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My girlfriend and I enjoy developing my D&D world a lot. We spend much time talking about what the backgrounds of characters are, how history has developed, what the relations between the different kingdoms and peoples are, what the hidden agendas of the villains are. Her ideas have enriched and improved my world a lot.

At the same time, I'm running a campaign in this world for a couple of friends that she isn't part of (for logistic reasons, long distance relationship). But eventually, we'll move together, and I don't want to miss out on GMing, neither do I want to miss out on developing the world together, and it would be great to finally be able to play together. This leads me to my question:

Can we both be GMs together? How do we split the tasks a GM faces in a session? We're fine with developing the world and the campaign together, but how would we play out an NPC's dialogue with a player? How to agree on DCs and skill checks? And so on, and so on.

Could we take turns? (E.g. every session, or every hour?) But won't one of us be bored, having nothing to do? We can't really take up another player, because we know all the GM secrets, making it hard not to meta-game. Or could we divide up rooms, regions and NPCs amongst the two of us?

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is usually referred to “co-GMing” (or DMing) if you want to research it on the Internet. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 29 '18 at 13:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ I believe that the dnd-5e tag should be removed; although the querent may be interested in 5e, the question is valid for most systems, and so too the answers. \$\endgroup\$ – Jeff Zeitlin Apr 29 '18 at 15:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JeffZeitlin, yes, true. Is the general dnd tag appropriate? \$\endgroup\$ – Turion Apr 30 '18 at 8:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's not "System Independent", though, for there are systems where multiple DMs are required - Vincent Baker's "Amazons" has two PCs and all other players DM, for example. \$\endgroup\$ – Slow Dog Apr 30 '18 at 8:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Given the comment that @SlowDog has left, I'm not sure how it should be tagged as far as system goes, but I'd say that this is appropriate for most systems, and would be inclined to leave off any tag regarding system at all - just tag it gm-techniques and multiple-gm. \$\endgroup\$ – Jeff Zeitlin Apr 30 '18 at 11:32
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There are lots of ways to do this, and some experimentation will be necessary to find the ways that work best for you.

An obvious strategy to start with is to have one person playing the NPCs and monsters, and the other doing the game mechanics. I've done this myself, and seen others doing it, both helping a GM who's very talented at plots and acting, but a bit vague on game system mechanics. In both cases, the game mechanics assistant was playing a PC, and had no privileged information about the world or the plot, but your situation is a bit different.

You might well trade the two GM roles according to which NPCs are going to be involved, since it will be easier to play them consistently if the same GM always plays a particular PC. This will allow you to have NPCs arguing with each other convincingly, which is rather hard for a single GM.

For example, Alice and Bob are your two co-GMs, and Charlie, Dave and Eva are the players.

Alice might be the usual mechanics GM, and Bob the role-playing GM, but Alice would have some NPCs that were always hers, and Bob might take over mechanics duties when they were centre stage.

If the party split in two, one GM could handle each part, which does make many kinds of tactics for the players easier to run.

In scenes that were just large fights, Alice and Bob could take separate groups of opponents. They would have slightly worse coordination than is commonly the case with a single GM, but that would actually be realistic: coordination in fights is hard.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Split the party! Yes, obviously! \$\endgroup\$ – Turion Apr 29 '18 at 10:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Turion tenth minute of every horror movie \$\endgroup\$ – András Apr 29 '18 at 15:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ If assigning a co-GM to run monsters, be aware that this can significantly increase their challenge. Been there, caused an unintended TPK... \$\endgroup\$ – Geoffrey Brent Apr 30 '18 at 2:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GeoffreyBrent Been there, caused an intended TPK. That's why some people call the DM running combat the "Evil DM" - he's not as worried as the Plot DM with the characters not dying - the opposite. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Apr 30 '18 at 3:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Doc The short answer is that the Evil DM is not as worried with the party living as the Good DM and he usually has more expertise on mechanical aspects (meaning he's better at fights) than both the Good DM and the party. Also he literally has time to prepare simply on how to play a particular encounter, while an all around DM is worried about many other things. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Apr 30 '18 at 16:15
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My wife and I just ran a campaign in this fashion and it went great. I was the main DM and she was something like an super-NPC. We shared duties for world building and plot writing, she knew almost everything but I was able to throw a few interesting plot twists and Easter eggs in for her anyways (things that in no way screwed up the plans we made together). Since she knew a lot about what the party needed to do next, but was regarded mostly as a player, she could gently nudge the party back on-track when they veered off course without it coming from the DM. She drew all the maps, but I handled combat. We decided together that if a character was to die for the purpose of emphasizing how dangerous an encounter was, I would aim for hers. Mind control spells, paralysis (which I think should never hit players), always targeted her first.

Her character was also the hook which was excellent, they gathered at the tavern to meet her character who was a more robust and filled out character than any NPC that I'd have made for such a task. She was not the party leader. Also, she kept track of certain things we didn't want our players realizing we were tracking (who'd touched the cursed item).

When we had to split the party, even if one character was off on their own or had a dream sequence, she'd take them while I handled the other group.

An important rule we made that worked well: You spawn it, you own it. If I created a monster or NPC or item, I couldn't just hand it over to her to suddenly have to deal with.

I highly recommend it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Be careful about this. While I’m sure it worked out fine in your case, it’s pretty common for PCs to resent “super-NPCs” and ask questions here about how to kill them or otherwise make their characters and not the plot or DM’s characters the focus of the game. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 29 '18 at 15:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Agreed with @mxyzplk. Once I've run a "Tutorial" NPC for 2 sessions (my party needed a freaking healer and they were 1 person short, who was travelling) and by the end they were asking if they could kill him. And I've barely talked using him, lul. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Apr 30 '18 at 16:18
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I have done similar things with both my wife (and others, to a lesser extent) over the years, where she’ll end up in a campaign she had helped me develop. Or a player will play through an adventure a second time, with a new table. We’ve found the line between DM and player is less stark than you may have been led to believe, and players in these situations can help in lots of ways.

I think the biggest challenge with co-DMing making sure both DM’s have something to do all the time, which can easily become the case for a co-DM who runs mechanics, certain NPC’s, etc.

At my table, we’ve tried having an “assistant DM” but have always ended up with a “player with an asterisk.”

Foreknowledge

My wife enjoys playing in the adventures that she helped create, just as many players (myself included) don’t mind playing through an adventure a second time. Having foreknowledge of an adventure takes away some of the suspense, but it can still be a lot of fun, just like reading a good book a second time brings is rewarding in different ways.

Of course these players should avoid spoiling the reveals for the other players. That is usually trickiest when they’ve forgotten a detail and the answer pops into their head. (Your brain loves to give you credit for “figuring things out” when you are actually just remembering them.)

Players with foreknowledge is nothing new. As a kid back in the 80’s, one of the players had invariably played or read through the published adventure — including that one kid who would read every single module in the store without buying them. “Don’t spoil it for the others” was the rule.

Potential Double-Whammy: GMPC + Significant Other

While my wife and I seem to have manage this well, there are big potential problems to avoid. DM’ing with a significant other as a player can often be problematic. A significant other that contributes to the creation of the game world just ups the ante a bit.

A potential disaster to avoid is for the game to become about your girlfriend’s player, with the other players “tagging along” like third-wheels on a date. Avoid even the appearance of this.

Unless you have buy-in from the other players, her character should neither be the center of the story, nor presciently optimized for the challenges that will unfold. That is to say, you want to avoid any unfair competition.

It can help if your GF can maintain a little bit of detachment from her PC. That is to say, she will want to find some of her fun in the way DM’s do, including by enjoying the game vicariously through the other players.

A second voice for narrative

That said, there is an opportunity for this character to play a special role in a fun way. Details about the story can be revealed through her PC, instead of the DM doing all the talking for this.

This sort of talk can happen in a published campaign setting (e.g., The Sword Coast) when some players have more knowledge of the setting than others. And lots of DM’s dip their toes into this sort of play by handing one player a note that they in turn reveal to the others.

In your case, you’ll probably want some believable reason why your co-developer’s character knows so much more stuff. (For D&D 5e, maybe consider the Sage background.)

If the players’ knowledge gives her character an advantage over the others that can be annoying. If it just lets her be good “color commentary” on the storytelling, that should just add to the play experience.

Here’s a trick that might not be for beginners, but such a player can provide hints to the party when otherwise the DM would need to. Done well, the rest of the party won’t even know they effectively got a “DM hint.”

Assistant to the DM, or DM’ing from the player’s seat

Foreknowledge of the story can help in littler ways too. Something as simple as a player being on the right page of the rulebook ahead of time can speed up play.

Any player can help DM/help the DM by keeping track of details, looking up rules, etc. This can be a way to stay engaged while you are avoiding spilling spoilers.

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I am personally too uptight to split GMing duties very easily, but I have seen it done with amazing success by other folks, including one game that has been running for nearly twenty years.

As in any kind of collaboration, partnership, or relationship, what you want to do is simple enough to say: You want to let each person do what they're best at and most enjoy, while avoiding what they're bad at and don't enjoy. That does take a certain amount of self-awareness, and your answers are going to be unique to you and the game you run, so I would read this answer (and all the others) for inspiration, not for definite answers.

But consider taking ownership (or senior vs junior status) on various NPCs, on various mechanical functions (say, combat vs the more mechanical personality interactions) on various types of social interactions (i.e., haggling, which I would have off in a heartbeat, vs chatting people up in bars) or strands of long term plot (which would obviously be unique to your campaign.)

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