The topic of co-gm’ing has come up a lot in recent conversations. Usually when people talk about co-gm’ing they think in terms of dividing up labor during game prep and splitting up duties at the table. I find myself thinking that the term itself may be incorrect. I think that a better term might be collaborative gm’ing. Ok, sure we can shorten it to co-gm’ing for ease of use. However, for this JiB on GM’ing article when I say co-gm’ing I mean collaborative gm’ing.
When we partner with someone to run a game there are a number of obstacles that might be encountered, some during conception and preparation of the game, and some during game play.
The first question that is going to come up when two gm’s are going to do a game together is often one that is never spoken, “Who’s driving the bus?” It’s tempting to say that both are, but that’s a risky proposition because as with most things in life, someone has to be the final decision maker. Whether it’s said or not, the person who makes the final decision about something is leading on that topic. To be fair it could switch back and forth as different topics come up. But usually, one person is going to be the leader throughout. It’s not good or bad it’s just human nature. It’s important that everyone understand, and agree with, what their role is in the effort. Without that understanding and agreement there are going to be problems.
How two (or more) gm’s working together divide up labor is totally a personal thing, but my blanket recommendation is this, “Play to your strengths.” One may be good at developing plot, the other at creating characters. One good at designing combats and one good at laying out the game area. The better we understand what we’re good at, and by extension what we’re not so good at, the more likely we are to build a strong gm’ing collaborative environment. Once two gm’s have put their heads together and decided to run a game together and then gone off to do their own parts of the prep the time when they come back together is the most critical because both gm’s have to be open and honest and accepting of modification to what they’ve done. For some people it’s harder to take what they perceive as criticism of what they’ve done, for others it’s harder to give it.
Let’s take a moment to think about what we’re actually talking about when we collaborate. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines the word collaborate as;
“to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.”
By definition to collaborate with another gm means to give and take which basically precludes certain ideas in my opinion.
- “We have to do it my way.” Why? Why does it have to be one way or the other. The goal should be to do it the best way and personally arrogant though I am I’m not arrogant enough to think that my answer is always the best one.
- “I’m the more experienced gm.” So? Who cares? One of the things I discovered early on as a technical lead for a development group was that the new guys the junior guys were often more free form in their thinking and thereby sometimes came up with things that were more inventive than guys who’d been doing it for years. I’m not saying that their ideas were always better, just that it’s a mistake to discount their ideas (or the ideas of a co-gm) because they’re new to the craft.
- “I have to do it to make sure it gets done.” Teamwork means that everyone does their part and pulls their weight. On the ice rink I’m (most often anyway) a goaltender. I have a fairly defined job, and it does not include scoring goals. If I or my team mates take the viewpoint that any of us has to do it alone we’re (pardon the euphemism) skating on thin ice. I’ll talk in a minute about working as a team.
There are other examples I could think of, but these are the big three that usually crop up.
A basic truth in the universe is that a human being cannot both listen and talk at the same time. Try it, it doesn’t work. If in a team environment (whether it be gaming or anything else) you find yourself talking more than you listen are you leading or domineering? Are you being a good team mate? My thought is that you’re not. It’s infantile but if you and your collaborative gm partner are having trouble communicating try this. Get a stress ball (or something similar) whoever is holding the ball is the only one allowed to speak. (You don’t get to throw the ball at your partner.) It sounds silly but I’ve been on teams that had to resort to this technique to keep people from getting hard feelings because they didn’t feel like they were getting their fair time. The person(s) without the ball can request the ball, or they can commandeer the ball if the speaker sets the ball down. Being a good team mate means giving and taking, leading and following and supporting and being supported.
Often when two people start to work on a project of any kind together the natural inclination is to say something like, “You do this part, and I’ll do that part.” While that’s alright I guess it’s not the most powerful distribution of labor. A better way is for everyone to have a hand in every part of the effort. Yes, I know it doesn’t work to try to have everyone climbing all over each other at the same time. Everyone can go over the whole thing together and and talk about all the parts.
Another thing I don’t recommend is for one gm to do one scene and another to do the next etc. swapping back and forth. I find it’s more productive to have each gm take the parts of different characters in each scene. Swapping back and forth as to who is handling mechanics and die rolls as needed is helpful too.
In any case the operative words are collaboration and communication. Collaborating gm’s must not be afraid to talk about problems as they arise because they’re going to happen.
If you are going to collaborate I hope this will be useful for you, and I wish you best of luck with your gm’ing.