View Full Version : Idea for a system-agnostic DMless play system

2018-12-19, 07:08 AM
So I'm sure many of you have had the experience of trying to find a group to play with and finding no shortage of players (especially if you're looking online), but can't seem to find someone to be the Dungeon Master/Game Master/Storyteller/whatever you want to call it. This is definitely understandable, DMing is a lot of work and usually less fun than being a player (otherwise that person would volunteer to DM and you wouldn't be in this situation). So, I've been thinking about developing a system that allows a group to play without any kind of DM/GM/ST (from here on out, I'll use the system-neutral term Game Master, or GM) where the players themselves help to fill that role.

The first thing to consider is that moving from a single GM to many GMs means we can pretty much abandon the expectation of a coherent sense of continuity, and with the players GMing it makes plot twists more difficult to pull off. It also becomes that much more important for the players to learn how to handle meta-knowledge and metagaming. Rather than trying to "enforce" continuity and punch metagaming, I think it makes more sense to embrace this aspect of the system: it's more important that everyone at the table is having fun than it is to make sure there are no plot holes or continuity errors. That said, we can also gently encourage the players to at least try to maintain continuity and give them tools to "fix" things when they break.

To start with, lets divide the GMing duties into three distinct roles: the Narrator, Actors, and the Director.

The Narrator
The Narrator's job is to introduce a new scene to the players, and narrate the results of their interactions with that scene. This is probably what most of us associate with GMing.

There's no hard definition of what constitutes a "scene", but a new scene generally begins when the players move to a new location. This is because this usually creates a natural break in the flow of continuity. If the players finish chatting up the innkeeper for rumors and decide to head over to the temple of Bahamut, that would constitute a new scene. If while at the temple, a thief swipes your coin purse and you give chase, that would not be a new scene even though you are changing locations, as there is no break in the continuity. Basically, any time you could fade to black would probably mark the end of the current scene.

When a new scene begins, players may volunteer to be the Narrator for that scene. All players, including those who volunteer, then vote for who will narrate that scene. If no one volunteers, then voting still occurs but the players can vote for anyone. If only one person volunteers, then voting can be skipped.

Sometimes a scene may not have any clear ending and may drag on. For example, when crawling a large dungeon, the entire dungeon may be considered a single scene with no natural breaks. In these situations, the Narrator can abdicate their position at an appropriate moment (such as in between moving from one room to the next) and trigger the start of a "new" scene with a new Narrator.

NPCs that are incidental to a scene are usually controlled by the Narrator. However, important NPCs that directly interact with the party are instead controlled by Actors.

An Actor roleplays that particular NPC, deciding what actions they take and voicing their dialogue. If an NPC is being introduced for the first time, the players may collaborate on deciding the personality and motivations of the NPC, after which the Actor will be responsible for representing that NPC as best they can.

The players can vote for Actors in the same way that they vote for the Narrator. It's expected that the same player will reprise their role as that NPC later one, which should cut down on the need to vote. However, there may be times when this isn't practical.

It's generally encouraged for an Actor to not have their PC interact with the NPC they are acting as, as this can lead to cases of Talking to Himself (https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TalkingToHimself) and confuse the other players as to which person is saying what. It can also cause the Actor to hog the spotlight as they carry both sides of the dialogue and exclude the other players. It's fine for a player who is an Actor to have their PC talk to an NPC being acted by a different player, and in some cases it may be necessary for the Actor's PC to respond to the NPC they're acting as.

The Director
The Director is in charge of controlling the actions of NPCs, especially enemies, during combat. This is possibly one of the most difficult jobs, especially in terms of metagaming, and should be left to a more experienced gamer. A sign of a good Director is someone who is willing to kill their own PC if the enemies have the opportunity to do so and it makes tactical sense.

It's possible to vote for the Director when combat breaks out, the same way you would for the Narrator and Actors, but it might be better to have a designated Director. When combat is not occurring, the Director can be statting out NPCs as they are introduced, based on the fluff provided by the Narrator or Actors, so that if combat does break out they will have the stats they need ready.

Using the Three Roles Together
Interestingly, the three roles above correlate to the three pillars of play found in many RPGs. The Narrator represents Exploration and Puzzle-Solving, Actors represent Social and Roleplaying, and the Director represents Combat. It can be helpful to keep this in mind when determining which role should be overseeing which sorts of challenges.

There may be times where these roles overlap with one another. For example, an Actor might provide additional details to a scene, and an Actor could also control their NPC during combat. The Director might rely on the Narrator to supply the conditions of the battlefield before combat, or might add their own details in an effort to more clearly delineate the conditions of battle. The Narrator generally controls any NPC that isn't important enough to warrant an Actor, but sometimes an NPC becomes important later on and earns a need for an Actor. Some RPGs might have systems for social combat or political intrigue that blur the lines between combat, narration, and roleplay.

In the case of something like social combat, you could have the Director choose the mechanical effect and then the Actor would roleplay it. For example, the Director might decide that an NPC uses an Insult action in order to reduce a player's Composure rating. The Actor would then roleplay the insult and roll to see if it succeeds, and the player would roleplay the response.

This is Democracy Manifest
Whenever the players vote on an issue, they can vote for more than one of the available options. Do note that voting for all available options is the same as not voting. For example, if three players volunteer for the position of Narrator, and you have no preference between the first two but don't want the third person to narrate, you can vote for both of the first to volunteers and not for the third.

When a new scene is about to begin, the Narrator can call for anyone to volunteer to narrate the new scene, then quickly call for a show of hands in support of each volunteer. This helps the process to move quickly and smoothly. Likewise, when an NPC is about to be introduced, the Narrator can call for Actors and a quick show of hands the same as above. Any time the Narrator or Director doesn't know what they should do next, they can call for a quick vote in which moving clockwise around the table each player will present what they think should happen and then immediately call for a show of hands in support of that motion. Remember that players can vote more than once, so voting early doesn't preventing you from voting later if another proposal appeals to you more.

Players can contest the decisions of the Narrator, Actor, or Director. This contest should take the form of a counterproposal, and the person being contested can accept, reject, or offer a compromise. If an agreement can't be reached, then the contestant can call for a vote to strike down the contested decision. This requires unanimous support from all players except the person being contested.

Concentrate and Ask Again
A number of virtual DM solutions have presented a system whereby players can ask a yes or no question and get a randomized response. It is possible to recreate that system using a d6.

On this d6, a roll of 1 to 3 is "No" and a roll of 4 to 6 is "Yes", but only a 2 and a 5 are strict "Yes" and "No". The other four possible results include a modifier: "and" enhances or exaggerates the result, while "but" downplays or undermines the result. Therefore, the possible outcomes to a question are:

6 - Yes, and...
5 - Yes
4 - Yes, but...
3 - No, but...
2 - No
1 - No, and...

It's up to the players to determine what a given result actually means, and there are many possible interpretations. If, for example, a player asks the Narrator a yes or no question, the Narrator may simply choose a response, or may roll to determine the answer. The Narrator can then interpret the result themsevles, or call for the players to offer possible interpretations and vote on which one to implement.

Let's look at an example. Let's say the rogue is sneaking into the magister's mansion. They creep up to the magister's office and peak inside the door. The rogue asks, "Do I see any guards?"

Yes, and... The magister himself is in the office, with his entourage of personal bodyguards.

Yes You see one guard with an alert if slightly bored expression.

Yes, but... You see one guard, sleeping in a chair.

No, but... You don't see any guards, but there is a maid cleaning the room.

No The room appears to be empty.

No, and... Not only is the room empty, but the item you're looking for is sitting on the desk in plain view.

This method is a good way to generate results without relying on the Narrator, Actors, or the Director to make everything up themselves. Any time an uncertainty crops up, the players can simply ask, "Is it X?" and roll the die.

Plot Points
Plot points are a currency that can be used to influence the story. [Note: These still need a lot of hammer out of the details. Here is one possible way to implement plot points.]

Each player starts a session with 1 plot point, and can have a maximum of 3. Whenever a Narrator is chosen, they gain 1 plot point, unless they already have the maximum, in which case all of the other players gain a plot point instead.

You can spend 1 plot point to seize control of the narrative. For the remainder of the current scene, you are the Narrator, and you may retcon one detail from the previous Narrator. You can spend additional plot points to retcon additional details. If a player has acted on a detail that gets retconned, they are allowed to take back their action and do something different.

[I need more ideas on things plot points can be used for.]

Story Cards
[This is another element that would require some fleshing out. There are probably cards out there that could be repurposed for this use, but it might be necessary to create them from scratch.]

Story cards are another way you can randomly generate story elements aside from using dice. While rolling a die can be used to answer yes and no questions, story cards can be used much more flexibly.

Story cards generally come in four (?) major types:

If you have a question that begins with "where...?" then these are generally the cards that will answer it. However, these cards need to be vague as they have to work on a variety of levels: you're not going to find a town or a forest inside a castle, for example, neither are you going to find a closet or kitchen walking down the road. Here's an example of how a story card can be used:

Let's say the card is a bed. This could signify a literal bed, a bedroom, an inn or hostel, a campsite, a rest stop, or even a town. It might also represent a safe area in a dungeon where the players can rest safely.
Let's say the card is a tree. This could signify a specific tree, a forest, a sawmill, a garden, a carpenter's shop, or many other things related to plants or wood.
Let's say the card is a gold coin. This could signify a shop, a treasury, a bank, a trading post, a major city that sees a lot of trade, other things related to wealth, money, and trade.

These answer the question of "who...?" This could be a guard, a soldier, a merchant, a friendly animal, a wild animal, a monster, a noble, a peasant, a mage, a priest, or any number of other options.

When you need to present an obstacle to the party, but you're not sure what, these cards have your back. These challenges could take the form of a lock, a trap, a monster horde, a boss monster, The Law, a puzzle, a crime, a quest, and many more.

These cards can be used to modify the other categories. These include descriptors such as large, small, ancient, stupid, angry, tough, simple, rude, impressive, elegant, evil, and so on. Something to note is that Description cards don't need to be linked to specific cards, thus when you are using multiple cards you can apply the Description cards to any non-Description card of your choice.

When the Narrator isn't sure what to do for the next scene, they can draw 3 to 5 cards and incorporate the results into the next scene. They can also call on the other players to offer their own interpretations and vote on which one to implement.

At the beginning of a session, each player draws 5 story cards and holds them in their hand. When a new scene begins, each player (including the Narrator) can play one card from their hand, which the Narrator must incorporate into the story. Each player who plays a card regains one plot point. If a player isn't satisfied with how the Narrator incorporated their card, they can dispute it. The players will then vote on whether or not the Narrator failed to incorporate that card, and if they fail then the disputing player can steal one story card from their hand. The Narrator can also concede and forgo the need to vote. As above, the Narrator can also call on the other players to offer their suggestions and vote on which one to implement.

You can spend a plot point to play an additional card, as long as you still have cards in your hand and plot points to spend. Unlike your first card, these additional cards don't give you plot points for playing them. Regardless of how many cards you play, you still only get to steal one card from the Narrator if they fail to incorporate your story cards.

You can spend a plot point to discard your current hand of story cards and draw a new hand of 5 cards.

Final Thoughts
That's about all I've got for now. Let me know what you think, and be sure to chime in if you have ideas on how plot points and story cards can be used.