The Third Blog of 2015: A Dungeon World One-Shot?

So two weekends ago, I had the opportunity to run an impromptu Dungeon World one-shot. It was very last-minute, but I was up for the task. In all honesty, I was going to run the Slave-Pit of Drazhu once more, but I realized I forgot the item cards that are unique to the adventure. Not that they’re required to run it, but I would have needed to take some time to at the very least list and improvise a bunch of items both magical and mundane to give to the players throughout the adventure. Not only that, but on the drive to the FLGS (that’s friendly, local game store) where we played, I realized one of the players is a regular in my normal Dungeon World game, and had already experienced the adventure before. I wanted the experience to be different, fun, and fresh for him, so I decided to improvise basically the same adventure from a different perspective.

So we had three players in total; of the two new players, one of them was really young and also a min-maxer / munchkiner though not much of a meta-gamer. The other player, I honestly wasn’t sure, but from initial impressions he seemed to also fall into the mix-maxer category. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Character creation was fairly quick, one of Dungeon’s World’s greatest strengths, but I grew concerned as more and more questions piled up related to min-maxing. What stat should I dump? What’s the strongest weapon I can use? Before the game began, I couldn’t help but think that both new players would hate this game before long. Not enough crunch and super-high damage numbers to keep them happy.

Still, it was time to put on a show, so I had the adventurer’s happen upon a mining town that was strangely quiet and seemingly deserted. After poking around an inn, they find a child hiding from them. Convincing the child they mean no harm, they relay that some creature adorned in purple robes with a skull for a head riding a giant spider came to the town with orcs and goblins, and captured all the townsfolk, taking them to the town mine and enslaving them. The kid did offer them a small sack of coins if they promised to rescue his parents. The party readily agreed to do so.

So off to the mine the party went. The kid gave them directions, and before long they happened upon it. Upon entering, they found themselves in combat with zombies, but the party was up to the task and defeated them rather handily. That’s not to say they emerged unscathed; a few moments later, an earthquake shakes the foundation and some party members are injured from falling rocks.

The injuries are minor however, and the party continues forward, deeper into the mine. Due to time, I had the party encounter the big bad: the evil lich Drazhu and his Giant Spider at this point, much more quickly than I would have liked, but c’est la vie. In the center of his throne room, Drazhu stands at the center with a circle of glyphs on the floor, and a bunch of dead bodies within the circle, looking drained of blood.

This fight proved a bit more challenging, but in the end, Drazhu teleported away to live and fight another day, though his pet Spider, Spider-man (I couldn’t improvise a good name for Drazhu’s giant spider pet; I was tired! Though in hindsight, I wish I had called him Spidor.) is killed, and the various sarcophagi looted. Most of the villagers were rescued from slavery and there was much rejoicing.

What happened next actually shocked me; I was prepared for this to be a one-shot. Bam! One and done! Then the two new players asked me if we could play again.

So here we have two min-maxers / munchkiners who enjoyed Dungeon World more than I thought they would. Not that I thought they hated it; I could see they were having fun throughout the game, but I also sensed a bit of frustration at times. It was cool and gratifying to see that even in a game where narrative drives the game mechanics, min-maxers can enjoy the game and even want to play it more.

In all honesty, due to time and scheduling, I’m not sure we’ll ever play again with this particular group, but never say never.

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The Second Blog of 2015: More Fun with Dungeon World

The following post was written by Chris Fong and the players for Philo and Tesla. Enjoy!

After escaping the Slave-Pit of Drazhu, you all managed to find a waterfall to bathe in. Despite the intense cold, it honestly felt like the greatest shower you’ve ever experienced. You found clean water to drink; sweeter and more satisfying than any ale you’ve drunk. You hunted for some wild animals, and roasted them over a campfire. It was the best meal of your life. Over the course of the month, you all slowly managed to reintegrate yourself into civilization, doing various odd jobs to earn money, and buy clean clothes along with the gear you normally enjoy.

And now, in your travels, a mighty tempest blows in. You all instinctively know to seek shelter. You also all know that there’s a small fishing village nearby named Codcliffe. Your destination determined, you all make your way towards the shelter of an inn until this strangely powerful storm passes…

This is me paraphrasing roughly how the night began for the second session of Dungeon World. The big damn heroes continue to be:

  • Lilly, a female, human bard. Joyous eyes, rather fit, usually wearing fine clothing and a stylish cap. Wildly in love (or lust, not sure at this point) with Tesla.
  • Philo, a male human ranger. Wild eyes and physique, wearing a cape and hood. Accompanied by his animal companion, a snake named Whiskers.
  • Sashin Hadib, a male human thief. Shifty eyes, messy hair, knobby physique, and usually wears fancy clothing. Also stands 5’0″.
  • Tesla (aka The Artist Formerly Known as Eccentrius), a male elven wizard. Haunted eyes, wild hair, and very thin, adorned in strange, purple robes.
  • To be revealed…

Staying at an inn called the Fishhead, the party stayed a few days after the storm passed, enjoying Codcliffe’s salted fish and the peace and relative quiet the village offered them. Friendships were established, and Tesla and Sashin played games with the village children while Lilly composed and performed songs dedicated to Tesla. Meanwhile, Philo just kept an eye out for everyone in general.

Then the Empire came; thanks to the storm, the HMS Relentless, an Imperial treasure galleon, washed ashore near the village, mostly intact but no longer sea-worthy…

It’s morning a few days after the once-in-a-lifetime storm. A commotion occurs outside the inn; Philo, Sashin, and Tesla go out to see what’s going on, while Lilly sits and enjoys her fish stew. Most of the townsfolk are outside, listening to the ramblings of Captain-Senator Balbus, his sorcerer bodyguard Apothiko Vitula (whom I kept calling buff sorcerer dude for some odd reason), and six Imperial soldiers. Calling on the villagers to do their duty to the Empire, Balbus explains that they need volunteers to capture their escaped prisoners: the notorious Colbert and his Marauders. Sashin tried to negotiate for rupees (we collectively decided to not have gold coins like virtually 99.9% of all fantasy RPG’s, but rupees. Yes, this is in fact a Legend of Zelda reference) to do this deed, but Balbus would have none of it. After all, peasants and commoners should be glad, privileged, honored, to serve the Empire. With no one volunteering, Balbus had his bodyguard turn some of the villagers into chickens. Philo tried to stealthily attack Apothiko, and managed to stun him with an arrow momentarily. This distraction gave Sashin enough time to try and sneak attack Balbus, lunging at him with a weapon. But alas, fate was not kind to the diminutive thief, and he found himself face first on the ground, immobilized by an Imperial soldier. For their insolence, Balbus had Apothiko turned two children into chickens, the very same children that Sashin and Tesla had played with just the day prior. Angered, but realizing the situation they were in, the party finally agreed to Balbus’s demands. The Captain-Senator in turn explained that his scouts have determined that Colbert has been captured and being held by Octopus Folk (think mystical Octopi that can thrive on land as well as under the sea, and don’t play nice with other species) at their Islet Cave Home, and that the Marauders are camping out in a nearby abandoned Dwarven mine. Both areas are south of Codcliffe, and a map is given to the party. Before they leave, the party demanded a gesture of goodwill; feeling generous, Balbus had two children chickens (I suppose they would actually be chicks) polymorphed back to their human form. As a final warning, Balbus told the party that the Relentless was guarded by the Empire’s strongest magicks, and that they were forbidden to go near it.

As an aside, the original adventure had the notorious marauder leader named Hobart, but for some reason I kept calling him Colbert (pronounced like Stephen Colbert, of the The Colbert Report fame…I’m sad that show has ended…), and it just stuck. But I digress…

So the party left the village and after some discussion, decided to make their way straight for the HMS Relentless. For Sashin, the pursuit of wealth and treasure was his first priority, and the fact that the Relentless is a treasure galleon was simply irresistible. For Tesla, he immediately distrusted the Captain-Senator and was hoping to find more detailed answers at the ship. For Lilly, she trusted Tesla implicitly and would follow him to the ends of the realm. For Philo, he felt that someone had to watch over the party, it may as well be him; well, that and the fact that he too appreciated a good rupee when he sees one.

By mid-day, they make it to the HMS Relentless; on their approach, they can see the ship washed ashore, the tide lapping itself against the ship bottom. There are holes wedged in with broken ship debris throughout the bottom parts of the ship. It’s likely that water is slowly leaking into the ship. On the deck of the ship, there is movement. The party investigates, and discover these fish-like humanoids, almost undead in their appearance as their scales had a decomposed look to them. They are in fact Sea Ghouls (as opposed to seagulls, which is what one player thought I said.), and combat ensues. During the combat, a new friend appears: Muneera, a female human cleric clad in chainmail and brandishing a warhammer and magical shield. She is also apparently a cousin to Lilly, and has been looking all over for her.

Making fairly quick work of the Sea Ghouls, the party finds their way to the Captain’s Cabin. Sashin is confident the door to the Captain’s Cabin is not trapped. He is correct. He continues to declare that the treasure vault they find within is not trapped. He is incorrect, and the entire party is sprayed in acid for their efforts. They do however find in the vault 2,000 rupees. It is here that we learn that when Tesla casts ‘Detect Magic,’ the spell connects with his olfactory sense. In other words, he literally smells magic, and he does smell something magical about this treasure, though he’s unsure what is so magical about it.

Proceeding below deck, they find more rupees, along with weapons and armor in good condition. Sashin is confident all these weapons and armor could be sold. It’s all very heavy, but Philo is up to the task of hauling so much equipment. Continuing onto the bottommost deck, they find the water here to be waist high, and that there are mangled iron bars here that were likely a makeshift prison of some sort. They also manage to discern that there are thousands of rupees concealed within the stones of the ballast underneath their feet. However, Tesla detects magic once more and smells something cursed about this treasure, a fact that Muneera reinforces, for she has studied Imperial ships in her past. Despite these warnings, Sashin desperately tries to get to the treasure, and the party resorts to dragging him out to the beach.

Between the battle, the ship exploration, and simply putting away all the treasure and items they find, most of the day has passed. With less than an hour of light remaining, the party elect to camp for the night. We also discover that at some point in their lives, Sashin and Philo were both pirates together, as they both proceed to bury the treasure they acquired off the HMS Relentless. The night passed uneventfully, and fully recovered from their injuries, our stalwart group of adventurers make their way to the abandoned Dwarven mine where they were told the marauders were hiding out.

Entering the mine, they proceed about 100 yards from the entrance before happening upon a shaft station, with a shrine to the Iron God, a Dwarven deity, at one end, and a door in the corner. Muneera calls upon her deity for guidance, and as her deity is on friendly terms with the Iron God, a torch near the corner door briefly flashes a bit more brightly. Opening the door, standing before them are four marauders, who are shocked to see them and appear angry. Lilly charges in, tackling one of the marauders to the floor.

Over the next several moments, the party tried reasoning with the marauders numerous times, and there were quite a few tense moments where they considered lowering their weapons. Philo even managed to disarm one charging marauder, and with the help of Whiskers, redirected an incoming attack from another, all in an attempt at peaceful resolution. In the end though, the party had to put the four marauders down; Muneera smashed the skull of the marauder pinned by Lilly with her warhammer, while Sashin killed two others by throwing a rock (seriously!) and his steel bucket attached to a chain. Tesla blasted a hole through the body of another with his magic missile spell, which he has dubbed ‘Purple Rain,’ (or is it ‘Purple Reign?’) and with no more time left, the play session came to its conclusion.

The adventure we’re playing is The Indigo Galleon, written by John Aegard, and will continue when next we meet in Dungeon World.

Things I Still Like:

  • Two-and-a-half play sessions (I’ll explain the ‘half’ in a different blog post.) and the game is still fun to run. I totally did not mean to make a rhyme there. I think my players are having fun, I know some of them are since they told me such.
  • Many tabletop RPG’s have the mechanics drive the narrative. With Dungeon World the opposite is true, where the narrative drives the mechanics. After two sessions, I still find this to be accurate, and continue to find it refreshing.
  • Players contributing to the fiction / story much more continues to be a blast. They find out things about their characters they never knew, then have to justify it in their backgrounds / origins somehow. Case in point, when Tesla casts Detect Magic, he basically does so with his nose; he starts sniffing like a hound dog. I love it! Reminds me of the episodes of Tabletop when they played the Dragon Age tabletop RPG by Green Ronin Publishing, and one of the player characters smelled everything. It’s worth watching, here you go:
  • Everything I mentioned about character discovery is really cool, but I wonder…

Things I Wonder About:

  • …it occurs to me that in the long run, this self-discovery could lead to an uncomfortable degree of retconning, as well as an overabundance of things that simply don’t make sense. So, you were an elite athlete, master-of-arms, basket-weaving champion, ladies man, poker champion, master chef, scholar of rocks, and trained in weapon-and-armor-smithing, and a gold medalist in yogurt churning and chicken laying before you turned 18? Really?! Still, we’re not at that bridge yet. Heck, it may be a bridge we never get to, so no sense in worrying about it…yet.
  • I think we’re all still getting used to the rules. I know for a fact that I’m still getting used to them, and I’m running the game. As for the players, basically everyone has come from playing D&D, so I suspect it’s weird for them to not be making skill checks and the like.
  • Stun damage is a bit strange to me; it’s basically the equivalent of non-lethal damage in Dungeons & Dragons, where the player wishes to subdue rather than kill. However, there’s no mention of a player declaring such; rather, it appears to be a weapon tag, where certain weapons / attacks inflict stun damage. Ironically, none of the weapons listed in the base book appear to have the stun damage tag. I had emailed my players discussing a homebrew rule, where a player can declare stun damage and attempt to justify it in the fiction (I use the flat of my blade, the pommel of my warhammer, etc.) However, on this morn, I’m now thinking it should be an overlay over their damage dealing moves. So normally in Dungeon World, the idea is that if you roll: 10+: the player gets what he/she wants, 7-9: the player gets what he/she wants at a cost, 6-: the player fails to get what he/she wants. So let’s take that a step further; if a player wants to subdue somebody and can justify it in the fiction (no, you’re not knocking a dragon the size of a small barn unconscious with the flat of your blade. Not gonna be able to do it!), he or she can roll their regular Hack and Slash move (a melee attack), simply to determine if their attack is successful. If it is, before they roll their damage, then they roll a second time and if they roll: 10+, they deal their damage as stun damage, 7-9: they do reduced stun damage (Damage die minus damage die; they basically overcompensated too much in trying to pull their punch, and can potentially do zero damage), and on a 6-: they in fact do regular, killing, death-dealing damage. Choices, choices…
  • I’m still not entirely sold about the lack of initiative order. Then again, I think I ran it better the first time, and honestly wasn’t on top of my game the second time around. I work my arse off at DM-ing, but that doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes all the time. In hindsight, there were a few moments where I should have pushed things forward. Ah well, you live, learn, adapt, and strive forward. Easier said than done, I know. 😉

Philo’s Observations After Playing Two Sessions of Dungeon World, as Told by Philo:

  • Paying attention is critical. In D&D, stepping aside for a second and finding your way back into the action is usually easy. In Dungeon World, it’s a different story; even the same characters doing the same thing twice in a row is usually wildly different. Instead of “I attack that guy”, players are allowed to do something unique and not have to worry if they took ranks / are trained in ‘jump’ or ‘climbing’ 5 levels ago. This is great for player engagement, but it also demands a higher level of player attention.
  • Dungeon World encourages quick action over careful planning. When the GM sets up the situation for the player, everyone thinks about how their character reacts. Reacting first means that you deal with the situation given. Reacting second means that you deal with the situation that the first player just altered. It seems to encourage spur-of-the-moment moves over strategic planning. This is not a bad thing.  In D&D, there’s usually a slower pace set about by unspoken election. Unless there are 2 or more players with the same abilities, informal voting usually dictates who the main driver will be. Locked chest? Send in the Rogue. Disgruntled noble? Let the Bard do the talking. Gnoll with an axe? Let the fighter handle it.
  • In Dungeon World, all players are usually equally equipped to deal with the situation, but in their own way. This was something that I really came to appreciate when playing Star Wars D20. Everyone was okay in a fight because we all had blasters. You have a socially centered character that had a decent shot at blasting a flunkie. Your Soldier would still do more damage, but everyone felt capable.  In D&D, the wizard doesn’t charge into the front lines.
  • There’s definitely a different feel to dealing with the situation.  This means that everyone has a shot at dealing with the situation at hand, but sometimes also creates a race to act on your solution, and I feel, speeds up the pace of the interactions.

Philo’s Concerns After Playing Two Sessions of Dungeon World, as Told by Philo:

  • Sharing basic moves makes play feel very balanced. My question is: will advanced moves change anything? They should help separate each character, but I wonder if it will set some character’s apart too much, or create the old, “Here’s a lock, you need a Rogue” situation.
  • I was also worried that having roughly 8 basic moves would be repetitive. So far it has been the opposite and the advanced moves should only serve to further that. Then again, it’s only been two sessions, so the sample size is small. (It feels like I just resolved a bond with my moves sheet, lol).

Notes From Your Friendly Wizard, Inventor, and Part-Time Accountant, Tesla:

  • I am loving the freedom that Dungeon World is providing. Having played Pathfinder, I find in that game it can often take a long time to get around the table, whereas in Dungeon World you can act on a whim so long as you’re not talking over anybody. Similar to what Philo mentioned, I can run head-first into battle if that’s what I feel my character would do in that moment. Though I have no armor, every character seems to be well-balanced, I suspect this has a little to do with the lack of a point-buy in the party, though two of our party members did roll for their stats, and everyone seems to be doing fine.
  • The freedom isn’t just in the mechanics, however. I feel a lot less constrained by a backstory since I have opportunities to discover and add on to that all the time. A good one was after the exploding acid fiasco in the Captain’s Cabin on the HMS Relentless, when I wanted to patch up my robes. The GM asked how I knew how to sew, so I improvised that I had done some experimenting with an automatic sewing device (I’m going for the very eccentric, mad-scientist type of character, hence Tesla). Thinking on my feet like that is something I’ve never been very good at, so the GM has been really pushing my creativity and decisiveness.
  • Also, since the detail for moves is usually minimal, it leaves a lot of room for making them your own. Using my nose to smell magic when I cast detect magic is a blast. I can definitely feel myself improving as we play, and it helps to have a DM that describes the gory beheading of an enemy rather than just saying: “He’s dead.”
  • I find it a lot easier to get into character with this game than in any other I’ve played. Sashin is really hilarious and I can play off of that, which is great because I love playing goofy characters. I found myself nearly yelling at Captain-Senator Balbus because I didn’t feel that Tesla would have any reason to follow his demands (plus it’s hard not to argue with a guy who calls himself Captain-Senator). In Pathfinder, a simple roll can end the conversation, but in Dungeon World, you really have to work your way out of situations.
  • My only negative so far is that players need to put a lot of effort into being on the same page. In most games you can strategize between turns, but in Dungeon World, it can be easy for your party’s actions to interfere with your goals. Mostly due to my distrust of Balbus, I really didn’t want to kill those marauders, but I was forced to use Purple Rain when we were unable to calm them down. Of course, some of that is on me for not being a larger part of the conversation.
  • All in all I’m having a great time with Dungeon World, and I hope to continue playing if we can get everyone together. So far, I’d say this game is worth a shot for anyone who isn’t overly aggressive in conversation or a logic-bent robot. The optimist in me has hope that creatively-challenged people like myself can get some good practice with it, and maybe your friend who’s slightly on the min-max side of the force can learn the value of good, honest, pure roleplay.

The First Blog of 2015: Experiencing Dungeon World for the First Time

You have all been enslaved by the evil Lich Drazhu and his vicious minions! All of you have been put to work digging tunnels to expand Drazhu’s underground lair. You’ve lost track of time, and have no clue how long you’ve been down here. You don’t remember the last time you’ve seen sunlight. You’re starving, thirsty, and malnourished, only getting a tiny piece of rotten food and dirty water if you’ve done your work for the day. The air is thin, stale, and makes you all nauseous from the foul smell of sweat, body odor, and decay. Or it used to make you nauseous; you’ve all been here long enough that you’ve gotten used to the stench. To make matters worse, there are metal gates here etched with magical runes that prevent anyone capable of magic from casting spells. On top of that, the strange magic of these runes make animal companions feel sick and weak. The only thing that has kept you going is that an enterprising dwarven slave, who has since passed, has managed to make a detailed sketch of the complex. A map that is now in your possession…

I basically paraphrased how I opened last week’s foray into running the tabletop role-playing game Dungeon World, an award-winning fantasy tabletop RPG. No seriously, it won some awards, including:

  • Golden Geek RPG of the Year 2012
  • Indie RPG 2012 Winner: Best Game, Best Support, Best Production
  • ENnie Award Winner 2013: Best Rules – Gold Winner.

I thought I’d blog about it for my first post of 2015. First, I’ll go back to the story, as that’s the most important part of the game, then write about my impressions running the game.

So as I’ve said so many times in the past when blogging about RPG’s (usually Dungeons & Dragons), the big damn heroes are:

  • Lilly, a female, human bard. Joyous eyes (normally; maybe not so joyous after being enslaved for god knows how long!), rather fit, usually wearing fine clothing and a stylish cap.
  • Philo, a male human ranger. Wild eyes and physique, wearing a cape and hood. Accompanied by his animal companion, a snake named Whiskers.
  • Sashin Hadib, a male human thief. Shifty eyes, messy hair, knobby physique, and usually wears fancy clothing. Also stands 5’0″.
  • Tesla (aka The Artist Formerly Known as Eccentrius; for whatever reason we all had problems saying his name, so he instantly changed his name to Tesla), a male elven wizard. Haunted eyes, wild hair, and very thin, adorned in strange robes.

We take some time establishing how the characters ended up being enslaved. The player’s get to exercise their creative and improvisational muscles here, guided by some choice questions by me. Lilly served as a court jester, and made an inopportune joke about Drazhu’s mother. The next thing she knew, she was working in Drazhu’s slave pit. Philo actually worked for Drazhu as a guide until he was framed for stealing a treasure, the irony of which he was actually after said treasure. His life was spared because the real thief was caught, but enslavement was inevitable. Sashin used to be an information gatherer, but was caught with the Prince’s daughter and his profile was deemed too high. His usefulness in question, he was given to Drazhu, who enslaved him immediately. As for Tesla, he apparently tried to steal books about becoming a Lich (and gaining immortality), from Drazhu. He failed, and was enslaved for his efforts.

So there are two gated areas that lead out of the slave-pit; one leads to an area guarded by Orcs, while the other area leads to the killing pit, a large hole where misbehaving / dead slaves are disposed of. After enduring misery that would crush the spirit of lesser folk, a fortuitous event happens when the ground begins to shake! An earthquake proceeds to cause chaos, destroying the metal gates that forbid magic, and Philo’s animal companion, Whiskers is no longer felt ill. Sashin took this time to heroically…run for the tunnel leading to the killing pit, quickly followed by Tesla. In the meantime, Lilly and Philo proceed to take out the lone Goblin Task-Master, and quickly follow after their companions.

The two happen upon an interesting sight; Sashin and Tesla locked in combat with a giant spider! Philo’s snake Whiskers provides a distraction while Philo manages to use some rope he found to tangle up the spider’s legs. Sashin swings at the spider with a metal bucket he found (and eventually wears on his head), while Lilly does damage with a makeshift club. Eventually, the spider is defeated, and the four search the area for anything useful before proceeding forward. They happen upon a deep chasm with a giant web leading across. Proceeding across the web, the not only encounter no danger, but also manage to find even more useful items, before finding themselves in a tunnel that leads to…Drazhu’s sepulchre.

Interestingly enough, Sashin goes in trying to reason with Drazhu. This turns out to be a mistake, as he is ambushed by Drazhu’s most trusted servant, an Orc Tunnel-Keep. Lilly joins the fray, taking down the Orc while Sashin, Tesla, and Philo take down Drazhu. Tesla casts a magic missile spell to do some damage to the Lich. In a more hilarious moment, Sashin takes out a wand he found earlier, and tries to use it on Drazhu. The wand fails to work, but Sashin doesn’t realize that as Philo fires a scavenged arrow he found and seemingly takes down Drazhu…naturally, Sashin, thinks he slayed Drazhu, though this isn’t entirely accurate, as Drazhu has a second life (like many video game bosses. Think Ganon in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.)

But the party is up to the task, and Drazhu goes down once more, and loot the tomb. Sashin takes Drazhu’s beheaded skull, presumably as a trophy. In an interesting, yet strangely disturbing twist, Lilly starts consuming raw Orc flesh. The party leaves the Sepulchre, and narrowly avoid getting into combat with a small horde of zombies, before getting to exit. For the first time in a long time, the party is nearly blinded by the sunlight, the air is sweet, and the four leave to find clean water, a good, hot meal, and a bath.

To give credit where credit is due, we played a free Dungeon World scenario, the ‘The Slave-Pit of Drahzu,’ written by Jason Morningstar, designer of Fiasco and owner (I think) of Bully Pulpit Games. If that game sounds familiar, it may be that you’ve seen it played on Tabletop. Here are some links:

But I digress; back to Dungeon World!

Things I Liked:

  • I’m liking this game a lot! Granted, it’s a rather small sample size, but it’s pretty fun thus far.
  • I think my favorite thing thus far is that results of rolls aren’t binary; there are degrees of success worked into the mechanics. When running D&D, I try to work degrees of success into skill checks and what not, at least in terms of the flavor I use to describe things if not mechanically (since it’s not really built that way), but not so in Dungeon World. Here, when you roll, 6 or less is a failure, 7-9 is a partial success / success at a cost, and 10+ is a complete success. It’s working out really well in practice.
  • When creating a character, one can choose to use a stat array (no point buy) or roll for stats. When rolling for stats, it’s old school 3d6, not the debate-ably generous 4d6 and take away the lowest die that has permeated modern d20 games. Furthermore, one can roll 3d6 and assign stats or roll 3d6 in a specific order of stats (super-old school!) However, if one does the latter, he / she can opt to change their class after rolling. Two of my players opted for the stat array, while the other two opted to roll for stats and assign them, and it was hilarious how…statistically average they rolled. No one rolled higher than a 12, and no lower than a 7. That’s more or less in line with expectations for rolling 3d6. Go to anydice, and calculate 3d6 to see what I’m talking about. As an aside, anydice is a great tool for any fan of tabletop RPG’s, players and GM’s alike.
  • Because we’re finding things out together, and contributing to the story as a whole, it was nice to see the players get to contribute to the fiction of the game. Dungeon World emphasizes / advertises itself as a conversation, and that turned out to be absolutely true.
  • It was nice for the players to role-play not only their characters, but the situation they were in, and try to get out of dodge. Due to the direction they took, they ended up having to fight Drazhu, but I like that they got out of the ‘We must clear out and loot every single room.’ mentality that permeates D&D and Pathfinder at the moment. For those that would argue about a desire for revenge, tell me how you feel about that when you’re severely, severely, severely, severely, severely, severely, severely, malnourished and dehydrated. Not to mention lacking the gear you usually enjoy (though the party scavenged several nice items to play with.)

Things I Wonder About:

  • I’m not entirely convinced this system is for everybody, but then again, that makes sense. There’s no such thing as a perfect system, and as a wise person once said, different strokes for different folks. I think people who love min-maxing and meta-gaming wouldn’t like Dungeon World as much. It’s not a crunchy game rules-wise, certainly there are far less rules than Pathfinder or fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. This makes the game easier to run, but for those that emphasize player minutia and enormous damage numbers over the narrative, I don’t think Dungeon World would be a good fit.
  • I also don’t think it would be a good fit, or at least a good starter game, for players that are incredibly shy or lacking confidence. Placing them in a situation where they must contribute isn’t kind, though I suppose an experienced GM could ease them into the situation as much as possible.
  • Also, since we are in fact having a conversation at all times, those with short-attention spans / focus issues or tend to dominate conversations wouldn’t function well in Dungeon World unless they are fully aware of their quirks and can rein them in when necessary. Since the narrative is the #1 emphasis, so much so that it drives game mechanics, constantly going on side conversations / tangents will bring the game to a halt. Mind you, that’s true of any tabletop gaming experience, but I suspect it to be even more true with Dungeon World.
  • I’m also not entirely convinced this makes a good starter game for a starter GM, with the caveat that said GM really puts a ton of time and effort into prep. It’s not that Dungeon World is prep heavy per se, as I mentioned there are less rules than D&D. Rather, the GM is controlling the ebb-and-flow of the conversation, and needs to make sure everyone involved contributes to the conversation. I can imagine a brand new GM struggling with this, and letting one person contribute more than another, or conversely allowing very little contribution to be had because he / she feels a need to control what’s going on. Speaking of which…
  • It was weird to let go of some of the control I usually enjoy GM-ing tabletop RPG’s, but it was also…kind a liberating. Less to think about, less multi-tasking, more opportunity for everyone to be creative and improvise. It was good…I think.
  • I still feel like I’m wrapping my head around the rules and the experience, but I think several more sessions will get me and eveyrone more comfortable with the system. It’s weird to me that I’m not rolling monster attacks regularly. It’s doubly weird to me that I’m not having anyone roll initiative, but strangely enough, the system appears to work…so far.

For me personally, tabletop role-playing games are at their most fun as a shared, cooperative, storytelling experience. Dungeon World emphasizes this by having the fiction drive the game mechanics, which is a rather large paradigm shift for me. I had one player mention this game reminded him of Fate Core, which I own but have never had the opportunity to play. (It’s currently on my bucket list to play / run.) All the players appeared to have a really good time, and we’ll definitely be playing it again. There were two other free scenarios that came with the game when I bought it. Also, the players left a lot of fun stuff to play with by the way they handled playing through Drazhu’s Slave-Pit, so there’s that to consider. In the end, I would say if you would love a tabletop RPG that emphasizes the story, the fiction, over everything else, and the players you run games for are of the same mindset, than pick this one up.

In the meantime, I got permission from two of my players to post their character sheets. I’m just going to post the first page (usually 2 pages, but spellcasters also have a list of spells too.)

 

Philo's Character Sheet, Page 1

Philo’s Character Sheet, Page 1, Level 1

Tesla Character Sheet, Page 1

Tesla Character Sheet, Page 1, Level 1 (formerly known as Eccentrius)