GMfull Games

edited July 2017 in Story Games
I'm going to write a simple and quick GMfull game and I'm looking for some ideas to inspire me. By GMfull, I mean a game where the role of the GM is passed around in a circle and if you aren't the GM you just play your character. The non GM characters don't do any world-building or any of the stuff they would do in a collaborative GMless game, they just play their characters. What are some games that have this type of GMfull play or something close to this? Any suggestions. Thanks :-)

Comments

  • I'm fond of my own Zombie Cinema for its simplicity - it's basically a testbed for learning how to play this way. Minimal mechanical construction for making framing in turns (what this kind of "GMing" basically boils down to) go zoom.

    I'll also mention Tales of Entropy, because the publication party is this weekend and the game's so nearly available that I can practically taste it. It's a more complex take on the subject.
  • I think it's already available for download at RPGNow.
  • Very possible! I think Petteri was submitting it to Drivethrough a few days back. The interface was apparently so unresponsive that he wasn't sure if it went through, but perhaps he's gotten some notification by now about it.

    Anyway, if it's available then no reason not to purchase it while it's hot. Classic Forge-style narrativist-formalist story games don't come out every day nowadays, after all [grin].

    Either way, I'm going to visit him in Jyväskylä for the party on Saturday. Have to bring my regards in person for reaching the finishing line. Plus I'll probably get a copy or two of the physical book for my own collection.
  • My Finding Haven does this, but it won't be published until next month
  • I've been thinking about this quite a bit. I know lots of great "GMful" games, but rarely are they "simple and quick". The ones that are tend to be very genre-focused and constrained.

    The design trend in recent times for "simple and quick" games has generally drifted away from "GMful" approaches and moved towards more collaborative/freeform gaming. It would be nice to see someone challenge those assumptions!
  • Do mean like Dirty Secrets where the GM rotates after each scene, or more like AIWA where the GM changes every session? Or does it matter?

    - N
  • (In a Wicked Age... is pretty interesting in this respect. In single session play, it's really a straightforward GMed game, albeit more character-driven than most GMed game, perhaps. However, the strengths of the game lie purely in its long term potential, which means that you if you see it as a "simple and quick" game, you're totally missing out.)
  • I usually call these kinds of games to have a "rotating game master". It was so long time ago I played those kind of games so I can hardly remember them.

    Bad Family comes to mind but it is hard to get hold of. Here's a forum post pitching the game.

    Universalis was probably the first printed one that had collaborative storytelling, and you bet to see who will take on the game master role, but I think you only set the scene for your own character and that's not what you're after? If it IS what you're after, then most early Forge games had it.

    Rotating game master, in its simplest form, can be found in my own two page game The Murder of Mr. Crow, now when I come to think of it. You can read a session of it over at gameboardgeek.
  • We often just didn't have a designated GM at all in our Uni games. Over the course of play maybe one person would emerge as a kind of general leader, but it didn't always happen like that.

    - N
  • edited July 2017

    Rotating game master, in its simplest form, can be found in my own two page game The Murder of Mr. Crow, now when I come to think of it. You can read a session of it over at gameboardgeek.
    Hi Rickard, thanks for bringing these games to my attention. I didn't know about your games and downloaded the English versions of two. Has The Murder of Mr. Crow been playtested adequately? Do you think it would be a good game to play at Story Games SLC?
  • I haven't played The Murder of Mr. Crow, but I was involved a fair bit in the discussions leading to its development. I don't really see how the game could "go wrong", and I know it's been played quite a bit.

    However, you should note that calling it a "GMful game" might be a stretch (depending on how you interpret the term). It certainly doesn't have a traditional "play characters within GMed scenes" kind of dynamic; it's closer to a parlour game, as far as I can tell. (It might also have a significantly shorter play time than the games you've been playing.)

    I would definitely give it a shot! It would be interesting to see who digs it and who does not.
  • edited July 2017
    @Paul_T
    @Eero_Tuovinen
    @Rafu

    I think you all tend to be knowledgeable about a wide spectrum of games and your thoughts are very helpful. I've been talking about some of the areas in which GMless Collaborative Story Games could be improved lately and incorporating designs in my own games to help address these issues. One of the major problems that often happens in these games is that the tone of the story is not consist, because different players come to the story with different preferences and ideas about the type of story they want to tell. This is especially true of games that are universal in nature that don't have a (specific and well developed) pregenerated genre, setting, tone and themes. Do you think that GMfull games are any better in terms of unifying tone, as compared to GMless? Are there GMfull games that use procedures that have been successful when it comes to getting players on the same page about the type of story they are going to tell together? I've been working on this in both GMless and GMfull games and would love any imput you or others would like to provide. If this subject is of interest to you and you have the time, I would be very appreciative of any info or ideas :smile: Thanks for all of the awesome contributions you all make! :smiley:
  • edited July 2017
    The idea of The Assistant in The Murder of Mr. Crow is very elegantly done (i.e. does the the job very well yet in a simple way). It does two things very well in my opinion. Firstly, in "play to find out what happens" games sometimes GMs (especially if they're coming from more traditional simulationist games) have trouble improving, this gives these GM a very concrete and quick option if they are having difficulty (the GM doesn't have to think of anything (like a question) before passing "the hot potato" to another player. Also, some players (again, especially if they are coming from more traditionally structured games) have difficulty staying "immersed" in there characters POV perspective when asked to "world build." By using The Assistant approach, they do so voluntarily, which helps them to differentiate the world building from "embodying" their character. Also, the players that will offer to temp GM will likely be the ones that don't have the perspective shift issue. I hope I'm explaining this in a way that can be understood. Anyway, I know this is an issue for some players and it does a great job of addressing it; most importantly it addresses these issues well. Well done! I hope this makes sense, haha :smiley:
  • Jeff,

    You might want to check out Lovecraftesque, which does this as well. The "listening" players who aren't directly involved in a scene are referred to as Watchers, and the GM-player is told that they can solicit their advice for details and atmosphere at any time.
  • edited July 2017
    Thanks Paul, I have Lovcraftesque, maybe I should try reading it before SG SLC Meetup. The idea has has been explored a lot; what I like about Rickard's version is that it seems like it would address that perspective shift that people sometimes have when switching from playing a character to having a more GMish role while playing that character. Sometimes they feel distanced from their character and the story, because instead of just being part of the audience their taking on more of a director role. This used to happen to me before I started playing lots of GMless games. It seems like Lovcraftesque addresses this as well :smile: I'll definitely check it out. Thanks :smiley:
  • We also need to play my Land of Nodd sometime; it's largely about this. (However, I've not seen it work as a one-shot so far, so that may reduce your interest in it.)
  • One of the major problems that often happens in these games is that the tone of the story is not consist, because different players come to the story with different preferences and ideas about the type of story they want to tell.
    This is familiar to everybody, I think. How people react to it differs, of course. One particular approach I want to spotlight is this:

    It does not need to be a design problem when the players are not on the same page, if your goal in play is to have a creative conversation. Is that end result, that "great story" really that important? Or is it, perhaps, more important to have those moments of acknowledgement with your co-players, where you understand and appreciate each other's moves, moment to moment? You can have the latter without worrying about the overall, start-to-finish coherence of the story as a piece of narrative art. It is enough to start in glorious confusion and end in harmony.

    The answer may of course be that yeah, I specifically care about having a great story that could be written down right off the table chatter and turned into an excellent novel or whatever. Certainly many roleplayers care (or think they care) so much that they're willing to go to great lengths to get that: pre-plot the game, emasculate the other players so they do not ruin the performance.

    But, you could also take it in stride when you're tackling a new, rarefied genre, and the group has trouble honing onto it. Or when you're playing with new people and gauging them. Or when you're a bit tired and want to try new ways to do it. Why not have some crossed signals? It's natural, and by pointing the problems out you can get better at the communication together. It doesn't need to be a game design issue at all, and some might say that it's not.

    I mean, would you go in and try to fix sex this way? "Sometimes when you're having sex with a new person, you know how you can really misinterpret where you're going with it, and you're not on the same page at all with the other person(s) involved? How can we redesign the rules and procedures so people can just have good sex without having to learn to communicate with each other?" Somebody might say that this is an issue that is strategically better handled by training the players (to communicate) than changing the game, because that results in more flexible and powerful performance over the long term, instead of pale rote activity.

    Which, of course, brings up the question of how to best train the players so as to improve communication and get rid of these creative coordination problems. I suggest that playing is pretty good in this regard, at least if you play with a relatively stable group. Here's how this thing breaks down in my experience, given a random new play group:
    * 40% of people you sit down to play with can play pretty well with you from the start, given a fairly accessible game.
    * 10% play with you like you were old friends. You're just that compatible.
    * 10% are hopeless, you don't even want to put in the effort to improve your mutual play.
    * With the last 40% the play sort of stumbles and hitches and gets confused. Being an experienced player yourself, it's mostly the other guy: they don't know the genre, they don't know how to express themself, and so on. Doesn' really matter who it is, though, because the training situation is symmetric: you're just learning to play together. It's all stuff that polishes out well over say 3-5 sessions of play, after which you're both trained to play together.

    So yeah, if you have the luxury of investing 3-5 sessions into simply playing together, my experience indicates that this works for almost everybody to bring play up to a basic level of interpersonal competence. After that any improvements become less of an assembly line crash course on how to play together, and more an issue of personal artistic development: are you even interested in similar creative issues, how much effort each player wants to put into the hobby, and so on.
  • Do you think that GMfull games are any better in terms of unifying tone, as compared to GMless? Are there GMfull games that use procedures that have been successful when it comes to getting players on the same page about the type of story they are going to tell together?
    I don't think that GMfull beats GMless in this regard, really. The big successful coordination tools in rpgs are all tied into the role of an actual traditional GM, who has the social cred and responsibility to actually coordinate creativity. Just being the GM for 10 minutes during one scene doesn't allow anybody the creative space to adopt that responsibility: you can't sit at your home thinking about what you'd like to accomplish in the game; you can't prepare careful handouts and speeches to impart creative instruction. In this regard egalitarian non-GMed games are all the same, generally speaking.

    There are, of course, various procedures that non-GMed games use to coordinate players creatively. In my experience there is one that is absolutely stronger than every other tool combined: when you pick the right combination of topic, style and technical means for a game, the players will find it much more natural to cooperate simply because the game is easier as a creative challenge. A game that succeeds in this regard can get nigh-trivial to play.

    For example, my games Zombie Cinema and Fellows of the Julenius Archive are polar opposites in this regard: the former has a very accessible premise, and the vast majority of roleplayers can simply look at the game's box, hear about it being a Romero-style zombie survival game, and then go execute it. The latter is a weird exploratory challenge where the game designer doesn't really know what the content of play is going to look like, and neither does anybody else. It doesn't really have a fixed genre or anything remotely resembling a plot formula - it doesn't even enforce having a plot. It doesn't require the players to talk to each other, and it is extremely unclear about the order and pacing in which things are done, with few procedures. It's actually only a game because it has clearly determined goals towards which you explore your way while playing - otherwise it'd just be some freeform bullshit [grin].

    The latter kind of game is not necessarily "worse" than the former if it's what you want - the part of Julenius that I consider interesting myself is precisely the challenge of figuring out how to play it - but for your purposes this is the Big Question, how to make your game accessible. That's a holistic question that starts when choosing the subject matter of your game, and continues in all kinds of presentation and structural issues of how the game is presented to the players. That's when you ultimately determine whether somebody can pass the gauntlet of being taught your game, only to sit down and play it wrong.

    A more relevant example than the above of the challenges involved here is Polaris, a story game classic that straddles the line between "accessible" and "exotic". The game has a very particular and specific aesthetic, and enjoying that aesthetic is a large part of what enjoying the game is about. However, how do you impart the basic particulars of that aesthetic to the players? Polaris strives hard, yet has considerable difficulties as well. Consider these features:
    * The Polaris gamebook begins with a one-page fluff portion that gives little tweet-like vignettes about what the play of the game is supposed to look like. This is very good for giving an immediate sense of the melodramatic fairy tale style of the game; whoever is introducing the game to others can easily read it out loud to them, and just like that you're on the same page stylistically. If somebody's not excited by this well-written bit of prose, then perhaps this game isn't for them.
    * However, the game also has like 25 pages of setting information right at the start, and speaking frankly it's all crucial stuff - the game basically has a campaign-level metaplot that impacts anything and everything. It's not enough to know that tone stuff from the first page to play, you also need to know about the history of the star kingdom and the coming of the sun and the demons and the four cities and all that stuff. How do you upload that stuff into the heads of the players? Should one of them summarize it for the others? Everybody take the book home in turn and read it? Read it together out loud during the first session of play, spending time luxuriously?
    * The rules of the game are counter-intuitive and stylized. Each player carries plenty of responsibility and have a multitude of opportunities to either be passivized by the complexity, or to become a font of stupid off-tone contribution. There is, formally speaking, nobody at the table whose job it would be to coordinate the players; it is very much a part of the game that they coordinate themselves, by paying attention to the aforementioned materials and responding to them appropriately.

    The big solution to these challenges is, I might say: be less ambitious than Polaris, make a game that does not require as much skill-wise from the players. A simple and familiar topic that is both robust (doesn't break if a player makes innovative moves) and familiar (all players respond to it the same way), and play activities that do not require the players to exert their literary skills at high levels. Rules that are easy to teach and learn, and so clear that it's always clear what you're doing at different stages of play. The entire game needs to be so clear that creative chaos actually becomes procedural error that can be called out and addressed as a rules violation: "Your task at this stage of play is to achieve matter X. Please explain to us how your proposed move furthers X. If you cannot, perhaps you should rethink that contribution so that it actually does the thing you are tasked with at this juncture in play."
  • Excellent advice from Eero. I'd agree with it almost in full.

    However, I disagree on one point: I do think that "GMful" practices make a difference sometimes, even in relatively collaborative and non-prep games.

    I'll grant that it's a subtle difference, but it's there nevertheless.

    For instance, in In a Wicked Age..., you start with two sessions GMed by the same player, and only then can you start switching roles session-by-session. That allows one person to have a lot of input into setting the tone and style of the game before it becomes more of a free-for-all.

    In games like Polaris, having a consistent "GM-type" player for your character's storyline gives it some more cohesiveness stylistically, even if it's heavily contrasting to the other characters' storylines.

    Ultimately, though, Eero is right: the "magic mix" has a lot to do with just playing with the right people, whether it's a question of folks who have a lot of experience (or just the right instincts from the start!) so they know how to align their creative interests in real time, people whose creative interests happen to align from the start, or by spending enough time playing together to figure out what this thing we're all doing together is in the first place.

    The sex analogy is actually really good in this sense - not too different (although, to most of us, that's a partner activity rather than a group activity!). Sometimes you just click and it's great; sometimes it takes a long time to get on the same page, which includes doing it a lot but also learning how to communicate with each other about it; and experience and thoughtfulness really helps make that happen in any case.

    To me, playing in a "GMful" style is kind of like a couple that knows how to let one person lead for a while, and the other follows; it simplifies the process just for a moment.
  • edited July 2017

    Hi Rickard, thanks for bringing these games to my attention. I didn't know about your games and downloaded the English versions of two. Has The Murder of Mr. Crow been playtested adequately? Do you think it would be a good game to play at Story Games SLC?
    Sorry, Jeff. I haven't been around here lately. The Murder of Mr. Crow has been playtested enough for me to want to release it in the open. :) I tend to design the game while I'm playing it, and therefor playtesting is a part of how I create it. Only when the game is "finished", i.e. all the bits has been worked out and tested, is actually when I write the rules.

    The only thing that is lacking is clarity. For example, you shouldn't only play one suspect, because it's the detective that chooses whom plays who and the player playing the suspect should want to help the other participant. So it's more about creating a murder scenario (with others!) than playing a role and immersing in that.

    This podcast discusses the game, and I think they have really good points.

    http://parallelpodcast.tumblr.com/post/130751986230/the-murder-of-mr-crow-a-small-game-and-big-news#disqus_thread

    And I really like the assistant rule too, but mostly because it supports active listening. Even if you're not in the scene, you need to listen so you can help out if the detective asks for the assistant.

  • Is that end result, that "great story" really that important?
    [...]
    Certainly many roleplayers care (or think they care) so much that they're willing to go to great lengths to get that: pre-plot the game, emasculate the other players so they do not ruin the performance.
    [...]
    I mean, would you go in and try to fix sex this way?
    Channeling Ron, are you? If I didn't know he's alive and well, I'd swear you're being possessed by his ghost or something. :DD
Sign In or Register to comment.