Saturday, July 16, 2016

First game of Dungeon World...some thoughts

So we threw together another session of gaming and BBQ today.  Since it was an "off" day with less than a quorum of our regular crew available we decided to not play one of the big campaigns.  I offered to run Dungeon World, using the Servants of the Cinder Queen adventure.  None of us had ever played DW before and apparently I was the only one who'd even heard of it, let alone read it.  But my crew was game to check it out and we plunged in.

I ran the game as GM and my five friends played, taking the Ranger, Paladin, Cleric, Barbarian, and Immolator.  The character sheets have a fair number of choices presented but since everything is right there on the sheet it's way faster than any game where you have to pass a book around or look up a bunch of stuff elsewhere.  I had everyone make a 2nd level character so they'd get to make at least one move choice beyond the fixed starting set at 1st level.

We started the adventure "in media res", with a quick prologue from me about what they learned in the village the previous day when they arrived and then starting the action just as they arrive at the destroyed monastery up on the plateau.  The game went very well--with purchased adventures I'm not always certain they'll work.  They visited pretty much all the locations, had a good chase scene pursuing the evil boss, lost him, then caught up with him just at the last moment to ruin his evil plan.  At the close all the characters either had enough XP to level up or were just one away.

From character creation to end it was about four hours, thus well structured for an evening or afternoon one-off, or a convention game slot.  I think everyone enjoyed the adventure although I don't think anyone was really super thrilled with the DW rules.

Some random thoughts:
  • A lot of things in DW are done sort of "backwards", so that in the end you get to the same place as you would with Swords & Wizardry or Pathfinder, but it feels like you were doing something in there wrong.
  • In a lot of places when someone rolled a 6 or less it was hard to come up with an appropriate "penalty".  A lot of the time a simple fail was enough, but DW urges the DM to do something creative with fails.
  • In a lot of cases the "bad things" which happen with a roll of 7~9 to balance the success are worse than the sort of blank space the game leaves with a roll of 6 less.  That often felt off, even if it worked okay in play.
  • We all found the Discern Realities move unsatisfying because the six fixed questions often didn't allow the players to ask the question they really needed, or led to them asking more questions than they needed just to "game" the fact that they had two more free questions to use.
  • Everyone found the lack of a "critical hit" disappointing (or is it in there somewhere and I just missed it?).  I realize this is meant to be a relatively "flat" game, so it fits the overall design intent, but it felt like one of those classes in school where the teacher starts the semester by saying "I don't give out As".  But really, the monsters all had so few hit points that you could kill them in one to two hits without criticals.
  • Even though everyone wrote down at least one inter-character bond they only got used a couple times in play.  This was partly because it was a new concept to remember but also because only some of my group are into character backgrounds like that.  I'm thinking that it would work better to give characters Instincts like the monsters have and give XP at session end if they follow an instinct in a dramatic way.
  • Characters get XP pretty often and I got the feeling that leveling up to the game's maximum of level 10 would not take too many sessions.  I've been evaluating DW as the basis for my next campaign but the leveling would need modification to run a really long campaign with it.
  • I liked that XP came organically during play, plus the short evaluation session at the table at the end.  As DM it is a chore to sit down after each session to determine the XP and DW totally cuts out all that work.
So overall I like a lot of the things DW does, but don't understand why so many of them are "backwards"--it's like doing something by looking in a mirror instead of just looking right at it.  But the core mechanic is solid and the overall simplicity of it all is very appealing.  I think with some house mods I could turn it into something I'd use for a big campaign.

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