View Full Version : Rotating Gamemasters

2007-07-16, 11:55 AM
I've been talking with my regular group about doing a game with rotating game masters. The idea is everyone would have a character and take turns playing the GM for a single dungeon (or other adventure of that length). We usually switch GMs between campaigns, so we're pretty confident that everyone is capable of running a game, we've just never had persistent characters between GMs before.

Here's the problem. Some of the players who had been with that group longer than I had told me that they had tried that before. It went well until one particular GM took a few too many liberties with the game. He gave out items that were too powerful and forced characters to get reincarnated into animals.

Since the group didn't want the game to be about fixing the mistakes of one GM only to have him redo those mistakes when his turn came around again, they ended the game. I'm sure some other players here have done a game with alternating GMs before, so my question is where do you draw lines for what GMs can do and how do you enforce that? I don't want to see someone give out +4 weapons to a level 6 party, but I'm even less interested in seeing the players have their items get taken away. I'm also curious about persistent NPCs. Do they get owned by one particular GM or does the current GM run all NPC interactions? I feel like all this is stuff that should get worked out in advance rather than at game time.

2007-07-16, 12:05 PM
I was playing in a game for awhile with this premise:

For whatever reason, a group of people were picked up by a blue light and teleported... here. Wherever that was. The adventurers, learning to become allies, would get caught up in some crazy adventure, and when it was done, the blue light would come and take them...somewhere else.

As far as GMing went, it rotated every session in an episodic, Stargate-esque manner. So we were kind of careful about finding out what the other players thought about things happening to their characters, because if you did something another player didn't like, they'd get a chance to be the GM in less than 2 months.

When a player was GMing, their character simply didn't appear. It was assumed that they had their own adventure somewhere else (the character gained equal experience to the party).

It certainly helped that we were friends and fairly easygoing about the whole thing. We discussed (briefly) a set of rules, but decided on the ever popular rule 1 (after rule 0, of course) "Don't be an a**hole." I don't think we ever found it necessary to say "Don't break the game." I think your group might need a more strict guideline, maybe as far as treasure goes you should strictly follow the "Wealth by CR" guidelines to figure out what appropriate treasure is.

I wouldn't want to rotate GMs in a persistent setting, like yours, and by that I mean one that doesn't change. It introduces a whole problem set, especially with anything that recurs ("Hey! You're doing my NPC wrong!"). I'm sorry I don't have more exact ideas, but it's a good idea to think about all this kind of stuff.

2007-07-16, 12:16 PM
If you're all sensible and mature about it, which I assume you are since you're considering doing this in the first place, you could always call your DM on weird item choices (or similar unbalanced decisions) as they're being meted out. Any game run in this way would have a much more cooperative feel about it since you'd all have a turn at adjudicating and would all have a responsibility to the story that you're telling together. It's important that the DM continues to have the respect he would in a normal game, but at the same time it's important that the DM respects the game and leaves it in a condition that everyone else can easily pick up from.

I'd set out some ground rules to start with, along the lines of what is an acceptable change to the party/direction of the plot/whatever that a DM can make without consulting the rest of the group, and what he needs to ask the rest of you before doing. You also need to make sure that everyone is operating on the same house rules and paying equal attention to all parts of the RAW, so that you don't weigh yourselves down with immense packs and suddenly come under the adjudication of a DM who's a stickler for encumbrance rules.

As for NPCs, I'd assume they're controlled by the current DM at all times, unless they're specifically attached to a member of the party. If one DM is particularly fond of an NPC and doesn't want anyone else controlling him or has big plans for him, the he could easily find a way to put him out of the picture until his turn comes round again. Other than that, a description of motives and personality should hopefully be enough to keep the characters consistent between DMs, and provided no one's too set on how a specific thing should be you may well begin to see a degree of evolution in your game that's a lot more dynamic than what a single DM could have come up with. Be sure to set out in advance what happens to a PC when their player is DMing, since that can cause a mess more than anything else.

Basically, sit down round the table and talk about things before you begin. If the group really wants to do this then it'll work, as simple as that. There might be hitches along the way, but provided you set out barriers and boundaries between yourselves then it's all good. You might want to consider following RAW very strictly for the campaign, just so you've got a solid set of rules to fall back on when there's a dispute between an incoming and outgoing DM where the power balance might be a bit questionable, and if you make any changes to the RAW then write them down as well. In fact, keeping a written agreement might be not be a bad idea overall.

2007-07-16, 12:26 PM
It can work, but it takes a lot more work.

The way I tried to do it before was that each DM was responsible for a different area of the world. When the party ventured into that part of the world, the corresponding DM was the authority on the area. There was also a centrally grey area that the DMs all had limited control over. We'd make up reasons for the group to head into one area or the other once we knew who was going to DM the next session. It was a bit stretched, but since each of our characters was of a different race we just had the DM who had the elf PC control the elf area, the dwarf the dwarf area, etc.

A lot of fun in D&D is discovering the mysteries that the DM has planned for the players, but that can be hard to maintain when the other DMs are running their stuff. I recommend having the DMs run sessions/plot hooks that are limited in scope. If each DM has a different BBEG that is threatening to destroy the world it becomes hard to determine how each one interacts with the others. But if each DM has local bosses or mini-BBEGS it is easy for 1 DM to eventually tie them all together as having been under the direction of the overreaching BBEG.

Good luck.

2007-07-16, 12:42 PM
Our group has done this many times with varying degrees of sucess. We have had moments were one DM gave out to much treasure. I've found, with notable exceptions, that round robin games tend to die after awhile. With no continuing plot thread the games degenerate into the search for more stuff. honestly most of the very sucessful round robin games we have had start out round robin and then eventully one DM takes over the campaign. i think what others have suggested about setting some ground rules for how the games will be ran would deffinatly help.

2007-07-16, 12:53 PM
The thought of rotating DMing makes my head hurt >.<

I'm playing in a rotating DM campaign that's being done horribly. It's all supposed to be one contiguous story, but not everyone can know the expected plot so some of us have to do random crap to make our journey more complex. The party was so big (10 players) that we tried splitting the party into two groups that traveled separately and met up later, and one party ended ow way stronger and better equipped than the other (not to mention that every member of that party died and was replaced except one). Our characters stay in the party when we DM, but are controlled by whoever is willing to play a second character, and a couple of players are really moronic about the characters they're playing (my CG swashbuckler is not stabbing the cleric to death in the bar fight you started). Finally, everyone in the group is required to try DMing for at least one session. Even the clueless guy who's playing for the first time. Oh yeah, it's not related to the rotating DMness but there are several players who enjoy the chaotic stupid alignment. :smallmad: I need to stop thinking about that...

Anyway, from my experience, a rotating DM campaign can go horribly wrong. I can see how it would work if it was handled well and all the DMs could work little things out about the power level of the party. If you trust the other members of your group to DM fairly and pace the wealth of the party appropriately it might work for you. If it's handled wrong it'll go down the drain though.

2007-07-16, 12:56 PM
First of all, the disruptive GM no longer lives in this state so he wouldn't be a problem. I actually think I'd be the next most likely to hand out too much loot, which is why I'm trying to nail down some guidelines now.

Changing locales per GM seems like a very valid way to run this kind of game, but my group is opposed to it. They want to draw on the setting when building characters rather than just react to the setting. As soon as the theme of the game changes, so should their characters.

Part of my motivation for wanting to do a game this way is that we all like running games, but run out of energy/free time after a couple months. I'd like to be able to spend a weekend setting up a dungeon (or other adventure of dungeon length) and let it run for 2 or 3 sessions without feeling like I have to prepare for next week.

The NPC ownership thing is a big question for me. I've had characters I've made get elevated to NPC status in later games, and then I've been asked to cameo that character in later games. It's still up to the GM what that NPC is up to and why he's making the appearance, but with some GM direction, I get to act out the character again. I could see each of us having one or two pet NPCs that work that way. Yes I can see how you'd argue against this as it is a lot like a DMPC, but I'm picturing something more along the lines of collaborative storytelling. I think this would prevent NPCs from getting misused and give us a broad range of minor characters who appear from time to time.

Here's an idea for loot. Would only giving out gold work? No other treasure, just gold. Between sessions players can shop for items at DMG prices. People still need to figure out how much gold is level appropriate, but I think that's far easier than doing the same for treasure. I'm also thinking it might be a good idea to throw out experience and say that each adventure is a level and when DMs switch you get to level up.

2007-07-16, 12:58 PM
Anyway, from my experience, a rotating DM campaign can go horribly wrong. I can see how it would work if it was handled well and all the DMs could work little things out about the power level of the party. If you trust the other members of your group to DM fairly and pace the wealth of the party appropriately it might work for you. If it's handled wrong it'll go down the drain though.

Oh, it can go horribly wrong with little to no prompting from the people who aren't DMing. I did find that the way we ran ours worked fairly well, and would have continued if I didn't live a 2 hour drive south of the rest of the people in the group.

Most of our "Story" came from character interactions. As a fairly experience group, we decided to go with a "No Cliche" character creation. I ended up playing a Half-Orc Cleric of the concept of death (whom he referred to to whom he referred as Grandmother Death), but his M/O was to try to prevent death. His most repeated line was "No. It is not yet your time."

But yeah, it's definitely not a stretch to see this kind of thing going wrong in a lot of groups.

Edit: Grammarnazied my own post.

2007-07-16, 01:18 PM
the game we play at the moment has a rotating GM, i am running this camapign and when it finishes im sure we will swap and so a completely different campaign.

I don't mind swapping though, being DM is awsome fun but id like to settle down and develop a character in depth once in awhile :smallbiggrin:

Iku Rex
2007-07-16, 02:39 PM
I've done this in the past and we're likely to try it again soon.

Some advice:

Stick to the RAW as much as you reasonably can. In case of disagreements you can work things out as a group or have a rules-DM for the hard calls. I'm sure writing down agreed upon (?) house rules is a good idea too.

Play in a published campaign setting and try to have everyone learn the basics about it.

Use pre-made adventures. Each DM can tweak NPCs, monsters and even plots if he wants to, but as long as nobody goes overboard with the tweaking there's little risk of major artifacts, powerful templates or giant piles of platinum showing up to unbalance the game for future DMs.

The DM gets the same XP as the players, depending on level. He also gets magic items/gold based on the expected wealth table on page 135 in the DMG.

Example: The DM's character is level 10, with a 48000 XP total when the adventure begins. During the adventure the DM earns the same XP as the players. When the adventure ends the DM has 68000 XP and starts the next adventure as a player with a level 12 character. From level 10 to level 11 you're expected to gain 17000 (66000 - 49000) gp worth of magic items. 11-12, 22000. 12-13, 22000. The DM gets 7000/10000 of the 10-11 gold. (He needed 7000 XP more out of the 10000 XP required to become level 11 from level 10). 22000 for level 11-12 and 2000/12000 of the 12-13 gold. Total: 11900 + 22000 + 3667 = 37568 gp.

This isn't nearly as complicated as it may seem - honest. :smallsmile: If the adventure followed the DMG guidelines for treasure, the DM's character's equipment should have roughly the same value as the other characters'.

2007-07-17, 10:23 AM
Yeah, we'd definitely need a published campaign setting. As far as standardizing the rules go, I think we'd just have to sit down ahead of time, choose our books, and ban things as needed. That or have everyone work out their builds to level 20 and see if anyone is broken.

Any ideas about passing around main plot? It seems like the easiest thing to do would be to make the game episodic. At the end of each episode things return to normal. All wounds are healed and all bad guys are in jail. The only things that would change are loot and levels. I think this is the right way to start things out, but it would get old after a couple cycles of GMs. It also seems like it would be pretty odd to cycle through long term plots, putting one on hold as each GM does his thing. I'd like to see each GM start their own plots and then they start working together to combine threads into some ginormous plotline. That would probably take a little more work though. We always can go for the obvious evil villain can only be defeated by some artifact which has been separated into x pieces where x is the number of GMs.

Capt'n Ironbrow
2007-07-17, 11:00 AM
If you can finish a dungeon/area in a single session, there's nothing wrong with this approach, but I feel a rotation per episode/chapter is better. Also have a meeting with the successor DM if there are things that will be carried over to a next episode (like a curse yet unknown, or someone following/puppeteering the party)

2007-07-17, 11:23 AM
Oh yeah, I definitely didn't mean one session per DM then rotate. Episode is probably something in the 2-4 session range. And I like the idea of just passing notes. Cursed gear, diseases, NPC triggers, that sort of thing. Maybe you could be all mysterious and pass them in sealed envelopes with some sort of text like "open this when fighter guy puts on shiny new armor."

Also, I'm fairly certain a wiki would be necessary for tracking everything if any GMs were going to use material developed by other GMs.

2007-07-17, 12:58 PM
Here's an idea for loot. Would only giving out gold work? No other treasure, just gold. Between sessions players can shop for items at DMG prices. People still need to figure out how much gold is level appropriate, but I think that's far easier than doing the same for treasure. I'm also thinking it might be a good idea to throw out experience and say that each adventure is a level and when DMs switch you get to level up.

That sounds like it would work - just remember that the wealth by level guidelines in the DMG assume that you are giving out a mix of treasure and gold, so if you only give out gold and let them buy the magic items they want, they will be better equipped than their net value would indicate.