As may be evident from the last number of posts here on theweem.com, I’ve been playing Dungeon World. I’ve been reading everything I can about it, and playing/running it when I get the chance. For some 24+ years now, I have been what I call a “D&D guy” (and I would still say this) – it’s the game I have easily played the most of, and I don’t venture away from it very often.
When we play games that are new to us, we are often times introduced to new mechanics and concepts that we then compare to the games we are most comfortable with and enjoy the most. In some cases, we bring in elements from other games into ours. For example, a long while back I was playing Dresden and checking out the Fate system. During that time, I began incorporating elements from it into my D&D games. Things like Aspects suddenly appeared in my 4e games, and I even made Fate Point Cards.
Some of these elements are seen as great new additions that can be pulled into our games, but sometimes a new game does something that our favorite games already do… only we enjoy them more this new way.
Single File Combat
I played Pathfinder last week, a game I really enjoy, but it happened to take place after having just played Dungeon World. When it came time for our first combat, we rolled initiative and the fight began. At this point, I wasn’t thinking about Dungeon World – I was thinking about where my Cleric was going to go and what he would do on his turn.
However, at one point early on, the Rogue, a semi-new roleplayer, said, “Can I shoot him?”… and the response was, “it’s not your turn”. An Orc had just emerged from the trees, and it was still their turn to move and act. There was nothing wrong with the call for him to wait, it clearly was not his turn.
Nothing was happening differently in this fight from those hundreds and hundreds of previous fights I have been a part of after all these years (and enjoyed) – some great fights in fact. However, it WAS different – it felt different. The combat suddenly felt very stiff and rigid to me. This feeling was something I had been calling “tactical” when it felt overly slow, or a little boring previously, but at this moment that word felt (to me, in the moment) like a mask… like a blue piece of paper taped over the dent in a blue car.
Initiatives, Rounds and Having “Effective” Options
In Dungeon World there is no initiative or even rounds. The flow of the game moves between participants as the action takes place. Players are put in danger by the GM (no rolling of dice needed), and the player responds narratively, after which an appropriate action/roll is selected based on the narrative. The success or failure of that role determines the next level of danger. The Fighter’s partial success (success at a cost) may not even cost him directly at all – he may succeed (Success) at this intended action – but it may suddenly put the Rogue in danger (at a cost), who must then react to avoid the danger, even if the Rogue just had her turn. In this way, the combat feels more alive and demands immediate responses to very real danger… and you are always in danger.
In the Pathfinder game, my actions involved moving, and healing. By the end of the game, I was looking back on a few combats for which my turns consisted of moving around and touching people… not very exciting. Of course, the defensive response to this would be that I was playing the Cleric wrong, or perhaps I should have built him differently. But the reality is it would not have changed anything really. I would have been moving, and rolling a dice. I’m either removing life from an enemy, or adding life to a friend.
So how is that any different in Dungeon World, Weem?
Dungeon World, in addition to not having initiative or rounds, also incorporates a damage die based on your class. As a fighter, you use a d10, which is to say, it does not matter what weapon you use, or what action you just performed to cause damage, that is the damage dice you use. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not mentioning this like it’s a new thing, but in a game where combat flows as it does in DW, this is a really fun setup. Why? In this environment, you can do many different things while still being “effective” AND, with said untold number of options available to you, you can take advantage of situations as they occur/present themselves. Combat is not only very fluid, following the action, but it is very dynamic.
I wanted to type up a quick example of the combat, and compare it to a more tactical/grid-based situation, but I think instead I will point you to a real combat example from the Dungeon World guide. It was this example that really helped me “get” what Dungeon World was, beyond buzzwords like “narrative focus”, etc. I strongly urge you to check this out if you get a chance.
This is a direct link to the PDF Guide. Scroll down to page 50 near the very bottom and see “Example of Play”. If you do get a chance to read this, let me know here (via comment) or by Twitter @theweem what you think about it.
For a long time I have combat in some games much like a freeway. The players are fast cars, swerving around, doing as they wish when it comes to non-combat aspects. Anything is possible, and it is within this area of freedom that myself and my players have always had the most fun. However, when it came to combat, this was where the freeway narrowed down to one lane. Things slowed down and became very orderly. We looked forward to passing all of the cones and roadblocks and hitting the wide open road again.
Dungeon World seems to incorporate that wild, open and chaotic “anything’s possible” feeling into their combat as well.
The last thing I want to say is that I hope you did not read this as a dig against PF. I love D&D, as well as Pathfinder. I’m not sitting here at my desk, scoffing at how PF is now a terrible game while throwing my hands in the air, because it’s not. This is about my feelings regarding various elements/mechanics. It’s about how my enjoyment for the way DW does some things is opening up my mind to new approaches, and why I am enjoying them better than others. The use of the phrase “ruined things” is strong and exaggerated – it’s not as if I could never play a game with initiative again, for example. I never make strict X is better than Y claims because a) there are often times too many variables in play to make a solid case, and b) most of the times those cases are subjective – based on opinions. The point is that some systems I may not have thought too much about before (especially re: “fun factor”) are now standing out, prompting me to address them in more detail than I may have before. It’s a good thing though.
Iserith on Twitter said this morning, “Read your post on G+ [[ I was asking if DW elements ruined things for others ]]. If your experience is like mine, you’ll go heavy DW for a while then back to old fav’s with new perspective” – and this will indeed be true, I’m sure.
I’ve been bending/tweaking D&D for years and years now, as many of you do as well, moving it closer to our own personal preferences. In fact, when I run D&D/PF, I do not use initiative order beyond Mobs vs PC’s. On the PC’s turns, I let them go in any order they choose, setting up various synergies, etc. I’ve always found that more exciting, and turns are taken quicker speeding up combat. The thing is, there are many elements of DW that seem to take into account some efforts I have been making when bending D&D/PF, as if they knew what I was aiming for and said “hey, we do that naturally, no bending required”.
Thanks for stopping in and reading this, especially if you made it this far!
- Dungeon World Guide (Start here!)
- Dungeon World Official Site
- Dungeon World Rules (Free/Online) – “…While everyone should buy a copy to support the creators, they did generously license it under a Creative Commons Attribution license. As a result, you can read it for free (minus all the nifty art and nice layout)…” – Alan
- Dungeon World Google Plus Community (An amazing community – awesome people/discussions)
- Dungeon World Subreddit