GMless Tabletop RPG
Have you ever played a GMless tabletop RPG? They’re beginning to become more common, but it’s difficult for games to get right. There are a lot of advantages to having a game master at the table.
Game masters create or provide:
- And unique items
- They even weave together initial hooks for players to run into with ongoing plots and storylines.
All these elements still need to be present in a GMless tabletop RPG for the game to function. The GMless RPGs that get things right either provide all the game elements listed above, or create ways for all members of a gaming group to fill in the many roles of the game master, together.
The Eternity GMless Tabletop RPG
The Eternity GMless Tabletop RPG has had it in mind for a long time to create a game where players could roleplay a character while still creating and contributing to the overall game world.
- If you’ve ever been a game master, you know how fun it can be to imagine and run the game world.
- But if you’ve ever played a character in a tabletop RPG (and who hasn’t?) you know how fun it is to roleplay.
Eternity TTRPG allows players to do both. At the start of a gaming session or campaign, all players sit down together and brainstorm ideas for creating the world in which everyone’s going to game. Here’s basically how the Eternity system works for GMless play:
Each player creates a notecard for each of the following world-building topics. No depth is needed at the beginning. A simple name or concept will do. It’s important to note that players don’t need to memorize all of these, or figure out in their head how they all fit together. Not all of these world elements will even make it into the actual story.
1) Town/ Zone: places friendly or unfriendly to the players. Locations, geographical features, etc.
2) NPC: non-playable character. Someone influential or meaningful to the world, or to a story that could play out.
3) Organization/ Nation: societies, countries, guilds, coalitions, etc.
4) Item: some unique item or trinket of the players’ own creation. This doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) an item or treasure already in Eternity TTRPG. There are no limits to this item’s power or the way it functions.
5) Event: something substantial that’s currently happening in the world or has happened in its past.
From there, players all read off the world elements they’ve created, and players take turn making connections between each others’ ideas. For example, someone might say that an NPC they’ve made currently wields one of the items someone else came up with. Players then, similarly, create connections between the characters they create for themselves to roleplay, and the world elements, above. One character might be from a town created, while another holds some integral role in an event.
Eventually, characters create their own goals, and the world provides resistance. All of a sudden, the brainstorming session yields some amazing ideas for a world in which to game, both full of people and things, as well as conflicts and potential stories. The possibilities of a group-created world are really endless: typically filled with far more material than any single game master (even a highly imaginative one) could ever come up with.
Cohesion in your GMless Tabletop RPG
The main key to a GMless tabletop RPG is cohesion. The reason why they need some kind of group world-building and story-creating session is because everyone needs to imagine the same world for a theater-of-the-mind type game to “work.” Players need a shared “history” from which to draw, along with a list of characters, towns, and potential conflicts. Without the basis of something shared, no campaign – or even one-shot RPG session – can take root.
From there, players can find ways to share the ongoing game master role of describing what’s happening, along with providing players’ characters with options. There needs to be something like the following for a GMless Tabletop RPG to continue play, beyond the initial world creation. Essentially, players take turns doing the following:
1) Describe what the Scene’s “About”: players are given the main focus for the scene along with the amount of time elapsed since the last scene. The main focus should be what the scene is “about” or what will generally happen during the scene. It’s helpful for GMless RPGs to still provide players an overall view of what’s going on, so they can make decisions for what should be done.
2) Provide a Scene Setting: everything that characters can see, feel, smell, hear, or taste. What’s the time of day? What’s the location? What’s the overall feel? What’s it like to “be” there?
3) Are there NPC’s: are there NPC’s (non-playable characters) in the scene? Who are they? What are they like? What are they doing? What do they want?
4) What’s the Conflict: what is preventing the characters from achieving the main focus set for the scene? Could it be an NPC, problem in the surrounding environment (locked door, rainstorm, night’s coming), a magical item, or a monster?
5) Chance for Player Response and Interaction: whoever’s taking their turn as the game master gives players a chance to jump in and roleplay their characters in response to the scene described, as they desire. The scene’s temporary game masters can still roleplay, just as a minor or supporting characters for the scene.
6) Clarification: players can also ask the temporary game master for additional details that might be pertinent to the scene and their character’s actions.
Why talk about a game master in a GMless tabletop RPG? Seems weird, we know. Isn’t the point to have no game master? Well, yes and no.
Fill-In Game Masters in GMless Tabletop RPGs
Why have fill-in game masters in GMless Tabletop RPGs? The answer is really found in the first section of this article. In traditional tabletop RPGs, game masters simply provide so much structure for the game world that their role can’t be overlooked or ignored. If there’s not going to be a single game master, those roles still need to be filled. Without structure, the game just falls apart.
The term “GMless Tabletop RPG” really either describes and boils down to a boardgame, where the game system provides all the game structure, above. Players don’t need to come up with anything in the game world, or even roleplay, because either through game rules, cards, dice rolls, or some other mechanic, every pertinent part of the game world is already described by the game. However, if players still want to roleplay and world-build, then the single game master simply gets replaced with many game masters. The GMless tabletop RPG really becomes a “multiple game master RPG.”
The reason multiple game masters in a GMless tabletop RPG is so effective is that they still give players tons of options for roleplaying characters and contributing to the game world the way they really want to. It’s the best way to roleplay and world-build in a tabletop RPG, while maintaining cohesion for the overall game world and story.
Try out a GMless Tabletop RPG for Yourself
Want to try out a GMless tabletop RPG for yourself? Pick up a copy of Eternity TTRPG. The game is extremely easy to learn, and play can start within as little as 15minutes of downloading our PDF. You should consider picking up your copy if:
- You’ve always wanted to try a GMless RPG
- You’re looking for a new TTRPG (tabletop RPG)
- You want to create a game world for yourself and your friends but you still want to roleplay a character in that game world
- You want to see what tabletop RPGs can be like without the constraints of a single game master