Day 27: Sharing the World with a Co-GM


Lately I’ve been gearing up to run my Knights of Dragoneia campaign (not that Dragonia), which is essentially a Legend of the Five Rings homebrew game heavily inspired by such animes as Magic Knight Rayearth, Escaflowne, Fushigi Yuugi, Twelve Kingdoms, and even Madoka Magica (to an extent).

The story centers around the twelve Dragoneian Knights of legend, one for each of the twelve “zodiac signs” in the setting. Originally I had intended to run an episodic-style game with a large cast rotating in and out, but then my friend and coworker, Matt, offered to split GMing duties with me so I could play, too.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to be able to play in the world I’ve been spending six months building up and preparing for, so I leapt at the chance, even though I knew that sharing the world with another GM would entail more than just relinquishing creative control: we’d also have to figure out a way to share information (but not too much information) while maintaining a contiguous world and divergent story arcs that still feel tonally cohesive.

Here’s how we’re tackling each of those problems during the planning/initial stages of the campaign. Of course, I’ll have to do a follow-up post on how well these strategies have worked and what, if anything, we’ve had to change or throw out entirely. So stay tuned!

Setting Parameters

I’ve been playing GM-less play-by-post RPGs for almost fifteen years now, so I’m used to sharing creative control with others, but when it’s something you’ve been babying for six months (and had the initial creative spark a year and a half ago), it’s a little bit different. It helps that I know that my co-GM is well-rooted in the source material, and I know that we have similar (although not exactly the same) tastes in RPGs, especially as it applies to scope/scale/epicness. I don’t think I’d be able to co-GM well with someone who was more interested in rules and combat than story and character, for example.

Along with knowing what type of player/GM they are, another thing I’ve tried to do to help make sure the other GM doesn’t go too far off the rails is to establish parameters or borders for where the campaign lies in terms of tone, theme, and mood. I wrote up multiple documents talking about each during the planning stages, and I am also able to draw from the reference material as a guide: is the story/character/setting something that could fit in a fanfic of the five anime/mangas the campaign is based on? If so, go for it. If it would feel weird or awkward, we should talk about it first.

Sharing Information

The first thing I did after brining him on as a co-GM was talk in broad strokes about the end-game: where do the plot-lines lead, who are the primary villains, and what are some of the big reveals we’re working toward? As long as we’re both on the same page in those regards, the paths to get there can be varied but still lead to the same destination.

Lately I’ve been doing campaign and session prep in Word documents and Scrivener, and although my co-GM doesn’t have a copy of Scrivener, I was able to easily export what I had into .doc format and upload it to Google Drive/Docs, where I’ve been editing/writing campaign material since. This way, we don’t have to worry about version history issues, and we can even both work in the same document simultaneously. It’s also easily accessible from desktop or laptop, and by phone or tablet, so we can reference the material at home or at game just as easily.

I think it’s also a good idea for us to keep records of important things players in each of the parties do to change the world and interact with the NPCs during each session. Every time a player does something that could have some sort of consequence–large or small–I record it in my special Livescribe campaign chronicle (aka journal) and upload it as a PDF to Google Drive as soon as I’ve synced it with my phone. This saves me from having to type up session notes after game (which I am generally loathe to do), although I do still have some work to do handwriting-wise to keep my smartpen from picking up too much. (My poor penmanship translates to extra lines on the document from where the pen was too close to the paper when I wasn’t writing, which basically kills any OCR capabilities. Blegh.)

Besides from the shared Google Drive folders and documents, I’ve also been posting information to an Obsidian Portal wiki. It’s primarily for the players’ benefit, but it’s also the hub for everything related to the player characters (much of which is relevant to the GMs), as well as the master non-player character list.

Between these two sources of information, I think we’re covered. Anything more and it might be too diffuse, however. Thank god for the internet/cloud.

Concealing Information

Although not all co-GMs have to worry about this part, because we’re both playing in the other’s sessions, we want to be able to withhold enough information from each other to surprise the other player–but not enough to make their job too hard when it comes time to GM again.

We’ve decided to split GMing responsibilities by region: he’ll run all of the plot-lines in the Northern and Eastern continents, while I’ll be running the plot-lines in the Western and Southern continents. Some quests will be similar in nature regardless of where on the map they take place, so on those fronts we’ll need to collaborate. Nevertheless, I think we’ve made it relatively easy for players to travel around the world–they also will have a home base from which to jump from quest to quest–and I made sure during character creation that we had a good mix of characters from all four continents (and also from Earth). Hopefully the plot hooks attract a roughly even split of two-to-three parties of four-to-six players.

For now, we’ve used the file names themselves to keep the story lines separate, and we rely on the honor system. Zephyr_SPOILERS MATT.doc should hopefully be enough to alert him to the fact that he’ll ruin some of the surprises related to his character if he goes poking around in that file. I generally add _Kat to any file that is only for my reference, such as in-depth session notes. Worst comes to worst, I can always keep my files on my harddrive without sharing them to Google Drive until after the secret info has been revealed.

That’s all I can think of for now. We’ve only just begun, so as I said earlier, a follow-up post will come along once there’s enough material for one.

Have you ever had a co-GM? What were the unique challenges and benefits? Link your answers in the comments below! You can find the rest of the 30 Days of Gamemastering Challenge prompts here. And stay tuned for the next post on running games online. Thanks again for reading!

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