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.