Do I even need a GM?

edited August 2008 in Game Design Help
I'm working on my game, Wake Up or Die! and it has occurred to me (via Jason and others) that I may not need a GM. The GMy stuff could be done by the players I think. The game is here:
So tell me, Do I Need a GM or is he baggage?
Comment here or to tomgurg AT gmail DOT com.


  • Uh, your link has an extra fullstop point in the end: it's broken :)
  • Do you need one? Depends on your group, probably. If they like sharing the jobs you have listed under "Moderating the game or What the GM Does," then they might as well absorb them. If they don't like sharing those jobs, then the game will fail badly when you try to force them to do so. So decide who you want this game to appeal to, I guess.

    My group, for example, would most likely enjoy your game when it was run by a good GM (it hits near a genre we've played a good game in before), but would absolutely fucking despise the game in every possible way if the GM authority was distributed. They loathe playing their own antagonists, hate being the primary antagonists for each other, strongly dislike settings which are generated scene-by-scene, mildly dislike having absolute authority over the results of their own characters' actions...basically, they like to have a separate, highly-involved, highly-invested GM playing the "world" -- providing the adversity, judging conflicts, declaring results, etc. -- while they concentrate on playing their own characters. (And since this is the internet, I should also point out that our group's games are frequently face-meltingly awesome, so I do not in fact consider this situation to be a problem at all. They're just gaming preferences, nothing more; some folks like sharing GM duties and some don't, and liking your gaming one way does not make you better or worse than people who like it the other way.)
  • edited August 2008
    Well, now you've realised there's a choice with it - what appeals to you? GM or no GM?

    What do you want to do with the game - would it do what you want to do, only if it had a GM? Would a GM get in the way of what you want to do? This is your creation - we have to make sure you actually create what you intend to create.
  • Callan,
    Thanks for the comment. You're right I need to decide. I'm pretty sure I'm going without a GM if I can figure out how to set the scene and antagonist(s) well and working. The idea hadn't even occurred to me, being from traditional gaming background until last year, that I could do this w/o a GM. Jason was looking at an earlier draft and asked why I even had one. Then listening to Rob Bohl on Independent Insurgence talk about Misspent Youth got me to thinking that I could do this w/o a GM and it would still work. Maybe even better. I need to do some more research on this and maybe playtest both ways to see which I like best. Any suggestions of good GM-less games other than Grey Ranks and Misspent?
    And you last statement is spot on. That is why I posted this question.
    It's a good game but any other suggestions on the game would be great.
  • Geiger Counter is GM-less and available for free here.
  • Johnathan,
    Thanks. When you mentioned GC I remembered reading it just this Friday. What a sweet game! It was part of the impetus to post the question. I WILL run GC at some point. It is a very well put together game and I look forward to it. I'm going back to it today and see if there is anything that will assist me on the second read.

    I posted this over at the Forge too and have gotten some good feedback. EDEDED recognized one of the potential issues that I have seen - aimlessness w/o a driving force or 'director'. He noted that the game is an us vs. them game (of course) and he thought needed someone tasked with keeping things flowing. A good point. It made me realize that there are things in my head that haven't made it to paper yet. Like, if GMless, each player would take a turn being the antagonist(s)/GM. So I'm seeing it as a hybrid game. I like the group character/scenario creation a lot. I need to expand it some for scenario creation. But I recognize that a GM will focus the characters and players and may provide a driver to some extent. He also had another suggestion that may get incorporated.
  • Posted By: tomgAny suggestions of good GM-less games other than Grey Ranks and Misspent?
    Polaris, Shock:, Contenders, The Roach, Dirty Secrets
    mmm... those are the ones I have that immediately leap to mind. Also, Univesalis.
    Also, is Misspent Youth really GMless? I was under the impression that the GM played the Authority . . . but I don't have the game, and I haven't played it so I don't know much.
  • fnord,
    You're probalby right about Misspent Youth. I probably mixed it up with Geiger Counter because I listened to the Rob's interview and was reading GC on the same day. Thanks for the suggestions and reminding me about Dirty Secrets, which I actually own but haven't played yet. Need to check it out again.
  • edited August 2008
    a couple more:
    1001 Nights and It Was a Mutual Decision and Sons of Liberty
    oh, and others I just thought of that I don't own: All of Emily Care Boss's games - Breaking the Ice, Shooting the Moon, Under My Skin, and Sign in Stranger. And It's Complicated and Mist-Robed Gate.
    Wow. the GMless "genre" is growing . . .
  • Contenders and Shock: were my gut instinct picks as well. That, and Capes, which for my money is the king of GMless games.

    Tom, the key to GMless design is to make sure the tasks that a GM usually does in games are apportioned around the group in a way that's fun and engaging. Shock: for instance has the player to your Left control the forces of Antagonism for your Protagonist. That player does GM-y stuff like designing and roleplaying characters that oppose or complicate your Protag's life, while other GMy stuff such as various facets of worldbuilding are distributed differently, so yet a third player may be involved in a scene if he's in charge of say, Religion and needs to contribute some relevant details.

    Whereas in Capes it's a bit more free-for-all, with everyone swapping around the roles of Hero, Villain and Supporting Cast from scene to scene. The key cycle of play revolves around creating conflicts that engage other players toward vigorous opposition, then either winning and getting your goal or losing and reaping "cool opposition" rewards. . .which you can use to handily win further conflicts.

    The important thing to remember is to NOT gut the cool things in GMing out of your game, but rather divide them up in ways that are most fun for this game.

    To that end, I'm compelled to point out that out of Accounting for Taste's list of detractors:
    Posted By: Accounting for Tasteloathe playing their own antagonists
    Posted By: Accounting for Tastemildly dislike having absolute authority over the results of their own characters' actions
    Have nothing to do with strong GMless design. Granted, this:
    Posted By: Accounting for Tastehate being the primary antagonists for each other
    means that GMless games are still a bad fit for your (AfT's, that is) group, but in wider application, it's important to get clear that providing one's own antagonism is pretty much a drag in any game situation. There are superficial difficulties such as the awkwardness of talking to yourself, but also the deeper issue of lacking a fit resistance to strive against, which is usually provided by the GM, and can be provided by other players. I know of no GMless design that doesn't address this issue, and address it handily. At no time in a game of Shock: or Capes will any player be found describing their character's actions toward a goal AND the opposition to those actions. In the latter case your action may go unopposed, but that's just a sign that no-one else at the table was sufficiently interested in that goal, so you shrug and create a new goal.

    Contrast all this to the game of PTA that I tried to play GMless. It was my first Indie game and it looked super-fun and I got greedy--dammit, I wanna play a protagonist too! SO we tried that and ended up quite often resolving the outcomes of our own goals and actions, with no opposition to speak of--and it was suck. And lo and behold, PTA's rules DO provide for a GM precisely to perform that opposition role. Go figure. :P

    Hope this helps you decide Tom, and how to proceed whatever you decide.

  • Hey folks,
    Thanks for the feedback. It seems that the hybrid idea - group world building and a gameplay GM/antagonist is where I'm headed. Looking back at the initial design ideas I think that is what I had in mind. I just didn't know how to express it. The game sprang forth from Sight and Sound Challenge and my first reading of DRYH. I don't want a player opposing himself at any point. It clearly needs someone to push the characters/players; as you said 'to strive against'. Resistance IS futile after all.
  • I think it's worthwhile considering 'warts and all' design - the design method where you don't try to fit RP cultures needs or even your groups needs - you just make the game that fits you. That design method pivots upon a culture where people not only accept things will be made which aren't entirely compatable with them, but actually like trying games/things that aren't perfectly compatable with them. Whether that culture exists around your area, who can say, but the other option seems to be to try and fit RP cultures expectations, or your groups expectations. Intellectually and creatively that'd get rather incestuous, so I think it's worth considering a 'warts and all' method.
  • Callan,
    If I understand correctly you are saying 'make your own game' or 'make the game you want to play'. Thanks for the encouragement. That's what I'm doing. I just hit this bump and needed to 'talk' it out with someone I guess. It is good to get other eyes on our designs all along the process. At least that is how I feel and how it works, mostly, in science (I'm a biologist in the daytime.). So 'warts and all' is fine as long as I like it. So far so good.
  • Posted By: Callan S.That design method pivots upon a culture where people not only accept things will be made which aren't entirely compatable with them, but actually like trying games/things that aren't perfectly compatable with them.
    Besides, you can rest assured that if someone's interested in your game but finds one of your design decisions incompatible with their preferences, they will change your game to remove the objectionable parts. Or just take the parts of your game that they like and bring 'em over to a system that doesn't have the awful design decisions that they abhor so much.

    It's rare that I find myself agreeing with Callan about something, but I'm totally with him when it comes to "you might as well design the game the way you personally want to." I can only console myself with the knowledge that I'm there because it goes hand in hand with the philosophy that gaming groups should tear, fold, spindle and mutilate any game they intend to play until it provides the experience they want and not worry overmuch about what the designer may or may not have intended, and I'm pretty sure that's not where he's coming from. But it's a valid conclusion, even if we got there by different routes. Maybe even more valid because of that. ;)
  • Not terribly, AFT - your conclusion erodes when people question whether they want to fold and spindle. Mine, I just say write whatever and make sure you write what you have to say. There's no prior condition required to support it :)
  • It's nice to know that even when I agree with you, I can still disagree with you. :D
  • Thanks for all the comments. I appreciate you taking time to do so and check out the game. I've decided to continue with the GM'ed build for now. Being from trad gmaing it is the most comfortable at the moment and will get me past this road block to be productive again. once it is done I'm going to build alternate rules for GMless and hybrid. I'll playtest each in turn and see which one I like best. Keep your eyes open for updates.
    Again Thanks!
  • I have had people email me that my discussion with Ben Lehman on my podcast about GMs has been helpful. I believe Brennan Taylor even walked away with the idea of having two GMs in How We Came To Live Here from that episode. Maybe it'll be helpful for you, too.

    Master Plan #19: Busting GM Assumptions with Ben Lehman8
  • yeah, Ben has great stuff to say about GMs and when you need them. He's talked about it on other podcasts too, I think. Maybe on Theory from the Closet?

    I have a feeling the tentative game idea rolling through my brain right now, if it's even tenable, is going to be One PC, One-or-More GMs game.
  • Hey Ryan,
    Thanks for the suggestion. I listen to the show but didn't remember this one for some reason. I'll load it on the ipod and give it a listen.
    By the way, I appreciate Master Plan. Good stuff.
    Thanks to you too. I'll see if I can find the others.
    Your idea sound very intriguing.

    By the way, all this discussion has opened the gates to new ideas for the game. As soon as they gel together in a workable way I'll update the pdf on my site.

  • And Ryan, off topic, it just occurred to me that Master Plan is the name of the antagonist in the highly excellent Marvel series Agents of Atlas. He's a secret world power manipulator. You have been found out! Your Master Plan is revealed! Ha. Check it out. It is one of the best they have put out in a while. The series screams for SOTC treatment.
  • You have discovered my ruse!
  • My outright, spoken agenda is to get less games out there with GMs. So, here's an idea which may help:

    You could try the boardgamey mechanic of requiring your players to add corruption to another player's dream situation at the start of their turn. That may take care of your GM problem, as the rest would simply be a matter of rolling and positioning amongst the players.

    For instance, you've got three players in your group: Dana, Chris and Robin.

    At the start of Robin's turn, he is required to add corruption to either Dana's situation or that of Chris. Good luck!
  • Posted By: fnord3125yeah, Ben has great stuff to say about GMs and when you need them. He's talked about it on other podcasts too, I think. Maybe on Theory from the Closet?
    It appears I am stupid and/or confused. I looked through my podcasts, and I don't think Ben has been on Theory from the Closet. Maybe I was thinking of when he was on Independent Insurgency (ep. 14). I've been listening to a LOT of different podcasts lately and I think they're getting muddled in my head.
  • edited August 2008
    That is an interesting idea. I've copied it to the file of ideas. Thanks for reading and for the feedback.

    I've check Indep Insurg.. Thanks for the info.

    I'm downloading the episode tonight. The last one also looks like it will be helpful. I'll feedback to you on it after I listen. And I'll check out the 'killing cows' threads here.
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