An interesting thing happened at my last game session. To catch you up, I’ve been running a home brewed D&D Next (5e) game. We have four players (most of the time) and the setting and story is mostly my creation using liberal doses of material from Iron Kingdoms and Dishonored. I really like the setting (since it’s so different from what we usually play) and the story is interesting, but I couldn’t get excited about it.
A little while ago I found Dungeon World (DW) and we played a one shot (that I ran) and had a blast. Way more fun than what we usually have. Lots of high fives, laughs, and moments of pure awesome were had. The next time we played our 5e game I tried my hardest to carry over that excitement. I fizzled really hard. About 2 hours in I had enough. I figured I was just burned out from work and stress outside of the game and figured I’d just cut it short and try again next week.
The next week came and we had everyone at the table (very exciting). I had an idea for what the group’s next mission would be (which is more than what I had been bringing to the table the previous few weeks). Everything was looking up and I had the recipe for an exciting game.
Then we started rolling dice.
The players started getting vacant looks in their faces. We were spending more time listening to some random anecdote than playing the game. I started getting discouraged. I don’t like to be the hard ass GM ( which I’ve done before and it doesn’t help), so I waited patiently for them to finish. Only one of my players can read my “I’m annoyed but I’m not going to say anything face” so the stories can take a while since the rest simply continue on.
We got to some exciting parts, but it was dragging. The players were looking at their sheets to seek the answers to their obstacles. I was getting very little eye contact or interaction. After a very grueling fight where not much happened other than canon fodder dying, the heroes got away with the information they sought.
That’s when I broke.
I told the group that I’m done. I couldn’t keep going like this. Two weeks in a row where I just fizzle because the action was stale and the players were not invested. I told them that if they wanted to continue the story, I’d be willing, but we’d need to change to DW. The group agreed somewhat begrudgingly. They wanted to get to level 10 in 5e before we moved on to something else. We were at level 2 and it was like pulling teeth.
It took the group about 5 minutes to make their characters in DW. Our Druid needed to go to bed (what with her being pregnant, she apparently has less energy to stay up late) so we pressed on with the three others. We played for another hour.
It was awesome.
Our mage could now make up his spells instead of following a preset list. The paladin actually talked to people (usually in a violent way but he still interacted with them). The thief played about the same but since he’s my most experienced player I wasn’t surprised. There was tension within the group from the different bonds that they shared. The party was scared and excited about what would happen next. I left the table with a good feeling for once.
So what changed?
I would have put the group through the same story and encounter had we not changed systems. My narration had stayed roughly the same but it was obvious that I was more excited about the DW game than the 5e one. Was it just the fact that it wasn’t D&D anymore that did it for me? I’m still not sure.
One thing I felt that really helped was the standardization of the numbers. D&D numbers jump all over the place. I had rolls from 3 to 27. That’s a huge spread. I had to come up with DCs on the fly for a lot of stuff. I was sick of looking up monsters to throw at the party. DW on the other hand used the same DCs for the entire game at all times, regardless of what you are trying to accomplish. I never had to think “Is a 14 a success or a success with a cost?” That alleviated a lot of stress from my decision-making.
Another thing that I think helps the players is that the moves in DW aren’t all about combat. The paladin has a move called “I AM THE LAW” which he can use his divine authority to command someone to do something. It can be used in combat if wanted, but you don’t have to. 5e seems like every other incarnation of D&D where the system takes care of combat, but leaves the roleplaying to the players themselves. This within itself is not a bad thing, if you have players that are good/comfortable with role playing. My players tend to look at their sheets for what to do. With DW they have the list of basic moves and class moves that really round out what the game is all about.
Have you ever had this happen? For some reason a system just clicks so much better with your group than a different one? Leave a comment below and tell us about it.