Co-GMing the Cypher System: Our Experience

Partners in crime… er… games. Yeah, games…

Joann and I have been GMing roleplaying games now for something like a combined 45 or 50 years.  Both of us in home games, and I’ve run conventions (both individual game sessions and helping to run whole conventions).  We have dealt with a myriad of player types, a plethora of games and countless numbers of encounters.  GMing is a wonderfully stressful experience that is somehow rewarding as well, at least enough to keep us coming back to do it again.

As we have spent time together, first as friends and then as partners (eventually as spouses), we discovered that most of the time, we think alike.  We always like to say that often enough, we have nice, comfy chairs in each other’s heads.  At some point, it occurred to us that while we thought alike, we were skilled at different things and each of us did different things better.  I tended to manage the technical aspects of running a game better than she did, and she tended to handle the inevitable wrench in the works tossed by a player better than I from an improvisation standpoint.

When we started playing more online games, we decided to try and combine our strengths to see if we could do better together than we each did separate.  At the beginning, before I gave in to the 21st Century, I sat with one laptop and stacks of rulebooks all around me, paper for notes, and the laptop sitting open with Roll20.  I would listen, try and anticipate and feed her rules and special cases so that she could focus as much of her mental energy as possible on the story, the narrative flow of what the players were doing, and how to help guide that flow to make an awesome session.

Our technique has evolved some over time.  Now, whoever has created the game in Roll20 sets the other of us to be a GM.  To do this, you hover over the person’s portrait on the main game listing page and a drop-down menu appears with one of the options being “Promote to GM”.  If you select it, you will both have GM privileges for the game. 

This does a couple of things.  It allows both of you to edit/adjust monsters, maps, NPC’s, and other things.  It allows both of you to create new pages (so one of you could be setting up the next scene while the other is on a different page dealing with the current one).  It allows both of you access to the GM Overlay layer (which is an excellent place to put your “stash” of GM Intrusion Cards, Weird cards, Monster cards, etc… from the Roll20 decks so that the two of you can see them as you are talking/playing, but your players cannot).

Sitting side by side, assuming we are using push-to-talk – which we do, we can have sidebar conversations in real time if need be to where I can inject ideas or offer help if she is struggling with a name, a place, an encounter, or anything else.  I can play an NPC or take over an encounter if she needs a break. In between sessions, it is incredibly helpful to have someone to bounce ideas off of or build ideas with.  You can divide up responsibilities there too, from worldbuilding, to encounter creation, mapmaking, technical prep (on Roll20) and more.  If one of you is focused on taking notes during the session, you can use those during your out of session discussions to better tailor your upcoming ones to your players characters, actions, and consequences.

There is some great advice on co-GMing in Your Best Game Ever on pages 182-183, including a nice personal section on how she does co-GMing by the amazing Darcy Ross. There are other ways to use the power of 2 GMs working together like allowing you to run larger groups and even <gasp> splitting the party (Don’t try this at home, kids). The key to making all of these things work is communication, both in-game (notecards or private chat – either voice or text) and out-of-game.

Running a Cypher System game with 2 GMs, we’ve found, is a very rewarding experience, especially when you find a like-minded partner to do so with. The narrative focus of the game allows for a natural interplay of creativity between the two people running the game which filters very well down to the players. It is a very powerful tool in a GMs toolbox and we both highly recommend trying it at some point. Happy gaming!

  • Josh Walles

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