How I managed to co-op run a successful game for three years. With a little help of course.

Before I start, I have to give massive thanks to the other half of the co-op GMing experience I’m going to be talking about here. That thanks goes out to Hoppy! The man was an absolute pleasure to work with for the three years we ran a game together. Whenever I think about doing something like that again, a big concern is whether or not I would find someone who I could work with as well as I did with Hoppy. I salute you sir!

So, that out of the way, why am I writing this? Turns out a couple of friends are planning on something similar to what we did, and running a game together as co-GMs. I say similar because they’re going to be running a pure table top game (using the Savage Worlds system, set in the Mass Effect universe) whilst Hoppy and I ran a live action game (rubber fangs, not rubber swords). Although that will present different challenges for the two friends – one of whom can be found here – there are a few things that were essential in making our game the success it was. These were general concepts of game play and style and Hoppy and I both thought were important. Luckily we happened to agree on all the points, making for a unified play session no matter which of the two GMs a player had running their scenes at the time.

To be fair, there was never a time when we sat down and discussed these ideas, and for the first couple of games, we may not have been as consistent. We were still finding our feet, and our voices. Looking back though, I don’t think we would have lasted three months if we didn’t have these things going for us.

  1. Feel and atmosphere. We were running a horror game, but sometimes, just that isn’t enough. For any movie fan, horror has many sub-genres. We wanted a dark feel certainly, but also one that wasn’t too overbearing. Think splatter-punk and you’re getting pretty close, but throw a bucket of dark humour over it to make sure. This does apply to other genres too; fantasy is more than just elves and dwarves. Do you want political intrigue or high fantasy questing? Magic coming out of every crack in the landscape, or mystical artifacts so rare and powerful they become world changing quest items? What about tone? In a sci-fi game, you could be all about the laughs, or gung-ho glory chasing. Both of these could be possible in the same game of any sub-genre, but it’s nice for players to know roughly what to expect. Get this right between the two GMs and there won’t be any awkward moments when the mood is completely broken when a player who expects a certain type of response gets another.
  2. What will the players get out of your game? A slightly trickier question, but well worth spending some time on. Will your players rock up to the table just wanting an evening of fun that they can walk away from afterwards? Do they want the political grandstanding that you as a GM you live for, or do they just want riddles to solve? I know this seems like a re-hash of the above the point, but it’s something the GMs have less control over. For us, we wanted the players to feel like they had made a real impact on the game world they played in, and they totally went for the idea, rewarding every hour of work we put into the game with some wonderful role-playing. . This meant a lot of work behind the scenes keeping track of what everyone was up to, spreading their influence and cash around, trying to get their characters ahead. If this isn’t as important to your players, that gives you the time to concentrate on what they want. You will need to work together on this to get the best results, and sometimes it might mean just deciding that one of you is better suited than the other in certain areas, and using that knowledge to spread the work load. A point carried on to the next item on the list…
  3. Combat. I know that this isn’t always the first thing in people’s minds when planning a game, but unless you’re specifically avoiding it, it’s going to come up. Spend some time contemplating the frequency of  the fights, and how best to handle them. Make sure both GMs know the rules inside and out; there is a never a good time for inconsistent rules calls, but in the heat of a combat is going to be the worst. This is doubly true if you make any changes to the combat system from the way it’s presented in the rule book. Take the time to talk about it, and run a few practices with each other. This is something that you can’t really do too much of. If it’s still a problem, split the work; have one of you in charge of rules calls and the other playing the NPCs in the combat, getting rules calls from the other GM just like a player. It might seem a  bit awkward, but it makes the NPCs look just like any other character, and helps pull the players into it more than if they were fighting a dice roll and an armour class.

I hope that some of the above is useful to other people thinking about joining Gming forces, but if there’s anyone out there with any other tips, or even other questions, feel free to comment below.

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9 thoughts on “How I managed to co-op run a successful game for three years. With a little help of course.

  1. I consider myself lucky to have been part of that particular experience, it worked, and to my knowledge all of our players (and we soon got up to the limit of 20 which we set for ourselves) got a lot of enjoyment from the game. But the one piece of advice I would offer anyone trying to run a co-op game is this:
    Meet to discuss plot advancement, game twists etc regularly, and do so when you have no constraints on time. You may have time to get this done 20 minutes before the game session is due to start but the truly awesome ideas come when you have as much time as you need to come up with them and polish them between you, and not when a player arriving early can ed your maniacal plotting.
    Mostly though, have fun, your players will pick up on it and have more fun too, which is always win-win

    • Good advice guys! I’ve worked on the plot team for LRP events and personally feel that you absolutely MUST have a team of sorts.

      I’ve run a banquet event, a full weekend and faction plot for a couple of Lorien Trust mainlines pretty much solo over the last year or so and it makes a massive difference to now work with a small team.

      You’re right Craig, meeting up – even if it’s just a skype chat – is essential and drives dynamic and interesting plot.

      Our new plot-rep’s style is to get everyone round for the weekend and froth until the plot’s fully formed :)

      • The game we ran was monthly, but we effectively dropped out of HUGS for a year or so, just to meet up every week for several hours to hammer things out. Time very well spent in my opinion.

  2. Another good post sir! Having spent many enjoyable hours in those Indie games I can attest to the work that went in to keeping us players under control…

  3. The regular meetings where we could just hammer plot did indeed take up usually 3 or 4 evenings a month but bear in mind that was 20 players, each with at least 2 plots on the go (they didn’t always know they were happening but they were), with every plot evolving whether through player involvement or just the passage of time, then if I recall correctly about 12 ‘game’ plots which were not related specifically to any one player’s background each with it’s own timeline which could change due to player involvement. It was a lot of plot to try and keep interesting because if we had to say to a player “nothing happened, try next month” then we had, in our eyes as players of other games, failed.

    I guess the additional advice is to keep detailed notes of your plots, and that’s both of you, not just one, if the other GM can’t make it then you have to be able to run with any plot that either of you were responsible for, because if you can’t, that will turn out to be the plot that would have changed everything else that happens for the next year, it’s a law of gaming :)

    Having just read that back this all sounds a bit big headed, it was a fantastic game, we put in a lot of work to make it a fantastic game but without great players it would only ever have been some mildly interesting theatre, and not a game so involving that we had to get outside help after each game to get the players to talk about something else in the pub, so again a big thankyou on behalf of the ST team to our players for sinking their teeth into the plot and making us work hard.

    • Also helped that we had a nice balance between us as ‘ideas man’ and a ‘making Shorty’s crazy shit into a reality’ man. But yeah, we gave up hours a month to keep the game running, but our players also had hours worth of stuff to talk to us about their characters were doing between games.

  4. I spent my first couple years as a GM running with an assistant, I handling the story and he the mechanics, and the two of us splitting the NPCs with the lion’s share going to me; he managed to both improve and break my plots, sometimes at the same time, and ended up eventually juggling in a PC. When it worked, it worked pretty well, though I think the game being by chat, and therefore having easily accessible and shareable logs, helped–on the other hand, it ended up coming to the biggest risk factor of a long-running multi-GM game, when one of the GMs decides he really has something better to do with his Friday nights, leaves and never really looks back. Thing was two years in, fortunately between plots, though there was one thing we’d been supposed to do that he’d promised he’d run (it involved mass combat, and this was years before I so much as tried to deal with my mental block on large-unit tactics, let alone went on a military history kick), and there are a lot of NPCs who should be pretty major whom I am still uncomfortable playing because the guy’s voice is just a bear to match.

    Still… when it worked, it worked.

    • Our game being live action meant very little in the way of note taking mid game. Still, we each had notebooks to keep track of stuff, but did everything in our power to keep from dropping into them during the game, just to keep the flow going. Hence the massive amount of down time we would spend organising the game.

      When Hoppy moved out of Huddersfield, he did his best to keep up with the game, but within 3 sessions he knew it wasn’t going to work, just like I knew it wouldn’t be the same without him. We scoured all our players until we found a couple of people who were willing to take over, and then I just stopped.

      It’s hard to carry on when the other half of the team isn’t available.

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