Troupe Play

Thanks to my GM, Irillo, we have a post on Troupe Play and why you should try this awesome GMing method.

Those who hang around on Discord will have probably ‘heard’ me wittering every so often of the importance of troupe play, and may have briefly wondered what it is, and why I’m so hung up on it. Berra suggestedi I write a brief manifesto about what is so great about it!

I suppose the first place to start is, “what is troupe play”?

The name, and the basic concept, comes from the game Ars Magicaii which is in some ways to a historical fantasy medieval world what Runequest is to a historical fantasy Bronze Age game. In troupe play, the assumption is that everyone will want to play, and most people will be willing to GM, and so you can swap in and out. Furthermore, as your Wizardly characters may be spending whole seasons in research, you may pick up another supporting character, or even a comic relief background character for a particular session. Whilst your Wizard and your Supporting Character (‘Companion’) are yours, the background characters (‘Grogs’) are shared characters that anyone in the troupe can pick up for a given game. You can therefore expect a shifting selection of characters in play, from a limited pool, giving some variety to the players.

“Why should we use troupe play?”

GMing is fun. I am the first one to admit that the pleasure in crafting an adventureiii is considerable, but sometimes you just hit a writer’s block, and no plot comes. In that instance, I may reach for a published adventure, but sometimes Beer With Teeth have something they want to test out, or one of them thinks I’m looking a bit burned out, and I get to play my long suffering heroiciv Issarian merchant, Irillo Goldentongue for a few sessions while I regain my mojo. The main advantage is that everyone gets to play, and that hopefully the risk of GM burnout is minimised, so the game can continue longer.

“What adjustments are necessary for troupe play?”

Very few. Each player may make several characters up so you have both a selection to fit different areas, but also to save time in the event of unfortunate accidents, but that can also happen organicallyv.

You also need to decide who the Metaplot-GM is. That person will do the ‘arc’ episodes, and major points of plot. In general, you can decide that, and major decisions can be deferred, or you can slightly adjust the arc to fit minor variations. It will all still look like you meant it to happen this way! Occasionally the Metaplot-GM may need to run little scenes in someone else’s session. Find the technique(s) that work for you and your group.

“How does your group Troupe Play?”

Well, it’s basically very similar to normal play, but we’d all have a number (between 1 and I think 4) characters each- one is usually our main ‘our wizard’, if you will, and the rest are ‘companions’. I might say, “Oh, it’s Prax, I think I’ll pick up one of the Praxians for this session. Which would you prefer? Toras the Storm Bull or Dravama the Eirithan?” Similarly, if someone is unexpectedly sidelined, they might be passed a different charactersheet. “Could you pick up Salid the Trollkin now?”, or they may just feel free to intervene with a sarcastic or libidinous comment from Tiwr the Unicorn- what Ars Magica would consider ‘Grogs’- shared troupe characters, that are sometimes NPCs.

“What other variations have your group found helpful?”

I’m a big believer in blended roleplay, where tabletop (or in our case Zoomcall) play is mixed with background scenes in text based roleplay, or even shared world fiction, where a player may write a story, mythvi or produce art which enlivens the game for everyone. An example of this shared world fiction would be an epistolatory novel like Dracula, or even more so, Steven Brust and Emma Bull’s “Freedom and Necessity” where different characters, or even different authors come together to tell an overall story by each writing portions. It’s not for everyone, but by relinquishing part of the GM monopoly, I hopefully open up this world for others to collaborate on, to make it richer, more interesting, and ideally more real. Because not every player can do this, rewards are limited, but I give a maximum of one tick in a relevant passion per season for making Glorantha better.

As I’ve heard Greg quoted as saying, “I hadn’t heard that myth before. Thank you for telling me something new. That’s how it’s always been now.”. By giving up some of the ownership of Glorantha, as GMs, we hopefully make the game last longer, and be richer and more rewarding for everyone. Give it a go. You have nothing to lose. Tell them Irillo sent you.

i Bent my arm behind my back until I agreed to


iii I’m actually a big believer in ‘Making Stuff up’ as I go along, keeping records, and then pretending I meant that to all fit neatly together like that all the time

iv “Why does this stuff always happen to ME? I just want to have a quiet life trading, but then there’s a call to adventure I can’t avoid!”

v “Honestly, it’s not very in-character for Irillo to be _there_ at this time of year. I can think something up, but shall I just roll someone else up for this plot?”

vi Or archaeological report on the player’s activities from a far distant future

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