The Perils of Dual GMing
Angela and I have been running our Woodstock game together. In some ways, it is very nice to have two GMs, but it can also be tricky. Here are some problems we’ve run into:
- Lack of flexibility – You know how sometimes, as a GM, you just sort of wing it? With two GMs, that’s tricky. You don’t want to step on each other’s toes, and you probably aren’t telepathic. You may need to take a quick break for discussion.
- Splitting up the party – This is a mixed blessing. With two GMs, it is easy to split up the party and have one of you take a player or two into another room. Unfortunately, it might be too easy to do this. The more of this that happens, the less coherent the campaign becomes.
- Splitting up the NPCs – In general, you want to split up the NPCs to be run by a single GM. This provides consistency in NPC personality and knowledge. It also allows you to more or less evenly share screen time. You need to be flexible with this, though. Circumstances might make it more convenient for the other GM to run a particular NPC. Run with it. Sometimes, two NPCs run by one GM will be involved in the same conversation. Pass one off to the other GM.
- Share screen time -This is related to the last note. If one GM ends up taking the bulk of the screen time one game, make sure that doesn’t happen next game: give the other GM the central bit of the session to run. The last thing you want is for the GMs to be bitter at each other.
My online game was run dual-GM for a little over a year, starting not long after it first began. It seemed to work pretty well, probably mostly because it was online–there was a lot of opportunity for coordinating plans without us having to leave the room, and sometimes we’d even be sitting in the same room (made for some pretty sweet finishing-each-other’s-sentences techniques).
First, we’d split things according to our skills. There was one session that began with most of the group off information-gathering while one PC and two NPCs went to sneak into the house of someone they’d had a run in with before. At first, I was running the info-gathering and my assistant took care of the sneaking. Then the people on the information circuit got into a barfight, and we switched roles, still covering our own characters but directing the dice rolls to different people. Each of us could look at the other’s work pretty straightforwardly, and in fact, he was playing in my scene as I was keeping an eye on his.
Second, it made the plot unpredictable, which made it more interesting. First session I had my assistant, his approach to the game resulted in a group that was originally supposed to be minor antagonists being recruited. Fifth, his NPC nearly offed what was supposed to be my primary antagonist, and our mutual attempts to work around this resulted in said antagonist tending to possess people, which just made him scarier. And so it continued…
Third, since each of us had an active NPC at just about all times, it gave both a chance to play as well as run, which helped keep us away from burnout.
Though you get problems when they can’t agree on what should happen next (in this case, I think it’s cleaner to have a way of designating who wins stalemates ahead of time), when schedules start going incompatible… and especially when one decides he has better things to do with his game nights. Grrr.
Joint GM/ing is definately tricky. A friend of mine who runs a long-running 2GM game guest blogged about it at The Core Mechanic last year sometime. It basically comes down to separation of church and state – 2GMs work best if their roles are clearly laid our ahead of time. “We’ll work on the story together, but you handle all the RP and I’ll handle the combat” etc. I think co-GM’ing with my wife is probably a cool idea… hadn’t thought of that until now though (since she runs her own weekly game the same night I run mine).