[RPG] What GM-less RPGs exist and are the mechanics adaptable to other systems?


I'm constantly looking for new systems to either steal from or at least try out for a one-shot. What systems are currently available that feature GM-less mechanics? Further, do any of these systems provide advice for adopting their mechanics to other systems (or are just easy to adapt because of the nature of the mechanics)?

Best Answer

Universalis gives everyone pennies to "pay" to make a thing true. The points replenish by doing things the system wants to encourage, such as getting involved in conflicts, win and lose. This basic dynamic can be adapted in a variety of ways.

Fiasco has a fixed number of dice available to roll. They serve as a pacing mechanic, with the story twist happening when they're half used, and when they're all used the game session ends.

Polaris splits GM authority among all the other players when a player's character is in the spotlight. The player opposite is responsible for presenting conflicts tailored to the spotlight player, while the rest are responsible for the impartial referee role, and for throwing in suggestions when the opposition and spotlight players need ideas.

Polaris also uses ritual phrases to negotiate conflicts, with certain phrases only being able to follow other certain phrases. The thematic effect is to give the game a stately, mythic quality. The mechanical effect is that each phrase presents the other player with a constrained set of choices for how to resolve the conflict, but importantly the constraints are built upon their prior choices, giving them high relevance to the player's goals and charging their choices with character-tailored drama.

Archipelago II (which is free to download) dispenses with dice and uses ritual phrases (similarly but differently to Polaris) to trigger twists or alterations in another player's narration. These phrases have "soft" effects that require a response from the narrating player, but don't force them to narrate something particular, so that they retain full authority over the story they're telling about their character. Ritual phrases are fixed words to speak and have defined effects: things like calling for more detail about something, asking for the player to narrate an unspecified obstacle and how they overcome it, or asking them to narrate in a different direction.

Although many of these shared-authority mechanics could be adapted to use in a GMed game, it occurred to me that the easiest way to use such mechanics would be to structure plot-specific sub-systems or minigames:

Fiasco's limited-dice mechanic could be used to structure a tournament, with one opposed roll for each match determining the specific outcome of the match, and the total sum of a player's rolls determining who wins the whole tourney. That would make match and overall tourney winning slightly decoupled: the effect would be that the player whose character rolled consistently well, even if they didn't win quite as many matches as another, could have the highest total and so "win the king's favour" and be declared the tournament winner; or there could be a by-the-matches winner and a "Best of Tourney" award to two different characters.

Similarly, using ritual phrases might be a way to structure, say, a minigame where two character have to make their case before a town's judge. The interconnections of the ritual phrases would make their arguments tactically-meaningful, and could either be the entire resolution mechanic or provide a way of vying for a bonus to the next roll to convince the judge that their side is right.