Sunday, August 14, 2016

How To Referee

Being the Referee: The difference between Mythical Journeys and most table games is the Referee.  In this game, one person creates a world and the other players navigate it with their playing pieces- PCs.  So it’s important to have a handle on how to Referee well.  While no bit of writing can transform you into a great Referee, there are some basic pieces of advice to pass along.
The first thing to know is that this is a game.  You’re going to be with your friends.  It’s going to be fun! 
You can’t force them to have fun.  They have to bring the spark of imagination to the table.  No amount of great refereeing can make a good game, just like the baseball umpire can’t make a good baseball game.  It takes players to do that.  Your part of the fun is to see what’s going on, listen to the players, and make the world respond in an appropriate way.

The Rules: All the rules, including those in this book, are only here to help you do that.  You don’t need to follow all the rules- they are only guidelines.  So don’t think you have to commit everything to memory.  There’s no quiz at the end.  Again: it’s supposed to help you imagine, not make you work hard. 

How to Begin: All you really have to do at the beginning is draw a little map with two dots on it.  Label one “town” and the other “dungeon.”  Then find a module (there’s plenty of them for free) or draw a dungeon and you’re set to go.
What this means is you are preparing a simple environment for your friends to go adventuring within.  For the first game, you will want to tell them exactly what’s going on, in order to set the boundaries of the game.  Something like, “You meet in the Prancing Pony over pints.  The rain is beating down something awful.  The stranger brings you a map and tells you his son foolishly went adventuring there alone.  He wants you to find out what happened to him, and bring back his pendant.  If you go, there will be monsters and treasure.  What will you do?”
Not every adventure will start out so well defined, but it’s good to start the first one this way.

Using a Module: There are many, many adventures already written out for games like Mythical Journeys.  These adventures are called “modules.”   Some cost a little money and some are free.  You can find them on the Internet with little effort.  They will have all the elements of an adventure planned and written out for you so you don’t have to think up everything and draw it all out.  This is a good way for most Referees to start: by running an adventure that an experienced person wrote out.

Making it Up Yourself:  Along the way in this booklet, you will find advice about crafting the Underworld, generating the Wilderlands, and managing the weather and seasons. 
All fantasy adventure design is essentially the same.  You will present a scene and the players will act out their parts in it.  Each scene has some of the following elements: a reward, a mystery, an unexpected challenge, a trick, a tragic event, or the absence of these elements.
If you can string together about five of these scenes for your players to act out, you will usually have more than enough material for a night of high adventure.
The dungeon is any set of discrete areas connected in a particular arrangement.  One of the great thing about dungeons is they will give the players some choice, but not unlimited choice.  Setting up ten or so rooms near the entrance of a dungeon (or ruin, or strange castle, or other indoor space) should give you a great start.  Later you will find rules for “stocking” those rooms, in case you don’t want to think up all the rooms yourself.

How to Write a Good Adventure: There is no secret formula to writing a good adventure, but there are some elements that can go in order, like a checklist.  Those items are the Introduction, where the PCs meet up and are informed of the mission; a Puzzle or Acting Things Out Opportunity; a Dead End or Red Herring to mix things up; and a Climax or Big Battle (players generally love to fight).  If you have some or all of these elements, then your adventure will likely be better.

So writing a good adventure is simple, even if it isn’t easy.

How to Run a Good Adventure:  The writing of the adventure (or picking out a module to use) is one part of your job.  The other part is what happens at the table!
Don’t Force the Action.  You will imagine some great scene or big event, and the players will simply decide to go around it, or miss it entirely.  If it’s really good, you may be tempted to somehow get them to get to it and act it out anyway.  Don’t do it!  You can always put that scene in your back pocket and use it on another day, but you have to let the players decide what their characters are doing, even if it means messing up your plan.
Don’t Force the Players.  Players need to make their own decisions.  That’s what the game is all about.  If you are playing MONOPOLY, you can’t tell your friend to buy a property because you want him to, you can only make the suggestion.  The same goes in this kind of game.  In fact, it is better not to make a suggestion at all, but rather let the other players make the suggestion.
Don’t Play the Good Guy.  You need to let the Player-Characters be the center of attention.  Nobody came to play a game where they sit on the sideline and watch you do everything yourself!  They came to play so they could be the heroes of the story.  Don’t make up an NPC that does things better than they do, or can always force them to do things his way.
Don’t Spoil the Things they Missed:  Keep to yourself the great events they missed!  Players don’t want to feel stupid because they didn’t do what you wanted them to do.  A better way to handle it is to re-use some of the scenes on another day if that’s appropriate. 
Don’t think that the work you did was wasted.  The players just as easily could have gone the way you had planned, and your planning would have paid off immediately instead of down the road.
Do Follow the Dice.  This is not a 100% rule.  Sometimes you can go with your gut instead of rolling the dice.  Or you can use the dice to spur your own Referee imagination.  But don’t use the dice to determine the outcome and then overrule them.  Keeping PCs from getting “what they deserve” is bad.  If the players they think their characters are in no real danger because you will change the die roll result when things go bad, they will lose interest in the game.
Do Make Players Informed About Their Choices:  Make sure to describe things clearly and even two or three times if they are not clear.  At the end of any description, give examples of what their choices might be.  For instance if they are in a dungeon room, you can describe it to them, but then also reiterate where the doors are for them to leave this room.
Do Let Things Happen: Use the “Yes, and…” Rule.  This rule says when something happens you did not expect, don’t say “No!”  Say “Yes, and…” think up what comes next! 
You may be CERTAIN that a particular choice must be made.  Players have a way of coming to surprising, alternate solutions to problems.  And even if they can’t solve a problem, try to go with the flow and figure out what happens next when they can’t.  Even if the whole world goes from the frying pan into the fire, the world will seem more real and the players’ choices will have much more meaning.  When this happens, players become more invested and have more fun.
Do Be In Charge:  Don’t worry about the particular rule.  Make a ruling based on your knowledge of the rules and your common sense, and stick to it.
Don’t let players argue or browbeat you over your decisions.  Let’s go back to the baseball umpire.  The first umpire says “I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.”  The second umpire says, “I calls ‘em as they are.”  The third umpire says, “They ain’t nothin’ ‘til I tells ‘em what to be.”  When it comes to decisions in your game world, be like that third umpire: the way you decide is correct, because it isn’t any other way!  Don’t defend or debate your prior decision. Don’t get bogged down arguing when you play.
BUT- if a player doesn’t agree with the decision, you can speak to him after the session.  Then listen carefully to what the players have to say.  It is their game too, and maybe they have suggestions about the rules that will help them have more fun.

The “Personal Problem” Problem: A lot of times, when you think you’re having a problem in the game, it’s really a problem between players at the table.  Keep a keen eye out for friction between people (especially between a friend and yourself).  When you find an element of friction, make sure to address it in a way that won’t hurt peoples’ feelings.  Usually this is away from the table.

1 comment:

  1. These are very interesting suggestions and advice. Reading the entire post I see that we have strongly similar ways of game mastering.