I have a confession. As much as I enjoy GMing, I actually prefer to be a player. If offered a choice, I’ll almost always choose to play. Believe me, I do like running games and I absolutely enjoy discussing and improving my craft, but I’ll always choose to jump into a good GM’s game over running one of my own. Luckily my regular group doesn’t depend on me as the only GM. Two other players regularly serve as GMs and other players are willing to run if needed.
The only down side to rotating GMs is that we cycle through games fairly frequently. On average, our campaigns last around five to eight sessions before ending or being suspended. We just wrapped up a Star Wars (Fantasy Flight Games) storyline and put that campaign on hold. Prior to that, I ran a short Monster of the Week campaign where people from court mandated group therapy saved Las Vegas from being taken over by a demon prince in their ‘season finale’. This weekend we’re reviving a DnD 5th Edition game in the GM’s home brew world. At some point this coming fall, I’ve also vowed to resurrect my Pathfinder Eberron game that’s been on hiatus for well over a year.
This style of game management for a group probably isn’t for everyone, but it balances our love of certain games and characters with the need of rotating GMs in and out of running. Here are some thoughts on what keeps this working for my group:
Organization is at least a little important. GMs generally need to be organized, or at least able to recall the details of their campaigns when needed. When you put a span of several months or longer in between sections of a campaign, even the most improvisational GM would be helped out by some notes on the previous sessions in the campaign. I keep folders somewhere on my computer for storing any notes on my various campaigns. For the Eberron game, I specifically have a spreadsheet for keeping track of experience, but it also notes game dates and what they did to earn the experience. It’s not much, but it gives me at least a gentle reminder. One of our other GMs does a fantastic job maintaining an Obsidian Portal page for his campaigns. He writes up each session, mostly for himself, but it gives the players a nice recap as well. Since this is the game we’re going back to, it’s been vital in reminding us all where we parked our characters.
Keep track of the player characters. Speaking of the players, they’re not off the hook for organization either. It’s their job to keep track of their character’s sheet, as well as personality and motivation. While it’s not a job as all-encompassing as the GM’s, it’s just as important. I know I count on my players to remember details that are crucial to their character and help remind me of what’s important to them so I can weave it into the game. Whether they keep a digital copy or a paper one, they need to be able to pull out the character when the campaign resurfaces. One of my regular players carries a plastic file case that contains every character he’s ever played. For myself, I try and keep a digital copy, but I’ve been known to dive into a desperate scramble through all the piles of various gaming related papers in my house.
Mutually agree upon time frames. To help both the GMs and the players plan for what we’re doing, we often agree ahead of time on how long we’re going to play any given campaign. When I started the Monster of the Week campaign, I estimated I’d run it for about four or five sessions. We ended up going for six, but everyone was on the same page about the length of the campaign and wrapping it up at a certain point. Setting the number of sessions or the amount of time a particular game will run for helps the GM currently running know how much they need to plan for, and lets the next GM know when they’re going need the next game ready to go. For me, the most important aspect of planning how long a campaign will run is that it takes the pressure off needing to keep a game ready to go indefinitely. Since we’ve started doing this, it’s prevented me from flaking out on games.
I know there are groups out there that rely on a single GM running games, and they may have been playing the same campaign forever. That’s awesome in a different way, but I know that wouldn’t work for my group. I’ve found that our method of rotating GMs in and out throughout the year helps keep us all interested and avoids burnout. Someday we’ll be back in the Star Wars universe and maybe my Jedi will finally get her lightsaber finished. In the meantime, I’ve got a Sorcerer with a city in need of a handful of misfit heroes, whether it knows it or not. Beyond that, who knows where we’ll find ourselves.
Does your group rely on a single GM, or do you share the spot with other players in your group? I’m curious how other groups work out the logistics of swapping between games and GMs.
I wish I had that sort of group.
I usually get stuck with the GM seat, which I enjoy.
I’m currently playing in one game (and running three) but the one I’m playing in has a GM showing clear signs of Phone-it-in-itis again. The last time this was the case (same GM) saw the end of a very popular Pathfinder game.
Honestly, the group I have now exists because the strongest GM we had cultivated it. He also likes to play as much as he likes to run, so he nudged most of us into running games. The third regular GM in the group came to us as a solid GM, but the rest of us learned because the one guy constantly asked, “So what are you going to run?” There’s nothing wrong with asking one of your other players to step up to the plate and run something for a handful of sessions. 🙂
All of my groups these days are setup like your current one. I really enjoy a good 5-10 session run; it’s like a short story or a single movie–bright, direct, memorable. I’m currently looking forward to a Dogs in the Vineyard game that’s set for about 5 sessions of cleaning up the old west.
Separately, my wife is running Night Witches; she’s planning on 6 duty stations, at one or two evenings per duty station. Similarly, in alternation with that, I’ll be herding a Kingdom game for 3 or 4 sessions.
Last night, after board games, we hung out and talked about how many RPGs we’re eager to play. We want to play, and with different groups–there are some people who drifted away due to scheduling conflicts, but I’d like to find a new time that matches and game with them again. Maybe we’ll break out Apocalypse World…
I know I’ve kickstarted a bunch of RPGs over the last year and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on them. So many awesome things out there to play…
my group tends to play long campaigns, lasting a couple of years. the only exceptions have been campaigns where the players got bored of the concept and deliberately set everything on fire. my solution to the too-many-awesome-things-to-play problem has been to roll the awesome-things into whatever game we’re already playing, either as ongoing aspects of the world or temporary aspects of the current adventure.
The mixing and matching doesn’t work too well with genre stuff and I’m leery of mixing mechanics too much. While it can work, sometimes the best way to experience the mechanics of the game is as the author intended. That said, I do steal different plot ideas and things to put in other games all the time. 🙂
I’ve usually wound up being the GM in my groups over much of my gaming time. Others might run, but it seems they get though most of a story, maybe they finish it, in 3-6 sessions, then are sidelined by wharever. I tend to be able to plot on the fly, but prefer to have some strong narrative thread ready, and while I loike to play, I’ve kind of gotten used to being “the guy.”
Most of our campaigns tended to be long-running, but that was because we rotated games regularly: a few weeks/months of Victorian sci-fi, a bit of spy-fi, maybe some Star Wars or superheroes, but even those wrapped every few years as we lost players.
I had a period of about a decade with a really stable group, and that was where we did loooong games, where we traded on and off, but there was usually the “main feature” that got most of the rotation. The last five years saw us almost exclusively playing one game in a fairly epic story arc. Rhis was possible mostly due to having a small group that was really dedicated to the story.
Now that has wrapped and I’ve been looking to start rotating campaigns, but damn if this Hollow Earth Expedition game hasn’t taken off…
Just remember to take care of yourself. 🙂 It doesn’t do your group or the campaign any good if you start to burn out. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking someone else to take a stab at running something else for a few sessions so you get a chance to reset your batteries.
“It’s better to burn out than to fade away!”
One of my groups rotates GMs between myself and one other. I think we try to keep our games to 8-10 sessions each, but it’s not very systematic. This is my “anything but D&D” group, so we generally have a pitch session which may be combined with a boardgame. Unfortunately, our last session was in December, and it won’t be until later in May that we re-meet.
My other long-running group is the “nothing but D&D” group, and have been doing long runs at Adventure Paths. So far, we’ve run two of them up to about 15th level, taking 3+years to get there. We’re currently at that point in our 3rd AP, and indications are that we will play Kingmaker through to the end. This one has had 3 different DMs for 3 campaigns, and may switch to a 4th for the next one. In one of those, some of us enjoyed the characters so much that we’ve talked of re-opening it, but nothing’s been done. Talking about who or what to play next depends on what AP is new and shiny, and who wants to run it. Planning seems to take place far in advance, sometimes long before the current game is over.
I miss the days of being able to game every week. Heck, game twice every week, since we’d usually get a game in on our regular Tuesday night and then also get in Friday or Saturday. Ah, to be a college student ignoring the impending responsibility of the future… 🙂
My group runs into the new and shiny problem too. I’ve been wanting to delve into Night’s Black Agents, but keep getting distracted with newer, shinier things.
Fortunately, we’re still — for the most part — gaming once a week. Only a decade ago, that would have been twice a week. Adulthood sucks.
You are very lucky to have such a talented group of willing Players and GMs.
I am the sole GM for our group, and I love building a long story within the same setting. However, like you, I also want to try out new RPGs. Thus, I weave Interludes into our main campaign. These Interludes are usually one-shot games using different rules, but run within the ongoing storyline. Flashbacks or cut scenes work well as Interludes, but we have experimented with the format a little too. Interludes often add to the setting, and are a great way to give Players background knowledge.
Interludes, at Tales of a GM
All the best