Playing BWG GM-less

Hi peeps!

I started a thread recently about beliefs and interpretation and Luke asked me how I play and if I was the Gm in the examples I gave. i answered that the group I play in we go ALMOST GM-Less, meaning that we constantly share narration. That triggered some interesting responses from different people. Luke mentioned that BW doesnt support it and that in order to work well it needs a GM to challenge beliefs and some other including me said it works ok even if its not optimal. I wanna pursue this discussion here.

What I mean by GM-less is based on different approach from BWG and AB. It consist on a full collaborative shared narration where the obstacles are set together as a group based on the scale from BWG, we discuss together what we wanna tell in terms of story and write beliefs accordingly and the narration goes from the intention based mechanic. The player states its intention then if he succeed he gets to narrate and if he fails the current narrator, antagonist pc (versus test) or someone with a good idea narrates the negative consequences of the failure and we keep going like that from roll to roll. Like I said we go ALMOS GM-less meaning that someone takes the lead to make transitions from time to time.
That approach actually came out from emergence as we we’re playing 2 times a week we never really thought about it it just happened naturally and we kept at it because it works fine and we like the full collaboration it creates and the emerging stories that comes out of that.

In the other thread some peeps mentioned they do something similar and I’ve read it somewhere else as well. I’m curious about it i’d like to hear more from other people experiences with this kind of approach. Did it worked well for you? Short term or long term? Have you tried it? Did it failed?

Our group would rotate g m responsibilities during our game but there was always someone at the helm (even improv needs a director) so if my mage needed a bunch of down time to research and learn a new spell, he would become an npc for the duration while I would become the gm so that prior gm’s noble lord could take to the field to investigate the strange ruins himself (stepping out of npc mode) the “strange ruins” were something I had come up with as my mage discovered them in his research before transitioning into npc mode. So as the lord, his knight commander (with apprenticed squire) and a few good men (gangs and crew) scouted the area and did the physical search for the ruins I gm’ed them when they returned from the field, the noble lord had pressing matters to attend to (estate management: extra time) but he did play into his belief about seeing these strange ruins for himself before returning to npc mode.

Notice that we always have a gm to do final arbitration of the rules and to guide the storyline, which is influenced by our bit’s and the game parameter set out in the beginning (this particular game world was inspired by the elder scrolls game oblivion) as well as our game history.

We have also attempted to play freestyle where its almost like a one on one but instead you decide what you want to accomplish (intent) and how you are going to do it (task) relying more on the book and rifting off each others ideas to get things done. I’ve done it, I’ve seen others do it, and fun though it can be it always seems like a poor second to having a good gm in the mix.

Both rotational and freestyle games only really work with a small, capable group. This is nothing to cut your gaming teeth on! For larger, or less experienced groups you need a strong gm with a consistent hand at the helm playing the Moriarties of the world so that you can focus on your Holmes

Well, i agree with Luke when he say BWG doesn’t support GM-less kind of play. By the rules, you are supposed to get a clear intent from the players before they role the dices. Then as a GM, find the task related to the intent and, BEFORE any dices hit the table, you should inform the player(s) what will happen if the roll is failed (from what i’ve seen, Luke rarely does it but this is the way it is supposed to be done).

You can’t get loose when it comes to the dice, it as to be meaningful. On the other hand, i agree with you: BWG is a very narrative game. It makes sense to let the player narrate when they succeed more often than not. Even with a failed roll, i like when the players get involved in the narrative as we are sharing the story together.

Here is my example:

synopsis: A noble is caught kissing the daughter of the Duke of Calberon. To prevent rumors from spreading, he killed the maid who had surprised them. The guards are actively looking for the murderer all over the place and every peeps at the court are suspect.

GM: So… You finally made it! The meeting you’ve asked with the Duke of Calberon as been granted. As you enter the great hall, you find the duke sitting on a big wooden chair with is daughter by is side what do you want from him now?

Noble Player: Well… i tell him how i’m proud to serve him and i ask him to… to trust me as i know how the killer got away…

GM: Ok!? But… you are the killer so… What do you really wanna do here? What is your intent?

Noble Player: I want the duke to put me in charge of the investigation, so i could have more time to remedy the situation.

GM: Nice! So let see how a good liar you are. It is going to be a falsehood test. If you fail, the duke will interrogate you with is guard about this killer you seems to know and maybe the guards will find some clues about you behaviors. If you win, well, you get your intent!

I don’t think this is the big hurdle, actually.

I mean, I really do think hard-and-fast application of Intent and Task is a great aspect of BW and it’ll kinda ruin the game at least a little if you don’t do it. But nearly every time we do Intent and Task, it’s a conversation anyway: we’re both contributing ideas, description, mechanical suggestions, and possible consequences. And I figure it’s really not hard for someone to step into the GM roll for the duration of a single test or a scene. So, basically, you can go near-GM-less with Intent and Task and still make it work.

But BW is a game strongly defined by its big-picture cycles. GMing BW well requires really diving into the situation and all of the protagonists’ beliefs, not just in the moment but continuously from scene to scene and session to session. BW is very much a “play to find out what happens” kind of game, but the setup calls for the GM to push and prod with gusto. It’s a much more active job than simply building the scene or playing the refree. That part, I think, is the one that can’t really be divided up for shared GMing.

I have to agree with Alex on that point.
The feeling of rotating gm’s within the same storyline is comparable to reading a book series written by different authors, or reading a book before or after seeing the movie. The characters and setting are similar but it never feels quite right.

Still, the game’s the thing and if it works for your group the way you play, have at it.
But I encourage you to at least try it with a designated (and dedicated) game master.
You never know until you try.
Either way, I wish you good gaming!

I agree! Most RPGs are in fact about “conversation”. First i answered this way because i’ve read the other tread sameoldji talks about:

In that tread there was a discussion about belief/artha and goals that are to easily reached. If you do not give enough challenge to your players, if you let it loose, i think you kinda break the game. Doesn’t mean there is no fun at all, doesn’t mean to be an asshole GM, i think BWG is a game about “conversation” all the time but it is not a GM-less game.


I think the letting your players narrate success is pretty common.

Understanding and using intent and task is probably the most vital thing to running a good BW session.

Further along those lines, I think the reason why GM-less BW doesn’t quite work (for me, anyway) is because it’s a pretty complex game. Having one person to direct action (and, for the less experienced burners, rules-teach) makes the experience much better. sameoldjii, I’m curious how the deeper conflict systems play out in this method of play. Fight! is already a pretty complex system and I can’t imagine it getting easier with multiple players jumping back and forth between each side, for example.

I think Vanguard’s really found the problem. There’s nothing in BW that makes it impossible to run without a dedicated GM, but it’s hard.

There’s a conflict of interests. In theory you can really hammer at Beliefs and give tough consequences for failure when your character’s goals and stuff are also on the line… but in practice it’s very difficult to maintain that kind of impartiality and distance. If your characters are adversarial it’s even worse! How I can see this working is in a setup something like Polaris, where your characters are mostly doing their own things and don’t really intersect. But that’s less GMless and more two simultaneous games of BW in the same world with different GMs.

The other problem is workload. It’s actually a lot of work being a BW GM. The benefit is that it doesn’t have tons of prep time, but the downside is it can require more in-game quick thinking and careful reading (and remembering) of Beliefs. That’s tough when that’s all you’re doing. I don’t think I could manage it while also playing a character, gunning for tests for advancement and my own Beliefs, and all the rest of BW play. I think my GMing would be watered down.

So you can do BW with no dedicated GM, but I think it’ll give you a worse experience.

One of my favorite things that happens in a BW game is when different player’s Belief’s cross paths in unexpected ways. If the failure outcome of one player’s actions suddenly makes achieving another character’s Belief harder, that really adds some useful friction to the game because it encourages teamwork. It certainly seems harder to weave the various BITs together when you have an interest in achieving your goals. While I can’t say it doesn’t happen in the kind of setup the OP is suggesting, based on the other thread it doesn’t seem like it’s happening.

Some of the criticism I’ve encountered of BW is that it feels like the characters are disconnected from one another in pursuit of their goals. To some extent, they should be. Each is, theoretically, a living breathing person with their own drive and motivations, but the Beliefs that relate or can relate to the big picture should be getting wrapped up in one another. It’s what makes the game feel less like a group of players and more like a party of adventurers, if that makes sense.

Also you can play chess with house rules but, it won’t be chess anymore… I know RPGs are more about interpretation of the rules and it can be weird to compare BWG with chess but, at least for me, BWG deserves this kind of approach. As Vanguard said, BWG is not a simple game and somebody (the GM) must have a grasp over the fiction to make the experience of BWG rewarding. There is other games out there that support GM-less very well!