Are Games That Are Collaborative With Each Player Acting As A GM Called GMfull Games?

edited February 2017 in Story Games
I have two questions I was hoping I could get some help with...I would be super thankfully for any responses.

1. Are role playing games that are collaborative and have equal distribution when it comes to storytelling; but, in which, each player acts as a GM on their turn, called GMfull games? Not GMless games, but games in which the current GM is creating and narrating the main story by themselves on their turn with the other players focusing on playing their characters. Or is another term used? Or is there no term for such games?

2. Can you name some games that have this characteristic? In other words, that are collaborative and have the players taking turns GMing, but in more of a traditional manner, (i.e. the GM narrating the main story line and playing the NPC's and the PCs playing from the perspective of their characters). Any examples of games like this would be appreciated; hopefully, other story gamers might be curious about this type of info as well. Thanks :)

Comments

  • 1. By some people, sometimes.
    More precisely, the idea behind using such a term as "GMful"/"GMfull" instead of the somewhat more common "GMless" is to emphasize everyone's shared duty toward "running" the game rather the supposed "lack" of something. I've been known to use the two terms basically interchangeably.

    2. Aren't most GM-less/GM-full games like that? I mean, sometimes it's your turn to play one particular character and sometimes it's your turn to play the environment, assorted NPCs, etc.
    Or, in other words... Would Polaris fit in the category you're trying to nail here? If not, why?
  • edited February 2017
    Aren't most GM-less/GM-full games like that? I mean, sometimes it's your turn to play one particular character and sometimes it's your turn to play the environment, assorted NPCs, etc.
    Or, in other words... Would Polaris fit in the category you're trying to nail here? If not, why?
    Hum...I've yet to play Polaris. I would say that in a lot of Storytelling Games someone frames a scene and then everyone both plays the characters & talks about what is happening in the environment & plays NPCs (I think?)...What I was thinking with the rotating GM thing, was that one person would describe just the environment and describe and play NPCs exclusively (the "GM"), and then the other people would play their characters exclusively during that turn, then the "GM" responsibility would go to the next player next round... not much of a difference, but a subtle one.

  • edited February 2017
    I understand what you're asking, Jeff. There are games which apportion creative responsibility quite evenly (and, typically, quite vaguely), like Fiasco. Such a game cannot be said to have a "GM", in any sense. From what I see of your game reports, I think you've been playing a lot of games that fit into this design trend lately.

    However, there are other "GMless" games (no single player is "the GM"), wherein players momentarily take on something like a traditional GM role. In Polaris, for example, it rotates turn by turn.

    Are these different types of games?

    I think it *could* be a useful distinction. The problem - as usual, with these things - is that there are so, so many games which blur that line, and fall "in the middle". So, what to do?

    As usual, I come to my usual approach, which is to simply describe a given game for what it is, rather than to try to build taxonomies (which everyone will then argue about).

    But, if you want to start to build taxonomies, be my guest! You will certainly find *some* games which fall clearly into such camps.

    Oddly enough, both Fiasco and Polaris don't... necessarily. I've seen people play Fiasco with one of the non-protagonist players taking on a GM role (or, in other instances, it's the player who is "not in the scene"). I've also had a failed game of Polaris where the protagonist player pushed too hard, driving his character towards tragedy, and it was a failure, because the opposition/GM player had nothing left to do.

    To complicate things, Polaris has two or three "GMs" in each scene, if you play it by the book. There is also this other game ("How We Came to Live Here"? I always forget...) where there are two GMs.

    In David_Berg's upcoming game, Within My Clutches, the person who is playing the point-of-view character IS the GM.

    And so on.

    In any case, there is certainly no *agreed upon* definition of GMless vs. GMful. I think it just originated from a discussion where someone pointed out that a "GMless" game, more correctly, is one where the "GM powers" are distributed to all the players. In that context, wouldn't it make more sense to say that *everyone* is a GM now, not a player (in the "traditional RPG" sense)? Hence, the term "GMful" was coined as a replacement for "GMless".

    Some people have since then tried to establish some kind of definition which would clearly distinguish one from the other. As far as I know, none have succeeded. (At least not so far as for that meaning to catch on, anyhow.)
    • I would say that in a lot of Storytelling Games someone frames a scene and then everyone both plays the characters & talks about what is happening in the environment & plays NPCs (I think?)...
    • What I was thinking with the rotating GM thing, was that one person would describe just the environment and describe and play NPCs exclusively (the "GM"), and then the other people would play their characters exclusively during that turn, then the "GM" responsibility would go to the next player next round... not much of a difference, but a subtle one.
    (bullet points mine)

    Great! You see, this split is much more useful to me than the vague "GM" category.

    It's interesting that I'm noticing a generational gap of a sort, here, in that the second category you describe is close to what I used to consider the "default" or most common mode of play, while the first one sounds to me like the specific mode of play of Fiasco or Archipelago or Dream Askew and - come to thing of it - it's something I've been doing more and more of lately, to the point I'm maybe just now "getting used" to it.

    Still, thinking about your second (or desired) category a little more, I see there's maybe a finer breakdown I need to do before I start mentioning specific games. Instead of just "play your character" and "be a GM" we have to consider these specific tasks:
    • Play a main character.
    • Play one or more recurring/named non-protagonist characters.
    • Play the environment (including any faceless crowds).
    • Frame the scene.
    • Cut/end the scene.
    • Provide opposition.
    In Polaris, for example, you have four player roles, relative to which main character is currently in the spotlight:
    Heart plays their main character (almost) exclusively
    Mistaken provides opposition, including mechanical opposition in conflict, and plays all those characters which are opposing the main character
    Moons play a cast of other named characters as long as they aren't currently opposing the main character in the scene, but aren't allowed to participate in conflicts.
    Either the Heart or Mistaken can frame a scene, which means in practice that you can at any time frame a scene for either "your" main character or the one you're antagonizing as Mistaken - as players aren't required to take turns in a strict round-robin sense.
    "Playing the environment" isn't considered a role per se: it's more of a tool all roles have (limited) access too, especially through conflict procedures. In practice, though, my experience is the Mistaken tends to control the environment more widely as part of their providing opposition task, while the Heart more strictly adheres to "just playing their character" except when framing the scene or when affecting other characters and the world through conflict ritual phrases.

    A "simpler" division of tasks, closer to the ideal you're looking for, happens in Shock: Social Science Fiction. Players take turns being the Protagonist and Antagonist: these two players more-or-less collaboratively frame a scene, based on their individual authorities (the Protagonist's role in framing a scene is similar to a non-MC-player's in AW: they talk about their normal daily routine and/or what they're trying to accomplish right now).
    Then, the Protagonist plays the role of the one main character they have created, while the Antagonist plays all the forces opposing them in their goals, including a named "nemesis" character or organization but also any aspects of the environment as required, and the scene - or, rather, chapter - is only over after they engage the conflict resolution system.
    Other players mostly just take on an audience role and wait for their turn as *Tagonists, though they're allowed to chime in by claiming and playing specific named elements of the environment (technology, society, support characters) as "Minutiae" which have a way of affecting conflict outcomes.
  • edited February 2017
    Now, let's look at a game I've been playing several times over the last couple months: Lovecraftesque.
    It's actually pretty similar to Shock, with three rotating roles: players take turns being the Narrator, with this duty rotating clockwise around the table, and the player to the left of the Narrator being the Witness. Everybody else is a Watcher.
    On any given turn, the Witness player strictly and exclusively plays one character - describing their actions, speaking for them and, especially, stating their feelings and thoughts. Meanwhile, the Narrator frames the scene, drives it towards its goal, ends it as soon as such a goal is met, plays any background characters or environmental features insofar that their actions or descriptions are of any consequence and - while this isn't a conflict-oriented game - resolves any conflicts which might arise entirely by fiat. Watchers are limited to elaborating on what the Narrator says, but while they can effectively play any background characters or environmental features they explicitly aren't allowed to steer the scene away from where the Narrator's driving it toward - so that while, for example, they're supposed to provide lines of NPC dialogue that's bound to be "just color" and they can't make any reveals or any consequential "moves" this way.

    We could well say that the Narrator is "the GM", in the most absolute sense in fact, that the Witness is "playing a PC" and and that Watchers are just audience members being tapped for small inconsequential details - so that, in this game, you strictly take turns being the GM.
    The twist here is that there's only one "PC", or main character - the Witness character - that all players take turns playing, passing the character sheet around.
  • Great examples, Rafu.

    As another example, my game Land of Nodd has a formal GM role ("Narrator") which shifts from turn to turn. Within scenes, another player is the Protagonist (like a traditional PC in an RPG). So it's very close to being "GMed" in a traditional sense, even though the position shift from turn to turn.

    However, the mechanics of play are effectively brought into effect by the other players. They decide when to go the dice (well, cards) and name the consequences of resolution.

    So, it's very close to being GMed, but... not really. For instance, you can be GMing a scene, but it's another player who has the ability to decide when the scene ends. That makes it pretty different in feel from a "traditional GM" role.
  • I think 1,001 Nights, by Meg Baker, deserves mention here, since it is an RPG that contains an RPG within it. At the Court level, it's GMless, with conflict resolution mechanized by the dice rules. But at the Story level, the courtiers take turns GMing for each other, and in that sense it's a truly rotating GM game.

    One of the most brilliant designs of all time, in my opinion.
  • Great example!
  • edited February 2017
    When I'm pondering playing a game without a traditional GM role, these are the variants that I'd want to distinguish between before signing up to play:

    1) Rotating GM. There is always a GM. Most of the time, I get GMed for. Some of the time, I GM.

    2) Constant shared GMing. I'm never the GM, but I'm also never just playing my character.

    3) Multiple GMs. Maybe I could just play a character. Or maybe I could just GM, but as part of a team.

    4) The game is the GM. Follow the prompts, read the scene descriptions, roll on the tables, etc.

    And then, within those, I'd want to know, respectively:

    1) Does it rotate by scene? By action? By rules-invocation? Something else? Does everyone GM the same amount? Yes/no/varies a little/varies a ton?

    2) How much GMing do the players need to do? It is very GMful or just a little, e.g. storytelling that doesn't even really feel like there's ever a GM?

    3) How many GMs and how many PCs and how many Other?

    4) Really? This isn't just # 2 with the "GMful" at "low"?
  • When I'm pondering playing a game without a traditional GM role, these are the variants that I'd want to distinguish between before signing up to play:

    1) Rotating GM. There is always a GM. Most of the time, I get GMed for. Some of the time, I GM.

    2) Constant shared GMing. I'm never the GM, but I'm also never just playing my character.

    3) Multiple GMs. Maybe I could just play a character. Or maybe I could just GM, but as part of a team.

    4) The game is the GM. Follow the prompts, read the scene descriptions, roll on the tables, etc.

    And then, within those, I'd want to know, respectively:

    1) Does it rotate by scene? By action? By rules-invocation? Something else? Does everyone GM the same amount? Yes/no/varies a little/varies a ton?

    2) How much GMing do the players need to do? It is very GMful or just a little, e.g. storytelling that doesn't even really feel like there's ever a GM?

    3) How many GMs and how many PCs and how many Other?

    4) Really? This isn't just # 2 with the "GMful" at "low"?
    Very good summary, David :) I appreciate all of the thought that went into this :)
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