Tags: dungeon world

Dungeon World and Dangerous DMing

Last night I ran the second and final session of Treasure Hunt with Dungeon World. It was a lot of fun, fast paced and action packed. My only regret was that the game probably should have had a third session, as there was a lot of material left barely touched on. I think adding 50% to my estimates of length for Dungeon World games is a good idea :)

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Dungeon World - Conversions

Having converted N4 Treasure Hunt for Dungeon World, I am currently doing the same for N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God. Though there are differences in the two modules, I am finding that the conversion process is quick and easy, mostly from the fact that I have a clear method for doing so. Again, I think I could convert the modules on the fly, but when I have the time to do so the following process seems to work well:

1. High level flick through the module (30 minutes).
2. Decide on Fronts and Dangers (30 minutes, though over a period of a week's rumination).
3. Read through the module making notes and identifying Monsters, Moves and Treasure (2 hours).
4. Drawing Maps and statting Monsters, Moves (including Traps) and Treasure (30 minutes).
5. Write up the Adventure (two page document and 1 hour).

I am coming to the end of stage 3 for Against the Cult of the Reptile God, which is normally the longest, which means that stages 4 and 5 should be done over the next week. I will post up the Adventure at the end.

Dungeon World and Greyhawk

This book has become my companion to my Dungeon World book. As Dungeon World recaptures the feeling of my old AD&D experiences, I find that a little setting flavouring from almost any page of this book (often just at random) helps me recapture feeling of the AD&D world.

I played AD&D for years but only really became aware of the concept of the larger Greyhawk setting in the last few years (yeah, I know). I was pleased to find that this setting book did not impair my somewhat haphazard memory in any way, though I expect that its light old school presentation may be a big factor in that.

Dungeon World - Treasure Hunt

Tonight I run the first half of my first attempt at converting a AD&D module for use with Dungeon World. Though I am pretty comfortable that I could have converted this module on the fly for Dungeon World, I took my time for this first one to get a better understanding of the process and potential. Treasure Hunt is an excellent Dungeon World fit at first glance. It has multiple factions and a sand-boxy feel. It also had a few elements that were particularly suited to Dungeon World including a in media res start and also a number of in game maps that summarised the dungeon areas whilst leaving blank spaces.

The conversion process was fun first and foremost, in avoiding the dull stuff and striking at the interesting stuff. Lists of magic items became just three that are integral to the plot and emphasised the diversity of magic items. It was also easy, with a couple of custom monsters, 4 magic treasures and 4 adventure moves (and this would be more than I would expect would be normal) taking me only an hour or so.

The creation of Fronts was the part of the process that really shined the most. though. I had initially been wary of this idea but found that it was simple to use and it helps breakdown and focus the adventure. I felt like I was prepping for a prepless game (which is actually a good thing for me as I dislike pure prepless GMing). In focussing the adventure, I found the end result was a more dynamic environment with more interesting participants. This made the adventure more compelling and at the same time it was more open to PC actions. Treasure Hunt, though sand-boxy, was written with an expectation of certain events happening in a certain order. As with many AD&D adventures certain steps were not wholy satisfactory as they seemed to move the story along without a strong internally consistent reason. As a result, the motivations of the factions were often glossed over or felt unnatural. Fronts helped untangle the adventure from that expectation and replace it with a more natural and robust series of possibilities. Where this ended up is that the adventure has a Yojimbo (War of the Pirates Code) meets Hunger Games (Curse of the Sea King) vibe that was present before, but not in a conscious way.

For what its worth, I wrote up the following two pages up for the game. It won't make much sense without having read the adventure. Its also not perfect. I decided not to sweat every new move to perfection, and simply use what didn't work as a learning experience: http://db.tt/zBMfrELa

Dungeon World and the Dynamic Adventure

As I prepare myself for Against the Cult of the Reptile God and Treasure Hunt with Dungeon World, I have learned something else. DW seems better suited for translating my old D&D experiences than other RPGs that I have looked at so far.

I have had a hankering to revisit the classic D&D module for a while in a hope to recapture some of the play style of that time (which now eludes me). I had looked at doing this with both modern rule sets like D&D4e and RPGs based on those older rule sets like Castles and Crusades. However, neither provided easy or satisfactory results in this regard.

During those efforts, I came to realise that the old D&D modules look pretty awful on paper and much of what I remembered liking about them was added to the game during play. However, to say that the D&D module did nothing to encourage the later aspect would be wrong. D&D modules generally are a snapshot of a dangerous environment. This at first appears woefully static and dull, but implied in the presentation is an expectation that this environment is merely a tool through which the group forges all the narrative flow and drama by playing in it, interacting with it, and changing it. When I read them, I quickly begin adding my own events, personalities and dangers, as that was how I read them in my youth. I think it was simply not considered the job of the module designer to write about certain parts of an adventure that now are, probably due to the most narrative approach of adventure writing pioneered by Call of Cthulhu and the like.

So why is Dungeon World suited to this particular approach? There are a number of reasons. Two of them actually touch on my last two posts. The first is the Discussion. This approach along with the GM Moves pushes the GM hard not to treat any environment in a static way. When the GM has a turn in the discussion, they are looking for how to bring in danger, signal danger or set danger up somehow. If the GM just focusses on the immediate environment then the GM soon runs out of danger to use in an interesting or believable fashion, so instead the GM views the environment as a dynamic one, with each part related to other parts of that environment. The GM is also encourages to fill in those blanks as needed to link the environment together to suit the needs of the drama as it unfolds.

The next is the Difficult Situation. The natural flow from PCs going into one dangerous situation and then out again adds a sense of dynamism. This is along with DW's rule set being forgiving on the GM, allowing them to easily brave any situation from a mechanical perspective, allowing the situation to evolve however it may.

The last main reason is the way the way scenarios are created. After some initial playing with Adventure Fronts (and they are very much a "that's how we have always done it" part of the RPG) I have found that it became very easy to break down D&D modules in the manner suggested and also improve on them. The simple process of identifying the adventures in the module, the various dangers within those and the agenda and ultimate goal of those dangers, immediately provides a dynamic antagonism to the seemingly static environment.

In fact, viewing old D&D modules in this light not only captures a lot of that older play style, it can also improve them in a few instances. There seems a lot of times in old D&D modules where some antagonists are directionless and do things to support a wider story without any real reason. Giving them an agenda provides reason for their actions, and though this can change some of the things in the original module, it generally seems to work better.

Dungeon World - Wave 2

Dungeon World Wave One consisted of reading the book and running Indigo Galleon twice. I had hoped to run Bloodstone Idol in this Wave but, due to a clash with Easter, that will have wait until late May.

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Not sure what Wave Three will consist of, though it will obviously depend on the success of Wave Two. I am considering both Red Hand of Doom and Expedition to Castle Ravenloft for longer Dungeon World campaigns (levels 1 to 10), and Underdark/Night Below and Ptolus is tempting me as a massive sandbox to run a bunch of my own adventures in (I know, I know, I can't seem to let at least some level of prep go :)).

I am also currently deciding whether Dungeon World is a sufficiently D&D-like experience for D&D players at Kapcon. DW hits so much of the mark in terms of convention play that that I am sorely tempted to run the three modules I had planned for Kapcon 2014 (Death Frost Doom, The Veiled Society and Crimson Pact) with Dungeon World.

Dungeon World - A Couple of Things I Learned

From my two first runs of Dungeon World and starting to read Monster of the Week, I have learned the following lessons:

1. Bonds. I would recommend doing these one at a time and rotating around the group until all Bonds are done. Bonds often have information that needs to be determined and the player should either tell the other player what that information is, ask them what that information is or discuss what that information is.

2. I found the 7-9 result on the Defy Danger move to be difficult as it is such an open move. To avoid this, it is important to continue the fiction until both the Danger and how that Danger is being Defied are clarly identified. I also prefer the following wording over the existing wording of "the GM offers a worse outcome, hard bargain or ugly choice", which is a hold over from Apocalypse World: "the GM gives you a difficult compromise, hard choice or a price to pay".

Breaking this down:
- a "difficult compromise" means that you succeed in defying the danger, but not all of it.
- a "hard choice" means that you succeed in defying the danger, if you let another bad thing happen.
- a "price to pay" means that you succeed in defying the danger, if you do a bad thing first.

As a GM, you use GM moves to help frame the italicised parts of the above.

Dungeon World and the Difficult Situation

On running Dungeon World, I confirmed my suspicion that one thing that really makes it shine in play is the fact that it never shifts out of a discussion mode and into a wargame or board game mode. In most traditional RPGs, once combat starts, the objectives become almost exlcusively reducing your opponent to 0HP before the same happens to you. In Dungeon World, I found that the same flow of hard choices continued into combat, which was very satisfying.

However, from my actual play experience, I found a secondary aspect of the game quite appealing too. Dungeon World has a simple system, which can be boiled down to roll 2d6 and add a modifer. 6- is failure, 7-9 is success with a cost. 10+ is success. As many people have already discussed, the 7-9 result is a core aspect of the *World games in that it keeps the narrative rich, complex and compelling for the players, as there is a constant stream of compromises, costs and choices that result from play that build on each other. The PCs often find themselves in difficult situations, frequently of their own making.

That is all well and good, but that's not the whole of it. DW's high probability of success, with the accompanying high probability of cost (which is not necessarily injury or death), means that when the PCs find themselves in a difficult situation, they can often get themselves out of it. And by doing so, they often set up for the next difficult situation. One result of this second aspect, which I didn't foresee, is that it encouraged me as a GM to follow through those difficult situations that the PCs put themselves in. In many RPGs, I am often reluctant to do this as the "kill or be killed" nature of combat tends to be final, meaning that those scenes result in reducing the drama/complexity once resolved. As a result, these scenes are generally reserved for the end of the story. In DW, playing through those scenes increases the dram/complexity once resolved.

To give an example from yesterday, one PC decided to confront an entire crew of pirates, who had his brother held captive. The resulting chaos saw them both survive (at considerable cost) and the pirates vanquished. And it raised all kinds of drama between the two PCs, leading to a very dramatic scene later in the game, where the PC who saved his brother abandoned him instead. In some other RPGs, the fatal nature of this scene would have had me as a GM look for ways to avoid it. Another example was a PC who tried to backstab the big bad, a very powerful sorcerer, in the middle of the scenario. I gave him a chance to succeed knowing that I had ways to reflect the consequences of failure without necessarily killing the PC. This also led to the PC having to compromise with another PC to deal with those consequences, which ultimately led to the PC's dramatic climax.

So, another reason that DW appeals to me is that it encourages the flow of play of putting PCs into difficult situations and then getting them out. Out of the frying pan and into the fire over and over again.

First Run of Dungeon World

I ran Indigo Galleon today for the Kapiti College club. I was impressed. It actually suited my usual Con style of compounding complexity to create compelling decision and intense drama, yet I was more than able to fill the session from just two sides of A4. The fact that I didn't need to break pace when combat arrived, due to the discussion model, really helped. I also found the easy to use mechanics encouraged me play out any scene that arose, which helped the play to find out what happens aspect of play. The Apocalypse World engine also ensured that nothing was ever a clear success or a clear failure, which kept the game filled with tense scenes. The highlight was the Paladin, devoted to slaying criminals, who in the finale scene of the game sacrificed his life to defend a village to avoid breaking an oath he had foolishly given.

I think the players may not have seen how much the game helped elevate their play when it kept embracing complication as it arose. I must admit as a one off and my first time I drive pretty hard at making their lives full of hard choices. In a more experienced group, this would have been well received, but I think the College guys were a little shocked by the way the game allowed them to do what they wanted but also happily followed them into any hole they dug themselves. In future games and in longer term games, I may play around with how hard to drive the mechanics.

Finally, I decided to co-opt my old 4 panel 4e GM screen (as the interior is out of date in any case) by making a 4 page DW GM screen. It can be printed on full page label paper and stuck to the inside of the hard cover screen. If anyone wants a copy, let me know. 

Dungeon World and the Discussion

I have recently been looking closely at Dungeon World. The RPG seems to really push some people's buttons, so as a fan of D&D I was interested in trying to find out why. On its surface, it looks like a decent system for running D&D with a light yet explicit system. Most of the mechanics in Dungeon World leave you with a good impression, though lacking in innovation. I hear quite often people scratching their heads and saying "sure, but that's how I have always done it".

Given this, it took me a while to hone in on the essence of what I like about Dungeon World in particular. It is because it uses a discussion model to moderate/manage the interaction of the players, GM and mechanics, rather than a wargame or board game model which has become the default for most RPGs. Whether we are aware of it or not, most RPGs use their mechanics much like that in a wargame or board game given the roots of the hobby. This is especially true in areas of conflict and high tension, where mechanics are used to avoid the whole thing resorting to a "bang, you're dead" exercise. In many RPGs, this shift is light, almost imperceptible. In others, its quite obvious, such as in D&D 4e. Either way, we end up with the concept of "turns", "turn order", "actions" etc, which has little bearing on the actually flow of what's happening other than to break things down into manageable chunks and provide a level of certainty.

Dungeon World doesn't do that. Instead, it uses the concept of a discussion to moderate/manage these moments. Someone says something, and the other person responds, back and forth. What a discussion is is not something that we may think about too often, but everyone understands the concept well and I think we would all realise when something said feels forced or breaks the usual flow in a discussion. As such, it provides a less intrusive way of dealing with those moments of conflict and high tension with some level of certainty. The RPG ties this into rules use simply by have specific narrative triggers for each rule and also explicit rules around the flow of discussion.

Now, I know what you are going to say. "Sure, but that's how I have always done it". And that's right. A lot of RPGing uses this model already. In general, it is during combat that the wargame or board game model takes the fore. Even then, some GMs run their games almost in their entirety in this way. I use the discussion model for combat in Cons and it also works for some RPGs like Call of Cthulhu, where initiative is kind of irrelevant. It is also worth noting that this model is not necessarily better than the wargame or board game model in that it decreases equity of action and some certainty (which in some groups would be untenable). In exchange though, it provides less intrusive way of dealing with moments conflict and high tension, empowers the GM more to make the action exciting and increases overall flexibility.

In any case, the reason why this definite shift appeals to me for Dungeon World is twofold. First, I think it opens us D&D to new players. D&D is often seen as the uncool kid on the block. This is partially because it is the poster child for the wargame or board game model, which it introduced to the hobby. It has also become increasing mechanical, shifting toward an specific set of terms and rules. For many RPGers, it no longer provides the best entry in the hobby as they aren't interested in that model and find that flow of play to be unnatural. Second, I think it also captures one of the main appeals of old school D&D, where much of the gameplay was created not from the application of rules but from a discussion between the GM and player. Interestingly, Dungeon World does this whilst circumventing much of the debate around rules v ruling. It has explicit rules, but they don't exclude rulings.

Don't get me wrong, Dungeon Would is not the be all and end all of D&D RPGs. I remain a fan of D&D first and foremost. I think that 4e's exacting use of the wargame and board game model is sublime, the madness of the AD&D1e ruleset is fun, Moldvay's B/X is the soundtrack to my youth and Castles and Crusades' ability to capture the essence of D&D regardless of edition to be awesome. Dungeon World just provides another avenue into that world of awesome that I can travel down with old and new friends. And that is why I like Dungeon World.