1. Social contests dice out the way you'd dice out combats in most games. This approach gives social contests a dramatic weight that they lack in almost all RPGs.
2. Since so many of the contests are social struggles (rather than fights to the death), it's OK for the PCs to lose frequently. In Dying Earth RPG, getting tricked by NPCs is as important as tricking the NPCs.
Every GM who is serious about talk-oriented (rather than or in addition to combat-oriented) roleplaying should buy a copy of Dying Earth RPG and run at least the adventure provided. (Maybe I'm biased because I like the Dying Earth stories and I like Robin D. Laws. Judge for yourself.)
The information on this page is designed to make it easier for you to run the sample adventure in the RPG, "Cooks of Cuirnif." If you haven't run the adventure yet, you can use the stuff on this page to make your all-important first game more fun. This is all based on running Cugel-level characters; I have no experience running Turjan- or Rhialto-level characters.
Thanks to Viktor Haag, a helpful fellow I met through Alarums & Excursions, you can now also download illustrations with captions naming the characters. Players like captions so they can remember the NPCs' names, but GMs might prefer illos without captions, so as not to give away information inadvetently. It might be handy to have both types of illos available.
The Excel file also serves as a sort of PC worksheet. You can't use it without knowing the rules, but it at least keeps track of things for you, if you want to create your own PCs or PC templates.
These PCs are based on the idea that you roll randomly for every style, which you ought to force the players to do, especially if you're not sure you're going to play a campaign. There's a weirdness in the rules that you gain points by spending 2 or 4 points on Magic and then rolling your Magic style randomly. Strangely, you effectively get penalized points for not having a score in Magic.
Running Dying Earth is trickier than running most RPGs in one way: an NPC's stats change as a result of social interaction. In most RPGs, an NPC's stats only change when they take damage, use up spells, etc. In Dying Earth RPG, every social contest can result in an NPC having fewer dice left in one or more pools. Be ready to keep track of pools (or to fake it).
Before running the game, reread the rules for Persuasion and Rebuff. I overlooked the modifiers to die rolls based on the persuasion attempted, and I think the game would have been better if I'd used those details. If the players read nothing else, have them read these rules.
The examples in the game seem to imply that one's style is a secondary concern. If I were to run the game again, I'd put style at the forefront. If your style, for example, is Forthright, I wouldn't let you spend points from your pool unless you were actually being forthright.
Be careful never to allow a roll for Persuasion if the PC is not actually persuading someone, or if success is impossible. I had a problem situation where a PC tried pretend that she didn't believe the Duke's fine applied to her, and the PC rolled an Illustrious Success. Since the fine was part of the plot, and the Duke didn't care how the PC felt, the roll was irrelevant. That means the roll shouldn't have been made in the first place.
Use the optional rules for refreshing pools by time rather than by circumstance. That way, everyone can use basically the same rules, and they're simpler. If you wind up running a campaign, you might want to use the more detailed rules for refreshing pools.
Use the optional rules for Illustrious Successes and Dismal Failures being unrerollable. That way, the players get a stronger sense for the capricious nature of life in the dying earth. (It's also simpler.)
I never had an NPC curse or bless a PC, and I wish I had. These rules are unique to Dying Earth RPG, and they are worth trotting out. Look for opportunities for a defeated rival to curse a PC on the way off stage.
Boots: Allow everyone with good walking boots to stroll into town with a jaunty gait. Force every other PC to find some lowly form of transport into Cuirnif, such as hitching a ride in the back of a manure wagon.
Hat: Have NPCs treat PCs with nice hats as worthy fellows of grace, while treating those without hat as bumpkins or wannabes.
I bought a second copy of the rulebook for use in my game. My guiding thought is that two copies of game that I actually play is worth more than twice as much as a single copy of a game that I don't play. With a second copy, I could hand one copy out to players while still having the adventure at hand.