• The referee is the world, not the adversary. The referee should portray the rules, situations, and NPCs clearly and neutrally.
  • The roster. Make sure that when a character dies, the player has another that can jump right in right. Whether it makes sense (“I was a torch bearer but that PC’s death made me gain a PC level and now I’m also here. Can I have their stuff?”) or not (“I’m Hank’s son, Hank 2, but call me Hank”), keep it moving.
  • Consequences are real and knowable. There’s no tension in “Rocks fall, everyone dies.”
  • Player choice. The referee must make the risks clear and threats obvious. Presenting clear stakes to a decision is the only way a player can make a meaningful one.
  • Questions, not rolls. Only have players roll when the outcome is uncertain. If it’s impossible, don’t make them roll. If there’s no chance it will fail, don’t make them roll. Let them get curious to get to the answers.
  • Combat is a fail-state. The characters will improve and get heartier with time and experience, but death is always a possibility, and combat is the surest way to it.
  • Forward-story, not backstory. The game is the story you tell together, not the backstory you come in with. But even if your character dies, they are not insignificant. A fallen comrade can still have a ripple effect on the party as it goes on: Diaries, small personal effects, stories round the fire.
  • The party, not the characters. The players should work together toward shared and individual goals. The story of the party is told over many adventures. Some characters will enter and leave, but the party continues.
  • Your choices matter. A bad choice may mean death, but it also means that every choice you make is significant and meaningful.
  • Avoid ever having to roll dice. Luck is fickle and your saves are not that good. Prepare and over-prepare. Make your fights unfair.
  • Magic is weird and dangerous. Mishaps will happen and dooms may occur. Spells are alive. You can improvise magical effects but it’s dangerous to be your own battery.

Safety Tools

The European medieval historical eras that fantasy role-playing games pretend that they’re replicating may have been horrible, but that doesn’t mean your table wants to act them out. Make sure to

  • have a session zero where everyone can communicate their lines (hard no’s) and veils (fade to black, do not describe in detail)
  • consider introducing the X card to interrupt play to check in on potentially triggering situations
  • allow for mental breaks every hour
  • debrief on the game if there was any triggering content or conflict that needs to be resolved

More detail on TTRPG safety tools can be found in the TTRPG Safety Toolkit, a resource created by Kienna Shaw and Lauren Bryant-Monk, and at the links below.