A while back my group got to the end of a campaign I was running and I was 4 steps beyond GM burnout. Deciding that no one wanted to pick up a new campaign of a couple of months, and deciding that we didn’t want to do a string of one shots, we bandied about many ideas for what we wanted to do. Finally, someone suggested we take turns. I suggested we make use of published adventures or the like until higher levels. Everyone agreed we should take a crack at rotating Game Masters and we started in on our troupe style game. This was something we had looked at before, but never implemented because of the games we were running and our time commitments. At that time Walt and I wrote a double header about this subject, and you can find Walt’s article on Collaborative Game Mastering here while mine on how I thought it would go here. With a little experience with it under my belt, I wanted to share how it has been working.
So what exactly is a troupe style game? According to our friend Wikipedia, Troupe Style GMing is:
Easy enough, but why exactly run one? Why do it? There were quite a few reasons we bandied about. There were also some issues we highlighted with the approach.
There are many more pros and cons that I can think to Troupe Style games, but the one point that sticks in my mind as I review them is that they tend to resolve around what happens when you switch out. A lot of that will be dealt with by how you decide to run the troupe style game. There are a lot of ways you could do it.
My Group’s Take On Troupe Style GMing And The Most Important Tool We Have
When my group decided to take this method of GMing on, we had a LOT of ideas buzzing about. One player/GM wanted us to pick up an old Eberron campaign so he could revisit his higher level character. Another wanted to play from level 1 and go all the way to 20. Another mentioned wanting to step away from D&D (and fantasy gaming in general) every so often and visit a Shadowrun game he had in mind. Another player/GM wanted to try out a published adventure that spanned a few levels. It was a fair amount of controlled and polite chaos.
We eventually decided to incorporate as many ideas as we could. We began with the people newest to running games as the first GMs. This let them try things out at lower levels where more complex powers didn’t exist and where less cumbersome GMing situations are likely to occur. We wanted to get 2 people GMing until about level 4 or so, and decided a published adventure would be the easiest. I had incorporated elements of Dungeonaday.com into a fantasy game that veers far away from the structured elements of D&D and favors more cinematic play. People mentioned wanting to try it in actual D&D. We decided to play through the first few levels, until we reached 4th, and then switch over to another published adventure and Game Master. We would play that through and keep GMs the same until the published adventure ended. After that someone else would take over with another published adventure or we would play some freeform higher level stuff out.
Currently, we are at level 6 and about halfway through the published adventure. Everything has been going really well, with a not unexpected snag or two along the way. Nothing insurmountable has come up, but we took some precautions and made sure we were all on the same page to begin with. We did one VERY IMPORTANT thing to ensure much of this ease and stability.
A Gaming Charter is like a Social Contract, but in my opinion much more useful. While the concept is similar, the term Gaming Charter conveys a much more codified set of rules about how the game is played than a Social Contract (which covers various social assumptions about the group and is frequently encouraged not to be written down). The Gnomes have some great articles about Social Contracts and Gaming Charters (a newer term) that I’ll point you to for a more in-depth discussion:
So, what is our game charter like? Well we decided we needed to address the idea of what rules we wanted to remain constant during the changing of the guards. We also wanted to make sure we were on the same page about assumptions for how the game would go under each GMs hands. Since we are a fairly forgetful lot we decided writing it down was a very important step. We weren’t going to put in the social assumptions that are attached to most social contracts and focused more on rules implementations and assumptions about how we would interpret rules. Some of it probably doesn’t need to be in there, but having it written down and agreed upon keeps it consistent. We shared it out with google docs, and use the same file to keep our party loot and other important information. Since nothing in here can incriminate us, and all the bodies have been looted and disposed of, I’ve decided to share the document here with you. We keep this information in an excel spreadsheet, but in the interest of maximum viewability I’ve converted it into a 1 page PDF and removed the names of the guilty. Check it out and see how we organized things.
Overall I’ve really enjoyed playing in the different iterations of the game that various GMs have run. While I was suffering from GM burnout beforehand, I definitely feel better now. My turn isn’t scheduled to come up till much later, but I don’t think I would mind doing it now (only a few months in) knowing that someone will take over and I won’t get stuck running for another year or so. All in all it has been a great experience. I’m very curious to hear from other people who have done something like this.
So what have your experiences with switching GMS been like? Any advice that I’ve missed or any tricks that have worked well? What do you think of the idea of a Game Charter (something I most assuredly didn’t create but have found great use from)?