Tales from the Gazebo – Progressive Games: GM Planning, Part 5 (Third Time is a Charm!)

Progressive Games: GM Planning, Part 5 (Third Time is a Charm!)
By Cape Rust

Being the third GM in a Progressive game is similar to being a third child. For those of you who don’t have children, have never been a third child or are just confused, here is what I’m talking about. Parents are always worried about the first child. Every time that child does something, anything, parents worry about it or treat it like it is the invention of sliced bread. When the second child comes along, parents tend to settle down a bit and the second child becomes the youngest. That second child benefits from the first child’s past experiences and is able to do things the 1st child wasn’t allowed to do because the parents have achieved cranial-rectal separation and realize that falling down won’t always cause brain damage. Then we come to the third child. By the time the third child has come around, some parents let them juggle knifes! The order of GMs in the Prog game can work in the same way.

I discussed being the second GM and mentioned how tough that position can be depending on how you handle things. One thing that I didn’t mention about the stress of being the second GM was the stress of the transition; if this is the first Prog game your group has ever run then everyone in the group will be feeling some anxiety over the changing of the guard. By the time it rolls around to the third GM, that is yet another hurdle the group has already jumped over and even the GM changeover produces less stress on the entire group. All of this perceived “freedom” doesn’t absolve the third GM from their duties, it simply makes them easier.

Even with the liberation of being the third GM, there is still some baggage you’ll have to deal with. The game the third GM is inheriting should be well-established and there is a good chance that the characters should be around mid-level if not higher. The culture of the Prog game should already be established and believe it or not by this time there might even be a bit of canon established within the game and the characters.

The first thing you have to figure out is what established canon you want to keep and what you want to disappear. If you decide to use the GM eraser, you have to figure out how to do it in a way that will not upset the game or the players involved in it. Because two other GMs have already had their hands on this game, there might be a few aspects that you didn’t like as a player and might hate even worse as a GM. This can be done the hard or soft way; the middle ground between those two normally leads to failure. The hard way tends to be the simple way as well. As the third GM, you can literally sit the entire gaming group down and let them know what changes you are making. Notice I didn’t say discuss, I said tell. Yes, this is railroading, but it goes back to the GM enjoying the game so that it turns out to be a better game. This situation could cause some turmoil in the group. If as the third GM you take this route, you tell the group about your canon changes, but explain why you are making those changes and things should settle down quickly.

If you go the soft way, the changes could take a bit longer to implement, but if you are subtle in doing it, you should see less dissent from your players. Changing newly established canon is much easier if you have decided to change the location of the game, and the farther away from the previous location/locations the easier it is. If you decide to move the game to a new plane, you can change all sorts of rules and preconceived notions, like how gravity and magic work. When you bring in those drastic changes and throw in a few canon changes, players tend to feel the pain of change much less.

No matter how you introduce the changes, remember that most players would rather not lose their powerful gear or levels even if you feel like some of those items may be overpowered. If you run into a situation where you feel like there are some overpowered items involved, you can be a D-bag and just take them away or you can discuss your problems with the items or powers with the players and try to reach a middle ground.

If the game has progressed to a point where you just don’t feel like you can run it effectively, figure out a way to adjust things so that you can run it. Transition the game from a progressive game to a legacy game if you feel that is the course of action you need to take, but no matter what you do, at least let your players know what you are doing and why you are doing it. They may not like it, but at least they will know why you are doing it. If the entire group wants to keep things just the way they are, and you don’t feel you can run a quality game, then you just might step aside and let someone else run the game. It isn’t a big deal, after all this is a hobby.

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