Sometimes, nobody wants to be the game master.
This presents some obvious problems in a roleplaying game. Most systems — all of the most popular ones — rely on the presence of a GM in some capacity. The GM sets up the story, runs the NPCs, awards any rewards, makes judgement calls regarding rules, and perhaps mediates any player disputes. What do you do without one?
It’s possible to jury-rig some form of randomized system. The first-edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide included a random dungeon generator. The fourth edition, coming full circle, also includes a much-abbreviated random dungeon and encounter generator. There’s a short segment entitled “Playing Without a DM” too, which reads in part:
If all you’re looking for is fun and exciting combat, with no more than the barest hint of plot or purpose, a random dungeon with a random encounter deck is all you need.
This is true, and it can be a fun one-shot. But if your group is like mine, you want plot and purpose — it’s just that, for whatever reason, nobody can commit to GMing. Burnout, the demands of work and other real-life affairs, GMing “stage fright”, any number of things might contribute to wanting to pass on the role.
One solution is a multiple-GM campaign. The 4e DMG mentions this option, suggesting that each GM could run an adventure in turn. But adventures can span multiple sessions. Perhaps none of your GMs can (or want to) commit to that.
Then maybe you could try rotating every session.
Set up a GMing rotation as usual between those who are willing. Everyone creates a character. The first GM runs the first play session. The second GM runs the second session, picking up on the first GM’s plot. And so on.
Decide in advance what will be done about each GM’s player character when that player’s turn to GM comes up. My group usually uses the “fade into the background” method.
Each GM will run with the plot as it stood when they became GM. The first GM might have had something specific in mind, but if the second GM has a plot twist or interpretation that still fits what the players knew of the plot, then that becomes the “official” plot. The third GM can add elements, but can’t delete without explanation elements that were already in place. Retcons are allowed only if the entire group agrees. This strengthens the sense of continuity while still allowing for everyone to be surprised by plot twists.
It also leads to interesting conversations after the game, along the order of “I can’t believe you thought of doing X! I was kind of thinking that would lead to Y, but that was so much cooler!” A little round-robining can provide lots of inspiration for future games, just because people get to see their NPCs and plot elements used in ways they hadn’t considered.
One strength of the round-robin experience is that it cuts the preparation time any given GM needs to dedicate. For a system like 4e, where preparation is made easy, this could mean just a couple of hours a month. Even for a system that requires more prep, any one person’s contribution is cut down thanks to having multiple GMs.
The main weakness is that the game will be heavily improvisational. Each GM will need to juggle the plotlines the previous GM passed to him. It’s very possible one GM will forget about a plot point, or minor continuity errors will occur. Some GMs might feel frustrated at the lack of plot control. All of this can be addressed, but the campaign will have a different feel to it than a single-GM game, or even a multiple-GM game that switches off by encounters. (Frustrated GMs, by the way, should be allowed to resign without pressure. This style of GMing isn’t for everybody, and you don’t want that GM coming to resent the campaign.)
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