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I really like how in Diaspora, character and cluster creation explicitly allows for everyone (GM included) to have a character tied into the other PCs and the setting, so that anyone can take up the mantle of GM for an adventure or three.

I'm looking at running the Dresden Files RPG soon and the question of round-robin GMing came up with my group. We don't have to do it, but I want to evaluate the feasibility of sharing the GM role.

What are the pitfalls, problems, and hitches that need to be addressed and smoothed over in order to pass the role of GM around a group playing the Dresden Files RPG?

One that immediately comes to mind is that the city and character creation process detailed in the book hand the GM a bunch of work to do on the setting while the players turn their attention from the city creation stage to the character creation stage. That means that city detailing that the GM is supposed to do in feedback with the players' character creation ideas can't really happen if the GM is also making their future PC.

If what I'm asking about doesn't really make sense, here's an outline of how Diaspora does setting/character creation (if you're familiar with Diaspora, you can skip this):

  1. Every player (there is no GM role yet) creates a star system/planet in broad strokes.
  2. The star systems are linked together and their interactions are considered, changes made.
  3. Everyone makes a character in five stages, with stages 3 and 4 being influenced by your fellow players, connecting the PCs together.
  4. The GM is chosen or volunteered—their character will be a background NPC, if present at all.

Since everyone has a PC connected to the others somehow, and everyone has an equal grasp of the setting, anyone can be the GM for a session. The existing GM can step down, take up their PC, and play through an adventure run by someone who was a player last adventure. It works well, and is very flexible. It gets that ease of switching GMs from the way the setting and chargen make explicit room for it, though.

I know that DFRPG doesn't include this concept and consequently it doesn't make allowances for it during game setup, so I'm wondering where the rough spots are and whether they can be smoothed over to make round-robin GMing work.

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4 Answers

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I would switch between scenarios. (every significant milestone, or around three or four sessions, but mainly whenever the current "dungeon", "book", or "adventure" is done.) I'd suggest taking a look at the books in the series- there are one or two long term issues throughout the books, but by and large each one is a mystery within the book.

What you need to make sure of is that you finish each adventure before handing things over. The villain might not be dead, but he's beaten for now. The city might not be safe, but this particular threat won't be what kills it. (Note: If the bad guys won, which they do sometimes, then that's an ending too.) In the section on cities, it points out that city aspects are expected to change as the game progresses. Basically, whenever one of those aspects changes, and everyone involved in the hubbub has conceded that there's not much more they want to try, then you can safely change. There are a few possibly hiccups.

First, what was the odd character out doing? In Dresden, you all didn't just meet at a bar, so when bad stuff went down and you all pitched together, why did one of you not show up? (That would be the DMs character.) This isn't a hard problem, but you do need to think about it. Did the bad guys start out by neutralizing them? Are they busy dealing with another part of the problem? Are they recovering from a consequence from last scenario? Or, are they right there besides everyone else? (Some people can play a character and DM the game at the same time. It doesn't work very well for me, but if you can pull it off go for it.)

Second, are there any secrets? Is one the the players related to one of the bad guys? Is the big bad working to find the three pieces of the triforce, one each scenario? Are the bad guys secretly breaking the seventh law? Is one of the players secretly a red court infected? (That one actually came up- A player got infected during a session, and hid it effectively for two scenarios. Then we switched DMs when the DM went for a semester abroad, and I had to deal with this sudden new plot thread, and pretending I didn't know when the DM got back. If you're rotating DMs, everyone just has to be okay with the fact that inside of three or four rotations, everyone is going to know whatever deep dark secret they were hiding.)

The best way to fix this is to just not have secrets, but that takes some of the fun out of it. Depending on the players, they could roleplay not knowing. (I love doing that sometimes- the example in the book goes something like "A ghoul snuck in the back window. You failed the alertness roll, so why didn't you notice?") Thing is, just because you're not letting it get transferred to your character, doesn't mean that it's as fun. I love surprises and plot twists, and that is something that gets harder to do as more people share the DM seat. One way to still have this is to have a bunch of bad guys, each with their own separate plots, each run by a different DM. Then again, maybe the big reveal isn't as important.

Another way, if you're all clever at this sort of thing and everyone is cool with it, is to retcon a little when you need. Anything that happened, happened, but you might try something like "Okay, so the first time it turned out Jim Blackhat was a sorcerer. Then next time in turned out he was also a redcourt, but he had been trying to keep it a secret! But now, in his secret lair, you find the true source of his power- He's been breaking the seventh law!" Basically, add your own twist every time the DM seat changes hands. Just be careful this doesn't get too tangled and confusing, and remember not to change anything that actually verifiable happened. Blackhat fell off a cliff, but survived and is back for revenge is probably fine, we shot Blackhat in the chest at point blank but he was a vampire and regenerated might be, but around the time the players burn the body and douse the unmarked body in holy water, he does not come back. That's why evil villains have apprentices anyway!

Third, all characters get access to all milestones, even if they slept through the whole thing. That sounds a little obvious to some, and wrong and unfair to others, but especially if there are a couple of significant milestones or even one major milestone, you need to give it to all characters. Playing more than a few skillpoints behind, or even one refresh behind, is an irritating shift in power and agency. Your mileage may vary on that, but it's not hard to come up with a story to justify it if you need.

In the end, it works out pretty well. Just realize that you are giving up a certain level of genuine surprise and twist to the story, and the rotating cast will feel a little different than the same tight nit team every time.

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Actually, I think the DFRPG would support troupe-style play pretty well! You need to go check out pp.YS24-48 again. The entirety of city creation is done by the group as a whole - it's never really "handed over" to the GM.

Characters in DFRPG are made in the same 5-step FATE process as they are in Diaspora (I assume. I've never played Diaspora, something I may remedy this week!) or a close analogue.

You could then proceed to rotate GM duties on whatever basis you wish - as long as you can work the absence or irrelevance of the GM's PC into the fiction somehow!

I have to say, I envy you the opportunity - I have rockstar players, that's for sure, but I haven't had an opportunity to rotate out of the GM's chair regularly for years!

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City creation is delightfully collaborative, yeah, but there is a point where it gets turned over to the GM: on page 46 there is a sentence that reads, "So, while the players are shifting their focus over to their characters, it's time for the GM to truly take ownership of the city and make it come alive, and, more importantly, shape it so it is relevant and responsive to the lives of the PCs." (emphasis in original) That I take as a hurdle, since you'd have your hands full with either GM stuff or PC stuff, and the other wouldn't benefit from the table dynamics if you do it later. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 3 '11 at 20:37
I'm not so much looking for whether it can be done—I know it can—but I want to crowd-source an analysis of where the assumptions of the system and text are going to be at cross-purposes to round-robin GMing. That analysis would make it possible to deal with the bumps proactively rather than while tripping over them. Unfortunately, as adult gamers, we don't have much spare time to spend on unnecessary complications. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 3 '11 at 20:40
@gomad the Diaspora SRD is very complete... and is available at both VSCA's website and rpggeek.com. –  aramis Aug 7 '11 at 17:03
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Depending on the stories you want to tell, multiple GM can work really well as long as there is a partition of knowledge about things. It can be easy to say "Ah, we'll go see NPC X that I run as a GM and they will give us a boom stick that can kick the Red Court out". So if you game with mature people that is no problems. Otherwise...

You could adapt Diaspora and replace star system with city. So, the game would be split between different cities which the characters could travel to and from. Each time they move, a new referee runs that city. Again, there are problems of partition of knowledge and a lot of the mystery of secret agendas of NPCs can be lost.

You could have a main referee (who knows everything) and a sub-referee which all focus on different part of the world. This allows for an overarching plot (main referee) and a hell of a lot of details on NPCs and locations from the sub-referees. But that is a lot of work for everyone involved. I have run games like that and mostly they turned out fine although not the best RPG I ever ran.

Side note: Ars Magica has a lot of suggestions as to how to run a game with multiple referees. If you were inclined to get it.

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FATE generally avoids "hidden knowledge"... I've not read Dresden Files, but SOTC and Diaspora both suggest avoidance of hidden knowledge, and character sheets, even NPC's, are generally public. –  aramis Aug 7 '11 at 17:02
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The only real problem that i could potentially see is that DFRPG is built more to be a mystery game rather than just a role playing/quest game (at least that's what i have discerned). with that in mind if you're switching out GM's it'll be a little harder to make surprises in the mystery (ie who you thought was the bad guy is just a red herring).

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Switching GMs in a round-robin style generally means between adventures, so they wouldn't be switching in the middle of a mystery plot. There might be a good answer about shared NPCs and mysteries that span multiple adventures buried in here somewhere… –  SevenSidedDie Aug 3 '11 at 21:15
@SevenSidedDie, hmm. I could see that working with a Threat to the city, but i'm not so sure how well that'll work with a city theme. I guess that really depends on the group/story/mistery though. –  DForck42 Aug 3 '11 at 21:20
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