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

Continuing with the previews of Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells second edtion, now the second part of the Good Referee Practices I began sharing on this post.

Set Them Free

Let the players explore the game and the world as they please. Don’t force them into any path you think it's more appropriate or that you have prepared in advance. If you need to improvise something due to their choices, look into the practice above this one. Use random tables or use one of the thousands of ready made material that’s available either for free or for very reasonable price all around (look for the One Page Dungeon entries). Doing this will not only allow players to have fun as they prefer, but will make the game exciting and surprising for you too.

Reward Exploration and Ingenuity

This game has many ways to reward player characters, such as points of Luck, Coins, Daring and even the accomplishment of goals that are necessary to advance Levels of experience. Find a way to reward exploration of new things and the creativity of the players. Of they come up with an unexpected and fun way to accomplish a task, give them a Daring Point or a Positive Die on their Attribute Test. If they discover a secret location or region that’s important in the game, award them a Luck point or count it as an goal towards the next Level. Treasure, Artifacts, new spells, and even new powers can be nice rewards for players that discover and accomplish creative deeds in the game.

Cleverness Should be Incentivized

This game is more about challenging the players than challenging the rules in their characters’ sheets. In a tough situation, in the players come up with a clever way of solving a problem, let it work, or give them a good advantage on the die roll to make it work. This will encourage them to try new things and new approaches to problems that are handled with simple die rolls in other games. You can present them with situations that are not simply resolved by the use of an ability or spell, such as having to pass through a passage that would only open in certain circumstances, riddles, puzzles and things that don’t have a clear solution. Do not attach yourself to preconceived solutions and answers. If they come up with clever and ingenious solutions, reward them.

Ask for Clarification of Actions

Encourage the players to interact with the world with their characters and not through the use of the rules. If they say they will open the door, ask them if the pull or push it. If they open with their right or left hand. If they pull enter a room, ask if they are walking slowly and carefully or if they walk carelessly. If they cross the boundaries of the mosaic on the floor or if they skirt it. Make one or two of these questions often, even if there is no traps or real consequences for doing it one way or another. This builds suspense and help the players visualize their actions in the fiction. Eventually they will start to describe their actions this way naturally and will interact with the environment spontaneously. They will look for secret doors trying to manipulate the arms of statues, moving books on shelves and all sort of things.

Make the World Interactive

To make the last practice more valuable, create things to be manipulated by the PCs. Create factions in the world that can be interacted with, making one oppose another. Put levers and effects the players can use in their favor, or simply experiment with. Present neutral NPCs that can either help or oppose the PCs depending on how they deal with them. Magical fonts that change some aspect of the characters are a staple of the genre and can be very interesting. Dungeons should have different routes and passages that can be discovered or created (crumbling walls, bridges, secret passages).

Provide them with Interesting Toys

Magic items should be more than simple items with numerical bonuses (if you need this, just present them as very well made objects, or even made of special material). They should be unconventional, strange and possess specific powers that can be used by clever players. A ring could have the ability to charm whoever it’s given to. A mirror could show the reflection of the place it is pointed to in the past. A spoon could be able to move large amounts of sand and earth. A candle could illuminate only creatures tainted by chaos. The possibilities are endless, and sometimes you won’t be sure how to use them, but the players will figure something out. Make sure these items have a cost to use too. Magic should never be trivial.

Engineer Tough Choices

RPGs are mainly about choices and consequences. Offer the players choices that they have to assess the risk and reward equation of each one. Maybe the known paths to the ruined fortress they believe hides ancient treasures are either short but extremely dangerous or long and confusing (there maybe a third that isn’t so long but safer, but they need to investigate to find it). As they explored the gigantic tomb of the First Sorcerer, it’s first levels have less treasure but less perils than the deeper ones, which have never been entered before. Should they go deeper? As their resources are spent, they will naturally have to make the choice of risking a bitter defeat for the possibility of further rewards, or return to a safer place and abandoning this possibility.

Allow Multiple Solutions to Problems

Problems should never have one and only true solution. Try to think of at least 3 possible solutions, one of them that can even be a secret the players might need to dig deeper to find out about. Some problems may not even have a clear solution you thought about. All you need to do is allow players to come up with their own creative answers. If those make sense and have logic within the game world, allow it to work. This will encourage them to seek alternative options instead of relying to the old tactic of beating everything to bits. It’s more fun to everyone.

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


  1. Will there be kickstarter? When?

    1. Yes, we will probably have to do a Kickstarter, as I hope to be able to actually make a print run and not a PoD book this time. But it will probably be only in 2020. As I want to make this the best book I can!


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