Howdy all, hope you had a great weekend.
My thinking about this question: I have played several GM-less games but it’s not my preferred format. That said, I’ve had some amazing good games come out of them. My skills are in dire need of work, although on occasion the psychic channels are wide open and everything is great.
The last time this happened it was me, and it was in Rachel E.S. Walton’s Mars 244 game at Dreamation. It was a late night game, I’d been playing and running stuff nonstop, and I think I didn’t have any A-game left to bring.
Mars 244 works in the same vein as Montsegur 1244, in that there’s a sequence of escalating acts that frame up everyone’s scene for the act. And if that bit of context isn’t enough, there’s also a card you can draw to give you something to hold on to. And finally and maybe most importantly, each character has a question you should aim toward answering in the course of play.
It’s such a different experience than anything else in tabletop roleplaying! There’s no GM there acting as continuity editor/show runner, nor are there strongly incentivized flags other than those character questions. Now, when I played Montsegur 1244 the first time, I got some intensely bleedy, powerful play out of it: I had hooked into juuuust the right combination of character, backstory, relationship web and players. I was, I think, the only one who had such a strong reaction to the game. But at no point did I feel like I didn’t know what scenes to frame or what I wanted out of my spotlight time. It’s my current benchmark for successful play, but it was also such an impactful experience that tbh I’m a teeny bit scared to try for it again.
But different GM-less games offer different menus of hooks and frames and whatever elses to get everyone on the same page for a scene. I think that’s where my skills fall short: recognizing the hooks for what they are, communicating a shared understanding of those hooks to the player(s) I want in the scene, and then making sure we continue down the road together.
More often, it’s like “oh hey it’s my turn! Um. Okay so my character is uh…thinking about uh…home. And you’re there too. Why are you there? Oh you don’t know why you’re there. Do you want to talk about anything.” And then I realize we’re wasting everyone’s attention span and being un-entertaining. I’ve got, at least, good entertainment instincts, so I can usually cook something up at that point that at least gets folks laughing. But that’s such a different level of play than the immediacy of surface-level emotions demanding resolution.
Maybe I should talk about immersion as a thing/not-thing in a separate thread.
Anyway: it’s a skill set I’m very much looking forward to developing. It’s also a skill set that I’m not persuaded most (for certain values of “most”) folks really care about, and I’m not even sure it’s especially transferable to the more mainstream tabletop experience. It’s kind of a GM-ish skill but it’s also kind of not. Maybe because when I’m just another player, I don’t have the same … I don’t know, aura of authority? That aura of GM-ness that says it’s okay for me to tell you what situation you’ve found yourself in.