“Death created time to grow the things that it would kill.”

I just got done watching True Detective and I liked it but I’d be really careful about how I recommended it to, if that makes any sense.

NOTE: Paula’s review and analysis are spot on!

Spoilers lurk below.

I’m thinking about how I’d game it. My first instinct is to grab Unknown Armies, make up some kind of Room of Renunciation that is a room full of inadmissible evidence that points to terrible occult crimes.

But then I look at this old Sorcerer idea. I think of Rust Cohl’s notebook and his trailer. His notebook would be his demon, wouldn’t it? The trailer is when the demon grows.

“This is a world where nothing is solved. Someone once told me, ‘Time is a flat circle.’ Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again. And that little boy and that little girl, they’re gonna be in that room again and again and again forever.”

That is the quote I want to build the game on. Starting at the kicker and somehow circling back to it again. Maybe even playing the kicker through to its completion and then when it is resolved, picking up and starting over with tiny choices as different, letting the dice fall where they may and seeing what turns out different from the first cycle.

I dunno. Rustin Cohle’s got me thinking.

Have a good weekend.

7 Knights for the Riverlands

During our last Burning Wheel game Swordlord Zora seized control of a 400 person Rostlander army with 7 knights among them. I looked to my Swordlords pinterest board and found some decent knights and wrote up a short blurb on each.


Lady Liva the Young: a squire of Lord Drazj, she was knighted after holding a bridge during her Swordlord’s retreat. Her family’s lands was among the first to be taken by Brevoy when this conflict escalated. Her family’s True Sword is said to be captured by Brevoy and held by a Brevosi lord.


Sir Jeppe Sokka-Drazj: Jeppe is the knight who reported directly to the castellan; he is called the House Butcher behind his back in whispered tones, referencing the bloody work he did for his Swordlord. His father was raised to knighthood from distinguished service in Rostland’s army.


Lady Thea the Dawn-killer: one of the most celebrated tourney knights in Rostland before turning her eye to war. She has taken to it, known for surprising a small army of Brevosi soldiers before they had woken and butchering them in their tents.


Sir Karl the Saint: Is said to have traded away his True Sword, left his lands to his heir and took up errant knighthood because of a holy calling. Same say that he will be a Sword Saint when he perishes.


Lady Eliska Nemec – Her family held a border fort near Brevoy for years before Lord Drazj commanded them to pull her forces out to protect his retreat. The Nemec line can trace their lineage back to one of the original 7 Swordlords but their True Sword was lost centuries ago.


Sir Noah the Tree: He is an old knight who folk jest is old as many oak trees. In his youth he was a fine tourney knight but has since trekked from Swordlord to Swordlord, pledging his service for a time but leaving before setting down any roots.


Lady Pavla Drazj – a distant elder cousin of Lord Drazj whose True Sword was broken in a battle with the barbarians in the west. She was captured by a war band and sold into slavery but returned of her own accord.

Reading, Planning, Writing: Dry, Scratchy, Pollen Friday

Reading: I’m reading A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall and it is good fun. If it ends as a complete, stand-alone novel, I’m going to write a love letter to it once I’m done.

Planning: Gaming and probably some brunches.

Writing: I’m trying to finish a few little things I started but I’m hitting road blocks. Finished a short story, which was fun.

And you?

Frozen in Time #DCCRPG

Frozen in Time, Session 1

Short Review: Fun dungeon, great maps. I liked it quite a bit as a place to start with DCCRPG.

as a 0 level funnel

First thing’s first…

Rest in Peace

Nannie Milhaus Cromwell the smith, femoral artery pierced by Bore Bugs

Delbret the Beepkeeper, skull crushed like a grape by a robot’s pincer-hands, skull cavity licked thoroughly by Carl the Pig (not a nickname, an actual pig)

Highlights

Hugo trading for a grappling hook and a Holy Symbol of the Whale God just outside the caves with the locals who came to watch the crazy foreigners go into the haunted glacier.

Players winning the yeti over with food when fire didn’t work.

Groat the Slave, in the midst of the battle with the robot, praying over his strange shaped rock to the Chaos Gods for aid – no response.

Players wrapping the robot up in a chain, winning a big Strength test and holding it down for a while. Once 5 PC’s were holding the chain, I asked them to make a Strength roll vs the robot, with the highest Strength modifier and the players rolling a d30 vs the Robot’s d20. They won and held it down for a bit.

Then was a funky moment where Groat gumbled, Eric rolled on the fumble table and rolled a 16+ but with the robot subdued, it made more sense for a really bad fumble to mean cutting the chain and with the group’s blessing, that is what I did.

Then Groat picked up the katana of the Enteral Shogunate of the Lich Shogun, fumbling and cutting the chain that was holding down the robot.

Group killing the robot just before it could kill Groat.

Llaras fitting into the Petal Knight’s full plate armor after making the roll of a 17 on a Luck check.

E: Llaras would like to wear the armor. Does it fit?

J: I dunno. Make a luck roll!

Thoughts

There are a whole lot of slow, even nearly harmless rooms but that ramps up the tension for those rooms where there is a whole lot at stake. Fun times for my first time as a DCCRPG Judge!

At the end of the session, the surviving characters hit level 1. It would be a little over a month until we’d play again.

Session 2

First thing’s first:

RIP’s
RIP Maeve the Thief and Isidore the Dwarven Priest of the Whale God.

Maeve dared to dream beyond being a simple wainwright, making a short living by her stealth, luck and wits.

Isidore was born deep under the earth and found faith in a deity of the sea. Perhaps that combination was what led him to die in that haunted glacier.

They both died climbing out of the haunted glacier while its demons yelled misunderstood warnings to them all from the infernal walls. The crevasse did them in where the T-rex, mutant ant man and killer robot did not.

Finishing Up
The party had accrued enough XP to get to level 1, so in the month between games, we leveled them up to level 1. It was a big group, with only 2 being killed in the first session (and 2 more tonight).

T-Rex and Art
I had been inserting some power glitches after the big robot fight and had the stasis field go down around the t-rex, causing its eyes to focus on the party just before the field went back up. This might’ve tipped them off too much but I liked the effect.

They went through this room, ignoring the art and getting to the tube.

The Menagerie
The mutant ant-man was getting pouched on by the party, getting nickled and dimed by them. I knew that the owlbear would seen come out of its field. Renee’s thief wanted to hide, get away from the combat. I asked her where she wanted to hide.

“Behind the owlbear, I guess.”

Nice.

Eric’s wizard still has the katana from the Shogunate of the Lich-Shogun. Groat made the killing blow against the ant-man.

Then the owlbear lumbered to life. Renee’s thief made a backstab against the owlbear that had no idea anyone was there. Then Groat stepped up with the katana and did a crit, finishing it with another blow.

I said that the katana, clearly magical, seemed like it was made to do this, made to behead enemies but that it clearly hungered to do something more. The katana is sleeping but can be awakened.

It was really important to figure out where everyone was. It wasn’t a matter of having pieces on a map, just a matter of asking good questions when the players announce their actions.

Emergency Lighting
I had some trouble describing the time machine. Renee cautiously tapped at it with a staff and as described in the adventure write-up, a successful Luck roll means nothing happened. When her character made that roll, I described the character feeling as if they were on the edge of a terrible precipice, a bottomless pit, that they were very lucky that nothing happened due to their meddling.

They left the time machine alone.

But Eric’s thief was still in the room, trying to cut out the ant-man’s poison sacs. He was successful but couldn’t get out of the room, as he didn’t have the gold pass-key. When the stasis fields came down, the thief hid successfully while the 3-headed tiger devoured the human and the walrus man backed up to the door, claws and tusks at the ready. The slug climbed to the ceiling.

They went back for the thief and the tiger was sated, fat and content from devouring the human. Knowing that the t-rex was waiting for them above, they climbed into the room where the yeti had been, using their rope and grappling hook to good effect.

The yeti had left when the explosions hit. The crevasse claimed 2 lives when Eric’s wizard failed to cast Feather Fall. But their bodies were retrieved.

Thoughts

I love how the power going out changes the rooms entirely, letting beasts out and making levitation tubes into dangerous smooth surfaces to climb.

Describing modern things to a non-modern mind is fun and funky, though sometimes I’d just say it, “If this was a movie, the audience would recognize the Mona Lisa but you’d just all see it as a woman with an enigmatic smile in an odd dress.” Though I insisted on calling the laser rifle a stringless crossbow.

I have to learn the characters’ names now that they are first level.

Next Up

Doom of the Savage Kings!

NOTE: This was cobbled together from a few AP posts on the DCCRPG G+ group but wanted to save it here.

What happens when you drink in Dungeon Crawl Classics?

From this thread on the G+ group. You are drunk and you know that if you go home now, all will be well. You will go to bed, have some odd dreams and wake up with a headache, having never seen the darkest alleys this town has in its shadows, nor will you have sipped from its sweetest fountains. If you don’t go home – you keep drinking, tell me what you have on you and what you left back in your room and make a Stamina Check and a Luck Check, DC 5! No matter what the dice say, something fun is about to happen. Maybe dangerous, maybe embarrassing, maybe lovely.

"Hold up! One more drink couldn't hurt. Right?"

“Hold up! One more drink couldn’t hurt. Right?”


Succeed on both. You wake up back in your room with a lovely local and have given them a good, lusty story about the joys of spending the night with an adventurer. They are waking up and you have no idea what their name is.


Failed Stamina, Successful Luck. You wake up vomiting in the bed of (NPC the character would actually really like). You are going to be so sick and don’t remember anything about the person whose bed you are in other than that you remember a vague feeling that they might help turn you life around. Take -1d to all rolls until you rest for 2d20 turns.


Successful Stamina, Failed Luck. You wake up in your own bed, in the company of a lovely local who will likely always remember this lusty evening spent with an adventurer. There is a knock at the door. Someone is angry about your evening plans and is about to make your life difficult.


Failed both! You wake up in a tangle of slumbering bodies covered in bite marks, bruises and ritual scarring in the shadow of an altar to a chtonic deity. What the fuck happened last night? You remember nothing. You have 1 hit point. Take -1d to all rolls until you rest for 2d20 turns.

Clowns, Posses and Pirates: Other Adventuring Parties

Clowns to the left of me

Jokers to the right, here I am,

Stuck in the middle with you

Maybe you need rivals for your PC’s or you just read Rat Queens, or you just want an adventurers tavern to be filled with adventurers, or you want to add tension to a dungeon by tossing in another group of hardened delvers.

I divvied the parties into 3 parts to inspire the Judge/DM/GM/whatevuh: Theme, First Module, Last Delve.

Roll a d12, d20 and d4 to get your adventuring party.

Photograph by Eolo Perfido Click picture for artist’s web site NSFW, especially if your HR department has policies about clown genitals.

Theme

  1. Clowns: putting on their carnival warpaint before delving, fending off despair with laughter
  2. Knights: trying their hand at delving before turning to outright banditry since the death of their duchess
  3. The Town’s Best: funded by a small town to bring back riches and glory
  4. The City’s Worst: sentenced to the city’s penal dungeons in order to pay off debts
  5. Fresh-Faced Guild Kids: well-to-do middle children of crafts-folk
  6. The Faithful Pilgrims: following the path of their demi-god who was born a mortal adventurer
  7. Sea-cursed Pirates: eeking out a living as tomb-raiders since they pissed off a sea-god
  8. Wizard’s Posse: cut-throats and reavers banded around a bad-ass arcane leader
  9. AWOL Soldiers: ditched their posts to try their hand at the dungeon delving gold rush they’ve heard about
  10. Runaway Apprentices: left a cruel master to try a dangerous new trade
  11. The Cult: knocking over altars to appease their heretical deity
  12. Born-Again Party: convinced they were famous adventurers in a past life, reborn to adventure again

First Module

  1. Untested & Unblooded: preparing for their first delve.
  2. Slave Pits of the Undercity: Ripped off slavers, who deserve no better
  3. In Search of the Unknown: Raided the abandoned, hidden HQ of long-dead adventurers
  4. Keep on the Borderlands: Delved into the Caves of Chaos from a frontier town with a treacherous priest
  5. The Lost City: Back from an ancient city buried in the desert sands torn apart by warring factions
  6. Horror on the Hill: Delved into a goblin and hobgoblin infested hill with a sleeping dragon at its lowest layer
  7. The Ghost Tower of Inverness: Looted a trapped tower to get the coveted Soul Gem
  8. Castle Caldwell: Cleared a castle from monstrous infestation for a local merchant
  9. Dungeonland/The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror: Traveled to a whimsical, dangerous distant demi-plane through a mirror portal
  10. Steading of the Hill Giant Chief: Raided a Hill Giant Chief’s keep, interrupting diplomatic negotiations with fell powers
  11. Ravenloft: Back from a mist-shrouded demi-plane of dread, having faced a powerful vampire lord
  12. Tomb of Horrors: raided the trapped tomb of Acerak the Demi-Lich
  13. White Plume Mountain: Exhumed a wizard’s vault, where 3 intelligent, magic items were locked away
  14. Expedition to the Barrier Peaks: Explored a ship, crashed in the mountains, with treasures from beyond the stars
  15. The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth: Delved into the underground treasure chambers of a demon-haunted archmage
  16. The Village of Homlet: Explored a crossroads village in the shadow of an evil temple
  17. The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh: Looted the abandoned mansion of an evil alchemist
  18. Isle of the Ape: Survived a dangerous island in another dimension, accessed via an archmage’s portal
  19. The Isle of Dread: Raided the remnants of a fallen civilization in the heart of a vicious jungle
  20. Carrion: Picked through the wreckage of the PC’s last adventure

Last Delve

  1. Success: swimming in gold, quick to spend it on something frivolous and buy drinks and smokes for everyone who will listen to their braggadocio.
  2. Scarred Success: some gold to spare but paid dearly for it. The mood is somber and dangerous.
  3. Scarred and Pained: lost most of their number in the delve and have to do some hard soul-searching about how much they want this adventuring life.
  4. Scarred, Pained and in Danger: See Scars and Pain but add to the fact that something from their past adventure followed them out and is stalking them even now.

P.S. Was this entire post really about imagining a party of adventures who put on clown paint and false smiles while gritting their teeth and delving into dangerous dungeons?

Maybe.

I love that you could roll a group of adventurers in blood-smeared clown make-up, just back from a profitable trip to the Demi-Plane of Dread.

Another P.S. I realized after a few days of reflection that this post was entirely inspired by the Planarch Codex: Dark Heart of the Dreamer. You can pick it up at the link for the all-too-reasonable price of FREE. Check it out.

Jessica Hammer on the road from Deities & Demi-Gods to Nobilis, Community and Co-GMing

I knew this interview with Jessica Hammer would be amazing because I e-mailed her asking about what topics to discuss and her first response blew me away.

As a girl growing up in a religious community with strict gender roles, my childhood memories of gaming don’t involve much play. I used to lie on my bed on long Saturday afternoons, with the golden late-afternoon light pouring through the windows, reading Deities & Demigods and the Dragonlance setting books and Desert of Desolation, fantasizing about what I might do if I could get beyond the daily constraints of my life.

That said, I can see a direct through-line from that experience to what I love so much about Nobilis. For me, Nobilis is all about remaking the mundane into the mythic. It’s about applying wild logic and precise insight to the world we know, because everything in Nobilis is a way to talk about what we believe about reality. It has the same dreamy, imaginative sensibility as those long afternoons did. And, of course, the deities and demigods are baked right in.

I love the idea of starting on Deities and Demigods and transitioning into Nobilis if we get there.

I broke my toe in fourth grade. While I was in a cast, my mother loaded me up with Bulfinch’s Mythology and Robert Graves and some book about Egyptian myths that I can’t recall. In school, we spent half the school day studying the Bible or practicing Hebrew. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” I read, and delved into the tenth-century commentaries just like the big kids. At home, I started to understand what “other gods” meant. These weren’t just grand adventure stories. They were something people had, sometime, somewhere, truly believed. They’d told and retold these stories, developing new layers of meaning each time, using them to organize and define their lives. They’d done the same thing I was doing in school – and, hard as I found it to imagine, they believed just as deeply as I did.

This was the same year I actually got to play Dungeons & Dragons. A boy from down the street invited me to his gaming birthday party, which involved us making high-level characters and  defending our keep against wave after wave of ridiculous monsters. I went home with his copy of Deities & Demigods and the gaming bug; I kept them both. I had never heard of Nehwon or of Elric, of Aztec mythology or of the Chinese pantheon. I’d sneak downstairs late at night to look gods up in the encyclopedia, never sure which ones would prove to be real. Law and chaos, fire and rain and love and war – people everywhere seemed concerned with the same things. Even the gods of fictional lands spoke to me.

What I spent the most time imagining, though, was how to kill a god. Which one would I prefer to fight? What level would my character have to be? Laid out as they were, with stats and powers, they seemed both immense and painfully limited. They weren’t the all-seeing God who kept me locked in long skirts, the God who demanded I never sing in public, the God the boys thanked for not being born a woman. No. These gods could die, and in my fantasies I killed them over and over again.

Did you ever play that game where you killed gods?

No, I never did. That’s because fourth grade was also the last year I played D&D. When we all came back to school the next fall, the boys decided I couldn’t game with them anymore. I wouldn’t have a chance to play again for a decade. By the time I had another group to play with, I wasn’t interested in killing gods anymore.

What stuck with me was the way gods expressed human concerns, how they told a story of what life was about, how their very existence structured the everyday. I think that’s why Nobilis speaks to me so deeply. Nobles made that understanding concrete and literal, and connected it to modernity. It gives me a metaphorical way to talk about what the world is like, and a way to imagine what it could be.

I shouldn’t be speaking in the singular here, though. For all that I have a deeply personal connection to Nobilis, my relationship with the game is deeply entwined with my relationship with my community. My husband and I have developed a creative partnership around the game over the course of half a dozen LARPs and multiple tabletop games. Our entire gaming group builds out the shared world we originated with new characters, concepts, and stories. At this point, I don’t think there’s anyone who knows everything that’s happened in the world we’ve made; we just keep expanding its fictional boundaries.

We’ve all influenced the way our group plays, but one of the things that’s most important to me is how we create a new Familia, a group of Nobles who are all mystically related. For us, a Familia is an argument. It makes a case for a way to categorize and organize reality – and the great conflicts between Familias are actually conflicts between different ways of seeing and valuing reality. For example, the very first Familia our group ever created was built around the concept of “that which is beautiful because it is impermanent, and cannot survive without changing.” The Powers of Wind, Dawn, Fame, Memory, Inspiration, and Decay were at once living, breathing characters with their own personalities and foibles, and personified symbols whose actions embodied ideas about how we handle impermanence, beauty, and change in our culture.

That’s how we make myths at our table.

Your story reminds me of something. I was living with a practicing Orthodox Jew (I’m a non-practicing Jew). I was showing him around the small town where I had spent my undergrad years and everywhere we went were people I knew from tabletop RPG and LARP gaming. After leaving a bar where the bartender had gamed with me for years he said, “That is a very interesting community you have created for yourself.” Was that disapproval in his voice or was that just my guilt? Eh, doesn’t matter.

Either way, he had a point. I never found my sense of community in the temple and I did make it for myself in the act of creating myths with friends.

Did you find community in that manner through gaming?

I’d actually say the opposite: growing up Orthodox showed me the kind of community I wanted to create with games. It also prepared me to exist in a culture that was quite ready to treat me as a second-class citizen. (“Go make me a sandwich” isn’t all that different from what I learned in yeshiva!) Finally, it showed me that just as I could build an authentic Jewish practice that didn’t rely on gendered oppression, I could also create my own communities around games.

The community I grew up in was close-knit, loving, and connected. People would drop in and out of each other’s houses; they’d celebrate joys together and help each other through tough times. My father ran a Talmud class; every Saturday afternoon, his friends would come over to eat cake, argue about current events, and study together. My mother made sure that we had positive social relationships with community members of all ages, from “aunts” and “uncles” down to caring for young children. Together, my parents helped found our community synagogue, which ran out of our basement for almost a year.

There were great, specific lessons for gaming communities in particular. For example, I’ve been specifically inspired by the practice of observing Shabbat. Shabbat is holy, dedicated time. It’s not an accident that my memories of community are often linked to Shabbat. As a result, I’ve always made a point of setting aside time that’s dedicated to growing my gaming community and deepening our relationships with one another.

Even what I think of as “good gaming community” is conditioned by my upbringing. To me, community means deep, loving, mutually committed relationships around shared practices and values. I know some people like con gaming, but it doesn’t interest me. I want to be an intimate part of people’s lives through gaming, and vice versa. The friends from my gaming group helped me mourn my father’s death, organize my wedding, and deal with serious health issues. We’ve found each other jobs, helped each other move, lived in each other’s apartments, held each other’s hands through heartbreak and through joy.

They’re among the most important people in my life, and I love making things with them. Our community values include creativity, not just kindness – we always want to be creating something new! It’s such a joy to invent communally with people you love, trust, and admire.

I could probably write a book about what I learned about building community from growing up Orthodox – and from leaving the Orthodox world. Maybe I will someday!

Could you talk about that transition between the little girl with a broken toe and a copy of Deities and Demi-Gods to the adult participating in a community through Nobilis-driven myth-creation?

The short answer is that I learned to build communities the way that I did because I didn’t feel that I had any other choice. I wasn’t at home in the Orthodox life I was supposed to have, but the lives I saw in the modern world didn’t make sense to me either. I wanted a sense of rich connection, depth, meaning, shared practice, and shared values – and I also wanted to live my own life. If I wanted both those things, I’d have to figure out how to integrate them for myself.

The same’s true for role-playing games, though in a much less painful way. I wasn’t happy with the games I had the chance to play in, so I decided I’d have to run (and design!) my own.

A couple of the critical milestones along the way:

– Learning to co-GM with my partner, Chris. We wanted to be able to run games in a way that reflected our creative and intellectual partnership. That slowly led us away from heavy prep to a much more improvisational style of play. Eventually we realized that these techniques meant that our players could contribute just as much as we could. While we wouldn’t describe the games we run as GM-less, since we do a lot of coordination and editing, what started as a shared creative endeavor now includes everybody who comes to our table.

– Moving to New York. Our friends like to mock us for interviewing them before they became a part of our lives, but it’s actually kind of true. Chris and I didn’t know anyone when we came to New York, so we advertised online for people to join our gaming group. We were shocked when we were deluged with responses! We winnowed by email, then met people for coffee, and invited the most wonderful people we encountered to become a regular part of our lives. I still feel lucky every day about who we found.

– Hosting our first seder. Until my late twenties, I’d been going home for Passover every year. Finally, Chris and I decided it was time to host our own, and we invited our dearest friends to join us. Working slowly through the prescribed text, we asked challenging questions, analyzed concepts, and shared stories about our lives. We tried to approach it with a sort of radical vulnerability, a willingness to bring our whole selves to the seder table. It was a revelation. That first seder became a model for me in how to engage in Jewish practice, how to connect with a community, and how to relate to stories.

Co-GM with your partner! That is amazing.

How do you split the GM’s responsibilities between the two of you?
Do you take groups into different areas when folks split up or does one take the lead and the other takes peripheral NPC’s and scenery?

I’d love to hear more about that.

How Chris and I co-GM has evolved over time. We built a lot of our techniques during play, but we mined other sources where we could. For example, we spent two years studying and performing improv together, which gave us a shared set of skills to draw on. It was also really helpful to get feedback from our group after every game session, so we could practice in a focused way and iterate as quickly as possible.

The way we divide responsibilities shifts from session to session, because that’s what it means for us to play responsively. There are a few constants, though. For example, each of us will choose a theme or plot element for which we take primary responsibility. For example, “The prince of Rugen has been excommunicated.” Or “Several characters have children – let’s have that be a thing.” It’s our job to look for opportunities to introduce that theme or plot element, which might mean incorporating it into NPCs lives, framing scenes around it, or suggesting to players how their own interests might connect to it. We share responsibility for finding ways those plot elements overlap. For example, the prince’s excommunication might mean a character can’t have their child baptized. Each time the other person introduces something relating to their chosen element, we see if we can build on it to incorporate ours.

We absolutely take advantage of there being two of us when we split the group. Whoever has fewer players takes them into the other room and we run in parallel for a while. We’ve occasionally done some fun things with that, like having one group shout “BOOM!” as loudly as they could when they triggered an explosion, and making the other group react without knowing what was going on. When the groups come back together, our improvisational style means it’s easy to react to whatever they were up to. It’s one benefit of building story structures, not plans.

The best thing about co-GMing, though, is that I know someone’s got my back. If I’m having an off day, Chris can take the lead, and vice versa. Our players can step up, too! We all trust each other to help create good play. It’s one of the benefits of building a community of players over more than a decade, and of consciously working to improve our skills together.

What techniques do you recommend for a duo looking to co-GM for the first time (let’s assume they have GMed before)?

There are a lot of techniques that a pair of potential co-GMs could use, but I’ll choose three things you can start with: one general technique, one prep technique, and one table technique.

Before you start to play, you should get to know each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. If you’ve played with your potential partner, that’s a good start, but you’ll want to take some time to explicitly discuss your impressions so that you know you’re on the same page. For example, I’m great at creating problems for the players, but I sometimes want to keep creating new problems when it would be more fun for everyone to let things resolve. Chris, on the other hand, is great at creating closure, so I know that I should trust his judgment on that front.

Another way to do the same thing is to read books or watch movies together, then discuss them. The goal of the conversation should be to get a sense of what your partner finds satisfying, dramatic, interesting, and fun. You can also use the things you’re reading or watching to practice your shared storytelling skills. “What would have happened if …” is a great game to play with them, because you can get a sense of how they might respond to things the players do – doubly so if the two of you take turns inventing possibilities.

When it comes to prep, your goal should be to establish a loose shared structure within which you can improvise. One good technique is to define what the opening scene will be, and to each choose a threat or issue that you will be responsible for weaving into the session. For example, “We’ll start with the characters being summoned to Lord Entropy’s court to receive custody of a prisoner. I’ll be in charge of the prisoner causing trouble for them from inside their Chancel, and you’ll be in charge of their enemies within the court using this against them. Let’s take five minutes to brainstorm about possible issues we can each raise if the players aren’t taking the initiative.” Note that I really mean five minutes – overpreparation is the kiss of death for co-GMs.

It’s also useful to have a goal for the session, such as “By the end of the session, they’ll have to take a politically or magically meaningful stance about how to treat their prisoner.” You have to be careful with goals, though, because it’s easy to treat your goals as more important than what the players are contributing. The best session goals are open-ended, so that you can use them to give shape and context to player choices rather than to reject those choices. I think of the session goal as an interpretive frame to help the players see what they are doing with a given narrative situation, so that they can make conscious play decisions about it and so that everyone stays on the same page for the duration of the session.

Finally, at the table, there’s a very simple technique that will wildly change how you co-GM: hand signals. You’ll want a signal that means “Pass me the lead,” a signal that means, “Take the lead from me,” a signal that means, “I’m contributing something quick, I’m jumping in for one second but keep going,” and a signal that means, “Hold back, let the players go.” These hand signals will let you quietly manage the creative flow between you two without constantly having meta-conversations about who gets to do what. Your players may even joke about how you two seem to be telepathic!

Knowing your partner, prepping a loose structure, and using hand signals will get you a long way!

Thank you, Jessica for being patient with this process and offering so many fascinating ideas all at once.