This article originally appeared in the February/March 2015 issue.
At last year’s TravCon I was cheerfully teased (thank you, D!) about not being able to get out the door thanks to my head being so swollen. I wrote in my TravCon14 after-action report about being privileged to win both the PFI and SEH prizes, so I suppose it was possible. Even if one was for a foolish oversight. Having been allowed to play Emperor Strephon in one top-notch game only made things worse. The truth was, however, that I’d had such a rubbish year for health, work, and other personal reasons that my self-worth and even sense of identity were pretty much on the floor. TravCon, or more specifically the marvellous bunch of Travellers that attend each year, allowed me to go home with not just fun memories but heart-warmingly encouraged.
Arguably, refereeing a Traveller game does take a certain amount of ego in terms of being willing to put yourself out there. Taking on running a universe for the characters, entertaining the players, and “performing” in various ways is no small thing. There are NPCs to act out, rules to know, plot to keep track of and a host of other factors both within the game and in the real world the game is taking place in – such as organizing the environment and the players. If you’re writing your own material as well, the effect is magnified. You may be uncertain about whether the adventure will work in terms of plot; or you may be unsure about the reception it will get from the players. I don’t know if any research has been done into the personality types of those drawn to role playing – shame on me as a librarian for being too tired to look – but although I’ve seen many different styles of refereeing across the years, ‘shy and retiring’ is not a description of a referee I can think of.
We all like to think we’re the centre of our own universe – and that can be quite literally true in the case of a Traveller game – but I suspect that many of those refereeing games also suffer from a certain amount of insecurity. For reasons to do with the game mentioned in the last paragraph, or perhaps for personal reasons such as those hinted at in the first. Perhaps refereeing gives us a chance to feel in command of one small part of the universe particularly if there are aspects of the real world that we have little control over.
For those playing I can only say this – your referee may (or may not!) appear god-like; he or she may look as if they are utterly in control; or perhaps they give a sense of a duck paddling furiously beneath a serene exterior. But in any case, take a moment to find something in the game or their refereeing that you can encourage them about. It may inflate an ego or two here and there, but it may also keep them refereeing great games for you and many others.