Last week I created a logo to use with future Dungeon World documents I may make. The idea was to have something similar to the “3.5 + OGL Compatible” logo you see on the back of products like Pathfinder books… only, for Dungeon World! As I was working on it, I went over to the Dungeon World Tavern (G+ Community) and posted it there to share with others and see if anyone else would be interested in using it… turns out, they were!
In fact, Sage LaTorra and Adam Koebel (writers/creators of Dungeon World) asked if I was cool with it being used by them “officially” (which of course I agreed to), so it is now posted to their site! You can head over to the official site and check it out here!
Additionally, I have the files below…
Click here to download the zip file which contains AI and transparent PNG files of both color and black/white versions. Additionally (for both color and black/white) there is a version for use over lighter backgrounds, and one for use over darker backgrounds.
I love improv when it comes to running table-top RPG’s. One of the things I enjoy most about being a player in a game is not knowing what’s around the next corner, or over the next hill. The more I improv my games, the more I get to experience that similar sense of wonder and discovery on the DM side of the screen!
Before I go any further, let me say that when I refer to improv in this article, I am speaking to the idea of running games with little to no preparation ahead of time. Instead, I’m playing off of what comes to my mind when reacting to the players actions. Whether it’s something they say, something they do or especially in this case, the answers to my questions (more on that to come). In my Dungeon World games, I have nothing but a blank sheet of paper for notes, and a pencil (nope, not even dice!) in front of me.
Practice, I feel, plays the largest role in how well you respond to the challenge of running a game with no preparation. Having run games since I was 13 (23 years now) I’ve run a good number of games, and that experience has helped prepared me to face the questions from my players that I will need to respond to without having an answer already waiting to be given.
After the last Dungeon World game I ran, I had a player ask me, “So, you had a few things in mind before we started right?”, to which I responded, “Nope, not a thing!”. When I explain this to those who ask me about running games without preparation, the response is usually something like…
“Man, that sounds hard. I couldn’t do that… I NEED to have something planned”.
My response to this, specifically regarding Dungeon World, has been…
“I pride myself on my improv skills, and yea, this game certainly pushes them…”.
The things is, I have been thinking about this more the last few days and I’ve come to realize that this answer is only partially true. I do find that Dungeon World COMBAT and some social situations certainly require a constant flow of creative and (importantly) immediate reactions if you want to really adhere to the principles of the game. These have certainly pushed the limits of my imrpov skills at times. However, when it comes to the question of running a compelling game in general, with zero preparation, Dungeon World is not only BUILT for that, but it can help you become BETTER at doing it!
Improv Can Be Scary
As I stated earlier, practice plays a large role in getting better at improv for your games. The problem for many is that this practice requires to you do the thing you feel you are no good at, and that can be scary. With a speech you can practice in a mirror alone, or read it to someone before actually giving it to a larger audience. When we tell someone, “gaming improv just takes practice”, it can be like telling someone who is afraid of heights that they just need to skydive over and over again (“just don’t plan for your next game!”). It may indeed be that the skydiving eventually rids them of their fear, but most aren’t even going to go up there to try it.
What we need is something in between, and I think Dungeon World can help with that.
Leveling Up Improv
So how can you practice your gaming improv without “diving from an airplane”? There are of course improv classes that could be taken, and other things that one could do, but for most people those are more than they are willing to put in for the sole purpose of better meeting the improv challenges gaming presents to them.
The reality is, even when you are fully prepared for a game you’re not, really. Players tend to throw wrenches into even the best of plans and can often take turns in the road that find you suddenly having to improv reactions, dialog or even entire games!
It would seem daunting (for those nervous about avoiding game prep) to run a game that tells them right up front not to…
The one thing you absolutely can’t bring to the table is a planned storyline or plot. You don’t know the heroes or the world before you sit down to play so planning anything concrete is just going to frustrate you. It also conflicts with your agenda: play to find out what happens.
…The thing is, this agenda of “play to find out what happens” is exactly where we find the middle ground between going all in with zero prep, and not doing it at all when you take into account the Dungeon World principle of “Ask questions and use the answers”.
Sharing the Improv Load
In games like D&D, when the player asks the DM something about their world, the DM is the authority. That answer will come from him/her alone or not at all. So, when you (the DM) are asked for background on a group of Elves known to be in the North and you were unprepared to answer, you must improv the answer… like, now.
In Dungeon World however, the players play a much larger role in the crafting of the world around them. Using that same example, as the DM you may turn to the Elf in the group and ask him a question. It could be simple… “Have you met the Elves to the North before?” (keep in mind, the campaign may have just begun!) or it could be a more leading question (the best kind)… “You were there once, and were even offered a place among them. Why did you turn it down?”.
In this way, Dungeon World allows you to put the focus back on the player not only empowering them to further craft their world (which is awesome, but kind of a side point here), but it allows you to interact with varying degrees of improvisation each time. If you are absolutely stumped, even very simple questions you ask a player could turn into something amazing that you can then play off of.
Elf:“Yea, I have been up there. They did offer me a place among them but I wanted to travel. They were pretty helpful in fact… maybe we could go there and I can ask them to look at this gem we can’t seem to figure out?”.
Your one question has turned into a journey, with a goal on the other end and NPC’s essentially waiting for you there that you can think about as the game moves towards them. This addresses one of the most common things I hear from DM’s I know when they say, “I’m just not creative enough to do that”. What is happening here is that the improv load is being shared. Instead of having to carry 100% of it (and right now!), you share the load with the players. It’s more of a back and forth flow, more cooperative. This can allow DM’s that are otherwise intimidated by improv to get small tastes of it one moment as needed, or larger bites when they are ready for it the next.
See This Headline? You’re almost Done!
Dungeon World is at it’s best when you set aside rigid planning and let things play as they do. It seems intimidating to those timid about improv, but with the ability (in fact, principle) of “Ask questions and use the answers” you have a really powerful means of taking a measured approach to improv that you don’t generally have, or consider with other games. Share the burden of improv with your players in Dungeon World an I bet you not only enjoy it, but will find your successes boosting your confidence, emboldening your desire to take imrpov to the next level.
Please note, I have run Dungeon World 5 different times now for a variety of different people. I’m no expert, I still have a lot to learn in order to run it perfectly, and this article simply speaks to the experiences I am currently having, and the insight I have gained thus far. Having said that, I do participate in the community regularly and have read the rules 3 times through at this point, so take that for what it’s worth as well.
As is likely obvious from the posts around here recently, I have been playing Dungeon World (and loving it). One of the great aspects about the game is the way world-building is handled, specifically by way of using player answers to your questions as a primary means of development. I may ask a player who the ruler is of these lands, noting their answer as the latest addition to the world, for example. This cooperative approach really gives the players ownership of the world and allows everyone build it together. However, it can also be a source of apprehension for players not accustomed to this very improvisational approach, especially when they are in the spotlight.
Microscope RPG (or simply, “Microscope”) is a game that I only (very) recently discovered, having seen Paul (@pdunwin) mention it on Twitter just yesterday. His tweets seemed to indicate he was playing a game that covered a very epic scale, and some really crazy (fun) elements. For example, one of his tweets…
Tonight’s #MicroscopeRPG game saw magic sucked from the world by the dwarves, to be replaced by monstrous technologies, leading to luddism.
Essentially you begin with a blank timeline that has a beginning and end. A theme is decided upon (for example, Sci-Fi) and play begins by going around the table deciding what to “add” to the game and what to “ban”. One player may want to be sure “Robots” are part of this, and as such choose to “Add” them. Another play may ban magic, and so on. After everyone has had enough chances to add/ban elements such that everyone feels ready to start, you continue. From their site…
Play is simple. On your turn you get to create a piece of history. You can make one of three things: either a Period (a large swath of time in the history), an Event (a specific thing that happens inside a Period, like a city being sacked or a soldier coming home from the wars), or a Scene (role-playing to find out what happens in a particular moment in an Event). It’s a three-level outline: Periods contain Events which contain Scenes. You put down a card for each thing you make to keep track of the timeline.
When scenes are created, the creator of said scene poses a question. An example question they have reads: “can the seventh rune of power destroy the very gods?“. The players then all role-play together, playing various characters important to the scene until the players feel the question has been sufficiently answered.
When does the game end? Well, as they say, it doesn’t! You can keep coming back to a particular game and continue to play out more and more details.
There is more to the game than this, but I’m trying to brief (and I have yet to play it myself) but as I investigated the game I ran across an “actual play” video of a Microscope RPG game run by (“instructed by” really, as there are no GM’s needed) Tre Grisby (@Matrix_RPG). This morning I listened to it at the office and thought, this could be really cool as a world-building setup for Dungeon World!
But Dungeon World doesn’t require a world history
It’s true that in Dungeon World the players are a key component to developing the world in which they play, as I mentioned above. However, this is a very alien concept to some players. Many players I know have played games like D&D for many years, including myself. We are very much used to asking the GM, “what is the King like?” and having him/her dictate those details to us. But when, in the case of Dungeon World, the GM turns the question around asking the player, “I don’t know what the King is like… you tell me!“, many players freeze up.
To be sure, I have some amazing players who take to this quickly. They latch on to it and really enjoy developing the world when prompted with these questions, but even they can have moments of world development block – moments when they just aren’t sure, or need a minute to think about it.
Dungeon World does not need to have a rough world history developed ahead of time – BUT – involving the players in such steps could help give them a theme, idea or guideline to refer to when faced with such questions during the (Dungeon World) game. They are now answering from a foundation they played a hand in establishing, which is empowering and can, I think, inspire them with ideas more quickly and confidently.
Microscope RPG and Dungeon World in action!
As I showed in the image up top, it turns out Adam Koebel (co-creator of Dungeon World) has in fact played this out starting with Microscope and then following that setup into Dungeon World. In fact, in response to a post I made on Dungeon World Tavern (DW G+ Community) he provided this bit I want to leave you with, to demonstrate the possibilities, taken a step further…
We did it once without any kind of modification to either game. Play Microscope with a set of pre-defined “have to include” elements – elves, dwarves, arcane and divine magic, etc and then just play it out. Pick a card at the end and say “let’s do an adventure, here!” you can come back for later adventures and play the descendants of your characters, or the same character, for long-lived races!
Whether or not I end up using Microscope to develop a world history with my players for Dungeon World, I really do like the idea of working up a world history with them, whatever game we play.
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.
I really enjoy the idea of moves that create adventuring opportunities for player(s). An example of course being “Carouse”, where the players can roll and select things like “hear rumors of an opportunity” etc. Additionally, I like the idea of terrain/location based moves. With that in mind, I put the following move together (Roots of Empathy) for #DruidWeek, though this is more than just a move as I have included some examples and story ideas…
Sacred groves are special areas found in natural environments. These areas are usually very important to the creatures found naturally there for one or more reasons. It could be a safe haven, a strong focus of magic or perhaps just an ancient area honored as a special location for a long forgotten reason. Of course, in the world of your players, these areas could be many other things as well.
Druids are especially attuned to these areas. Spending prolonged periods of time in them can offer insights about the world around them, allow communication between groves or in some cases even bestow special temporary benefits. Roots of Empathy illustrates one example of how a Druid can commune with nature in these mystical locations.
“Roots of Empathy” (Move)
When you take the form of a plant in a sacred grove, select one of the options below for each night in a row you were there (up to 3). At the end of the 3rd day (or anytime before that of your choosing) you immediately return to your natural form.
You learn what the worst thing happening to nature near you is (examples below)
You learn exactly where the worst thing happening to nature near you is occurring (examples below)
You may ask the GM one nature-related question about the nearby area; the GM must answer truthfully
You are not tasked with watching over and caring for the grove the following night
You avoid paying natures price
Examples and Further Inspiration
These are just some examples to get you thinking of the possibilities when it comes to how to present possible dangers and their locations…
EX: “What the worst thing happening to nature” could be…
“A fire is burning trees in this forest”
“Trees are being chopped down in this forest”
“A hazardous material is being poured into this desert”
Let the Druid decide
EX: “Where the worst thing happening to nature” could be…
“3 miles North of here, nature is facing its greatest danger”
“At the foot of Mt. Grimb lies the greatest threat to nature”
“Where the Winfell River falls over the Cliffs of Ja’Kurr, a threat to nature is awakening”
Let the Druid decide
More Move Ideas/Inspiration
These are just some quick ideas to provide inspiration for more moves. The benefits in some/all cases may not be balanced, but again, this is more for inspiration.
“Stepping Stone” – Take the form of a rock: +1 Armor ongoing
“Blade on the Wind” – Take the form of a reed: You communicate with another Druid – tell the GM the name of this Druid
“Natures Revenge” – Take the form of a badger: 10+(Hold 3), 7-9 (Hold 2), 6-(Hold 1), spend hold to add Damage to unarmed attacks that day
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.
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 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
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!
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.
Tens days have passed since I first dove into Dungeon World, a game that everyone seemed to be talking about. I quickly became excited myself – so much so in fact that I’ve already created a game accessory for it (check out my Dungeon World Debility Cards here).
I knew immediately on day 1 that I liked what I was seeing and, over the next few days I became… well, “enthralled” is the word I have used I suppose. As “the DM” for my circle of rpg-playing friends, running a game of Dungeon World was one of the first of my considerations. Can I run this? Does it seem like it would be fun to run? Do I think my players would enjoy this?
The concept of the game is very different than what I am used to as a ‘meat and potatoes’, or ‘mostly-dnd-for-the-last-twenty-four-years’, kinda guy. I’m not ashamed to admit it took me a few days to wrap my head around it, but once I was able to set aside all those years of gaming that were keeping me from “getting it”, well, I got it!
Now it was time to setup a game.
As you may have guessed, it turns out (from everything I am reading) that newcomers to roleplaying games tend to catch on pretty easily to Dungeon World. That’s not to say that experienced roleplayers can’t, because they can, but I understood from my own experience how a long history of gaming experience can get in the way of learning something new (or at least catching on to it quickly).
As it turns out, I happen to know 5 people who are very new to roleplaying games (including my wife) and I figured they would make a fantastic group for my first try at Dungeon World GM’ing. It was quickly determined that this setup was agreeable, and the first game day was set – which happens to be the same day I am writing this!
Reading The Rules
My earlier research into Dungeon World was the beginning of my preparation. After all, this included a reading of the rules, as well as a reading of the guide (get the free PDF here if you are interested – it really helped me understand the concept). In case you weren’t aware, the developers created the game using the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. What that means is that it’s freely available online (granted, it has no artwork, etc). I’ve ordered a physical copy of the book which should be here in a week!
After reading the rules and the guide over a week ago, I have since gone back and re-read the rules again, from the beginning. I’ve also been spending a lot of time reading through posts on the Google Plus group “Dungeon World Tavern” (an amazing community by the way).
At this point I have the rules down well enough to run my initial game. Time to move on to other things…
The next bit of preparation needed was to print out the materials that were to be used. This would include character sheets and the basic moves for reference at the table. Once again, these are also freely available from the Dungeon World website.
One of the great things about the characters sheets (and the simplicity of Dungeon World) is that your character sheets have essentially everything you need on them. What I mean by that is that they have the rules for your Class’s various aspects right there on the sheet(s). When you level up, your available moves are there, and spells as well, along with their descriptions. Simply check-off the box indicating you now have it learned/equipped!
To double-check we have everything we need, a quick look at the Dungeon World rule book indicates the following should be on hand for your first game…
A few copies of the basic moves
One copy of each class sheet, double-sided
One copy each of the cleric and wizard spell sheets, double-sided
The GM sheet
Also suggested is a reading of the entire rulebook, so at this point, having read through the rules twice, plus the guide and finally having printed all the materials, we should be just about ready to go!
For the first game of Dungeon World, it’s recommended that you keep things very open and malleable. With DW, you will be asking a lot of questions of your players, such that their answers will fill in the empty spaces of the world. For example, the Rogue might ask what the King is like, and a perfectly reasonable response from the GM would be, “I don’t know, what IS he like?”.
After the first game, there are suggestions about how to approach campaign/plot building through the use of “Fronts”, “Dangers”, “Grim Portents” and more. I will be saving those bits for the article covering how this first game went.
In Dungeon World, there are a number of ways for players to become “debilitated”, for which one or more of their attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma) can take a penalty to its modifier of -1 (the actual “Score” remains unaffected).
The file (linked just above) comes in a 2 page format of 18 cards. There are 3 cards for each attribute that can have a debility. The cards indicate the attribute using its associated 3 letter abbreviation (STR, DEX, CON, INT, WIS and CHA).
A HUGE thanks to the work of Sage LaTorra and Adam Koebel on “Dungeon World“, which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Also, a big thanks “Game-Icons.net” for the icons provided under the terms of the Creative Commons 3.0 BY license.