exquisite corpse: the game
October 18, 2011 2:05 PM   Subscribe

How to best run a table top RPG with two people alternating between being the game master and playing a character?

Alright, so I've got this table-top RPG that I've been slowly building the rules and setting for over the last couple of years. I've ran it a few times and things work out pretty well. Now, I've got a friend who wants to try his hand and GMing for the first time and wants to give running my game a shot.

We've been talking about this and it sounds like a really fun idea to somehow tag team running the game. It would give me a chance to play the game for a change and give him a chance to start GMing with a little hand holding from someone who knows the rules (I should know them pretty well, I did write them after all). We're thinking we'd either trade off GMing duties after each major story arc or I'd start the game and then hand over the reigns of it to him after a couple sessions.

The question here is how can we pull off a game with two game-masters and still have a cohesive story? Have any of you done something like this before? What are the basic logistics of making it work.

Ideally we'd like to make good use of what we're interested in, I want to do world building and he wants to do story writing/telling. If I'm designing the setting and including some stuff about how all the main secrets work and all the potential supernatural mindfucks that might come up how can we keep my out-of-character knowledge about what could be just around the next plot twist from ruining things (or does that not really matter and I can just roleplay my character's ignorance and try not to ruin things for the other players)?

(If it matters the game is a near future sci-fi sort of thing in which, for the most part, all of the potential sci-fi/mysterious/supernatural/superpower things are unknown to the average person and the players when they start out. It's not that dissimilar from White Wolf games (but without all the grimdark and vampire werewolves) in setting and system.)
posted by cirrostratus to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My friends and I do this with Shadowrun. It helps a lot that SR is neatly broken up into missions for the most part, so even if our "main" GM has an overarching plot that he's leading us through, it's easy enough to run through an extra mission here or there just for the karma/nuYen.
posted by Oktober at 2:14 PM on October 18, 2011

Aww, my buddy and I used to do this all the time *waxes nostalgic*. I was the writer and he was the DM. The best way I've had this work is you switch off with a kind of deus ex machina NPC or something to further the plot. Other examples are stuff like recurring villains or sidekicks who are not so easily dispatched and benefit from an intelligent player rather than a stock character. It also helped that as the writer I was far more informed as to the more complex action/combat scenes and mob behavior than he was so I would take over there, while he handled the overall plot.

We had great times doing that. "Oh no, you are NOT switching to Elendil! He's gonna kill us all!" Mwahahahahaha!
posted by elendil71 at 2:53 PM on October 18, 2011

Elendil, so what were the logistics there? You had a character but would swap into running fights sometimes while the other guy took over an NPC or something like that?
posted by cirrostratus at 3:16 PM on October 18, 2011

Well it was a bit more contrived than that. We planned to have set places in the game where we would switch roles as player and GM. I'll try and give a simple example.

"Fred" is a PC but because he may or may not be played by me or the other GM, he's designed as a character that fits easily in the game depending on the needs of of the dedicated group (think throw-away cleric in DnD) but at the same time, a character that can be played with depth if needed. Or like I mentioned, a recurring character. Dont dismiss recurring characters! They add a lot to a campaign, can develop a great deal of personality and can easily be adopted by a GM team when they need a break.

I generally wrote complicated action sequences into adventures with non-stupid, challenging NPC's so when that came up it was more efficient for me to take over the GM role, and my buddy would either take over the role of the villain(s) or a useful PC (see above) depending on the need.

I would be amiss in pointing out that this takes quite a bit of synergy between those involved, and often involves a very cognizant effort to sacrifice personal character development to advance the overall flow of the storyline. In other words, you never really get to be the story like the other players - you are the storyteller.
posted by elendil71 at 3:44 PM on October 18, 2011

I have run this sort of game in a few different ways - almost tag-teaming:

I've used a "phase-shifting" process where either
a) timeline shifts (you DM current day and buddy DM's flashbacks or flash-forwards or flash-sideways)
b) mental shifts (you share a character that has two or more personalities of which only one is present at a time)
c) control shifts (a character whom is the battleground for warring factions trying to gain control for their own purposes.)

All of these could play off well in a supernatural or sci-fi setting with a little context provided. Heck, it could even be bodyswapping or mind/spirit takeovers which are affected by the physical desires and aspects of the "meat" they inhabit.

You need to be able to work dynamically and realize that the game may not go exactly in the direction you want unless you manage the story to unobtrusively redirect the characters in the written or planned direction.

Sounds fun - good luck!
posted by emjay at 6:05 PM on October 18, 2011

We did it with D&D 3.5 - I think our only concrete rule is that there was nothing 'behind the scenes'. So when we swapped DMs, the new DM was free to make whatever happened in previous games mean something different from what the previous intended it to.

IOW all that existed was what was experienced by the players - there was no 'shared plot' between the DMs.
posted by Sebmojo at 8:07 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

IOW all that existed was what was experienced by the players - there was no 'shared plot' between the DMs.

That's how we handled it in my group. We'd make an occasional broad request that wasn't too spoiler-y ("Don't, uh, do anything big with dragons, okay?"), but otherwise the DM was free to do whatever he wanted.
posted by Amanojaku at 8:32 PM on October 18, 2011

First, yes, this can work and people have done it before.

Two games that are explicitly two player games with trading GM'ing roles are Breaking the Ice and S/lay with Me.

If you decide to expand further, there's games like 1001 Nights and Polaris as two games that switch GMs regularly in play, though usually are aimed at more players. Also Universalis which is structured without any GM at all.

Anyway, it might be useful to figure out between the two of you which elements are shared, and which elements are "owned" by one GM or the other.

You might find it fun to have index cards or something like that - "The Nakarov Hackers" might be a faction of hackers, and under it you can list things that are commonly known ("They take military secrets"), things which one of you want to section off ("They have connections and backing not yet revealed...") and things which you are open to your co-GM building on ("What is their philosophy that drives them?")

An easy notation might be:
- Statement that ends in a period - fact that is known/revealed.
- Statement that ends in ... - a mystery/aspect I plan on developing further as a GM
- Question? - Something I'd like you to build with me on.

Then you just start changing things to periods and adding more sentences as the particular thing on the card is built up. (alternatively, use a wiki).
posted by yeloson at 11:12 PM on October 18, 2011

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