Well THAT was fun! This was the first thought I had after running my very first Dungeon World game last night. The players seemed to really enjoy themselves, and in fact said as much after the game. We were smiling and laughing a lot.
I started the game by placing out a small square map upon which I had drawn mountains in the South-Eastern corner. I explained that they were all from the same small town, and that this town (as well as others nearby) had decided to take back the mines (in the mountains) from Goblin raiders. A number of groups had been put together with the intent of striking various Goblin camps simultaneously, and theirs was one such group.
At this point, I said that some towns were closer to the mountains than others, and asked them, “what about your town?”. “Close”, they responded.
“And what is the name of your town?”, I asked.
The group looked at the Bard, who answered, “Elwin”.
At this point I drew a small square for the town and named it Elwin on the map. I then told them that this town had something very unique about its location. Again I threw out some options, “it sits on the edge of a cliff, or perhaps has a river running through it”… to this the Thief responded, “it’s on the edge of a lake”. I then drew a lake and asked if it was fed by a river from the mountain, or somewhere else, to which the Ranger quickly responded, “from the mountains”.
These players were very new to roleplaying games, having only played a few games of Call of Cthulhu, so I thought presenting some options was a good way to start as opposed to leaving it wide open. I think they would have handled it okay in the end, but I didn’t want to overwhelm them initially.
At this point I explained that they had left town heading for a mine they were sent to clear. I described their approach to the entrance, that there were some shacks outside, long ago destroyed/pillaged by Goblins. There were rock outcroppings all around them, and in fact from them suddenly emerged (one from each side) a Goblin riding a Worg. The riders had let loose arrows on their prey, at which point I asked, “What do you do?”.
There were a number of really fun moments during the game, but here’s a couple that stood out…
– The Bard using Bardic Lore to learn about the Worgs. They had come across some of them caged, and they were growling/howling, drawing attention to the PC’s. The ability allows the Bard to ask the GM any question about a creature/item/location, to which the GM must answer truthfully. The Bard said, “I heard a tale in a tavern once of something that can sooth these wild beasts – what was it?”. I answered that simply feeding them would work, so long as their master was not present. They all pulled out rations and began feeding the 5 caged Worgs, who ate quietly while they decided what to do.
– The Thief using her Trap Expert skill to check an area where the Rangers wolf had stopped (who was scouting ahead). She rolled an 8 (partial success) – she discovered a trip-wire, but I gave her two options regarding its disarming. It was a quiet moment where no one moved as she pondered the options… one was cutting the trip-wire and slowly releasing the pressure from the two ends, or 2, sticking her dagger into the area the trip-wire went into the wall, and moving over a small mechanism inside. I told her one would set off the trap, the other would disarm it – but she wasn’t sure which it was. I chose in my head which it would be, and she chose correctly… whew.
– The Ranger used a called shot to shoot the torch out of a Goblin’s hand, which worked out really well for their situation. The Ranger also had a number of great combat moments, a combination of fun narrative and great rolls.
In the end, they ended up facing off against the leader of this group of Goblins and a number of his minions. The PC’s had moved through a series of caves (fighting or stealthing along the way), but eventually ended up on the top of the bluffs without a great escape route, being followed by a number of Goblins and their leader. Fortunately, they were able to get setup just as the leader came up but he was quickly on them and the fight with him was really intense. Eventually one of his archers emerged and began shooting from higher ground. The Bard saved the life of the Thief a few times (something he regularly reminded her of), but she (Thief) came within 2 HP of dying.
Reacting is More Involved
I pride myself on my improv skills, but this game does indeed push those skills. I’m very good at reacting quickly to players, and coming up with things off the cuff, but with Dungeon World there are (more often than not) mechanical decisions needing to be made as part of those responses. In D&D, the Fighter lunges at a Goblin with his spear and hits or misses. I will quickly describe the action, but do not need to account for anything mechanically until it is my turn to react. In Dungeon World however, describing the action not only needs to take into account how successful the Fighter was (10+ is success, 7-9 is success but at a cost), but additionally how that action leads to future danger for the Fighter. In some cases, you even need to present multiple options to the Fighter based on the success of the roll. Now don’t get me wrong, it is amazing fun the way this works, but it certainly is something (like many things) I will need some practice adjusting to. In some cases I surprised myself by coming up with really interesting options and responses, but other times I found myself disregarding the “cost” of a 7-9 result. I’ll do better next time!
Earlier in the day I had prepared as best I could, but of course mistakes were still made.
Beyond the challenge for me of reacting with a purpose and presenting good options for partial successes, things went very smoothly, but of course mistakes were still made. A few of them, for example…
– I mentioned it up front, but none of the players remembered to mark their XP when they rolled failures, I had even forgot by then.
– I allowed the Thief to throw daggers at two targets who were standing near each other at one point, which I think was fine, but the Thief continued from that point to attack two different mobs each time. I felt I needed to stop that, explaining that if there is a really epic moment where such an action can be described, it’s fine, but not otherwise.
– The Ranger didn’t realize (until the game was over) that his wolf could attack the Goblins.
Again, there were many minor mistakes made of which I am trying not to beat myself up about, but they were all items that will be resolved by simply reading over the rules again, especially now that we have played the game – many of those rules that seemed odd at the time will now make sense and these are things that just go along with playing a new game.
So Far, So Amazing
One of the things Dungeon World mentions frequently is that this is a game about adventure, and the action of said adventure. The idea is that your players will always be facing a challenge, and their lives of adventure are never boring – and things certainly played out this way. At one point, the Thief even said, “Geez, we never seem to get a break!”. The pace was always quick and always exciting. We played for 3 hours, and it never felt boring or slow.
There were a few moments where the action stopped for a bit (I did want to give them the opportunity to catch their breaths), and they used those to learn some helpful things about their environment. For example, during one small break in the action, the bard “Spouted Knowledge” and learned about paintings on the wall, and how they were indicators re: approaching rooms (“Dogs”, “Lookout” etc).
Overall we had a really good time. This was meant as a trial run, but the players indicated immediately that they wanted to play again, with the same characters. They were looking forward to getting back to town and accomplishing some things there. They were especially interested in the idea of helping flesh out the world setting itself through their actions, which was very cool to hear.