Just a reminder: we’re not going to be posting as much until we get In a Dragon-Guarded Land out the door. We’re aiming for the first of April, but that release date may be a joke.

I’m a big fan of Bully Pulpit’s games. Lately, we here have been playing some Fiasco, and dissecting it a bit. It’s caused me to do some thinking about what a GM is and does. This is particularly timely for me, as I am trying to decide whether Et in Arcadia Ego needs to have a GM. Both of the other games we’re working on clearly do—In a Dragon-Guarded Land because someone needs to represent adversity and the temptation of evil, A Piece of Work because someone needs to represent the target of the heist. But Et in Arcadia Ego is a game with much more room for player-versus-player interactions, and may not have a role for a GM as such.

Some months ago, Robert Bohl started this interesting thread at Story Games that got me thinking about what I like to call GMderfuck, or GMderqueerness. He talked about breaking down the GM-ful/GM-less binary and instead talking about how GM-ly authority gets distributed[1]. I think a lot of games that are “GM-less” actually have done this. Let’s look at what are, to me, the classic examples of GMderqueer games: Polaris, Fiasco, and The Shab-al-Hiri Roach.

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  1. Ben Lehman recently commented on this subject, too. I think he’s right, authority is the question. Resolution systems are one place to put authority. []

People come and go. Sometimes, someone who starts with the best of intentions can’t make it past the first session of an ongoing game due to any of the various slings and arrows of life. Sometimes, a friend is in from out of town for the weekend, and you want them to join.

Some games have beautiful design, but at the cost of being rigid in the face of these considerations: Smallville, for example, doesn’t handle people coming and going very well. Nor does Polaris. Both of these are beautiful games, and if you can get a reliable group, are, I imagine, fantastic.

I want to design games that can have the best of both worlds—the cohesion of a storyline where the same characters reliably recur, and the tolerance for real-world exigencies of games that don’t rely on people showing up all the time. One way to do this is to break the character-monogamy attitude. This leads to another problem, at least potentially: a character played by a rotating band of folks can be incoherent, with no consistent characterization or motivation.

So, are there other ways to do this? I hope so.

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