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I'm looking to 'run' a 5-7 session mini-campaign in the near future. Problem is, there are only three players available- and I'm one of them. We could (and have in the past) run a two person party, but all three of us would rather just play this round. We've also done group-GMing in the past, and while it worked okay, it occurred to me to wonder if there was a method of randomly creating a dungeon or adventure, and what the best method would be. Best would be defined as:

  • Either modification to a normally GMed system, or with a system specifically designed for gm-less play. In either case, simple is better than complicated. Extra credit if the system and/or mods are free, though that isn't really a part of the question.

  • We don't need something with a particularly deep or clever plot, or indeed any plot beyond "$Bad_guy took the $mcguffin to the $sinister_location" but generation of more complex or novel plots makes it better.

  • Pure combat is okay, and is probably the only way I can think of for this to work, but having diplomacy as an option makes it better.

  • We can control the opposition and NPCs (as I said, we've done group-gm games before) but we would prefer to do as little of this as possible. Something like the D&D monster manual 'actions by round' would be splendid. The less the gestalt DM has to do, the better.

  • While some level of surprise is going to be forfeited and we're all comfortable knowing things we shouldn't, the less out of character knowledge we carry around the better. Generating the opposition right before we encounter them would work just fine, as would covering the rest of the dungeon description with sticky notes.

  • Massive extra credit if the method itself is somehow system agnostic.

What system, ruleset and/or method would be best for this? Right now, the Myth-weavers dungeon generator is the best solution I've found.

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Most "systems" that match what you describe fall under the heading of board games. The Castle Ravenloft board game comes to mind. You may be better off looking for a board game of that sort, and then adding role-playing rules to taste. –  AceCalhoon Aug 22 '12 at 15:50
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What about asking for a GMless game and giving some criteria along that line? –  wax eagle Aug 22 '12 at 15:59
    
@wax Asking for a GMless dungeon-based game seems pretty narrow to begin with. I can't even think of any that could fit this question as it is. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 22 '12 at 17:23
    
Hmmm, trying to figure out how to clarify. I saw the other questions on GMless games, and they seemed geared towards solo gaming, which this isn't. The GMless tag may be misleading though- the group can take GMlike actions, though we'd like to minimize them. (See point 4) Think of 'less' as an antonym of 'more' not as an antonym of 'exists' if that makes any sense. –  IgneusJotunn Aug 22 '12 at 17:44
    
Not every GMless game is for solo players. Ask specifically for a GMless game (or a GMfull game, if you want to call it that way, it's the same). I suggest you a parallel, different question than this one. –  Zachiel Aug 22 '12 at 18:05
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4 Answers

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I have several recommendations... but all of them require some "creative use" to run "GM-less."

AD&D 1E

The 1st ed Dungeon Master's Guide has a random dungeon generation system. Couple this with random encounter tables (also in the DMG) and a healthy dose of "groupthink GMing" (see below), and AD&D can be run GM-less

Central Casting Dungeons

CCD is a partial solution - it's the generating the map option. Couple it with favored game engine, and groupthink GMing, and away you go.

Cosmic Patrol

Cosmic Patrol is old school space opera with scene-by-scene rotation of the "lead narrator" duties - not quite full-up GMing, and you still run your character in the scenes.

If you can handle storygaming and Rockets-N-Rayguns era space opera, this is a fun option.

The Current D&D Boardgames

These can easily be run using 4E characters and full up monsters in place of the simplified 4E mechanics in the box, or just played as is with "groupthink GMing"...

They're good hack-fests with random maps, and fun combat.

And, for the most part, they work as a form of groupthink GMing already.

Groupthink GMing

Rather than a single GM, everyone shares the GMing role.

If the majority agree to some decision, it happens. If not, roll off with even chances. If someone has two ideas, then his chance is split between the two.

Monsters get run in one scene/room by player 1, then next by player 2, and so forth.

I've found that, with the right players, this can work for groups of up to 4 players, in a fairly story-focused mode.

It's fairly similar to the approach given in Cosmic Patrol.

Modifiers should be kept limited - keep it rolling, not calculating, and when not certain if some critter should use a power, ask the other players, and/or roll off!

As for the MacGuffin - make a decision on when to trigger the "endgame" - the boss and the MacGuffin. You can pick it by time - as in, "Well, it's been 4 sessions, and we're halfway through session 5, so the bigbad will show up next room!" Or pick it by random chance - "Roll for a 20+ on 2d10, DM+Session number." Or by room number. Or total doors generated. Whichever, contract it, and run with it.

Social Rolls - presuming D&D or similar

As far as social rolls go - use the reaction table! If a reaction to a given statement is positive, shift the encounter reaction table. If it's negative, shift the encounter reaction level. Use the speaker's Reaction adjustment (Cha Mod for 3.x/4.x) on the reaction table, and everyone else gets to give a +1 or -1 for what is said and how it is said. Roll it, and shift the scene reaction one step toward that reaction.

It's fun, and it works. I've used it in GMing Cyclopedia D&D on many occasions.

Personal Commentary

I've done the random dungeons before - it can be a fun meat grinder. It can also fall flatter than a pancake... it all depends upon how much investment the party gets into the combat and story.

It really helps if everyone knows the rules, and if everyone trusts each other to be fair.

I ran a Traveller campaign this way - we had a blast. And every player in that 5p group was a skilled GM, so when something needed GMing, someone would step up. My role as lead GM was simply knowing the rules.

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Add in the Mythic GME as an aid to groupthink GMing. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 23 '12 at 6:10
    
Also, Mystic Empyrean is a game that runs much like this description of Cosmic Patrol. It has a card-based oracle system as well, so the player taking a turn GMing has some extra creative support. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 23 '12 at 6:12
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You could try some of these GM-less RPGs! I'm picking games that at least have a fantasy bent to them, but they are not explicitly dungeon crawls. All but Polaris are one-shot games, so you can either replay them, try more than one, or play them between other games.

  • Fiasco, in which you play out a darkly humorous, Coen Brothers-esque disaster. If you want a D&D-style farce, then you can use the Dragon Slayers playset. For 3-5 players.

    If you're a fan of Wil Wheaton or videos, you might enjoy TableTop's playthrough of Fiasco: Setup, Part 1, Part 2.

  • Microscope is a world- and history-building game. For 2-4 players.

  • Polaris is a role-playing game about the dying days of the people, about how their bravest knights struggled against the Mistaken and their sun while the very people that they defended choked themselves in in their own self-indulgence. Unlike the other two games, it suggests 3-8 sessions of play. For 4 players, but there's an optional rule for playing with 3.

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I guess my answer is less about random generation and more about GM-less gaming, although the Setup in Fiasco certainly scratches that itch. –  okeefe Aug 22 '12 at 17:47
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I would second fiasco. If you want to see how it plays, check out Wil Wheaton's Tabletop playthrough of Fiasco. Part 1: youtube.com/watch?v=WXJxQ0NbFtk Part 2: youtube.com/watch?v=Aj7NcdDh-WM Part 0: youtube.com/watch?v=uuJizhyf-y4 (setup) –  Joshua Aslan Smith Aug 22 '12 at 18:10
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I edited in those links. Thanks! –  okeefe Aug 22 '12 at 19:14
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If you need a map generator tool, I recommend Dave's Mapper.

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You could take a look at Dungeon Bash v1.0 was a D20 dungeon with light plot generator (oh, and sometimes side plot too). The "new" v1.1 is apparently that and a board game (I only have experience with the older D20 only version). It is $8 on RPGNow, so if you like D20 it could be worth picking up just to see if you like it.

My experience with the older version is it was nice, it gave an opportunity to fiddle with D20 tactical combat rules. It made a great complex board game. It didn't make much of a RPG, but I only ever played it with two players. Not "best game evar!", but worth far more then $8 t me.

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