"My word is the law on the battlefield!"
When some authority or power dictates what counts as "fighting fair" and actively enforces these rules on the battlefield. Almost always a neutral party in regards to the fighting itself, they exist solely to make sure the rules of battle are followed and punish those who break them. Their presence is often justified
— if the fighting in question is a Tournament
or Blood Sport
, for example — but they'll just as easily show up in real battle-to-the-death combat, in which case their presence may cause large amounts of Fridge Logic
. Liberal application of the MST3K Mantra
is recommended. Expect an evil or ruthless character to attack the Combat Referee
at some point; this may result in the heroes being forced into a no-rules grudge match, or it may prompt the referee to deal with his attackers himself via overwhelming force.
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Anime and Manga
- Can show up during a Tournament Arc, though this is typically rare, as Flexible Tourney Rules tend to be more entertaining.
- Zoids: New Century has its Judge robots, which enforce the rules of the mecha Blood Sport that the series revolves around. They take this role extremely seriously, up to and including enforcing the rules with orbital bombardments from a fleet of Kill Sats.
- Mr. Referee from Medabots plays this role, and can enforce his decisions with a Kill Sat!
- In Popcorn Avatar, Jagannath plays this role for the dispute between the Devas and Asuras. Though technically he's only shows up when someone breaks the agreed-upon rules between the two parties, or when a special-case exemption has to be made.
- The original The Culture novel, Consider Phlebas, has a form of this. On a planet set up as a museum/memorial to a dead species by one of The Sublimed, the characters have to take care not to piss it off by causing too much collateral damage.
- In Dune, the Sardaukar are primarily used like this, as a way to maintain the balance of power. Because of this, The Emperor has to go to great lengths to hide their intervention in the Atreides-Harkonnen conflict, since it exceeded his authority.
- Both the Classic and Gurps version of Traveller. Book 4 Mercenaries said that the Imperium reserved the right to intervene in military actions within its borders to prevent them from getting out of hand. One action that almost always provoked intervention was the use of WMDs, such as nuclear weapons.
- In the Gurps version the Imperium is more flexible about using nukes in space. Fewer people live there and there is a lot of, well, space, in space.
- In a very meta way, the GM of any particular game qualifies, as the first rule of every RPG is that the GM is always right. Additionally, he has set the battlespace. However, unlike this trope, in most games a good GM is subtly on the side of the players, wanting them to win but win after being challenged and having earned a victory. An exception is Paranoia, where the GM is positively encouraged to screw the players over in as many hilariously unfair and arbitrary means as he can.
- Most wargame tournaments have someone acting in this role. Many players who cannot agree over a ruling will accept either a third party to take on this role or will appoint the Random Number God as the Combat Referee and get back to the game.
- Final Fantasy Tactics Advance has Judges, which enforce arbitrary Laws during combat in order to force restrictions on the player.
- The presence of the judges is justified in both Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, and it's sequel. In the first game, the judges exist due to the nature of Mewt's subconscious desire to keep the world of Ivalice in existence. With judges making combat as difficult as possible, the protagonists will have a harder time accomplishing their goals.
- As for Final Fantasy Tactis A2, Judges were created in ages past in order to prevent the meaningless deaths of clan members. Clans voluntarily adjudge themselves in order to gain the protection of the judge; adjudged clan's members cannot die in battle. The cost of this protection is following relatively simple rules of combat.
- The Inevitable Tournament in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has your manager, who provides certain restrictions for the matches, like having to use at least one Star Power ability or not using items. If you break one, you won't move up a rank after winning the match.
- The old arena mech combat game, Battledrome, had a referee that looked like a Frisbee. It handed out fines and disqualifications for firing banned weapons, shooting at the ref, or leaving the arena.
- Almost all combat sports have someone in this role.
- Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing referees enforce the rules of the bout, but leave scoring to other individuals.
- Professional Wrestling referees are this in Kayfabe, though of course not in real life.
- Fencing referees act to determine priority of attacks in weapons which have right-of-way rules and to ensure fair and honorable action on the strip. Scoring is done with electronic machines where possible. Likewise, kendo matches have referees.
- Martial arts tournaments usually have the referee enforcing the rules and determining the scoring as well.