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Author Topic: [InSpectres] DM-less roleplaying  (Read 928 times)

Posts: 6

« on: August 17, 2010, 07:25:41 AM »

The first time my friends and I played InSpectres (about 8 years ago), we played as described in the book, with 3 players and 1 GM. After a hilarious and fun introductory mission to the game, we quickly disregarded that structure, and threw out the role of the GM entirely from the game. Instead, we played as a group of 4 players and 4 co-GMs.

Sadly, since moving away for college (5 years ago), I've only had the opportunity to play InSpectres once with my new group of friends (they nearly unanimously prefer D&D to any other game). Because they were all new to the game, I ran the game as a GM, rather than participating as a player. While, of course, my fond memories of my original InSpectres team are biased, I couldn't help but noticed several differences between the GM-run and the GM-less sessions. Ultimately, I think all of the differences come down to different forms of Responsibility (although they all overlap pretty heavily, so sorry for repeating myself a couple times).

  • To the group - In a game run by a GM, even one as inherently collaborative as InSpectres, there seemed to be a sense of detachment from responsibility from the players. While everyone was participating, and having fun, the mood seemed to be "let's do whatever we want, and the GM will make sure it all makes sense." And, I suppose, in a lot of ways, that's what a GM is there for -- to help moderate a game, and to help give it direction when it flounders. However, in our GM-less sessions, there was a much stronger sense of responsibility. Having no GM actually meant that we were all GMs for the session. We all wanted to have fun, of course, but we were more aware of the impact of our actions on the game for everyone else, because there wasn't really anyone who had the authority to say "No, you can't do that." (We did say that, a few times, but they were rare, and typically justified). We were all aware of any NPCs we introduced into the game, and because introducing an NPC meant a PC voluntarily sitting the scene out (and thus diluting the PCs significance in the game) (so the player could be the NPC), we rarely introduced NPCs of significance, and often simply relied on our intra-group interactions.
  • To the self - Because there was no GM, there was no external force to moderate our actions. We were, really, about as free as we could have been while still doing something within an established set of rules. That sense of freedom actually served as a more effective moderating force than the sessions with a GM I've played. When there is a GM, the attitude seems to be a player isn't responsible for his own action, because if it is too off the wall, the GM can simply veto it and the player will try again. Without a GM, the player was much more personally responsible for his own actions, and therefor would sometimes think a little longer about what to do, because they wanted to make sure that it was the right decision, but once made, the player felt much more connected to their decision.
  • To the story - In a game run by a GM, the story is typically pre-established by the GM, and the players are merely experiencing it. This is less true in InSpectres than most other games, but it does still happen to some extent. However, in our GM-less games, there (clearly) was no GM to create the story for us to experience -- instead, we truly all were collaborating to make the story together. Because of this, we all felt much more connected to what was happening, and were able to ensure that we were all engaged in the events (see this post of mine for complaints about spectatorship in games). I've found that often in RPGs, particularly in mystery-solving games, the group runs into situations where the GM has dangled certain clues in front of the group, and the group simply isn't latching on to any of them (I've done it myself several times). In the GM-less game that we played, there were no pre-established clues to dangle -- we each simply made up the clues as we went, leading to the game never stalling, although admittedly often being chaotic in direction.

I realize that InSpectres is almost uniquely designed for GM-less play, and that many games would simply not function without a GM to manage it. However, I think that there is a lot of merit to GM-less play, when possible, and at least GM-lite play when not.

Has anyone else had this kind of experience, with GM-run vs GM-less games? Are there other systems besides InSpectres which lend themselves well to GM-less play?

Brad H
Christoph Boeckle

Posts: 545

Yverdon, Switzerland

« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2010, 11:19:39 PM »

Hello Brad

That's a great experience! I find it a little bit abstract though to really catch on, could you please give some examples from actual play, with and without GM for contrast, so that we may more easily understand "from where you come"?
I've played InSpectres twice, once with a GM and once without. I'll withhold my ravings for the while being, but I'll be back as soon as possible.

Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 17707

« Reply #2 on: August 21, 2010, 10:16:41 AM »

Hi Brad,

One bit of jargon that took hold here at the Forge, a while ago, was Emily Care Boss' observation that what people were calling "GM-less" was inaccurate. She proposed that playing in the fashion that you're describing (and as far as I remember, the first game which really introduced this idea to most of the people in the discussion was Soap) is better called GM-full, because GMing was more present rather than less. This idea led to some insights, specifically that for "GM-stuff," we should be thinking in terms of tasks rather than a person, and that the tasks could be distributed and organized in many different ways.

I'm bringing this up not because I want to enforce jargon, but because in this case, the new term might help us discuss your game as clearly as possible.

In my experience, playing InSpectres works best when the Stress mechanic is applied frequently and ruthlessly. Again, in my experience, this tends to work best when one person is responsible for this feature. One reason may be that the GM is the only person at the table without a vested interest in the success of the franchise, and therefore has no conflict of interest in making its members' lives miserable. Another reason may be that the tone and details of Stress, applied to several characters and over several situations, becomes highly individualized and therefore can hold its position in a kind of "thematic dialogue" with the players about success and friendship.

So ... in your games without a central GM ("GM-full" because clearly GMing was happening, merely shared around the group), how did Stress get applied. More or less often, or can you tell? About what, usually?

Best, Ron
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