GM-less Godbound

How to make Godbound GM-less? I want to kick around some ideas in this thread. I will probably also X-post on since the author may jump in.

I may have time to organize a second game soon, but I don't want to full-on GM a second campaign. (I'm running 5E on Thursdays.) Godbound is one of the favorite games I've learned about in recent years. Getting to actually play a PC in it again would be fabulous.

Doing the work of teaching the game, even with some weird GM-less structure on top, wouldn't be a problem. And designing the GM-less structure should also be fine for me, as it's the sort of challenge I really enjoy. I just don't want to put the game on the table and not get to experience the unique joys of playing it you know?

Anyway, I'm going to write a few more posts in this thread right now, laying out various obstacles and / or possible solutions.


  • So, one idea would be to completely break character monogamy, and then do rotating GM stuff. Get 5 people together, collectively create 6-8 gods (enough that you feel like you have a real pantheon), and each person takes turns GMing. Based on what scenario they're presenting, the other 4 players each grab a character and explore it. Then, when the immediate scenario is finished, they go back to base, the GM changes, and the players grab new characters.

    You could have each player have ownership over a particular part of the setting, so it's clear when each person needs to GM, or perhaps ownership over a particular conflict type.

    Since the faction turn is pretty out-of-character anyway, all the gods could participate in the faction turns, even if they weren't played in the most recent adventure, and in fact those gods who don't participate in an adventure could gain some other small benefit, like an extra point of Dominion (god-mana, basically) for the month.

    So, that's idea #1. For now, I think I'm mainly going to focus on possible solutions, and leave the trouble-shooting for later.
  • OK, so, that's one possibility. Now, what if we wanted to go truly GM-less here? One nice thing is that monsters' tactics are sort of automated anyway by the system. (And they sort of need to be in order to avoid TPKs: if monsters just attack - attack - attack and never do anything interesting, they have a good chance of splatting the characters.)

    The trickier bit is how we decide what obstacles stand in the way of the current goal the pantheon is pursuing. I think I need to do a bit of research into something like the Mythic GM Emulator. I'd also like some suggestions for good GMless games to review to be reminded of some of the best ways of handling these issues.
  • Alright, here's a third idea. This one's a bit out there, and based on Polaris of all things, but I want to just throw it out there and consider it.

    You have "pantheon scenes" where the whole pantheon, which is equal in number to the number of players, is at their base, hanging out. Those are mostly freeform roleplaying, and also Dominion and Influence spending.

    Then you have "quest mode." For some sort of diegetic reason, not all the gods can leave on a quest at the same time. Let's say Athena and Brigid go on a quest together, while in-fiction, Cronus, Demeter, and Eros stay at base to keep things from falling apart.

    Players C, D, and E do the following:

    C plays the forces of chaos and destruction in the world. All that opposes the Godbound, and is on roughly their scale in terms of power.

    D plays the environment, including all lesser monsters and beasts, the weather, and the terrain. This job includes the GM role of describing what's in a room.

    E plays mortal NPCs, those who are not Worthy Foes to the pantheon, and who might become any of the following:
    -Casualties of their mighty struggles
    -Loyal followers of their cults
    -Allies and friends aided by the Godbound
    -Adherents of the pantheon's enemies

    *shrug* Who knows, could work? I'm gonna sit on this for awhile.
  • I have my monster script thing if that helps…?

  • Why not open the 3rd option to more freedom ? Like, now we've got a tea party, then we split this party and whoever has no god in a scene/sequence plays whatever they feel like. maybe add a time for basic DM coordination at the end of a scene/sequence though.
  • I like that Polaris-like breakdown. I think that has potential!

    Is there a need for more of an organizing principle, an overarching goal any or all of the GM players have together? What takes the place of the “adventure module” in the game? Or is that unnecessary in Godbound?
  • What do you mean by "basic DM coordination," DeReel?

    Paul: good, but complicated question. I don't have time to fully answer it right now.
  • edited June 2019
    I mean DMs debriefing their last scene /sequence. "So what happens to your beast after that ? I thought it was clear it fell in the river. Oh that what the noise was." That sort of short talk.
  • edited June 2019
    I’m not familiar with Godbound. Can you break down the main mechanics really quick and the player/GM divide. Also, could you briefly explain the play style you’re trying to create with your GMless version and any specific aims you have. If you have a second to go over this briefly, I can try to brainstorm some ideas.
  • OK, let me try to respond to some of the questions above. This may not be an exhaustive treatment but I'll cover what I can.

    Godbound is technically an OSR game, but it's at the bleeding edge of deep hacking. While it's more or less intercompatible with other OSR games, the PCs are literal demigods who have access to potentially world-shaking powers at level 1, and go up from there. There are no classes, rather your Godbound is defined by which Words of Creation (generally three) they're bound to. For example, my character in @StoneTharp's game was goddess of Luck, Fate, and Time (maximum meta!). The other characters in the pantheon (party) had Sun, Might, and Command; Artifice, Earth, and Freedom; Sword, Sorcery, and Travel.

    Adventures generally consist of going to some metaphysically significant place and tangling with some mix of foes who are on your power-scale (Worthy Foes) and mobs of mortal-scale foes. Each character has a Goal they are working on at any given moment, and most characters also form a Cult and develop its tenets, and spend a fair amount of time and effort managing that Cult, which also in turn gives them Dominion.

    Dominion is used to make changes to the setting related to your Words. It's essentially diegetic, dare I say blorby, PC authorship. However, if there are any magically significant beings who oppose a change you're making, the Dominion costs go up dramatically, such that you generally have to go punch them in the face yourself to get them to stop opposing you. Hence the nature of most adventures.

    There's a robust faction system (this game is also more or less intercompatible with Stars Without Number, remember!): the Godbound's Cults, various nations and cities, and so on, are all able to do moves against or in alliance with each other about once per in-game month. That part is extremely easy to make GM-less.

    The game has great support for generating ruins / adventure locations, town councils, and even entire religions in a recent supplement. I think using those tables gloracularly could be immensely helpful to this project.

    The default world of Godbound is extremely horrible and post-apocalyptic, nigh-on Grimdark. Alex (StoneTharp) said he wouldn't have wanted to play it if the PCs weren't literal demigods with the chance to make the setting better, and I tend to agree.

    The game really captured my heart because it has a great mix of specific structures and the ability to just really let your imagination run wild. It's one of the most empowering games I've played.

    I think the organizing principle of play is, "What will the Pantheon make of the world, or the corner of it they choose to take over?" I don't see that that principle needs a GM, right? In some respects, the GM role is the least interesting part of the game in that sense, which is why I want to eliminate it. It's the PCs who have an organizing principle, I think I'm arguing.

    OK, hopefully that made some sense!
  • That is a FANTASTIC overview of the game. I understand your goals much better now!

    An interesting challenge, indeed, and I can see why you're after it.
  • Thanks, Paul. Any specific advice?

    Also, I kind of realized that maybe what the GM-less version needs is a sort of Chaos Clock. It could be for the world as a whole, or for a particular region. Essentially advancing fronts / threats from AW or clocks from BitD: moles that need whacking.

    I kind of feel like the session 0 of the GM-less version of the game is, in part, about setting up an initial set of conflicts we want to explore; there could be automation tied to the faction turn checking for whether each threat advances. The between-session "GM check-in" (where everyone is a GM!) is about creating new Chaos Clocks as old ones get resolved; the new ones would presumably be consequences of the way the old ones resolved.

    I feel like we're getting somewhere!
  • It sounds like you have a good system for generating chaos and problems in the world at large, and the PCs then decide what to go after and who to confront. Sounds like fun!

    What about at the more tactical scale? Is fictional positioning important enough in the game that you would need some relatively impartial way of "setting the scene" for instance, before a fight (or whatever other types of conflicts and challenges take place in the game)? What about controlling the actions of adversaries?

    (Hopefully you've seen @2097 's monster AI rules; they might inspire something.)
  • The game operates at a fairly not-granular level. For example, one way fictional positioning often matters in these sorts of games is to try to set ambushes / see who acts first. In Godbound, the PCs always act first. So I don't think that part really needs to be automated, other than simply populating what is present in a ruin or other adventure site in the first place.

    I'm also still concerned about the actual portrayal of the NPCs. Perhaps some version of my #'s 1 and 3—I think you really only need 2 "GMs," not 3, so you could have 3-4 PCs active on any given adventure.

    The monster AI rules might be needed for mobs, but most real challenging monsters have a table of random actions you can roll on.
  • Well, if you have people GMing (whether 1, 2, or 3) then none of this seems like a major concern to me. Right?

    It’s interesting to hear that this game has kind of a monster AI system. How does it work? Can it be extended to other things, or is it just a way to choose monster actions in a combat round?
  • It's just the way to choose monster actions in a combat round. You just roll 1d6 on a table and then they do that. It sometimes requires some judgment, like which power to use.
  • Have you ever seen Kingdom Death?

    It has a really neat mechanic where a monster gets a deck of cards with “moves” it can make.

    You draw from the deck when it acts.

    “Damage” to the monster forces it to discard cards. As you hurt the monster, it gets tunnel vision, so to speak. When the deck is empty, the monster is defeated.

    Anyway can that’s neither here nor there, but it’s elegant and pretty blorby.
  • Matt, I really like your Polaris-inspired breakdown of roles in quest scenes, especially the split between who plays supernatural/worthy-tier foes and the mortal/unworthy foes. I'd make it explicit that player D who plays the world is also the rules-adjudicator for the scene, since many many Gifts and Miracles routinely require on-the-fly rulings

    I think it needs some more development re: either or both of why, diagetically, quest scenes don't involve the whole pantheon or procedures for handling it when they do (especially because those are most likely to pop up when major campaign events are going down)
  • Matt, I really like your Polaris-inspired breakdown of roles in quest scenes, especially the split between who plays supernatural/worthy-tier foes and the mortal/unworthy foes. I'd make it explicit that player D who plays the world is also the rules-adjudicator for the scene, since many many Gifts and Miracles routinely require on-the-fly rulings

    I think it needs some more development re: either or both of why, diagetically, quest scenes don't involve the whole pantheon or procedures for handling it when they do (especially because those are most likely to pop up when major campaign events are going down)
    Thanks. I agree with your comments, especially what I need to work on, BUT I think 3 PCs, 2 GMs would be better.
  • Always delighted to see Godbound.

    Here's my stab at how to both make the "it's very rare the whole pantheon gets involved" as well as making it a little easier for people who are non-GM inclined.

    1) Emphasize from the start that Godbound is just as if not more interesting when it's about what the PCs do, or how they change things, rather than if they succeed. That way people aren't worried that they have to pitch threats appropriately.

    2) There's a League of Evil/Chaos: have everybody create (no actual character creation needed at the start) some awesome, fun to play bad people, who all sit around and chew the scenery in their evil lair. Do it after the PCs create their character. That way, you can have people create the "My villainess hates demigod X and Y and wants to see them suffer."

    So both, you can flip back in game to the League of Evil, and have their whisperers tell them what the pantheon is up to, and you can both let the "key" villains lead the brainstorming, but also lets everybody chime in.

    (These could be a rival pantheon of Demigods, or so many of nations lend themselves immediately to a group of evil wizards, the tsars, the courts of Ancalia, etc, etc)

    3) The players start the game with a home base, which could have a macguffin, or is just their home with the people that their characters care about. The pantheon knows that they've got enemies, and so it would take the biggest of emergencies to have them all leave at once.
  • That's great, James, thanks!!!! Exactly what I was looking for.
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