Introduction to reffing
This is a rough outline of how reffing at Empire works, mainly aimed at people considering joining the referee team.
Reffing at Empire is largely customer support. You'll spend most of your time helping players interact with the rules system and world, asking players to follow the rules, or solving or escalating players' problems.
Reffing is an entirely out-of-character role: refs aren't present in character, and you don't have an in-character agenda.
Refs have relatively little creative latitude: you'll normally be supporting players as they interact with the output of the plot writers. There's no reason you can't also write plot, though: consult the Plot creation process page to see if it appeals.
Become a ref if you want:
- to help players enjoy the event
- to watch a whole bunch of roleplaying
- a good hard look at the inside of the plot sausage factory
- a knowledgeable team just a radio call away
Epithets: Bumblebees; the hive mind.
Interactions with players
You'll typically have one of three interactions with a player:
- Their character wants to do something, and you'll help them understand the rules requirements, help them with any of those that need a ref, log anything that needs logging in the database, and get them any extra information their character finds out. Alternatively you'll work out that the character can't do what they want and guide them towards something helpful.
- You'll see a player breaking the game rules and ask them to stop. There's a set of guidelines for this at Intervention. Often you can get the job done with a raised eyebrow, though.
- A player will tell you that a toilet's broken, a tent's fallen over, or they need first aid. You'll use your radio to contact a team who're good at dealing with that problem. There's a set of guidelines for this at Crew protocol.
Types of reffing
There are four main places reffing happens: Anvil, quests, the ref desk and battles. They're all different kinds of work: do ones you think you'll enjoy, but don't be afraid to try out other areas. In all cases you will have a radio: it is probably your most useful piece of equipment, and if you find you're confused or unsure about something you should use it to ask for advice. You shouldn't need to guess at all.
Here you'll have a tablet, as well as your radio, and you'll need to be able to operate it. The ref interface isn't overly difficult to learn. You'll mostly amble or loiter around the IC field and players will ask you to help them investigate items, do rituals, or manage their inventory. Sometimes you'll hear over the radio that there's a player somewhere else who needs a ref; if you're able, let the caller know and head over there.
Most of the roleplaying on Anvil tends to be relatively relaxed and social, and the reffing tends to follow that: unless we're seriously short-staffed, you can just walk between ref requests. Some refs have found that they could get the job done by lying on a cushion in the Civil Service hub.
Plot that hits Anvil is usually designed to fragment on impact: by the time it reaches a ref it normally consists of an excited bunch of players with a magic item you've never seen before, asking to do something you barely understand. This is normal. Don't panic. Between your tablet and your radio you'll be able to work out what's going on and either help the players along or let them down gently.
You won't have a tablet here: we can't sensibly get the wi-fi into the woods, so there's no point carrying a fragile slab of electronics. You'll still have your radio, though.
Quests tend to involve quite a bit of fighting, and most of the reffing revolves around this. Most of your work will consist of watching the combat and encouraging players who aren't following the rules to do so. Sometimes the players will want to perform a ritual or investigate some item or location on the quest, and you'll also need to handle that.
You won't have creative control of the quest unless you wrote it. The person who wrote it should be available to answer questions.
The ref desk
The ref desk is a desk in the confusingly-named Games Operations Desk (GOD) tent. It has chairs, computers and electric lighting. It is not, despite this, an easy posting. You will print ribbons, trauma cards and voting forms. You and your radio will make up for gaps in wi-fi coverage. You will laminate work you're not proud of, and give it to players. You will learn the admin password for the database, and you'll need it. Through all this you'll need to manage a queue of players with complicated questions, civil servants with complicated questions, and plot writers with complicated needs.
It is the most fun your humble author has had at a LARP in years.
More helpfully, it's pretty much admin in a field. Almost all of the admin Empire needs is either automated by the tablet interface or handled by the excellent GOD crew. The rest is held together by spreadsheets, hope and desktop publishing software, and a lot of that happens at the ref desk. It helps if you've got reasonable office IT skills (it helps a lot if you're good with Excel, InDesign and MSSQL specifically), can write neatly and quickly, and hand off information well.
The ref desk is a two-person job, and we try not to swap the two people out simultaneously.
These are a lot like quests, but dramatically larger and consequently a bit more regimented. You will be briefed on what to expect, and given a role, on the morning of the battle. You might be following a particular group of monsters or players around to check they're taking their hits, standing near an objective to check the players do their thing to it, or counting how many siege engineers escape from the players. You might get re-tasked as the battle changes.
What you don't need to worry about is re-balancing and directing the fight to keep it interesting: PD haven't quite got to the stage where we wind up the monsters and let the battle go, but that's the broad aspiration.