My new favorite RPG technique...

edited September 2012 in Play Advice
Co-GMing

Terry and I have started running games together. Often she is the foreground GM and I'm the background GM.

Terry mainly plays:
- NPCs

I mainly play:
- environments
- rules
- pacing

Sometimes Terry speaks an NPCs words and I speak their thoughts and body language. Often I play subtext.

Comments

  • edited September 2012
    This rocks. Tell us more.

    Do you pre-plan anything together, or even get together for 5 minutes ahead of the game to make sure you're on the same page?
    What happens if Terry or you does something totally unexpected to the other?
    What games does this work well for, and for which games doesn't it?
  • I'm really intrigued lately at the idea of games with multiple GMs with distinct, asymmetric responsibilities (as opposed to "vanilla" GM-ful games). So this thread is relevant to my interests.

    There's some games out there, of course, that already do this: Polaris, Archipelago, They Become Flesh (I believe? I haven't read that one, sadly, just the kickstarter page). Even Wraith's old Storyteller Companion had a suggestion to switch things around so instead of every PC shadowguiding one other PC, you had the one normal GM, and then one player who played nothing but all the PCs' shadows. Are there any others that experiment with this format in the system itself (as opposed to a fairly easy hack for any game with a traditional GM setup, as Jenskot describes?)
  • My Game Chef game Going Home: an Urban Power Fantasy has a setup where one player plays the Traveller (who has agency in the scene), one the Enemy (of the Traveller, for that scene), one the World (colour, minor NPCs, stuff, environments), one Karma (the Traveller's internal voice, the world's moral reaction to the Traveller and their choices), and one the Camera (mood & theme establishment through camerawork). Conflict resolution is based on majority vote between these five in accordance with their interpretation of their duties, so the World should side with Traveller or Enemy based on who takes best advantage of environmental and social circumstances, Karma sides with either side based on how the Traveller has acted in the past, and Camera sides with whoever would be most appropriate based on the drama of the scene.
  • edited September 2012
    Do you pre-plan anything together, or even get together for 5 minutes ahead of the game to make sure you're on the same page?
    We made the initial situation + characters together. The characters have goals with strong motivations, are tied to each other and the setting, exist within a small sandbox (a Dogs Town or a High School)... and that's it. We then improv everything else which I think helps with Co-GMing.

    I've played games where the GM asks us to play NPC but often the scenes seem stilted as we're afraid to step on the GM's toes. Since we're improving so much of the game, there are no toes to step on. We are each other's system of generating random results that keeps the game exciting. We're all going on a ride together and no one is really driving... which is exciting... especially since if need be, someone can step in as the driver if things go to crazy.

    It also really helps that we decide what parts we are each GMing befoehand. We're good at delegating.
    What happens if Terry or you does something totally unexpected to the other?
    This happens. Players even do this to each other. Wait... I thought there were 80 people in this room... not 60?!?

    We have an unspoken technique (unspoken to the players) that we will smooth over all tension as it arises. So if you thought someone's car was red and someone else thought it was blue, we will come up with an in fiction reason why you are both right... or think you are.

    Sometimes these misunderstandings create story twists.

    We had one game where a "villain" defeated a PC and just walked away. One player yelled, "that doesn't make any sense... why wouldn't he kill him." And we turned to the player and said, "you are right, it makes no sense, so why did she do it? What's really going on?" And then the player was all excited to find out! Of course we didn't know what was going but the player cared so now we care to and come up with something.

    I like to think of this style as playing GMless without the players knowing they are co-GM themselves!
    What games does this work well for, and for which games doesn't it?
    This is hard to answer. I'm tempted to say games that are improv heavy. But the opposite is also true. Games where everything is pre-planned (like a module) would also work well. We've run Marvel Heroic, Dogs in the Vineyard, D&D 4E, Call of Cthulhu, and several home-brew games this way.
  • This technique, with modification, seems like it might be useful for introducing someone to RPGs, or for introducing someone to GMing. Someone who has never played an RPG might get a taste of what it's like to play by acting as a co-GM, while having no pressure (the other GM, presumably someone more experienced, could handle anything particularly trying or intimidating). Same for someone who has never GMed.

    John, based on your experiences using this technique, do you have any recommendations or advice concerning the differences between two experienced co-GMs working together, and one experienced co-GM and one inexperienced co-GM working together?

    As an example, I was thinking about some of the items you bring up in the Playcraft thread, and some of the things I might be prone to do. I would have to rein in my own tendency to express suggestions and ideas as they occur to me, so as not to stifle the other player's creativity. But with another experienced co-GM, this might actually not even be an issue -- they might either be okay simply saying, "Let's hold onto that idea for later, for right now, I've got a different one," or they might twist my idea into something I never would've come up with. With an inexperienced co-GM, though, I'd probably steamroll them and their ideas if I did this kind of thing.

    Is there anything else you can think of or recommend? (I'd love to see a set of best practices/principles/"moves" like you made in the Playcraft thread.)
  • I keep thinking it'd be fun to do a PbF game but ask different friends to play NPCs such that I'd have 5-10 people who would log in periodically to do cameos in the game. It'd be fun because as GM you wouldn't really be in control of those characters and it would let you include people even if they didn't have much time to commit to being a PC in your game.
  • What I like about the idea is that whenever there is an inconsistency between the GMs things get even more interesting. It gives you a whole lot of things to ponder and explore in game.

    How should things be interpreted? What is true? What isn't true? How do the two narratives fit together?
  • I've had a fair amount of experience with co-GMing in various forms.

    *In big (20-30+ people) LARPs co-GMing is the norm. I was one of the GMs for a big game like this in April. The four of us started working on it in December, and one of the first things we did was divvy up responsibilities. The process required a lot of constant communication, checking in, wrangling, etc., but was overall really great. It allowed each of us to play to our strengths, and minimize our weaknesses.

    *At DexCon this summer I co-GM'd a hastily thrown-together game of Monsterhearts with a friend when a bunch of us had our Sunday morning games collapse / have a high likelihood of being terrible. (Ironically, the group consisted of a bunch of us who are friends and game together here in New York! We could have just gone to someone's apartment for this game.) My friend is a less experienced GM than me, but had bought and read the book during the con. I had played and GM'd AW and DW (and played but not GM'd MotW) but not MH! So I felt like I brought a lot of generalized GMing knowledge while she brought some MH-specific stuff. Given how short our actual playtime was, and that we had a big group, and that it was Sunday morning at a con, it worked really well! We traded off NPCs, and quickly muttered plans and big ideas to each other when necessary. Like Brendan, I would normally worry about steamrolling the less experienced person, but my friend S is pretty assertive, despite being relatively new to GMing. Plus we know each other pretty well and are on the same page about lots of gaming ideas.

    *John, you mentioned that when the GM asks players whose main characters aren't in a scene to step into an NPC role, it can be awkward. I agree! What works well, however, and something I see as a form of co-GMing, is having a guest who is not a permanent PC take on an NPC role. This is something my college group did/does a lot, and it can be really fun. The guest is less likely to step on the GM's toes, as you say, because the GM can thoroughly brief them on both the NPC's agenda and the meta-agenda for introducing that NPC at this time. ("The Duke wants the PCs to assassinate one of his enemies. The reason I'm introducing this is because the target is one of the PCs' lover, so I'm trying to introduce some angst here.") In my opinion this method is almost always the best way to handle a guest player in an ongoing campaign—it's much more fun to be a villain or supporting NPC and work to advance the plot than it is to make a PC you're only going to play once.

    *When I ran my Star Trek: Voyager Done Right campaign in '04-'05, I actually formalized this guest process somewhat. Three of my friends were interested in the game but couldn't come regularly. They not only played guest stars in the way I outlined above, they became real co-conspirators and co-GMs. I'd hang out and talk about what I had planned for upcoming episodes and stuff like that. Really helpful.

    *Even in 4E D&D, I would sometimes have friends help me run monsters. One time two people I don't know that well who happened to be with me could only stay for like an hour each took a different group of monsters for the first fight of the evening. They brought a lot of life and vitality to these random monsters, got a taste for the game, and when they had to go, it wasn't disruptive at all.

    *In the summer of 2011 my roommate and I co-ran Sorcerer in the following manner: he was the "normal" GM, running the world, NPCs, framing scenes, etc. I played all three PCs' demons. It was amazing. I wouldn't want to play that game any other way, frankly—I think trying to GM and be the demons would be too much unless there were only two players.

    *From 08/2010 to 05/2012 I ran a solo Burning Wheel Elf Princess campaign. BW is great for solo play, especially if you've got such an awesome and receptive player as I, very fortunately, did. Still, it can be pretty exhausting. So I did bring in guests to play NPCs fairly often after things got rolling.

    I think in any game with a somewhat-traditional GM role, guest NPCs and co-GMs can help to relieve the creative burden and reduce the likelihood of GM burnout.
  • Co-GMing

    Terry and I have started running games together. Often she is the foreground GM and I'm the background GM.

    Terry mainly plays:
    - NPCs

    I mainly play:
    - environments
    - rules
    - pacing

    Sometimes Terry speaks an NPCs words and I speak their thoughts and body language. Often I play subtext.
    How much of the success of this is dependent on the fact that you're married and so really in tune with each other? Do you think it would work as well with someone you haven't played with as much?

    Does it REQUIRE that you do some joint prep beforehand, or do you think you could do it off the cuff?
  • We've done it with no prep beforehand but prep during, We will call for 5 minute breaks and then quickly plan.

    I would imagine personal chemistry is valuable. I've Co-GMed with a few other folks to great effect. All people I've worked on projects with though so we already new how to colaborate. I think it also takes a lot of Playcraft (http://story-games.com/forums/discussion/17212/playcraft),
  • Great post Deliverator!
  • Awww, thanks John! I'd co-GM with you any day. I know I'm not as hot as your wife, though. *weeps* But the offer stands!

    Here's an interesting question: does co-GMing make it easier to accommodate more players (in a tabletop)? In my Voyager game I had seven PCs for awhile, though it eventually dropped down to six, and sometimes one of my co-GMs would take someone off and RP with them separately to reduce the burden on me.

    Matt
  • I haven't tried yet. My general max is 6 players. A co-GM did give us the level of intimacy we generally have with 4 players for a group of 6. I would imagine a co-GM would increase your player pool by 1/2 what you are normally used to. But adding more and more co-GMs potentially has diminishing returns unless you have the level of prep found in many LARPs. But I'm not sure. Would need testing.
  • That makes sense to me. Diminishing returns, kind of.

    For a more intimate interpersonal focused game:
    1 GM:4 players --> 2 GMs: 6 players --> 3 GMs: 7-8 players?

    Whereas for a more war/tactics/fighting oriented game it might go like:
    1 GM: 6 players --> 2 GMs: 8-9 players --> 3 GMs: 10-12 players

    Matt
  • I'm pretty excited at the notion of co-GMing just to ensure more players can play, not necessarily to have more PCs at the table but to have less. I frequently find myself in a situation where I want 3-4 PCs but 5-6 people show up to play.
  • For my genre freeform larps, I have a 3-to-1 player-to-GM ratio max. It's because the GMs in my games are part of what makes the world dynamic for "adventurers."

    I highly recommend it – you can pack way more action into your standard 4-hour slots that way.
  • I've had some success in ad-hoc drafting players to act as NPCs when required. Success there probably depends a lot on the table dynamics though. Still, it's fun.
  • I'm pretty excited at the notion of co-GMing just to ensure more players can play, not necessarily to have more PCs at the table but to have less. I frequently find myself in a situation where I want 3-4 PCs but 5-6 people show up to play.
    Yeah, that too!
  • I've been thinking a lot about co-GMing recently, and this old thread popped up during a search entirely by accident. I still want to do this, and there are many great tips here.

    Another idea I've been thinking about is to put the co-GMs somewhat at odds with each other.

    That might not necessarily mean that they're enemies or working against each other (which presumably wouldn't be much fun for the players), but they could have different or orthogonal goals and priorities. For instance:

    * Different orientation: a D&D game. One GM is trying to be an impartial referee and is trying to present things honestly and to adjudicate fairly. This GM is responsible for adjudicating how the rules are interpreted. The second GM plays the monsters and the NPCs and her job is try to beat the players, in every way she can.

    * Different themes or ideas: each GM has an aspect of the game or story that they want to highlight or bring out. Maybe one is in charge of developing the coming invasion, and plays towards that at all times, while the other's job is to highlight the growing alienation between the desperate people remaining in the capital.

    * Different style or tones: one GM is all about portraying the wonder and whimsy of a fantasy world, while the other is focused on bringing out the subtle creepiness behind anything otherworldly and hinting at dark magic underneath it all.
  • This is great!
  • * Different style or tones: one GM is all about portraying the wonder and whimsy of a fantasy world, while the other is focused on bringing out the subtle creepiness behind anything otherworldly and hinting at dark magic underneath it all.
    Archives of the Sky (https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/257723/Archives-of-the-Sky) does this nicely, with the Epic and the Intimate. Not quite GMs per se but the feel was much the same.
  • These statements fit perfectly in the Levity framework. Basically : who is legitimate over what fictional material is the core question for regulating the "conversation" going on at the table. (I say "who" because one person speaks at a time, but it doesn't have to be always the same individual. eg : "the player with the higher hopscotch score" is not always the same individual)
Sign In or Register to comment.