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The GM is Dead: Scripted Roleplaying

Started by Jonathan Walton, January 19, 2003, 04:45:16 PM

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Jonathan Walton

Okay, I'm going to try to come at this concept from a completely new direction.  The plan is to make a game that combines Clue, Diplomacy, traditional roleplaying, freeform improvization, and avante guard theater.  Here's the plot: the GM has been killed by one of the Players and the PCs have to find out whodunit (from inside the dying game world).  I've tried to tackle this project from a number of directions, but none of them have felt quite "right" yet.  Still, I know that the game is both worthwhile and possible, so I haven't given up.

My new plan: a semi-scripted campaign that can be run in the course of a single evening, 3-5 hours (the length of one of Shakespeare's plays, performed in its entirety).  The campaign will be broken up into various "scenes" (mini-scenarios), allowing the game to be performed over several session if need be.

There would be little-to-no prep time, since the GM is dead and the game is designed to be run GM-less.  You simply gather a group of players together and begin reading from the script/rulebook, which sets up the action, runs you through character creation, and guides the mystery.  However, unlike typical "Murder Mystery" games, the ending is not set in stone.  Rather, as in Baron Munchausen, the players will collectively decide which of them is the murderer, eventually declaring that person the "winner" (before the police take them away).  Whether or not there will be a Surviver-esque way of eliminating players in the middle of the game, I haven't yet decided.

The key difference between The GM is Dead and a dry-reading of some bizarre play is the large spaces left open for improvisation and roleplaying.  Basically, though bits and pieces of the campaign are scripted out, there are large holes where the script simply says things like: "So all the characters meet _________ and have 20 minutes to determine which one of them will _________."  That then leads to 20 minutes of real-time roleplaying.  Some of the unscripted sections will probably be more like mini-LARPs, some of them will be more like traditional tabletop games, and some of them will more resemble the collective worldbuilding of Universalis ("Using the great power of the GM's Dice, you manage to narrate your way to a new location, using such-and-such guidelines, describe the new place.").

Now, I've just started writing the new script/rules for this incarnation of The GM is Dead, but I'm concerned about how players might react to this hodgepodge of kooky ideas.  Now, I know this isn't going to be a game for everybody (what is?), but I don't want it to be ineffable to anyone but myself.  After all, I want to be able to hand the text to a group of players and for them to be able to run it right then.

Ideally, I also don't want to have a huge introduction that explans what the game is and how to play it.  Showing people is much easier than tellin them, and getting people to jump in and start reading the script aloud is the easiest way to teach the game.  So, basically, my question is how do I get people to trust me enough to give the game a shot?  I guess that goes for all new games, but especially this one, which will look pretty different from what a roleplaying game is supposed to resemble.

To give you an idea of what I want players to jump in and tackle, here's an except from the new "introduction" I've been scripting:

QuoteACT Ø  •  Scene Ø

(A group of players gathers at the home of the Game Master.  One player, the Rules-Lawyer, brings a printed copy of The GM is Dead [hereafter: "the game"], or makes one publicly available on a computer screen.  At first, all the players ignore the game and spend time chatting, making jokes, teasing each other, and stuffing their faces.  Finally, the Rules-Lawyer becomes impatient, snatches up the game, and begins to read in a loud voice.)

THE RULES-LAWYER:  We regret to inform you that the Game Master is dead.  (Pause dramatically.)  Judging from the... (Evil laugh.) ... interesting state of the corpse, the authorities have no choice but to suspect foul play.  The facts are unclear, but the evidence suggests a startling and grisly tale:  Just under an hour ago, while our friend and leader was preparing for tonight's game, the GM was foully murdered in this very building... Killed, the police believe, by one of you!  One of the GM's own players!  (Shudder.)  Now, it may seem unthinkable for a player to commit such a cruel and merciless act, but let's be honest.  We all have our reasons.  Don't we, Shocked-And-Surprised Player?

(The Rules-Lawyer passes the game to a shocked and surprised player, who continues reading.)

SHOCKED-AND-SURPRISED PLAYER:  (Swallow nervously.)  Well, I mean...  (Glance at the other players.) NO!  How could anyone ever hate the Game Master enough to commit murder?  Sure, the GM had some faults, but didn't deserve to die!  (Gaze off into the distance, reflecting.)  Do you remember when the GM killed Grunthos the Barbarian in my very first game?  Hah!  I spent six hours putting that character together.  Pages of background material destroyed in seconds, just because the GM whipped up a warband of Festering Trolls. "Whoops.  Looks like Grunthos took a diseased arrow in the eye!"  That's what the GM had said.  Everyone laughed.  The Game Master laughed loudest of all.  I didn't say much then, but the pain began to eat away at my soul.  I loved Gruthos, loved every bit of his 286-pound, grey-eyed, raven-haired, 6-foot-10, northern-born, widower, agoraphobic, barbarian self.  But no one understood that.  No one ever will.  When you looked deep into the Game Master's eyes, all you could see was the Ochre Jelly lurking within.  The GM was not human.  No human could possibly muster the ruthlessness necessary to destroy Grunthos.  Someday, I swore, someday...  The GM would pay for all those crimes committed in the name of "story," "drama," or "character development."  Hah!  (Pause and look down, begin to sob.)  But I didn't think it would happen like this.  Not like THIS!!

THE RULES-LAWYER:  (Pat Shocked-And-Surprised Player on the shoulder.)  There, there now.  We all could tell similar stories.  We have followed the Game Master through dungeons, post-apocalyptic landscapes, distant galaxies, haunted mansions, even the depths of hell itself.  And the GM has always, always let us down!  We all had plenty of reasons to kill that arrogant, power-hungry, manipulating, heartless, character-mangling S.O.B.  There was just something about the way the Game Master smiled when the entire group fell off a cliff or got pushed out of an airlock.  Then again, maybe it was something about that hair, or the clothes, or those beady-little eyes from reading too many game manuals in the dark.  (Shrug.)  But no more.  The GM is dead.  Still, it would probably make us all feel better if we could get those bad feelings off our consciences.  It's useless to hate the deceased.  So why don't we all grab 3 index cards and write down our reasons for hating the GM?  Just to get it off our chests.  Trust me, it'll do you wonders, but make sure you keep your reasons secret.  After all, you don't want people to think you killed the Game Master!

(Each player, including the Rules-Lawyer, takes 3 index cards and writes down 3 different reasons that they had for hating the GM.  Some discussion is encouraged, but everyone should keep their reasons secret, not letting anyone else know what they are.)

THE RULES-LAWYER:  Is everyone finished?  Good.  Everyone put your reasons in this bag, so we can go burn all the evidence later.


I've been following most of your posts on this idea and I, for one, think that it is a marvelous idea.  I like idea of several mini-games combined with a murder mystery party and wrapped in an overall script.  I like that it would be playable in one session, too.

However, I know several people in my gaming group would hate the idea of reading large amounts of text straight out of the book.  Sure, others would get into it, over-acting and having fun, but most would have flashbacks to High School Lit class.  That's usually a bad thing.

I would suggest you make the script portions short (much shorter than the example ones in the post) or include little stage directions for improv.  (for example... [Dramatically describe the death of your favorite character at the hands of the DM] instead of the long, although funny, description.)  Or you could just have the blocks shorter and have the book get passed around more often.  People wouldn't mind if they had to read a line or two and then just pass it along, I think.

I think this is a great idea and I'm looking forward to seeing how it develops.



I may have missed an earlier part, so this may be redundant.  Have you looked into the How to Host a Murder?

Now they do it with a host but we did it several times without.  Its cool because even the Murdered does not know that they are the Killer until like Act 3

If nothing else it might give you an idea or two



RN3G8 4E

I agree with ADGBoss- you don't always have to re-invent the wheel. Sometimes you can build on the shoulders of those who have gone before you! I like your idea too.
Riding the Renegade Fury to freedom,

Jareth Dakk

Jonathan Walton

Ooooh, finally some comments! :)

Quote from: jllamaI would suggest you make the script portions short (much shorter than the example ones in the post) or include little stage directions for improv.  (for example... [Dramatically describe the death of your favorite character at the hands of the DM] instead of the long, although funny, description.)  Or you could just have the blocks shorter and have the book get passed around more often.  People wouldn't mind if they had to read a line or two and then just pass it along, I think.

I agree wholeheartedly.  Thanks for making that point.  I had wondered about the length of the passages and "how much is too much," so I'm glad you gave me some input there.  I'll definitely look into cutting out the unnecessary stuff and making it more "fill in the blank" than it is already.  After all, the entire purpose is interaction and improvization; that's what makes it a roleplaying game.

As per the reinventing the wheel comments... yes, I do know of Murder Mystery games but, while I'm definitely drawing on them, I'm trying to do something very different.  Kind of a hodge-podge of those games, roleplaying, and avante guard theater.  It's all about this story that I'm trying to tell: what would happen to the PCs if the GM was murdered suddenly?  It's amusing in an absurdist was as well as being a truly frightening and mind-blowing event for the characters.  You can't really recreate that within the fabric of a standard Murder Mystery game.  Hope that makes things a bit clearer about what I'm trying to do.


Well yes clearly what your doing is more sophisticaed, and also just as clearly alot of fun.  What I Was trying to say was that the Murder Mystery is the scripts they use could be useful as examples.

I am very interested in seeing where this is going.



Jonathan Walton

Hmm... you're right.  I apologize for sweeping your comment aside, but I guess I didn't really get what you were specifically saying.  I /should/ go pick up a Murder Mystery game just to see how their scripts work.  Then I can get ideas about length, tone, how it moves around, and be better able to parody them as well.

I stand corrected.