD link for more information and how to order it.

Being a GM requires a bit of creativity. There are news reports, rumors, and misinformation to spin. Space is littered with ancient booby traps, alien cultures, warring neighbors, and bizarre life forms just waiting to take a bite out of the players. Some results from the map generation software are left deliberately vague so that the GM can put their touch on the discovery. No FOTS campaign is written in stone. While the basics are set up for you to use, you have to power to create or abolish technologies, establish house rules, and tweak the universe in general to your desires.

For example, in the FOTS Starfire campaign, warp drives do not exist – all starships are sublight vessels. Ships may, however, travel instantaneously between star systems using a system of “warp points” tht are detectable using survey equipment and long-range scanning systems. Ships travel between warp points using sublight drives and that can take days and even weeks depending upon the power of a races’ drive system. This is a pretty radical change involving new technologies, new ship designs, and changes to the mapping and movement requirements – but FOTS is very flexible and the changes are essential to the original Starfire story and feel.

This flexibility gives the GM the ability to tell a story as well as run a large space empire war game. Some GMs like to create powerful hostile forces bent on chaos and conquest. These 'horrible threats' (HTs) can take many forms and serve as a focal point to rally players or drive them to the brink of war.

Given the required investments in time and money, not everyone is cut out to be a GM. But, it can be a lot of fun as you set events in motion and watch them take on a life of their own. It is strongly suggested that you play in a FOTS game before you try your hand at running a campaign. If there is a FOTS 101 game running, talk to the GM and ask if you can lend a hand in running battles, setting up fleet files, or perhaps writing up a news story about some in-game event.

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Page last modified on May 01, 2014, at 01:13 PM