Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hey Now! Why no Co-host?

I've been watching a lot of the Larry Sanders show on Netflix Instant Watch lately and it occurred to me that it might be nice to have a co-host when I'm GM'ing games. I often try to relate both GM and general role-playing skills to real-life skills. That's not to say that story-telling isn't a worthwhile endeavor, but nobody really makes their living being a GM. So I'm stuck spending my days trying to figure out how I can take skills I already have and apply them to my hobby. Everyone says improv improves role-playing skills, but I've found that interview skills are also quite useful in the world of role-playing.

Anyway, I digress. Obviously I've never hosted a talk show (late-night or otherwise) in my life, but I like them a lot. From the Daily Show to Conan to Colbert (ok, I have a very narrow taste in late-night talk shows), they're entertaining in a remarkable every-night, reliable kind of way. The Larry Sanders show is a fictionalized depiction of the rigors of daily entertainment combined with the dry comedy of Seinfield. It's as good as you might have heard.

Anyway, my favorite character every episode is Jeffrey Tambor's Hank. Hank is the co-host to the host Larry Sanders. Of course Jeffrey Tambor is a genius. His Hank character is the Ed McMahon we all think of putting his face on any piece of crap they try to sell on TV. He's sleazy in a lovable way. More importantly, Hank is a fantastic co-host. He's always there in the background, and they talk a lot about how Hank's main job is to keep his eyes on Larry and step in if the guest he's interviewing is just not with it or the joke Larry just told fell flat. Hank jumps right in with self-deprecating comedy gold.

Why don't we have co-hosts in role-playing? In traditional games, the GM definitely fills the role of host to his player guests. I think a lot of the time Chuck and I will subconsciously fill the co-host role when we're playing in each other's games. We both know the work the other person put into the planning, we know that sometimes GM'ing can be hard, and we know that the story (or is it show?) must go on even when it hits a road bump. We want the group to be successful at playing the game, so we'll jump in, be a little more pro-active in our decision making and moves towards the direction the GM was hoping we'd go.

How come games don't have specific rules for this kind of player/GM hybrid? Far too often we get stuck in our traditional roles of GM and player. The line is stark and you sit firmly on one side or the other. Why? When you look at games like Fiasco or Remember Tomorrow - GMless Games - the line completely disappears and everyone's responsible for everything.

But maybe we don't have to go so far to take some pressure off the GM to be the group's entertainer. Why not designate a third role into your game group - Game Master, Player, and Co-host? Make it work mechanically as well as just in theory and things start to get real interesting. Of course I could be missing it, maybe there are games out there that do this already? I'd love to hear about them!


  1. That's pretty much how me and my DM operate.

  2. WEGS actually advocates using a paired system, if the amount of players permits.

    Essentially, WEGS splits the traditional GM role into two roles: that of the Kreator and the Minion Master.

    A Kreator writes the adventure, narrates the action, and acts as a semi-neutral rules arbiter. Kreators remind players of spoints-usage, offers tactical advice, and keeps everyone honest. Kreators also take up the reins on special NPCs and in arbiting special session-specific rules.

    A Minion Master runs the monsters in an encounter. He rolls all the dice for the monsters, trash-talks up a storm, and plans encounter difficulty with the Kreator. He also triggers environmental hazards and the like, and has ultimate say over Chapter Spoints usage.

    It's a neat little symbiosis, but even as a certifiable WEGSHog, I've only managed to pull it off a few times. But, when the Enigmatic Mr. Ebbs and I run "Return to Castle VonYumenstein: Part VI--The Revengening (a prequel!)", it's a thing of glory!

  3. I'm trying something like this with my Leverage game. The guy playing the Mastermind and I discuss the heist plots ahead of time. I like it - he gets some time to plan ahead and look brilliant and I get some time to think about neat complications to his brilliant plan.

  4. This is some awesome feedback - I'm happy to see that people do this already.

    Platinum: I see "WEGS" and I think "West End Games" Star Wars d6 game. I'm guessing I've got the wrong acronym here though. I'd love to read about these rules you've described though if you could correct my error.

    RLW: That's an awesome idea - especially given the genre. I love that it works only to add immersion and simulation to your mastermind player to help him look the part that much more and it helps you tailor the adventure more tightly to your players' interests. Excellent!

  5. Allow me then, Paul, to give you the 60 second 'company line'...

    WEGS is the Wickedly Errant Gaming System, designed, written and published by L. Willy Wickman in the Fall of 2007. The revised version--WEGS Old Skool Redux--debut at last year's Origins Game Fair. WEGS is a fast, furious throwback to 'old Skool' adventure gaming, but with a Vegas twist. In WEGS, mighty Arks surge forth in search of an adventure in a land ruled by "odds and gods", slaying horrific beasties, and accumulating all of the Copper they can carry!

    As I've told many a gamer at the various cons I've run WEGS at, it's like 1st edition D&D smashed together with poker and blackjack, and played on a craps table. It's truly its own animal!

  6. Oh, and link: www.gamewick.com

  7. This is a pretty goof idea. I think the co-host idea would work really well for newbie GMs. I did this with my wife when she ran her first game (Dragon Age), but it wasn't really thought with the co-host idea in mind.

    She ran the adventure from the book, and controlled the monsters, etc. When a rule came up that she didn't know how to handle, I stepped in.

    I like that WEGS idea of one GM being a coach and the other being the enemy. That is pretty neat too.


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