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Good Referee Practices - Preview of SS&SS 2e Chapter - Part I

Artwork by Diogo Nogueira
This section on the new edition of Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells is intended to function as a quick guidance reference for Referees that are unfamiliar with the Old School style of play, or even more experienced Referees that like to keep these practices in their immediate mind. This was inspired by many resources such as the Quick Primer for Old School Gaming by Matt Finch, the Principia Apocrypha by David Perry and the Referee Book for Lamentations of the Flame Princess by James Raggi IV.

These principles outlined below are not absolute however. As the first principles outlines, this game is yours now, and you should play it the way you feel more comfortable and have more fun with it. If you don’t like one or some of them, just ignore them. Take what you want and leave the rest.

Make the Game Your Own

This game has almost everything you need to play adventures inspired by the pulp literature of sword and sorcery. However, your vision of how the world and the game should work may be slightly different from what we envisioned here. So change what you want. Alter the Archetypes. Create new ones. Change the way spells work in your game if you want to. My only advice is to try the game as is first and then alter what you think isn’t working. No one will knock on your door and tell you to stop. There is no SS&SS police. Actually, this game encourages you to experiment with it, create new things and modify it as you please. And if you can, share your modifications with the community.

Rulings over Rules

The rules presented in this book are simple and flexible, but do not cover every possible situation imaginable. To do this is almost impossible and would bog the game down every time someone would consult the book for the precise rules for some circumstance. Thus, there are gaps in the rules, as they cover only the essential situations and serve the role as the basis for everything without specifying exactly situations and minutiae. The Referee in an Old School game is also a Game Designer, and that’s part of the fun. Use the rules already explained and extrapolate from them to judge situations not explicitly covered. That’s what we call rulings.

Let the Dice Fall Where They May

This game relies on dice rolling to resolve many different situations. When you roll dice, respect the result and have fun discovering what will happen together with the players. Part of the fun of playing it is being surprise by what happens, for good or ill. Resist the temptation to fudge die rolls to steer the story in a particular direction. Instead, explore the new possibilities the dice will lead you to. This makes sure the game is fair and encourages the players to interact with the game world and not the Referee.

Prepare Situations Not Stories

The job of the Referee is to set the stage and moving pieces for the players to interact with. They are not novel writers, they don’t play the game to tell a story they prepared in advance. They play the game to allow stories to be created in the game world they create. Instead of stories, prepare locations with unique situations that might interest play characters. Create NPCs and factions with their own goals and motivations that will put them in odds with each other and the player characters. Some events could be planned, but their consequences should be open ended. You might have an idea about what will happen without the interference of the PCs, but what will happen once they interact with these elements will only be revealed during gameplay.

Show Consequences

Actions have consequences, some of them good and some of them bad. Make sure to show the players the consequences of their characters actions. Take note of what the PCs manage to accomplish and make and effort to show signs of the consequences of their deeds. If they cleared the bandits plaguing a road to the village, have more traders arriving there in the next session, due to the improved safety of the travel. If they defeat a faction in the city, tell them they hear rumors of another rival moving in the territory, or about a new one forming in its place. It can be something small and that won’t have much of an effect on their adventures, but will have an impact on how they see the game world as a living thing.

Let the Randomness Inspire You

Inspiration can come from a lot of places, some of them unexpected. To rely solely on our own ideas can become repetitive and predictable. Let an unexpected die roll result lead you someplace new. Use Reaction Table on monsters. Use random tables to generate content such as NPCs, monsters, locations and even adventures (check out the Appendixes of this book). This will not only make you think about possibilities you wouldn’t think about all by yourself, but will make the game surprising for everyone involved.

We will be back with more practices soon!

If you like what you've just read, check out my books over DriveThruRPG and Lulu.

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