Who Is the Referee (REF)?
The referee (REF) is the player who helps keep order over the happenings on, in-game and in-session, while embracing the chaos of gameplay and player-player interactions. The REF is not there to railroad storylines, stunt gameplay, or block player-player interactions A good REF will embrace the chaos, yes, but they will do so using the group’s rulings on those rules found here, prod players into meaningful interactions, and offer up those beautiful moments in gameplay that help create an enriching experience for everyone, including themselves. The REF, like the laws of physics, offers natural boundaries for acceptable play and fantastical fun to exist. Like gravity, the REF is there not to dole out meaningless consequences for actions taken or not taken, but, rather, to make consequences matter, make them fun, and, more importantly, make them consistent within the confines of the game’s story, the group’s shared universe, and the group’s expectations for meaningful gameplay and roleplaying.
What a Referee Is Not
In recent years, there has been a lot of meaningful discussion on the demands placed on referees in tabletop roleplaying games. To help those new referees with the stress of running a game and managing the various facets of any given game, this sourcebook offers five (5) pieces of advice for players and their referees to keep in mind, take them or leave them entirely:
- Referees (REFs) are not grandmaster storytellers, per se. In other words, they are not solely responsible for the direction and plot points of the game’s story. REFs are, instead, conflict creators, one-third of the game’s storytelling apparatus. The remaining elements that help create the game’s story are the players, with their actions and inactions, and the dice, which offer randomness, an objective-like and often hard-cutting look at success, failure, and complication.
- Referees (REFs) do not need to comply with all player demands and wishes. REFs have the final say on where things are, where they are going, and so on. In other words, a REF is not some magical genie who grants wishes put forth by players. They are more like the monkey’s paw—so be careful what you wish for here, folks.
- Referees (REFs) have final say when it comes to the rules. This has to happen, or games would flounder, sink, or implode on themselves. The group must realize the REF does this in good faith, hopes of keeping the game moving along and to maintain an interesting, exciting experience for all involved, including themselves.
- Referees (REFs) are not the enemy. Trust they will make the game worthwhile. Referees have a tough job, so don’t be an asshole to them. Instead, offer to help out, offer ideas, negotiate with them, and try to make the game enjoyable for everyone.
- Referees (REFs) are not God or God-like, despite their actions indicating otherwise. They’re very human, mortal creatures, with thoughts, feelings, dreams, nightmares, and, very possibly, boring day jobs. As such, remember they are bound to make mistakes, forget things, and have bad days. Do your best to remember this as a player, and, when things aren’t looking up for the REF, offer up some ideas, encouragement, or a joke or two.
Some Guidance for Referees
- Provide useful information about the game world as the characters explore it.
- Players do not need to roll dice to learn about their circumstances.
- Be helpful and direct with your answers to their questions.
- Respond honestly, describe consistently, and always let them know they can keep asking questions.
- Default to context and realism rather than numbers and mechanics.
- If something the players want to do is sincerely impossible, no dice roll will allow them to accomplish it.
- Is what the player describes and how they leverage the situation sensible? Let it happen.
- The game world is organic, malleable, and random. It intuits and makes sharp turns.
- Use random tables and generators to develop situations, not stories or plots.
- NPCs remember what the PCs say and do, and how they affect the world.
- NPCs don’t want to die. Infuse their self-interest and will to live into every personality.
- Narrative Focus
- Emergent experience of play is what matters, not math or character abilities. Give the players weapon trainers and personal quests to facilitate improvement and specialization.
- Pay attention to the needs and wants of the players, then put realistic opportunities in their path.
- A dagger or knife to your throat will kill you, regardless of your expensive armor and impressive training.
- The game world or universe produces real risk of pain and death for the player characters.
- Describe danger to players when it is present. The more dangerous, the more obvious.
- Put traps in plain sight and let the players take time to figure out a solution.
- Give players opportunities to solve problems and interact with the world.
- Fame, Fortune, Triggers, & XP
- Fame is specific to the society a pilot hails from. It tells a story, and it can be easily lost.
- Fortune is often monetary. It, too, tells a story, and can be easily lost or spent.
- Triggers are those rewards for player development. Triggers are powerful in what they unlock, but they are extremely hard to obtain.
- Experience Points (XP) are given out when the characters do something spectacular, succeed, overcome, etc.
- Give players a solid choice to force outcomes when the situation lulls.
- Use binary “so, A or B?” responses when their intentions are vague.
- Work together using this conversational method to keep the game moving.
- Ensure that the player character’s actions leave their mark on the game world or universe.
Who Are the Players?
The players’ primary jobs are to take on the responsibilities for portraying the game’s protagonists, which will be referred to here on out as player character (PC). As a player, you make decisions on behalf of your character (PC) and describe to everyone else, including the referee, what your character says and does in-game. Players will also be mindful and take care of the mechanic side of being a character—rolling dice when it is appropriate, choose what abilities to use in certain situaations, and keeping track of health, grit, resolve, armor, ammo, and much more.
Some Guidance for Players
- Attributes and other related abilities do not define your character. They are tools.
- Don’t ask only what your character would do, ask what you would do, too.
- Be creative with your intuition, items, and connections.
- Seek consensus from the other players before barreling forward.
- Stay on the same page about goals and limits, respect each other and accomplish more as a group than alone.
- Asking questions and listening to detail are more useful than any stats, items, or skills you have.
- Take the Warden’s description without suspicion, but don’t shy away from seeking more information.
- There is no single correct way forward.
- Treat NPCs as if they were real people, and rely on your curiosity to safely gain information and solve problems.
- You’ll find that most people are interesting and will want to talk things through before getting violent.
- Fighting is a choice and rarely a wise one; consider whether violence is the best way to achieve your goals.
- Try to stack the odds in your favor and retreat when things seem unfavorable.
- Think of ways to avoid your obstacles through reconnaissance, subtlety, and fact-finding.
- Do some research and ask around about your objectives.
- Set goals and use your meager means to take steps forward.
- Expect nothing. Earn your reputation.
- Keep things moving forward and play to see what happens.