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D&D 5E All Players Are the DM

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Last week the DM in the game I play in asked me to fill in. She needed a night to just play and relax.

I created a few encounters in the dungeon we were exploring and everything went smoothly.

At one point though one of the characters wound up leaving the dungeon and doing a little side quest in town. The usual DM had notes about this, so she took over for that portion of the story, then handed the reins back over to me.

After the game, we talked about how fun that was!

We started brainstorming a campaign structure that would allow each player to be a DM.

Now I feel like the usual way to do this is through campaign arcs. DM 1 runs adventure 1, then hands it over to DM 2 who runs adventure 2, and so on.

Instead, we started thinking of how we could do location-based DMing.

Here's our idea:

Together, all the players create a general map of the campaign world. Each player takes responsibility for a portion of the locations. So for example,

Player A: Wizard College and surrounding mountains

Player B: port city and bay

Player C: dwarven kingdom and mines

Player D: forest and hills

As the characters travel to different locations, the DM in charge of that locale takes over.

Now of course you would still need a basic structure of Adventure 1 being on the coast, Adventure 2 being in the mountains... But I love the idea of the characters doing a shopping trip to the city in the middle of Adventure 4 and Player B taking over as DM.

So what are your thoughts? What would be the challenges of this kind of game? What would be the rewards?
 

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payn

Hero
Folks do this set up often. I dont have a ton of experience with it. The one thing we didnt like was switching between PCs and NPCs. Sometimes, the DM would be running a PC while also running NPCs and everyone sits at the table and watches them roleplay with their self. Our solution was to have the DM's PC not along for that particular adventure. The PC would be doing downtime stuff so that odd experience could be avoided.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
If your goal is to more equitably share DMing responsibilities, go with each DM running one adventure. Otherwise you'll find rather quickly that the players will spend more time on one DM's location than others and end up right back at the imbalance you're trying to avoid.
I'm not sure balance is the goal.

(In fact I'm not sure what the goal is, other than the buzz of fun everyone had when that DM switch-off happened the other night.)

Maybe what I'm seeking is the idea of each player being an expert in a part of the world?
 

Yora

Legend
I'm currently setting up a West Marches campaign and letting other players run adventures themselves seem really trivial.
There's a pool of PCs who set up parties for a single adventure to explore a single location, and then they return back to base and disband again. You can even have multiple adventures running simultaneously, with some players playing in just one, and other players playing more frequently in the adventures of two GMs with two PCs at the same time.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Folks do this set up often. I dont have a ton of experience with it. The one thing we didnt like was switching between PCs and NPCs. Sometimes, the DM would be running a PC while also running NPCs and everyone sits at the table and watches them roleplay with their self. Our solution was to have the DM's PC not along for that particular adventure. The PC would be doing downtime stuff so that odd experience could be avoided.
Yeah, watching a DM play with themselves like that is the worst.
I'm not sure balance is the goal.

(In fact I'm not sure what the goal is, other than the buzz of fun everyone had when that DM switch-off happened the other night.)

Maybe what I'm seeking is the idea of each player being an expert in a part of the world?
Maybe balance was the wrong word. Shared responsibility maybe?
 

mrpopstar

Sparkly Dude
Last week the DM in the game I play in asked me to fill in. She needed a night to just play and relax.

I created a few encounters in the dungeon we were exploring and everything went smoothly.

At one point though one of the characters wound up leaving the dungeon and doing a little side quest in town. The usual DM had notes about this, so she took over for that portion of the story, then handed the reins back over to me.

After the game, we talked about how fun that was!

We started brainstorming a campaign structure that would allow each player to be a DM.

Now I feel like the usual way to do this is through campaign arcs. DM 1 runs adventure 1, then hands it over to DM 2 who runs adventure 2, and so on.

Instead, we started thinking of how we could do location-based DMing.

Here's our idea:

Together, all the players create a general map of the campaign world. Each player takes responsibility for a portion of the locations. So for example,

Player A: Wizard College and surrounding mountains

Player B: port city and bay

Player C: dwarven kingdom and mines

Player D: forest and hills

As the characters travel to different locations, the DM in charge of that locale takes over.

Now of course you would still need a basic structure of Adventure 1 being on the coast, Adventure 2 being in the mountains... But I love the idea of the characters doing a shopping trip to the city in the middle of Adventure 4 and Player B taking over as DM.

So what are your thoughts? What would be the challenges of this kind of game? What would be the rewards?
We rotate Dungeon Masters in our group. The original idea was that each of us would sit behind the screen for a slate of adventures, giving everyone an opportunity to play in a shared campaign.

That has morphed into each DM running a different campaign in a shared world, giving everyone an opportunity to play, but also giving everyone more freedom as the DM.

We've tried different approaches to scheduling, settling on a seasonal rotation. Every three months, responsibilities change hands.

It works well!


If your goal is to more equitably share DMing responsibilities, go with each DM running one adventure. Otherwise you'll find rather quickly that the players will spend more time on one DM's location than others and end up right back at the imbalance you're trying to avoid.
I share this sentiment. There will definitely be Dungeon Masters in the group whose games pull focus.
 

We've been running a West Marches campaigns with 2 DMs and 15 players (DMs can play a PC when they aren't DMing, but never while DMing). The party is the group of 6 or so that chime in to play for a given time slot. All logistics are handled through our Discord server. We basically DM every other week so there is more or less a game once a week (although sometimes 2 in a week when we're feeling ambitious). We're considering letting some other players DM from time-to-time as well. Looking forward to that, actually. The shared world is a modified Barovia and, at some point, greater Ravenloft.

We do session based XP that scales as levels get higher. DMs earn a single XP for DMing a session which they can apply to one of their characters (each player can have 3 active characters) as they see fit. Both DMs have only used about half their "DMXP" as we both like to experience each PC level for at least a few sessions.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I think it’s a great idea. And I agree, it’s not so much about redistribution of DMing responsibility, it’s more about the dynamic experience of switching DMs mid-session; getting to play content created and run by different people, and run content you’ve created for them, all in the space of the same game. If any Critical Role fans here have been watching Exandria Unlimited, think about how different the game’s energy is with Aabria DMing and Matt playing. Imagine that kind of shift happening regularly, maybe even multiple times per session. It would certainly keep the experience fresh.

I think a potential risk could be tonal whiplash. The same dynamism that would make this exciting could also make it quite jarring. So I would advise that the group work extra diligently on establishing a shared set of baseline assumptions to work from - a very clearly defined tone and themes, and some very solid foundational worldbuilding, before developing any content individually. Let those shared assumptions be the bedrock that all the individual DMs’ content is built on.
 

JEB

Hero
Our home group had four regular DMs (myself and three others) who came up with a shared setting and storylines (though I did most of the organizational work), plus we openly let any other players in the group have a shot at DMing in the same setting if they were interested (and many did). (The DMs could also be players in each others' games, of course.) We even started to do big "events" that took advantage of having multiple DMs, where each of us took on a few players at a time as they moved through stages of the adventure, such as a big tournament, or a big attack on the players' HQ.

Then Covid happened and we haven't met since. But for several years, it was nice!
 

Asisreo

Fiendish Attorney
I always like to mention options in the book just in case anyone wants to check them out.

In the DMG, on page 269, one of the options for "Plot Points" is that they change DMs when a player expends a plot point.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
For me, it is normal to take turns till leveling, or completing a dungeon.

The OP idea to swap depending on moving thru regional settings is interesting!
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
For me, the best way to level ever:

Count the number of encounters until gaining the next level!

It is about 8 or 10 encounters per level.

But the first tier (levels 1 to 4) advances faster, such as 4, 5, 6, and 7 encounters until level 5. Oppositely, if you are in a sweet spot, or want to slow down advancement, you can double the number of encounters to 16 or 20 before gaining the next level.

Finally, a Moderate challenge is worth 1 encounter. But an encounter that turns out to be easy is only worth ½ an encounter. A hard encounter is worth 1½ encounters. And a near TPK is worth 2 encounters. DM and players can decide the difficulty AFTER the encounter is over. Sometimes an encounter that the DM expected to be difficult, turns out to be an easy cakewalk. And oppositely, an encounter that was supposed to be easy or moderate might end in an near TPK. So decide the difficulty afterward.

No XP. No milestones.

Just count encounters. So simple, and much more accurate.
 

aco175

Legend
I have tried playing with others DMing when locations change in the same campaign. I may run a series of encounters in a dungeon and back in town another player wants to DM some roleplay and a set of encounters in the sewers. Then, another player wants to offer an option of going to the mountain pass tower or the secret area of the dungeon we were in when I DMed. The problem becomes balancing magic and things like monster ecology and why orcs are around one time and then they are gnolls or such.
 

pemerton

Legend
So what are your thoughts? What would be the challenges of this kind of game? What would be the rewards?
A friend and I recently started a BW game where we each have a PC and we GM concurrently. Basically each of us is responsible for framing the conflict for the other's PC, and adjudicating the consequences of failed checks. The first session worked fined, and I'm hoping we'll come back to it soon.

BW has some elements that 5e D&D doesn't, which helped: PCs include (as part of their builds) Beliefs, Instincts and Traits, and the basic principle for GMs in BW is frame towards conflict as defined by a PC's BITs. "Exploration" looms less large than it does in typical D&D play.

At the start of this year my group played a session of Orbital, which is "GM-less" and relies on a mixture of negotiation and player authority over certain setting elements to frame conflicts. It calls for a fair bit of proactivity on the part of participants; and the PCs were not as tightly/clearly focused as BW PCs which I think made it a bit harder to get off the ground.

Hopefully there's something helpful for you in the above reflections!
 

babi_gog

Explorer
Some advices about how to do troop GMing can be found in Ars Magica which is set up in part for this style. Often using the geographic areas and spheres of influence model of responsibility. One this we would often do when playing as well was allow others to drop in little plot points that related back to areas of the plot they where leading on, so that it also pulled the world together a little more.
 

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