Dungeon World is an amazing game; hands down it’s possibly one of my favourite if not my favourite D&D type game. You may have read my experiences with D&D and with the Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Dungeon World has been my solution to wanting those kinds of experiences with some great mechanics. I’ve started my second campaign of it, so I thought I’d report on what we experience as a way of demonstrating how the system works, what kind of stories can be told and what the In-Fighters are currently up to.
Dungeon World is a Powered by the Apocalypse game. They continue to be a favourite of mine as they tell a story first and the mechanics do a good job of making the game back up the feeling of playing whatever genre you’re in. Dungeon World uses the Dungeons & Dragons style ability scores, races and classes. It keeps to the PbtA method of having characters talk about what they’re doing and if it provokes a ‘move’ then you roll 2d6 and add a modifier depending on your stat. On a 10+ you get what you want (the orc peppered with arrows, the right plants to make your poison, the weak spot in the dungeon wall). On a 7-9 you get what you want at a cost (the orc is shot but drops his torch which sets light to the camp, the plants are poisonous but you suffer a side effect from touching them, the weak spot in the dungeon wall causes a cave-in) and on a 6 or less the narrator gets to tell you the awful thing that happens… also you get experience points as you learn from your mistake. Early on you’ll be levelling up mainly through failures but also from learning about the world, looting impressive treasures and overcoming great foes.
Each of the six stats; Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma have a basic move everyone can do indicative of what heroes get up to. They hack & slash with Strength, they spout lore with Intelligence and so on. There are special moves which are reflective of things you did in old school games like making camp and scouting ahead. These are things which there weren’t really defined mechanics for in D&D but we did all the time anyway. The mechanics are unobtrusive and intrinsic to the game. You make camp to heal and level up. People have different roles they take on when you’re travelling to make sure things go alright.
As a narrator for Dungeon World you’re given key tenets in your Agenda, your Moves and so on. We’ve covered these a little in other PbtA articles I’ve gone through but basically they’re touchstones you always come back to when telling stories and things you can do when players roll a six or less. Dungeons and enemies have their own moves which you can make or customise as you wish but never speak their name. It’s not going to be, “You stab the orc but I deal damage to you.” It’s going to be, “You stab the orc and there’s a rush of cold shock down your back. You notice an arrow sprouted in your shoulderblade. Another orc in the woods and now he’s trying to flee. What do you do?” Always, “What do you do?” It’s a mantra in these games. A constant.
There are other things to cover, but you’ll get to see them in action in the coming weeks. Instead we’ll get into character and world creation this week.
As I said, we had a Dungeon World campaign before. It was set in a primitive but magic-rich fantasy world where a thousand-mile long wall kept all the nameless gods and monsters out, then some bright spark made a city right in the middle of it. The city of Wall was huge and prosperous. We played around Wall in Dungeon World and covered the rulership of it in The Sword, The Crown and The Unspeakable Power (SCUP). This Dungeon World game is set nine hundred and ninety-nine years after Wall fell and those monsters destroyed everything. One billion souls made it out using ancient dwarven technology. A gigantic star gem which brought them to a new land, free from the monsters. It brought them to… EXODUS.
The city of Exodus is huge. It’s nearly Mega City One level of huge. Divided into 52 districts, the survivors of Wall built it as a haven and then most of them left to settle the new world. The Star Gem was dismantled and now there’s a city with way more space than people. There’s still over a hundred million souls in the city, something too big to manage well or consistently. We don’t have all the districts nailed down, but we’ll all work on it collectively as the game goes on.
Before we started character creation, there was a discussion about magic. Two of the group had played in the previous game and knowing 999 years passed, they wanted to know what would happen to magic and technology. The Dungeon Worldiest solution was to let them all define it:
Magic was brought from the old world, but not the ways of studying or improving it. This meant that no real magic-users existed for a long time and instead technology had to grow. There are cannons, carriages and some people even have hand-cannons. Magic has only started to appear in the last 100 years with the arrival of an avatar of the old god of magic. Kakra; The First Mage, was only defined in name so we’ll find out more about her in the campaign. So now there is some magic but it’s more naturally occurring instead of gained through study. There was a question of what happened in the flight from Wall for monster races like orcs. I was going to ask where all the orcs went in city creation but as they asked we talked about them being left behind in the old world. The thing is, in the last century there have been rumours of orcs being sighted. No one’s actually seen an orc in this new world, so it could be something else. If it’s not… how did they return?
Dungeon World uses a playbooks for each character class, but there’s an expansion to it by Red Box Vancouver called Class Warfare which allows you to build your own class out of fantasy specialities. It allows the players to make a much more customised; if potentially random, character. You have five archetypes (adventurer, disciple, mage, rogue, warrior) and each one has several sub-types (warrior has armiger, blade dancer and so on). You mix and match them to create your character and from there pick your choice of race and alignment options. The former grants you a little bonus or ability, the latter gives you XP if you act in accordance with that alignment.
Lee created Ethan Gale, a lawful human who took Armiger, Champion of Law & Psi-Knife. He is a warden of the Order of Eternal Light. They have hereditary psychic abilities which they use to bring peace to the Emerald District. The powers manifest as psychic weapons which are non-lethal so lawbreakers can face justice when the order’s done with them. They worship Hitomi, the god of law and have a church so large it’s visible in other districts. He lives in the order’s barracks; a luxury not granted to the servants of the order who aren’t imbued with psychic powers. His father Lucius is an elder warden and favourably looked on by most of the troops. Ethan screwed up a test in his training and his friend Leon took the rap for him. Leon’s stuck as an initiate now and still not graduated. He likes to escape from it all by hiding up in a ruined watchtower which looks over the water. Ethan’s mother is one of the few people without innate psychic powers allowed in the church, however she was kidnapped by men with masks which look like the moon. Ethan was training and only noticed the men too late.
Jacob created Holden Luck, a lawful human whose parents died when he was ten. He was filled with rage and taken in by Lucius Gale. He learnt the ways of peace and tranquillity from the Order of Eternal Light. He realised that all the killing and all the rage has to stop. Jacob gave him the Defender, Embodiment and Impervious options. Holden is a zealous pacifist now and while he wasn’t able to become a warden like his brother Ethan, he had some innate magical abilities of his own. When his powers manifested, he irreparably drove mad a man named Vance Silver. To atone, he has taken to looking out for Vance’s wife Amna and their children; Davian, Amara and Lil. Davian has been missing for a short while now. Holden lives adjacent to the order’s church but isn’t allowed in the main building due to his lacking abilities. He hasn’t ever left the city as there’s always something that needs fixing and his favourite place is the Temple of Hitomi.
Vinnie created Bryan Weaver, a chaotic goblin. Yep, a goblin. I asked about the name and Vinnie assured me that it’s okay as Bryan had a ‘y’ in the name rather than an ‘i’. That makes it much better, Vinnie, thanks. It’s an adoptive name though, Bryan won’t tell you his real one. He is a Bounty Hunter, a Mastermind and a Poisoner. He didn’t originate from the city, but arrived here to become a bounty hunter. He uses poisons to knock out his prey and bring them in, a service which the Order of Eternal Light has made use of several times. He lives in the cheaper rooms underneath The Shattered Crab, a tavern which he uses as his office. He occasionally visits the brothel next door and is quite workmanlike about his business. A rival bounty hunter, Ali, used to bully him but after a quite taxing quarry gave them both a hard time they’ve been working together. Ali has gone missing lately (seeing a pattern yet?)
Ash created Captain Urit Morca, a neutral human pirate… I mean, legitimate businessman. He took Beast Master, Captain and Wielder (of weapons, not like wielding things together). He’s the captain of Thondir’s Dagger and he was originally part of a quite wild family outside of the city. They were wiped out by the expansion of Exodus and he became a gutter rat for years. He was taken under the wing of Captain Falron Varley who is not too old to be a pirate. Falron gave his ship and his ancestral weapon to young Urit; a beautiful partisan. He resents the city a little and doesn’t trust magic despite his innate ability to speak to animals. His dream is to ride and/or summon sharks. Falron’s gone missing and his hat was all that’s been found, despite the old man NEVER being seen without it. The Shattered Crab is his favourite place to go and he served time in the prison district with Bryan.
Finally Josh created Goodfight, whose full name is Fight the Good Fight. His town apparently all had that kind of name, using the “Praisegod Barebones” manner of naming. His sister is Hope (for the Future) and his mother is Care (for the Helpless). He’s a good human who took Elementalist, Mind-Mover and Miracle Worker. They lived outside of Exodus but when orcs destroyed their town they sought shelter inside the protected city walls. Against his mother’s wishes he tried out for the Order of Eternal Light to become a guard and his over-enthusiasm hospitalised someone. His violent outlook was frowned on and he wasn’t allowed in the order. He lives in a formerly-abandoned house given the sheet amount of space in the city. The family’s home was taken over a little while ago but they just left rather than fight for it. His mother’s a tailor and disappointed in Goodfight’s attempts to become a hero as they don’t bring in much money at all. Goodfight’s favourite place is a section of the beach where a large stone called The Fat Man where he hands out. Hope has been kidnapped recently.
We ran out of time so while I like to have initial scenes immediately after character creation, we couldn’t do it this session. Next time, we’ll get to see what happened to the loved ones of all of our heroes!