View Full Version : Ask a GM [08/07/08]: Multiple GMs, Same Campaign

08-04-2008, 10:52 PM
ronpyatt asks,

"My gaming group has agreed to attempt a quartet GM'ing tag team world of adventure. Each will be GM'ing until the party levels. Then the next GM takes over, and the old GM gets to play his character. The story picks up where the previous GM leaves off. There are 7 of us, and 3 will not be GM'ing. The system is 4e D&D, and the world is make-it-up as we go along.

Aside from the usual advise about running a game in a shared world, what would you do with your PC when it came time for you to GM?
We've mulled it over a bit, and no answer has revealed itself to us. It's my turn, and I've decided to NPC my PC for the duration and have him as a tag-along in the group.

Also, any words of caution?"

08-04-2008, 10:54 PM
Sounds very cool. I've had some great experiences with round robin gaming. But it does have some unique challenges.

The number one problem -- continuity. Have someone each session keep copious notes and post them digitally as soon as possible. If you are going to be the GM, read them ... twice! Continuity is a constant problem in round robin style play, particularly if one of the GMs-to-be skips a session. "Oh, this character central to my plot is dead. Oops."

Stake out territory. Plots centered around the Kingdom of Tyburn are all Bob's domain. Bob prefers if no one else misses with that kingdom, at least without asking.

Idea: have two GMs stake out two neighboring kingdoms. Later, in the campaign, have them go to war. Each of you runs adventures in the other's war torn domain.

Create a GM only email list (or at least make sure everyone has a way to contact each other). Ask lots of questions. Don't be afraid of minor spoilers. After all, we're all friends and in this together. We won't use the fact that your asking about undead in the sewers to abnormally 'gear up' for undead hunting.

Be gracious and roll with the punches. Sometimes, your favorite NPC gets killed. Don't worry -- you can always make more.

Happy gaming!


08-04-2008, 10:54 PM
What do to with your PC while the you are the active GM?

This is never an easy question as there are ramifications in one form or another that aren't all fun when you have a GM character.

Make the Character Busy off Camera
The easy solution is to move the character off camera. You can do this via the story of the world and have the character busy doing something important -- skill development, item creation, managing a business, negotiating with a local Lord, etc.

The problem with that easy solution is that this removes the character from the progression point of the rest of the party. They are gaining experience, items, or other forums of advancement (varies by game), and the GM character is on the sideline.

That method works well to prevent a GM from giving his character an unfair advantage, but it also sets the character off pace when the GM is in the player role.

Have the GM's Share a Character
Another solution is to have the GM's share a single character and take turns playing it. Then it is always in the limelight with the other characters and does not loose progression equity.

The problem here is that the multiple GM's may not want to play the same character, each preferring something different, or they may not play it consistently. While this creates an opportunity to have a bi-polar character with multiple personalities, it can also create some friction if the GM's actively disagree with how the character should be played.

Plus, they could still take turns shining favor on that shared character. Also, this does not work so well if you have three or more GM's in the game.

Cycle Campaigns
One way to handle this that I've personally done is to not just shift GM's, but also shift campaigns. Each GM runs for a pre-determined amount of time and presents a chapter in the story of his world. When the chapter is complete, the group moves to a new GM and different campaign. All of these campaigns can run in the same world, or in entirely different game systems.

The key to making this work is to fix the rotation schedule (we did it quarterly) and then to work (as the GM) to share a chapter of your story that can fit in that scheduled rotation. Players need to feel as if they have accomplished something in the process, and a rotation can end with a cliff hanger (this is a good thing), it has to have a defined end so the players do feel accomplishment.

Drawbacks include people not remembering what was happening by the time they get back to your campaign, lower attachment to characters, and some folks skipping rotations as they have no interest in a particular GM's game/rules/setting.

All of which is tolerable; but it's important to note that some folks won't respond well to episodic campaigning.

Words of caution?
I think the big caution is GM favoritism. When a player shifts to GM all eyes are on the loot the character gets. Is the GM deliberately planting things only his character can really advantage from? Does the campaign suddenly become myopic?

Conversely, some GM's may over react and punish their character, which isn't fair either. It's a juggling act, and not always easy to tackle.

Another is that shifting GM's (and potentially games) can really jar the sensibilities of the players if the GM's have a wide difference in style. If they start off high magic and extreme action and then find themselves immersed in heavy roleplay with no magic... or worse GM's who actually un-do the work of the GM before them ("I didn't like those magic items so I sent a Disenchanter in on purpose.") the people playing along with the GM's are being done a poor service.

The obvious point to all of this is to just talk about the options as a full group. Talk about baseline agreements of how to handle GM characters when the GM is running the game, talk about shifting styles and needs. Talk before and after every session about how things are going. Use email, sites like this, etc. to talk even more.

That way everyone can voice their thoughts and concerns as they arise, and everyone is also on the same page.

08-04-2008, 10:54 PM
I agree with the mcbride. Have others be in charge neighboring kindoms/races. I would suggest that the one(s) in charge of other kingdoms have their area somewhat laid out. It would be confusing somewhat if, say, 2 DMs have different 2 captial cities for the same kingdom. An equal and opposite reaction to what mcbride said, have the party be apart of a peace treaty between two kingdoms (which have a strained relationship and it is the end of the famed 20 year war between the 2).

You could probably also make use of having someone being in charge of a guild, if one or more are particularly present in the world or in a few kingdoms. If the Church of Pelor and the Theives' Guild have a major influence, it would be useful for one or 2 people to handle those areas.

08-04-2008, 10:54 PM
I must admit that I have never gamed in a group that had multiple GM's taking turns at running the same campaign. When I first started gaming, the group I was with did have two people the GMed, but they each ran their own campaigns. Usually, while one was actually currently running a campaign, the other was getting another campaign ready. This way there wasn't a lot of "down" time inbetween.

I do however agree with mcbride, in that there needs to be continuity. I would maybe suggest that if you don't usually put what you are planning on doing while it is your turn as GM on paper, that it would be very helpful to the other three if you did. This way it will make the note taking of each session easier. Also, this way if the party back tracks to a location that it was at with a previous GM, then there is information that is easier to get as opposed to trying to remember everything that happened 2 and half months ago.

As far as the character that each of the GM's will be playing when they are not currently the GM, I would think that running them as an NPC would probably work. It would definately help the party, since there would always be the same number of members in the party. One thing that I am thinking is that the role of party leader (or leaders) should probably be any or all of the three people that will not be taking a turn at being the GM.

I'm curious to hear how this works out with the rotating GM. Hopefully ronpyatt will keep us updated on how the game is going. Especially when there is a change over of GM's. Not sure how smooth the changing of the GM will be.

08-05-2008, 11:05 AM
i have played in these types of campaigns before- they usually started off pretty good but quickly degenerated. the following points will help you stear clear of the issues that caused the destruction.

1) make sure the DM's set ground rules for the campaign- this will help continuity and will also help with what grimwell brought up about favoritism and differing campaign styles. if all the DM's know what the ground rules are, it is a bit easier to keep it all together. they also need to have a clear idea of the campaign goal- is it a string of modules, one of the pregenerated Adventure Paths (this would work the best for rotating GM's), are the adventured not related whatsoever (episodic), etc. are weo only playing to level 10 or 15 or we planning on going EPIC?? lots of things to be hammered out before the players even think about making their characters.

2) the DM's need to decide beforehand WHEN they will swap- is it level based, is it module based, time based, whatever- but it needs to be figured out before they start the campaign. and once you get to that point, the DM's who are to swap need to have some time to get their part ready to go- they can/should be working on it while they are playing (of course) but they might need some time to modify things depending on how the last part ended.

3) each DM runs the campaing until their part is complete- Bob finishes his bit and Larry is to take over, by that time the characters NEED to be done with Bobs bit and ready to start Larrys. if for some reason Bob wasnt able to get the characters to the next point as determined by #2 above, then Larry has extra work to do before he can even start his bit- and it might even derail what he had planned. if, for example, he has to finish Bobs bit and one of the characters that he was going to have some main plot threads for in the next bit dies and does not get raised, his part goes up in smoke before he even gets started.

4) METAGAMING- as the DM's have to have some background info on where the campaign is going, it is better to have the DM's run the same pc(s) when they are not DMing. and that PC should not ever be a central character to the plot of any of the DM's parts- play them more like a NPC that hangs with the party. this may not be as fun for that DM/Player when he is not behind the screen, but i see it as neccesary. its okay to use the DM character to keep the campaign on track but NOT okay for him to railroad the campaign towards the goal the DM/Player has in mind for later when he is behind the screen again.

there are a bunch of smaller things that can make this idea successful, but there were the main points that killed the campaign that i was in that tried this very idea. YMMV.......

08-05-2008, 12:00 PM
I think that each GM should throw himself fully into the character as a player should.You could make it interesting by having the PC be schizophrenic or something. Maybe he is possessed and thus his personality shifts after leveling up.

God this tag team game sounds like a riot. and a make-it-up-as-you-go world?!!! awesome! Thanx for the new ideas.

08-06-2008, 01:32 AM
Aside from the usual advice about running a game in a shared world, what would you do with your PC when it came time for you to GM?

I'd probably give my character to another player to run as a sidekick. (I would most likely design the character as such from the get go e.g. squire to a knight or apprentice wizard or some such.)

08-08-2008, 01:40 AM
another small piece of advice for prospective multiple gms: communicate, darnit! we're just the gm's, not mind readers! ;D

it's a good idea for the gm's to have a pre-session sit-down-n-chat time. meet an hour ahead of time and discuss where they want things to go in the big picture. this allows the gms who are off to express anything they are thinking of, just so the dm-of-the-day can keep it in mind. be careful what you reveal, however. lots of people haven't mastered separating character and player knowledge. let alone player, character, and dm knowledge!

08-15-2008, 09:54 AM
I think this is a great idea. Please let me know how this turns out. I would like to incorporate something like this myself.

03-08-2009, 01:15 PM
Even though I am posting on an old thread, I will share my experiences anyway.

I have played in 3 games with round robin and all have been a disappointment. Two were tabletop, one was online. Like Mcbride said about continuity, that was important. What also hurt was their playing style. Sometimes one GM was all about combat and plucked some rules to follow and ignored others while this was his 'house rules' when he gamed. It was a bit confusing.

More often than not, the GMs had conflicting objectives or ideas about how the game should go. One felt that the neighboring kingdom was oppressive while the other referred to it as being benevolent.

Most times we continued with no sense of purpose. Just randomly traveling from one part to the next (if the game was divided into areas) which got boring.

I can see an online game being split between two GMs. One to handle combat and the other to handle roleplaying and dialog. That seems to work but they decided to take breaks instead of dividing responsibilities.

03-10-2009, 08:22 PM
I have one word of advice that might help you. In my games, progression is handled linearly. The only time people don't advance as quickly is if they deliberately have their characters run away from an encounter or other such item. If people aren't able to be in an adventure, then the next adventure they come back with increased wealth equal to their wealth by level appropriate amount.

When I trade GM spots, the other person's character is in the same place as everything else, it's all done in an entirely fair way, and there's no room for favor or self-persecution unless the person is REALLY trying to, and at that point it's obvious to the others.

03-11-2009, 10:48 AM
In one round robin campaign, my character had a phobia of sleeping on the ground. So I decided to place my character in the nearest tree. The GM informed me that the nearest tree was 100 yards away or so.

While my character was in a slumber, a young white dragon dropped down in the middle of the night and the rest of the party killed it. They got all the XP and gained a level. One character gained two levels (since they were all relatively low level to begin with). The GM said my character was too far away to hear the combat and didn't play the monster fairly.

Why reward someone who doesn't show up for a gaming session? I can see having to work and some other reasons but then you have to pick and choose what is legitimate to another that is just lazy. I do like this XP calculator to handle a group that is of different levels. It gives more XP to lower level characters and usually brings them very close to the same level eventually.


05-08-2009, 10:38 AM
I have a standard gaming contract for shared GMing roles. Unless the campaign or epoch is shared a well, these are usually for giving the primary GM a break or because a someone has a cool idea to run. The way i run campaigns, i control everything. From our standard gaming contract (all players/GMs must read and agree to play in our group).

Play Scenarios: Once a game master starts a campaign, it is up to them to regulate play scenarios until the campaign ends. The campaign GM will allow other GM's to run scenarios only after reviewing the concept and stipulating any restrictions to ensure balance and continuity. As a general rule, GM's should consider abiding by the Interim Play guidelines and expand from there - anything that violates these should be cleared ahead of time by the campaign GM.
Interim Play: When the GM is unavailable and the rest of the group decides to meet and play, an alternate GM will be chosen. In absence of regulation by a campaign GM, the general provisions of 'interim play' are applied as follows:

No powerful items (mystic or mundane) are introduced into the campaign
No major plot devices are introduced - the scenario must be self contained
No more than few days of time are allowed to elapse in game terms
No more than 3 character points and 1 action point can be awarded for a single session
No major wealth is introduced into the campaign
No major NPC's are introduced into the campaign
If all other characters die, any PC belonging to the GM and used in the scenario must also perish or will be retired if not.

05-21-2009, 08:49 PM
I was part of a weekly D&D club back in highschool in the 80s in which we alternated DMing. The DM's PC would become what we dubbed a "backseat NPC" who followed the will of the group, never taking on a leadership role. Worked well for us.