Today I’d like to sit down with you and have a talk. Your mother and I have been worried about your dungeon crawls. Most nights we hear the usual goings-on in your room. Everyone taking their turn, initiative being followed, only allowing one move and one action a turn, you know, the usual stuff. Last night, though… Well, we weren’t spying on you, but we heard some strange things, so we checked in. I saw you playing without an initiative order, the fight was really action-packed, and worst of all, your GM wasn’t rolling any dice! We’re worried about you and this Dungeon World you’ve fallen into.
Seriously, you get this great high while you play
I stumbled upon Dungeon World (DW) a week ago and have gotten to run it twice for two different one shots. My first time through, I had a party of three (Paladin, Ranger, and Thief) my second time through it was only a Mage. Both times the players were completely new to the system. I had read the book prior to playing (about 400 pages, but some of that can be skipped unless you want to read everything little thing).
Before going any further I want to point out that this is a very simple system. If you are one who loves crunchy rules and have a need to reference rulebooks, then this is not the system for you.
The character sheets are wonderfully done. Everything you need to make a character is right there. Nothing needs to be looked up to make an avatar. I had seen the character sheets before I read the book and I understood how to roll up a character from that. The player picks out stats (which are the same as D&D though the modifiers are a little different) and race, alignment, and gear. All of this is on the sheet. We had 3 brand new PCs made up in under 5 minutes. Another thing they put in this game is Bonds. They are the relationships between the PCs. Some are good and some are bad (in terms of relationship not quality). The paladin might have the bond “I don’t trust the _______”. The player then fills in the name of another character. These bonds are a great way to come up with pasts and relationships, and they are worth XP! You get XP for roleplaying your character? Crazy talk I say.
Experience points are done in a really fun way. There are a few ways one gets points. The most common is from failing. Whenever the player fails a roll they get a point. It takes 7+current level to level up, so it won’t be uncommon to level up at least once a session. Another way XP is rewarded is at the end of sessions. If the player had fulfilled his alignment at least once that session they get a point. There are suggestions on how to do it on the character sheets. If the PCs learned something important, defeated a major villain, or changed the world in some major way, they get a point for each. Finally, when the PCs fulfill a Bond (Say the paladin learns to trust the person they didn’t before) the player who has that bond on their sheet gets a point and then they write up a new one. The system rewards exploration, roleplaying, victory, and failure. It’s pretty awesome.
You are all in a tavern, when…
I started our game (3 player one) in a tavern when some great event happened just outside of town. The players were going to run out and investigate it immediately. Off hand I had the bar keep say they owed on their tab. The players were flat broke, so the bouncers were going to break the PCs. A fight broke out (despite the best efforts of our pacifist paladin, who then proceeded to kick the most ass), and I introduced the actual dice system.
The players are given a situation, usually something having to do with pointy bits being aimed in their general direction, and then asking the PCs what they do. The players describe what they do then make a roll. The roll is always 2d6 + appropriate stat. If the player gets a 6 or lower, they fail. This means they get XP, and pointy bits happen. A 7-9 means they succeed with a little suck. They get what they want, but with a little poke. A 10+ means they pull off what they wanted. No matter what level they are or what they are fighting those numbers don’t change. Bouncer to blink dog to BAMs (big ass monsters) all work on the same numbers. The only thing that changes is the HP of the bad guys and their damage dice.
The monsters are so simple that you can make them up on the fly using a one page GM screen (which I did on my first play through). Bad guys don’t make attack rolls. They simply respond to the players dice rolls. So if the paladin tries to punch a bad guy and rolls terribly then the bad guy hits him for X damage. There is no dice roll on the GMs part. I know this sounds odd to the GMs that grew up with D&D, but this works. Keep in mind that there are other things one can do to the players other than simply hitting them for damage. A GM could put the players in a worse position, maybe reinforcements show up, or the room changes (catches fire, earthquake, etc) instead of just throwing damage at them. The only limit to what can happen is your imagination and the system promotes and supports that.
Another great thing they do is no initiative. The GM just keeps the action going and has the players go in whatever order makes sense to the situation. If a player has a great idea and wants to jump in, you let them. I made sure to keep circling the table just to make sure that everyone got a chance to shine. Since the monsters don’t really take a turn per say, there is nothing to balance against the action economy of the players.
Who should play this?
I’d recommended that everyone try this game once. I feel that even if you don’t stick with it, there are ideas and rules that you’ll want to import into whatever system you go back to. It has that much good stuff in it. In the long run I think that people who like highly narrative and rules-light games will get the most out of it. It’s a little more crunchy than FATE but just a narrative. Obviously it’s much lighter on the rules than D&D, so like I said before, if you want all the little rules, then you’re gonna go back pretty quick. But I believe everyone will walk away with something they’ll want to put into their favorite system.
I’d also recommend that all GMs read this once. You can read just the chapter on how to GM if you don’t want to slog through the rest. That has to be the best “How to Run an RPG” chapter I’ve ever read. Honestly. I never read the DMG of D&D all the way through. Mostly it was always just a look-up resource. The advice on how to run the game was meh at best. Most of the time it just talked about how to deal with disruptive players, and how to calculate this, that, or the other. DW’s chapter on GMing has these great points that a lot of GMs either don’t know or have forgotten. If you follow the advice in that chapter your games will run smoother, and be much more memorable.
Dungeon World is a great RPG that everyone should at least look at and play once. It brings many great ideas to the table that, even if you don’t play it again, you’ll take one of those ideas to your regular game.
Thanks again for listening to the rambles of my brain. If you’ve played DW leave a comment below about your experience.