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.
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