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I am the problem GM in question.

I haven't played for a long time. My last two attempts at it were with GMs that represented "no" rather than "yes, but" approach. Often railroaded to the point of lacking the ability to decide in what order party will take side quests. Baits ignored by the monsters, things "not in the scenario" simply not working, things like that. Probably you all know how it is. It wasn't terrible experience per se, but it was more of tactical experience than roleplaying and problem solving one. Not something I seek.

Now, I'm GMing a module that gives characters a goal and environment. I always do my best to make every character decision count, for good or worse, and module encourages this approach as well. I see they are having fun with it, have crazy ideas and even when some of these ideas fail, they have fun. I take my pride in it, because even if I'm far from being perfect, I give them fun and that's what RPG is about.

Now, the problem part. I envy them this kind of fun. I want some of it for myself. And I'm afraid it will begin to show soon, if it haven't already.

In our group there is only one person who has any experience as GM. I described his game at the beginning of this question. Also, majority of our group are medics, and this profession is almost proverbially overworked. Adventure Path I DM now started like two years ago and we are in the middle of book 2, so taking a break for me to play would be problematic.

Do you have any experience in similar situations and can advise how to proceed, before my players start posting questions?

To be clear: I do have fun being DM. Problem is, envy starts to overshadow that fun.


Systems I played "recently" are Vampire (can't recall if it was Old or New World of Darkness) and Savage Worlds. Our main campaign I GM is Pathfinder, but we had a little break when I DMed Paranoia. Issue I describe did not depend on the system we were playing. Quite contrary, WoD and Savage Worlds looks like even less rule-loaded than Pathfinder is. It is all about playstyle, not ruleset, as far as I can tell.

It is about making things count even if not written in the adventure book, not about specific game mechanics under which things would happen.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you explain (in the post) what makes this a system-agnostic problem? Are you running into the problem in multiple systems? Have you found that the "usual" solutions based in your system's rules haven't worked, so that you need something detached from those rules? See also this recent meta for some current, ongoing discussion of the tag. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Mar 5 at 15:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 I did. Hope that helps. I believe it is not about the rules, but about the "page" games were on, as in same page tool \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Mar 5 at 15:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there anything stopping you from DM'ing this group but PC'ing in another? Time constraints being the obvious problem, not knowing another DM in the style you like being another? \$\endgroup\$ – RyanfaeScotland Mar 5 at 17:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanfaeScotland both, actually. To PC I'd have to cut down the time I have to DM, and seeing how on average we only play every other week, I'd have cut it to zero for my playing to make any sense. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Mar 5 at 17:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: How do I convince my group to try a new system without always having to DM it first? \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Mar 6 at 9:20
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If you are not having fun as the GM, maybe its time to pass the torch.

When I started playing D&D, the person GMing was really good at it, but did not enjoy it. One day after the session was complete he say something like this:

Hey guys, I really enjoy playing with you, but I have to be honest, I really want to play. I'm not having much fun as DM, would some one else mind running the game for a bit?

In the end, I decided to take over and I am glad I did. I am having much more fun as the DM than I did as a player. Some people really love GM'ing and other people really love playing. There is no shame in stepping aside. When I started, I had about 5 sessions as a player under my belt. The previous GM helped me along the way. He passed on what he had already prepped and help me with some of the rules as I learned.

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    \$\begingroup\$ To be clear: I do have fun being DM. Problem is, envy starts to overshadow it. +1 because it makes little practical dierence \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Mar 5 at 15:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you feel you would have more fun as player though, the same logic applies. Pass the torch and experience the game as a player. You can even rotate who DMs. \$\endgroup\$ – SaggingRufus Mar 5 at 15:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot Then maybe it's just time for a break? I love DMing as well and do the bulk of the DMing in my group(s). But from time to time, I pass the torch off for either a one-shot or short campaign so I can be a player again for a bit. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Mar 5 at 15:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @guildsbounty maybe it is. As I've said, I upvoted this answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Mar 5 at 15:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ OK, that's pretty much what I did. Turns out, one of the guys who recently failed to appear to our games said he lost motivation to play but would really like to be a Game Master. So after closing a "chapter", we will be switching seats, and in the meantime, I'll try to honestly earn at least some of the levels to get even with the party. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Mar 7 at 14:24
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First, a word of warning.

Do not try to have a DM PC

It won't live up to your expectations and will likely detract from the overall experience. At best, it's a net neutral enjoyment, but with more work on your part to make everything flow together.


That said, you have a few options under the umbrella of:

Find a way to play

The only way to scratch that itch, so to speak, is to actually scratch it. These are methods I've used when I get the jonesin' to play.

Join a different game as a player

This is most effective for me, personally. Maybe another friend, coworker, internet group, etc wants to run a game. There are plenty of online resources or maybe you'll glance over a coworker's shoulder to see them browsing rpg.stackexchange.com. Who knows?

Ask your group for a break

If you want to keep running this game, but are chomping at the bit to play, let your players know and see if anyone would be interested in running a game or two. I've had moderate success with this. It doesn't even have to be D&D. When I was running a fate game, I had a player who wanted to do a oneshot of SlapDash, and it was a ton of fun. My wife and I still talk about that session because it was such a refreshing change of pace; it helped me get back into my focus.

Rotating DMs

This one is tough, I've had mixed success with it and I'd only recommend it as a last resort unless you know how everyone will handle it. But it goes something like this: You establish boundaries and expectations for how impactful these sessions will be; someone finds a scenario they'd like to run (either made, found, or borrowed); someone runs that adventure for 1-3 sessions. Rinse and repeat. This is very similar to the one-shot idea, but it's all in universe and you guys have to work together to an extent to keep the story from feeling like mixed media piece where some of it is music and other parts are melting crayons.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Reminder: comments aren't for chatting, debating, or discussing ideas. Please use comments for administrative purposes, such as making suggestions for improvement or constructive discussion about oversights in the post that might need correction. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 5 at 18:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @goodguy5 These are good suggestions. I'd add to Rotating DMs: In my experience, this works very well if the side campaign is very different from the main game. I have done this a few times in my long-running (4-year) 5e campaign. Other players have run games set in other cities or before the main game's plot. Usually we'll choose an underexplored element of the main game, like a faction or city we heard about but haven't visited. We have also used this technique to address side plots that the main group had to abandon because their team had other priorities. \$\endgroup\$ – Master_Yogurt Mar 5 at 21:24
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A system I use has exactly the answer you need. In this system, once characters level up enough, mage-types can build dungeons. Players can design a dungeon however they want; once it's built, the rulebook lays out precise rules for filling the dungeon with monsters by making encounter checks for the dungeon itself. Eventually, the encounter check ends up being an adventuring party. That means a party wants to clear the dungeon!

And that's when I get to be a player.

The owner of the dungeon is, obviously, the dungeon master (with apologies to Wizards of the Coast's trademark). That player runs the dungeon run as a one-shot, with the random adventuring party being played by the other players - and, for once, me!

This has the following benefits:

  1. I, the forever-GM, am guaranteed to play at least once.

  2. The GM-for-a-day gets to learn the system and run a one-shot (with me there to help, if need be).

  3. With enough players, someone is going to like it enough to want to GM a real game!

While the rules for making and running dungeons are built in to my system, it's easy enough to create in any system - or genre! You mentioned Paranoia; what's to stop Friend Computer from ordering one of the troubleshooters to create a one-shot mini-game, built to confuse the enemy, which will be play tested by fellow troubleshooters, including a certain NPC (you!)?

The same goes for any system: make a quest to make a quest. Essentially, give an in-character reason why a PC will suddenly take over as GM-for-a-day. The Mad Scientist makes a maze for his rats, and the rats (the players) need to solve it; the mage builds a dungeon, and a random adventuring party wants to clear it for him; the Programmer accidentally makes Tron, and needs to send programs (the players) to fix it.

Most importantly, talk with your players, and make sure they understand your impending burnout. It's entirely understandable to want to play a game, not just create, and I think at least some of your players will understand that.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "A system I use" meaning a published game system? Or one you came up with yourself? If the former: what game system is it? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 6 at 5:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ A published system: Adventurer, Conqueror, King System. As much as I like the system, it seems many people have problems with the author, so I'm hesitant in naming it... \$\endgroup\$ – ArmanX Mar 6 at 7:14
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As a fellow "GM by default", I feel for your problem. I'm lucky to have recently managed to convince some of my players to GM. Even novice players can pick it up quickly if you offer to assist them with the rules and are prepared to just roll with it if their world feels quite different from yours. But that doesn't work in every group or system (especially when playing long campaigns).

What I did before to get some "player time" was to always/often have a party of NPCs run against the characters. I actually enjoy building characters at least as much as playing them, so this had the added advantage that I could switch them out (or let the PCs kill them) whenever I got bored with them. This was Shadowrun, which kind of lends itself to the idea of rival teams and switching coalitions ("It's just business, chummers.") - but recurring villains are a common fantasy trope as well.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 4 at 20:52
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You mention that the other alternative GMs are bad at it. This is natural since they lack experience.

Play with them to let them gain that experience. For a while, you will have less fun, but it gets better.

Better yet, teach them. You should never ever try to do this during a game. That undermines the authority a GM needs to do their job, and is not fun for anybody involved.

Instead you should take them aside after each session, after the other players have left, to tell them what you think worked and didn't work during the session. Be clear that you are only offering advice as an experienced GM, but that they are the ultimate authority for their game.

You should avoid making this seem like whining. If you can, give examples using the other players, not yourself.

You might want to start by asking questions. "I'm curious, why didn't you allow ..." They might actually have a good reason. You might learn something yourself!

To take the sting out, be free with your praise. If they do something you like, tell them so.

On a side note: Some people's expectations have been formed by computer RPGs. These are utterly rigid and usually badly railroaded. Some people think that this is what role playing is. Teach them otherwise.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "You mention that the other alternative GMs are bad at it." - No, I said they deliver different experience than what I'm longing for. "This is natural since they lack experience." - Actually, he is about as experienced as I am, if not more. His habits are pretty deeply rooted already, I'm afraid. We tried talking with him outside the session about it, but it didn't really help (yes, we, because I wasn't the only one wanting less tactical, more RP / sandbox experience). \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Mar 6 at 9:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Molot Oh well, leaving my answer here since it might be useful to others. \$\endgroup\$ – Stig Hemmer Mar 6 at 9:48
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It may be worth it for you to use systems that are meant to be more collaborative? I can think of Cyberpunk 2.0 that has a mechanic to hand off GM to different players, where groups that "win" an encounter have a choice to make in terms of what hurdle they throw to their opponent. If memory serves, Rune had a similar "different GM every game" concept. Or just more "rules-loose, storytelling focused" games, like Nobilis.

I am a bit like you: in my group, a lot of players LOVE my GM style (I'm fast and loose with rules and let players be creative, yet very consistent in the application of RAW, so everything is still logical and rational. I also improvise a lot, but keep thorough note, so the universe is living, expanding at the rate the players need, and it's impossible to railroad). So I was seeing the exact same problem that you were. My issue wasn't that other players aren't skilled as DM. It's that as soon as we talk about having a game, someone goes "oh, I got this GREAT concept for [one of the systems I know the best]. Can Pat DM?". Then I end up DMing.

What I did for that is I made it clear to my friends that, while I am happy not having a character, I was missing something that was SUPER fun for me: building a story collaboratively. So, what we do now is :

  • Every session starts with a "what do we want the group to accomplish today"?
  • The session is then run entirely by me (with whatever twists I improvise/had loosely planned beforehand)
  • At the end of the session, we have a 30 minutes of "what would make this story even more awesome?"

It definitely gives me the thrill I want, which is the collaborative story writing (we also have email threads/google docs with tons of maps, ideas, details about my story, drawings of places/characters etc, and these evolve between sessions too, keeping everyone involved).

Word to the wise: it requires a group that is ok with not meta-gaming, as it's very easy to use the beginning/end sessions to steer the story towards you being successful.

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