It’s been five weeks since our first Dungeon World game, but this weekend we got together for game two and, once again, we had a lot of fun! For this post, I want to share some examples of the players taking an active role in world building to give you an idea not only of how this works, but how WELL it works, and just how fun it can be. I want to share this because I know some people personally who are not sure how these kinds of things can play out. They are more accustomed to a DM dictating his/her world to them then they are of playing a major role in developing it on the fly.
Embracing the Intentional Lack of Planning
Game one was decidedly combat focused. There certainly was a reason for the combat, but the game was very much focused on getting accustomed to how combat worked in Dungeon World. I think that is a natural starting point for many when it comes to these RPG’s – I know it is for me and others I know. But if game one was to prominently feature combat, then game two needed to cover activities that occur outside of combat… this was where I got nervous.
Don’t get me wrong, I embrace a lack of planning when it comes to my D&D games, but it’s not often void of any planning at all. The least prepared of my D&D games usually find me spending an hour or two thinking of what could be coming just before we get started – I’m usually a little prepared in this way. However, in the case of Dungeon World, the idea is to ask questions of the players, and then play to find out more. Before the game, I found myself (multiple times) wanting to grab a notepad and take some notes – I had that sinking feeling that this game could be really boring – was I really going to do NOTHING before we started?
The solution I went to, in order to keep from planning anything, ended up being a heavy dose of gaming (Civilization V, followed by Cube World for those interested). I kept my mind occupied, and before long, the players arrived.
Ask Questions, Play Off the Answers
We left off last time with the Goblins having been defeated by the players at the Mines. It was obvious the players would be returning to Elwin to pass on the details of their completed mission, so I began by explaining that they had made their way back to town already. The Mayor had gathered at the Town Hall all of those who had returned from their raids. I explained that the Mayor was asking that a request be sent to the Capital for aid… This is what I ended up leading with in order to get things rolling, and it was all I had.
The Basic Geography
I started things off with Geography. We needed to know a bit more about the surroundings, and about the Capital itself, so I asked…
What is the name of the Capital?
“Windia City” was the answer. At this point I did a little prompting, or presenting of some options and ideas – something I had decided I would do from time to time to prevent the players from running into roadblocks. I mentioned that this city was likely part of a larger kingdom…
What is the name of this Kingdom?
“The Kingdom of Windia”, one of them responded. Easy enough, and it made sense. Looking at the map which had mountains in the South and their town Elwin near them, I asked what was to the West… perhaps an ocean, or something else, to which it was decided there was an ocean, and then that the Capital was a port city. At this point, it would make sense that the river Elwin sat on would likely run to the ocean, and one of the players stated that Windia City did indeed sit at the mouth of that river, where it met the ocean… as I drew the river out to Windia City it was apparent that they could likely take a boat to the city.
I mentioned there was a town between Elwin and Windia City that was also on the river, for which one of the players claimed it was called “Sybak”.
Things were coming together on the map, and we were getting a better feel for the surrounding area… check!
The River Goblins
There was some roleplaying at this point, the players negotiating a ride to Windia City. None of these river boats were very large, or comfortable, but they didn’t seem to mind. The first night found the captain pulling ashore to camp for the night. He warned them not to wander far when the Ranger left to hunt. One of the players asked, “What’s out there?” to which I asked the player, “Indeed… what is out there that you should be worried about?”. One of them mentioned Goblins, to which one of the other players half-jokingly responded, “River Goblins”.
I went with it… “Yep,” the Captain responded, “there are River Goblins ALL OVER this area.” The next morning, there were clear signs the River Goblins had stolen goods off of the boat, and before 10 minutes had passed upon returning to the river route, they were assaulted by said creatures. One emerged from the waters at the front of the boat, set a large hook into the deck, and dove away. The boat immediately dug down in the water, the hook attached to an anchor. The goods slid down the front and into the river, along with those players who could not react quickly or appropriately enough.
The captain was overboard and the boat out of control by the time they could free the hook. As the boat drifted towards the shore, River Goblins began firing on them with arrows. After some time, they were able to dispatch the creatures, and be on their way… minus some cargo and hit points.
The Halflings (Are Not Treated Well)
By the time they reached Sybak there had been a lot of joking at the Rogue’s (Halfling) expense, and in town it didn’t get any better. At one point, the player of the Halfling offered up that Haflings were not treated well in general – that they were often looked down upon (pun sort of intended) and often times ended up filling the role of waiters and servants. I was initially hesitant to go with this, but it was the Halfling player herself who went there, so rolled with it.
At one point, one of the players asked if there was a dark side, or dangerous area of Windia City. I said that yes indeed, the Port District was such a place, and it was here that I decided to give the Halflings a bit of a foothold. I stated that there was a large population of Halflings in the Port District. The Rogue immediately latched on to this being the place she was from… in fact, she mentioned she had two friends there, “Pixie” and “Mouse” who she wanted to hook up with when they arrived. She also had been telling me she wanted to learn to make another poison, so she took this opportunity to mention she new a store owner who might help here with this named “Sparrow”.
She was helping establish the place for Halflings in this world, and it was awesome!
The Tortured Past
During the trip from Sybak to Windia City, the players met an Elf on the same boat as them (different boat than before). I asked them where Elves were from. The players looked to the Elf Bard who claimed they were from the North, in a forest called “Fernwood”. The name seemed a bit generic/human-sounding to me for an Elf forest, but I went with it and thought later that this may indeed just be the Human name for it. I may ask them later what the Elvish name for it is.
There were some NPC interactions in the Port District, but the players eventually ended up at an inn near where they would try to speak to a contestable about reinforcements. The Ranger had stated (when I asked) that it was a Constable they were seeking… that he didn’t know the guys name, but that he had a “bushy mustache”. A gang had followed the group to the inn, having seen the Rogue belonged to a rival gang (she named the gang she was in, “Marrow Dodge”), and a fight ensued. They were victorious but needed to flee into the night. The group asked the Rogue if she had a safe place for them, to which she responded no. I asked who else had been to this city before – the Fighter raised his hand while the Bard and Rangers said they had not.
At this point I asked the Fighter, “Do you have a safe place to stay in this city?”, to which he responded… “Well, I know a guy here but… he tortures people for the government, and things didn’t end well when I last saw him”. The players asked if he was tortured by this man, to which he said yes. They asked if it was safe to go there, to which he responded, “yes, it should be. Oh, he’s also crippled.”
They arrived and met with him – the man, I explained, had a severe limp and who, upon hearing from the Rogue about gang troubles, began to question her about it. Eventually they were offered a room to stay in here in his home. The Fighter was upset that the Rogue gave up so much information to this man. It was a great moment to see their own creations clashing with each other, creating a gripping story element.
The “torturer” had given the players a name to match the Constable they were looking for, and by the next morning they had found him. The Constable told them he could pass on their request for aid to those above him, but for a cost, which they paid. At this point he said he could only promise to pass on the word, but not much beyond that. They asked him to put in more of an effort – to push for them, to which he agreed… but they were going to have to do something for him soon… something he would be contacting them about in the next day or so.
They agreed, and we ended the game there.
The players seemed to feel they “got better” as the game went with regards to taking control – offering up answers, etc, and that was certainly apparent in play. I may still give some prompts or options from time to time, but they picked up the concept very quickly, and really seemed to embrace it. It was a very fun game, and I was very excited to see the world begin to take shape based on their input.