Are there games where the GM has a "character sheet"?

Hi all,

I'm wondering if there are RPGs where before the game, the GM engages in "constrained creation" - that is, they set what options and limitations they will have when play begins. This, of course, is what the other players do when they generate a character.

Something like the fronts in Dungeon World are the kind of thing that I'm thinking of, but they're not constrained enough. You don't have to use them and you can make them up on the fly, and even when you use them they're not as big a part of the game as a player character's character sheet is.


  • I wonder if My Life with Master comes close to this? The values for Fear and Reason define how strong the Master's hold over the minions is and these values are chosen by the players at the start of the game, along with what type of character the Master is, what their plan is, what they need to carry it out and who they are trying to impress with their plan. It leaves the GM under similar constraints to those the PCs act under.
  • Many games have some way to structure and guide the GM that resembled character sheets or character creation. Off the top of my head:
    - Dogs In the Vineyards: the town construction and available NPCs sheet nicely sets up the GM resources.
    - Rune: point-buy creation of challenges to set up an explicitly competitive GM vs player mode.
    - Night's Black Agents: the vampyramid and conspiramid structures of escalation are at least a nod towards this.
    - Wrath of the Autarch: while currently being kickstarted, this looks like it has a well structured Autarch GM role.
    - Traveller and its descendants (spiritual or otherwise): Traveller was also big on the GM building the worlds and situations, often with random tables - which neatly mirrors the semi-random lifepath character creation. Many games seem to inherit this approach, including sandboxy OSR games, like Stars Without Numbers (or really anything Kevin Crawford has published).
    - Homeworld Project (one of my games): Literally has GM sheets that mirror the player sheets so they can both use a flexible NPC / situation creation system.
  • edited October 2015
    "Game Balance" can act as such a constraint (gearing encounter levels to PC levels during prep), but you're probably looking for something more specifically mechanical.

    DayTrippers can be played in two modes. One of them is a collaborative narrative approach in which the Players and the GM roll against each other for narrative control over the types of mission details that will be involved. It's like a little pregame minigame that constrains the content to follow. You can find a version of it here in the original DT thread.

    (The other mode is a Trad/OSR approach with an "Auteur GM".)

  • You know, the classic D&D dungeon is this.
  • You know, the classic D&D dungeon is this.
    Huh? We must be getting VERY different vibes from the OP, because what it sounds like to me doesn't really sound anything like a classic D&D dungeon.

    Anyway, from reading the subject of this post, my first thought was "Ryuutama" since there the GM has a CHARACTER, who has a character sheet. But it seems that's not actually what is being asked at all.

    Agon does something SORTOF like this, in that the GM has constrained resources with which to make life hard for the PCs. It doesn't "thematically" restrict his choices - he's still free to challenge the party with a gorgon, or a raging river, or whatever - but he's limited in how dangerous his threats can be. There's no determination made about this at game start, however.

    So I'm going to go with "No, there is no game that restricts the GM to 'their prep'" since it sounds like really, that's what you're asking for. For the GM to pick some stuff before play begins and then be essentially forbidden from modifying it. The reason for this is that players can inevitably be trusted to go way off the map, and prep is finite by definition, so you'd basically be dooming the game.

  • Card Ranker, a game based heavily on "battling card game" shows like Yu-gi-oh, has scenarios built around the idea of an antagonist NPC called the Dark Ranker. They're more or less built like a regular PC (which in itself makes them unique compared to any other NPC in the game, who wouldn't have significant stats), but they also act similar to the PCs in that they are restrained in their actions by the mechanics of the game.

    The game has at its core a fairly rigid turn structure, where each player/character gets to have their own scene in turns, each with its own specific mechanical objective (such as acquiring new cards for your deck, forming a bond with another character, uncovering the Dark Ranker's desire, and cetera), and the scenario itself has a set turn turn limit in which the PCs attempt to accomplish their objectives and prepare for their final showdown with the Dark Ranker. The Dark Ranker also gets their own scene each round, and they are allowed some unique actions and abilities that allow them to obstruct the PCs.
  • @Airk, I still think a classic D&D dungeon is this. <=) Prepare the dungeon before play, stick to what is prepared, don't add or change anything.

    Also, the Parsley games are like this, because the GM doesn't actually get to prep anything. She's playing off the scenario entirely, like a computer does when you play a ZORK game.

    In a similar vein, <a href="">Waiting for the Queen/Tea at Midnight is like this, but there's no GM (other than the game designer), so I'm not sure if it fits.
  • @Airk, I still think a classic D&D dungeon is this. <=) Prepare the dungeon before play, stick to what is prepared, don't add or change anything. </blockquote>

    What if the PCs leave the dungeon? Also, this isn't "constrained creation" it's just "do all your creation in advance".

  • edited October 2015

    Anyway, from reading the subject of this post, my first thought was "Ryuutama" since there the GM has a CHARACTER, who has a character sheet. But it seems that's not actually what is being asked at all.
    That was exactly my first thought and reaction. Ryuutama let's the GM play a dragon who gets to help the players occasionally. How cool is that?

    I don't see character sheets as 'constraints' but rather as empowerment. So, the post title is a bit misleading for my taste.

    I was thinking more Marvel Heroic (Cortex Plus) where the GM is sort of 'restricted' on using the Doom Pool (a collection of dice gained from the players)
  • The Doom Pool is kinda similar to how Agon's GM operates, only less so. The Doom Pool seems to mostly be used for boosting threats, while in Agon, all threats cost the GM from his pool (the name of which I can't remember right now. Strife, I think.)
  • What if the PCs leave the dungeon? Also, this isn't "constrained creation" it's just "do all your creation in advance".
    I think that is what Sanglorian means:
    "constrained creation" - that is, they set what options and limitations they will have when play begins
    Generally, in the old days, when the players left the dungeon, the game was over. Sure, there might be some rummaging through equipment lists and some tavern RP, but it was almost a different game then.

    Anyway, I've tossed that out there and maybe it's useful to Sanglorian, maybe it isn't.
  • I guess there are a lot of ways you could define "options and limitations" while still creating stuff on the fly. For example you could pick a list of monsters. That limits your options, but in no way prevents you from creating CONTENT except for, well, new monsters. This hews closer to DW fronts.
  • Mortal Coil has a cooperatively authored setting sheet (about the rules of magic) that very much acts as a constraint to all the players.
  • The recently Kickstarted PbtA game Fellowship has a playbook for the GM. I backed it but haven't had time to look at it yet, so I don't know if it's just a fancy name for the MC Agenda or if there's actually a playbook there.
  • "Murderous Ghosts" is a game where the player and the GM both play from a booklet. They are almost identical and work pretty much the same way.

    A booklet isn't really a character sheet, but this is the closest example I can think of.

    (Because, really, any player who's not playing a single character... what could they possibly have that would be like a character sheet? A dungeon map is not a bad answer, as well.)
  • edited October 2015
    It's possible to imagine a GM's playbook with a list of "environment stats" giving them points to spend on monsters, traps, etc, and those stats might allow "moves" maybe like hard and soft MC moves in PbtA games. So the Player has PC moves and the GM has GM moves, and they're worth the same number of points - assuming it was a very mathematically balanced system - both set up their stuff and then play against each other.

    But I can't think of any game that actually does this.

  • With Great Power ... ? But that's still sheets for the specific villains, not a general sheet for the GM. I'd have thought some game would actually do this, but it seems not!
  • Hey, what about 44: A Game of Automatic Fear? The GM in that has a strict budget they get to spend and proscribed actions they can take to spend or reclaim that budget: it's a very structured game where, as GM, you have to think quite strategically about what your next move should be.
  • GM budgets are used in some games, yes. 3:16 and Prime Time Adventures spring to mind. But a budget is a very different thing from a character sheet, unless the GM makes choices to "design" that budget according to strict rules.
  • Ryuutama has the Ryuujin, a character that the GM controls like a PC to facilitate adventures. GM techniques are tied to the Ryuujin's powers. You gain power slots as you level and you slot in powers between each session. However,you can spend your hit points to activate powers that you haven't slotted in.

    Ryuujin powers are things like "The Tale of Kindness: PCs who help others expecting no gain or reward can raise their Spirit score by one level for the rest of the session (up to two PCs at once who meet this condition)." or "Elite Enemy: A monster’s HP increases by (LV x 3), and it becomes impervious to all status effects. If the monster already has status effects on it, they are immediately cured."
  • 4e D&D and Spycraft very famously have GM design budgets.

    (I agree that early D&D did not have this, but 4e certainly did and like most really valuable and good things in 4e it caused people to start screaming and screeching and fall over howling that the end was near.)

    Spark has a "setting sheet" that defines what things are interesting to the players in the game; the GM has more resources in those areas.
  • Needless to say but I'll add anyhow:
    Of course, the GM is generally limited and constrained by the permission the players give the GM.
  • (I think Social Contract issues are at a higher level than what Sanglorian is interested in here.)
  • 3:16 has threat tokens for the GM to spend depending on how much opposition she wants to include in the scene with certain limits. There are also tables to roll for alien worlds and their special abilities.
  • Thanks for all the suggestions, folks. I don't have a follow up, or anything like that - I was curious and you've all given me something to think about.

    (This isn't me closing the thread - just wanted to say thanks).
Sign In or Register to comment.