Ask the Readers: One campaign, several GMs

Regularly I hear or read about campaigns in which the gamemaster is not a permanent position held by just one person, but everyone from the group takes on the GM’s mantle from time to time. For a lot of people that even seems to be the traditional way to do it.

Since I started playing pen & paper roleplaying games in the early ‘90s I’ve participated in a lot of campaigns. And usually a campaign has one dedicated GM and when another person wants to run a game we then switch to a new campaign. I don’t think it has happened that often that someone took over another GM’s campaign. For some reason it just doesn’t feel right to mess with other people’s worlds.

As regular readers of this blog you will probably have noticed that I have been reading a lot of narrativist games recently. What a lot of this games have in common is that the players usually have much more influence on the world and how the story evolves than in more traditional games, like D&D for example. The gamemaster has to give up a good amount of control already, so why am I bothered by the idea of several GMs in charge of a single campaign.

One thing I am definitely not too fond of are gamemaster characters. I am talking about those special NPCs of a GM that are run as if they were player characters. More often than not these NPCs steal the show from the players and ruin the game for everyone. When someone who is not the regular GM takes over, their player character may become such a special NPC.

So, what are you thoughts on this subject? Is it ok for you when several people share the position of the GM from time to time. Or is this something you avoid like the plague? Please let your voices be heard in the comments below!

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

9 thoughts on “Ask the Readers: One campaign, several GMs”

  1. Back when I first started playing D&D, early 80s, we always rotated the DM duties; one adventure would be run, then another with a different DM, all the same characters and the same world. But we never ran our own PCs as special NPCs, ever. Those characters went off to do other things, visiting home or whatever. Never had a problem with Special DM NPCs.

    The last campaign I played was co-DMed by myself and another, and our PCs just went off to do other things, so again, no problems there. Other than that, we have been more one-DM one-campaign, although usually the same system.

    Personally, I like having a rotation, since it allows everyone to get a chance to play too; and gives the DMs a break in between.

  2. We rotate occasionally. Usually the GM’s character goes on vacation but occasionally they stick around back at camp. One time we did this, the character became the source of intel and new missions for the PCs. It fit with the character so that wouldn’t always work but this time it did.

  3. I was a little bit unsure trying out this idea the first time. But it worked out fine.

    We run two Star Wars Sessions with rotating GMs, and although the world and some NPCs are slighty different, I like the differences. We normally run short sessions (1-3 evenings) by one GM and then switch to the next session, intime a couple of days or weeks later.

  4. We’ve played a wonderful Ars Magica campaign once where we took turns GMing. Every GM concentrated on one part of the whole saga and ran his own story-arc. AM is supremely suited to this troupe-style play.

    But apart from that we almost always do the one GM, one campaign style game. Overall it makes it much easier to create an intriguing narrative.

  5. We used to do that with our Shadowrun campaign, whoever had a hankering for GMing for do it that day and the rest of us would play. The GM’s PCs were occasionally dragged in as contacts or (rarely) support, but we tried to avoid that as much as possible. The modular and episodic nature of Shadowrun and the fact that the campaign city (Seattle, natch) did not ‘belong’ to anyone in particular made this work surprisingly well.

  6. My problem is of another nature, I would rather GM than play, so to me game nights are the time I get to do what I enjoy. So on our Tuesday games we rarely switch GMs. I find the idea intriguing but not something I would enjoy. My players get together another day and they play (I join them sometimes) but when they switch GM they switch campaigns.

    I had a friend GM in my campaign once with disastrous results, but these days I would love to have a shared experience like that in the right context.

  7. Just the other day I wrote about multiple GMs in my blog. There are two kinds of games that best support this – the first is what I like to call an anthology in which a series of thematically connected stories are GMed by a different guy each time. The second is a an exploration game where the main schtick is the discovery of new locations (islands/ planets/ creatures/ etc…)

    To be honest, I never tried the former, but I think it can be really fun and make for a very memorable game due to the increased diversity of locales discovered and explored.

    Uri K.

  8. I’ve done the 2GMs, one settng thng before and it worked well…but we were both on the same page world-wise. Gave rhe opportunity to play for both, rather than run the show. Got so good we’d swap mid-play from time to time.

    As for the favored NPC, I think that’s almost inevitable. Not just because the GM has a character they favor, but because the players get drawn to certan NPCs and want to drag them into te story deeper.

  9. “Troupe play,” some call this. Sure, I’ve done it a fair amount, and never had a problem with it. I agree that the GM shouldn’t run his own character in most circumstances. I make exceptions if I’m playing with a single player, but even then, it’s not “my” character so much as a sidekick character, and I’ll allow the player to give them orders (semi-control them).

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