Dealing with Character Advancement in a Game with Rotating GM's

I am part of a group, we are going to be playing Fate Core. There are going to be 4 of us playing. We want to be able to rotate the role of Game Master.

We envision playing in an episodic format. Each session will be a single episode in the story. In this way, we can play a non-linear game where each session could be past, present, or future. Much like a TV-show, some stories will take multiple episodes to complete, some only a single episode. This gives us a lot of freedom, especially if a single player is unable to make the session, we can can always play without the full team.

We have not yet discussed the setting or theme of the game. I don't think it matters much in the scope of this question, but for arguments sake lets assume it is not something wildly exotic, or restrictive in any way to the normal flow of the game.

Now, the issue we are facing is that we would like to be able to rotate the role of the GM between episodes, or story-arcs. While that in and of itself is not a huge issue, my question is how do we manage the characters? I recently answered a similar question but now that I am facing the issue myself it would be great to get more input.

To clarify; the exact problem I believe we will have is character advancement. Fate has a very simple advancement system based on Milestones. However, if the role of GM is rotating around, when one group of characters advances, characters that were not in the game at the time will not get that advancement.

How do we solve this problem?

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Well - While I am sure there may be many interesting things to discuss about our chosen method of play. This question is specifically about the advancement problem... Should I clarify with a title edit? – Inbar Rose Mar 24 '14 at 15:15
Is this a duplicate of rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/22782/…;? – mxyzplk Mar 24 '14 at 15:16
@mxyzplk No, we already know how we are going to manage our rotating, the question is about how to deal with advancement of the absent character (or a solution that solves the problem without an absent character [like mine]) – Inbar Rose Mar 24 '14 at 15:18
@wraith808 The thing is, advancement actually does a lot of different things in different games. Oftentimes what happens when you slap system-agnostic on a question is that people just answer based on how D&D does stuff (often there's very little room not to, because the question itself assumes D&D-like structure!). Also, check this out: by far the most important new thing I learned from looking at this question was your suggestion about invoking aspects for absent PCs -- that's not something that would come up in the more generic version of this question at all, is it? – Alex P Mar 24 '14 at 18:35

Note how all the advancements in the the milestones chapter are shared equally. If I have a total epiphany after I finally confront my treacherous half-brother, that's not a significant milestone for my character, it's a significant milestone for everybody.

Thus, my advice to you is that, by default, "absentee" PCs should advance like everyone else. Narratively, this represents doing stuff "off-screen:" training, recovery, soul-searching, helping out on the homefront, going on vacation, whatever. It's pretty typical for TV show protagonists who've been out of the picture of a couple of episodes to come back with lots of new stuff going on in their lives.

(As a player-level reward, there's absolutely nothing to worry about. The player GMing should get the same recognition as a player playing a protagonist, after all. And "XP for showing up" is a bad motivator anyway.)

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1. Create a loose team structure like famous superhero organizations.

Not all the members of the JLA, for example, go off to fight one bad guy together, they usually split up and tackle different missions concurrently. A simple way to deal with rotating GMs would be a similar system where each of you have a character that sits out for the missions you are the GM for.

Then, since every one will be a GM at some point in the campaign, level all the characters at the same time to keep the power level even. Everyone will be contributing to the game play in some manner and since everyone's characters will also have to sit out, you are all facing the same penalties. Therefore, there is no reason, in my opinion, not to level up the GMs character in conjunction with the others.

2. Treat the current GMs PC as an NPC

When I ran a game of D&D 4e a few years ago we only had 3 players and no one wanted to be the "healer" or the "defender" so I created a paladin that tagged along with the group who had his own player sheet, but was basically a glorified NPC. It requires honest role playing to not Metagame as a GM but I was able to avoid this by only doing what the players told my character to do. When they asked for my "character's" advice I generally played the Paladin as "clueless" or at the most had him be overly cautious. I preferred to make the players roll skill checks like insight, nature, dungeoneering, etc in order to gain info about trap diffusal, monster weaknesses and general navigation.

Again, it's kinda difficult not to feed the players too much GM metaknowlege, but it is definitely possible to keep the bleed through to a minimum if you decide to go this way, ie treat the GM's PC as an NPC who follows orders (with in reason) and acts as an extra body in combat.

Advancement in this option is, of course, advance normally since every character should be present during each session.

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Your first solution was my initial thought. But I think that it is also the most basic (not to say that that is a bad thing) of the solutions. But it is still a valid option and thank you for providing that answer. However - your second solution I don't think will work very well as you have written it for a Fate game. Since the characters need to be proactive, playing a passive healer (using your example) would hurt the game. However, maybe a combination of both - where the player who is GM's character is NPC's by the others.. (which is where I got my idea from, why not just rotate them all?) – Inbar Rose Mar 24 '14 at 10:19
Option 2 was only something I have done in the past... I do however, think it is kinda unsatisfying for the GM since (s)he has to limit the PC's choices and actions due to Metagam Knowledge. – MC_Hambone Mar 24 '14 at 10:37
When using option 2, please be wise: don't make a character cooler than the PCs. – Flamma Mar 24 '14 at 11:39
@Flamma agreed, especially if running a game like I did where the GM's has a perma NPC in the party, However for Inbar's situation the GMs will all take turns being players, so they should at least be equally as cool ;) – MC_Hambone Mar 24 '14 at 23:14
@MC_Hambone True. My advice seems to work better for traditional one GM (I thought about with the example you gave). Better said for this case: don't make your character shine more than the ones controlled by current regular players. – Flamma Mar 27 '14 at 12:49

If already using Rotating GM's why not also use Rotating Characters?

Create One Set Of Characters That Everyone Will Play

My first instinct is to suggest that during the game creation process the four players will create three characters together. Each character will be designed by all the players, giving the game a very familiar feel to it, since each player was part of each characters creation. This also lends itself well to creating a very dynamic and varied group that excel in covering each others weaknesses and being able to handle most situations. A very well rounded group should be the result. Also each player should then feel attached and be able to play as any character.

for a modular solution: [Amount of Players] - 1 = [Amount of Characters]

Each session, the players who are present will decide on the actions of these characters in whatever way suits the situation. If all the players are present, each player can play a different character, and even switch them around between episodes. If not all the players are present, they can either share control of all the characters, or of only the absent ones. Since the whole game is a collaborative story-telling one anyway, this makes for some fun that everyone can have input on.

This will enhance the rotating element of the game such that the roles of GM and each character will also change through different episodes. Essentially creating a game in which the players can (and probably will) change roles between the different characters, and being the GM. This is a very elegant way to create a game from the ground-up that supports Rotating GM's, Players, and Characters. And I think it will also be a lot of fun!

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When talking about this in another question, there was the idea to make the inactive PC an NPC. There was the instant aversion and suspicion of GM favoritism towards his own NPC, which is a valid concern, and though that concern wasn't valid for our group, we tried to cut it off before it happened.

And so, we came up with two simple ways to keep the inactive PC engaged and on a level playing ground.

Where are the missing PCs during their 'hiatus'?

That's the first question you need to ask. This can give you not only an answer to your dilemma, but also hooks for the other GMs.

We ran the same thing with our Dresden Files campaign; all of us wanted to play- but someone had to GM. So, in addition to the running of the other players, we also came up with a phase- sort of like during character creation- for the missing PC. During the time when I was running, my inactive-PC was off pursuing leads and clues related to one of his unresolved problem aspects.

At the end, when the others received milestones, because my inactive-PC had been adventuring, he received a milestone as well. And things from my narrative for my new phase were fair game for the next GM as troubles and hooks to come up during the session.

Because Fate is a storytelling game, driven by the narrative, keep the inactive PCs in play, even when they're out of play.

Even when the PC is not in the scene, because of the nature of aspects in Fate, that doesn't mean they don't have influence. Keep the inactive-PCs aspects in mind, and if you already have an idea for the narrative for that PC's time, then you can use those in order to give hints as to things going on with the PC, especially using his contacts and complications.

An example: If the currently inactive PC has the aspect chased by the mob (bad aspect- just an example), the active party might run across mobsters that are hunting the inactive PC, and know that he hangs with the group. And maybe that relates to something that the inactive PC is doing in his inactive phase.

It ties the whole thing together.

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The second section of your answer though has flawed logic, since the absent PC is played by the current GM - you go back to the same problem you were trying to avoid in the first part of your answer. – Inbar Rose Mar 24 '14 at 14:09
@InbarRose - No, read it a bit more. You introduce aspects. You don't actually play the PC. So if your PC has the aspect chased by the mob (bad aspect- just an example), they might run across mobsters that are hunting the PC, and know that he hangs with the group. And maybe that relates to something that the PC is doing in his inactive phase. It ties the whole thing together. – SnakeDr68 Mar 24 '14 at 14:42
You should add an example and some clarification then. Because that is actually a nice idea, and it's a shame its not clearer originally. – Inbar Rose Mar 24 '14 at 15:12

Does your method of rotating the GM fix this problem on its own? ie - if each player has equal time "behind the screen", then after a full circuit each character should have advanced the same amount, even if not at the same times.

If this isn't your intended rotation, then you may be able to balance progression based on a percentage of time spent GMing, so that although a player who GM's often may get less "steps" in progression for his character, you can have them take bigger steps to balance it out.

(Note, this isn't my preferred solution, I like some of the above much more, but there may be information here that will help you)

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