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The group with which I usually roleplay has a consistent problem: someone will say "Hey, I want to run a campaign in X system with Y setting." Everyone will make characters (which can take quite a while to do especially depending on what system it is), and we will do maybe five to ten sessions before the person who was GM runs out of steam, gets bored, or whatever.

So the idea I had was to just have everyone in the group trade off GM-ing. One night one person runs, the next night the next person runs, and so on. I was trying to think of plausible storylines that would make sense...

Everyone would have a character all of their own since they're regular players, but since they're also GMs, those characters would regularly become NPCs. How can we explain this in-game without being ridiculous? Usually when a GM makes a fully powered, playable character and starts using it as though they were just another full member of the party it spells doom for the campaign in my albeit limited experience.

What kind of campaign or story idea could justify so little cohesive narrative from night to night and yet stay playable (instead of just becoming crazy)?

This question Is it advisable to rotate the GM role between players? is related, and has some helpful responses that mention this scenario, but it is much more targeted at having a consistent DM who wants a break.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, this seems like an exact duplicate - you might want to just go comment on/liven up "Rotating the GM" instead. Or expand on how your scenario is different. Also see Methods for Round Robin GM'ing. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jul 14 '13 at 14:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk I see a small difference here. He's talking about changind GM every session, which makes things more complex than changing every adventure. The plots and the NPCs must be shared, and if in one session they ended in the middle of a dungeon, the next session other GM must drive it. \$\endgroup\$ – Flamma Jul 14 '13 at 14:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Honestly, it's more work than I would bother with. Our group does alternate GMs sometimes, but when we do each GM is running different campaigns. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 14 '13 at 14:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ If it's every session, then the potential duplicate is Reward distribution and story continuity with rotating players/GMs which talks about story continuity in a rotate-GMs-daily "Jam" campaign. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jul 14 '13 at 14:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Basically the problem is what to do about player characters rotating in and out. A GM using an NPC as a full party member is always disaster in my experience, but we can't have people just disappearing and reappearing every two hours. So I was looking for in game explanations or workarounds for that. \$\endgroup\$ – scott_fakename Jul 14 '13 at 15:59
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There are definitely types of game that will and won't work for this. I have played this way, and very successfully, using an episodic game (we used Prime Time, but there are plenty out there) where the continuity was less important. Here are the things that are important to make this work:

Each Session (or GM-period, if you choose to do 2 or 3 games before switching) needs to be self-contained, with its own start, middle, end, and a complete story told.

If you want a longer-running story arc through these episodes, then the GM's have to work together to build it, or one GM can run the first and last games, and give each other GM things to insert. This works if everyone's mature about it. Games that share narrative responsibility are great for this, as the "Arc GM" can insert things as a player, when they get to narrate. (FATE, Prime Time, Dogs of the Vineyard, etc)

As far as swapping out players goes, there's multiple ways to handle this. If your game is an episodic crime-drama for example (think CSI), then the team comes back together at the station at the end of each episode, so one person not being there next episode is easily explainable.

Another way to handle it is for each character to have a separate skillset, and for a GM just not to write anything that concentrates on his own player's skills. For example, if I was playing the blood-spatter guy (Dexter inspiration), then the episode I run would not have a live crime scene (the body washed up on the beach, or there IS no body, just a missing person, or something else similar). Then, although my character was "there" the fact that nobody ever talks to him for an episode is fine. In Shadowrun, if I was playing the Decker, we could have an adventure where all the hacking was done from base, so there is no need to take the decker with us, then he would be involved and useful, without needing to be as present as the PCs playing this game. This is the only way to make it work if you can't negotiate a single-episode-and-back-to-base type game, as characters can slip in and out of the shadows as needed.

I certainly would NOT suggest the GM plays a full character as part of the party. As you've said, that spells doom...

I've also played games where the PLAYERS all knew all the secrets, and we had to separate player/character knowledge. This meant that players were deciding when their characters would make the right decision vs the wrong one, based on what would make a better story. Again, with a mature group, this can work very well. If you can handle this type of game, you may not NEED a GM. If everyone works out the story together first (we find a body, these are the clues, these are the possible suspects and avenues for investigation, and this is the killer in the end) then play it together, there's no need for a single narrator. You could even randomise the "who the killer is" part (or "where the treasure is" or whatever suits your game, I'm sticking with my police drama for examples). Then nobody would know which avenue to follow first. It could lead to an anticlimactic game though, if you go straight for the goal without any of the conflict...

SO, there are many ways to handle this, all depending on what your group can and can't manage. Of course, there are some groups that just can't do this at all, and you may be better just accepting that your "campaigns" are going to be made up of 3-session adventures, and that's ok too. You could always cycle campaigns, and come back to each one for another adventure when the GM has un-burned out.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you! This is perfect. I can't upvote yet, but I like that. I think we could do something like that in, for example Rifts saying we're mercenaries who are largely independent, but who have a close working relationship. Often someone offers jobs, and we'll team up as needed, taking whomever along with us that we need. This is a really good answer. Thanks \$\endgroup\$ – scott_fakename Jul 14 '13 at 18:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ No problem - it's good to help another group find a play-style that works for them :) \$\endgroup\$ – Ryno Jul 15 '13 at 1:47
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I have not read it very much, but I think that Ars Magica is the reference game for Troupe Roleplay. (5th edition is current; 4th edition is freely available from its publisher.)

But talking about what I have actually read, in the revised Vampire Player's Guide there's a whole chapter about Troupe Roleplay, considering many variations.

In the purest form, all players share all the setting and all the NPCs and thus know all about them (so if the captain of the guard is corrupted by an evil force, everybody knows). So players must try to play with the character's knowledge, avoiding using information their characters don't have.

If players feel this way the mystery is spoiled, players can divide NPCs amongst them. So, the NPCs (and locations, etc) have two profiles, one public containing what each player GMing should know (but still can be unknown to the characters), and a private profile, only known to the NPC owner. If a player ruling a NPC takes an action contradictory to the private profile, the owner has the power to overrule him, and take control, to avoid contradictions.

Many times, this way of playing suppose changing the GM not only each night, but several times in the same session.

In the cited book comes many variations of the idea of Troupe Roleplaying, including some in which no players own a character. There aren't PCs nor NPCs, only characters, and the players take control of them as needed by the story.

If you like these ideas, you should try to read the cited book if you can. Because as I said a lot of variations are explored, so you hopefully can find the one that better suits your group.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks Flamma! I can't upvote yet since I'm new to this stack exchange, but that's a good resource which I will check out. Much appreciated. \$\endgroup\$ – scott_fakename Jul 14 '13 at 17:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @scott_fakename You're welcome (in both senses). I hope you have fun at the site and earn soon reputation that allows you to better enjoy it. \$\endgroup\$ – Flamma Jul 14 '13 at 18:39
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I've been in a few groups where the GM role was regularly passed on, but the main characters and setting remained. My advice would be:

  1. Focus on fixing the problem your group is experiencing. If GMs are running 5-10 sessions before running out of steam, then focus on that and don't "oversteer" to swapping GMs each session. One session stories can be nice, but in the long term they are less satisfying than longer story arcs IMO.

  2. Have a loose order, but not a schedule. If a GM is feeling inspired, then run with it. When they feel they are running out of steam, let the next GM know they should be ready soon. When a new GM takes over, ask who wants to be next so they can start firming up their ideas (and story segues can be worked out).

  3. If you're going to have the GM's character as an NPC (but still adventuring with the PCs), make sure the party has multiple possible leaders/decision makers. Don't put the GM in the position where they are making decisions on the players' behalf.

  4. Sharing GM duties works better when GMs aren't the "adversarial" type. However, when GMing be sure your character doesn't gain any advantage (e.g. finding the "perfect" item in loot or being ignored in combat). If anything, as GM, be a little tougher on your own character.

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I am running a campaign (in AD&D 2e) that is very drop-in/drop-out, and sharing it with 2 other GMs. The setting is a sandbox (city in the middle, dangerous monsters and dungeons around it) with fluff to the effect of 'only the adventurers ever leave the city because it's dangerous.' The players always touch base at the end of each session, unless someone's doing a multi-session arc (which only happens rarely).

The strengths of this are that the players can miss sessions easily and simply don't get treasure/experience, the GMs can rotate by simply each controlling a different map section, and if each GM uses adventure hooks and strings a few sessions together thematically, a narrative can be built and sustained. We haven't had major problems yet.

This can be adapted to most systems, I believe. The core parts are a base from which all the characters go on adventures, separate spheres for different GMs (these can be physical or not, as long as the boundaries are clear) and fitting each adventure into a timeframe so that the characters can touch base after each session.

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I have participated in several Ars Magica sagas with multiple GMs. In the largest, I was the fifth of 6. The Alpha Storyguide had the biggest secrets to keep, and since we had a planned climax it worked well. In another saga there were at least two of us with recurring plots. It was easy to stay away from each other's territory.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This says that it can be done, but only gives hints for how rather than provides a clear answer for how to accomplish it. Could you expand this into more of an answer of substance? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 25 '14 at 15:59
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The difficulty with this idea is keeping secrets. If it's a dungeon crawl, the GM who's acting as a player would know what's coming up, which rooms have the weakest monsters and the most treasure, etc.

To resolve this problem, you could try partitioning the dungeon, where each GM makes up half the rooms.

For city adventures you could have each GM detail half the buildings, etc.

Then, by agreement, the players would only explore what the current GM made up.

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