A vibrant discussion of GMless/GMfull games got going over on Slack, so I’m transposing it here. I’ll more or less copy-paste some of my contributions and let other folks add their thoughts under their own names.
I think the question of how traditionally-GM responsibilities are handled is an important one, but I feel like labeling games as GMless [game mechanics handle GM responsibilities] vs GMfull [GM responsibilities distributed among players] dichotomizes what is really a spectrum.To me, what GMless connotes is the lack of “GM” as a distinct role in the game. A GMless game to me is a game in which no one player is set apart from the others as a GM – which is true for both “GMless” and “GMfull” games in the framework suggested by Yoshi and Mathias. And it’s the desire to get away from the GM-player asymmetry that motivates me to write GMless games.
I think this also gets at the issue (which came up somewhere else the other day) of whether we can distinguish games that are role-playing games in the strict sense from storytelling games. The need for a GM (whether as an individual player or as a distributed set of roles) comes up when you need the rest of the players to be fully inhabiting their character’s role, making decisions solely for that character. But talking about a GM or lack thereof wouldn’t make any sense for something like The Quiet Year, The Companion’s Tale, or Microscope.
I also think that while GMfull was coined as a way of sounding more positive, it can have the ironic effect of discouraging players who are new or lack confidence. For a lot of people, GMing feels like a huge responsibility and burden, and they feel they could never do it. So pitching a game to them as “GMfull” is a good way to get them to nope out from ever trying it. It’s something I’ve had to contend with when running Laser Kittens. But once they’re in, they often pick right up on it. I’ve also had great success running Fiasco with RPG newbies. I think there are a lot more people who mistakenly think they can’t GM than people who mistakenly think they can.