random thoughts: rotating GM

edited February 2014 in Story Games
SO this has probably been done to death, but...

My feeling is that the GM should just be another player that improvises in reaction to game situation (through their stable of NPCs) in a similar manner to players improvising in reaction to the game situation with own PC. "Everybody roleplays"...

So the logical extension to that is that nobody is the GM per se. Rather, in any given scene, someone takes on roleplaying all the NPCs -- that somebody being the player whose PC is least involved in that particular scene. A bit like how Prime Time Adventures has a spotlight character for a particular session, but in reverse. In each scene , the player whose PC is somehow designated to be the 'anti-spotlight' character relinquishes their PC to be a bit part player (if they are there at all), and instead takes on roleplaying any significant NPCs in the scene, along with other functions that are delegated to the GM in this theoretical system.

So 'GMing' in this fashion doesnt rotate in a clockwork way, but is dependent on the the context of the scene -- whichever player's character is least involved becoems the GM for that scene.

Is there a game that does this already? whatcha think?

Comments

  • edited February 2014
    What's the purpose of the scene and who states the purpose? In your suggestion, that is.
  • Hi Rickard.

    Good question - it is traditionally one of the functions of the GM to determine what the next scene is.

    I think it makes sense to reward the player for being GM, so maybe if a player puts up a hand and says, OK, Ill be the GM in this scene, then they get to set the scene, based on input from the rest.

    ?????
  • Good question - it is traditionally one of the functions of the GM to determine what the next scene is.
    Is it really a tradition? If you're playing a traditional game with a game master that has a prewritten adventure, and one player says "I want to see the herbalist" then that player kind of determines the next scene, right?

    When I'm playing "GM-less" games, it's the person who takes the initiative that determines the next scene. Usually it's the same person who frames the scene too. I had moments in games where the task of being a "scene framer" rotates clockwise, but where someone else could suggest a scene. Framing a scene does not make someone a game master, according to me. Determine the purpose of a scene does not make someone a game master. Playing supporting characters does not make someone a game master.

    As I can see it, from this perspective that I purposed now, is that a game master is someone with a hidden agenda that the others are about to find out. That's why I (and some people with me) think that a GM-less game need perfect information. The group needs to know all the participants' ideas and every character's agenda so the group can together form the game and frame scenes around it.
  • edited February 2014
    Yep. I think it is the person who takes the initiative in any game that probably determines the next scene, but if another player says, screw the herbalist, I want to go to the warehouse, then the GM is the authority that decides which, even if most of the time, that authority is not exercised because there is a consensus.

    My experience is usually:

    GM: what do you do?
    players : (talk amonsgt themselves) - we do this...

    My thoughts are that the GM doesnt have a hidden agenda - the GM should be reactive rather than pro-active, as a general rule. Although the GM should pursue the goals of the NPCs, so there some initiative there.

  • We did a lot of rotating GM in the mid- to late-90s; it was usually whoever had inspiration and enthusiasm for 'what happens next', and we'd kind of tap out if we were either worn down or we had a protagonist-type character whose interests we wanted to advance. It took clear goals expressed for the protagonist-types, and engaging color and situations from the GM. It did sometimes blur the lines of GM authority and purpose, and this was usually a feature and not a bug; one of the best features was feeling empowered to just step in when you had a good idea, and the social contract was to roll with it.

    Geting the social contract there was the big effort.
  • edited February 2014
    In one of the games I'm trying to put together at the moment, each player controls a single hero character and a bad guy faction. When any one group of bad guys gets their act together or brings their evil plan to a particularly interesting point, their controlling player becomes the GM for any ensuing action scene, with their 'PC' picking up a supporting or off-screen role for the rest of the group. It means your PC and your villain group won't interact directly, but that's probably for the best at any rate.

    Dream Askew does something very similar with its Situations, though without the specifically structured, "Now this person is moving into the GM role," points in time.
  • The rotating GM is normally called "troupe" style play in White Wolf books an elsewhere, but they don't rotate from scene to scene, but instead from chapter to chapter - valuing consistency in mystery elements and NPC portrayal.
  • Archipelago and Fiasco start to go in those directions, stefoid.

    Mythic GM Emulator is a bit like that as well in practice, although that starts to hit on some of the things that Rickard is talking about.
    Usually the first player to state an interpretation of the random roll results for a scene-setup ( and who has any sort of support from another player and no active, vocal player in opposition to the interpretation) gets their way.
  • Hi Stefoid, there's a shared Gm roll mechanic in Kingdom of the Lost, but its only for Flash backs. (The lost cant remember their past)
    Your characters flash back story is created by the other players and Gm, hidden from you and revealed through play.
    It works by you buying scenes which players run and earn plot points which they can spend to get flash back scenes for their character, if I remember correctly?
    Its not totally what your looking for but is interesting.
    Here's a link to the game

  • My first reaction is: aren't there about a million games that do this, since maybe 2005-2006 or so? (Polaris comes to mind as one of the more famous early ones.)

    I know I've designed a couple, and other games like Annalise, unWritten, and Intrepid come to mind.

    And, of course, as others are pointing out, lots of people were doing it "unofficially" since well before then.
  • edited February 2014
    Steve, I'd say that passing around GM duties is easy, the real question is one of creative fulfillment. Do intermittent GM duties become a mere chore? Do they interfere with the fun of character play? If GM-swapping is compatible with a game's other aims, great, consider it a solid option. But if the game is predicated on challenge-tackling or immersion in character or meta-plots etc., it's probably not a good fit.

    I think "why GM?" is a frequently under-explored topic in games, and many of the traditional, unspoken answers actually work best with one GM, period. If you formulate a fun reason to GM that works well in spurts, though, rock on!

    I feel like perhaps "switch GMs" is sometimes code for "GMing isn't fun, so let's not dump it all on one person". A logical strategy, I suppose, but if GMing isn't fun, there's still a problem there.
  • edited February 2014
    Yeah, we could never get either "troupe" rotation or scene-by-scene rotation to work in our group -- both because the role would eventually land on someone who expressly did not enjoy it or want it at that moment, and because nearly everyone in the group prized consistency (which pretty much went right out the window as different people switched in).

    We can do some shared-GM-type things in our group, but we usually keep it off in its own silo away from "normal" play if it's not the standard "So where do you go next?" style of player-directed scene framing.

    Still, I always look at games that are built around sliding GM responsibilities around the table even though it's highly unlikely that our group will ever try one of them again, just in case someone has come up with a clever solution to either of our main problems with it. (I kinda doubt that it'll happen, but it's nice to think that it might.)
  • Just to echo others in saying that it's not really new, a lot of games post-Forge have a rotating GM in one form or an other. I don't want to put you off- go ahead and design your game with the rotating GM, but what I'd like to hear is exactly how you're apportioning the role, for how long does each player have that role (per scene, or per game etc.), are there mechanics for players to attempt to wrest the role away from the previous one or diluting it by paying to enter scenes (forex using plot points, or Drama points, as in Hillfolk)? Does one player control the 'good' NPCs and another the 'bad' ones? Etc. These are all interesting questions IMO, so I'd like to see how you would deal with them in your game.
  • Oh yeah, Im aware that rotating GMs is and has been a thing for ages.

    Many good points in this thread.

    The line of thought I was following comes from the philosophy that 'The GM is just another player, roleplaying a bunch of NPCs rather than a single PC'. So by extending that concept to eliminate the difference between GM and player so that all are just Players that represent a PC and a share ownership of the NPCs.

    The problems that everyone has outlined are significant, the worst for me being that shared ownership of NPCs dilutes being engaged with one specific PC.

    DreamsAskew Situations / bad guy factions are a nice twist to that because it lets players take sole responsibility for a logical subset of NPCs. The more I turn that over, the more I like it for lots of reasons. I wonder if any actual play of that style has resulted in a player abandoning their original PC in favour of a situational 'NPC' that has emerged through play as more interesting/important to the game. That would be pretty cool.

  • Another random thought is multiple simultaneous GMs.

    One of the things about RPG is that you have a group of characters who are 'traditionally' a group of supposed allies. You can overturn that assumption, but it has certain practical disadvantages to do so - You generally want your PCs to interact as much as possible - a 'sliding doors' type of game where you were telling 5 unrelated stories for 5 different players would involve a fair bit of spectating, unless people picked up multiple characters.
  • I've always liked the ideas of multiple GMs (a) competing with each other for some prize or (b) working together for some goal that requires all of them.

    A competition for "which of our stuff will the player engage with now?" is something I've toyed with, but never brought to the table.
  • edited February 2014
    The line of thought I was following comes from the philosophy that 'The GM is just another player, roleplaying a bunch of NPCs rather than a single PC'.
    I've been playing with this philosophy during these last years. I've written This Is Pulp as the game master being just another participant, but with a somewhat different task. I even avoid using the term »game master«. The creative challenge that the game puts on the participants are still there though, both for the players and the game master.
    The problems that everyone has outlined are significant, the worst for me being that shared ownership of NPCs dilutes being engaged with one specific PC.
    As I see it, you should play GM-less with a different play style. I mean, you can't have the starter and expect the dessert, even though you do the same thing with them: eating them. Normally, it's more focus on the fiction rather than following one specific character. Some GM-less games throw in moral decision-making into it too.
    You generally want your PCs to interact as much as possible - a 'sliding doors' type of game where you were telling 5 unrelated stories for 5 different players would involve a fair bit of spectating, unless people picked up multiple characters.
    Most games that are built with The Big Model in mind creates one story for each main character. Polaris is a 4-player game where there are four different stories - one for each character. When one character is in spotlight, the player sitting towards the player with that character, is acting out as a kind of game master. The rest of the two players are playing NPCs.

    Another game you could check out is The Coyotes in Chicago, where you have 3-4 game masters and one player. It's a really nifty idea and a resolution system that is definitely worth checking out on it's own. I can tell you more about how it plays out and what our group learned in how to play it.
  • The problems that everyone has outlined are significant, the worst for me being that shared ownership of NPCs dilutes being engaged with one specific PC.
    As I see it, you should play GM-less with a different play style. I mean, you can't have the starter and expect the dessert, even though you do the same thing with them: eating them. Normally, it's more focus on the fiction rather than following one specific character.
    I think that's an important part of the whole thing. I generally find it is easier for me to shift from being a GM in a traditional RPG set up to being a player in a GMless game, than it is for me to shift from being a GM in a traditional game to being a player in a traditional game.

    Actually, for what I like out of GMing, GMless games really crank up the fun for me and drop the workload involved to almost nothing.

    Of course, trad GMing fun for me involves lots of on-the-fly event and character creation, being able to rapidly slip between character portrayals ( usually of characters created on the spot as a response to PC actions), and generally lots of improvising. Plus, as a traditional GM, I get to enjoy the various characters, but I don't have to care about the characters. If one of my NPCs dies or comes to a bad end ( whether through bad luck or their own failings), I have a zillion more available. I can just play them. I never have to worry about them winning in any sense of the word.

    Given that point of view, yes, thinking of the overall story, as it is developing, is more what I do anyway. In a GMless game, I usually have 3 or 4 other players also doing the same thing. It's pretty magical actually.

    The only downsides I find is that GMless games tend towards some really hairy-dog type stories. It's not nearly as easy to have a complete, cohesive starting point and stick with it ( although notably Archipelago does have some rules that help with that issue).

  • edited February 2014
    I feel like perhaps "switch GMs" is sometimes code for "GMing isn't fun, so let's not dump it all on one person". A logical strategy, I suppose, but if GMing isn't fun, there's still a problem there.
    In my experience rotating GMs happens not because GMing is not fun, but because it requires more real-life preparation time. It is fun, which is why most of my friends and I enjoy taking a turn. But to distribute the real-life time cost it is nice to rotate with each module, campaign arc, etc.

    I do not know of a game in which the GM role rotates each scene/encounter. But I have seen it happen as a "house rule" in traditional one-GM games such as D&D and Pathfinder.

    A few, rare times it happened just because one PC would have minimal involvement and everyone knew the GM would enjoy playing an NPC as a PC: the old GM hands the page(s) of enemy descriptions to someone and asks for a break from controlling the opposition.

    More commonly it happened when a play session ended with a PC death -- that PC's player would take over the GM role until the group returned to a location in the game setting where a replacement PC could be recruited in-story (providing real-life time for the Player to carefully construct a new PC). The old GM would play a new character rescued by the heroes in the dungeon/wilderness early the next session (a temporary PC that could be more wacky because it had no responsibility to mesh well with the party long-term). Also, the old GM knew inside knowledge of what was coming, but this was reflected by what the rescued captive knew: a player death usually meant that the enemies had been alerted to the heroes progress and would be adjusting their defenses/plans anyway.

    Once it happened just because a PC action derailed the entire prepared adventure. The GM basically said, "Um, you can do that, but it steers the adventure away from everything I had prepared. Want to take over as GM?"
  • Do 'Situations' work in actual play?

    How does the group decide to switch between Situations?
  • I'm embarrassed to say it's really hard to provide an analysis- it certainly worked for us many times, but the process was emergent and intuitive, as far as I can remember. There would be a moment where the person who was running would be describing, and I would get this urge like "oh shit this is what should happen next" and then I'd be bouncing in my seat and waving my hand like a kid in class with the answer. And likewise when I'd be running, rolling along and that gleam would come into anothers' eye. Like I said above, getting to the point where it was ok to let go of authority/ authorial momentum to the next person took more than rules or procedures, honestly.

    I think someone who has more experience with stage-style improv could probably contribute here.
  • I feel like perhaps "switch GMs" is sometimes code for "GMing isn't fun, so let's not dump it all on one person". A logical strategy, I suppose, but if GMing isn't fun, there's still a problem there.
    In my experience rotating GMs happens not because GMing is not fun, but because it requires more real-life preparation time. It is fun, which is why most of my friends and I enjoy taking a turn. But to distribute the real-life time cost it is nice to rotate with each module, campaign arc, etc.
    Yeah, this is my experience as well. I'm tired of the workload that a game master has. Either I have to prepare for a couple of hours, or I have to spend most of my energy to multi-task during the session between improvising responses, handling the rule system, managing the notes, making sure everyone gets enough time, et c.. I want to show up to the session and start playing, no matter what task I will fulfill. The GM-less games I want to play takes care of this by having structures to distribute the workload over all participants.
  • edited February 2014
    I'm embarrassed to say it's really hard to provide an analysis- it certainly worked for us many times, but the process was emergent and intuitive, as far as I can remember. There would be a moment where the person who was running would be describing, and I would get this urge like "oh shit this is what should happen next" and then I'd be bouncing in my seat and waving my hand like a kid in class with the answer. And likewise when I'd be running, rolling along and that gleam would come into anothers' eye. Like I said above, getting to the point where it was ok to let go of authority/ authorial momentum to the next person took more than rules or procedures, honestly.

    I think someone who has more experience with stage-style improv could probably contribute here.
    That first paragraph syncs up well with my experiences using Mythic GM Emulator.

    Notably though, I used that successfully after having read Graham's book,Play Unsafe, and after having played some games that were kinda half-way steps between a traditional RPG set up and full on GM-less games.
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