Role-playing Games Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for gamemasters and players of tabletop, paper-and-pencil role-playing games. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I love GM-less games. Seriously. After decades of having to be the area "weird GM" because no one else ever wanted to run new and experimental things, the rise of GM-less RPGs hit my sweet spot when it came to finally getting to play. Whether it be Remember Tomorrow or Umlaut, games which transfer narrative control to the group as a whole rather than a singular figure are making my life better.

Something that's not, however, is trying to shake loose the folks who've been limited to single-source narrative control in traditional GM/Player relationships. Some games are better than others for that (Umlaut being one of the easier ones, since the defined "moves" at any given turn are limited), but I wonder if others in the community might not have some suggestions or techniques to help get the more trad gamers into the dynamic a little more comfortably.

share|improve this question
I don't understand. How can you play without a DM ? – Stefano Borini Aug 22 '10 at 20:48
Stefano, the GM is responsible for certain things in your game, right? Take all those things the GM does and either distribute them among the players or devise mechanical replacements. Check out some of the GMless games mentioned. – clweeks Aug 23 '10 at 15:01
@clweeks : ok.. but how can players define a mysterious story and solve it at the same time ? – Stefano Borini Aug 23 '10 at 15:34
First of all, there are certain kinds of play that are only possible with a GM. But, what if there are no exact real mysterious circumstances until they are introduced in play? Maybe the players take turns specifying things about the mystery and from this a picture of what's going on emerges. The fun in this kind of play is different than the fun of solving your GM's mystery, but no less fun, just a different kind. – clweeks Aug 23 '10 at 18:26
Dirty Secrets, too. GMless, mystery game. – Jmstar Aug 28 '10 at 0:38

Having tried to do stuff like this, I'd say that a GM can't coax, convert or transition players to GMless gaming.

Not to say a group can't convert - but the GM's first move in that conversion has to be stripping off the authority of game-chooser and start a brand new conversation.

Say to the group "I really like telling stories with you guys. I'm not so into how the responsibilities are divvied up, though. What do you think?"

Go into that conversation with an open mind, knowing that you may be the expert opinion when certain questions come up. Be ready to say how stoked you are to see their creativity run amok. Be ready for them to say "You know, that's not for us." Be ready to look for compromises.

GMs can start decentralizing authority by giving up their own.

share|improve this answer

In my experience, playing GMless is way easier if you have games that present themselves as boardgames with some roleplaying elements. Microscope is a great example and it's what I'm trying to do with Geiger Counter as well. People know how to play Monopoly or Mouse Trap or Diplomacy without a GM, right? Doesn't strike them as weird at all. So if the GMless RPG presents itself as something in that vein, rather than "this is a NEW CRAZY WEIRD thing!" I think they tend to be more welcoming for new audiences. Jason Morningstar's GMless games (The Shab-Al-Hiri Roach, for example) are also pretty good in this regard.

You might also start by playing a cooperative, highly thematic board game like Betrayal at House on the Hill or the Lord of the Rings game by Knizia or Arkham Horror. Transitioning from those to GMless rpgs is pretty simple and direct, I find.

share|improve this answer
+1 Or possibly a card game, like Montsegur 1244. – Dave Hallett Feb 24 '11 at 20:01

I think that jumping directly to GM-less gaming with players who have found their groove with a GM is not an ideal solution. Easing them into it with games that give players increasing amounts of control over the environment and direction of plot is slow, but more likely to succeed as it lets the group move slowly out of their comfort zone rather than hitting them with the shock to their system all at once.

share|improve this answer
Think, for example, of Primetime Adventures, where you do have a GM (Producer), but really a lot of the narration is done by the players. This is just one example of a whole assortment of games where there is a GM, but he is by no means absolute. Just another player with some different assignment. – PiHalbe Sep 14 '11 at 11:37

I use Universalis for this. It's a game that non-gamers and trad-gamers can both play together. But one key is to explain to the trads that this isn't really a role-playing game as they normally thing of it. It's a narrative-building game that has elements of role-play. I use the terms actor-stance, director-stance and author-stance because they encapsulate different approaches to the developing game-play that just about everyone immediately understands.

share|improve this answer

Two things to consider: First, don't try to "convert" anyone. If your friends are loving the games they are playing, that is totally great. If you want to try new stuff and they are willing to give it a shot, awesome. If not, go out and make some new gamers. People coming into gaming without any history have 100% no problem with the GMless format in my experience - it is very organic.

Second, if you are looking for something to serve as a gateway to weird games, look at games that still have a traditional setup and provide the players with more authority than they are used to. My go-to game for this is The Shadow of Yesterday, or its more generic rules-set, The Solar System. Keys give players a ton of authority, but you still have a GM and traditional roles. FATE (Spirit of the Century) does this as well with Aspects and Compels. See if your friends would give either of those a whirl, and if they like what they see, try something that gives them even more authority, like any number of GMless games.

share|improve this answer
Also, GMless is just a technique. I love GMless games, but there's a whole world of great stuff out there and it is just one small flavor. It's not like you need to make a big switch, really. – Jmstar Aug 27 '10 at 21:12

This is truly the Holy Grail that all GM-less, or GM-full, loving players would love to figure out. I have had the most success when introducing a game that matches a genre the group loves and is excited about. If the group if fully conversant with the tropes and twists of the source material, they are more likely to throw out cool ideas when it is there turn to do so.

Otherwise, all I can suggest to lead by example and to praise the contributions of your fellow players. Being told what you did was awesome leads to more awesome.

share|improve this answer

Squid, There are two practical steps to get players to have a good experience with GM-less games: 1) Make sure that everyone who is playing has a decent amount of experience GM-ing (the reason is that for most of these games, you have to assume GM-like duties at various points in the game) 2) Start with a one-shot of ...In Spaaace! this is a great GM-less game that forces the players to share narration. It still has a bit of a gamy feel, so it shouldn't be totally rejected by anyone willing to try something new. I hope this helps and if you need more info, feel free to ask! Dave M

share|improve this answer

There are a few games that are transitional in nature. Burning Empires is the one I know best.

In Burning Empires, the use of a scene budget transitions much of the GM role (namely narrative control) to the players. The GM still has a rules adjudication role, however, and still sets all difficulties. The game also allows for (and encourages) some PVP action, especially if, in a larger group, some PC's are on the GM's side.

BE also divides the action between at least two sides: invader and native. Most of the time, the players are on one side, the GM on the other, but some PC's can be on the GM side, or even on a third side.

Ars Magica, in some editions, uses shared GMing, with GMing rotating from session to session, and NPCs being group property.

As a diversion, Brute Squad, while PVP, has "Roll first, describe action second" as a mode, and that is also good GM prep.

Either of these get the idea of there not being a single source of narrative control. But both of these can put players into uncomfortable positions; some players will never make the transition even this far.

share|improve this answer

The game I have had most success with is Microscope by Ben Robbins. (It's still in playtesting, but at some point it will be out and this question will still be around then. It's available now.)

There's zero prep before play. Genre and other details of "what are we going to play" are tailored to the group during setup. During most of play, authority rotates among the players, but the game frames it less as "you get to be GM for a turn" as "when a player has their turn, they can have absolute authority to add X things to the game", so it both avoids giving players "GM shock" and it makes it clear what their options are. There is more fluid authority while playing out scenes, but the scene-resolution mechanics make it clear what should happen next as soon as there is any divergence in players' ideas.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.