Troy’s article on Dave Arneson and
Scott’s article on rethinking your play group got me percolating on ways that players can benefit from a change of pace and constant involvement in the game. So, while I don’t prefer to pop 2 Johnny’s Fives back to back, it seemed like the best format for this. Without further adieu, here are five ways to keep your players involved and shove some of your work off onto them.

1. Play the bad guys when a character dies.
I must admit, I’d never thought of this until reading it in Troy’s article. Its such a brilliant idea, especially at lower levels when characters are more prone to joining the choir invisible. How many times will a cleric be offed by a group of Kobolds, or a Shadowrun hacker get gunned down before  he can take control of the security drones. While waiting to be  healed/revived/roll up a new character, that player can jump in and grab control of the bad-guys and have maniacal fun trying to take out his or her comrades. The other players might be annoyed, until they realize how fun it is to grab hold of the bad-guys and go after the rest of the party themselves. I sense a whole game concept in there.

2. Shared Narrative
If you were to do a quick search through our spiffy little Google search bar  on Shared Narrative (go ahead, I’ll wait), then you’d notice that I’m a bit of a proponent. Achem. I can’t remember the last time that I GMed and did the majority of the talking in a game. If you sit back and think about it, what would your players rather be doing: Listening to you explain all the salient details of the dungeon and NPCs, or describing the heroic feats of their in-game avatar? The Game Master will never be superfluous.  Someone has to set up the framework and play referee, but the players get so much more involved when they have more control over their character, and even the areas around their character. If you can find a good place to say: “You tell me what happens” in your game, give it a shot and check out the results.

3.  The GMs Familiar
There is a lot of stuff that the GM has to keep track off, and rumor has it that you’ve got a couple of people sitting at the table who are probably pretty competent in various skills and who just happen to know something about the game that you’re playing. Hand off map making responsibilities, or keeping track of names. Start every session having the players make and write down 5 different rolls that are appropriate to the game du jour. Then grab one of those roll results to use for an NPC roll at some point. The players will be sweating a bit when they realize the roll just scored a critical on them, or that the only reason they found that secret door was because they rolled well previously.  Have the players roll on the treasure tables, then describe how they found the treasures they found. 

4. Play a session as the bad guys
One of the most fun sessions I ever ran was when I handed the players some pre-rolled stats, told them they were going to be playing spies sent to infiltrate a base as a side-quest and assured them their characters would know all about the surroundings due to extensive research and the players would have no problem with it. They filled out some flavor stuff about the characters, and got dropped off in front of the regular party’s headquarters. I had them roll on the fly to see if they knew enough about the security systems or guard movements, and if they did they brought in the knowledge they knew as the party. They had a great time trying to come up with reasons why they would know something as the bad-guys, and even when they failed as the bad-guys, since it meant they did a good job setting up the bases security.

5. Collaboratively build the dungeon
Inspired by Dawn of Worlds, and Matthew’s great review of it, I thought about ways you might use this approach in a different way. Why not collaboratively build a dungeon?  I’ve always thought you could do some awesome things with collaboratively built dungeons. Kind of a mix between Descent, Munchkin and Go Fish. Something like this:


  • A deck of cards with dungeon corridors and very basic room layouts.
  • A deck of cards with events, monsters, blank faces or room descriptions (ala Munchkin).

Guidelines (Loose)

  • Each player could draw a hand, of any appropriate number, from the dungeon pile and take turns playing them, face up to build the dungeon. 
  • The caveat, is that the player has to take a card from the events, monsters, blank faces and room descriptions pile when they play a card.
  • They either hand it to the GM (without looking at it) or play it (without looking at it).
  • If the GM gets it, then he or she can play it whenever. If the player plays it, then it happens.

The concept is quite rough, but has loads of possibility. The Game Master could build the decks before hand so that the dungeon had some rhyme or reason. The Game master could draw from one of the decks while the players draw form the other. The players could use it to randomly build the dungeon without the Game Master and have a good old dungeon crawl in their system of choice. The important thing is that it blurs the line a little bit and lets the players get more involved in the game.

This just taps the surface. There are a slew of other ways to get the players into the quasi-GM role. In the spirit of collaboration, bring your A-game to the comments. What other ways have you seen in play? What ideas do you have on getting your players to be more involved? What sorts of things, as a player, would you love to take control of in the games you play in?

6 replies
  1. Scott Martin
    Scott Martin says:

    Re: a collaborative dungeon. Have you seen The Other Game Company’s Dungeon Bash? It provides a random dungeon and encounter builder with several different themes for a quick evening of play without a GM.

    As a player, I love developing corners of the world that get brought into the main game. Whether it’s a personal Shadow in Amber, or inventing an island homeland for a character in D&D, it’s fun to add a twist to the world. I particularly like the way Aspects in Spirit of the Century create interesting chunks of the world, perfect for adventure!

  2. Kurt "Telas" Schneider
    Kurt "Telas" Schneider says:

    I’m a big fan of getting your players to GM, simply because they become better players after a stint behind the screen. At the very least, they have an understanding of the GM’s job.

  3. John Arcadian
    John Arcadian says:

    @Scott Martin – I hadn’t seen that. I know there are similar types of things like that out there, and that the idea of a dungeon deck was used in a lot of old dungeon adventures. I’m working on a Creative Commons licensed PDF of the concept. Something simple and easy to use, despite genre or setting. Something you could download and print out on index cards.

    @Kurt “Telas” Schneider – I’ve always liked games that blur the lines between GM and player. Letting the players get a taste and feel more involved. The quote by Dave Arneson got me thinking about “gateway drugs” into getting players to GM, or get on the GMs side of the screen, if only a little bit.

  4. DocRyder
    DocRyder says:

    The few times I’ve seen players start running monsters/enemies, it turns ugly. The players still playing their PCs inevitably end up taking the actions of the monsters personally, or feeling the monster player is being too efficient/deadly, or some other variant. I will never use that option in my game.

  5. paddirn
    paddirn says:

    An awesome game that follows that card deck format you mentioned is Atlas Games’ Dungeoneer (

    Players take turns as the DM and lay out a portion of the dungeon along with a monster, and then each takes turn as a hero collecting magic items/weapons, completing quests, and leveling up. You basically compete to finish more quests than the other guy. Each set has a different theme or you can link them together to make multiple levels of one big dungeon. Pretty sweet for some RPG-lite action.

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