Master Mines

We’re digging RPGs

To GM or not to GM

So, I’ve been chewing on whether Know Thyself should stick with having a GM, or if I should go totally GM-less.  As a very non-traditional RPG, the need for a GM isn’t particularly strong.  But, at the same time, I don’t feel a strong need to go GM-less either.

The solution I’ve come up with, which may seriously bite me in the ass, is to do both.  The idea of a game support both types of play intrigues me greatly, and it’s an opportunity to try this experience.  Furthermore, if one of those modes ends up producing weak play, I can toss it out.

So I’m thinking about the GM-less mode and how it related to what I’ve been doing with the game using a GM. That means I’ve been mentally analyzing the GM-less games I have (Polaris, Contenders, The Shab-al-Hiri Roach, uh, off the top of my head) and will pour through them tonight and tomorrow, but the conclusion I’m drawing at this moment is that to make a GM-less game work, you have to be telling separate stories in parallel.  In a GM-ed game, you can tell one story with several participants at the same time.

I’m going to chew on this idea more, as I also need to post my design agenda document.  Which means getting it out of my head & writing it up.  Which means finding time — but I’ve reserved some time this weekend at the earliest for it & a re-write, so that I can take advantage of some folks coming over on Monday for playtesting.

June 14, 2007 - Posted by | Know Thyself


  1. I’ve have confused thoughts about GM-less games that I can’t quite articulate right now. Let’s just say that my experience with both Polaris and The Roach has led me to conclude that you can have GM-less games that do something other than separate stories in parallel. You can tell one story with several participants at the same time, however, it will look slightly different than that story would look if you had a GM. I’m not quite sure how to unpack this, but if you feel it would help with your design, I’m willing to try.

    Comment by ptevis | June 15, 2007 | Reply

  2. If you would be interested in trying, I think it could helpful in general and very helpful for me as that’s the bug I’m currently noodling out.

    I know that either during or after I’m done with Know Thyself’s ashcan, I’m going to write an essay analyzing GM-less games (as part of a series of gaming essays that have been brewing in my head, which means the currently-defunct Master Plan blog will go a whole new direction).

    Comment by Ryan Macklin | June 15, 2007 | Reply

  3. Ryan, I’m gonna be reading through your draft this weekend, so hopefully I’ll be able to be more helpful with suggestions. Something you said jumped at me:

    In a GM-ed game, you can tell one story with several participants at the same time.

    Given that I seem to be working towards a design where there is no GM, but rather a shared narrative experience, but wanting to end up with a single story thread, I’m intrigued by your comment. I don’t know enough at the moment to figure out if you are right or wrong, but I wouldn’t mind you expounding a bit on this statement. It might help you figure out if KT is GM, GM-less or combo, as well.

    Comment by Daniel M. Perez | June 15, 2007 | Reply

  4. Daniel, I’ll definitely have more this weekend on the subject. I’m still leaning heavily to a combo, where GM-ed & GM-less have a different feel. (Or, as I’m titling them in my head, “We’re all in this together” and “Ships passing through the night” modes.)

    Comment by Ryan Macklin | June 15, 2007 | Reply

  5. Ryan, I think this a bigger topic than I feel qualified to address on my own. Would you willing to start a discussion on Story Games that I could jump in on? My own experience with GM-less games is somewhat limited, and I think that other people’s perspective (especially, say, Jason Morningstar’s) would be useful.

    Comment by ptevis | June 15, 2007 | Reply

  6. Paul, I’ve posted a thread at:

    Comment by Ryan Macklin | June 15, 2007 | Reply

  7. I definitely support the notion of one game having two (or more!) radically different ways to play, right there, bundled in. Just seems like a usability issue to me.

    But! Recall that the thing we call “the GM” is really just a set of responsibilities, that can be unbundled from each other as long as they all remain present. I definitely don’t see any inherent reason that stories would stay separate without GM-ish responsibilities all in one person’s hands.

    Comment by misuba | June 15, 2007 | Reply

  8. Mike, I’m having a problem conceptualizing a party where one or more players are essentially inactive while they handle NPC roles, environment roles, and the like. One of my own gaming tenants is “Don’t talk to yourself” — if you’re the GM, don’t play two NPCs engaging each other at the same time. In this case, if you’re a player, don’t play yourself and an NPC talking to the group.

    This is the fundamental disconnect I have with being a PC and NPC simultaneously. Thank you for helping me clarify the nature of my issue.

    Comment by Ryan Macklin | June 15, 2007 | Reply

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