Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Dungeon World Mini-Campaign Summary

When 2017 began we had no ongoing RPG campaign running, so we started a new year with a new game - Dungeon World, the dungeon crawling RPG from the same "Powered By The Apocalypse" rules family as previously ran games The Regiment, Night Witches and The Warren.  This was a quick burn with a character gen session and then three full play sessions before calling it quits.

What followed was a game long on my to-do list but never gone ahead with: Transformers.  To be exact, Cartoon Action Hour was used to make not one but two series - an explosion filled Transformers game and a lighter, more surreal Rescue Rangers game.  I've used Cartoon Action Hour before but not the latest edition thereof and never for anything more than 2 sessions of play.  Each game was ran for 6 episodes, though on some weeks we played an short episode of each for a cartoon double-bill.

This post covers Dungeon World - I'll address Cartoon Action hour in another post as this got a bit big.  The TL;DR is that both games seemed to go down well and we'd run them again.  If you can face the details, though, click on!

If you can't face the details, click on anyway because there's some pretty pictures of dragons and stuff.

We ran from a PDF, although I later got a hard copy for future use.

Dungeon World was as a result specific request of the group - in particular by SIster Superior who pointed out that we hadn't played an D&D esque hack and slash dungeon crawl sort of thing in a very long time.  I ran D&D 3rd Edition for a very long time - between August 2004 and September 2010, minus some holiday time and one-off breaks - and I own many different editions of D&D but none of them especially called to me to run them.  Still, I do enjoy occasionally running one of the classic D&D adventures and tkaing my group through the communal experience of The Tomb Of Horrors, Ravenloft or what have you.

This time round rather than break out an older edition of D&D - or purchase the latest one, which as I wrote about before didn't excite me a huge amount - I decided to give Dungeon World a go.  My Uni friend and former gaming partner Weeble had been asking about and while I had read and played many of the other PbtA games, Dungeon World was one I hadn't been drawn to.  However on the basis of her enthusiasm and my positive experiences I thought I'd give it a go.  My standard player group of the age - Raj, Molly, Aaron, Dave, Matthew and Sister Superior - did a char gen session and then we used the three remaining sessions of January to run AD&D early 80s adventure White Plume Mountain which I converted on the fly.

Last time I ran a dungeon crawling fantasy game, it was D&D 4th Ed and unfortunately it didn't go particular well.

To a casual observer, Dungeon World's rules (the core of which are available free: though this playbook collection is better formatted if you want to try the game out.) shares a lot of superficial similarities with D&D.  You have the six traditional D&D stats of Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma and you track both Ability Score and Ability Modifier - albeit the curve is flattened out to the PbtA standard where no modifier to your 2d6 roll is likely to be beyond ±3.

The traditional D&D classes are all represented with their own Playbooks, each of which allows you to choose your race and in doing so gain access to extra moves or tricks, so you still get to be a Human Paladin or an Elven Wizard.  Each class has starting moves and it's own advancement tree, with some capability for picking from other classes.

A great big interconnected web of relationships.  (Well, OK, web of Bonds.)

One of the more interesting character generation choices are Bonds, essentially half-finished sentences on each character sheet into which you insert the names of members of your group.  These establish your starting relationships and give you bonuses to aid/hinder that player - and when a bond is resolved and no longer relevant you gain XP and pick a new bond, possibly with the same or a new player.

As an example Sister Superior's character, a wizard con-woman called The Great And Powerful Dixie, had two bonds with Molly's character who was an Elven Bard and somewhat naive.  One of these bonds was: "[name] will play an important role in the events to come. I have foreseen it!"  Suddenly she's not just a magical vagabond, she is also convinced that she needs to go adventuring because she thinks this Elven noble is a famous person in the making.  Aaron's fighter took "I have sworn to protect [name]" for the same Elven Bard and suddenly he is not only connected to Molly's character but part of a network of connections across the group.  The end result is a much more natural start to the game than the old hoary "you all meet in a tavern" cliche.

The Basic Moves all characters possess.  This is a comparatively simple system despite being a huge book.
In actual play Dungeon World works a lot like any other game of it's family - roll 2d6, factor in appropriate stat mods and 10+ is a solid success while 6- is a clear fail.  7-9, the interesting range, is where you get into the "Yes, but..." category and have to endure a penalty or choose from a list of qualified successes.  In physical combat, for example, it means you and your opponent each deal damage to the other.  With spell-casting you can choose to cast the spell but wipe it from your repertoire until you rest, or instead take an ongoing penalty to spell attempts until you rest.

Player choice remains key in most of these so you as the player get to make the tough call - do you want to lose access to Fireball for the rest of the day or do you hang onto the spell but risk taking a -1 to all spell casting dice rolls for the next wee while? As a rule in these games, the GM sets up the general situations and challenges but it's the players that choose exactly what bad stuff happens to them when they fail rolls by what they do and don't select on those menus of options.  This is an approach I quite like, though I can imagine why with more Trad groups it would be hard to get some players to make the leap to narrating their own problems.

When men were men, women were scantily clad and production values were a bit ropey.

The adventure we played, White Plume Mountain, was one I chose because it's sister adventure The Tomb Of Horrors is a D&D classic that the group loved for it's crazy "everything is trying to kill you" feel.  White Plume Mountain isn't quite as brutal - which Sister Superior was disappointed about, as she LOVES the Tomb of Horrors and the chaos that follows in every room - but it still has some bonkers moments.

Dungeon World is light enough and has enough traditional D&D material pre-statted out that I was able to convert it on the fly - look up the monster rules in Dungeon World for a given creature when we encounter it, use the standard moves to solve the trap rooms and adjust the treasure rewards to match the power curve of this game.  I only drew the line once when an encounter which is basically "A random Knight stands in a corner of the dungeon and ambushes explorers" and was just too gamey for my tastes.

Yeah, I can't tell a lie, this bit did nothing for me.

In fact converting on the fly was sorta half the fun, because at one point we encountered a creature that wasn't in Dungeon World and so we had to use the creature design rules.  These are a fairly straightforward checklist and questionnaire in which you consider the in universe facts of the creature and within a few minutes you end up with the core stats you need for combat: hit points, attack strength, armour and treasure type likely.  All you need to insert are any special monster moves to cover Red Dragon fire breath, Beholder anti magic cone, Rust Monster iron eating etc and you're done.

Well this looks like a piece of majestic cinema

This produced an amusing situation when, while asking the group to help me design a monster - larger flesh-eating fish I dubbed "piranha sharks" - we ended up disagreeing on how much damage they should do.  It took the group almost a minute to realise they were arguing in favour of making the monsters more powerful!

Spoilers: This room is in the dungeon, the infamous "Inverted Ziggurat".  Multiple levels of aquatic monster joy capped off with a Manticore or two.

After three weeks we had retrieved two of the three magical treasures hidden in  the dungeon and it felt like a good point to stop.  Overall things were successful and several parts of the system in particular got thumbs up - Bonds definitely helped the short campaign establish a clear party dynamic.

The main obstacle the group had is that combat has no formal initiative system - that's entirely GM fiat, and combat is very narrative compared to D&D's "five foot step" stuff.  However some of them (Aaron in particular) found that a bit of an obstacle as they couldn't plan for combat as easily since they didn't know for sure when they would be acting.

Anyway, I would definitely run this game again.  In fact I've been looking at the wads of fan-made and third party support ever since which includes new playbooks for various odd classes.  I think rather than use an edition of D&D, it would be Dungeon World I would go to now to finally run my science fantasy campaign Dragon Pharaoh of Phratil.

 "All hail Pharaoh Tineen Cleopatra, Daughter of Isis, The Serpent of The Aymans, She Who Is Opalescent Of Appearance, Dragon Pharaoh of Phratil on the occasion of the 956th anniversary of her ascendance to the throne.  Praise be that we have been blessed to live in the glory days of Her rule rather than the anarchy that came before.  Draco Deus Miserere."
Tune in next time, true believers, when I talk about 80s cartoon roleplaying, my wargaming progress of late, my interesting purchases over the last couple of months and maybe even just about catch up to the present day!  We'll clear this blogging backlog sooner or later...

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