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Referee's Lounge Discussion of how to (and not to) Referee Traveller and Cepheus Engine games. No edition warring allowed.

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  #21  
Old July 10th, 2018, 05:19 PM
sabredog sabredog is offline
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In addition to the criteria involving knowing the rules, players, setting well and helping to involve everyone in the shared game, I actually think a critically important "skill" is the ability to give up control of the game somewhat.

A lot of argument comes from "railroad" or "sandbox" but personally have never met any ref who ran a purely sandbox game. It always has some railroading in it, even if only narrow gauge. It has to - the players don't know everything about the universe they are in even if they own and have memorized every sourcebook out there. Because the ref is running his ideal of that setting the players will wander off track into the areas with the dungeon under construction signs and not really know what to do. Or they'll get involved in some important NPC's affairs and then what; there won't be some adventure ready for that?

So if sandboxing is the way you run a game do you really? Because to do that you have to give up control to the players, and all you are then is a neutral die-roller and rules interpreter as opposed to active participant and guide. But if you hybridize the two modes of reffing a campaing then you can sometimes let the players run themselves, basically, while always having an overall arc to nudge them back on course with. But you have to be willing to let them go off the reservation sometimes and do it all themselves.

For example, players might decide they want to explore some corner of the subsector rather than continue with all the exciting things you have ready on the world they are sitting on at the moment. Do you let them go or force them to play? If you let them go they are now running the game and it's your job to keep it exciting and try to stay ahead of them. An off the cuff thing writ large.

Eventually I've found the players will get themselves so far out there (metaphorically and literally) that they are more than happy to get back to working on the railroad since it provides direction and purpose within a known quantity.

I often run off the cuff once a campaign gets rolling since a well developed one with a comprehensive background pretty much runs itself after awhile; self-generating adventures and side quests, etc.. And it's a nice break from the detail intensive written adventure to let the players run amok for a while.
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  #22  
Old July 12th, 2018, 07:12 PM
Tiikeri Tiikeri is online now
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Qualities of a good ref.

Love for his creative vision of the setting he is trying to portray, so that he enjoys prepping adventures, people and places for his players.

Patience, so he doesn't feel compelled to show his players things he has just made, and instead keeps them in reserve for when they can be integrated into the ongoing story naturally.

Forgiveness / peacefulness for when his players empty their bowels all over it then kick their waste about like persnickety llamas, all while laughing like the evil deer head on the wall in Evil Dead 2.

Curiosity and acceptance for what his players want to do and experience, perceiving the stories they want for their characters, and the willingness to roll with it and devote his creativity to develop their visions too.

Be dependable.

Calm and polite, but firm when necessary to keep the table from getting too loud, chaotic, distracted, or focused on a few talkers.

Fair, with rules, inclusion and treating people the same as long as they're acting in good faith.

Be able to run open ended long term stories. Players expect to be spoon fed experiences , first because they're used to it, and second because they don't know or care enough to think of their own directions. Listen for intent. If they're supposed to be just a band of ragged free traders, and they talk about going to a colony world to sell sought after imports, generate something on the fly. If they don't know how, say ok on this planet there's a street of export import brokerages, your character's would know to go talk to them. Generate some ideas from that, like drama, like transporting convict labor, or techs who are also political radicals. Use jump time to let the pcs know these characters. Then leave it alone for a few sessions, until there's a flurry of contracts to bring humanitarian relief and mercs. The players get thete, and then they can get an opportunity to play a role in the revolution for some spoils and a safe harbor in the future. If the radicals win, that is. There is a human story in the most mundane things, like getting a docking berth, or getting repairs done on their ship instead of another.

What you don't do is take your free traders and force them onto a galaxy spanning quest to save the imperium itself. Good thing you made sure they were free traders with a ship during character creation, eh? Eh?

I guess a good ref understands the vibe of the group and runs adventures that will be satisfying and meaningful. Meaning usually comes from the drama in the story, from the emotion, like they care, because they like the npcs they're meeting, or they hate the enemy mastermind, and they want to finally take him down.

Significance comes from the pcs having something to lose, like overcoming some serious danger by good play and some lucky rolls.

For players who don't care and who just want tactical scenarios, give it that to them. Again, listen for intent.
If they want a barfight before their space battle, just provide one. Use some basic narrative to introduce them to the mission, then let them do their thing and cackle like deer heads on the wall.
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  #23  
Old August 31st, 2018, 06:12 PM
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Default A couple of suggestions...

Quote:
Originally Posted by kilemall View Post
As the title indicates, the question for this thread is what personal qualities and skills make for a good referee?
Here are a few suggestions I have tried to take to heart over the years as a Referee.

First, don't look at your session as merely a "game" or an "adventure." Look at it as trying to tell a story. A story with the characters as the heroes. And make decisions that enhance that story. If the rules don't allow for something that would propel the story in an entertaining or exciting direction...that's fine, bend them. Obviously the story revolves around your characters. Make it interesting and challenging, but in the end it's always enjoyable when the characters overcome adversity and emerge triumphant.

Second, a trick that has really come in handy over the years...learn to draw your players into your story. Don't just drop them on a planet with a sign that says "adventure this way." Bait them. And not just with money/credits. Learn to trick them into thinking it was their idea to explore that derelict spaceship. Play your NPCs so the characters want to help the beautiful damsel with the sob story, who, in the end, will betray them and stab them in the back. Make your aliens so compelling the players want to interact with them, and learn more about them.

Third, as had been mentioned above...get ready to be flexible. My players, at least, have the uncanny ability to throw a monkey wrench into my most well developed plots. And that's OK. Players should have the ability to determine the outcome of their story, even if it's not what we Referees thought or planned for it to be. Instead of rescuing her, I've had players shoot dead my beautiful damsel in distress at the very beginning of my story because she was being publicly tortured and they wanted to put her out of her misery. Holy crap! Now what? Talk about having to think fast on my feet! But in the end, it turned out to be one of the best stories we ever told. And, what's most important, it was the players who determined the outcome. It was they who wrote the ending, despite the fact it went in a totally different direction than I ever imagined.

And (next to) lastly, some advice that has served me well over the years...if things start to bog down, if the players begin to get bored...start a fight! Come up with a reason for it later. Nothing gets everyone engaged faster than a good fight scene.

Finally...of course...have fun! And that includes you. I hope you enjoy your role as a storyteller, and have a chance to make some lasting memories.

Last edited by ManOfGrey; August 31st, 2018 at 07:41 PM..
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  #24  
Old August 31st, 2018, 11:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kilemall View Post
As the title indicates, the question for this thread is what personal qualities and skills make for a good referee?
Don't force a story onto the players. Just give your NPCs their own goals, and role-play them as if they're in a sandbox that you'll be adding the PCs into. Everything else is character-driven after that. As a Referee, you decide when and what types of task checks will be needed to roll for. The "stories" will reveal themselves at the end of each session.
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  #25  
Old September 1st, 2018, 04:06 AM
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It's not the referee that tells the story - it is the actions of the players through their characters that tells the story.

The referee's job is to set the scene, adjudicate the rules, and run the NPCs.

I have seen too many games fall apart over the years because the referee had this cool story to tell that the players would be part of - except the players kept doing stuff off script which spoils the referee's story.

A good ref has adapts to what the players do, he/she doesn't try to have a script that the players must follow.
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Old September 6th, 2018, 09:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mike wightman View Post
It's not the referee that tells the story - it is the actions of the players through their characters that tells the story.

The referee's job is to set the scene, adjudicate the rules, and run the NPCs.

I have seen too many games fall apart over the years because the referee had this cool story to tell that the players would be part of - except the players kept doing stuff off script which spoils the referee's story.

A good ref has adapts to what the players do, he/she doesn't try to have a script that the players must follow.
Very true!

I will write a story arc for a campaign that records everything with a timeline that doesn't include the PC's. That gives me a baseline to keep myself (and the players more or less) on track for the "big events" and activations of some of the major NPC's.

Then the players get involved in-game and the whole plot (which to me is the most fun part) goes up, down, every which way as the PC's interact with the NPC's and main plot how they want to. Sometimes they go off the rails for months at a time, but at least having it all mapped out for myself I can nudge them back if needs be, as well as have plenty of events generating rumors and news. I keep good notes as we go to keep track of the players' changes to the whole storyline, if any, and also keep notes on ideas the players come up with about what is going on that may not even be correct but will generate side events and more rumors and stuff.

in fact, sometimes the players come up with more interesting and fun ideas about what is going on (depending on the genre this can be suspects, events, cultist activities, bad guy goals and schemes...) than I had originally come up with myself. In those cases I either let them develop the leads to chase down that are true, or even if they are false. And if true - I just toss what I had originally and go with their ideas; rewriting the campaign as I go.

I've had that happen a lot sometimes and it resulted in a lot of off-the-cuff refereeing while I kept a close ear and eye on what the players were doing so I could keep the session going until a good time to. I have a deeply developed ATU so that isn't hard to do that in my Traveller games, but sometimes the actual consequences of their new actions and unexpected directions in the overall story don't show up for a long time in the campaign - so good notes are a must. And even if not useful at the time, this sort of unplanned input from the players can be inserted later as a side adventure for them.

But mainly, what I recommend a lot is at least having the whole story plotted out as if the players weren't going to be in - then let them develop how their actions affect the details and plot as they go along. The unexpected always brings glorious results and you'll be surprised how often it is more fun that way.
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  #27  
Old September 14th, 2018, 08:24 PM
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Don't subvert your players' expectations, unless you're pretty sure it will entertain them and really advance the campaign.
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  #28  
Old September 14th, 2018, 10:05 PM
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First and foremost, a good ref is a great storyteller. If you can't create a setting and weave a story for your players, it becomes a slow slog you want to end. You also have to be able to change the story to fit what the players might do. By redirecting them back to the original premise, you let them go far afield only to return to the purpose of the scenario you originally set.

Next, regardless of how anal or pedantic a player may be, and this does happen, you don't play God to get even. The know-it-all, or the rules lawyer, you deal with them gracefully and without malice. Being fair and even handed is important because players will quit if they think they're being singled out or unfairly treated.

Involve the players. It's their game. Make them want to participate. Give them a chance to create and even make the game go in directions you didn't expect. For that, you need to be alert and able to work on the fly as the players do things.

Make sure the players know how the rules will work with you. I tell them there are times when things won't be random simply because they have to work to fit the scenario. That isn't "unfair" or "cheating," but rather ensuring things move towards the outcome, for better or worse.

Keep the scenario you are doing within the player's capabilities as characters as well as players, and don't drag it on forever.

If the players do go off into the proverbial left field, then sometimes it's better to just admit defeat, so-to-speak, and tell them, "I really didn't expect you guys to do that. How about we call it a night? That'll give me a chance to work up something decent for what you've decided to do, rather than me trying to improvise."
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  #29  
Old September 15th, 2018, 12:35 PM
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Enoki, these are all great points. And are the main reason I decided earlier this year to hang up my ref's hat and settle in as a player.
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Old September 15th, 2018, 01:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Enoki View Post
First and foremost, a good ref is a great storyteller. If you can't create a setting and weave a story for your players, it becomes a slow slog you want to end. You also have to be able to change the story to fit what the players might do. By redirecting them back to the original premise, you let them go far afield only to return to the purpose of the scenario you originally set.
Don't force a story onto the players. Just give your NPCs their own goals, and role-play them as if they're in a sandbox that you'll be adding the PCs into. Everything else is character-driven after that. As a Referee, you decide when and what types of task checks will be needed to roll for. The "stories" will reveal themselves at the end of each session.
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