Sunday, March 23, 2014

Some (Very Early) Thoughts on Dungeon World

I've been reading my printed pdf a bit, and studying forums, reviews, and blog posts. One of the biggest problems I am having is that I didn't take the plunge with this game sooner.

I really dig the core mechanic, from concept through implementation. I'm a big fan of the bell curve, so naturally a 2d6 resolution mechanic is right in my wheelhouse. I also really like the graduated results. Just in case you didn't know, to resolve an action roll 2d6 + relevant stat bonus. If the roll is 10+ you succeed as desired. A 7-9 means you succeed, but with some sort of complication. On a 6 or less, it is the GM's call. Maybe you succeed but with a cost of some sort, or maybe you suffer humiliating defeat. (This may sound arbitrary, but the rules hammer the notion of "the fiction". So, the GM's response to a 6- roll should be logically consistent with the scene as it is being played out.)

In the last campaign I played in we had a situation wherein this type of mechanic would have been useful. We were playing my friend's heavily houseruled AD&D 1e/2e mash-up. I consider my friend a completely awesome DM. He knows his world inside and out, being immediately ready with details like the best vintages from particular wine regions, through giving little clues buried in ancient dialects in lost writings. One of is "soft spots" his in strict interpretation of the dice. In this campaign, our first "encounter" was . . . frustrating.

There was a room which was obviously trapped. He didn't allow a detect trap type roll unless and until we described exactly what we were doing. Now, as a principle that is keeping with the finest old school tradition. But, there was a very specific method to this trap. We spent over an hour of that session mucking about with that trap.

I'm not busting on my friend. I would leap at the chance to play in one of his campaigns, any place, any time. I also know that his way is not the only way to DM situations like that. My only point is that a graduated mechanic, like that in DW, would have mitigated that situation and kept the game moving. When this type of mechanic is hard-wired into the rules, and everyone at the table knows it, the expectations change. When the expectations change, the dynamic changes, and thus the game itself changes.

I can see the other side of this argument. If we, as a group, had approached that room/trap with the expectation that we would get past it in one turn, even if it meant "something bad" happened, it would change how we approached it. However, it doesn't work that way. If you roll a 6-, as GM it is my option for how things progress. It is incumbent on me to exercise that option in keeping with the established fiction, though.

To return to the room for a moment: the room was large and filled with stone columns. The trap was that the columns would start falling before we could cross the room. My character (an 8th level fighter) had a column fall on him. He took quite a bit of damage, but, being a fighter, had the HP to cover it. So, he was described as being pinned, and had to be pulled out.

If this would have been DW, and we had rolled a 6- to defy the dangers of the trap, I would have been rolling up a new character. The fiction would demand it. A 2-ton granite column falls on you and it is time for your companions to salvage any of your gear that isn't flattened.

Of course, my friend could have narrated it that way. That's not the D&D way, though. That's not a criticism of D&D, just a contrast of two different games. D&D is about shaping the narration to fit the numbers, while DW is about using the fiction to inform the numbers. So, in the campaign, my guy took about 60% of his HP, obviously he was still alive since he still had HP. So, my friend had to narrate it that he was pinned under a chunk of granite. In DW the fiction states that 2 tons of granite falls on you and you're screwed. Period.

That may not sit well with some of you. Hell, when my ADD swings again, it may not sit well with me. However, on this rainy Sunday morning, it sits very well with me.


  1. I haven't read Dungeon World, but is it really that strictly deadly on a 6-? Couldn't you just as easily say the fiction demands that a falling 2-ton column could kill you, but doesn't necessarily have to - you could be pinned, trapped, partly crushed but not fatally, etc.?

    Or is 6- pretty much" the worst stuff happens that could happen if this was a story?" It sounds much less harsh right up until your column example.

    Your posts do make me want to read DW.

    1. It can be as harsh as the GM wants it to be, really. I know that was an extreme example. I was just trying to illustrate that DW is about more than numbers-first. From my wholly incomplete reading, I think it would also be viable to say to a player in that situation "A column is beginning to topple in your direction. This thing is huge and intent on hurting you. What do you do?" Assuming the player goes with the obvious "Dive out of the way!" You could then call for a Defy Danger roll.

      To carry it a step further, assume another roll of 6-. Now the guy is really screwed by his own narrative of the fiction. He dove for cover, so now he is prone. IF the GM knew there were many columns falling, then the poor guy possibly dove into the path of another one and rolls over in time to see it come down.

      The thing is a 6- indicates something undesirable is happening. That something should be informed by the fiction, but not necessarily controlled by it. At least that is my understanding, at this point in my reading.

  2. Actually 6- doesn't mean using Rule Zero, but it means the GM must use a move.
    In this case a hard move: if the trap deals damage, the GM will do a Deal Damage move.

    In addition, if the PC is considered dying, this triggers the Last Breath move.. so he's not automatically dead.