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So I have a group of players I'm playing D&D 4e with. Two of them are hardcore gaming nerds, my brother and his friend. His friend actually has a job but it's not intensive, my brother on the other hand has no job and is CONSTANTLY thinking about D&D. All he lives for is escaping reality. The other players are me, my wife, my 10 year old niece and her father. All of us are new, I have played lots of RPGs so I can handle myself but they're still trying to grasp the concept. Anyway what is happening is that we keep switching between campaigns.

It started with my brothers, then we went to his friend's with Dark sun, and now I'm trying out mine...but now my brother wants to play a NEW one he made. When I told him that it's really confusing for the new players to have to create entirely new characters with different classes and backstories he got offended. I asked him if we could all sit down and try to create a campaign world open enough that anyone could DM without spoiling their fun when they play like they know what'll happen. He argues no one would be able to have world-threatening or changing events, and the continuity would be screwed up. But I'm determined that this is the only way this group can keep playing without it getting chaotic.

How have you set up campaigns/worlds where everyone in the group can DM at any time, without causing spoilers or continuity issues? Are there any good references for building something like this? It's really the only way I can keep everyone happy without taking offense and confusion by the constant shifting of campaigns. Not to mention allowing the total noobs like my niece a chance to try DMing?

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It sounds like your underlying problem is something else, and your shared campaign idea is just one possible solution. (We call such questions XY Problems; that link explains it well.) While this is getting interesting answers, you might consider posting a new question that gets at the root of the conflict and asks for solutions to it? For example: why are you switching campaigns so much? Why that happening, and why it's a problem, is something that can be solved in more ways than a shared campaign. –  SevenSidedDie Mar 6 at 17:39
    
I'm sure that questions about rotating GMs and Troupe Roleplay has been asked at least two times. I just don't remember the wording of these questions. –  Flamma Mar 6 at 19:16
    
Yeah, I've mulled over answering this, but it does seem like you're trying to impose your desired solution, which may not be the best one, on your family. Please realize your sense of "order" isn't necessarily what the other group members want for their fun. –  mxyzplk Mar 6 at 21:47

10 Answers 10

up vote 10 down vote accepted

It is apparent that you are facing multiple issues here. I will try to address them individually. But first:

Get everyone on the same page

You all evidently have different expectations of play, the game has a few levels of agreement that have to be acceptable to all players, the social contract, and choice of game, and the story of the game are just three examples.

You can use The Same Page Tool - It can help your group discuss and define what you are expecting to get out of the game, an excerpt from the link:

Functional play depends on everyone playing the same game. Sadly, many people don’t even know or negotiate what that means, and a lot of game texts leave crucial things out. Too often, people come with different ideas and don’t realize it, and it turns into a mess during play.

So, this tool is designed to clear that all up before you start playing.


After you have figured out what your expectations are - you can start thinking about what world to play your game in. There are a few options available to make it so that anyone could GM those worlds.

1. Choose a world you all know.

Choosing a world you all know (like Middle Earth, or Narnia, or even a historical period) is pretty straightforward, but you should make sure that everyone has about the same level of knowledge about that world, or that it is easily accessible.

2. Create a world together.

You can do this on your own - or you can use a cool minigame designed just for this like Dawn of Worlds which puts everyone in the role of a god-like creator taking turns designing and building a world and giving it a basic history, excerpt:

It was the product of many minds playing off one-another over the centuries. The solution to our dilemma seemed only natural, we would create a world together. Everyone would have a hand in it, everyone would know its history.

We would become the gods of our own fantasy world. We would raise it up from the meager foundations of stone and water. We would raise up great civilizations, set them at war, guide them in science and magic, and give them leaders. And we would do it in about six hours. From this singular idea arose the game which you now see before you.


Once you have that - the decision of who will be the GM is something that I can propose two methods for, but I am sure others exist.

1. Choose a GM each session, and every player also has a PC

In this manner, the GM role is a "hot seat" players taking turns playing the GM and their own characters the rest of the time. This is a bit tricky if you are doing long campaigns, but for sessions of a few hours with smaller adventures this could be really fun.

2. Take turns running adventures in the same story

Every GM will play out their adventures and then switch out with another player at the end. You could also keep the PC's stories perpetual, just switching out one character and adding another they might meet on their travels - this keeps the players vested in their characters and also provides for some interesting stories.

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I've used the "take turns running adventures" method before, and it worked well. I also used it as the solution to the shared game world, though - each GM got to create his own area (i.e. nation - in my case it was planets), and at the end of each adventure, we would contrive to move the players over to the area controlled by the next GM. –  Brilliand Mar 5 at 21:26
    
I always have to insist on this: SPT can be intimidating on novice players. It seems too serious for people that are just going to play a game and it can be hard to fill by players that haven't mastered enough RPing concepts. I hardly imagine a 10 year old girl answering those kind of questions. –  Flamma Mar 6 at 14:40
    
@Flamma You are correct - it is a tool best used by advanced players - but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be mentioned. People are free to make their own choices - this is the answer I provided because I believe it is a good solution. This also serves a wider community than just the OP, and I think it is important to include that wonderful tool in the answer. But it is a good point that you make - you would do well to make your own answer that can cater better to young children if that is a big concern for you. Cheers. –  Inbar Rose Mar 6 at 14:46
    
@InbarRose I don't think I can add an answer better to the ones published here, including yours. Actually, introducing children into roleplay, or even getting everyone on the same page is not the question being asked. –  Flamma Mar 6 at 19:11
    
@Flamma Yes, the question being asked is how to create an environment were you can play a role playing game (whatever the setting or system) with friends in such a way that the GM position can be switched around with as little fallout from this change as possible, and with as much ease. So I am not sure your hesitancy in accepting my advise of using the Same Page Tool. Hence my suggestion that you can add your own answer, but if you feel that every aspect has already been answered, great - and thanks for your input. –  Inbar Rose Mar 9 at 8:00

Keep the worlds separate, but use the same characters

It seems to me the easiest solution is that every player always continues playing his or her character. The campaign and world you play in is dependent on who is the DM that day, but for the players, only the story changes - mechanics etc stay the same.

This allows you to play without having to generate/maintain multiple characters, but gives each DM the freedom to do whatever he wants with the world.

You might argue that this destroys immersion, and it might. But for most groups, it won't really matter. Im my eyes, it's a small price to pay compared to force all the DMs to spend time taking care of each others plotlines and synchronize the campaigns.

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Using the same character but changing setting sometimes solves only part of the confusion. Novice players could still feel the same disorientation. Also, for someone interested on the story, it would be difficult to follow the plots, I think. –  Flamma Mar 6 at 19:14
    
Why? If you can follow two different campaigns, you can follow them. If you can't, you can't. The character you play is only a small piece of the puzzle. –  Mala Mar 6 at 23:22
    
But this question is about novice players getting confused because of constantly changing the setting. –  Flamma Mar 7 at 11:46
    
Yes. Having multiple different characters instead of a single one one is (even if story-hacked like in Ars Magica) is more confusing, not less. –  Mala Mar 7 at 17:31

If you want to have long plot lines or other world-changing events, consider writing those stories, collaboratively, in the method of an exquisite corpse:

  1. decide upon a theme together. Agreeing upon a conclusion is issue-prone: in order to return the party to the necessary criteria of the conclusion, radical events may be necessary. This could go either way....
  2. have each person write a 'chapter' of the 'novella' that is the plotline.
  3. seal each 'chapter' in an envelope, except for one part:
  4. leave a separate note about where the PCs should leave off after running that 'chapter'

Players should optimally DM their own level. If they cannot be there that day then it's an extra tagalong-PC and no plot is revealed.

If the author PCs while another DMs their chapter (for some reason of order / selection of DMs) then the author is discoure-able from cheating because they don't know where their PC and others' will go in the next 'chapter'. Basically: Certain kinds of success in their chapter may adversely impact success in the next chapter.

You will have to take even distribution when writing chapters. With 4 players, chapter order would be 1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4 and not 1,2,3,3,4,1,4,2.


I've never organized this style of game before, and just though of it for this answer. i'd love feedback - particularly if you try it. My guess is that if there are N players a PC & chapter author, then at-most you can have N*2 chapters before someone can infer a pattern and corrupt the plotline with an agenda.

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While not D&D 4e specifically, my playgroup has done something similar to this with Vampire: the Masquerade. Every campaign we've played in that system (and even a few of the games we've played in other WoD systems, such as Werewolf or Mage) has taken place primarily in the city of Cruentis, a location we invented which is located near Dallas, Texas.

There are been no specific organization to the various games taking place in Cruentis. Instead, whenever someone has an idea (and the group is ready and willing to start a new campaign), that person runs his game. While we do try to maintain some continuity -- the current "prince" is really just an anarch strong enough to wrest control from anyone else, and was originally a PC -- we don't concern ourselves too much with getting a perfect timeline, especially when it comes to campaigns that lay incomplete! We have also run "prequel" campaigns which took place prior to the first incarnation of Cruentis. Obviously, the events of the prequel couldn't be included in the original game, but that's not a requirement in order for everyone to have fun.

Whenever someone runs a new game in Cruentis, he expands the worldbuilding, and the events of the game are incorporated into the patchwork quilt that it is. If the current ST forgets something that has happened in a previous game, he'll simply ask, and the players will work together to remember the events.

There is no need to play round robin with this. That is, you don't need four players to GM 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4. Play a game when you've got an idea. If one player happens to have more ideas (or has more time to come up with ideas), that's fine. The story of a tabletop game is as much the product of the players as it is the GM. Just because P1 is running half of the games and P3 only runs one game ever, doesn't mean P3 has been excluded from constructing your collaborative world.

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Lots of amazing answers here all incredibly useful. I dunno which one is best though. –  iorost Mar 6 at 5:42

The other answers are pretty good but they left out one big suggestion, Trying other games. Here I give some thoughts about my personal experience being in a group with multiple DMs and how we dealt with it, and also some twists on the suggestions made by others who already answered.

Try Different Games

You have access to multiple GMs and a core group, talk it over with the people you play with and suggest running a game in a separate system. That way if you have 2 GMs (like my current group) one can run D&D while the other runs a separate game.

Currently, I am running D&D 4e and a player in my game is also a GM. However, instead of running D&D along side my game he is running a game called 7th Sea. Splitting into 2 games solves the problems of "How do we refrain from using GM knowledge during play?" and "When do GMs and players switch spots?"

  • If you have multiple nights in a week you can play, then one of you can run 1 night and the other take the other night. My group runs our games on Fridays and Saturdays with 7th Sea every Friday and D&D each Saturday.
  • If you don't have that much time each week, try alternating games every other week.

I have found that even though you'll need to teach the "new" players 2 different systems, that can actually be a bonus in remembering which character is in which game.


Here is my take on your situation, if you decide not to run games in separate systems.

Try to Consolidate Ideas

According to your second paragraph, you, your brother and your brother's friend all wish to DM. That's really fantastic as most people don't want to DM, however 3 people is a bit much, maybe it would be possible to sit down together and discuss what you'd like to do story wise and if any of the ideas would logically fit into the same game world. Then, if that is the case, one of the people can take up the mantle of GM and weave all the stories together!

This may sound like a daunting task, and that one person GMing forever would be tiresome... and it can be, but now is the time where we come to the following Ideas:

Trading Places and One-Shots

Once you have talked about whether or not your stories can take place in the same game world you can decide to run the game one of 2 ways:

Take turns GMing your own story arcs. A good intricate quest can take a few weeks to complete, and a really detailed story arc with lots of character development may take a few months. Once one of your stories have come to an end, blend it into the beginning of the next via introducing the GMs new PC, and phasing out the New GMs current PC. Have there be a pivotal scene that compels the party to accept the new character and want to solve the new problem. Once the transition is complete the next time you meet the old Gm is now a player and the new GM takes his place at the head of the table.

Use One-Shots to break the monotony. If instead of taking turns GMing your own story ideas you choose to combine all the stories into the same world and stay with one GM for the course of the campaign, perhaps allowing one of the other GMs in the group a night to run a single night story would prove helpful in refreshing the main campaign.

Personally, even though our group plays 7th Sea and D&D, our group still gets a bit run down with being the same characters all the time. To remedy this we try out new RPGs or create simple scenarios that can be dealt with in a single night and allow players to make new characters to try out a class they may be interested in. This one session break from the main campaign has always served us well, it's a breath of fresh air and people walk away happy and ready to dive back into the main campaign.

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Ever seen the tv show Sliders?

Perhaps introduce an element that intentionally allows for separation of time and/or space. If you've ever had the chance to play the Rifts RPG, you are perpetually jumping into different worlds and scenarios. Maybe your group has a rare artifact that opens up portals to where you need to be. If you're group is comfortable with jumping into portals for the common good or out of necessity, I think it could work. The group enters a portal and bam new Dungeon Master.

Under this framework each person would likely want to have their own player character that someone else would play while they DM'd or for an even more dynamic play experience, you could have "your" character stay behind to reactivate the portal for the next jump. In this fashion, the group's composition would constantly keep changing depending on who in the group is DM'ing.

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Ars Magica did this best, I believe. In Ars Magica, all players had one Magus character (basically, the most powerful humans around, when they get a bit of experience), and a Companion characters (rather heroic and exceptional humans that are friends of the Magi). They all lived together in an arrangement called Covenant (which is as much an agreement of cooperation as much as it is a physical location such as a fortress, a built-up cave, a fake monastery, or a wizard's tower) with 10-100 Grogs ("supporting cast", like guards, cooks, hunters etc.) that would be "common property", with each player creating several of them to help with the process.

Magi mostly don't like adventuring. The reason is, they are primarily interested in developing their magical Arts, and one can't do it through Experience - you have to bury your nose in a book or your hands in your laboratory for seasons on end to get a new insight. However, from time to time, they must: local peasantry get ideas about "exorcising those demons from our midst", the fairies make a new hare-brained scheme, a lordling you have good relations with comes asking for favours, or there's the yearly harvest of magic mushrooms in a nearby forest that is contested with a rival Covenant. When they do go out, they don't all go together: maybe two or three Magi go forth, the other players will grab Companions, or several of the more important Grogs as a group, so that in each adventure the troupe composition changes.

For example, in one story, the Fire Blasting Guy and the Revels-in-Conflicts wizard are off to exterminate a goblin infestation in a local brewery, together with Mr. Broadsword and Tracking Girl and five escort. In the next adventure, half a year later, Master Enchanter, Revels-in-Conflicts wizard and Look-The-Normal-People-Are-So-Much-Fun negotiator mage are making an expedition to the regional enchanted item competition, taking their Captain of Guard, Mr. Broadsword, the Cook, the Weird Guy with Voodoo Dolls, the Spy Master, and ten assorted guardsmen.

Just like Brian S says, storytellers change as they get ideas. Also, different people can be specialised for different type of content. In our campaigns (of more than a decade ago) I was usually in charge of Faerie or Infernal stories, while my friend was more interested in politics and intrigue. You can also have a "grand arc" that only one or two people know about, that threads its way through various adventures, with the person-in-charge sending notes to the current storyteller about necessary clues that need to be embedded in the current story (like overrides).

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+1 citing Ars Magica as the main source of how to do it. The only thing that your answer lacks is the name of this RPing style: Troupe Roleplay. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troupe_system –  Flamma Mar 6 at 19:08

Aeons ago, played DnD in a group of 6 or 8 with 4 different DMs. We DMs had an agreement that in each particular adventure in our own world, there would be a trap/event/something in the storyline that could potentially (if the PC setting it off/involved/doing something stupid was another DM) strike the the DM's PC down (kind of like Snow White and her apple), and warp the remaining party to that DM's universe, usually near where the former universe's DM's character was located, although sometimes they had to go find him. There were subtle differences among them, but nothing game-altering -- some PC might have a unique, highly useful trait in one world that was ho-hum in another. That kind of stuff.

My favorite 'trap' was a mildly 'encrypted' scroll (a caesar cipher) in a chest, that once one player figured out, he blurted out "I've got it. 'The infinity loop, beginning meets end. Forces of the multiverse, hereupon send.'" -- and away they went, mid-adventure, to a randomly selected DM's universe.

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Realistically any on-going campaign is going to have problems with spoilers, missing information, etc in a multi-DM situation.

Assuming you can all agree on a system and a setting though then the simplest solution to this is just to run a Western Marches style game.

The world is pre-organised. As a DM you say "I'm going to run something here" and you claim that bit of land. The other DMs can do something similar. When you feel like running a game you announce it out to the players and they get together.

IC their characters are all based at the same town - they all band together because they hear about a bounty, or a rumour of treasure, or whatever else is the plot hook. You run the adventure and in one session they leave town, complete their quest, and return with the loot (or all die and don't return at all).

If you want you can do follow on adventures, or that can just be it and the next adventure is completely different. The key thing though is that at the start and end of the session the players end up back home. That means they can join or not join each session freely - and DMs can run or not run sessions as they want.

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It seems to me that part of the problem is that you are more open minded and flexible that your brother. Maybe I can suggest a technique that has the flaw of you loosing control and notoriety.

Main DM and secondary DM

I have been switching the DM sit for a long time because I have a brother with the same interests, but thinking of it I realize that in each campaign one of us has been like the director of the campaign, while the other has made secondary adventures.

The trick that while one DM has global control of the world, the other has reserved some parts of the world. I think it will be more clear with an example.

Last time I made this, it was with a friend. He created his version of Tharbad, a big city from Middle Earth. The main theme of the campaign is that the city is menaced by a upcoming war. The city is ruled by a complicated council, and all we know is that there are a lot of inside foes, people that have sold themselves to the enemies of the city.

Since he wanted to play one day as a PC, I offered him to prepare one adventure inside his setting. With the premise we knew, I created one mastermind, a guy that is working for the enemy, creating problems that the PCs must solve. Nobody but me knows who is he, nor event the other DM, but I have a lot of freedom to make adventures based in his actions. I really don't know who is he working for, once the PCs caught him, I will put him in hands of the main DM.

That approach can work with different elements: maybe you control countries or regions of the world, an orc tribe, orders of chivalry, religions, dreamworlds, or a lot of those elements at the same time.

Leave the great huge world-changing events to him, there is a lot of space for slightly less uberimportant adventures. Even the most epic fictions have story arcs that don't go about saving the world from the last apocalypse, and a lot of times those story arcs are better that the great megaplot.

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