Swords & Wizardry is a free-form roleplaying game, meaning that there are intentionally not very many rules. The Referee is responsible for handling situations not covered by the rules, making fair evaluations of what the characters do and deciding what happens as a result. This is not a game in which the players are “against” the Referee, even though the Referee is responsible for creating tricky traps, dangerous situations, and running the monsters and other foes the PCs will encounter during the game. In fact, the players and the Referee cooperate with each other to create a fantasy epic, with the Referee creating the setting and the players developing the story of the heroes. If they are not skillful and smart, the epic might be very short indeed! It is not the Referee’s job to defeat the players; the job is to provide interesting (and dangerous) challenges, and then guide the story fairly along the path that it takes – a path sure to contain twists and turns that surprise the Referee as well as the players!
As the Referee of a game of Swords & Wizardry, you do not have a character; instead, you are the player who is in charge of the game. You create the adventure, you run the monsters, and you are the one who decides the results of all the decisions made by the players for their characters. You don’t get to tell the players what the characters do – that is their part of the game – but you referee the results according to the rules, and you interpret what the rules mean. Compared to most other fantasy roleplaying games, the Swords & Wizardry rules require a lot of interpretation because – by design – they do not try to cover every single possibility for what the players will do. It takes a little bit of practice to referee a game smoothly, but once you get the hang of it, you will find that you can run a fast-paced game without getting caught up in every little detail.
The three most important things to know about running a game of Swords & Wizardry are these:
- The rules are just guidelines
- There is not a rule for everything.
- When in doubt, make a ruling.
If you are a beginner Referee, and have never played a roleplaying game before, it is a good idea to stick to “the rules” for a few gaming sessions, just to learn how the game works. We have provided enough of these basic rules to get you started without having to make too many difficult decisions. But once you are comfortable with the basic idea of a roleplaying game you can start thinking about the optional rules, about creating house rules, and about adapting the rules. There is a whole world of fantasy out there waiting for you.
The following are resources for the two main tasks of the Referee: creating the adventure, and running the adventure.
Creating the adventure is done ahead of time; it is the job of dreaming up an adventurous place or situation, creating a map, and deciding what dangerous things lurk there, just waiting for a party of adventurers to stumble across them.
Running the adventure is what happens when your friends are assembled around the gaming table with dice and character sheets: it is your job to describe the starting point and then to keep the game moving once the adventuring begins. As you and your players get more familiar with the game, and their characters start to go up in level, you may want to start creating some details about the world that surrounds these adventures – which is called your campaign world.