Playing in a Rotating GM Campaign
Welcome back to the Zurn blog! Today we're looking at how you'd play a roleplaying game with a rotating game master: the GM changes from session to session between the players, instead of being one person for the duration of the campaign.
This is something I rarely see discussed online (and more rarely practiced), so I am putting this idea out there as something for you to consider trying. We will start with what kind of group would be best for this style of play, best practices for how to implement it, and some of the advantages it gives you and your gaming group to not have an "eternal GM" in the group.
I. Why Have a Rotating GM?
There are a few reasons why a rotating GM is good for a gaming group. First and foremost, it allows everyone to guide the plot, taking the reins when part of the plot plays to their skill set, imagination, and/or free time. So if you have a group of five friends, and one of you is really into geopolitics, another is really big on murder mysteries, another reads a ton of ancient mythology, another is a "math guy" who loves the mechanics of the game system, and another loves palace intrigue and social banter, when the plot needs to move in one direction or another it could be to the advantage of the group to switch out who is taking the lead.
It also reduces prep time for any given person, as no one is committing to months of spending hours outside of the session to prepare the game. Instead the workload is shared, constantly passing from one person to another to reduce burnout.
It also dramatically increases the chance of meeting, as one person being slammed by life doesn't put the game on hold. If someone is going to be on vacation, hours for work change, etc., someone else just takes the lead and continues the campaign. It also means that if life does get busy, you're not locking into spending all of your time preparing for a session: you're looking at a few heavy weeks before a break.
It also allows different players to bring different tones/scenes to the campaign based on their strengths. If you have someone who loves old westerns, maybe they run the quest arc involving protecting the villagers from marauders. If you have a person who loves Indiana Jones, maybe they design the ancient crypt for your next dungeon crawl. If you have a person who loves Ancient Greece, maybe they take the part where you meet the local pantheon. Switching the narrator plays to the strength of the scene, as the best voice for that scene is the voice to the players.
If someone doesn't want to GM, don't make them - just have it rotate between some members of the group. But always encourage others in the group to GM, especially if they've never done it before.
II. Best Practices for Rotating GM Campaigns
There are a few things to keep in mind if you rotate the GM:
Keep the rotation relatively consistent. Make sure everyone gets a chance that wants it, and make sure the rotation happens frequently enough that everyone gets to do it often. If one person gets to GM for one week and the next person GMs for four months, it can cause issues. So make sure the group plans their arcs to meet your group's rotation goals.
Take stock as you go along whether everyone is still enjoying the structure. If the group is loving having a rotating GM, yay! Keep doing it! But if they are not, don't just keep going. Stop, talk about it, and move forward with changes if need be.
Establish the rules in advance. GMs fill two roles: narrator and referee. Since you have a rotating referee, it is a good idea to insure that while the ref may change from one week to the next, the rules are still the same.
Work together. The last thing you want is a Star Wars Sequels scenario where two narrators narrate very different stories, so work together. I recommend a rule that helps with this: "If someone else made the NPC, ask them before you do anything with them." This helps you avoid people stepping on the toes of future plans, keep people from frustrating other players' plans, and is just a good rule of thumb for how to tell stories with other people.
Agree on a rating for your campaign. Is this a "PG-13" adventure? Is the group wanting something with a lower or higher rating? Decide that upfront.
Still have a Session Zero. Discuss what you want, what you don't want, any red flags for people from a content perspective, etc. Since you don't have a single narrator deciding what you run into, it's paramount that you establish what everyone is okay with and not okay with before multiple narrators start to make story arcs and elements.
This is a starting point; your particular group will need more things based on player experiences, needs, and desires, but hopefully this gives you a starting point.
The more I think about this style of play, the more I want to play in a campaign like this. It would give a lot more opportunity for people to try their hand at GMing, give some practical training and experience to newer GMs who want to grow in their narrating ability, and provides fresh content that can meet the needs of the group. If you are thinking about starting a new group, consider starting it with a rotating GM.
Until next time,